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Many reformed protestants believe in "double imputation" - the idea that our sin is imputed to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to us. 2 Corinthians 5 is often the source quoted for this:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthains 5:21 (NIV)

The way this has often been explained to me is that we are not able to live a life perfectly obeying God, but Jesus did, and so his life counts for us. But is this all Jesus' righteousness is - the same as if we (theoretically) we to live a life in perfect submission? Or is it correct to say that even if we were to live a perfect life, the "righteousness of God" would still be greater than the righteousness we had achieved?

I'm aware that this is an area of theology I struggle with, so perhaps this question doesn't make sense to people more learned than me. But do any of the greater Reformers, or other notable writers, comment on this comparison?

Note that I am specifically asking about those who believe we are imputed with the righteousness of Christ, as opposed to those who understand this verse differently.

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  • I am not surprised you 'struggle' with this. Up-voted (+1) and your struggle answered below.
    – Nigel J
    May 21 at 12:45
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Ten times, the expression 'righteousness of God' is used in the New Testament scriptures. Never once is the collocation 'righteousness of Christ' ever found.

The idea of 'active and passive obedience' was introduced by Dr Owen into the Savoy Declaration in 1658. It is not present in the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Luther never mentions it, nor Calvin.

It is a legal concept, the idea that 'Jesus kept the law' and that, somehow (never expressed in scripture) this is 'transferable'.

It is absent from Romans and Galatians which is where Paul would have expounded it, did it exist. Which it doesn't.

Some attempt to squeeze it into various texts like Romans 5:18 where the correct translation reads 'by one righteousness' (the special word for 'righteousness' in this place conveying 'the execution of judgment' and referring to God's righteousness who exacted righteousness upon his own Son at Golgotha) and 2 Peter 1:1 where righteousness is a matter of justification by faith, not legal works.

But these very attempts, by their clumsiness, more attest to the truth of the righteousness of God being a divine matter (not a legal matter) than they support their own theory.

The theory detracts from justification by faith which, in scripture, is a matter of God seeing his own righteousness in the faith of the believer (Abraham believed God) and rightly evaluating (logizomai) that to the believer.

And Abraham believed God and there was evaluated to him unto righteousness : is the exact wording which is extremely precise in the several places it appears.

It is a matter of God's rightness. It is not a matter of law at all. God is righteous because he is whom he is and he is what he is (I am that I am).

If law be greater than God, and if God keep the law to be righteous then Law is to be worshipped. Which breaks the second commandment of the law.

And any scheme of 'righteousness' which is based on a legal righteousness detracts from the 'righteousness of God' which is what we find in holy scripture : ten times over.


Humanity was forbidden by God to address itself to the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. Doing so was catastrophic and led to death. It was sin to do so.

That some suggest Jesus Christ should, in humanity, do what was forbidden to humanity in the beginning just reveals how little they truly understand what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil really is.

The tree of life was that which was in the midst of the garden. Not the knowledge of good and evil. And the word of God, the word of life, was that which, in the midst, spoke truth and testified to the true nature (and source) of rightness.

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  • You have explained clearly that God's righteousness is imputed to us. Does it mean we will not ever possess righteousness? How are we then to understand the verses that command us to pursue / practice / seek righteousness such as 2 Tim 2:22, 1 John 2:29, Matt 6:33 and verses that imply being led in path of righteousness (Ps 23:3), persecuted for righteousness's sake (Matt 5:10), or even possess it ("fruit of the righteous is a tree of life", Pr 11:30)? All verses ESV translation. May 21 at 14:30
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    @GratefulDisciple Jehovah Tsidkenu. The Lord our Righteousness. He, himself, is our rightness. There is no such thing as 'human righteousness'. God is Righteous : humanity believeth. We are 'made' (or, rather 'become' or 'effected') righteousness of God in Him 2 Corinthians 5:21. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (not our own). Matthew 6:33. Seek to be justified by faith, yes indeed.
    – Nigel J
    May 21 at 14:37
  • I understand that point already (the concept of imputation). But how are we supposed to obey the command in 2 Tim 2:22, 1 John 2:29, etc.? Are you seriously going to limit the application of Matt 6:33 to be having faith in Jesus? You haven't really answered my question, maybe this belongs in another C.SE question? May 21 at 14:42

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