The Crediting of Christ’s Right Standing To Believers

One view of this crediting


When it is said God credits or accounts Jesus’ righteousness by grace to believers, this refers to the crediting of Christ’s perfectly right status or standing before God the Supreme Ruler and Judge. It does not mean God credits Jesus’ perfectly right nature to believers. We receive Jesus’ righteous nature in regeneration.

You cannot credit a nature from one person to another before a judge. Justification refers to governmental-legal declarations by God the Sovereign Ruler and Judge about the status or standing of those He judges.

But there is debate among Bible teachers about the background to Jesus’ perfectly right standing being accounted or imputed to believers by God’s grace. As a result, there are a number of views about this matter.

One view suggests that it is Jesus’ totally righteous nature which provides the perfectly right standing which God by unmerited grace credits to believers. This view says that when believers are converted, they come into union with Christ and as a result of this union God credits Jesus’ perfectly right status to them. The wording of 2 Corinthians 5:21 may indicate this: “…that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

From conception, Jesus Christ was perfectly righteous in nature and standing before God the Father. Acts 3:14, 7:52 and 1 John 2:1 refer to Christ as the Righteous One.


Two other views about the crediting


Another view argues that it is Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Law of the Lord which is the basis of His perfectly right standing which is credited to believers by God’s grace. This view suggests that because no human has ever fully obeyed God’s Law, it was necessary for Christ as representative head of all believers (see Ephesians 4:15, 5:23 and Colossians 1:18) to obey it perfectly for them. God’s Law is either taken here to mean the Mosaic Law or the two love laws of Christ.

At the Amsterdam 2000 Conference of Evangelists, under the oversight of Dr Billy Graham, the many Evangelists declared the following affirmations: “…We affirm that Christ's saving work included both his life and his death on our behalf (Galatians 3:13). We declare that faith in the perfect obedience of Christ by which he fulfilled all the demands of the Law of God in our behalf is essential to the Gospel…We affirm that the righteousness of Christ by which we are are justified is properly his own, which he achieved apart from us, in and by his perfect obedience. This righteousness is counted, reckoned, or imputed to us by the forensic (that is, legal) declaration of God, as the sole ground of our justification. We deny that any works we perform at any stage of our existence add to the merit of Christ or earn for us any merit that contributes in any way to the ground of our justification (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5).” [1]

This second view suggests that unless believers were credited or accounted with having perfectly obeyed God’s Law, they could not receive eternal life. The holders of this view argue that because God is the Supreme Lawgiver (see James 4:12), and His Law of love is a perfect expression of His nature (see Psalm 19:7) and He judges humans according to their lack of obedience to His love laws (see Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-37 and 18:18-25), believers can only be declared right if they are credited with having perfectly obeyed God’s love laws.

This view also suggests that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled God’s Law – as expressed in the Mosaic Law and God’s two love commands – for believers. Verses which relate to this are Matthew 5:17, Romans 5:18-19, 8:4, Philippians 2:8, 1 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 5:8-9. Matthew 5:17 shows Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Mosaic Law: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

Romans 5:18-19 shows Christ’s obedience provided believers with justification and eternal life by God’s grace: “…through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

Hebrews 5:8-9 shows Christ’s perfect obedience provided eternal salvation: “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” The above verse says it was only obedience related to suffering which provided salvation.

Romans 5:18 reveals it was only one righteous act which resulted in the giving of justification and eternal life by grace to believers. Philippians 2:8 reveals this one saving act was Christ’s obedience to God in the matter of death by crucifixion: “…He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

This second view says Matthew 22:40, Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:13 show that someone who loves God and other people perfectly has totally fulfilled the Mosaic Law. Jesus expressed perfect love for God by being willing to obey God in the matter of dying by crucifixion (see John 14:31 and 15:10). Christ showed perfect love for humans by being willing to suffer so terribly when dying for them. As Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” So Jesus’ death by crucifixion was a perfect expression of obedience to God’s two love commands and was therefore in a general sense a perfect fulfilment of the Mosaic Law.

This view argues Jesus’ death was therefore not only an atonement for sin which removed the guilt, eternal penalty for sin and God’s great anger against sinners and their sin. It also was a perfect fulfilment of God’s two love laws, which was credited to all believers by grace through Christ. Romans 8:4 partly refers to the crediting to us of Christ’s perfect fulfilment of the Mosaic Law and/or God’s two love laws when it says “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…’”

This second view uses Revelation 5:8-12 as proof that by dying Jesus merited being declared perfectly righteous by God. Revelation 5:9 records what the four living creatures and twenty-four elders in heaven sing about Jesus Christ – the Lamb of God: “And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood’….” In Greek the word “worthy” in this verse is the word “axios” which in numerous contexts relates to “comparable merit”. [2]

Revelation 5:12 also reveals Jesus Christ is worthy. The same Greek word is used in Revelation 4:11 when it says God is “worthy”.

All of Jesus’ life was saving in the sense of graciously distributing the infinite benefits of His eternally planned death and in showing Him to be a suitable substitute and representative for other humans. But only His obedient death by crucifixion and resulting resurrection actually provided the basis by which He could save.

Jesus conquered Satan for Himself when He was tempted (see Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus was tempted in all ways without sinning (see Hebrews 2:18, 4:15). Adam was defeated by Satan (see Genesis 3:1-6) and as the first representative head of the human race brought sin, guilt and eternal judgement on all other humans. By defeating Satan’s temptations, Jesus made Himself a suitable representative head for believers.

But note His victory over Satan’s temptations did not provide victory for believers over Satan. It was His death by crucifixion which defeated Satan and his demons on behalf of believers (see John 12:31-32, Colossians 2:14-15, Hebrews 2:14-15 and Revelation 12:11). It is now Jesus’ indwelling life by His Spirit in us which enables us to have victory over Satan and his temptations.

Those who argue against this second view say Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses and/or the broader two love laws of God only so He could be seen as a suitable flawless substitute and representative for others.

Bible teachers, however, supporting this second view say Jesus had no need to prove His own perfect righteousness by fulfilling God’s Law. They say Christ was perfectly righteous in nature from the time He was conceived in Mary’s womb and was the object of the Father’s pleasure and delight throughout every moment of His earthly life, not just after He had fulfilled God’s Law (see Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 3:17, 12:18, 17:5 and John 8:29).

The God-appointed representative of other humans, the first Adam disobeyed God and brought about the debiting to all humans of his unrighteous status before God. But the last Adam – Christ – however, perfectly obeyed God resulting in the crediting of His right standing to believers (see Romans 5:16-19).

Others suggest a combination of the first and second views. They say the perfectly right standing in Christ that God freely gives to believers is founded both on Jesus’ righteous nature and His perfect obedience to God’s two love laws through His crucifixion by death.



Bible Study Question


1.       Explain the different views about God crediting Jesus’ right standing before Him to believers.



[1] Christianity Today” magazine, June 14, 1999, page 10.

[2] Louw and Nida, page 622.



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