“It is therefore a straightforward category mistake….to suppose that ‘Jesus obeyed the law’ and so obtained ‘righteousness’ which could be reckoned to those who believe in him. To think this way is to concede, after all, that ‘legalism’ was true after all-with Jesus as the ultimate legalist.”
“It is not the “righteousness” of Jesus Christ which is ‘reckoned’ to the believer. It is his death and resurrection….Paul does not say, ‘I am in Christ; Christ has obeyed the Torah; therefore God regards me as though I had obeyed the Torah.” He says: ‘I am in Christ; Christ has died and been raised; therefore God regards me-…-as someone who has died to sin and been raised to newness of life.”
So writes NT Wright in his book Justification.
What I find so satisfying about this exegesis is that it works with what Paul says as opposed to bringing in a descriptive term from outside the text. After all, Paul doesn’t ever say that Jesus’ righteousness is “imputed” to his followers.
Don’t misunderstand. There are times when descriptive terms which do not appear in the text of the Bible are useful. Trinity is a good example. The word never appears yet it does a good job of representing the Biblical testimony that God’s nature is a three-in-one sort. However, there are also times when outside terms prejudice a reading of the text toward a particular doctrine which may not actually be in the text. Rapture is a good example. This word never appears in the text and it’s used to misrepresent what actually is. It would seem that “imputed righteousness” is another one such term.
And I think that NT Wright’s critics/opponents get hung up precisely at the point (as well as others) because they have this term “imputed righteousness” and this is what they go looking for when they go to the text. If they don’t find righteousness being imputed, they shut down.
Everyone does this to some degree, in some way, about some favored doctrine. And God in his great mercy and grace allows for this, so it seems, because these hang ups of ours do not prevent us from experiencing some measure of spiritual success. We still find encouragement and/or strength to live in God-pleasing, Jesus-honoring, Spirit-empowered ways.
And that’s good.