The doctrine of “imputed righteousness” is a mainstay in Protestant theology. So naturally people ask, “Can we say that God imputes honor?” The biblical answer is clear and obvious—Yes! But to explain, a little bit of brush clearing is order.
What does it mean to “impute”? This is challenging to answer, for two reasons.
One, the word is not biblical. The word “impute” (in any form) never appears in the NIV. Some translations use the word in 1 Sam 22:15.
Two, the word is not common in English. When is the last time you heard the word “impute” in everyday conversation? Speaking for myself, I never use the word outside of theology. Google N-gram indicates usage of “impute” and “imputation” has fallen precipitously in English publications since 1800.
Why do theologians still use the word “impute”? It seems the wonderful Reformation doctrine has evolved into a modern-day shibboleth among evangelicals, a theological litmus test of sorts. Also, since the word evokes criminal and accounting contexts, it accords with the primary conceptual metaphors of Western theology. Imputation advances the criminal/legal view of sin and salvation. (The origin is Latin imputare—“ to enter in the account”).
So, what does “impute” actually mean? The doctrine of imputation simply means God thinks that something from Christ belongs to us. What is Christ’s, is somehow now ours. Synonyms include attribute, ascribe, credit, consider, assign, or associate. With that, we see the idea of imputed honor/glory is explicitly taught in the Bible. Here are five explicit verses.
- “The glory that you have given me I have given them” (John 17:22). Jesus gives us the very same doxa (i.e., glory, honor, reputation) the Father gave to him.
- “We suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17). The singular verb (συνδοξάζω/ sundoxazō) implies “being jointly glorified,” or “sharing glory.”
- “Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 1:12).
- “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 2.14). The end goal of God’s effective calling is our acquisition of the Lord Jesus’ glory.
- “And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God.” (Ez 16:14).
The Logic of Imputed Honor
As people in collectivistic cultures know intuitively, status is a jointly-held asset. Honor is corporate. If the head of the group has honor, then all the members of the group share in that honor. So, Christ shares his glory with his followers, and this further magnifies the Father’s glory. Salvation is a corporate reality. We are glorified together with Christ. Interestingly, anthropologists use the language of “ascribed honor” to explain the same concept—a positive status inherited or received from the group (e.g. family, clan, nation) you are associated with.
Our Positional Honor “in” Christ
Biblical writes also use positional metaphors to define our honor in God’s eyes. Physical position is a replication of social position. To use a simple example—in honor-shame contexts, the seats around the table suggest varying levels of honor. The fact that believers share in Christ’s position means we also share Christ’s status. God sees us as being situated with Christ. His status is graciously bestowed upon us. Salvation is a positional relocation, from Adamic shame to Christological honor, from dirt to thrones. Consider the status and honor of the positional language in these verses.
- Eph 2:6—“[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”
- Col 3:1-4—“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
Summary: This is how might we articulate the doctrine of “imputed honor” in contemporary honor-shame vernacular—We are right there with Jesus in a place of honor. When God looks upon us, he sees the honor of his Glorious Firstborn.
Read more in this series, “Honoring Theology“: