John Owen: Justification and Imputation

By Evan Knies

Justification and Personal Righteousness

Speaking of justification, John Owen wrote “If we are justified before God on our own personal righteousness, and pronounced righteous by him on the account thereof, then God enters into judgment with us on something in ourselves, and acquits us thereon; for justification is a juridical act, in and of that judgment of God which is according unto truth. But that God should enter into judgment with us, and justify us with respect unto what he judgeth on, or our personal righteousness.” Jesus Christ was judged for us. He was condemned in our place. The judge stood in place of the guilty. Thus, Jesus Christ is both the just and justifier. Until men know themselves better, they will care very little to know Christ at all. Mankind is full of great sinners, but if they believe in the Son’s work, they have a great savior.


The foundation of imputation is the union between Christ and his church. For Owen, this means that Christ and His church coalesce into one mystical person through the uniting efficacy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus blood was imputed to us. Jesus Christ alone is our righteousness. John Owen stated, “To say the righteousness of Christ is not imputed unto us, only its effects are so, is really to overthrow all imputation; for the effects of the righteousness of Christ cannot be said properly to be imputed unto us; and if his righteousness itself be not so, imputation hath no place herein, nor can it be understood why the apostle should so frequently assert it as he does.” Owen understands the doctrine of imputation to be essential to the Christian faith. If one gets this wrong, they get it all wrong. If one states/believes that only its effects are imputed to us, then that is to say that there is no imputation at all.

Evan and his wife Lauren are originally from Louisiana. He is a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Knies.


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