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What is impartation?

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The word impart means “to give, convey, or grant.” Impartation, then, is the act of giving or granting something. In the Bible spiritual gifts are imparted (Romans 1:11); wisdom is imparted (Proverbs 29:15); the message of the gospel is imparted (1 Thessalonians 2:8); and material goods are imparted (Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 6:18). Some translations use the word share as a replacement for impart. The Bible never speaks of the impartation of righteousness.

Most evangelicals speak of righteousness as being imputed, rather than imparted. To impute is to credit something to the account of another. Imputation of righteousness is clearly taught in passages such as Romans 4:3, which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (cf. Galatians 3:6; Romans 4:22). The “credit” or “reckoning” that Abraham received was an imputation. Imputation is thus linked to the act of justification. The moment a person is born again, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to that sinner’s account. The doctrine of double imputation says that, at the same time, the sinner’s sin is imputed to Christ’s account.

Roman Catholics speak of infused righteousness, which should not be confused with impartation or imputation. Infused righteousness, in Catholic theology, is that which comes gradually to the believer through obedience, confession, penance, and the other sacraments. There is no biblical basis for the idea of infused righteousness, which contradicts the scriptural teaching that justification comes through faith alone and not through the channel of works (Romans 3:28).

Imparted righteousness is a term used mostly in Wesleyan and Methodist circles to explain sanctification. Impartation is seen as separate from imputation, although the two work in conjunction. According to Wesley’s theology, we are justified when Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us; after that, we begin to be sanctified when God’s righteousness is imparted to us through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, empowering us to live in a holy manner. According to some in the Wesleyan tradition, this imparted righteousness can lead to sinless perfection.

Possible biblical support for the idea of imparted righteousness comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit,” and 2 Peter 1:4, which speaks of how we “participate in the divine nature.” The idea is that imputed righteousness changes our standing before God, and imparted righteousness changes our nature even as we live in the flesh. The new nature that wars against the flesh (Roman 7:14–25) is the result of imparted righteousness, granted to us by God.

In the final analysis, the Bible clearly teaches imputed righteousness, but the doctrine of imparted righteousness is not so clear. At salvation, believers in Jesus Christ receive a new nature—which loves righteousness and produces good works—but to say they receive righteousness itself is stretching the point.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022