Infused and Imputed Righteousness

I’m trying to come to a fuller understanding of the Church’s teaching on the infusion of righteousness and how it relates to the Protestant doctrine of imputed righteousness. I read Jimmy Akin’s “The Salvation Controversy” hoping it would be helpful, but it didn’t treat this topic in depth. Does anyone know of a solid book or other resource that examines the infusion vs. imputation of righteousness in depth examining the relevant scriptures, Church Fathers, etc.?


Try “Catholicism and Fundamentalism” by Karl Keating, specifically chapter 13, will cover some of what you ask.

Off the top of my head I would look at the Catholic Encyclopedia on, and check out the article on Justification there. Also check out the debates between Robert Sungenis and Matt Slick or Sungenis vs James White. But here’s my two cents:

I’m a former Protestant and have debated this issue a lot with my brother (who is still a devout Calvinist Protestant). I’ve also had this discussion with other knowledgeable Protestants.

Basically, both of us agree that human nature on its own, apart from Gods grace, is incapable of doing meritorious good works before God. Our own works, due to our fallen nature, will only “merit” us damnation. Both sides agree upon that.

We also both agree that only those who are righteous are saved.

The question then becomes, “how are we credited as righteous”?

To the Protestants, the righteousness of Christ is imputed (credited to the account) of the believer-- even though they objectively remain sinful. So when God “looks” at the person, He “sees” Jesus’ righteousness in their place. Likewise, our sins are imputed to Jesus, who then takes our punishment on the cross. So imputation and penal substitution are both connected.

The imputation is simply a legal declaration. God declares a person as Just, even though they’re really not. God punishes Jesus in our place, even though he’s really innocent.

I believe the Council of Trent called this a “legal fiction.” God is declaring something to be true that isn’t true.

Yet they still believe in regeneration, which** does** change a person’s nature. Yet it’s the imputation that saves the person, and the regeneration is secondary. Also, it seems that the regeneration is only partial-- since any Protestant I’ve come across would agree perfection is impossible in this life, yet all would agree we’ll be perfect in Heaven. (In fact, the regeneration also seems to be quite optional: since we’re saved by faith alone in this imputation, and not by any works performed afterwards.)

So even if you’re regenerated, you’re still very sinful; and the righteousness that God “sees” in you is actually the righteousness of Christ imputed to you (credited to your account).

I watched a really good documentary exposing this contradiction of the Protestant beliefs of imputed righteousness and regeneration. The group is sedevacantist, so you have to beware of some things– but their argument against the Protestants imputation and regeneration is pretty solid:

The Catholic church views it differently. We don’t see it as a forensic legal declaration of Christ’s righteousness to us. Instead, we say that God actually CHANGES the person. That’s why it’s “infused.” By our own nature we’re incapable of doing any merit and saving ourselves. God’s grace comes into our lives, and our free will can either cooperate with or reject those graces. The grace is then infused into our souls and changes us. He declares us righteous because He makes us righteous, not because of some forensic legal declaration. God can’t lie-- He can’t declare something as righteous that really isn’t.

I would say the Bible verse that encapsulates infused righteousness to me is John 15:1-8. On our own we are incapable. Yet God brings us into His vine. He empowers us to do good works. He prunes us so that we can bear more fruit. He removes every branch that bears no fruit and casts it into the fire.

When I’ve discussed this issue with those who promote this imputation concept, I give them Luke 1 and ask him how this is possible under Imputed Righteousness?:

Luke 1:5-6 “In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.”

Notice that it says Zechariah lived righteously and blamelessly before God. It says he even performed the good works.

Imputed righteousness says this is impossible. This would have been the perfect time for Luke to point out that Zechariah was very sinful and only righteous by the forensic declaration of Christ’s works to Zechariah’s account. But he doesn’t. He says that Zechariah did all these works and lived blamelessly.

Yet we agree that Zechariah couldn’t do this by his own nature.

Therefore, the goodness of Zechariah came through infusion. God’s grace gave him the ability to do those good works, and Zechariah cooperated with those graces.

what protestants believe:
we start off completely sinful and incapable of saving ourselves ----->God gives us faith (which to many like Luther and Calvin, we can’t resist) —>the faith saves us by imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account ----> our sins are imputed to Christ, who took our punishment for them -----> we’re now justified ----> God regenerates us, yet we still remain sinful ----> we can perform human good works, but when God “looks” at us, what He actually declares righteous are still the imputed works of Christ.

What most Protestants THINK we believe:

we start off sort of alright -----> we perform good works on our own -----> we impress God with enough good works -----> He gives us justification (therefore, we saved ourselves through good works)

What we ACTUALLY believe:
We start off completely incapable of saving ourselves (original sin)----> God’s grace draws us to Him (actual graces)-----> we cooperate with or reject those graces… if we accept them ------> receive the Holy Spirit through baptism, who regenerates us ------> we’re now in a state of Justification, if we die we’ll be saved -----> the Holy Spirit continues to give us graces -----> we can reject them and be cut off, or we can cooperate with them and increase in righteousness -----> if you die at a point where you’re cooperating with those graces, you’ll be saved (you’re on the branch), if you reject those graces you’ll be cut off -----> God declares that you’re righteous because you actually ARE righteous, because He’s changed you to make you righteous.

Lutherans do not believe in irresistible grace. If grace could not be rejected, then all would be saved.


The link you gave from the formula of concord doesn’t say whether or not the grace of saving faith is resistable or not.

Luther, Bondage of the Will (1525), 7.18: “I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my ‘free-will’"

Formula of Concord (1577), Epitome, Art. 1: “original sin is not a slight corruption of human nature, but rather a corruption so deep that there is nothing sound or uncorrupted left in the human body or soul”

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. I: “we . . . reject and condemn those who teach that human nature has indeed been greatly weakened and corrupted through the fall but has not completely lost all good that pertains to divine, spiritual matters.”

It’s pretty hard to say that someone who is completely corrupt with nothing good left, who had no free will, would be capable of not resisting gods grace.

Anyways, this is a question about resistable vs irresistible grace. Either way, both sides believe in imputation, and that it’s the imputed righteousness of Christ that justifies us, and not the works we do.

Did you read the Augsburg Confession link? Under Article XII: **“They [the Evangelical Catholic churches] condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost. Also those who contend that some may attain to such 8] perfection in this life that they cannot sin.” ** That clearly refutes irresistible grace, and Luther approved of the Augsburg Confession.

Total depravity simply means our inability to come to God on our own, without the work of the Spirit. It is, by and large, a statement against Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism. That’s what the SD quote refers to.


What’s curious is that the Confutation doesn’t seem to object to imputation of righteousness in Augsburg IV, either.

Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] **This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. **


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