Archive for March 2009

Resurrection, for the elect alone

March 31, 2009

When I say that only the elect alone are raised to life, I am not denying that the non-elect are raised after the first death in order to be destroyed in the second death. Since God is holy and just, that future judgment of the non-elect is necessary and important. But the resurrection to life is only for the elect, and that is why I Corinthians 15 pays no attention to the non-elect. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v17-19)

The New Testament does not describe the non-elect as sleeping. Even though  non-elect do not suffer until the second coming, Christ has never known them and they have no safety from His coming wrath. (I leave aside for now the question of non-elect angels.) Therefore, in contrast to the elect, the non-elect should not be described as sleeping. Hebrews 9: 27-28, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Bore sins one time

Many non-elect sinners are eagerly awaiting a false Christ who did not take away the sins of anybody. These non-elect professing Christians worship some other person than the Christ described in the Bible. They worship somebody whose work depends on the sinner to accept it. But the true Christ was imputed with the sins of the elect, and bore these sins one time in the past. The true Christ is not bearing sins now.

The true Christ did not bear the sins of those who will one day bear their own sins. The cross was not a general or infinite bearing of sins with the meaning and success to be determined later by what sinners thought about it. Christ did not come to save more than Christ will save. When Christ comes a second time, He will save the elect.

So there is a future salvation, but there is not a future determination of who will be saved by the cross. The non-elect will bear their own sins, and at that time Christ will no longer be bearing the sins of the elect. All the sins of the elect will have been taken away by the cross. Romans 5:9, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by the blood, much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God.” The New Testament has a difference between justification and salvation, and we know that all the elect have not yet been justified and that none of the elect has been resurrected on the last Day. But these facts do not change the truth that Christ has either already died for a sinner or has not, and that this is not the sinner’s decision.

Even though non-elect sinners were involved in putting Christ to death, Christ never died for them. The purpose of Christ’s death was the salvation of only the elect alone. When we think of reasons for the cross, we need to make a distinction between causes and purposes. Certainly we should think about Roman politics and Jewish religion when we think of the human means God used to accomplish His purpose, but there has never ever been any purpose to give Christ without also a purpose for elect sinners. Christ was not given first, before the election of sinners second. The elect were always chosen in Christ, and Christ’s incarnate glory was always about Him being given for the elect.

Second time not to deal with sin

When Hebrews 9:28 tells us that Christ “appears a second time not to deal with sin,” this is not a denial of a future judgment after death for the non-elect. The triune God will deal with the sin of the non-elect. But the point of Hebrews 9:28 is that the sins of the elect have already been dealt with once at the cross. This was not a provisional dealing with, the efficacy of which is yet to be determined by the sinner’s attitude. Instead, the elect sinner’s attitude to the gospel is a result and not a condition of the past dealing with sin.

The elect do eagerly wait for the true Christ, and not for the loves-everybody false Christ, but it is not this discernment and eagerness which makes one sinner to differ from another. God’s election in Christ made that difference. The parallel of Hebrews 9:27-28 depends on one time dealing with sins in the past. The parallel is ignored by those who say that Christ was given for everybody and that sins now are dealt with by the application to some of what was done for all. It is appointed for man to die once. Even though the non-elect will die the second death, even the elect die once.

Man dies once. Christ died once.

Even though Christ will come a second time, Christ only died once. Since Christ died only for the elect alone, the elect alone will only die once. After the non-elect man dies once, there is a judgment, and then the non-elect man dies twice. The non-elect man dies twice because he is a sinner. But the elect man is also a sinner, and does not die twice, and the only reason for this is Christ having died for that elect sinner.

I know I am repeating what is very simple. But anything more complicated tends to bring in some other factor than Christ’s death as the difference between saved and lost. Even though what I am saying is so simple, very few people are saying it. Even though they talk about election, they tend to talk about Christ’s death without talking about election.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

When J. I Packer claims that election is not part of the gospel message (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God), he relegates the doctrine of election to the “hidden God” who we need not know. Besides the God who has already elected a sinner in Christ or not, there is a false god offering Christ to sinners. Instead of a propitiation in which Christ is offered by God to God to bear the sins imputed to Him, the true nature of propitiation and imputation is not supposed to be told.

It is not so much a matter of doubting how much God the Holy Spirit can teach a sinner about propitiation and imputation, but rather a desire that the truth of the matter not be known. It’s as if Packer is being more cautious and prudent than God. Of course we don’t know who is not elect. But we do know that God has an elect, and that Christ only died for that elect, and if we leave that out, we must also leave out the whole matter of a past imputation of sins to Christ. “Bearing sins” becomes a very flexible metaphor, in which the reality and success of the bearing are to be determined by the Holy Spirit convincing the sinner. If the Spirit fails to convince a sinner, that sinner will bear for himself the sins Christ bore for him, including presumably the sin of not being convinced by the Spirit.

The false gospel not only has two Gods, one wanting to save all sinners. The false gospel also cannot have a righteousness which was completed at once in the past by Christ. The false gospel can have an alien righteousness, but in the Augustinian sense that it’s God (and His water baptism) doing the work of righteousness by grace in the elect sinner. You can have a false God -righteousness, you can have a false election, you can say that God delivers faith to the sinner, and still have a false gospel.

Because if the message is not about what Christ did by Himself outside the elect sinner, if the gospel is not about sins imputed once and taken away once, then justification becomes a theoretical footnote, and assurance depends on regeneration making you different from other people. And instead of telling God’s elect that Christ is coming a second time not to deal with their sin, preachers still have people doing the dealing. Deal with your sins, or God will deal with them for you, is not a message about what Christ has done.

A done deal

I want to get back to the resurrection, the hope of righteousness. But before we do that, let’s glory again in what Christ got done. Daniel 9:24 gives us four interesting infinitives: “to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness.” Even though the first two infinitives sound more like Hebrews 9:28, I think all four mean the same thing as what it means for Christ in His first coming “to deal with sin”. What Christ did with sin was not a beginning or the first episode. It is the whole story! It is the difference maker.

God cannot and will not be satisfied unless sin is punished by death, either the second death of the non-elect sinner or the one death of Christ for the elect sinner. God did not punish Christ for the sins of the elect without first imputing those sins to Christ. It would be unjust to punish a sinless Christ. Only by being legally constituted a sinner by imputation could Christ finish the transgression and put an end to sin. If iniquity had not been imputed to Christ, then Christ could not have atoned for it.

As important as this matter is, nobody seems to want to talk about it, because it means talking about whose sins were imputed (the elect) and when (already or not).  Because Christ has finished the work of bringing in the righteousness for the elect alone, the elect look forward to their future salvation from wrath by the resurrection to come. That work of bringing in righteousness involved Christ dealing with transgression, sin, iniquity. Christ dealt with them only because Christ was imputed with them. This is not fiction, not theory, not ideology.

Romans 6:9,10,”We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives to God.” The difference between the true gospel and the false is as simple as the difference between once for all done and anything else. To be done by you with the help of the Spirit is false gospel. You will decide what was really once for all done or not…that too is false gospel.

Christ died to sin, but never again

How can Romans 6 say that Christ died to sin? Christ was never unregenerate. Christ in His own person never sinned. When the false gospel says that died to sin is not about guilt but about the continuing power to sin, that false gospel is saying that Christ once had the ability and power to sin. Not true. Christ needed to die to sin, because Christ was imputed with sin.

But can’t we say that Christ was imputed with sin without getting into the question of election, and thus leave open the possibility that Christ was imputed with sins later to be further imputed back to the non-elect? Can’t we talk about imputation without talking about election? Can’t we talk about grace and not law, without talking about whose sins were imputed and when?

Of course, we can. Almost everybody does, even those who are talking about imputation. But to do so is to avoid the offense of the cross, as that which is the decisive bringing in of righteousness. If it’s our imputing which will determine what God will have imputed, then we are still under the law. And not only us, but also Christ is still under law. If the success of what Christ did hangs in the balance until the Holy Spirit convinces a sinner to impute his sins to Christ and then this wonderful decision causes God to impute sin to Christ, then there is no once for all. And then Christ Himself is still under law, also dependent on the Spirit to make sinners keep law by faith.

Some in the false gospel are more honest about this contingency than others. But everybody who keeps election out of their gospel keeps in a salvation by some future dealing with sin. The indicative is replaced by the imperative, and the good news is supplanted by the new directions.

Good news, not directions

But Romans 6:9 says never again! Christ has already died, and that death is sufficient for the elect alone. Why are people offended by election? Surely part of the problem is that they sit in judgment on God for exercising His divine prerogatives. People with the false gospel are haters of the true God. They think themselves so full of love that they complain that they do not want to be elect if their children with no exceptions are not also elect.

But the offense of election already at the cross is that there is nothing for sinners to do about it or decide about it. It’s as if those with the false gospel are saying that they can deal with one of their children being lost just so long as they know that God had nothing to do with it! Just so long as they can see that this person they love was also loved by God, then they will have no problem with saying that God’s love failed and that the reason God failed was the person’s own fault.

I am not at all saying that non-election is good news. It is not. But election is good news, and we cannot honestly teach election without teaching non-election. We can dishonestly say that the second death is conditioned only on the sinner. But since many sinners have been elected to be saved from the second death, it is false to act as though being a sinner were the only factor.

It is true that God owes no sinner election. It is the very nature of grace that it is God’s election, and God has a right to do what God wants with His own. God owes no non-elect sinner an explanation of why God elected one and not another. But God has declared the truth that God has already elected one sinner and not another, and every one of us who wants to tell the truth about God instead of having an idol needs to tell that whole truth.

When Romans 3:23 says that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, the whole truth means going on to the next verse, “and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Everybody who sinned in v 23 is justified in v24. This means that both verses are only talking about the elect. The non-elect sinned also, but they are not being discussed in Romans 3:22-24. There is no distinction between the elect. All the elect believe the gospel. All the elect sinned. All the elect are justified, when they are justified, by His grace in Christ. There is no good news for the non-elect, and the non-elect are not being described in Romans 3:22-24.

I Corinthians 15 is also only talking about the elect, those who sleep. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Verse 22 does not say that all in Adam die, and all in Christ live, even though this is the way we often attempt to understand it. Verse 22 is only talking about those who belong to Christ. Every person elect in Christ was also in Adam, died in Adam, and was under God’s wrath in Adam, even though that person was loved from before the foundation of the world. Christ Himself was not in Adam, and did not die in Adam, but Christ was both eternally loved and also ONCE FOR ONE TIME under God’s wrath for the imputed sins of the elect, including the sin of Adam imputed to the elect.

So what is the hope of I Corinthians 15? Is the task before us to make the decision which will get us out of Adam into Christ? No. God put the elect in Christ. (see I Corinthians 1:30). The hope of I Corinthians 15 is to be found in Christ. Even though Christ in us is also the hope of glory (see Colossians 1:27), the foundation of the “in us” is the “in Christ”. Assurance is not a confidence that we decided by the Spirit to get into Christ. Gospel assurance is about being joined by God to Christ. To be joined to Christ’s death is to know about ourselves what is also true about Christ: “the death he died to sin, once.” (Romans 6:10)

Death once, then resurrection

Romans Six is not about regeneration as a means to resurrection. Rather, Romans Six is about the death of Christ for the elect as a means to resurrection. Before there can be a resurrection, there must be death. And believing and working, no matter how much you do of it, is not a death. The only death before God which has replaced the second death is the death of Christ for the imputed sins of the elect. That death is not potentially something. That death is sufficient for all for whom it was intended. Everybody for whom Christ died will be resurrected to life.

Romans 5:18, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” I will tell you the same thing I told you about I Corinthians 15 and Romans 3:22-24. Romans 5:18 is not talking about the non-elect. It’s not about potential justification and possible life. The very same all men justified by the one righteousness were the all men condemned by the one trespass.

That one righteousness is not that which the Spirit enables the elect to do. That one righteousness is the once and done doing and dying of Christ. Galatians 5:5, “For through the Spirit by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” The hope is not that one day we will be righteous by the Spirit enough so that we will only need Christ’s righteousness to make up for the past. Indeed, the hope in this context is not for righteousness. Rather, the hope is because of righteousness. Because of imputed righteousness, and for no other reason, the elect have a certain hope for resurrection.

Eternal life is not a wish or a dream, but a present result of righteousness imputed to the elect. Eternal life means not only life in the Holy Spirit but immortality for the bodies of the elect. Romans 8:10-11, “The Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

Not all creation immortal

The hope is not that all creation is immortal. The hope is not a soul that cannot die no matter what sins that soul commits. The hope is that Christ poured out His soul to death for the elect alone, and that His death to sin is their death to sin. Call that death righteousness! God calls Christ’s death for the elect righteousness because that death is righteousness.

That righteousness imputed is all the righteousness the elect have or need to have. Philippians 3:8….”I count all other things as rubbish, in order that I gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that which comes through faith in Christ….” I do not think that “becoming like Him in his death” in Philippians 3:10 means being imputed with His death, but I do think that the resurrection from the dead attained by the elect is a result of being found in the imputed righteousness of Christ. Those found in that righteousness won’t count on anything else but the cross, no not even for their resurrection.

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Sufficient, for the elect alone

March 30, 2009

John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death unto life.” The elect will not be judged by works in the future. The elect will not be judged in the future. The future judgment has already come into the present, has already happened for all who have been justified by means of the work of Christ. Because of Christ’s righteousness, the very fact that the elect are raised at the Second Coming of Christ will be the manifestation of their justification.

Even for the elect who have not yet passed from death to life, Christ has already accomplished a final nothing-to-be-added-to redemption. He paid the price for all the elect. All the elect will be freed from sin and death. Christ’s redemption is not sufficient for the non-elect, because sufficiency means that nothing else is necessary. Christ either already died for a sinner or did not. There never was a sacrifice for the sins of the non-elect. It’s not as though at one time it was ‘available” but no longer remains. It never was for the non-elect, and it does not remain for the apostates who are non-elect.

Gospel about election, not only about a present justification

The gospel issue is not simply a present justification by grace rather than a future justification by Spirit-enabled works. Many conditionalists also disagree with the new perspective, and teach that justification is already final. The Lordship vs easy believism debate still leaves most Calvinists and Arminians on the same side. They both deny assurance to those who have been using too many (how many?) idle words. Doubt about a present salvation results from not talking about elect and non-elect.

Assurance involves talking about Christ having already taken away the sin of the elect and not having taken away the sin of the non-elect. Doubt means “overtures of love” to everybody and “Christ died for sinners” but also at the same time a future where all sins (both of elect and non-elect) will still be judged. Failure to talk about election is both a cause and a result of turning the warnings to believe the gospel into “Reformed” threats to professing Christians about non-occasional sin in their lives. The idea is to thank God for doubts, so that doubts become the basis of assurance! And if we dare to ask, “how much discipleship is enough”, then the very question becomes evidence of people who know doctrine but who don’t have a pastor to love them with threats and conditions.

New covenant never for everybody

The new covenant is gracious, not because of grace given to those in the new covenant to now do the law, but because Christ has died for all those in the new covenant and so there is present justification. The grace of the new covenant is not about the elect doing the law. It’s about what the great high priest has done. The new covenant is better for the elect, but the new covenant is not better for the non-elect. And this is why we should not talk only about redemptive history, without talking about elect and non-elect. Because if we are silent about election, and only address ourselves to those who have been admitted to the communion covenant table, then the “us” and the “you” are all in the new covenant, and then the new covenant can be broken just like the old covenant was broken.

If we don’t talk about election, it does not matter how many good and right things we do say. Not all in the old covenant were elect, and all in the new covenant are elect, The new covenant is not sufficient and available for all sinners. Even though the new age has come, non-elect gentiles can no more be saved than the non-elect Jews who spurn that new covenant Hebrews 10: 25, “But if we do on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” What Jesus did was never ever sufficient for those who don’t come to Jesus. Even though the new covenant is better and more gracious than the old, the punishment is worse for the non-elect now than ever. Yes, the Son of God has come, but the non-elect were already condemned before He came.

Does God begin with mercy for the non-elect?

What is the gospel? Is the gospel that God has spared not His Son in order to give everybody an opportunity to be spared? No. The gospel is that God spared not His elect Son so that all the elect with Christ be given all things. God has balanced His books and will balance them. For the non-elect, there has never been any mercy. For the non-elect, God has no mercy now and never will. The false gospel insists that mercy is now available, and then uses that supposedly real mercy to justify a hell that has nothing to do with non-election but always “only your own fault.” Conditionalism makes it look like God will change His mind, and that God now wants to save some who one day will consumed in God’s hands. Conditionalism says that God loves nobody unconditionally, and that God only loves a plan, and that who gets saved by that plan is not up to God. The false gospel makes salvation depend on the sinner.

Mercy never ends for the elect, and mercy never was in the first place for the non-elect. The elect (those whose names have already been written in the other book) will not answer for every sin after their death. The non-elect (those whose names have already not been written in the other book) will die the second death for their sins. I know that their destruction will not be exactly like the death of the Son of God, but the wages of sin is death and the soul that sins shall die and there is one who is able to destroy both body and soul and that this is how God will balance His books. Hebrews 10: 26-31 does not teach that God can never ever in the future for all eternity take one day off from tormenting non-elect sinners because never ever will the books be balanced. Nor does the text teach that the non-elect will always continue to be spurning and forfeiting and outraging.

I Corinthians 15: 27-28 The last enemy to be destroyed is death… When all things are subjected to Him who put all things into subjection to Him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

God has excluded

God has already excluded the non-elect, and has already included the elect. It is false to say that the non-elect have excluded themselves. God has excluded many sinners. The difference between the elect and non-elect is not that the elect have not excluded themselves. The redemption of the elect only happened because of the condemnation of Christ the elect Head of the elect Body. The elect cannot say to the non-elect” you could have”, but we say to all sinners, “you should believe the gospel of salvation for the elect by Christ’s death for the elect . Believing that gospel is assurance in that gospel that you are elect “. But even when we say the should, in full disclosure to others and to ourselves, we remember God’s sovereign choice not only to exclude the non-elect from believing the gospel they should believe but also to exclude the non-elect from the new covenant and from the redemption which is only for the elect in Christ.

Rev 20:14-15 Then Death and Hades were thrown (by God, not themselves) into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if someone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Uncommon grace, for the elect alone

March 23, 2009

Those who teach that Christ died for everyone are profaning the blood of Christ. But these false teachers cannot change either the justice or the sovereign effectiveness of the cross, for even their false teaching has been ordained by the same God who designed the glorious death of Christ. It does not follow that we who believe the true gospel have no purpose or need to refute the false teaching. Our prayer is that we ourselves have been predestined to expose any and all attempts to make Christ’s death common.

Christ’s death is not common for every sinner, because Christ’s death does not have only an ordinary effect of making a salvation conditioned on what sinners do with grace. Because Christ’s death is not only about sovereignty but also about justice, because Christ’s death is about not only punishment but also about imputed guilt, Christ’s death has the uncommon result of entitling every elect person to all the benefits of salvation. Elect sinners might be somewhat wary of any talk of being entitled to anything, since we know that we are still always sinning, but it is simply boasting in Christ. if we think that our sinning somehow makes us any less entitled to all salvation blessings, then we will also falsely come to think that our not sinning will bring us extra rewards. If our sinning or not sinning comes into the equation, then what Christ did is not enough.

If common, not enough

Any false gospel which says that Christ died in common for every sinner but that not all these sinners receive a common salvation is logically saying that Christ’s death is not enough for any sinner. Not only logically, but in their existential experience, all those believing the false gospel are practical legalists. Whatever they may say or think, they sincerely believe that what Christ did is not enough and they think they need to get busy. This is the paradox: every self-righteous person who makes the death of Christ common also feels guilt for not doing more and better. Those who profane Christ’s death are objectively guilty before God, not simply because of what they feel or think about Christ, but because they are not in Christ. Only in Christ, and not in our lack of self-righteousness, do we find entitlement to all the blessings of salvation. God’s justice to Christ demands the salvation of all for whom Christ died. God’s justice to Christ is finally no different from God’s justice to all those God has chosen in Christ.

Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the One who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace.” I want to look at this text rather carefully, not only because it has the idea of making the blood unclean, or profaning the sacred. This text is also one which is often used to teach a grace which is common to both elect and non-elect. It is used to teach that the new covenant can be broken, and that the covenant is bigger than election, and that grace is for more than the elect. The idea of common grace is that God has some grace for everybody, more grace for those in the covenant, and even more grace for the elect. This idea of common grace is not biblical.

I used to think that a person could somehow be right on the gospel but wrong on God offering to save sinners that God wanted to save in one way but didn’t want to in another way. But I am now seeing that this doubletalk is very much the same as saying that Christ died in common for everybody but that Christ also died with the extra intent to purchase the faith for the elect to meet a condition. Whether a person is looking to include in their gospel a return to the Jewish temple (the Hebrews context) or to include in their gospel a death of Christ common enough to offer to every sinner, that person is not glorying in the blood of Christ alone. Christ Himself was sanctified by His blood, which is the blood of the covenant. The Hebrews 10 warning is not saying that an apostate experienced grace or resisted grace. Non-elect sinners always resist God, but they do not resist God’s grace.

The blood by which Christ was sanctified

The Hebrews 10 warning is not saying that an apostate was in the new covenant. I do not think it is even saying that the apostate appeared to be in the new covenant, although this is a possible interpretation if you want to work out a visible and invisible church contrast. The “Son of God” is the closest antecedent of the pronoun “he” in the phrase “the covenant by which he was sanctified”. Of course we need to remember that “sanctify” does not mean to get better and better, as most systematic theology would have it. “Sanctify” is to set apart before God, both in the Old Testament context of Hebrews 10, (blood of the covenant, Zechariah 9:11, Ex 24:8) and in John 17. “And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they shall also be sanctified.”

Those who profane the death of Christ teach that Christ sanctified Himself in common for every sinner so that maybe (and maybe not) these sinners will be sanctified. Not only do they wrongly define sanctification as getting better, but they turn that getting better into the condition which can make the common death something special. But the book of Hebrews instead gives all the glory to Christ’s death. “We see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He would taste death for every… (2:10). The verses which follow tell us every “son to glory”, every ”those who are sanctified”, every “the children God has given me”. Those who profane the death of Christ tell us that the glory and honor of Christ is dying for many sinners who will never be glorified. They tell us that the One crowned was sanctified for more than are sanctified. They dishonor Christ by telling the children God gave Him that Christ died also for those who are not and who will never be children of God.

Christ is crowned with honor and glory, not ultimately because of three hours suffering before death, but because “of the suffering of death.” Many have died, but none but Christ has died as the sinless Son of God. Many have suffered, but none but Christ has died because of the imputed sins of the elect, the children God gave Christ. Christ sanctified Himself does not mean that Christ got better and better but that Christ set Himself apart to die for a people set apart before the creation of the world. These elect people are one day sanctified by faith given by Christ’s Spirit, but before that, in both the Old and New Testaments, God’s elect are set apart by the death, by the blood of Christ. Hebrews 5:9, “And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to those who obey Him.” All the elect will obey the gospel but it is not their doing so which is the source of their salvation. But if Christ died in common for every sinner, and not every sinner is set apart, then it is not the blood of Christ which sanctifies. It is not special, and it does not do anything special. God forbid!

Securing an eternal redemption

Hebrews 9:12, “Christ entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” As an eternal punishment does not mean punishing forever but punishment which is final, even so eternal redemption does not mean that Christ is and will be redeeming forever, but rather that by one death, Christ has obtained a redemption which is final. Like a punishment which lasts and cannot be reversed, this redemption for the elect lasts and cannot be reversed. This redemption is not the payment of a price without a guarantee that those paid for will be freed from guilt and its consequence death. Biblical redemption secures freedom for each particular elect person so that when that very person will be (or has been, OT) joined to Christ’s death and thus justified from sin and no longer under law or death.

But the false gospel never talks about election, and so it cannot talk about either redemption or security for the elect. It can only talk about security on the condition of faith. Some with the false gospel say you can have security because of your faith, and then lose your faith and your security. Others with the false gospel say that faith is like getting a tattoo that cannot be removed, and that even if you lose your faith, you can be secure. But all in the false gospel are agreed in profaning the death of Christ. All in the false gospel say that Christ died for every sinner, even those who add that Christ died with extra intent for the elect. All in the false gospel say that Christ is the mercy seat for every sinner. According to this common mercy, many die unjustified but none die without mercy. They say that God would have and could have and did have mercy on all sinners, at least until they died. They say that Christ in His death showed mercy to every sinner, but that such mercy was not enough alone to save any sinner.

No mercy except for the elect alone

The warning of Hebrews 10 is not assuming that God has been merciful to all who are being warned. Many died under the Mosaic law without mercy. Even though the ceremonies of the Mosaic economy proclaimed gospel by the death of Christ and not by our doing, God was never merciful to anybody in the Mosaic covenant except those who were elect in Christ. Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh, “Israelites, to whom belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises, “ (Romans 9:4) did not receive mercy unless they were elect. We cannot talk about mercy without talking about election, because there is no mercy except for the elect. Not all the kinsmen are children of the promise, because “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God.” (Romans 9:6) Even though there is discontinuity between the Mosaic covenant and Christ’s covenant of blood which secures redemption, there is continuity in God’s mercy. Mercy is only for the elect.

Not all in the Mosaic covenant were elect. There is no common covenant mercy, and then extra special mercy for the elect. “Though they were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election would CONTINUE, not because of work but because of His call.” (Romans 9:11) God’s call is God’s grace, and God’s grace is not resisted. There is no grace for those who are not called. The false gospel claims not to teach salvation by works, but it cannot avoid it because it will not teach calling and election. Some with the false gospel claim to teach both election and universal love, but where there is no election, there is never any love. What kind of mercy is it that does not save? What kind of calling is it that fails to bring faith to the called? The gospel is promise for the elect. The gospel is not a conditional promise which warns that love will run out for those who don’t believe. The gospel is that, before they did good or bad, before they believed, the elect were already loved in Christ so that Christ died for them and not for others.

No foreknowledge, no mercy

Hebrews 10 warns that, even though the new covenant is different from the Mosaic covenant, election is still election, and no mercy is still no mercy. Hebrews 10 does not teach that some in the new covenant die without mercy. Christ never sacrificed His blood for those who profane the covenant. The Spirit outraged is the Spirit of grace, but the Spirit was never gracious to those who outraged. The “foreknowledge of God” is not God’s knowing who will not profane the covenant. God does know about when and where and how people will say that Christ died for everybody, but this is not what I Peter 1:2 calls “foreknowledge.” God knowing a person is God electing a person which is God loving a person. In the context of the first paragraph of I Peter, the result (and not the cause) of foreknowledge is the Spirit setting apart a person to believe.

The Bible does not talk about this love or foreknowledge without also talking at the same time about Jesus Christ and “sprinkling with His blood”. To see the significance of this expression, we look back to the animal sacrifices and also we remember Romans 5:9. “Now being justified by His blood…” If His blood had been for every sinner, then every sinner would one day be justified by it. His blood justifies. Nothing but the blood justifies. But His blood was not shed for every sinner. Only the sinners joined to the death (Romans 6) and sprinkled with the blood (I Peter 1) have His blood in common. The Spirit does not cause them to obey the truth in order to get the blood. The blood was shed for them alone, and then imputed to them alone. The elect alone are sprinkled with the blood, and this is the legal cause why the Spirit causes them to obey the promise and “do what is true.” (John 3:21)

Not God previewing the movie

“Foreknowledge” in I Peter 1 is not God previewing the movie to know what the sinner will do so that God can then decide what God will do later in the movie. We know this from I Peter 1:20 which describes Jesus Christ as foreknown. “You were ransomed not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through him are believers in God….” In another chapter, we will consider the glorious truth that Christ is for the elect alone. But notice here that Christ is the elect one, and that all elect sinners are elect in Him, and not because of their believing in Him. Christ was not made manifest for everybody, but for a particular you, which is not only those who first read Peter’s letter. This particular you is those who “through him are believers in Christ.” The idea is not that people get to be in Christ through believing. In antithesis to the false gospel, the elect get to be believing the true gospel through Christ.

Loved always, yet under wrath for a time

Christ has always been the elect of God. Every elect sinner has always been loved by God. We are puzzled by the time gap before or after Christ’s death for the elect and them being joined to Christ. In the Old Testament, the elect are justified, not under the wrath of God, even though the Son of God has not yet come under the wrath of God for them. In the New Testament, the elect are condemned, under the wrath of God, until they are joined to Christ, even though the Son of God has already come under the wrath of God for them. Though this is difficult to try to understand, it is no more difficult than the idea of Jesus Christ always being loved by God and yet under the wrath of God until He died for all the sins of the elect. Even when we factor in the fact that it is not God the Father punishing God the Son, but the triune God punishing and Christ punishing and the one being propitiated who propitiates, we still cannot escape the need for the blood. The sovereign decision to love is not enough. Yes, Christ was always elect, always the Surety for the elect alone. But Christ was not always imputed with the sins of the elect, and Christ is not now imputed with their guilt.

I try to talk about these things, not because I think everything I try to explain is clear, but because nothing is more important. If the gospel is that Christ died but that we don’t know for whom or why, then I think we have just agreed with the scoffers that the death was unfortunate, foolish, and not at all decisive. We cannot understand the nature of redemption without understanding the extent of redemption, and we cannot understand election without understanding redemption. Even if we say that Christ only died for believers, then we have not described either the nature or the extent of the redemption. God did not sneak a look ahead into the movie to see who would believe, and then retroactively (or timelessly, as many sophists would have it) determine that Christ would only die for the believers. God did not have two intentions, first to dishonor Christ by having Christ to die for every sinner, and then second to honor Christ by having Christ also have an elect to give faith to make a common death special. Christ died for the elect. God has an elect. God gave children to Christ, and Christ is the Everlasting Father to these children (Isaiah 9:6) and not to other children.

Enabling the profaners

Christ died for the elect alone, and only the elect are taught by God not to profane His death. The elect may not be able to explain everything as clearly as they would like. But they know enough to use the antithesis. They can say, not for the non-elect. They can say, for the elect. All those who claim to believe in election but do not talk about election are enabling everybody around them to keep profaning the cross. Everybody thinks they know that God loves everybody, and when a preacher talks about propitiation and holiness and sanctification without talking about God having set apart a people, that preaching becomes only another occasion in which the sinner presumes that he or she has another opportunity to put the special into the blood, yes, even the blood of Christ!

Mark Driscoll’s book Death by Love

March 18, 2009

This book, in 12 chapters, presents the common false gospel that the application of what took place at the cross depends on the sinner. Driscoll has no idea of an atonement in which the application of the atonement is secured by the atonement. To the question of why can’t God simply forgive sins without punishing Jesus for sins, he correctly answers that somebody has to pay for sin for God to be God and to be just. But then he undermines the justice and satisfaction of God by saying again and again that Jesus died for all sinners and even paid for all their sins. But then he assumes that this justice and satisfaction for sins will not be applied unless the sinner accepts it.

Notice that this is something different from saying that the application does not happen until the time of hearing and believing of the gospel. Certainly the elect are under the wrath of God until the time when the righteousness of the cross is imputed and applied to them (baptised into the death). But Driscoll is saying that many for whom Jesus died will go to hell. He is saying that even though Jesus died to pay for the sins of Judas, that justice and satisfaction will not be effectual for Judas in hell. So contrary to Romans 8:32, God will not freely give all things along with Jesus to all those for whom He gave His Son.

So this is not a good news message about what God has done, but only a message about what God will do if you do something. For example, on p 193, Driscoll writes, “it all comes down to you and Jesus”. But in fact his message comes down to only you, the sinner. Jesus according to him has paid the ransom from hell for every sinner, so it most certainly does not come down to Jesus. It depends on the sinner, and then God will respond by applying it. Even though he writes about “efficacious” love (p240), the success all depends on “if you turn”. He has no desire to tell the sinner that turning to the true gospel is a result guaranteed for the elect by the cross.

This is not a straightforward Arminianism. He does not say stupid stuff like: Jesus will die for you if you… But he does say: Jesus died for all of you.  He is offended by the cross making the difference. How can the cross be the difference between saved and lost when you have a cross which is saying that God loves every sinner? Yes, Driscoll is clear that God hates many sinners in the end. But he contradicts this with his constant assurance to all sinners that Jesus has already paid for their sins. Either Jesus has or He has not, and that already.

So I will not say that this is Barthianism, though he quotes Barth with favor about the need for justice (P136). I will not say that this is 4 point Calvinism, though Bruce Ware and DA Carson seem to be his models.My concern is not “isms”. My concern is that we stop the double talk about Jesus dying for non-elect sinners to pay their sins. If our sins are paid for by the blood, we will be saved. Part of that salvation will be knowing and believing the true gospel.

I suppose I could recommend some good books here. Robert Reymond’s systematic theology comes to mind. AW Pink and William Rushton and Jeff Alexander have good books talking about the fact that specific sins have already been laid on Jesus or not, and that this is not conditioned on what the sinner does. But Driscoll has John Owen and Smeaton in his book list, and they are quite good also. Books are not the solution. Like all of us, Driscoll needs to be delivered by God over to the true doctrine (Romans 6:17) and repent of the dead works of all those with the false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner.

Substitution and Punishment, for the elect alone

March 18, 2009

Many folks try to defend what they call “substitutionary atonement” without talking about election, and even if they do end up saying that Christ was the substitute only for believers, they still think of themselves as holding the same doctrine of substitution with folks who teach that Christ died for every sinner including sinners who will be destroyed one day by the wrath of God. The idea common to both the Arminian and the mainline Reformed is that God is holy and that propitiation is needed.God expiated our sins.The common false gospel is that God took care of everybody’s sins at the cross, and the common false solution is that a specific sinner’s faith allows what God did at the cross to work for that specific sinner. Even though it becomes clear in the false gospel that what Christ did for you won’t save you if you don’t believe, what is not so clear is exactly what Christ did.

Whatever it was that Christ did, the common false gospel assumes that Christ did it for every sinner, even for those sinners who perish.What Christ did becomes one of several conditions, because God does not forgive sin without first showing God’s anger at sin.But if God’s purpose is simply to make the forgiveness of sin possible, if God’s purpose is to make a general statement about the need for wrath and punishment, what has become of substitution?In a general atonement which plans for the possibility of all sinners being saved, Christ can be the most important person on the team, doing what is necessary to win, but this false Christ can never do anything without the rest of the team.He cannot be a substitute for people, so that they don’t have to do anything; the false Christ of the false gospel still depends on them to let Him save them.But this is not substitution.

One died for all, therefore all have died

Substitution is the death and resurrection of Christ for certain specific sinners, so that these elect sinners do not die for themselves.These elect sinners do not die for their sins. These elect sinners do not die.But doesn’t the New Testament use the word “with” and not only the word “for”?Yes, Christ died but didn’t everybody die with Christ?Didn’t the whole world die with Christ? Didn’t Christ died for all, so that all died?II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but who for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

We can think about a “for” which is not substitution.I can score a goal for my team, without any idea that I am the only one playing the game. I score the goal for the sake of others on my team, and not only for myself, but that does not mean they do nothing and I do everything.In II Corinthians 5:14-15, it is not the “for” which get us to the idea of substitution.(Of course I remember that the original is not English, but I am not a Greek student and cannot comment on the “instead” nuance of the original word.)What gets us to substitution is “therefore all died”.It is a mistake to reference the death of the all to some conversion experience that believers have.The death of all is not their repentance. Nor does “those who live” refer to faith or to conversion.The idea is not that Christ died one kind of death and as a result believers die another kind of death.The idea is not that Christ rose again from death and as a result believers now experience regeneration and the possibility of pleasing God.Rather, the idea is that the death Christ died, to propitiate God’s wrath because of imputed sins, is the death which is credited and counted to the elect.The elect do not die this kind of death. Their substitute died it for them.Christ alone, by Himself, without them, died this death.And it is that death, not some other kind of death, which the text teaches “all died.”

Already died for a person, or not

To teach substitutionary atonement from II Corinthians 5:14, 15, it is not enough to explain that the “all” is those who died and those who live.It is not enough, in other words, only to teach that Christ died only for the elect.It is impossible of course to teach substitution if we don’t talk about election, and if we don’t see that all for whom Christ died will live.But it’s not sufficient to only see the extent of the atonement. We must see the nature of the atonement.The common false gospel thinks it can teach the nature of the atonement without talking about extent, and so it makes its false Christ one of the team todo something about sin and holiness.But a gospel which only talks about the extent of the atonement ( only for those who live) has not yet explained substitutionif it has not taught that what Christ did is done by Christ alone, by Himself, without the help or consent of the team or the elect.Christ either died for a person, and that already, or Christ did not die for a person, and that already.

If Christ died for a person, that person becomes also dead legally, which means that the person becomes immune from the wrath of God.It is not that person’s repentance or anything else to follow in that person’s life which makes them free from God’s wrath.It’s Christ death alone which saves anybody from wrath.If Christ died for a person, one day that elect person will be joined to that death, and will become free from sin and death and wrath.It will not be their faith which frees them from wrath. It will not be the Holy Spirit joining them to the death which will free them from wrath. Romans 6 does not say that the Holy Spirit joins the elect to the death of Christ.Romans 6 does teach a transition from wrath to favor in the life of an elect sinner.Romans 6:20-22, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to holiness and eternal life.”

Yes, the elect experience a change in fruit. Before they had nothing but dead fruit leading to death, dead works. It’s not a matter of more works and better works.It’s a question of no fruit or fruit.But the elect did not become servants of righteousness by becoming fruitful.The elect became fruitful by first being joined to the death of Christ.That death by Christ was always only for them alone, but it did not become their death until they were justified and placed into that death. Union with the death is not regeneration, because regeneration is a result of being joined to the death.The Lord Jesus Christ did not die along with the elect.Christ died instead of the elect.Christ died alone, by Himself. Describing the nature of the death of Christ means that “all died” is about a substitution, so that Christ’s having satisfied wrath and justice for the elect alone is counted as the elect themselves having satisfied wrath and justice.Yes, “you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”(Romans 6:17) But beingcommittedby God to the gospel so that their mind obeys the gospel is not the condition of the elect becoming servants of righteousness but the result.Regeneration and calling are the immediate effects of being joined to Jesus Christ’s death in justification.

Not sufficient for the non-elect

An old formula from Lombard is used in the political compromise of the Synod of Dordt, “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect”.Or for those who don’t want to talk about the e word at all: sufficient for all, efficient for the believer.But the truth is that Christ’s death is not sufficient for the non-elect.What we really need to see is not simply the extent of the atonement but its nature.What do we mean by sufficient for the elect ?If we don’t understand how Christ’s death is enough for the elect, denying that Christ’s deathworks for the non-elect will not explain the gospel.Why did Christ need to die for the elect?Because the regeneration of the elect does not satisfy God’s justice.And it is not the Holy Spirit’s application of benefits from Christ’s death which appeases God’s wrath.God’s wrath has already been appeased or not, and justification is what happens when the elect are joined to that death.It’s not Christ’s death plus the future work of the Holy Spirit in the elect which satisfies God’s wrath.(Jonathan Edwards once suggested that it was this future work which justified God in justifying.)It’s Christ death for the elect alone which becomes their justification.Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his like his…”I am not saying that we have to be united with Christ’s death before we can be united to Christ.But unlike the mainstream, I also am not saying that we have to be united with Christ Himself by regeneration before we can be united to Christ’s death.The elect are united with Christ in a death like his. Christ’s death was not His release from the power of sin instead of the guilt of sin.Christ’s death was His release from the guilt of sin, sins imputed.

Death to the guilt of sin

Christ was never under the power of sin in the sense of being unable not to sin.Christ was always unable to sin. The only way Christ was ever under the power of sin is by being under the guilt of sin. The guilt of the elect’s sin was transferred by God to Christ. So Christ’s death to sin was death to the guilt of sin, and since the elect are united with a death like his, the death of the elect is also a death to the guilt of sin.And this is what Romans 6:7 teaches: “For one who has died has been justified from sin.”Yet many commentators tell us that “set free from sin” must mean the elect’s sanctification by the Spirit so that the justified elect cannot habitually sin. They tell us that justification was in chapter five and that chapter six must be about something more if it’s to be a real answer to the question “why not sin?”.But Christ was never under the power of habitual sin or any sin, and Christ’s death was not to the power of sin, and the death of the elect is like His death.

Romans 6:10, “For the death He died He died to sin.”When the elect consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God, the nature of the death they consider is death to the guilt of sin. Death to the guilt of sin means legal life before God.A person who does not understand these things does not yet understand the nature of the atonement. Romans 6:14 does not say, For sin shall not be your master, because the Holy Spirit has changed you so that you cannot habitually sin, but only occasionally and always with repentance.Romans 6:14 says, “For sin shall not by your master, because you are not under law but under grace.”I have no desire to talk about redemptive history, or to debate about which law we were under and which we were not. Nor do I have any interest at this point in discussing what is now God’s rule of life for Christians (except to say of course that God does have commandments and laws for Christians.)But to understand the nature of the justifying death of Christ, we must see that being joined to that death means not being under law.

It’s not my habit to try to make things simple when they are not simple, but sin not having dominion over the elect simply means the guilt of sin being removed from the elect.Anybody who is not content with this explanation of Romans 6:14 does not understand the purpose of the death of Christ the same way I do.I agree that Christ also died to purchase every blessing, including the giving of the Spirit and our believing.But it is not believing which frees the elect from the guilt of sin. It’s being joined to the death which frees from guilt which then causes the elect to immediately believe the gospel.

Exclusive vs inclusive

Even though I think the nature of the joining is important, the joining will not matter if we miss out on what Christ’s death does.To see it more clearly, I want to contrast what I am saying with an alternative teaching, by liberal Miroslav Volf.In his book, Free of Charge (Zondervan, 2005, p147), Volf writes: “Since Christ is our substitute, after reading ‘one has died for all,’ we’d expect him to continue, ‘therefore none of them needs to die.’ Had he written that, he would have expressed the idea that theologians call EXCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION. According to this view, Christ’s death makes ours unnecessary. As a third party, he is our substitute, and his death is his alone and no one else’s.But that’s not how the Apostle thought. Christ’s death doesn’t replace our death. It enacts it, he suggested. That’s what theologians call INCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION.”

My goal is not for the reader to get exasperated with another liberal for doubletalk. Rather, the question is what we mean by substitution.The problem here cannot be fixed by simply noticing that Christ died only for the elect.Not all liberals are Arminians who condition the salvation of a sinner on the sinner. Many liberals are universalists who say that God will save everybody because Christ was the substitute for everybody.What we need to think about is the nature of the substitution.If Christ’s death replaces people’s death, why does the text say that all died? My answer is that “all died” is how the text tells us that the death of Christ replaces the death of all. Since the death of Christ comes to count as the death of the elect, once the elect have been joined to that death, this tells us that another death is not necessary.I’m not sure what “enact” is supposed to mean, and perhaps the word is chosen for its ambiguity, but nobody else but Christ can or will die as punishment for another person’s sins. And if Christ’s death gets counted as the death of the elect, the death of the elect is a death like Christ’s death because it IS Christ’s death.It is not some other death. It is one death, counted as the death of all the elect.

A general fund of punishment?

My concern here is not Volf, but that you see the death as punishment specifically for the elect. When Christ was punished for the elect, the elect were all punished.To be joined to the punishment is to have already been punished.The liberals, even those who say that everybody will be saved, tend to deny the need or the value of punishment.The Arminians, on the other hand, agree with the idea of punishment but they describe the death of Christ as a punishment in general, which will be assigned as needed to particular persons if and when they believe.Of course many Arminians have now become Socinians who deny the need for punishment in order to justification.And many who claim to believe in election, but who would never talk about election in the gospel, also tend to speak of the punishment o Christ as something “infinite” to be later assigned to persons on condition of faith.Many who believe in election confess to believing the same gospel as taught by Arminians.

In Taste and See (Multnomah,1999, p325), John Piper endorses the conditional false gospel. “Christ died for all sinners, so that IF you will repent and believe in Christ, then the death of Jesus will become effective in your case and will take away your sins. ‘Died for you,’ means if youbelieve, the death of Jesus will cover your sins. Now, as far as it goes, this is biblical teaching.”Piper then goes on to disagree with Arminians for not teaching that Christ died to purchase faith for the elect. But he does not disagree with the Arminians about propitiation and substitution and punishment.Piper’s false gospel does not teach that Christ was specifically punished for the elect alone .It still only has a punishment in general, to be assigned later to those who believe.But can we call Piper an Arminian, since he does insist that Christ also died for the elect to give them something extra that He will not be giving the non-elect?My answer is that it does not matter what we call Piper’s false gospel, if we see that it misses being gospel in two important and related ways.First, the false gospel fails to report that Christ was punished specifically for the elect, and when it does that, it will be heard every time as saying that there was enough punishment done to Christ to save even people who will nevertheless end up being punished. Thus, even though it has punishment, this false gospel is not about punishment that replaces punishment for all whom Christ intended to save.Another way to say this, I suppose , is that it has punishment without any intention of Christ to save anybody in particular at all.

Is Arminianism the gospel, or is the gospel needed?

So far, I am making a point that most of the five points of Calvinism books make.But I think Piper’s punishment- in- general gospel (with faith purchased extra for the elect) is no gospel in a second and important way. The mainline Reformed gospel makes the important atonement to be something other than the punishment of Christ. It makes the real reconciliation to be the Spirit Christ purchased giving people faith to believe, even if they happen to believe a message that says Christ died for every sinner.The alternative here is to either claim that people who have never heard the gospel are saved, or to claim that general punishment for nobody in particular is the gospel.In any case, it is not the good news about the real meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.If we jump ahead to the things Christ has bought for believers, even including their believing, without telling it straight about the punishment of Christ specifically for the elect, then we will continue to love a gospel which has no election in it and no punishment to release the elect from guilt.If we jump ahead in that way, we jump over why God’s love for the elect is never described apart from the death of Christ.

If the death of Christ is not that which saves any specific sinner, then the death of Christ does not save sinners. If the atonement is Christ purchasing faith to give elect sinners a portion in a general punishment, then the punishment of Christ was for the most part for no purpose.The false gospel which nullifies election also nullifies justification by the punishment of Christ.And the false gospel which nullifies justification by the punishment of Christ nullifies justification by the righteousness of Christ.It tries to defend justification by the imputed righteousness, but without ever talking about God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ.It won’t say whose sins were imputed to Christ. It refuses to say anybody’s sins were imputed to Christ, because it refuses to say it was the sins of the elect alone which were imputed to Christ.Such a false gospel nullifies the love of God for the elect.But God’s grace by which God gives Christ to be punished for the elect will not be nullified.

Transfer of moral liability

The false gospel of the Arminian and the liberal says that God judges and fixes this evil world apart from punishment. They can agree that there is punishment, and even that Christ was punishment. But they refuse any idea that the guilt of the elect was transferred to Christ.Let me quote the liberal Volf again (P134): “If God were an implacable judge, then God would deal with wrongdoing by punishment…If we are after justice, Stalin’s crime will have outstripped by far any punishment we could devise for him. How many deaths would he have to die to compensate for all the lives he took? How many lives would he need to have to suffer all the pain he inflicted? Punishment alone falters before the enormity of such crime.Imagine what would happen if each of us was punished for EVERY transgression we committed—for every sarcastic remark, for every unkind thought, for every intentionally misleading statement?”

I interrupt my thought here to say that the false gospel of the Reformed mainline is a deliberately misleading statement.I know that there are simply some things that lost people have not yet learned. Lost people, still in their sins, still under the wrath of God, do not understand that Christ was the substitute punished instead of the elect.They sincerely believe in an offer by which God will retroactively assign the punishment done to Christ to those who accept the offer.Nevertheless, it is intentionally misleading to tell people that God loves everybody and that Christ died for you, when you yourself believe that Christ died extra for some to give them faith. It is deliberately misleading to not even say what you do believe about election and Christ’s death.And I think there is a strong connection between that willful refusal to be straight about election (and about regeneration before faith) which has led the mainline Reformed to miss the gospel of Christ’s death as punishment for the specific elect.Whatever they put in their five point books, punishment only for the elect is not in their gospel.

But back to Volf, and his hope that God can judge and fix the worldby means of Christ’s death but without punishing each and every sin committed by those who will be saved.P145, “If God only spared sinners of a just penalty for sin, that wouldn’t change the truth of sinners’ guilt. Granted, it would spare sinners the consequences of sin….God doesn’t just spare sinners the penalty for sin. God SEPARATES their sin from them. ..Christ who died for our sins is also ONE WITH HUMANITY. It is because of Christ’s humanity that God can separate sinners from their sin.”Notice the ambiguity of the word separate, like that of the word enact.I am still one of those old fundamentalists they warned about in seminary.Even if everything is not black and white, it’s not black and white to me that everything is gray.If union is not justification by the death of Christ, meaning punishment for each and every sin of the elect, then what does union mean?I think union will come to mean what God does in us, instead of being joined to what Christ got done outside us.Separate from sin will mean what happens in our lives, and not what happened in Christ’s death.

The thing which is so fun about reading liberals is how illiberal they are in even thinking about the idea of a transfer of guilt to Christ.Punishment possibly yes.But, like the Baptist Andrew Fuller and the New England theology which followed Edwards, there is a categorical denial that guilt itself can be transferred.I am not the first of course to notice how dogmatic liberals can be, but I want you to see just how intransigent people are when it comes to saying not only that a conditional offer must be made to all sinners , but also in denying that we can talk about the imputation of the GUILT of the elect to Christ. Volf, p147, “ I cannot assume his moral liability, as I can assume a loan he might be unable to pay. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. It is uniquely his. Moral liability cannot be transferred. (See Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Reason, p88).”Now Andrew Fuller, Hopkins, and Edwards Jr do not quote Kant, but they think alike.One human sinner cannot take the guilt of another human sinner, and no human judge can in justice punish one human sinner in replacement for the punishment of another sinner.

And then comes quickly the desired conclusion. I mean that “desired”. They don’t want a transfer. Then they deny that a transfer can happen. They say that the man Christ Jesus cannot bear another person’s liability, and that God does not make Christ to be a sinner by imputation.Possibly Christ can be made to bear the punishment of sins in general, or even maybe the punishment of some certain sins . But what will not be tolerated to be preached as gospel is any idea that the guilt, the moral liability, before God,of any sinner was already transferred (or not) to Christ.Thus the false gospel ends up either denying any such moral liability (before God!)or trying to separate sinners from liability, not by justification by the death of Christ but by God changing their lives.

Is trusting the cross only for now?

In such a false gospel, the general punishment for sins is only an interim measure, an intermediate means to tide us over until we get changed enough by God to the point where we no longer need forgiveness. In other words, we use the general fund of punishment until we die.But there is no good news about the punishment being the righteousness, or about the death of Christ being all the righteousness we need or ever will need. There is no good news about glorying only in the cross, or in the idea that even glory itself has been paid for and bought for the elect alone by the preciousblood of Christ.Such crass “commercial” language, it is suggested by Andrew Fuller, oversimplifies a complex story in which the death of Christ is only part of the picture.I end this chapter with one last quotation from Volf,p 151, “Both our transformation and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness depend on union with Christ…Because we are one, Christ’s qualities are our qualities…It has become clear that forgiveness is part of something much larger. What does God do with sinners and their sin? God doesn’t just forgive sin; he transforms sinners into Christ-like figures and clothes them with Christ’s righteousness. And even these benefits are the effects of something much more basic-the presence and activity of Christ in human beings. “

So much for liberals.But surely Arminians don’t think anything is more basic than the punishment of the cross, do they ? If the Lord Jesus died some general punishment for every sinner, is not the consent of such sinners more significant and decisive than whatever precise bookkeeping you think God was doing at the cross?Why glory in the cross alone, when it’s merely one thing among many things? And even if it happens to be the one little thing always left out, anything about the specific guilt of the elect having already been transferred,isn’t that because it’s scholastic speculation and not biblical? (see Grudem’s Systematic)As for me, the one thing they always leave out I desire as the one thing by which I see everything else. I glory in the second advent and the resurrection to come, but only because I know that the elect have already been joined to Christ’s death, and that the elect on that day will still be  placing all their hope in the doing and dying of Christ for the elect alone.

Resurrection and justification because of the death

Romans 6:8-9, “Now, since we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again, death no longer has any dominion over him.”Death only had dominion over Christ because the moral liability and guilt of all the elect had been transferred by God to Christ.It was not the moral transformation of Christ that freed Christ from death. Even though Christ learned obedience and became perfect by the many things He suffered, Christ’s obedience even unto death is that one thing which delivered Christ from death. And it is that same death, that very death, which will save all the elect from death.Yes, there are other things, even though death for the elect is the one thing always left out.But the other things all depend on Christ’s death for the elect alone.Christ is in the elect, and will be in the elect, but only because of that justification by which the elect are in Christ.

Romans 8:10, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”That righteousness is not what Christ by His Spirit does in the elect, because the death of Christ for the elect alone is the righteousness of Christ.The justified elect walkby the Spirit and not by the flesh, and this means that they know that the righteous requirements of law and punishment are fulfilled in them by what Christ did and not by their walking in the Spirit.The justified elect put to death all their deeds as the basis of any blessing and put all their hope in that righteousness by which grace reigns.(Romans 5:21) That righteousness is not what the Spirit does in the living. What the Spirit does in bringing life is because of the righteousness.The righteousness is that of the one man’s obedience.One act of obedience.Not by the obedience of Him and the team.One death. One died; all on the team died. Not by the daily dying of those on the team.In the beginning, the one death. In the end, the one death. Forever, the one death.

new birth, for the elect alone

March 18, 2009

At the same time, as a direct result (at the same time) of God’s imputation of the elect into Christ’s death, these same ungodly elect are born from above by Christ’s Holy Spirit. Romans 4:5, “And to the one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto righteousness.” An ungodly person cannot be justified by works because the works of an ungodly person are ungodly works. Even if these works are moral and highly esteemed by other people, being deeds of an ungodly person, they are ungodly deeds. After a person is justified, that person becomes ashamed of these ungodly works, even though they were praised as moral by other people. Romans 6:20—21, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?”

Abraham’s faith is not our righteousness, nor does God count Abraham’s faith to us “as if” Abraham’s faith were our righteousness. Neither is our faith our righteousness, nor does God count our faith to us “as if” it were our righteousness. God is righteous, and therefore does not count something which is not righteousness to be righteousness. That which was counted to Abraham is the same which is counted to all the elect when they are justified, and it is revealed in the good news Abraham believed. That good news was about what His seed would do, not about what Abraham would do, either while he was ungodly or after he was justified and born again. The good news that Abraham believed and that the elect come to believe at the time of their justification was about what Christ did. Of course believing in the good news is good news, but it is not good news for anybody unless they know that the righteousness is not this believing and is not conditioned on this believing. The believing by the elect is a result of the new birth, and the new birth is a result of God’s imputation of the righteousness. The effectiveness of Christ’s death for the elect alone is not a result of the believing by the elect. Even In Romans 4:4, the believing is not in the believing, because it’s not the believing which causes God to forgive lawless deeds and cover sins.

A guilty sinner, not yet justified before God, may be and often is ashamed of immorality, but such an ungodly person will not be ashamed of a false religion which claims that salvation is conditioned on what God does in the sinner. The ungodly person has not yet learned and believed that salvation is entirely a result of God’s election of some sinners in Christ. The ungodly person cannot and will not believe that it is only, merely, nothing but Christ’s death and resurrection for elect sinners which causes these sinners to be saved. But once that ungodly person is justified, at the same time, and as a direct result of justification, that person will no longer be ungodly. That person will be transferred from a state of condemnation into a state of blessing and acceptance. But also that same person, who was ungodly before he or she was justified, will be cleansed and born again by Christ’s Spirit.

As Romans 8:10 explains it, “The Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Christ obtained a righteousness for the elect alone, and that righteousness is imputed to the elect alone, and as a result (because of) this, Christ’s Spirit gives life not to every dead ungodly sinner but only to all dead ungodly sinners who were elect long before Christ died for them and them alone. Long before they are united by new birth with Christ’s incarnate resurrected life, these elect ones were loved by God and provided for by Christ’s work outside them. As Romans 4:5 speaks of God justifying the ungodly, even so Romans 5:6 points to Christ dying for these ungodly. As God does not justify all the ungodly but only the elect for whom Christ died, even so Christ did not die potentially for all the ungodly but as the sufficient (nothing extra needed) cause of the justification of all the ungodly elect. as soon as these elect are imputed by God with Christ’s death, at the same time they will be born again and given life to believe the gospel.

What happens in the new birth is not simply another perspective on what has happened to you! The new birth is not more information which explains what was happening when you thought you were making salvation happen. The new birth is not what happened when you thought salvation was conditioned on your faith, and when you decided to let God save you. You were not born again when you believed the lie that you could and would cause yourself to be born again. The new birth is not a different way to tell the story of when you decided to pull the trigger on the gun and thus make the “infinite” death of Jesus work for you. When the Lord Jesus died , He bore the guilt, the sins of specific elect persons. When the Lord Jesus died, He loved the specific elect sinners given to Him by His Father. When the Lord Jesus rose again, not only was He justified, but the future justification of all for whom he died and rose was made certain.

an introduction

March 18, 2009

five solas and one more

Faith alone can be misunderstood. Even though Romans 5:1 tells us, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus is not the cause or condition of justification. Of course I have read discussions about distinctions between conditions, where it is explained that faith is an “instrumental” condition. However a mainline term that may be, I don’t agree with that explanation of faith.

My problem is not that the traditional “instrumental” language can be misunderstood. Any explanation of faith’s necessity that I give can also be misunderstood. I believe that faith in the true gospel (which includes “for the elect alone”) is necessary evidence that a person has passed from a state of condemnation to a state of justification. This faith in the gospel is not a knowledge that a person has been justified all along, or assurance that a person has been justified from the time of the cross or before a person was born. This faith in the gospel, which includes understanding of the gospel, is the result of being born again, which is the result of being imputed with the merits of Christ’s death.

In the false gospel which tells all sinners that Christ died for them, faith is misunderstood as making the difference between saved and lost. Even in cases where the fine print tells you that this making-the- difference faith is a result of predestination and regeneration, the credit for salvation does not go to Christ. The credit may go to the Holy Spirit or to predestination, but it cannot go to Christ, if Christ died for all sinners but only some sinners are saved. One of the goals of this essay is to put a stop to the double talk which tells all sinners that Christ died for them, but then explains (not to everybody but only to some who have already professed Christ) later that Christ died for some people to get them something different and more for them than He did for everybody else.

Mainline doubletalk

This kind of double talk implicitly says that Christ propitiated the wrath of God for all sinners but that Christ also died extra for the elect to give them the faith to get the benefit of Christ’s propitiation. In other words, there is no antithesis with the false gospel of Arminianism. Since they still want to be thought of as evangelicals, and still want to have influence on evangelicals, they agree to the heresy that Christ died for everybody. Even if they don’t explicitly say that this was to take away the wrath for every sinner, by their silence about the question, they go along with what everybody already understands, which is that faith alone makes the difference.

They can try to put boundaries around that, and say that the object of faith is important. They can even imply that Mormons and open theists are not evangelicals, and maybe not even justified But they are still agreeing, sermon after sermon, every time that they do not say “for the elect alone”, that it is faith alone which makes the difference. And when they do that, there is no Christ alone left. In the fine print, the glory may go to God for predestinating the Spirit to give us faith. But it is no longer Christ’s death which saves, if Christ died for all sinners, and some of these sinners are lost. And though we may talk of Scripture alone, we end up with a canon within a canon, where what the Scripture says about the elect in Christ and therefore being elect in His death becomes segregated out from the gospel and thus unspoken or denied. Instead of saying that Christ died only for the elect and not for the non-elect, they leave out the e word and say that Christ died for believers, which means all of us, which then means that faith alone makes the difference and not Christ. If they want to keep the “thoroughly reformed” happy, they might say sometimes that Christ died for his covenant people, but then later they will make it clear that the covenant is conditional and that the his people are believers, so that it will all come back to faith alone.

back to the sola fide

So what am I saying about faith alone? Is faith alone important? What’s the point of it? According to Scripture, faith alone is “not works”. The point of faith alone is “grace alone”. And according to Scripture, we cannot say grace alone without saying “for the elect alone”. Romans 9:11, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing good or bad-in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of His call.” I want you to see the connection between “not because of works” and election. When the mainline attempts to leave out the “for the elect alone” and discuss the gospel without talking about election, then mostly all they can do is say “not because of works but because of faith alone”.

Sometimes of course they do talk about the “but because of his call”. They say that the reason you believe is not your freewill but God’s effectual call. Even if you believe the false gospel that Christ died for every sinner, Reformed evangelicals will tell you that God effectually called you to believe that heresy. Of course they won’t tell you it’s heresy, but in select groups (for examples, conferences that charge you big dollars) they will explain a more educated and precise view of things which you might want to add on to what you already believe without needing to repent of heresy or false gospel. Before you believed in a faith alone gospel, and now you still believe in a faith alone gospel but now you know that the faith came from God, and that this prevenient gift was not to make your faith possible but to make sure that you believed.

The point of faith alone is “not by works”. Faith is not something you bring to the gospel. Faith is something that the gospel brings to the elect. I am not saying we have to hear a preacher or a sermon. But it is necessary for us to HEAR the gospel, and that this HEARING is not works but faith. Galatians 3: 5-8, “ Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. I know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, forseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham….”

Since this text does not talk about election, and since it does talk about faith four times, what then is the gospel preached to Abraham that we should preach? First, notice that faith is a hearing produced by God by means of the gospel. The power is not in us but in the gospel message. I Corinthians 1: 18, “for the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” No doubt this essay will be accused by the mainline as advocating that the gospel be given to the elect alone. And then I will be charged with attempts to get people prepared to introspect to see if they are elect. (But I don’t want to get distracted by what might be said. If you want to explore that kind of thing, read Abraham Booth’s “Glad Tidings” and “Divine Justice Essential to the Divine Character”, in which he fully answers the slanders of Andrew Fuller). The truth is that I believe the full gospel needs to be proclaimed to all sinners (and not just those who have the bucks to get into Reformed conferences). The gospel is only good news for the elect, but we don’t know who the elect are until they have believed the gospel. The promise of the gospel is not for the children of the flesh but for the children of the promise, but we don’t know who the children of the promise are until they have been called. As Romans 9: 7 reminds us, not all are offspring of Abraham because they are his offspring. As Acts reminds us time after time, the promise is for “as many as“ are called. (2:39, 4:4 ). Since Romans 8:30 teaches us that as many as He called were also predestined, I see no reason to leave out the idea of election from the idea of calling.

My problem with the mainline is that they leave Christ out of the idea of election. It is not enough to talk about calling and election, if election is simply to make sure that some sinners have faith alone. If the object of the faith alone is a false gospel which says that Christ loves everybody and desires to save everybody but that faith is some kind of condition of this salvation, then the faith alone is not in the true Christ but is instead in faith alone (for which they falsely give God the credit, even though the faith is in an unholy lie taught by Satan). We don’t bring faith to the true gospel, because the true gospel brings faith (hearing) to the elect. The message (for the elect alone) is to be proclaimed to elect and non-elect alike, but it (the message) is the power of God to the elect alone.

The power of the gospel

I want to get back to Galatians 3: 5-8, which doesn’t talk about election but which does talk about the calling, but first I want to emphasize the power of the message. It’s not simply that God was powerful with Abraham, but also that God preached the gospel to Abraham. The word of the cross is the power of God. I Corinthians 2:12,“ Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we would understand the things freely given us by God.” Freely given by God does not mean that God has made an offer of a free gift if we accept it by faith alone. Freely given by God does not mean that we don’t have to work for it, but that the only condition is faith alone. “Freely given” means “sovereignly given”, given ‘”without a cause”, given by God to the elect chosen and loved in Christ. I Cor 2:12 explains that the elect are given the Spirit to UNDERSTAND the things freely given us by God. One of the blessings given by God in Christ is understanding the word of the cross, which word I Cor 1 calls the power of God. The elect don’t bring faith to the gospel, because the power of the gospel brings hearing to the elect, so that they understand not only that things are given by God, but also that these things are given freely, sovereignly. Faith alone is not the condition, but to see that, we need a message which tells us about God’s election. Salvation is not by works, but to see that, we need a message which tells us about the “freely given”.

Romans 1:16, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Evangelicals understand this as teaching that salvation is conditioned on faith alone. Evangelicals don’t understand the gospel. The gospel of “for the elect alone” needs to be proclaimed to every sinner because that very gospel message is the power of God which saves and causes elect sinners to believe. The gospel proclaimed to a non-elect sinner is not the power of God for salvation, but rather “to those who are perishing, a fragrance from death unto death.” (II Cor 2:16).

But what about that one text, Galatians 3:5-8, which does not talk about election and which does talk about faith four times? First, I have shown that the faith is a sovereign gift of God to the elect, not something we bring to God, but what God brings to us. Second, the idea of election goes along with the idea of not works. Romans 9:11, “In order that God’s election might continue, not because of works.” Romans 11: 5, “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. But if it by grace, it is no longer by works; otherwise grace would be no more grace.” Doesn’t the apostle Paul understand that you can say “not by works “ without talking about election? Why doesn’t he just say: “by faith and not by works”? Why does he bring in this idea of a remnant? Paul writes about election in order to explain what he means by faith. Paul does not regard faith as a substitute for works. Paul does not believe that God imputes or regards or credits faith as if faith were what the law required.

imputation

We are back to Galatians 3:5-8, which quotes Genesis 15:6, which tells us that Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him as righteousness. Everybody from Martin Luther to John Murray reads this as saying that faith alone is imputed as the righteousness. Of course there are different explanations. Luther reminds us that to have faith is to have Christ indwelling, and tells us that God really is pleased with the faith God has given us, and this faith is really righteous in God’s sight. But Luther does not explain how this righteous faith (produced by God in the water of regeneration) satisfies the law of God . And since Luther taught that, if you were a sinner, Christ had died for you, then Luther’s message cannot be that the elect were saved by Christ’s death alone. But John Murray not only taught that Christ died in some sense only for the elect, but also taught that faith alone for nine reasons could not be the righteousness imputed. I like his reasons, and you can look them up in his commentary on Romans. But still, at the end of the day, Murray claimed that every honest exegete would have to agree with him that Genesis 15 does teach that the faith alone is what God imputes.

To begin to understand Genesis 15:6, we need to know that “as righteousness” should be translated “unto righteousness”. (See Robert Haldane’s commentary, Banner of Truth). That’s important to see, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t explain the imputation. Whether we see imputation as the transfer of something, or if we see imputation as the declaration of something ( without a transfer, or after a transfer), what is the “it” which is being imputed? No matter if we have gone to great lengths to say that it is not credited as righteousness but only unto righteousness, what is “it” and why is God imputing “it”? Liberals in the “new perspective” like N.T. Wright tells us the imputation is without a transfer, and that it only means declaring that certain folks are in the covenant. So in this way of thinking, “it is imputed” simply means that God declares people just without talking about how and why they got that way.

I think “it” has an antecedent, but the antecedent is not faith alone. God imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel unto the righteousness of a person justified by the gospel. In context, “faith” in Galatians 3:5-8 is defined in two ways: not by works of the law, and the gospel preached to Abraham. God did establish a conditional covenant with Abraham. In Genesis 17, he warned that anybody not circumcised would be cut off from the covenant. But that conditional covenant with Abraham is not the gospel God preached to Abraham. God did not say to Abraham: if you believe, then I will bless you. God said, I will bless you without cause, not only so that you will believe but also so that in your offspring there will be one who will bring in the righteousness for the elect alone required by the law. There is not a different gospel for us than there is for Abraham. There is not a different new covenant for us that there is not for Abraham . The “it” which is imputed by God to Abraham is the obedient bloody death of Christ Jesus for the elect alone. The righteousness of God obtained by Christ is imputed unto the elect alone.