Archive for May 2009

What is the It which is Imputed?

May 8, 2009

Galatians 3:5-8, which quotes Genesis 15:6,  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. 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.

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Faith Alone means Not by Works means Election

May 8, 2009

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 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 I will be falsely accused 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 ).  Romans 8:30 teaches us that as many as He called were also predestined.

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.

Regeneration not an event before God’s Imputation of Righteousness

May 8, 2009

Reformed folks know that people have to be born again in order to believe, so they often make the new birth another condition (with faith) before God’s imputation of righteousness.. Some of the Reformed (Gaffin, James Jordan) have noticed that the Bible does not talk about regeneration as a distinct event before divine imputation.

I have not signed on to a Reformed confession, not because I don’t like confessions but because I don’t agree with some of the chapters. It is inconsistent to say that justification by righteousness and the cross are the priority (as I think Calvin does) and then make the Spirit uniting to Christ by faith the condition of God’s imputation of rightetousness..  They end up saying that definitive sanctification (defined by them as release from sinning too much or too often. or, biblically, as having a heart cleansed by faith in the gospel, Acts 15:9) is a result of union, along with justification, but then fail to explain what union by the Spirit means if it’s not this very same “sanctification”.

People are begging the question about what union means. If union results in justification and sanctification, but then also sanctification is what union means, then it would be better to say straight out that sanctification (biblical, definitive, cleaning by the Spirit) results in justification, and that therefore justification is not of the ungodly.

But I deny that new birth comes before God’s imputation of righteousness, and say that it’s the righteousness imputed which results in having Christ and life. So am I also begging the question about what union means? I hope not. Christ, who was far off, is brought near by the news of the gospel (Romans 10:8), and united to the elect when they are imputed with His righteousness. The elect don’t get Christ and then get His righteousness . The elect cannot first get in Christ, and only after that get His righteousness. Imputation is union. Imputation is God’s putting us in Christ and in His death, so that we who were ungodly are now dressed in His righteousness.

Being baptized into Christ in Romans 6 (which is NOT regeneration by the Spirit, which is NOT baptism by the Spirit) is another way to talk about God’s imputation. And this means that Christ baptizing the elect with or into the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13) is not the union, but a result of the legal union with Christ.

Christ is in the elect, but not until after the elect are in Christ. The elect are always loved in Christ, but they do not have life or Christ or justification, until they are made righteous on the basis not of faith or the new birth but only because of Christ’s death and resurrection for the elect alone. This explains why Paul can write about Andronicus and Junia being “in Christ before me” in Romans 16:7. All three of them were elect before the foundation of the world. By His Spirit now indwelling them, Christ is in all three of them . But the union described as being “in Christ” has to do with when God justified them. God justified Christ when God raised Christ from the dead, but the many (the elect in Christ) will be justified at various times, so that some are in Christ before Paul was and some are in Christ after Paul was in Christ.

God unites the elect to Christ by judicial declaration

May 8, 2009

The elect don’t become united to Christ by believing. Nor do the elect become united to Christ by water baptism or eating bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. The new birth does not unite the elect to Christ. The Holy Spirit does not unite the elect to Christ. God unites the elect to Christ by judicial declaration. Romans 4:17, “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things which do not exist.”

I know that I am going against Calvin when I deny that the Holy Spirit unites the elect to Christ. I know that I take sides with John Gill and Edward Boehl and against the mainline when I deny that faith (given by the Holy Spirit) unites the elect to Christ. But I think the Bible gives the first place to Christ and what Christ got done legally and judicially. To look to Christ in us and to life in us (given by the Holy Spirit) is to look away from life in Christ and the testimony about what He has done.

I Corinthians 1:28-30, “God chose even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh can boast in the presence of God. God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” It is not faith that made God the source of life. It is not the Holy Spirit who made God a source of life. God not only chose the elect in Christ; God also judicially declared the elect to have life in Christ.

“Consider your calling,” begins I Corinthians 1: 26. It does not begin with the Holy Spirit changing the elect or causing them to believe. It begins with the Father declaring and calling. It begins with justification. Having Christ and having life is a result of justification. If the elect could have life and Christ before justification, it would be too late for justification, and there would be no need for justification or for the cross.

After the justification of the ungodly elect, they become godly but they still need the Holy Spirit and the new birth. But if they could get the Spirit and life without the righteousness, they would not ever need the righteousness. Romans 8:10, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

Calvin thought that the Spirit united to Christ

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on what Calvin and the confessions say, or on what Gill and Boehl teach, but let me simply rehearse what I think is inconsistent and wrong in Calvin. He denies that justification is union-producing. Calvin teaches that union effects justification, and that the Holy Spirit unites the elect to Christ before they are justified, and that faith in Christ is before justification.

Since this is what almost everybody teaches, I won’t multiply quotations. Institutes 3:11;7, “Before his righteousness is received Christ is received in faith.” Of course we need to remember that, in theory, we all say it happens at one time and that we are only talking about logical order. I agree that the new birth and faith in the gospel happen at once when God declares an elect person to now be justified. Calvin agrees that, once an elect person has received Christ by faith by means of word or sacrament, that this person is also at the same time justified (alhtough Calvin thinks the justified will continue being justified).

But Calvin seems to make everything logically depend on regeneration by the Holy Spirit. I think everything logically depends on God’s justification by the righteousness of the cross.

Part of what needs to be thought about here is what we mean about regeneration (and corruption). We need to think about the image of God and about the continuity of a person before and after regeneration (or corruption). I am suspicious of any gospel which makes its “reality” to be ultimately about what God does in us, metaphysically or dispositionally or habitually.

I am aware of a long philosophical history of talking about infusion. While I don’t want to say that regeneration is an infusion or even an impartation of righteousness, and I certainly don’t think that regeneration comes by means of sacraments, I do not want to discount the wonderful news that God gives the elect a new heart to understand and to keep believing the gospel. Regeneration assures us that the justified, despite their continuing immorality, will never stop believing the gospel . “I John 3:9, “No one born of God sins, because God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot sin because he has been born of God.”

I John 3:9 is not only saying that the justified elect cannot be charged with the sin of not believing the gospel. Of course it is true that Christ died as a result of being imputed with the elect’s sins in not believing. But Christ also died in order to give the Spirit to the elect so that the elect would abide in the gospel, and the gospel would abide in the elect. When I deny that the Spirit gives Christ or that the Spirit unites to Christ, I am not denying that Christ gives the Spirit or that the Spirit gives the elect person a new heart.

But I disagree with Calvin that the Spirit joins the elect to justification. Here’s one more quotation from Calvin (3:11:10): “I confess that we are deprived of justification until Christ is made ours. Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed.. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that His righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into His body—in short because he deigns to make us one with Him.”

Of course you can say this is all much about nothing, but Calvin seems to think it is very important, and so do the academics like Torrance and Gaffin and Ferguson who write every essay so that they can get to a quotation from Institutes 3:1:1. As long as Christ is outside us, they say, His righteousness is not yet imputed to us, therefore faith in Christ comes before justification. Of course they agree that there is an eternal election, but there’s hardly any need to ever talk about that, because the important thing we all have in common with people who don’t believe in election is that we agree that faith is the condition of union with Christ and that this union with Christ is the condition of justification and also of both definitive and progressive sanctification.

John Piper’s False Gospel: General Punishment

May 8, 2009

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 you believe, 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. It has punishment without any intention of Christ to save anybody in particular at all.

Is Arminianism the gospel, or is the gospel needed?

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 not for salvation. The false gospel which nullifies election also nullifies justification by the punishment of Christ.

The false gospel which nullifies justification by the punishment of Christ nullifies justification by the righteousness of Christ. It talks about 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 reject any idea that the guilt of the elect was transferred to Christ.

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.

Guilt Transferred to Christ, for the elect alone

May 8, 2009

The Bible sometimes has imputation without transfer. For example, Psalm 106: 30-31 tells us that “Phinehas stood up and intervened and the plague was stayed and that was counted to him as righteousness.” Nobody replaced Phinehas or did his killing work for him, nor is the idea that something not really righteous got counted as righteous. God counted Phinehas killing the two people as righteousness because it was righteousness, not to justify him but as sufficient cause to stop the plague against Israel. The story of Phinehas is not gospel, because it has no transfer to or from Jesus Christ. But God is righteous always and God imputes righteousness for what ii is.

The Bible also has imputation, and transfer, and still no gospel. When the sin of Adam is transferred to every human person (not when they are teenagers but when they are born), this transfer of guilt is not good news. God does not transfer the guilt of Adam to us because we are united to Adam in sharing the same nature. United to Adam by his guilt transferred to us, we share Adam’s nature. To make the union something prior to the guilt keeps begging several questions. Unless we know that a transfer of guilt is unjust, we have no reason to define our union with Adam in speculative or metaphysical terms about the organic essence of the one and the many. Transfer of guilt  results in depravity and death. This depravity is not for the elect alone, because the guilt of Adam is not for the elect alone.

Not a transfer of depravity

The gospel has a glorious transfer , but It is not a transfer of depravity. Christ was not imputed with the depravity of the elect, but with their guilt. Even though depravity is part of the punishment for imputed guilt, Christ was not imputed with depravity but with guilt. The entire human race is now born guilty and depraved in nature. Christ was born truly human but not depraved. He did not have to be depraved to be human. Nor did He have to be guilty to be human. This means that Christ can be and was imputed with the guilt of the elect alone, and not with the guilt of the non-elect.

I do not know for sure when this guilt of the elect was transferred. Because of Christ’s lifelong suffering, I tend to agree with Smeaton that God transferred the guilt at His birth. Surely that guilt was not satisfied though until Christ physically died on account of the sins of the elect. But what we can say for sure is that not only punishment for guilt, but that guilt itself was transferred to Christ. The gospel is not only that Christ was sacrificed to death in some ambiguous or general way because of sins. The gospel talks about election, because the gospel talks about Christ bearing sins. Isaiah 53:5 speaks of the punishment which brought us peace. But Isaiah 53:6 also tells us that “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us.” The servant Christ bore not only punishment but also iniquity.

There is no biblical reason to isolate three hours of existential agony from all the rest that Christ suffered. As God uses Satan to cast out Satan, God can and does use sin against sin. We do not have to look for something direct and without the involvement of humans. God ordained specific sinners to sin against other specific sinners. And God ordained specific sinners to sin against the One who had been imputed with the sins of specific sinners. Using the power of the nation-state-empire, God punished Christ who was legally charged with all the sins of the elect alone. This is not unfair. It is good news but only for the elect.

Songs about us having crucified Jesus

Many religious songs have those who sing them confess themselves as having put Christ on the cross by their sins. But this sentimentality is false on several levels. First, if we all put Christ on the cross, then Christ died for all sinners, and that is the false gospel being taught almost everywhere, even in mainline Reformed groups. Second, nobody but God has the ultimate power to put Christ on the cross. If we all are supposed to feel bad about crucifying Christ, then is God also to apologise? May it never be! Acts 2:23-24, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” The Bible teaches that God’s sovereignty does not eliminate the accountability or agency of sinners. Certain specific lawless men killed Christ. But also, God gave Christ up to die for the sins of the elect alone. God and not man determined for whom Christ would die. Christ purposed that He would die. God purposed that Christ would die. This does not eliminate the accountability of “the lawless men”, even if they were soldiers, or of the “you” Peter is addressing in Acts 2. Specific humans 2000 years ago purposed that Christ would die. This means that not all humans purposed that Christ would die. His mother Mary, for example, did not kill or intend to kill Christ.

If we sing about having ourselves put Christ on the cross, we do not yet understand what the gospel teaches about the transfer of guilt. We are not the imputers. We do not get to decide when and if we put our sins on Christ. We do not get the opportunity to contribute our sins so that then Christ contributes His righteousness. Neither election nor non-election is conditioned on our sins. Yes, those specific lawless men were guilty of what they did. Even though they did not know what they were doing, they could be forgiven for that sin without being justified and forgiven of all their sins. The cross is not what condemns. Good news for the elect, the gospel is not what condemns the non-elect. Rejecting the cross is not what condemns the non-elect, because we are all already condemned in Adam . The false gospel which says that Jesus Christ died for every sinner is not gospel. The false gospel turns a supposedly universal death into guilt for those who don’t meet the conditions which supposedly make that death effective.

Stricken by God for whom?

I am not attempting to minimize the guilt of the rulers and accomplices who killed Jesus Christ. And there is an analogy between all our sins and the sins of those who nailed Christ to the cross. We are all guilty in different ways of misjudging who God is and not loving God and not desiring what God values. Isaiah 53: 2, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; as one from men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Were you there? No, most of us were not, but every one of us has had this attitude toward Christ. Some of us are liberals who confessed for the conservatives that they “esteemed him stricken by God”, and confessed for ourselves that we knew better than to think of God as violent or punishing or guilt-transferring. Others of us are conservatives who confessed that Christ was indeed afflicted by God for every sinner, including the many sinners who one day will be afflicted by God for the very same sin.

The false gospel which says that Christ was afflicted for sins but that this did not take away sins unless the sinners accept it is not gospel. A conditional gospel is no closer to the gospel , no better than the false hope that says Christ’s death is unnecessary. To claim that Christ’s death is needed but not sufficient of itself to save anybody is to say that Christ died for no reason for the non-elect. If He died so that an offer could be made, but the offer does not save, then He died for no purpose. If He died, but what saves is accepting an offer, then His death is not about the bearing of guilt. If His death is not about the specific sins of the specific elect, then His death is not about propitiation or satisfaction of justice but only nonsense. We can sing all we want about such a death, and even confess that we too put Christ on the cross, but if the cross has become about what we do there at its foot, then we have turned the cross into an altar for our idolatry.

Isaiah 53: 6, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Us all is not every person who reads Isaiah 53. “Us all” is the elect, the many with Him whom God will divide a portion. It is this same many who the righteous one, the servant, will make to be accounted righteous. God will count this many righteous. Christ the servant is the one who will have made this many to be so counted. How? Isaiah 53:11, “He shall bear their iniquities.” The key here is not how many but that the very same many for whom the Servant bears sins are the many who will be counted righteous. Isaiah 53 has no idea in it that Christ will have died for some who will not be justified. Only if all will be justified can it be said that Christ bore all sins. Christ is God, and God does not have to heal or save an infinite number of sinners because He is God.. God can do things by measure. God does do things by measure. It’s nonsense to say that Christ carried away the sins of those who still perish because of their sins. Christ’s death on the cross was not occasioned by a group of singers who claim to be accountable for it. Nor was the ultimate cause of Christ’s death the actions of sinners who really were accountable. There is nothing abstract or theoretical about a transfer of guilt. It’s that transfer which is the final reason that “he poured out His soul unto death.” (Isaiah 53:12)

Not what sinners did with Christ or do with Christ

God uses Satan to cast out Satan, and punishes sin with sin. Romans 1 does not describe this revelation of God’s wrath as some deistic law in which God is not involved personally. God Himself gives sinners over to sinners and to sin. The gospel is not in the end about what sinners did with Christ. Rather, it is about what God did with Christ, about God transferring the guilt of the elect to Him who knew no sin. II Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin…” We don’t get an offer to transfer out guilt retroactively to Christ. God has either already transferred the guilt of a sinner to Christ or God has not, and even when the elect sinner has not yet been joined to Christ and His death by justification, the transfer of the elect’s guilt to Christ has made it not only certain but judicially necessary that the elect will be joined to that death. Hebrews 9:12, “He entered once for all into the holy places by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

I want to go back once again to II Corinthians 5:21. Christ was not only made to be a sin offering. Christ was made to be sin. Christ was made to be a sin offering only because Christ was first made to be sin. Guilt was transferred to Christ. As the justified become the righteousness because of the transfer of righteousness, Christ was condemned because of the transfer of the guilt of sin. The parallel is not between become the sacrificial sin-offering and become the righteousness. The parallel is between becoming guilty and becoming justified. When guilt was transferred to Christ, He was then guilty. When righteousness is transferred to the elect, then the elect become the righteousness. Then, and only then, are they called by His name (Jeremiah 23:6) The elect alone will be called, “The Lord our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:16)

Even the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) dies out in the wilderness, but to understand this picture of Christ’s death, we need to see that it’s not everybody’s guilt which is transferred to the scapegoat. Nor is it the guilt of those who accept an offer or sing about having crucified Jesus. The transfer of guilt is not conditioned on faith. Faith in the gospel is a result of having been elect so that Christ bore the elect’s guilt while they were ungodly. The transfer of guilt is not conditioned on union by new birth.

No imputation until in Christ?

I like this quotation from Louis Berkhof (Systematic, p452): “It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation can be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and it is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely of the doctrine of justification. Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing condition, but on that of a gracious imputation—a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner.” Regeneration cannot be before God’s imputation of Christ’s death, or the efficacy of Christ’s death would be made to depend on regeneration and faith. Regeneration and faith are necessary, but not as conditions of God’s joining the elect to Christ’s death. (Romans 6, placed into the death)

Regeneration and faith are necessary results of God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect , and nothing that I know in the Bible teaches that justification happens thousands of years before regeneration and faith. Romans 8:10 again, “The Spirit is life because of righteousness.” But the transfer of the elect’s guilt to Christ DOES INDEED take place in many cases thousands of years before or after their justification, and before or after the elect are in Christ.

This justification, when it does happen, is not the result of the life which results from justification. Justification is a result of the transfer of the elect’s guilt to Christ. Before life, by being legally placed into Christ and joined to Christ’s death, the ungodly become no more ungodly. The guilty become no longer guilty. They become in Christ the righteousness of God. To be in Christ does have the result of Christ being in the justified. There is a difference between being justified in Christ and Christ being in the justified. The difference is that justification is not based on Christ within but on what Christ’s finished death outside the elect, before or after the elect’s justification.

The legal life of the justified is based on what Christ’s death accomplished outside the elect. The merit of that death, the righteousness of that obedience to death, is not something inside the elect, like the new birth or faith. The righteousness is in heaven, not in Christ’s person separated from His work, and not in Christ’s work separated from His person. It is a righteousness outside the justified sinner which God counts as the righteousness of the justified sinner. II Corinthians 5:15, “He died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Two indicative standings

The text is not saying that those not justified before God have no ethical obligations before God. But justified folks have a duty to live for Christ. The life lived by justified people is important without being the  condition by which they are to be justified. When II Corinthians 5:15 identifies “those who live”, that indicative situation of being alive is not about the experience of new birth and faith. When II Corinthians 5:14 identifies “all who have died”, that indicative situation of being dead by Christ’s death is not about a definitive sanctification experience. (John Murray teaches this in his atonement book, and thus misunderstands both Romans 6 and II Corinthians 5, as pointed out by Norman Douty.) The reason those who live have passed from death to life is that they have legally died by being joined to the death of Christ. The result is legal life, eternal life, justification before God. John 5:24, “He does come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

This indicative means that the justified now will not be justified by works at some future judgment. Those who are justified already have their names written in “another book” (Daniel 12;1, Revelation 20:11-12) Only the non-elect will be judged according to their works because only they will still be legally dead before God’s throne. The non-elect will be judged on the basis of works; in accordance with works the non-elect will receive what is their due (Romans 4:4). Those who are justified have legal life now as a gift. They will not be judged, because they have been judged in Christ’s death. Their guilt was transferred to Christ and they were justified when they were joined to Christ’s death for their guilt. On that final day, it will be too late for anybody to be justified. If one puts justification after life, it’s too late for justification. If one puts justification after a person’s new birth, then the justification is conditioned on the new birth and that’s not biblical justification. If one puts justification after a person has died physically and after Christ has returned, then the justification is conditioned on works and that’s not biblical justification either.