Guilt Transferred to Christ, for the elect alone

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.

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6 Comments on “Guilt Transferred to Christ, for the elect alone”

  1. Nick Says:

    Interesting comments, but I have some things to say if you don’t mind:

    I don’t believe you can arbitrarily interpret “credited as righteousness” one way with Abe and another way with Phinehas. The phrase should be interpreted the same way as Gen 15:6.

    As for original sin being imputed, I don’t believe that is accurate concept, nor does the Bible use the term impute in this regard.

    The same can be said in regards to guilt being “imputed to Christ,” the Scriptures don’t talk like that, and St Paul was well aware of the term “impute”.

    You mentioned Is 53:5 and “punishment,” but that is not the Hebrew term there, it is a different term than “punish.” The actual term is “chastise,” which is very different than punishment, even Christians get chastised. The term “punishment” is an NIV bias.

    You said: “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.”

    This comment appears to deny Limited Atonement, which I think is wrong if you hold to Sola Fide as the Reformers taught it.

    You said: “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.”

    I believe you are reading things into the text. You are taking liberties with the phrase “made sin,” when in fact that is not proper exegesis. The term impute doesn’t even appear here. Further, a sin offering, which is what I believe 2 Cor 5:21 is talking of, has nothing to do with Penal Substitution. In the OT a sin-offering did not operate in a Psub fashion.

    You mentioned the “scapegoat,” but the scapegoat was never killed, it was released, that is certainly not what we would expect if Psub was the mechanism. We don’t see a Penal Substitution taking place here.

    You later spoke of: “This indicative means that the justified now will not be justified by works at some future judgment.”

    That’s not what Scripture says, see Mat 12:36f and 1 Cor 4:4 and Rom 2:13 which explicitly put justification at the final judgment.

    Next you said: “Only the non-elect will be judged according to their works because only they will still be legally dead before God’s throne.”

    That is false. All men will be judged according to their works, both elect and non elect, and it will be on the basis of those works which they themselves did will get them to enter Heaven.

    While I disagree with you on key points, I do enjoy seeing your passion for this subject. There really arent this caliber of posts out there, at least not that I have come across.

    • markmcculley Says:

      Let me hear you, Nick. Remember that I define “impute” in two ways. One, it always means declare. Two, it sometimes means a transfer. I think you think it always means only declare, never transfer. I agree that in Abraham’s case, there is a declaration. But Romans 4 teaches us that Abraham was ungodly before justification. That is why he needed a transfer before any declaration.

      Nick, if you deny the transfer, you deny the grace. Who cares what Abraham heard about the promise one to come, if Abraham needed no transfer from that one to come? Where does the grace come in with you? Is it only a matter of God not being strict, of God fudging the facts in the interests of family, as Sungensis would have it? I would like to hear more from you on this.

      I am asking you to account for Romans 4, where the word impute is used. Are you a trinitarian? Does the word trinity have to appear in the text before you see it there. I am not a sticker for the word “impute”. I am all too happy to deconstruct the difference between the word and the concept. Even somebody like Fitzmeyer can see the concept in texts like Romans 5 and II Cor 5:21. Some who use the word never define it. Most who use the word do not define it in terms of election and legal transfer.

      Before we get into a discussion about penal guilt vs family chastisement, I want to know why you think Christ was even chastised, if that chastisement is not and cannot be transferred. Even though a soul being poured out unto death seems like quite a remedial deiscipline, why bother if it does not result in the Servant justifying many?

      The “others of us conservatives” does indeed deny effectual legal atonement and I was criticising that viewpoint. Sorry that my text is not clear there. I want no part of a conservative alliance with Arminians and Romanists. Most who call themselves Reformed do not teach definite atonement. They teach an atonement limited by the consent of the sinner.

      On II Cor 5:21, I could say back to you, and yours is not proper exegesis. We get nowhere that way. I agree that the word impute is not in the text. I agree that sin-offering is in view. But the reason we must think of imputed sin is we must think of the parallel–imputed righteousness. “That we become the righteousness of God.” Now you can follow the brilliant in his own eyes NT Wright and deny imputation of righteousness (and claim to be yourself the righteousness). But you need to exegete the text and not just say “improper”.

      You need to argue for your point that the sin-offering was not a substitution or a transfer. I have read all of Girard, all of the Stricken by God volume, indeed most of the standard liberal works. Have you read The Glory of the Atonement or the Pierced for our Transgressions volumes?

      You can’t just say everybody knows to me. John Howard Yoder used to tell me that 25 years ago. But Yoder was wrong on the atonement. Make some arguments. I know that the OT has more than one kind of offering. I know that the OT sacrifices did not take away sins. Even typically, they only spoke of ceremonial sins.

      I also know that there were two goats. You seem to want to only consider one, and that without thinking of any laying on of hands. When you say, we don’t see a psub there, who’s the we? I am aware enough of the sociology of knowledge to know that folks tend to surround themselves with others who agree with them and don’t ask the wrong questions. But I am not part of your we. Historically, a lot of people were not part of your we. Unless you have the hubris of NT Wright, you need more than the modern conclusion.

      Leonard Cohen: everybody knows!

      I do congratulate you for getting to the main point. It’s not only about justification and its timing. It’s about the nature and purpose of Christ’s death.

      Romans 2:13 is an empty set. Nobody will be justified by works. See Doug Moo or Robert Haldane on the larger context. Do you deny that anybody has already been justified? How do you handle Romans 3-5?

      Please look at the context of Matthew 12:36. There are two states, good trees and bad trees, two indicatives. No inbetween. Good person brings forth good. Evil person brings forth evil. How did the good person get to be good? Not by bringing forth good! One. The good person is good by imputed righteousness, by justification, not by his works.
      Two. The good works of this good person do not justify. They are not conditions necessary for justification. If a person has the motive of his works bringing in justification, then those works are evil works, dead works, works of a condemned person leading to death. Have you studied what Hebrews has to say about dead works?

      Please look at the context in Matthew 6:18–A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit,nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Two states, two indicatives.

      On I Cor 4:4, it is the Lord who judges me. I certainly agree that every person is even now either condemned or justified by God. The question is: by our works and words, or by the death of Christ for the elect? Nick, are you justified now? If you died today, would you be justified by your words?

      • Nick Says:

        Thank you for your response.

        In regards to the term “impute”. I’m not your if you include this in “declare,” but I see impute as more of a mental recognition rather than declaration. I don’t recall any examples where it means transfer, you can see something other than what it really is, but that’s not a ‘transfer’.

        I’m not convinced that “ungodly” applies to Abraham’s situation in Gen 15:6, and instead believe it is a general statement about justification. Abraham was certainly not “ungodly” in Gen 15:6, in fact he was called “blessed of God” one chapter prior. I don’t see where nor believe a “transfer” fits into this at all.

        You said: “Nick, if you deny the transfer, you deny the grace. Who cares what Abraham heard about the promise one to come, if Abraham needed no transfer from that one to come? Where does the grace come in with you?”

        I don’t believe grace is a merely external favor, nor do I believe any transfer is taking place, I believe justification is about a change in the soul. Grace is infused.

        You asked: “I am asking you to account for Romans 4, where the word impute is used. Are you a trinitarian? Does the word trinity have to appear in the text before you see it there. I am not a sticker for the word “impute”. I am all too happy to deconstruct the difference between the word and the concept. Even somebody like Fitzmeyer can see the concept in texts like Romans 5 and II Cor 5:21. Some who use the word never define it. Most who use the word do not define it in terms of election and legal transfer.”

        I am Trinitarian, but I would not consider this a similar case because the term “impute” does appear in Scripture. Further, the notion of imputation is not given the central importance you ascribe to it, imputation is not a main theme for Paul. Given this, it’s wrong to build major pillars like original sin, atonement, and justification around “imputation.” Paul was aware of the term, yet he never used it around original sin nor atonement, and only one time in regards to justification.

        What is more serious is that “impute” doesn’t mean what Protestants beginning with Luther thought it means. It hardly ever (if ever) means to reckon something other than what it really is when the Greek term for “impute” (logizomai) is used in the NT. That’s a fact Protestant theologians won’t face up to, at least in my study. Instead it most often, in the mass majority of it’s occurrences means to recognize what is actually inherently true about an object. This fits perfectly with Phinehas’ good work counted as a righteous act, and it fits perfectly with Abraham’s faith counted as a righteous act.

        You said: “I want to know why you think Christ was even chastised, if that chastisement is not and cannot be transferred. Even though a soul being poured out unto death seems like quite a remedial deiscipline, why bother if it does not result in the Servant justifying many?”

        I think Christ was chastised because Is 53:5 says He was. And chastisement wasn’t transferred, because Christians are still chastised. He was chastised in virtue of taking on our fallen nature which was subject to death, and taking the burden of making reparations for our sins on his shoulders. His soul was poured out to death in the same Phil 2:8 sense that “He was obedient unto death.” This work does result in people being justified, but not in the way you think. Christ wasn’t taking the electric chair death penalty which was supposedly legally transferred to his account, thus he did not justify in the sense you are thinking.

        You said: “On II Cor 5:21…I agree that the word impute is not in the text. I agree that sin-offering is in view. But the reason we must think of imputed sin is we must think of the parallel–imputed righteousness. “That we become the righteousness of God.” Now you can follow the brilliant in his own eyes NT Wright and deny imputation of righteousness (and claim to be yourself the righteousness). But you need to exegete the text and not just say “improper”.”

        I’m not a liberal or progressive or anything like NT Wright, actually I’m “worse,” I’m Catholic! 🙂
        Seriously though, the problem here is that you just said impute doesn’t appear here but we must still see “righteousness of God” as imputed. Nowhere does the Bible talk of this. It says “the righteousness of God IN HIM,” yet the context says in v17 “if anyone is IN HIM he is a NEW CREATION, the old is gone.” Thus this is about transforming the soul, nothing forensic or imputation about it.

        You are of course going to disagree, but I believe the Reformed tradition reads too much into 2 cor 5:21 and puts too much emphasis on it, when in fact it isn’t clearly even advocating such things.

        You said: “You need to argue for your point that the sin-offering was not a substitution or a transfer. I have read all of Girard, all of the Stricken by God volume, indeed most of the standard liberal works. Have you read The Glory of the Atonement or the Pierced for our Transgressions volumes?”

        I have Pierced coming in the mail for me, but I’m not sure if you know I just finished a Penal Substitution debate against a Calvinist on my webpage. The sin offering is mentioned in Lev 5, but there is clear evidence that Psub is not what was the system. Two examples: (1) In Lev 3 the sacrifices explained are “fellowship offerings,” they are not dealing with sin. What is interesting is that virtually the same instructions are given here as with the sin-offering in Lev 5 (including killing) yet this wouldn’t make sense if Psub was the framework. (2) In Lev 5:7 it says if you cannot afford a lamb for your sin offering, you can bring two doves, yet in 5:11 it says if two doves are unaffordable you must bring a sack of flour. Now it’s obvious you cannot kill a sack of flour, thus Penal Substitution is impossible here, and thus the sin-offering could not have been by means of Psub. I really hope books like Pierced do this kind of analysis, because I will be disappointed if the book goes ahead and presumes sacrifices operated in a Psub framework.

        You said: “I also know that there were two goats. You seem to want to only consider one, and that without thinking of any laying on of hands.”

        ONLY the scapegoat was said to have sins confessed over it, no other animal had this happen. It is presumption to assume sins were confessed over other animals (including non sin sacrifice animals), yet the Bible only says this of the scapegoat.

        You said: “Romans 2:13 is an empty set. Nobody will be justified by works. See Doug Moo or Robert Haldane on the larger context. Do you deny that anybody has already been justified? How do you handle Romans 3-5?”

        I have read Doug Moo’s Romans on this issue and found it more special pleading than exegesis. The text plainly talks of final judgment justification by works, so it cannot simply be brushed of on the grounds “nobody will be justified by works.” As for Rom 3-5, I handle that ok I guess, what is a red flag to me is when Protestants brush over Rom 2:1-3:8, when that’s just as much a critical part of Paul’s message, especially “righteousness of God” in 3:1-8.

        You said: “Please look at the context of Matthew 12:36. There are two states, good trees and bad trees, two indicatives. …The good person is good by imputed righteousness, by justification, not by his works. Two. The good works of this good person do not justify. … Have you studied what Hebrews has to say about dead works?”

        This is invalid exegesis, you are brushing off the clear teaching of the final judgment: “by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” You cannot import “imputed righteousness” into this, nor say “not by his works” when it plainly says “by your words” (which surely is not limited to things spoken). The text plainly has God in a courtroom scene justifying on the basis of the individual’s performance. I don’t believe this can be taken any other way without violence to the text. Dead works isn’t an issue, of course the good works done are not dead, the point is it’s still the “living works” that are the basis of justification.

        You said: “On I Cor 4:4, it is the Lord who judges me. I certainly agree that every person is even now either condemned or justified by God. The question is: by our works and words, or by the death of Christ for the elect? Nick, are you justified now? If you died today, would you be justified by your words?”

        This isn’t addressing the plain teaching of this justification at the final judgment according to our actions passage. Paul says nothing about “our works” versus “christ’s works,” that’s a false dichotomy which Paul does not see. If I died today I don’t know for sure if I would be justified, I can only respond as the Bible does in 1 Cor 4:4 “I have nothing on my conscience, but that does not make me justified” I must see how God judges me after death.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Nick: I don’t believe grace is a merely external favor, nor do I believe any transfer is taking place, I believe justification is about a change in the soul. Grace is infused.

    mark: How do you define soul? Where does Romans 4 or any other text talk about Abraham’s soul? The Bible says that the soul that sins shall die, that God is able to destroy the soul. Even if somebody’s soul is changed, they are still a sinner, and have been sinners. So how can they be saved, if there is no transfer of guilt? Where does the Bible talk about “infusion”?

    Nick:Paul was aware of the term imputation, yet he never used it around original sin nor atonement, and only one time in regards to justification.

    Mark: Well, the word is in Galatians 3:6, not only in Romans 4, and the concept is in I Cor 1:30, Philippians 3:9, Romans 9:30-10:4. And in Romans 5, there is legal constitution, original guilt before there is original corruption. And all you have said about II Cor 5:21 is that the word imputation is not there, but you haven’t told me what righteousness means there if the concept of legal transfer is not there.

    And don’t forget the non-Pauline antecedents in the OT, like Leviticus 17:4, 25:31, or Genesis 31:14-15. The sinner who cried out for mercy cried out for propitiation: God be propitiated…me the sinner.

    Nick: It hardly ever (if ever) means to reckon something other than what it really is when the Greek term for “impute” (logizomai) is used in the NT.

    mark: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say it’s not often in the text, and then say it often means only declare. Give me one example where even you think it might involve a gracious transfer, in which God is both just and justifier of a sinner.

    You misrepresent the Protestant usage when you say “reckon as something other than it really is”. After the legal transfer, the justified person is really legally righteous. When you deny this or say it’s not real, you merely beg the question.

    Nick: Christ wasn’t taking the electric chair death penalty which was supposedly legally transferred to his account, thus he did not justify in the sense you are thinking.

    mark: You skip a step, as do most Protestants and so-called Reformed. It’s guilt, and not merely punishment, which is transferred to Christ. Christ is punished, because He really was guilty. Christ was really guilty, because of the legal transfer of the guilt of the elect. He bore their sins, and thus was under the law and death, according to Romans 6. He bore the sins of the elect in His body on the tree, according to I Peter 2:24, which is why the justified elect have died to sin and live to righteousness. No maybe or might about it. His death to sin is the elect’s death to sin.

    Nick: It says “the righteousness of God IN HIM,” yet the context says in v17 “if anyone is IN HIM he is a NEW CREATION, the old is gone.” Thus this is about transforming the soul, nothing forensic or imputation about it.

    Mark: no, it isn’t. It’s two states, two legal indiciatives. You are begging the question. In Him means the legal imputation. In Him does not mean regeneration or transformation. The in Him is very important, but it doesn’t mean what you assume it does. There is a new creation. There is an old creation. One is in either one or the other. The text is not about an indvidual being a new creature.

    Look at the context of II Cor 5. Verse 10 is about the judgment seat of Christ, about justification. Christians witness the gospel because everybody faces the judgment, both those who have now already been justified and those who will be condemned. Context: verse 14 is about the death of Christ, which death is the death of all for whom He died. This is not transformation language, so why assume that verse 17 is transformation language just because it has the word creation in it?

    Nick: I really hope books like Pierced do this kind of analysis, because I will be disappointed if the book goes ahead and presumes sacrifices operated in a Psub framework.

    Mark: Be sure to also check out the OT essays in the Glory of the Atonement (Nicole tribute volume). Very good essay on Isaiah 53.

    Nick:ONLY the scapegoat was said to have sins confessed over it, no other animal had this happen. It is presumption to assume sins were confessed over other animals (including non sin sacrifice animals), yet the Bible only says this of the scapegoat.

    Mark: So what is the significance of the second goat in Leviticus 16? Without any shedding of blood, you can still have fellowship? No death necessary. I say you need to consider both goats together, but you are not even reflecting on the second goat separately.

    Nick; I have read Doug Moo’s Romans on this issue and found it more special pleading than exegesis. The text plainly talks of final judgment justification by works, so it cannot simply be brushed of on the grounds “nobody will be justified by works.”

    Mark: Since all humans are born ungodly sinners, none of them can do any works which will justify them prospectively or retroactively, and for you to deny that is special pleading, the assumption of your papist traditions. You should not simply brush off Romans 3:20–“For by works of the law no humans will be justified in his sight.” Whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are still under the law, so that every mouth will be stopped.

    Mark said: “Please look at the context of Matthew 12:36. There are two states, good trees and bad trees, two indicatives. …The good person is good by imputed righteousness, by justification, not by his works. Two. The good works of this good person do not justify. … Have you studied what Hebrews has to say about dead works?”

    This is invalid exegesis, you are brushing off the clear teaching of the final judgment: “by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” You cannot import “imputed righteousness” into this, nor say “not by his works” when it plainly says “by your words” (which surely is not limited to things spoken). The text plainly has God in a courtroom scene justifying on the basis of the individual’s performance. I don’t believe this can be taken any other way without violence to the text.

    Mark: It remains the fact that you pulled one verse out of context, and did not consider what makes a good tree good. Forget the word and the concept of impute here. Answer: did the good fruit make the tree good, or did the good tree make the fruit good? How is it the case that the good tree produces no bsd fruit, and that the bad tree producues no good tree?

    Do you think the tree is good by water and/or infusion? and if you say that neither the word infusion or the word imputation is in the text, then answer me the first question: how is the tree good? Christ was good, and did good. Sinners are ungodly. Even if you managed by daily sacramental hocuspocus to change a sinner, that would not take away what the sinner did before, nor would it keep the good tree good.

    Nick: Dead works isn’t an issue, of course the good works done are not dead, the point is it’s still the “living works” that are the basis of justification.

    Mark: Dead works are the issue. Lord, Lord, when did we not do good? I never knew you. Read Luther’s wonderful Heidelburg Disputations (or Forde, on being a theologian of the cross). Be very afraid of your good works. By defintion, any works a person thinks are his basis of salvation are an abomination to God, and deadly.

    Nick: Paul says nothing about “our works” versus “christ’s works,” that’s a false dichotomy which Paul does not see.

    Mark: Romans 10:3 For being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to those who believe the gospel.

    One more contrast: Philippians 3:9, which is certainly not in a context of controversy about ceremony, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God…

    • markmcculley Says:

      mark: It’s guilt, and not merely punishment, which is transferred to Christ. Christ is punished, because He really was guilty. Christ was really guilty, because of the legal transfer of the guilt of the elect. He bore their sins, and thus was under the law and death, according to Romans 6. He bore the sins of the elect in His body on the tree, according to I Peter 2:24, which is why the justified elect have died to sin and live to righteousness. No maybe or might about it. His death to sin is the elect’s death to sin.

      Nick: I think this calls for caution here. Christ was only “really guilty” in light of imputation of guilt to Him, He was not “really guilty” in that His OWN record showed guilt (which is due to sin). As for being “dead to sin,” this has nothing to do with imputation, being “dead to sin” only comes about by an inner transformation, that’s clearly Rom 6’s theme.

      Mark: so was Christ transformed inwardly from sin? Romans 6 is about Christ being under law, under sin, under death, and then not!

      Mark: no, it isn’t. It’s two states, two legal indicatives. You are begging the question. In Him means the legal imputation. In Him does not mean regeneration or transformation. The in Him is very important, but it doesn’t mean what you assume it does. There is a new creation. There is an old creation. One is in either one or the other. The text is not about an indvidual being a new creature.

      Nick: Where does “in Him” mean a legal imputation, especially from the context? The only thing “new creation” can mean is transformation, otherwise the term makes no sense. If you grant this about the concept of “new creation”, then imputation doesnt belong in this context.

      Mark: I don’t grant it. Christ was not transformed. His death did not transform Christ. His death changed His legal status. The justified elect are placed into His death, which changes their legal status. You are just repeating yourself. But unless you want to say that Christ was a sinner not by imputation, and that Christ was inwardly transformed, then your answer won’t work.

      Mark: Context: verse 14 is about the death of Christ, which death is the death of all for whom He died. This is not transformation language, so why assume that verse 17 is transformation language just because it has the word creation in it?

      Nick: Every verse doesn’t require transformation language, but even taking this verse 14, nothing demands it one way or the other. You’d have to read this as a purely legal transaction rather than a transforming one, yet it is absurd to limit Christ’s death as merely external to us rather than having a true effect in us. I don’t see how “new creation” can mean anything short of a transformation.

      Mark: So what is the significance of the second goat in Leviticus 16? Without any shedding of blood, you can still have fellowship? No death necessary. I say you need to consider both goats together, but you are not even reflecting on the second goat separately.

      Nick: There is significance to the other goat, I never suggested otherwise, I simply am saying ONLY the scapegoat is given those instructions of confessing sin over it. I never said shedding blood or death were irrelevant, just that you cannot read it as a transfer of death penalty.

      Mark: Transfer of guilt first, then the penalty/punishment. At least try to understand what I am claiming. It would be unjust for God to punish Christ without first imoputing the guilt of the elect to Christ.

      Mark: You should not simply brush off Romans 3:20–”For by works of the law no humans will be justified in his sight.” Whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are still under the law, so that every mouth will be stopped

      Nick: The “works of the Law” is what Paul is condemning, that is the commands of the Torah, not the same as any and all good works.

      Mark: Do you think the tree is good by water and/or infusion? and if you say that neither the word infusion or the word imputation is in the text, then answer me the first question: how is the tree good? Christ was good, and did good. Sinners are ungodly. Even if you managed by daily sacramental hocuspocus to change a sinner, that would not take away what the sinner did before, nor would it keep the good tree good.
      Nick: The tree example cannot be pushed too far, because Christians can still sin, and you certainly wouldn’t call a sin “good fruit.”

      Mark: But the text says either no good fruit or no bad fruit. Or do you think Jesus Christ is going too far?

      Nick: I believe the tree becomes good/alive by infusion, just as John 15 and Rom 11 speak of branches being lifeless without being attached to Christ the Vine.

      Mark: Romans 10:3 For being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to those who believe the gospel.

      Nick: That is mixing contexts, the people Paul is talking about are not Christians, thus their works (even if externally good) are not the same as Christian good works. You are falsely contrasting Christian good works with Christ’s works, though the Bible repeatedly puts the final judgement based on the former.

      Mark: If your last sentence is true, then what Christ did is at the last irrelevant. Galatians 2;:21 if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ died for no purpose. I agree that anybody who is trusting their own (even internal or non-Mosaic) righteousness is not a Christian. This is true both for Jews and also for those who profess to be Christian, but who will not submit themselves to Christ’s righteousness. They say to themselves, when the day comes, it will not be Christ’s outside righteousness, but my righteousness Christ helped me to have….


  3. Calvin—What was done then by representative figure in the Mosaic sacrifices was fulfilled in truth by Jesus Christ, who is the substance of the figures. That is why, in order to obtain our redemption, “He made His soul a sacrifice for sin;’ as the prophet says, in order that all the curse which we deserved as sinners, being cast back on Him, might no longer be imputed to us (Isaiah 53: 10.

    The apostle declares this more clearly when he says that “the One who had never known sin was made sin for us by the Father, in order that in Him we might obtain righteousness before God” (2 Cor. 5: 21]. For the Son of God, being pure and clean of every vice, took and clothed Himself with the shame and ignominy of our sins and, on the other hand, covered us with His purity. This is also shown in another passage of St. Paul where it is said that sin was condemned as sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:3.

    For the heavenly Father destroyed the strength of sin when its curse was transferred to the flesh of Jesus Christ. It is clear now what this sentence of the prophet means, that “all our sins were placed on Him” (Isa. 53;6], that, desiring to wipe out the stains of sins, He first accepted them in His person in order that they might be imputed to Him. So the cross was a sign of that; when Jesus Christ was affixed to the cross He delivered us from the curse of the law (as the apostle says) by being made a curse for us (Gal. 3[13]). For it is written: “Cursed be the one hung on a tree” [Dent. 27:26; Gal. 3:10]. Thus the blessing promised to Abraham was poured out on all peoples. Nevertheless we must not understand that He took our curse in such a way that He was covered and crushed by it, but on the contrary, in receiving it He brought it down, broke it, and tore it in pieces.


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