Archive for December 2009

Declaring without Transfer

December 29, 2009

There is a “justification” which is a declaring only (without a transfer). As God condemned Adam for his sin, without transferring that sin to Adam, even so the already just can be justified. Rom 3:3 Does their faithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God. By no means. Let God be true and every man a liar, as it is written, ” That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

This is a quotation from Psalm 51, which is a classic instance of God being justified in His justice. David taking sides against himself–asking God not only to be gracious to David the ungodly (even in an on-going way, after David had already been justified), but also asking God to be just in being gracious. David is not transferring justice to God, but declaring God’s justice.

Let me give a couple more references for this. I got them from Abraham Booth’s Reign of Grace (p144,gospel mission edition). Please give me other verses for this topic, and if possible, the books where you got them! Thank you!

Luke 7:29 When the people heard this (about john baptist), they declared God just…

Matthew 11:19 yet wisdom is justified by her deeds

And then there is the all important reference, which gets to the central issue of Jesus Christ having obtained His own justification by his work of death, after having been imputed with the sins of the elect for whom He was surety. I Timothy 3:16 He was manifested in the flesh, justified by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

But isn’t God the Father the justifier, and not the Holy Spirit? I Cor 6:11 You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God….


Merit? Spiritual Capitalism?

December 29, 2009

“Merit is a measured value”. Even though merit is not a biblical word, and it’s hard to remove the traces of Roman penitential “spiritual capitalism”, I do agree with folks who talk about Christ’s merits. I wouldn’t say merit, but I would say “obtained by a work”, with that work being the work of the cross.

1. I say this to show that salvation is not only by grace but also by justice. Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift by as his due. The salvation of the elect (with all its blessings) is due to Christ because of His death. It is not grace from the Triune God to give Christ the salvation of His people.

This does not mean we can say without qualification that the elect are entitled to salvation. Salvation is by grace to the elect. But this salvation is by justice, not only to the Son, but also to the nature and character of the triune God. This is important, and it is something which I did not know when I was a lost five point Calvinist for 20 years. We need to avoid a nominalism in which God is only sovereign and not to be measured by justice, as to His character or actions. God is both just and justifier of the ungodly.

So the death of Jesus was not merely one way (among many) God could have saved the elect. Calvin seemed to think that God could have saved by grace apart from the death but only sovereignly chose to do so. John Owen agreed at first , but then changed his mind. See also Abraham Booth, Justice Essential to the Divine Character. Now you can say that Owen and Booth denied God’s sovereignty to have the option of saving apart from Christ’s death. But God cannot lie. And God cannot save sinners apart from the death of Son.

When Christ died, after Christ died, God cannot in justice not save all those for whom Christ died. This is not about the infinity of Christ’s person (both divine and human). This is not only about paying for imputed sins by Christ’s death. This is also about obtaining something by Christ’s death. This is what  “merits” is getting to. Not only to get off from God’s wrath, but also that Christ has earned righteousness by the accomplishment of His death. And the result of this righteousness imputed will be all future blessings for the elect (access, adoption, resurrection!!!!).

I don’t call this “merit”. I don’t make “the ground” (I just say “the reason” ) the vicarious law-keeping. I think Christ’s death pays for sins and pre-pays for sins and earns all the other blessings. If this is “spiritual capitalism”, so be it!

But it is justice and counting is involved. 1. The death was offered only for the elect and will count only for the elect. 2. But the death did not count for the elect all at one time. The value of the death is the righteousness and this righteousness is imputed by God (not by the sinner, not by the church) to individuals one at a time, both before and after the death. This kind of “impetration” (see John Owen in Death of Death) best fits the evidence which says that the elect are both loved and also born under the wrath of God. It fits the evidence that Abraham was not simply overlooked but really justified years before the death of Christ.

The soundbite that “Abraham was saved 2000 years ago when I was” is more misleading than helpful. Christ obtained by His work of death the righteousness God imputed to Abraham years before He died. Christ by measure by justice by the obedience of His death obtained for each and every ungodly elect sinner who will ever be justified the righteousness that will be legally shared with that sinner and this justifies God in giving a justifying verdict to those sinners.

The righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is not God’s demand for justice. But the righteousness of Christ obtained by His death would not be necessary unless God demanded this specific death in history as justice.

I like to focus on the nature of the connection between Christ’s death and justification. One thing I learned at conversion is that God is justified in justifying. Not only that God is sovereign in grace but also that God is right, and we are wrong. God is right in saying that we deserve to die. God is right in the way that Christ dies to satisfy justice. We learn to take sides against ourselves in agreeing with God about this.

Death And Righteousness

December 29, 2009

1. I am not convinced that there is an “active obedience” defined as vicarious law-keeping. There is satisfaction to law by means of death.

2.. Even if we disagree about vicarious law-keeping (and I would not fight about “active obedience”), it is a great mistake to not include Christ’s death in Christ’s righteousness.

3. Saying that Christ’s death is included in the righteousness does not demand saying that His death is all the righteousness. Romans 5:9–since we have now been justified by His blood. Romans 5:18 so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life.

4. When we say Christ’s death, we must refer also to Christ’s resurrection. Texts often used to prove vicarious law-keeping mean resurrection. Rom 5:10 “We were reconciled to God by the death of His son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

Romans 1:4 “and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”

5. Our future resurrections will themselves be declarations, visible verdicts. We must not be preterists.

6. But none of this, neither my questioning of vicarious law-keeping or the future resurrection, is meant in any way to deny that present justification is not ultimate. We are not on probation, we are not pardoned only, and our justification is not temporary or provisional. Why not? Because the death of Christ has already been imputed to us. And it is enough.

Without Our Work, Done

December 16, 2009

He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.2]

The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.26

Actually one could call the work of Christ an acting work and our work an accomplished work pleasing to God by the grace of the acting work.27

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it 28

Dead Works

December 16, 2009

The Heidelberg Disputation

Brother Martin Luther, Master of Sacred Theology, will preside and Brother Leonhard Beier, Master of Arts and Philosophy, will defend the following theses before the Augustinians of this renowned city of Heidelberg in the customary place. In the month of May, 1518.

Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, “Do not rely on your own insight” [Prov. 3:5], we humbly present to the judgment of all those who wish to be here these theological theses, so that it may become clear whether they have been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul, the especially chosen vessel and instrument of Christ,

  1. The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him. 
  2. Much less can human works which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.
  3. Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins. 
  4. Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really for good and God’s glory.
  5. The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.
  6.  The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.
  7. By so much more are the works of man mortal sins when they are done without fear and in unadulterated, evil self-security. To say that works without Christ are dead, but not mortal, appears to constitute a perilous surrender of the fear of God. Indeed, it is very difficult to see how a work can be dead and at the same time not a harmful and mortal sin.
  8. Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.
  9. In the sight of God sins are then truly venial when they are feared by men to be mortal
  10. Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin

Not Under Law but Under Grace

December 14, 2009

I quote from p 143 (Stillman, Dual Citizens): “According to this view, under law means under the condemnation of God’s moral law, and under grace speaks of the deliverance from this condition. Some problems arise from this view.

First, Paul usually uses the word law to refer to the law of Moses in particular…When Paul spoke to those saints in the churches of Galatia who desired to be under the law, was he talking to people who longed to be under the condemnation of the law?…When Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the law, did he mean that Christ was born under the condemnation of the law?

Under law means under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic covenant. Furthermore, if under law and under grace are existential categories describing an individual’s condemnation or justification, then Paul’s argument is a non-sequitur.  It is not justification but sanctification that frees us from the dominion of the sin.”

Of course, that reading of Romans 6 is very common to many Reformed people.  Like John Murray, or Lloyd Jones, or Sinclair Ferguson, they tell us that “freed from sin” in Romans 6:7 cannot mean “justified from sin” because this chapter is about sanctification and not about justification.  It seems obvious to me that this is simply begging the question, and without some attention to the chapter, I will be guilty of simply begging the question the other way.

Stillman first asks: When Paul was warning the Galatians, were the false teachers wanting to be under condemnation? My answer is that Paul’s answer is that the false teachers were under the condemnation. If you go their way, Christ will be of no profit to you.

The gospel does not tell people that they want to be damned. The gospel says that they will be damned if their trust in anything else but Christ’s death for the elect.  That death alone, apart from  works enabled by the Spirit, be those works of Torah or of new covenant, is the only gospel.

Stillman’s second rhetorical question: when Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the law, did he mean that Christ was born under the condemnation of the law?  My answer is yes.

Gal 4:4: born of the law to redeem those under the law cannot mean only that Christ was born under the jurisdiction of Moses to get Jews free from that jurisdiction.  According to Gal 3:13, Christ became a curse under the law to redeem a people from the curse of the law.

The sins of all the elect were imputed to Christ, and as surety for the elect, Christ was born under the condemnation of God and God’s law. To see this, we need to attend to the first part of Romans 6 before we rush to the second part and conclude that it has to be about a sanctification that makes it ok for God to justify the ungodly. Romans 6:10 says that “the death He died to sin”.

We need to focus on Christ’s death to sin. Does this mean that Christ was unregenerate and then positionally cleansed  by the Holy Spirit? God forbid. Does it mean that Christ was carnal but then infused with the divine and became a partaker of the divine nature?  Again, God forbid.

Does it mean that Christ by being in the environment of the world and of the old covenant  needed a deliverance from “the flesh” and from the physical body? Once more, God forbid.  One more does it mean, and then I move on, lest I try your patience. Does it mean that God had to suffer intensely and infinitely before he died, because only in that way would He be “dead to sin”.  And again, no.

What does it mean that Christ died to sin? It means that the law of God demanded death for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ. As long as those sins were imputed to Christ, He was under sin, he was under law, He was under death.

Now death has no more power over Him? Why? Because the sins are no longer imputed to Him, but have been paid for and satisfied. And this is about the gospel, because the gospel is not about just about God justifying, but also about God being just and justifier.

Whatever you say about the Christian being dead to sin, this also needs to be said about Christ. If all it means is “not under Moses”, is that your gospel?

If the gospel is merely redemptive history, then all we know is that we have moved forward on the clock. Nobody is under Moses anymore. So what? How is that good news on your death bed?

Predestination Means that we are Passive and Weak

December 14, 2009

One evidence that we do not have “freewill” is that our deaths are not “voluntary” but forced up on us from the outside.  We are more like spectators than participants in our own dying. Judged before we were born, our only hope is the power of God to give us life that we do not now have.

Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

1 Corinthians 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 2:3

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling

2 Corinthians 11:30

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:5

On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.

2 Corinthians 13:4

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.