Archive for December 29, 2009

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.