Archive for May 2010

The True Gospel vs the Simple Conditioned on Faith Gospel

May 25, 2010

People use the same name “Jesus” to describe their hope, but the person they describe is not the same person. Jesus in the Bible is described as a Savior of an elect called out people. What is called the “simple gospel” confuses everything by saying that Jesus also died ineffectively for other sinners who are not the sheep.

Is it sufficient for us to have implicit faith? Can we say: I don’t know who this Jesus is or what He did, but I trust Him, whoever He is and whatever He did. Can we be saved through trusting Jesus even when we don’t know which Jesus?

Is it converting faith for us to say that we accept as true what Jesus says, even though we do not know what Jesus says?

This would be a little bit like saying: I will do whatever you say to do to be saved. If you say work, I will work. If you say, make a decision, I will make a decision. The reason that people encourage this kind of simple implicit faith is that their faith is still in faith.

Instead of saying that Jesus died only for some and that this makes all the difference, they try to say INSTEAD that Jesus died for all “who believe in Him” and thus make the believing much more important than whatever it is that Jesus did.

After all, Jesus may or may not have done all that He did for everybody, we can’t say, we won’t say, so therefore we think we can trust Jesus and be agnostic about what He did or didn’t do.

This is because we think our faith is ultimately more important than the object of our faith. So our faith can have different objects, or no defined doctrinal object at all, and still we think our faith makes all the difference.

Faith in faith is not only about avoiding the offense of agreeing with Jesus about election. Faith in faith is a denial of election. It says that not election but faith is what matters. And to try to prove this, we are reminded that nobody knows if they are elect before they have faith. But faith in the gospel is not faith in one’s own election.

Faith in the gospel agrees first that Christ died as a substitute for the elect, and then faith in Christ agrees to trust for oneself this specific Christ and this specific way of salvation. Faith in the gospel agrees to exclude faith itself as the cause of salvation. Faith in the gospel agrees that faith itself is caused by what Christ did.

I Cor 15: “If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain.” It doesn’t matter how much faith you may have, if it is not objectively true that Jesus rose again. Your faith does not make Jesus rise from the dead. Nor does your lack of faith prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead. What Jesus did is done, regardless of your faith.

But what if we still argue that we “just” believe on Jesus, and we are neutral on this question if Jesus died for everybody or only for the elect? We must say there is only one Jesus, and we have no permission to believe in counterfeits.

A Jesus who died for everybody is a lot like Santa Claus: such a Jesus does not exist. There are many complicated things about Jesus that we do not understand, but one thing we can understand is that it is his death which saves. This means that everybody Jesus died for will be saved.

We understand that this means that everybody Jesus didn’t die for won’t be saved. We can’t be neutral about Jesus dying only for some, because we can’t be neutral about the real Jesus being the one who really saves. Our faith does not save. We must put our faith in the real Jesus or be still lost in our sins.

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If Election is not the Gospel, then We can’t talk About Atonement for the Elect

May 18, 2010

We often hear the phrase “election is not salvation” so that “election is UNTO salvation”. Or that “election is not the gospel” but that election is what causes people to believe the gospel.

I want to deconstruct this difference. If the denial that “election is not salvation” is saying that the righteousness Jesus earned is not intended only for the elect until the elect believe, then that denial is a rejection of the efficacy of Christ’s righteousness in salvation.

If the righteousness Christ earned is not for the elect until the elect believe, it makes no difference if you say that the righteousness was earned only for the elect or also for others besides the elect.

In either case, it is not the righteousness which is the cause of believing. The effect of this is that Christ’s work of obedience is not the ONLY cause of salvation, so that the work of the Spirit in the sinner causing the sinner to believe becomes not a result but a condition of Christ’s work.

This false gospel will end up not glorying in the cross but putting the Spirit’s work in the sinner in the primary place.

Can you Cause Christ to Become your Substitute?

May 18, 2010

Any idea that we cause Christ to become our substitute because God make us believers…is self-righteousness. God makes the elect to become believers because the elect died in union with Christ, so that His death is their death. But most Calvinists write with the following assumption: “through faith, sinners like you and me are brought into union with Christ SO THAT our sins are credited to him.”

Mark Dever’s Union Conditioned on Faith

May 12, 2010

It is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement, by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, Crossway, 2010.

Dever and Lawrence are Calvinists who think they believe in effective atonement. But they will not let a God-centered view of election change their basic man-centered approach to “evangelism”. I commend them for having two categories of people; they address themselves both to Christians and to “non-Christian friends”. Unlike many Reformed folks who use the ambiguity of “the covenant”, Dever and Lawrence are Baptists who believe in election. But they give no evidence of believing in federal union. They do not seem to have any idea of some sinners being united by election in Christ, so that the sins of these elect were already imputed to Christ.

Nor do they seem to have any idea of faith being an benefit to the elect from Christ and His righteousness. Their man-centered approach makes the effectiveness of the atonement depend on faith given by God. They refuse to say that it is an effective atonement for the elect which results in faith by the elect in the true Christ revealed in the true gospel. This lack of attention to federal union is not caused by their being Baptists, nor by the absence of “the covenant” language. Rather, the problem is that they still have a gospel in common with Arminians.

On page 75, Dever asks: “But who did Jesus die for? Well, I think
Scripture is very clear on that. In Isaiah 53 we are told that the Servant would bear the sin of many and that he would justify many…That says to me that the Servant dies for and bears the iniquities of the very same ones he justifies.” This is the truth, but it not a truth that governs most of this book of sermons about the cross. Later on that same page (75), Dever refers to the sufficient and efficient formula, but never explains in what way he thinks the cross was enough for the non-elect (who all perish). Yes, “Christ knew those for whom he was laying down his life, and they were the same ones that the Father had elected”, but this statement does not rule out the idea that the death and the election were conditioned on foreseen faith. This statement lacks the antithesis to Arminianism.

To make that antithesis, we need to talk about a federal union before we talk about an union by faith, and we need to talk about faith being a benefit given to the elect because of Christ’s obedience even to death. Lawrence (on p 97) correctly objects to any reading of John 3:16-17 which thinks that Christ’s “death made salvation possible but stopped short of actually accomplishing it.” He rightly points out that “our faith does not accomplish salvation.” But of course every Arminian I know would agree that faith is not the cause of salvation. If the death of Jesus is sufficient to save the non-elect, then saving faith cannot be a result of Christ’s death. And when that is so, you are left with an evangelism in which union with “Christ” (the false one who died for everybody) because of faith becomes everything.

Dever describes mainline compromised Calvinism on p144. He writes,
“justification is not the same kind of merely objective act that
propitiation is…Christ’s giving of Himself satisfied the demands of the Father’s judgment against us. He did it alone; we played no part in it. Justification, however, includes us and our faith in a way that propitiation did not. We must believe in order to be justified. “

I agree that propitiation and justification are different, but I would deconstruct the difference as Dever locates it. Like most Calvinists, he and Lawrence have not considered the idea of a “justification
through faith” in which the regeneration and faith of the elect are the immediate result of God’s act of imputation. They have heard of federal union (which they may equate with eternal justification), but they see no other alternative to a justification conditioned on what God does in the elect sinner in causing that sinner to believe. (See the essays by Bruce McCormack and Carl Braaten about Calvin putting regeneration in first place before justification, or see Edward Boehl’s discussion of John Owen in his The Reformed Doctrine of Justification.) Yes, it’s true that the elect are only justified when they believe, but it is not being honest to the truth of eternal election in union with Christ to say that faith is the instrumental condition of justification. But it does make peace with Arminian evangelism .

Who are the we? Who are the us? The New Testament letters were written for those who were already believing the gospel. Of course this “mail for Christians” is also meant to be read and proclaimed to those who have not yet believed the gospel (elect and non-elect). And the pastors Dever and Lawrence, who first did these sermons in their Southern Baptist church, do a good job of making a distinction between Christians and non-Christian friends. But they refuse to talk to these friends about election or about how the effectiveness of the cross not only satisfies justices but causes the elect to believe. Instead, they tell non-Christians that they “can be” saved if they trust Jesus (even the false one who died without anybody’s sin being imputed to Him at the time). Instead, they write as if faith is the way to get sins imputed to Christ, as if the lost sinner is the one who is the imputer.

On page 200, they ask:”what will you do with your sins?” On page 213, they ask: “But did Jesus die for you? It depends. Do you know yourself to be unrighteous?” Is it adding to the gospel (and therefore a false gospel of additions) to tell sinners that making your faith to be the difference between saved and lost is unrighteousness, and that trusting the gospel means understanding and repenting of Arminian assumptions? My plea is not that the lost have to learn what an Arminian is before they can believe the gospel. My plea is that those who teach the gospel show how Christ’s death is effective for the elect by showing how the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ by God, and not by the sinner.

It is well and good to tell the sinner that if she understands herself to be self-righteous, then she has a substitute. But part of
self-righteousness is any idea that we cause Christ to become our
substitute because God make us believers. Rather, God makes the elect to become believers because the elect died in union with Christ, so that His death is their death. This book has no reference to II Cor 5:15 and its reference to Romans 6 makes “baptism” to be a symbol of our faith (instead of God placing the elect into Christ’s death). On this page (111, in the middle of a very interesting sermon on the irony of “better that one man die”), Lawrence writes out plainly the assumption: “through faith, sinners like you and me are brought into union with Christ so that our sins are credited to him.”

Why do I call this Arminian evangelism? Don’t the Arminians say that all the sins of all sinners have already been credited to Christ, and that this is ineffective? Well, no, they would not agree that it’s ineffective; they simply say that the whole thing is also conditioned on faith. While the Calvinist disagrees with the Arminian about the source of this faith, as long as the Calvinist does not talk of a federal union in which God has already credited the sins of the elect to Christ, they can share the same gospel. They can also agree not to mention that the non-elect sinner cannot believe the true gospel. They can very much agree not to mention that the non-elect CAN believe the false gospel that God loves everybody and that “Christ” died for everybody.

So not all is well in this book about the cross. There is ambiguity,
contradiction between the idea that the sinner decides if Jesus has died for her and the idea of assurance that “One has been sacrificed to pay your penalty.” (p23) But the non-Christian is not commanded to believe what may not be true. And even if a non-Christian is elect, and it is true that Christ died for her, that is not what we can or should be telling the non-Christian. We can certainly tell non-Christians about Christ’s effective death for the elect without telling them if they are elect or not. We don’t know if they are elect. We do know that Christ saves all for whom He died! Therefore it is not true or biblical to say that Christ “laid down his life for us if we would trust him”. Because the elect’s sins were credited to Christ by the Triune God, Christ died for them so that they would be placed into that death and so that they would believe the gospel.

On page 38, they write: an atonement needs to be made for you. No,this is not correct. An atonement has already been made. An atonement has already been made for the elect alone. It is not true to say to the unbeliever: “or you can trust that someone else has suffered for your sins and paid the penalty for them.” (p56) An unbeliever can believe that, and also believe that her believing is what made that penalty to be effective in her case, but if she does that, she is still in her sins, and still worshiping a false God who cannot save. But the true gospel tells sinners that God is the one who put Christ to death for the sins of the elect, and that this same Christ will return a second time “without sin”, all the future sins of the elect having been paid.

Again, I am not asking that evangelists explain to the lost what
Arminianism is. Rather, I am asking us to not proclaim an Arminian gospel. The Bible talks about “us” and “our” sins, but it never sounds Arminan or resorts to an Arminian logic. Let us try to do the same thing. When we tell people that God saves “as many as” (whosoever) has faith in Jesus, let us make sure that we tell them for whom Jesus died. Let’s NOT merely say: “there is no other qualification, no other work, no other standard to be met.” (p126). Faith is not what makes Christ’s death effective for us: the Holy Spirit is not the One who makes the atonement work.

Faith is not a qualification, but a result of Christ’s death, a benefit of Christ’s righteousness. (II Peter 1:1) It is true to say that “without trust we will know no benefit through his death” (p152), but it not the whole truth, and it becomes a lie when we do not rule out he idea that trust is what makes the death work. And we cannot rule out trust as what makes the death work, unless we teach that trust is a result given to the elect by the instrument of Christ’s death for the elect.

God has a non-elect. My worry is not that some of the non-elect will be saved. But neither should these pastors worry that the elect will not be saved if they told the truth that God has a non-elect and that God does not love all sinners. But Dever and Lawrence assure their non-Christian friends that “God wants you to wake up to the spiritual peril you are in”. (p153). But this is not true of all non-Christians who God has predestined to be listening to these sermons. Certainly God commands in God’s law what God has not ordained to happen. But God’s gospel does not include any idea that God “wants” things to happen that will not happen.

At this point you can bring out Spurgeon and the word “offer” and accuse me of letting predestination rule over the gospel. But in the gospel in which God is both just and justifier, the Lord Jesus Christ has already brought in a righteousness by which all those God loves will be justified. Contrary to what Dever says on p 155, God does not count faith as righteousness. It is the object of faith, Christ in his glorious person and effective death, who is alone the divine righteousness of the elect.

What It, What Gospel, in Galatians 3:5-8?

May 8, 2010

Galatians 3:5 Abraham believed God and it was imputed to him unto
righteousness.

Galatians 3:8 And the Scripture, for-seeing that God would justify the
gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, “in you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Of course I want to write about imputation, but first of all four comments about the Abrahamic covenant and verse 8. First, notice the word justify. Even though circumcision was important to keep ethnic Israel in the land, the ultimate blessing connected with Abraham is JUSTIFICATION. The covenantal promise is not that all who are circumcised will be justified. As verse 3:7 says, “those of faith” will be justified. The promise is that those who are circumcised are not excluded from the people (Gen 17:14).

Second, the Abrahamic covenant is not for GENTILES, even though it promises future blessing for the gentiles. For-seeing this blessing for-seeing that Abraham will have one future son who will bless the gentiles. But this blessing will not and cannot come until that Son arrives, and when that Son arrives, the Mosaic and Abrahamic legal economy will be changed. Circumcision included all the Jewish children, and excluded all the gentiles. (Is a circumcised slave of a Jew in the Abrahamic covenant?) When the one son of Abraham arrives, there is neither jew nor gentiles, neither slave nor free…so there is no future land for the jew, and no more slavery or circumcision for anybody, male or female.

Third, which promise to Abraham is the object of FAITH? Is the GOSPEL about the land promise of Genesis 12 or about not being excluded from the covenant people in Genesis 17? Since Ishmael was circumcised, he was not cut off from the people, but God promised to establish His covenant with Isaac, and therefore the GOSPEL promise which must be the object of our FAITH is that found in Genesis 12:3–“And in you all the families shall be blessed.”

Fourth, despite the threat of curse connected with the Abrahamic covenant, the curse of that law cutting off those not circumcised, the BLESSING promised is “in Christ Jesus”. Gal 3:14–“In Christ the blessing of Abraham comes to the Gentiles, so that we receive (passively, not by our believing) the promised Spirit through faith.”

Even though this blessing was promised in Genesis 12, Galatians 3:5 quotes Genesis 15:6. The verse 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 nine reasons that faith 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 reader would have to agree with him that Genesis 15 does teach that the faith 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. Faith is imputed unto…
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”? Those the “new perspective” like N.T. Wright tell 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 to be “in the covenant” without talking about how and why they got that way.

I think “it” has an antecedent, but the antecedent is not faith. God
imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel to a person God justifies. 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.

There are certain conditions associated with the Abrahamic covenant. But a conditional covenant 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 (required by the law) for the elect.

There is not a different gospel for us now than there was for Abraham.
There is not a different gospel for the gentiles than for the jews. 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.