Justified by Works, but Don’t Think of it That Way?

Run to Win the Prize, 2010, Crossway, Thomas R. Schreiner

This little book is from lectures given at Oak Hill in London. It’ s a summary of the thinking found in the book Schreiner wrote with Caneday, The Race Set Before Us (2001, IVP) Schreiner again engages in some special pleading for a “paradox” (p73) in which works are necessary but also for not focusing on works but Christ. How it’s possible to rationally live in that paradox is not so clear. I guess words like “premeditation” and “intention” and “byproduct” play a big part.

I would not say that Schreiner’s thesis comes from the “new perspective”. There’s no need to go to NT Wright, Norman Shepherd, or John Armstrong, to make his case. Rather, he goes to Jonathan Edwards against John Calvin to argue that works of faith are necessary for justification. In this respect, Schreiner is simply making popular a path already made by Dan Fuller in The Unity of the Bible (1992, Zondervan).

I quote from Unity (p181): “In commenting on Genesis 2:17 -do not eat from that tree–Calvin said, `These words are so far from establishing faith that they do nothing but shake it.’ I argue, however, that there is much reason for regarding these words as well suited to strengthen Adam and Eve’s faith…In Calvin’s thinking, the promise made in Genesis 2:17 could never encourage faith, for its conditionality could encourage only meritorious works. `Faith seeks life that is not found in commandments.’ Consequently, the gospel by which we are saved is an unconditional covenant of grace, made such by Christ having merited it for us by his perfect fulfillment of the covenant of works. Dan Fuller comments: “I have yet to find anywhere in Scripture a gospel promise that is unconditional.”

More from Unity (p310): “If Abraham was not declared forgiven until ten years later, was he still a guilty sinner when he responded positively to God’s promises in Genesis 12:2-3 and also during the following years up until 15:6?” “Calvin gave a meaning to James’s use of the word justification which is not supported by the text…He argued that for James, `justify’ meant the `declaration’ rather than the `imputation’ of righteousness.”

Calvin (3:17:12): “Either James inverted faith and obedience–unlawful even to imagine–or he did not mean to call him justified, as if Abraham deserved to be reckoned righteous. What then? Surely, it is clear that he himself is speaking of the declaration, not the imputation, of righteousness.”

Back to Fuller (p313): “Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…James’ s concern in 2:14-26 was to urge a faith that saves a person, not simply to tell a person how they could demonstrate their saving faith…Calvin should have taught that justification depends on a persevering faith, since he regarded Abraham as already justified before Genesis 15:6.”
And then Fuller quotes Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.” For more from Edwards, see Schreiner’s new little book (p20, 70, 92).

Rob Zins, who wrote his masters on Shepherd’s view of Justification, writes about James in his book on Romanism (2002, p184): “The best we can do with James 2 is to say that Abraham was `shown to be just’ by offering Isaac up on the altar. It may be stretching things too far to say that Abraham was `shown to have been justified’ when he offered Isaac. One can be called righteous without being declared justified by God…Certainly there is a demonstration here, but it is a demonstration of faith rather than a demonstration of righteousness.”

Zins writes on p189 about Romans 2: “It is difficult to grasp how Paul could be speaking hypothetically. Paul rather seems to be making direct statements of reality. .. The question revolves around whether God gives eternal life `because’ of good works or `in accordance with good works’. ” And then on p192, Zins concludes: “both James and Paul do not hesitate to apply the word `justification’ when God approves a sinner on the basis of good works…Yet these justification notifications stem from a previous justification by imputation…The blood of Christ had to be applied to Abraham for his justification despite both his faith and the completion of his faith by his good works.” And then Zins quotes favorably ( p196) the conclusion of Jonathan Edwards about God considering from the first the future works of faith of the believers.

I have been trying to set the Schreiner book in a context, but in doing that, I have written more about Dan Fuller, Rob Zins, Jonathan Edwards, and John Calvin, than I have about Schriener’s exegesis or about the psychology of making assurance depend on present working without at the same time depending on present working. Now, I am going to compound the strangeness of this review, by closing with a quotation from Fesko’s excellent new book on Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (2008, P and R). This time it’s not Dan Fuller against the later Luther, but Fesko against the later Richard Gaffin (even though he supports Shepherd, Gaffin should not to be confused with Shepherd. See my review of Gaffin’s By Faith, Not by Sight, another Oak Hill lecture.)

Fesko writes on p 315: “Gaffin tries to argue that works are not the ground of judgment. `It is not for nothing, I take it, and not to be dismissed as an overly fine exegesis to observe that, in Romans 2:6, Paul writes “according to works” and not “on account of works”… Gaffin’s point is that `in accordance with works’ are synechdochial for faith in Christ. (Ridderbos; Paul: Outline, 178-181; also Murray; Romans, 78).”

Fesko responds: “Can such a fine distinction be supported by the grammar alone…What difference exists between the two? `Corresponding to’ is common in reference to the precise and impartial standard of judgment that will be applied on the great Day. Gaffin and Venema fail to account for judgment according to works for the wicked….According to Gaffin’s interpretation, are the wicked judged according to their works, but the works are not the ground of their condemnation? Romans 4:4–“now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as WHAT IS DUE.”

Surely there are many unanswered questions. If the non-elect are condemned ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR WORKS, how do the elect live with the notion that works of faith are necessary for their justification? I will say the one simple thing I keep on saying: God does not count faith as the righteousness. Neither the initial act of faith nor the continuing acts of faith are the basis of justification. God counts the righteousness of Christ earned for the elect alone as the righteousness. The elect have legal union with Christ’s obedience to death for the elect. The elect come to share in this righteousness by legal imputation. The righteousness credited ( a free gift received, Romans 5:17) results in the justification of elect. But you cannot have faith ( beginning or continuing) in this righteousness if you have not yet heard and understood and assented to what the gospel reveals about election.

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19 Comments on “Justified by Works, but Don’t Think of it That Way?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    By Faith Not By Sight (Oakhill School of Theology Series) (

    Gaffin’s thesis is that there is a future aspect to the justification of an individual sinner. His assumption is that it is faith (not election) which unites a sinner to Christ and thus to the benefits/power to do the works necessary for future justification.

    It is God who gives the faith; it is God who gives the works; therefore it seems right to him to condition justification on the faith and works of the sinner. Gaffin does not tell us what gospel must be the object of the faith which unites to Christ. Nor does he tell us how imperfect works would have to be to miss justification and be condemned.

    Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…” p110 Gaffin of course wants to say both things as his hope. Part of his hope is sanctification defined as something other than justification from sin, but as power over against sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

    Gaffin says many good and right things about imputation. For example, on p51, he lists 3 options for the ground of justification. A. Christ’s own righteousness, complete and finished in his obedience…B. the union itself, the fact of the relationship with Christ…c. the obedience being produced by the transforming Spirit in those in union. Gaffin rightly concludes that “the current readiness to dispense with imputation” results from taking the last two options as the ground of justification.

    But Gaffin always has a but, a not yet. Though we are justified now (because faith in something, even Arminianism, unites us now to Jesus), Gaffin still teaches a justification by sight, ie by works. Instead of reading the “according to works” texts as having to do with the distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin conditions assurance in future justification on imperfect but habitual working.

    Instead of saying that works motivated by fear of missing justification are unacceptable to God, Gaffin teaches a justification which is contingent on faith and works.

    Gaffin follows his mentors John Murray and Norman Shepherd in taking Romans 2:13 to be describing Christians. The hope for future justification is not Christ’s death, resurrection, and intercession alone: challenging any law-gospel antithesis, Gaffin teaches an “unbreakable bond between justification and sanctification” in the matter of aasurance and hope for future justification. (p100)

    Yes, faith (in which gospel?) is the alone instrument, he agrees, yes his finished righteousness is the alone ground, he affirms, but at the same time and however, works factor in also. Just remember that these works which factor into your assurance come from God working in you and not from you.

    I recommend the reading of this book, so that critics of Gaffin will not make the mistake of identifying him with N.T. Wright who denies imputation. I agree with Gaffin that the gospel is not only about what Christ did outside of the elect for the elect; the gospel is also about the effectual call which results from election in Christ and Christ’s work for those elect in Him (and by Him).

    One evidence of effectual calling is that the justified elect do not put their assurance in their “bearing fruit for God”. To work for assurance of future justification is to “bear fruit for death”. Romans 7:5

      • markmcculley Says:

        After we are justified through faith, does God then also justify our faith?
        For what reason would our faith need to be justified, after we are justified?
        Our faith is not perfect, but it does not need to be because none of our faith is the righteousness God imputes to us for our justification. God gave us faith, but the object of our faith is not that our faith has been justified. Our faith is not perfect, which is another way of saying that sinners believe the gospel , and sin even in our believing the gospel.. Since our faith is not perfect, God does not count our faith as perfect nor is there any need for God to do so.

    • markmcculley Says:

      Gaffin follows his mentors John Murray and Norman Shepherd in taking Romans 2:13 to be describing Christians. And Jones agrees, and continues to label John Calvin’s reading of Romans 2 as the “hypothetical” view. Instead of calling it the “empty set” view (nobody will be justified by works), Jones (along with Barth and many others) is outraged at the idea of a covenant of works in which is was ever proposed that humans could merit Well, I myself am not convinced that Adam “could have” merited anything by not sinning. If Adam had not ever sinned, Adam would not have died. I myself am not convinced that those in the old covenants ‘could have” earned extra points and blessings from God. What I do see is that old covenant members Ishmael and Essau (along with many others) by their sin earned God’s wrath Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass

      So, instead of Jones complaining about us for introducing “hypothetical merits” into Romans 2. I will complain about him suggesting that some really are saved (by doing the law the right way) in Romans 2. Romans 2 is teaching that nobody is justiifed by doing the law, no matter which way they do the law.

      I quote Paul Helm: “On the Gentile Christians view, while Paul argues that all are under the just judgment of God, the section 2.1-16 is not a direct contribution to that argument, but…takes us forward to the last judgment, and …. to some people who are under grace and not under the law – Gentile Christians). But such a claim might simply be a begging of the question at issue….It is only a reasonable assumption if Paul has in mind Gentile Christians, which is precisely the issue we are considering.


      Paul Helm continues: ” Paul is simply stating the terms of justification or judgment by personal fulfillment of the law. Anyone, by those terms, if they keep the law will be justified.

      “The keepers of the law will be rewarded” is consistent with “There are none who are keepers of the law” AND “Therefore none will be rewarded with immortality”.

      Paul Helm: “Referring to those who are considered in Romans 1.16 Dr Wright claims `These people are Christians, on whose hearts the spirit has written the law, and whose secrets, when revealed 2.29) will display the previously hidden work of God.’ (p 166) Gathercole claims that ‘the gentiles who have the Law written on their hearts will be justified on the final day’ (p 126). …An equivalence being claimed here between the law being written on the heart and regeneration. But in Romans 2, regeneration, the work of the Spirit, and so forth – these factors are not in view. Paul is referring to the matter of the law, `not isolated parts but the Torah in its entirety’…. The replacing of the heart of stone with the heart of flesh and all such associated matters do not arise here. Paul is simply maintaining the symmetry between the situation of the Gentile and the Jew, blocking the possible inference that since the Gentiles do not have the Torah they will escape the judgment of God.

      Paul Helm:— The Gentiles’ consciences bear witness to the ‘matters’ of that law, in its commands and prohibitions, and sometimes they observe that law and are excused, they experience an internal relief; and sometimes they disobey it and are rightfully self-accused….Paul is not discussing inner motivation, but the equity of an arrangement according to which both Jew and Gentile are judged by the law Such judgment will reveal hypocrisy in the lives of all men, including those of the Jews,…I n fact Paul is saying nothing about actual outcomes, but stating how law operates, what its demands are and how these are satisfied.

      Paul Helm: Does what Paul goes on to say in 2.25-29 overthrow this older view, showing us that when the chapter is taken as a whole he has a class of Gentile Christians in view throughout? In my view, to go in this direction is to misunderstand the force of 2.27-9, which is answering the question, how is true Jewishness to be defined? Deuteronomy 30:6 answers in terms of the circumcision of the heart.

      Paul concludes (1) If a person who is uncircumcised kept the law he would in effect be circumcised And (2) If a person is physically circumcised but breaks the law that physical circumcision is cancelled, made null and void.

      Paul Helm: There is a course a different method of justification about to be set forth than the method of works-righteousness. But Paul is not yet ready to make that move. One step at a time. At this point he sets out the scheme of salvation by works. He follows this by setting out what true circumcision is. The implication of these definitions is that the Jews, because of their hypocrisy (2.17-24) are condemned, as were the Gentiles earlier. (1.18-2.11, 2.1-5)

      mark: But to return to Jones and to Gaffin. Jones is caught in between saying that what Gaffin has written is nothing new but also saying that everybody in the Reformed tradition now needs to say it the way that Gaffin says it. But to say even this much is to agree that not all Reformed people say it or have said it the way Jones wants it to be said. But instead of leaving the diversity as it is, Jones wants to argue that we must not anymore like Luther said it, and that Calvin never did say it that way. First, Reformed folks never taught law-grace antithesis to that extreme. Second, and also, now is the time for Reformed folks to stop teaching law-gospel antithesis to that extreme.

      For example, Jones writes “the idea that Christ’s resurrection and justification is also our resurrection and justification are also our resurrection and justification is not a recent invention. Of course, not first, the idea that Christ’s death is our death is not a recent idea idea. It’s in Romans 6. and the idea that Christ’s death becomes our death by God’s imputation is not a recent idea either, but Jones now wants to say that union with Christ the person must come first before this imputation of Christ’s death to us. Does this mean that union with
      Christ the person must come first before our resurrection and our justification come to us? Do the resurrection and the justification come to us by imputation? Or do the resurrection and the justification come to us “by the union” and not by imputation? Does the resurrection come to us ‘by faith” and not by God’s imputation? Is God’s imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness only after faith? If this faith does not come from God’s imputation, and if this faith comes before “union”, how does this faith come to us?

      I am am having difficulty seeing why all Reformed folks have to agree to say it Gaffin’s way. But part of the problem is that Gaffin is still not giving arguments about why the link between redemptive history and the order of application must faith in priority to imputation. Sure, we all know the difference between impetration and application, and we all know that Romans 6 (and Colossians 2, with the other texts) is not only talking about Christ’s new life but also about our new life, but all that being the case, why is it that we must put the focus on Christ as the personal life-giving Spirit now instead of talking about Christ’s completed righteousness. as some Reformed folks used to do?

      Gaffin’s thesis is that there is a future aspect to the justification of an individual sinner. His assumption is that it is faith (not election) which unites a sinner to Christ and thus to the benefits/power to do the works necessary for the not yet aspect of justification.

      Since it is the same God who gives us the faith who gives us the works, therefore it seems right to Gaffin to condition our final justification on the faith and works of the sinner. Faith works yes, but also work believes. Gaffin does not tell us which gospel must be the object of the faith which unites to Christ. Does that gospel ever mention that God imputed only the sins of the elect to Christ? Nor does Gaffibn tell us how imperfect works would have to be to miss out on the not-yet aspect of justification so that those once in (Christ and covenant) might still be condemned.

      Gaffin wants both faith in Christ’s past work and also in Christ’s present work in us. He cannot place all his hope in what Christ already did to satisfy the law for the elect, because part of his hope is a “sanctification” defined as a power over against sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

      • markmcculley Says:

        Gaffin does affirm many correct things about imputation. For example, on p 51, he lists 3 options for the ground of justification. A. Christ’s own righteousness, complete and finished in his obedience…B. the union itself, the fact of the relationship with Christ…c. the obedience being produced by the transforming Spirit in those in union. Gaffin rightly concludes that “the current readiness to dispense with imputation” results from taking the last two options as the ground of justification.

        But Gaffin always has his not yet. That’s the way he keeps it all gray. Though we are justified now, Gaffin still teaches a justification by sight, ie by works. Instead of reading the “according to works” texts as having to do with the distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin conditions assurance in future justification on imperfect but habitual working. Instead of saying that works motivated by fear of missing justification are unacceptable to God, Gaffin teaches a final justification which is contingent on faith and works.

        Gaffin teaches an “unbreakable bond between justification and sanctification” in the matter of assurance and hope for future justification. (p 100) Yes, faith (in which gospel?) is the alone instrument, he agrees, yes Christ’s finished righteousness is the alone ground, he affirms, but at the same time and however, works factor in also. Just remember that these works which factor into your assurance come from God working in you and not from you.

        Gaffin, lectures on Romans, on 2:13:

        That judgement decides…the ultimate outcome for all believers and for all humanity, believers as well as unbelievers. It’s a life and death situation that’s in view here. Further, this ultimate judgement has as its criterion or standard, brought into view here, the criterion for that judgement is works, good works. The doing of the law, as that is the criterion for all human beings, again, believers as well as unbelievers. In fact, in the case of the believer a positive outcome is in view and that positive outcome is explicitly said to be justification. So, again the point on the one side of the passage is that eternal life… depends on and follows from a future justification according to works. Eternal life follows upon a future justification by doing the law.

        Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight, p 106—In book 3 of his Institutes (The Beginning of Justification and its Continual Progress), Calvin explains “We must have this justification not just once but must hold it it throughout life.” Justification is bound up with Christ’s present ongoing intercessory presence, in the sense that our remaining in the state of justification, depends on this unfailing intercession. His presence in that place of final judgment is the effective answer….Christ is the living embodiment of that righteousness…and as such he continues to avoid for the justification of God’s already justified elect….Because of this intercession they cannot and will not ever fall from the state of justification.”

      • markmcculley Says:

        In his preface to the new Presbyterian and Reformed edition of Gaffin’s By Faith Not by Sight, Mark Jones confuses John Cotton’s position on faith and justification. Mark Jones falsely identifies Cotton teaching imputation before faith with Cotton teaching justification before faith, and does this without any quotation of John Cotton.

        In A Faire and Easy to Heaven (1978, p43), William Stoever quotes Cott0n: “We must be good trees before we can bring forth good fruit. If then closing with Christ be a good fruit, we must be good trees before we can bring it forth. And how can we be good trees, before we be engrafted into Christ?”

        Cotton was not teaching that anybody can be justified before or without faith. Cotton was denying that faith is something the elect have before or without God’s imputation of Christ’s death to these elect. The apriori assumption for Jones and Gaffin is that faith is a condition of what they they call “union”. What they call “union” is a condition for their view of “justification”, a view in which justification continues to have “not-yet” aspects, so that final justification is conditioned on continuing works of faith.

        Gaffan and Jones insist on faith before “union”, but if their logic holds, then “union” also has “not-yet aspects”, which are conditioned on the “not yet” aspects of “faith after ” an incomplete union and justification.

        It is a contradiction to say that all of God’s acts depend on “union”, and then to turn around and also say that “union” depends on faith. Does faith also depend on “union”? Or does “union” depend on faith” While Gaffin and Jones never clearly define “union”, it seems like the think that we receive the “personal presence” of Christ inside us BEFORE we receive the benefit of Christ’s finished work. In other words, since Jesus is now the Holy Spirit in redemptive history, for Gaffin and Jones (and for Sinclair Ferguson and many others), this is read to mean that we must obtain possession of Christ as a person not only before we are justified but also before God will impute Christ’s righteousness to us.) Despite all this focus on the priority of redemptive history, Ferguson and Gaffin and Jones are not clear about how any of this changed between the old covenant economies and the incarnation of Christ.

        There are many unanswered questions about this “not yet” paradigm” which are ignored in Gaffin’s little book. If there is some sense in which those who have been justified are not yet justified, is there also some sense in which God has not yet imputed all the sins of all the justified to Christ? Since the absence of “works of faith” is seen by Gaffin as not only a lack of evidence of final justification but also as the means by which many who have been “baptized” will instrumentally fail to be finally justified, how do the sins (or non-works) of the not-yet completely justified factor into their final justification? Is there a difference between good works and faith, or between sins and lack of faith and works?

        If faith is a condition of “union”, and if faith is yet incomplete and uncertain (as far as one individual is concerned), does that not mean that “union” is also incomplete? How does a person get faith before they are united to Christ? If a person has to get faith before they can get the personal presence of Christ, how does a person get this faith? How can “calling” be a condition of the “union” but not a benefit of the “union”?

        If the gift of faith is not given to us based on Christ’s righteousness (as taught in II Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ), but instead the righteousness of Christ is given to us based on union, and that union is based on faith, and that faith is still always incomplete, how can anyone now think that their sins have already been imputed to Christ or that Christ’s righteousness has already been imputed to them? if our justification by God is in some sense future, does that not mean that our baptism into Christ’s death is still in some sense future?

        Jones acts as if he all who disagree with Gaffin are antinomians who do not even know the difference between impetration” and ‘application”. Jones writes: “Faith marks the transition from being in a state of wrath to being in a state of grace”. “Marks” is an interesting word choice here, because Jones avoids the word “cause” while at the same time assuming that the “application” is caused by faith. (Shepherd and others use the same word when they say that water baptism “marks” the transition).

        But my central question here concerns the central factor in the transition from wrath to favor, between the two states. While Gaffin and Jones claim that it’s faith which marks the transition, I agree with John Cotton (and Berkhof, and Bavinck and many others) that it’s God’s imputation of righteousness to the elect individual which marks the transition.

        Sure, we all agree to a distinction between impetration and application. But is the application the gift of faith before and apart from God’s imputation? is the application (calling by the gospel to faith) before and apart from God legally placing the elect into Christ’s death? (Romans 6) Why must we agree that Gaffin and Jones that we receive the personal presence of Christ in us before we are legally planted in Christ’s death? I get that Gaffin and Jones are insisting on this priority, but I do not get where they have argued convincingly for the priority.

        Why would they want to say that the person of Christ is more important than the work of Christ? is it because they want to say that the present work of Christ (now as resurrected and as the Spirit) is more important than the past work of Christ? (death by law as a satisfaction for the all future sins of all the elect) Is their priority on the present work because they don’t think justification is complete yet? Since they don’t seem to think faith and union are complete yet either, why are they so eager to say that Christ in us is “union” and thus “the cause of all other graces”, when they themselves are saying that our faith is the cause of “union”? Since our faith has not worked and persevered completely, how then could our “union” be complete? How then could Christ be personally present in us already completely?

        It really is “rich” (I mean most ironic) when Jones claims that “the Lutheran view” ends up “attributing to justification a renovative /transformative element”. First, Jones still has not defined either union nor sanctification, but he seems to be equating “sanctification” with ethical innovation. Second, if we were to say that God’s imputation results in or causes ethical innovation, that is NOT saying that imputation is the innovation. It’s saying that innovation is a result, not the imputation. Imputation is one thing, the innovation is another thing. I am seeing this accusation more and more, and it makes no sense. God’s legal declaration in imputation (based on Christ’s death) results in many blessings, including regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit. But that does not the Spirit’s work (or regeneration) with imputation. In fact, it makes the distinction plain. On the contrary, to start with a nondefined “union”, which consists of Christ’s personal presence but which is somehow before God’s imputation, is the ordering which opens the way for “union” as a renovation. If Christ can enter your heart before Christ’s righteousness is imputed to you and as the “condition” for that imputation then taking place, then what you have is something taking place in us before any legal transfer by God of the results of Christ’s past work. It seems like some kind of “innovation” is happening, merely by Christ’s presence, which is supposedly more important than Christ’s death or at least which does not depend on Christ’s death.

        II Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours BY THE RIGHTEOUSNESS of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

        We all believe in a distinction between what Christ did (impetration) and the application of that. But the application is by God’s imputation, and Jones and Gaffin want to put something else into the application first before God’s imputation. And I cannot help thinking that the reason they points to Christ’s present resurrection instead of to Christ’s past righteousness (either imputed already to a sinner, or not) is because they think of our justification as a process, which still depends on our faith, with faith defined as that which changes us, with faith defined as that which unites us to Christ and that which keeps Christ united to us

    • markmcculley Says:

      William Turner (Amason) to assert that Gaffin “agrees” with the Reformed tradition while denying the Gospel/Law antithesis, such as Daniel Fuller and John Piper do, then to say that his statement of ‘final justification’ differs on mere “semantics” is simply not true. Read a serious and well-respected critic of this hybrid of Reformed teaching in Mark Karlberg’s writings (a disciple of Meredith G. Kline). He not only says that this group of writers (Fuller, Piper, Shepherd, Gaffin) have left the historic Reformed tradition – but they have left Protestant orthodoxy altogether. This is not simply a difference of semantics, its a difference in content and definition of what it means to be “justified”. Their views of the ‘Covenant’ are essentially more Barthian than they are of Covenant Theology, or even Evangelical Theology for that matter. There is no antithesis between Law/Gospel. Law is Gospel, Gospel is Law. Highly problematic for our faith.

      I would strongly encourage people to read a generous, yet critical and well-informed theologian concerning this group’s teaching. May I state clearly that Gaffin’s synopsis of works for a future Justification is not the Historic Reformed teaching, it is not historic because it thoroughly blurs the distinctive Protestant teaching between Law/Grace. Even the Reformed tradition has held to, in part, a distinction between these two economies, though not as strongly as Lutheran traditions. Gaffin follows strongly in the mold of Shepherd, who was dismissed from Westminster Theological Seminary after almost 8 years of debate from both the school and board about whether his teachings (a covenant-keeping monocovenentalism) were in accord with the Westminster Standards. In the end, they were not. These men have left the historic Protestant teachings concerning the Law/Gospel antithesis and clearly have left historic Reformed teachings. Do not believe that this type of teaching has gone unchecked. The break with Westminster Philadelphia which formed the separate Westminster Seminary in California, was but one of the many breaks over this unbiblical teaching. Many Godly men and scholars from the Reformed tradition have broken from Westminster Philadelphia, as well as the OPC, because of this current popular teaching in its circles.

      O. Palmer Robertson, a well-respected Reformed scholar, wrote a short work called ‘The Current Justification Controversy’ which outlined this period at Westminster Philadelphia. He explains what Shepherd (now essentially Gaffin) taught in his classes, explains the committees put together to understand his teachings in light of the WCOF, and finally lists the theologians and scholars that disagreed sharply with Shepherd (and now essentially Gaffin) and who left the school and wished Shepherd removed from the OPC.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    The fruit of infralapsarianism? Richard Gaffin, by Faith not by Sight, p 103–“The law-gospel antithesis enters not by virtue of creation but as the consequence of sin…The gospel is to the purpose of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer…With the gospel and in Christ, united to him, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend.”


    Horton: The classification of “unconditional” and “conditional” covenants isn’t helpful, they argue, because there are elements of each in every biblical covenant.However, their argument assumes that the mere presence of commands indicates a mixture of unconditional-conditional aspects in the basis of the covenant itself. At this point, Reformed theology has traditionally appealed to a distinction between basis and administration. The mere presence of commands says nothing about the basis of a covenant itself.

    mark: so far, so good, Tullian got this from Horton–commands don’t make things conditional But Horton does bring back conditionality

    Horton: Concerning covenant theologians, Wellum, “Ironically, however, they agree with the Arminian exegesis and conclusion as applied to full covenant members who are not elect” (75). This isn’t quite accurate. We hasten to add the qualification in verse 9: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation” (v. 9). The writer does not know for certain that each and every member of the new covenant is justified, but exercises charity since they are not among the open apostates. A Baptist interpretation cannot account for this category of covenant beneficiaries who spurn the objective blessings delivered to them and fall away, while an Arminian interpretation cannot account for the distinction of this group from those who were in fact united to Christ.

    mark: but this simply assumes that there are non-justified members in the new covenant, which is the thing to be proven, but Horton assumes it because he assumes straight continuity with Abraham (as if all discontinuity was with Moses, but Abraham himself had two sons)

    Horton: jewish branches that didn’t yield faith were broken off to make room for living Gentile branches that share the faith of Abraham in Christ. And yet he adds, “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (vv. 16b-21). The whole tree is holy, but dead branches will be pruned. The whole church of Corinth is addressed as “the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2). And yet, among that very number are members he will later upbraid them for not excommunicating!
    mark: thus Horton teaches that members of the new covenant lose their sanctification and their membership, because it’s all conditioned on faith

    and then Horton becomes quite open in his conditionality, as much as Kline or Piper or Schreiner: To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong? If faith is the only way into membership (693), then why all the warnings to members of the covenant community to exercise faith and persevere in faith to the end?

    Horton: God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. Yet they must embrace the promise in faith. Otherwise, they fall under the covenant curse without Christ as their mediator. The word proclaimed and sealed in the sacraments is valid, regardless of our response, but we don’t enjoy the blessings apart from receiving Christ

  4. markmcculley Says:

    ‘because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth’ (3:16).

    mark: and what God says to a corporate people, he says to any individual, so it’s not that any assurance is presumption but rather that any assurance based on Christ’s death alone or “did you hear and agree” is not valid, because the only valid assurance is “what did you do”? today? and tomorrow? and next week?

    Jesus did not bear the curse which comes the warnings, which means there’s still some curse left for those in the covenant , In theory, there is no curse for those in Christ Jesus, but in practical reality, you have to obey the warnings or you won’t be in Christ Jesus. Which would mean you were never in Christ Jesus, because justification was in Christ’s death alone, but sanctification is not in Christ’s death alone but also in your daily dying, and if you don’t die daily, then you won’t stay sanctified, and you won’t stay in the covenant, which means that you were never justified. Justification itself is by Christ’s death alone, but the assurance of it depends on how you obey the warnings so as to not lose your sanctification.

    Since our context is not legalism but antinomianism, we don’t need all that justification stuff, we need sanctification

    The gospel depends on the situation, the gospel depends on those who hear it, and now in our situation, we need the gospel to be the law, and we need the gospel to be what condemns people–because many are born in the church and many are born in the covenant, so what will condemn them is not the law, because what will condemn them is the gracious but conditional promise of the covenant, what will condemn them is “grace”— a grace common between those who believe and those who don’t believe. Grace for everybody, but believing for some.

    His people” in the old covenants is the same as “His people” in the new covenant
    Jesus might have been your representative but he’s not your replacement and substitute therefore you got to die daily and not only depend on His death alone.
    Not His death alone but also another factor is your repenting, which means doing what your church tells you to do (most likely, because we can’t be sure at this point, because it’s no longer just depending on Christ’s death alone)

    So how does this essay fit with what he wrote in From Heaven He Came?

    Has his Reformed ecclesiology subverted his soteriology?

    507, “Punishment God Cannot Twice Inflict”—Garry J Williams —“My argument stands against an unspecified penal satisfaction narrowed only by its application. The sacrifice for sin in Scripture is itself specific…If the penal substitution of Christ has no relation to one person’s sin, then it is not in itself God’s actual answer to any sin, and therefore not penal at all…An unspecified “No” is not an answer to anything; it is without meaning….I cannot see how anyone who excludes the identification of Christ’s satisfaction itself with the specific sins of specific individuals can avoid the logical outcome of denying its truly penal character.
    Garry J Williams, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, ed Gibson, Crossway, 2013, p 513—”The notion that the lost will be punished for the sin of unbelief and not for sin in general allows Lutherans and Arminians to hold that Jesus died for every general sin of every individual, and yet not all must be saved, because unbelievers may still be justly condemned for their unbelief since Christ did not die for it. This reply limits the sins for which Christ died.”
    Williams: “The Lutherans and Arminians have created a difficulty with biblical texts referring to the sins for which Christ died. Every affirmation that sins have been borne by Christ must now be understood to contain a tacit restriction—except the sin of unbelief….If a sinner believes and becomes a Christian at age forty, since the Lutherans teach that Christ did not die for the sin of unbelief, this means that Christ did not die for this man’s sin of unbelief committed over forty years

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Bradley Green, Covenant and Commandment, IVP, 2014, p 63—-“According to Meredith Kline, we are saved by a works principle (Christ’s work for the elect), but Kline thinks that Christ’s work must be kept totally and utterly sequestered from Abraham’s work and from our work. …Kline imports unnecessary categories when he says that there are no conditions (hence not a necessity of obedience) related to the heavenly realm where grace reigns. Does it not make more sense to simply say that within a gracious covenantal relationship God moves his covenant people to obey him.?

    mark mcculley–I am reporting, not agreeing with Green or John Frame or Gaffin. Have you ever noticed that the folks who want to say that there was “grace” in the garden before the fall are the same persons who want to say that grace after the fall includes law and conditions?

    John Frame (law and gospel) —“It is impossible to say that the law is excluded from the message of the gospel.”

    Gaffin ( By Faith, Not By Sight, p 38)—”The antithesis between law and gospel is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not be virtue of creation but as a consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer.”


    • markmcculley Says:

      Mark Seifrid—-Calvin is able to speak of the condemning function of the Law with the same vigor as Luther himself ( Institutes 2.7.1-7). Yet in his eagerness to resolve the question of the unity of Scripture, he speaks of the Law as ….not bringing death but serving another purpose. According to this perspective, Law and Gospel do not address the believing human being in radically different ways, but only in differing degrees according to the measures of “grace” present within them. ….

      The embedding of the Law within grace qualifies law’s demand—while the Law works the death of sinners, it has a different effect on the righteous. For the Reformed the Law is no longer a “hard taskmaster,” who exacts full payment. It rather urges believers on to the goal of their lives, exciting them to obedience. In describing how the regenerate experience the Law, Calvin appeals directly to Psalms 19 and 119.

      Calvin regards the Law as addressing the believer as a regenerate person. This “regeneration” is not fully effective in us, but weak and impeded by the “sluggishness” of the flesh. —Calvin regards regeneration to effect a new state within the human being, which is partially present and active. The “flesh” is present as a power that exerts partial influence on us. For Calvin, the most important function of the Law lies in its speaking to us as regenerate persons, urging us onward to the goal that lies before us. In speaking to the regenerate, the Law has lost its condemning function–: it no longer works our death, but only furthers the new life which is partially present in us already.

      Luther finds a radically different anthropology in Scripture. The old, fallen creature exists as a whole alongside the new creature, who is likewise a whole. The picture of the human being is either darkness or light, without any shading of tones. There is no “intermediate state” in which we receive instruction but escape condemnation. In so far as the Law deals with our salvation (and does not merely guide our outward conduct), it pronounces our condemnation. The Law speaks even to us who are regenerate as fallen human beings. Being a Christian means again and again, in all the trials and temptations of life, hearing and believing the Gospel which overcomes the condemnation pronounced on us by the Law and by our own consciences in which that Law is written.

      Psalm 119 strikingly ends on the same note as Rom 7:24: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep. Seek your servant! For I do not forget your word” (Psalm 119:176). The whole psalm is summarized in this closing statement. The one who delights in the Law of God, who recounts it, meditates on it day and night, and clings to it, nevertheless does not yet know it in his heart and experience, and repeatedly appeals to the Lord to teach him. As he implicitly confesses in the opening of the psalm, his ways are not yet “established” in keeping the Lord’s statutes. He still is ashamed when he considers them (Psalm 119:5-8). In view of these petitions and the closing of the psalm, there is good reason, contrary to usual practice, to render the whole of Psalm119:9 as a question: “How shall a young man purify his way? How shall he keep it according to your word?” This petition recurs in varying forms, as the psalmist looks beyond the Law to the Lord, whom he asks to teach, instruct, and revive him (e.g., Ps 119:12, 18, 25-26, 29, etc.). The condition of the psalmist is not essentially different from that of the believing Paul, who likewise delights in the Law of God, but finds a different Law at work in him that makes him a prisoner of sin. What the psalmist sought from the Lord (and undoubtedly in faith received) is found, Paul with joy announces, in the crucified and risen Christ (Rom 7:25). In Psalm 19, too, the psalmist, even after his exalted praise of the Law confesses that a saving work of God beyond the Law is necessary in his heart: “Who can discern (their) errors? Make me innocent of hidden sins. . . . Then I shall be blameless and innocent of great transgression” (Ps 19:11-13). Admittedly, Psalm 1 lacks this element of confession. But the shadow of the cross lies across this psalm: who among us can claim to be that person here and now? As the psalm itself suggests in its promise that “his leaf does not wither,” the path of the righteous one whom it describes leads through testing and trial on its way to the “season” of fruit (Psalm 1:1-6).

      The sins of which we are aware, dangerous though they may be, are not the most dangerous ones. These hidden faults are more deeply rooted in our person and being than we can imagine, and finally consist in the desire to do away with God and to possess that which properly belongs to our neighbor.

      Admittedly, this perspective robs “progress” of its ultimacy. The goal and end of the Christian life is given to us already at its beginning in Jesus Christ. But this displacing of “progress” from its place of primacy prevents us from taking upon ourselves burdens that we were never meant to bear. What those need who do not feel themselves to be sinners is the careful, gentle, yet direct exposure of their sins—not merely the faults of our society or problems in our culture but the root sins of self seeking, pride, lust, envy, greed by which we deny God and mistreat one another


  6. markmcculley Says:

    The only way we can tell if our works are good fruit (instead of fruit unto death) is to make our calling and election sure. (II Peter 1) By what gospel were you called? Did the gospel you claim be called by talk about election? Did the gospel who claim to be called by talk about Christ’s outside righteousness, as opposed to a combination of “faith alone which is never alone” which you are enabled to keep doing by the indwelling Spirit?

    All of your morality is an abomination to God, if you think it adds to the equation by which God gives you any blessing.

    Romans 8: 12, 13 — Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13.For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

    Galatians 5: 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus HAVE CRUCIFIED the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.

    “Faith alone” excludes the works of the body from what it means to have the Holy Spirit indwelling.

    “Faith alone in Christ’s death , apart from our works” is living the gospel,

    “Faith in Christ’s death and resurrection, not our works” is walking after the Spirit

    This is not to deny commands that we are to obedient to the law of Christ, commands that we are to be moral

    But the indwelling of the Spirit does not mean good works.

    Good works do not mean the indwelling of the Spirit.

    Our works are not acceptable to God unless and until we take our works out of the equations and soundbites we use to give ourselves assurance.

    Romans 8:4 Walking in the Spirit is believing the gospel, and our believing the gospel is not what fulfills the requirement of the law.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Robert Haldane —The expression, walking not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, in the verse before us, is generally interpreted as referring exclusively to the practice of good or of wicked works. It is supposed that the Apostle in Romans 8:4 is guarding his doctrine of gratuitous justification from abuse, by excluding all claim exemption from condemnation, where there is not purity of conduct… But there are many different paths in the broad way; that is, many ways of walking after the flesh, all of which lead to destruction. Seeking assurance of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by works, either moral or ceremonial, is incompatible with freedom from condemnation.

    This way of gaining assurance, is probably that by which the greater number are deceived. There is The fleshly wisdom, under the notion of a zeal for God and of regard for the interests of virtue, s sets men on the endeavor of the flesh…in the sense the word flesh is employed in the beginning of the fourth chapter of this Epistle. Flesh, in that place, cannot signify immoral conduct; for that Abraham was justified by wicked works could never be supposed. Flesh must there signify works,

    In the Epistle to the Galatians, the terms flesh and spirit are likewise used in this way ‘Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?’ ‘Having begun your Christian course by receiving the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ, are ye seeking assurance of Christ’s indwelling by works?

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Piper—get that logic right. When Sam asks, “How would salvation and works sit between the link in Paul’s mind — between justification and glorification, where Paul says that all those who are justified are glorified?” he’s asking, “How does salvation and works fit in there?” The answer is this: Glorification in Paul’s thinking is a process that begins at conversion. It doesn’t begin at the last judgment. It begins at conversion and includes sanctification. It’s consummated at final salvation. We know this because of 2 Corinthians 3:18, where we look to Jesus and are being changed from “one degree of glory to another.


  9. markmcculley Says:

    In his chapter “Righteousness Is Eschatological,” Schreiner states, “Yet another piece of evidence points to the eschatological character of justification. The Bible speaks of Jesus Christ being ‘justified’ or ‘acquitted’ at his resurrection (1 Tim 3:16).”[ Further on, he writes,

    Believers in Jesus Christ are now justified through faith in Jesus Christ. They are justified by faith alone by virtue of Christ’s death for their sins and his resurrection for their justification (Rom 4:25). Still, they look forward to the day when the declaration will be announced publicly and to the entire world. In this sense, as many scholars attest, justification is an already buy not yet reality. (157, emphasis in original)

    Later in his chapter, “The Role of Good Works in Justification,” Schreiner continues to speak of final justification and salvation, meanwhile attacking faith as belief.—When some hear the Reformation cry of sola fide—“Faith Alone!”—they assume that it means that good works are an optional part of the Christian life or that they play no role at all in our final justification or salvation…. The NT clearly teaches that bare faith cannot save, and that works are necessary for final justification or final salvation.

    …By bare faith I refer to what is often called intellectual assent to a set of statements, doctrines, or beliefs. In other words, merely saying that one believes isn’t the same thing as saving faith…. A “claiming” faith, a “saying” faith, an “assenting” faith without any accompanying works is not a saving faith.

    Schreiner here confuses belief with a false profession of belief, which is what James is referring to. Saving faith is indeed assenting to the propositions of the Gospel.


    Schreiner uses weasel words like “bare,” “barren,” and “mere.” He even brings up James 2:19 about the demons believing in one God and shuddering to attack bare intellectual assent.

    Demons can confess monotheism, and yet their hearts are far from the one true God. Indeed, they hate him and all of his ways. Consider the reactions of the demons when they encountered Jesus during his earthly ministry. They acknowledged that he was “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24; cf. Luke 4:34), and in that sense they “believed” in him and knew more about him at that stage in his ministry than most anyone, even Jesus’ own disciples. But they certainly didn’t love Jesus, and they didn’t believe in him to the extent that they entrusted their lives to him. This leads me to conclude that there is a kind of faith, an intellectual understanding, that is “bare” and “empty.” It subscribes to mental propositions only but doesn’t embrace and love Jesus, and in the final analysis it proves to be no faith at all.

    …It is clear, then, that James is teaching that bare faith alone – simply agreeing that certain statements are true – does not save us. “Faith by itself” when “it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). 192

    The “faith” that James is condemning is not faith, but a false profession of faith, which is clear from the text: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can [such] faith save him?” How can we in the church tell if someone’s profession of faith is genuine? This is what James is describing. Moreover, the demons believe in one God; they are monotheists. But monotheism is not the Gospel.

    Schreiner, Faith Alone, 156. footnote: “On this theme, see particularly G. K. Beale, “The Role of the Resurrection in the Already-and-Not-Yet Phases of Justification,” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (ed. Sam Storms and Justin Taylor; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 190-213.” This is also the teaching of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. especially in his Doctoral Thesis, later published as Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1987. Schreiner quotes Gaffin approvingly in his book.

    In the Foreword to Schreiner’s book Faith Alone The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught…Why It Still Matters,[10] Piper writes,—As Tom Schreiner says, the book “tackles one of the fundamental questions of our human condition: how can a person be right with God?” The stunning Christian answer is: sola fide—faith alone. But be sure you hear this carefully and precisely: He says right with God by faith alone, notattain heaven by faith alone. There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God. In fact, one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions. (

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