Archive for November 2010

N.T.Wright Displaces Imputation with Regeneration by Water

November 27, 2010

Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (Paperback), Bruce McCormack, editor, (Baker, 2006)

I recommend the book, especially the essay by the editor McCormack. He does a good job of showing how Barth’s doctrine of justification is both like and different from the classical Reformed views of Calvin and Luther. For Barth, there is no imputation to individuals in time: the only transition from wrath to forensic favor takes place in the history of Christ.

The good thing about Barth’s doctrine of justification is that Barth does not make the Holy Spirit the agent who puts the elect into union with Christ. The bad thing is that Barth makes the gift of faith to the elect to be only the recognition of a transition from wrath to favor that took place in Christ; there is no passing from death to life by imputation in the life of the individual elect person. Of course this goes with the idea that all sinners are elected in Christ.

The only truly bad essay in the volume is by NT Wright. While avoiding the difficult questions (was Adam’s guilt imputed to us humans?), Wright again caricatures his critics. But the clear reason he’s so comfortable discarding justification based only on Christ’s finished work is that Wright has confidence in the water of “the church” to make Christians by the Holy Spirit’s regeneration. What this watery birth has to do with “the covenant” is less clear.

I quote from Wright on p 260: “This declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit, that is, it occurs, on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense…just as the final justification will consist not in words so much as in an event, namely the resurrection of the person, so the present justification consists not so much in words but in an event, the event in which one dies with the Messiah and rises to new life with him. In other words, baptism. I was delighted to rediscover…that not only Chrysostom and Augustine but also Luther would here have agreed with me.”

NT Wright has come to the place in his life when he can only keep rediscovering how he is right. But some of us critics still insist that the water regeneration of Luther and Augustine (and NT Wright Anglicans) is in competition with the biblical good news about justification in Christ.

Judgment According to Works, Or on the Basis of Work

November 22, 2010

John Fesko in a footnote:

“Richard Gaffin tries to argue, on the basis of the grammar involved in a similar Pauline statement, 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 (kata) to works,’ not ‘on account of (dia),’ expressing the ground, nor ‘by (ek) works,’ expressing the instrument” (By Faith, Not By Sight [Carlisle: Paternoster, 2006], 98-99; similarly, Venema, Gospel, 266). Though Gaffin’s comment concerns Paul’s statement in Romans 2:6, at the same time we find the same prepositional combination with the accusative in John’s statement in Revelation 20:12e, the only difference being in the use of the singular and plural pronouns (cf. Rom 2:6). Gaffin argues this point because he wants to preserve sola fide in the judgment of the works of the believer. Relying upon the analysis of Ridderbos and Murray, Gaffin’s finer point is that the judgment kata works is “in accordance with” the works, and such works are synecdochical for faith in Christ (see Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard de Witt [1975; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 178-81; Murray, Romans, 78-79).

Yet can such a fine distinction be supported by the grammar alone? The use of “dia” with the accusative means “because of, on account of,” and the use of “kata” with the accusative means “in accordance with, corresponding to” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996], 368-69, 376-77). One must ask, what difference exists between the two? In fact, when we delve more deeply into the significance of “kata” with the accusative, we find that “often the noun that follows kata specifies the criterion, standard, or norm in the light of which a statement is made or is true, an action is performed, or a judgment is passed. The prep. will mean ‘according to’, ‘in conformity with’, ‘corresponding to.’ This use is common in reference to the precise and impartial standard of judgment that will be applied at the great Assize (Matt. 16:27; Rom 2:6; 1 Cor 3:8; 2 Tim. 4:14; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev 2:23)” (Murray J. Harris, “Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament,” in NIDNTT, 3:1200). Pace Gaffin and Venema, their argument apparently fails to account for judgment kata works for the wicked. This point seems to be borne out by Paul’s own use of kata, as he says, “He will render each one according to [kata] his works” (Rom. 2:6), but this rendering kata works is for both the righteous (v. 7) and the wicked (v. 8). According to Gaffin’s interpretation, are the wicked judged according to their works, but are they not the ground of their condemnation (see 2 Cor. 11:15)? Again, note how Paul uses kata: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due [to de ergazomeno ho misthos ou logizetai kata charin alla kata opheilema]” (Rom 4:4; see also Brian Vickers, Jesus Blood and Righteousness [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006] 95; Yinger, Paul, 21-26, 89-90, 135-136, 175, 182, 186). Judgment therefore is indeed kata (in accordance with, or on the basis of) works – the evil works of the unbeliever and the good works, or righteousness, of Christ.

“Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine” p. 315

Faith Necessary to Know If Righteousness Has Been Imputed To Us

November 15, 2010

Romans 3:22 –“the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe”.

Romans 4:13–“the promise did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith….

Phil 3:9–“and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that righteousness which comes through faith in Christ.”

Robert Haldane, p194–“there are some who, strongly impressed with the great evil of making faith a work, have plunged into a contrary extreme, as if justification were independent of faith, or as if faith were merely an accidental or unimportant thing in justification. This also is a great error. Faith is as necessary in justification as the sacrifice of Christ itself, but necessary for a different purpose.”

The Object of Faith Both the Person and the Righteousness

November 12, 2010

I do not know a single person who claims that it is enough to only know about Christ. Every person I know who professes to be a Christian says that we must “believe in” the person identified by the doctrines We all agree that doctrine is not sufficient.

Doctrine vs person doctrine persons are assuming a difference between
doctrine and person which they cannot explain. That “difference” can be deconstructed simply by pointing out that their difference is itself a doctrine.

So all they have is a cheap rhetorical trick: they think if they say FIRST they have the person not the doctrine, then you don’t get to say that what they have is just as much doctrine as anybody else (or that their doctrine is wrong).

But I do not hope for now to cure preachers of indulging in cheap rhetorical tricks. It is not sufficient to know about (and agree with) the deity of Christ to know Christ. But that does not change the fact that it is necessary to know something about the deity of Christ to know the person Christ.

The good news is not simply who Christ is but also what Christ did in obtaining a righteousness.

I am not saying that it is sufficient to know about this. We know that a person who knows that Christ died only for the elect may not be elect. But it is necessary for the elect to know that Christ’s righteousness is His death for the elect alone. This is not a condition of election, since God elected the elect before they knew or believed the gospel.

Christ obtained a righteousness for the elect, not conditioned on the elect’s knowledge of that obtaining of righteousness. But the elect will learn that they need the righteousness which Christ obtained.

Before Christ obtained that righteousness, Abraham knew about that righteousness, and believed unto that righteousness. Romans 4 does not say that Abraham’s faith was a condition for the obtaining of righteousness, but it does teach that Abraham gave evidence of being elect by having faith unto that righteousness.

A person is not justified before God by placing her faith in Jesus, but by the righteousness obtained by Jesus. True faith has as its object the person who obtained a righteousness which is not faith but which is Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s love for His foreknown sheep is election, and Christ’s righteousness is the reason those so loved are given faith in the gospel.

True faith comes by hearing the word of Christ but the word of Christ speaks of what He has ACCOMPLISHED by His sacrifice and His resurrection from the dead. Arminian DOCTRINE sees faith as a contribution man must make, a condition man must fulfill, as something which makes the work of Christ (whatever that is or isn’t!) “real” and “effective” and “sufficient” for the one who meets that condition.

“Faith in the person without faith in the righteousness” is a religion that glorifies and flatters man. It does not demand that the sinner know and submit to the gospel. It does not demand that the sinner repent of all false gospels. It lets every man say for himself if he “knows the person”.

To be seeking justification by the works of the law while claiming to “know the person” is to be under God’s curse. Escape from the curse comes only by the righteousness Christ obtained. There is really no good news apart from the proclamation of of what Christ Jesus DID as the God-man mediator.

Instead of pointing our consciences to the righteousness obtained by Christ which satisfies God’s law, the “person only” doctrine POINT US AWAY FROM THAT RIGHTEOUSNESS. We are told to stop emphasizing the righteousness obtained in order to “know the person”.

The false teachers to the Galatians never said that they were against the righteousness obtained; they only said that it should not be emphasized at the expense of circumcision. Even so, the “person only” folks are not against the righteousness, they say, but only for the person.

When the doctrine vs person doctrine says that a man does not need to know about righteousness obtained in order to know that he is saved, the doctrine being taught is that Christ did not obtain for the elect a knowledge of righteousness obtained.

The Love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord

November 12, 2010

1. Even though John chapter three is about the new birth, the death of Christ is still the main thing in 3:14-17. And this is because God’s love for the world of the elect is defined by God’s love.

I John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Romans 5:8 God shows us His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

John 10:13-15 the hired man cares nothing for the sheep…I lay down my life for the sheep

2. The result of Christ’s death is new birth and also justification. There is no word “justification” in John chapter 3, but two words point to the idea of justification. Eternal life in v16 is about a verdict, not about an ability given to believe.

The other word pointing to justification in verse 17 is “saved”; I take this as about justification because in context of the verse it’s the opposite of “condemned”, not the opposite of “corrupt” or “unable to believe”

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world would be saved though Him (Christ, not the Holy Spirit)

We can over-react the confusion of new birth and justification by saying that the new birth is not the gospel. I don’t want to over-react. The new birth is part of the gospel, one of the blessings promised by the Son in the gospel.

Regeneration is not only how we come to believe the gospel. It’s self-involving; how the elect come to believe the gospel is in the gospel itself. So is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.

But the new birth by the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ is not all the gospel. The first and main thing about the gospel is Christ’s death and then justification by that.

To give one analogy. Is election part of the gospel? Some would say no, it’s only what causes you to believe the gospel. But that is wrong. Because election is not only the decree that the Son will give the Spirit to some to believe. Election is that those in Christ were not chosen apart from Christ’s death which is God’s love. Again, it’s self involving: without telling them who is elect, the gospel the elect come to hear talks about Christ’s death for the elect.

Remember the end of Romans 8?—“nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I’m shouting. I’m tired but happy.
Did you hear what Jesus said to me:

your sins are all taken away
all
taken away
all taken away
all my sins

No Gospel, No Regeneration

November 11, 2010

Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings

p238 “According to fatalism, the word of truth having no influence, is of no use in the work or regeneration, the salutary and important change being produced entirely without it…To imagine that a preparation of the mind, merely to receive the truth, is a change so great as to describe the expressions ‘born again’ or ‘born of the Spirit’ or ‘born of God’ is very unwarrantable…It is too hastily assumed that the mind is prepared to receive the light of spiritual knowledge before the truth have any influence on it.”

p247 “Now the question is: Do the Scriptures lead us to conclude that the mind and the conscience are brought into the new state by an immediate divine energy, without the medium of either the law or the gospel? I think not. It is written: by the law is the knowledge of sin. When the commandment came, sin revived and I died…

p249 “For an ‘awakened sinner’ to be persuaded to be persuaded that regeneration is effected without the instrumentality of divine truth, is to give an injurious direction to his prayers and expectations. He will pray for something under the notion of ‘regeneration’ in which the knowledge of Christ and a regard to His atonement have no concern…Neglecting the testimony of God concerning Jesus, he will be ready to look inside himself for some impulse to produce the important change.”.

Not by Works but By Faith as the Alone Instrument?

November 11, 2010

Romans 3:2 7 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law?By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. 28 For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law…..Romans 4: 4 Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. 5 But to the one who does NOT WORK, but BELIEVES ON HIM who declares the ungodly to be righteous, the object of his faith is credited for righteousness.

According to Romans 4:5, faith alone is “not works”. The point of faith alone is “grace alone”. “To the one who does NOT work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, it is counted as righteousness.”

And according to Romans 9:11, we cannot say grace alone without saying “for the elect alone”. “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing good or bad-in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of His call.”

I want you to see the connection between “not because of works” and election. When evangelicals attempt to leave out the “for the elect alone” and discuss the gospel without talking about election, then mostly all they can do is say “not because of works but because of faith alone”.

Even if you believe the false gospel that Christ died for every sinner, Reformed evangelicals will tell you that God effectually called you to believe that heresy.

Of course they won’t tell you it’s heresy, but in select groups (for examples, conferences that charge you big dollars) they will explain a more educated and precise view of things which you might want to add on to what you already believe without needing to repent of a false gospel.

Before you believed in a faith alone gospel, and now you still believe in a faith alone gospel but now you know that the faith came from God,

Galatians 3: 8, “ And the Scripture, forseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham….

Faith is hearing produced by God by means of the gospel. The power is in the true gospel, not a false gospel. I Corinthians 1: 18, “for the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, IT is the power of God.”

The true gospel needs to be proclaimed to all sinners (and not just those who have the bucks to get into Reformed conferences). The gospel is only good news for the elect, but we don’t know who the elect are until they have believed the gospel.

It is not enough to talk about calling and election, if election is simply to make sure that some sinners have faith alone. If the object of the faith alone is a false gospel which says that Christ loves everybody and desires to save everybody but that faith is some kind of condition of this salvation, then this faith alone is not in the true Christ but is instead in faith alone.

We don’t bring faith to the true gospel, because the true gospel brings faith (hearing) to the elect.

Faith alone is not the condition, but to see that, we need a message which tells us about God’s election.

Romans 1:16, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Evangelicals understand this as teaching that salvation is conditioned on faith alone. Evangelicals don’t understand the gospel.

Election is God’s idea. This idea goes along with the idea of not works. Romans 9:11, “In order that God’s election might continue, not because of works.” Romans 11: 5, “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. But if it by grace, it is no longer by works; otherwise grace would be no more grace.”

Doesn’t the apostle Paul understand that you can say “not by works “ without talking about election? Why doesn’t he just say: “by faith and not by works”? Why does he bring in this idea of a remnant? Paul writes about election in order to explain what he means by faith. Paul does not regard faith as a substitute for works.

Luther did not and cannot explain how 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.

So let’s go to Romans 4:5. 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”?

“It” has an antecedent, but the antecedent is not faith alone. God imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel to a person justified by the gospel.

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.

Learning to Fear God

November 10, 2010

Jeremiah 32:40 “I will put fear of Me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from Me.”

In the year 2000, after listening to a series of sermon tapes on Romans (about the righteousness revealed in the death of Christ) , I confessed myself not to have ever been born from above, to be lost and under God’s wrath. I took sides with God against myself, and repented of thinking I had been a Christian. I called all my works “dead works” done by a dead worker.

Instead of seeing it as difficult to understand and accept doctrine, I came to rejoice in the good news of Christ’s death as a propitiation which was only for the elect. What could be good about it being only for the elect? The good news was that Christ’s death (and resurrection) saved the elect.

I learned to fear God. Unless I was going to continue substituting possible interpretations of the Bible in the place of what was clear (repressing the truth, holding it down, Romans 1), I could no longer believe that God would save everybody. Ok, even if that’s true, what was good about it?

When I learned in the year 2000 to fear God, I was taught to love the God who revealed Himself as the one who is just both in condemning some and also just in saving the elect. Even though the death of Christ was only for the elect, what was good was that the death of Christ really really did take away the sins of the elect (both guilt and punishment). Does this mean that elect people don’t sin? No. It means that their sins are paid for in advance.

I realize that this is not good news for most people who describe themselves Christian. They want a religion that really makes people better than they otherwise would be. The good news for me was that my salvation was not conditional on my ever getting any better.

I realize that nobody can believe what I call gospel unless God causes them to. Literally: cannot believe it. We can discuss freewill all day, but nobody of their freewill believes in a God who saves sinners by death on the cross. (The offense is not only that God only saves some of the sinners.)

By nature, we would rather believe that there is more to it. By nature, we believe that community with other religious people will change us so that by grace we really do become more acceptable to God.

By nature, we believe that God is not strict on justice. By nature, we believe that what we believe about God is a condition of salvation, and not a result of God’s purpose. So I still believe in predestination. But now I know that the content, the object of faith by the people God has chosen to salvation is not only in what God will do in them (even in that future resurrection) , but what God has done for them in Christ’s death. The Bible way of saying this is Romans 6: Christ died to sin, and His people died with Him.

This is my way of saying that I died 15 years ago. Not only in God’s sight, but psychologically, it feels that way. I don’t just mean that I am very alienated from most people, especially religious people, even though that is true. I mean I don’t have anything to show for the last 15 years. I fear God too much to be afraid that my continuing lack of fear will be a condition of condemnation.

Now the Law Came In to Increase Sin

November 8, 2010

Romans 5:19-20–“For as by one man’s disobedience the elect were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the elect will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the sin, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”

When we see a “don’t touch the paint” sign, then it occurs to us for the first time that maybe we will touch the paint. But I don’t think this explains the increase of sin.

The greater sin is legalism, the sin of thinking we got God obligated to do something for us because we DID refrain from touching the paint.
In other words, before conversion, we have built-in a motive that says we do stuff to get stuff from God (ie, if that’s not a reason, why bother?).

What good we think we do is not good to God but an abomination to God, because of the motive which would leave Christ out of the picture (at least at this point) in order to get something from God by our “good” works.

Luke 16: 15, 16 : “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”