Ligon Duncan on Romans 6:14 and Romans 8:4

Gospel Clarity, by William Barclay and Ligon Duncan, Evangelical Press, 2010

These two reformed writers attempt to challenge “the new perspective on Paul.” But they too want to say that “the law is filled with grace” because they want (with their confession) to include the Mosaic covenant as part of “the covenant of grace”. (p24) Even though they accuse the new perspective of “flattening the covenants” (p87), as paedobaptists they do the same thing in the interest of maintaining infant initiation in “the covenant”.

Of course, like their southern Presbyterian forbears, Barclay and Duncan avoid going all the way to Luther’s notion of water regeneration. They quote Dabney: “the transaction of God with Israel was twofold. The corporate, theocratic, political nation was the shell; the elect seed were the kernel.” In this way they keep their infants in “the covenant” but make a distinction between covenant and election, and thus do not presume the regeneration of their infants.

But as long as they remain paedobaptist, it will be difficult for them to dissent from NT Wright’s dream of a single worldwide family in which no dissent will be tolerated (even Constantine has to be welcomed by means of water baptism).

Barclay and Duncan agree with NT Wright that “we’re not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith.” (p111) But they do disagree with Wright’s definition of salvation. I quote from p 138:” Galatians demonstrates the error of equating the proclamation of Christ’s lordship with the gospel.”

Of interest (to me) is their exegesis of Romans 6:14 and Romans 8:4. On “since you are not under the law but under grace”, they rightly explain: “The meaning here cannot simply be ‘under the Mosaic covenant’, unless we want to argue that all old covenant believers were ruled by sin and did not experience grace.” So then what do they think “under grace” means? They don’t think it means “not under condemnation”. They think grace means in 6:14 what they think it means in Romans 8:4, that “those under grace are able to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law.” (p79)

I would argue that Barclay and Duncan are wrong about both verses. They are wrong about Romans 8:4 because the context of that verse is not what God enables the elect to do but what God did in Christ (he condemned sin in the flesh). They are wrong about Romans 6:14 because Romans 6 is about Christ the public representative of the elect first being under condemnation, sin and death.

Christ was never under grace and is still not under grace. But Christ was under the law because of the imputed sins of the elect. Romans 6 is about Christ’s condemnation by the law and His death as satisfaction of that law. The death of the justified elect is that same legal death. The resurrection of the justified elect in Romans 6 is that same justification from being under law.

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6 Comments on “Ligon Duncan on Romans 6:14 and Romans 8:4”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    Wow. If Barclay and Duncan believe grace means those under grace are able to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, then I wonder what they think grace means in Colossians 2:13-17.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    T.L Donaldson, Israel serves as a representative sample for the whole of humankind. within Israel’s experience, the nature of the universal human plight–bondage to sin and to the powers of this age– is thrown into sharp relief through the functioning of the law. The law, therefore, cannot accomplish the promise, but by creating a representative sample in which the human plight is clarified and concentrated, it sets the stage for redemption. Christ identifies not only with the human situation in general, but also with Israel in particular….

    “The Curse of the Law and the Inclusion of the Gentiles”, NT Studies 1986, p105

    cited in S.M. Baugh in Galatians 5:1-6 and Personal Obligation, p268, in The Law Is Not Of Faith, P and R, 2009


  3. markmcculley Says:

    Lee Irons: I now think that telos should be taken in a teleological sense, meaning “goal” or “aim.” I would now translate the verse as follows: “The object of the Law is realized in Christ, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” My main reason for changing views is that my old view did not provide a reasonable explanation of the second half of the verse. How does Christ’s being the termination or abrogation of the Mosaic Law result in righteousness being (available to everyone who believes?) It doesn’t.

    mark…..being already earned for the elect alone, so that Christ is entitled now to these elect being justified…..

    Sin shall not have dominion over you because the Spirit in you causes you not to love sin, NOT what Romans 6 teaches. Because you are not guilty and condemned anymore.

    Which takes us back to what Lee Irons is saying about Romans 10:4, it’s not about “as a covenant of works” and now “not as a covenants of works”, and it’s not about being in a different redemptive time now, ie, now in the new covenant we are able by the Spirit to do it, NO, it’s that Christ has brought in righteousness by satisfying the law with His death. Christ got his righteousness and life by His death by Law, but we will never get life except by God’s imputation of Christ’s death to us


    On Romans 8:4, Vickers comments: “I do not think it is likely that Paul is speaking here of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the fulfillment, but rather of what Christ’s work accomplishes in us through the Spirit.” P 160, Justification by Grace Through Faith, P and R, 2013) But since Vickers is not into polemics (except with those who use commercial metaphors for the atonement or for justification), he does not interact with Hodge or Smeaton or anybody else who has a different view. He thinks the word “walking” proves his point.

    As to the question of which law it is that we are imperfectly fulfilling, Vickers tells us that “it is not the law of Moses per se but the aim of it that believers fulfill through the Spirit. This does not mean that justification is based on works done through us by the Spirit, but that the Spirit-driven obedience is part and parcel of the life of the justified. A tree is known by its fruit.” So he doe not think perfection is necessary for “fulfillment”. Fudge things a bit-the intent of the law, and the intent of us wanting to be perfect.

    So what sort of people are you? Are you the sort of person who can live in the distinction between “based on” and “part and parcel” (warnings not evidence)? Or do such distinctions tend to deconstruct before your eyes ?

    Do you ever end up crying— God be merciful (propitiated!) to me, a sinner?

    One problem with fudging is that you tend to want to say different things to different people. You want to be wise enough to preach faith is not alone to those who believe in faith alone, and then preach faith alone (look outside) to those who thank God for having given them a new heart which meets the conditions. So you get to the last paragraph, and you think about who might read books about justification, and then Vickers concludes: “We must be bold enough to tell people that no amount of confessional orthodoxy is enough to save anyone, and that being a dyed in the wool believer of justification by faith is not the same thing as trusting Christ for salvation. We cannot skirt the reality that the true people of God are meant to live as those who have the Spirit…” (p 162)

    I don’t disagree that we are meant to obey God by the Spirit. Whatever has or has not been predestined in no way changes our duties to God. But I am not only concerned about sinners like me who today have again not done what we should have done and meant to do. I am also t concerned about the great sin of self-righteousness of those who not only believe that their doing today is enough to have passed today’s test but who also think that God counts this ongoing faith as the righteousness. God does not impute on an “as if” basis.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Gospel Reformation Network Affirmations and Denials

    Article IV – Union with Christ and Sanctification
    • We affirm that both justification and sanctification are distinct, necessary, inseparable and simultaneous graces of union with Christ though faith.
    • We deny that sanctification flows DIRECTLY from justification, or that the transformative elements of salvation are MERE consequences of the forensic elements.

    my questions

    1. Who is the Gospel Reformation Network? Is it a conference of friends who think alike, or does it agree to certain confessions, and does it have ecclesiastical and sacramental authority?

    2. Why is it a problem to deny that “sanctification” flows from justification, as long as “sanctification” result (flows)?

    3. Is the problem that “justification” is defined, but that “sanctification” and “union” are not?

    4. What does “sanctification” mean in Hebrews 10:10-14?

    5. What does “union” mean? Is “union” non-forensic? Is “union” both forensic and non-forensic?

    6. Once you have defined “union”, will you consistently use the word “union” in the way you defined it? Will you be thinking of “union” only as a result “flowing from” faith?

    7. If “faith-union” is a result of faith, and if faith is a result of regeneration, where do faith and regeneration come from?

    8. Is the problem with saying that “sanctification” results from “justification” the fact that we are either justified or we are not? Are we not also either “united to Christ” or not? (Please define “union”. Do you mean “in Christ”? Or do you mean “Christ in us”? Is there a difference in those two phrases? Why do you say “union” when you could be saying “in Christ” and “Christ in us”?)

    9.When you deny that “sanctification” is a “mere consequence” of the forensic, did you mean to deny that “sanctification” is a consequence of the “merely forensic”? What do you have against “merely” or any “sola” which points to Christ’s earned outside righteousness imputed to the elect?

    10. Is the point of the Gospel Reformation Network denial that “union” is not forensic or is the point that it is not “merely forensic”? Is this a question-begging point?

    11. If “sanctification” is “more than” than a “mere consequence”, does that mean that “sanctification” is also more than a result of “union”, so that “sanctification” is in someway identical to “union”, or at least a necessary “condition” for “union”?

    12. Does “union” flow from merely the transformative elements? If union is transformation, and union must come before justification, how is it that God is still justifying the ungodly?

    13. If becoming children of God only means being born again so that we are freed from the power of corruption, what is the need for those who are no longer ungodly to be justified or adopted?

    14. Is “union” a cause or a result of sacramental efficacy? It’s too late now to tell us that the order of application does not matter so much, since you insisted on denying that “justification” was a result of “sanctification”

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Lee Irons–The nomos from which we have been delivered is not to be equated with the imperatives and commands of God’s Word. Indeed, this mistaken equation would bring Paul into direct contradiction with Jesus, who insisted on keeping even “the least of these commandments” (Matt. 5:19). Jesus commissioned the apostles to teach the nations to “observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Jesus requires us to love him and to express that love by keeping his commandments (John 14:15, 20-21), especially the new commandment to love one another as Christ loved us (John 13:34)

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