Archive for March 2011

The Law-Gospel Antithesis, Faith And/Or Works?

March 31, 2011

In The God of Promise and the Life of Faith: Understanding the Heart of the Bible (Paperback) footnote 6 on p244, Hafemann writes: ” The position I am advocating is based on a reassessment of the traditional Lutheran, Calvinistic and dispensational view of the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. The traditional view saw a conflict between the two, with the law viewed narrowly as God’s demand for sinless obedience as the ground of our salvation, while the gospel called for faith In God’s grace in Christ, who kept the Law perfectly in our place.”

Hafemann does not understand correctly the antithesis he is opposing. Yes, the law is the divine demand for perfection (and also for satisfaction for sins). But he is wrong to focus on a demand for perfection being replaced by a demand for faith. The proper difference would not be a new or different demand (for faith) but the righteousness obtained and imputed by God. .

Hafemann is inattentive to three facts about the divine alien righteousness. First, Christ died under the curse of God’s law only for the elect alone. Second, faith has as its object not just any ” Christ”or any “grace”, but the Christ who satisfied the law for all who will be justified (and not for the non-elect). Third, this faith is not only a sovereign gift but a righteous gift, given on behalf of Christ and His law-work (Philippians 1:29; John 17).

When Hafemann makes the difference to be between a demand for faith and a demand for obedience, the only thing left for him to discuss is the nature of faith. Does faith include works or not? If faith works and faith is an instrument, why can’t works of faith be an instrument? Since faith is a result of regeneration, won’t that faith include works?

Hafemann does discuss the object of faith. His complaint is that the law/gospel antithesis is wrong to put all the emphasis on the past. He denies that the past work of Christ is sufficient or the only object of faith. In insisting that we give priority to the person of Christ, Hafeman wants us to look also to the (present and future) life of Christ in us.

At least he is honest about his differences with Calvin and Luther. Hafemann openly acknowledges his rejection of the law/grace antithesis. He thinks his different gospel is more biblical.

My own position is that it would help us see the difference between the two gospels if we stopped explaining the antithesis by talking only about “faith alone”. The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about the satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect.

Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function. Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation; not only one sin would put you under its curse, no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise everlasting life.

Hafemann thinks that the antithesis understands “Christ to bring the law to an end in the sense of abolishment”. But the antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of redemptive-historical abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. Romans 10:4 is about redemptive-historical fulfillment.

The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

Hafemann reduces the law/gospel antithesis to the abolishment of strict law, and says that what the Spirit does in us helps satisfy the law enough. This misses what the gospel says about Christ’s perfect and complete satisfaction of the law for the elect.

Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

In a footnote 6 on page 244, Hafeman writes: “In this Lutheran view, the law itself taught a legalism that Adam and Israel failed to keep but that God continues to demand in order to drive us to the gospel”.

Is “legalism” a demand for perfection? If God demands perfection, is God therefore a “legalist”? It seems to me that the only alternative to a demand for perfection is either no law at all or a “new” demand which calls only for imperfect righteousness so that “grace” makes up the difference.

Hafemann is following in the wake of Barth, Torrance, and Daniel fuller who reject the “contract God” who demands perfection and operates by justice. They think that even talking about law’s demand for perfection is “legalism”. But God has told us that the law is not the gospel and that it never was the gospel. Romans 11:5–”So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

It is Hafemann who is both legalist ( because he identifies law and gospel) and antinomian (because he then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. What God does in us keeps us believing the gospel, but our believing the gospel is not what satisfies the law.

Read carefully what Hafemann writes about the “obedience of faith” (p188): “Still others consider obedience to God’s law to be the necessary evidence of faith. For them, if one believes, then obedience becomes the mandatory sign of something else, namely faith, which is the human response to God’s grace that actually saves us. Faith must lead to obedience as a sign that it is real.”

While that it is an accurate description of many Calvinists about assurance, it is not biblical assurance. We do not work to get assurance. We must have assurance before our works are acceptable to God.

Most Calvinists, along with the Arminians, teach “faithalone” as if faith were the response that saves us. Yes, they disagree about the cause and source of faith, but even most of the Calvinists leave election out of their “atonement” and out of their “gospel”.

The Atonement Happened in Time, and the Justification of the Elect at Different Times

March 29, 2011

Christ’s propitiation and the justification of the elect are different events in history. But that does not mean that justification is conditioned on the faith that God gives the elect.

Most Calvinists have not yet considered the idea of a “justification
through faith” in which the regeneration and faith of the elect are the immediate result of God’s imputation and act of justification.

Of course they have heard of federal union (which they may equate with eternal justification), but they seem to see no other alternative to a justification conditioned on what God does in the elect sinner in causing that sinner to believe. (But see the essays by Bruce McCormack and Carl Braaten about Calvin putting regeneration in first place before justification, or see Edward Boehl’s discussion of John Owen in his The Reformed Doctrine of Justification.)

Yes, it’s true that the elect are only justified when they believe, but it is not being honest to the truth of eternal election in union with Christ to say that faith is the instrumental condition of justification. But it does make it easier for tolerant Calvinists to preach the same false gospel as the Arminians.

Faith is the immediate result of imputation, not its condition. If you think about it that way, it will help you think more clearly about the nature of faith. We believe the gospel, not knowing if we are elect. We believe the gospel, knowing in the gospel that our believing is not the condition of either election or justification. The gospel tells us that.

Justification Is Not Eternal

March 29, 2011

What does the imputation of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that God imputes that work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to the elect. Before the cross, God imputed the work to some of the elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the work to some of the elect.

So there is a difference (not only in time) between the work and the imputation of the work. For example, Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of Christ. There is a difference between the federal union of all the elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union of the elect with Christ when they are justified.

Second, the application of Christ’s (purchased by Christ for the elect, and thus their inheritance one day) includes the conversion which immediately follows the imputation.

We could go to every text in the New Testament about the effectual calling into fellowship, but let us think now of only two. Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come…, so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

And here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and conversion immediately follow the imputation. Romans 8:10–but if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Because the work (righteousness) is imputed, the next result will be life, not only legal forensic life but also the life the Holy Spirit gives by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and are converted. II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

I don’t believe in “faith-union” if that means or implies that faith is the cause of “union”. Instead of exploring any definition or distinction between Christ being in us or us being in Christ, most Calvinists merely stipulate that “union” is preceded by faith. First, this eliminates the alternative that God’s imputation precedes “union”. Second, it decides in advance what “union” is. “Union” is assumed to be “union conditioned on faith” and this means there can be no union by imputation Thus the majority “faith-union” tradition begins with its conclusion, which is that effectual calling is not an immediate result of imputation but instead a condition for God’s imputation.

I do not agree with either “eternal justification” or even the idea of some “objective active justification” (Berkhof). I don’t think we should equivocate with the word “justify”, so that sometimes we read it as “before our conscience” and other times we read it as “legally real before the tribunal of God”. When God imputed Christ’s righteousness to Abraham before Abraham was circumcised, that thought/imputation of God was not a “fiction” but a legal sharing at that time which immediately resulted in effectual calling, believing the gospel, and justification.

Many people seem to never really think though the distinction between imputation and justification. There are not two kinds of justification. There are different kinds of imputation, but no imputation is the same as justification. Some imputations result in condemnations (from Adam to humans, from the elect to Christ). God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect results in their justification.

Romans 4:24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

1. There is “cause” between our trespasses and delivered up, also “cause” between our justification and raised up. But there is some question about the order of the “cause”. Which is first? Is it raised up as a cause of justification, or is it justification as a cause of raised up?

2. I agree with Smeaton that there must be a parallel in the order. Since trespass is before delivered up, then justification is before raised up. But there are other gospel commentators who see the order two different ways. John Murray argues that trespass causes delivered up, but that raised up is in order to justification. And yet other commentators argue that the parallel that the cross is the reason for sin ( a supralapsarian reading), and that the resurrection is in order to justification (most supralapsarians don’t teach eternal justification).

3. What’s my point? if your basic philosophy is that God is timeless and therefore there is no before and after to God, the entire question about which is the cause of which does not make much sense. It seems foolish for those who push for eternal justification to argue that justification is before the resurrection, because if God does all things outside of time or before time, then those who are justified have always been justified, and those who have been resurrected have always been resurrected.

4. The reality is that those who argue for eternal justification, even though they can’t prove their ideas about timelessness from the Bible, do end up using before and after when it suits them. They say election is before the ages, and since the equate justification and election, they say justification is before the ages.

Was Christ always incarnate?

Galatians 3: 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

Was Christ always sin, since time means nothing, and there if no before or after, since Christ cannot be “made” anything different or new?

Galatians 4:4
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised BEFOREHAND (though this word means nothing to God) through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and WAS DECLARED to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness BY HIS RESURRECTION from the dead (though this had always been so in timeless eternity because God does not change His mind), Jesus Christ our Lord

Romans 6: 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

When God says, I will create the world, does this mean that the world has always been created, or that there was never a time when God created the world? When God in time bring forth fruit by the word of truth, has this fruit always been brought forth, without any before or after, so that the word “first-fruits” means nothing to God but can only mean something to humans ( while some humans know what it means for God to be timeless even though these humans are not God)? (James 1:18)

It’s not enough to say that Abraham was justified before the cross. It’s also necessary to say that Abraham was condemned before the cross. Abraham was justified in time. To get to an even more important gospel issue in Romans 6, it’s not enough to say that death now has no more power over Christ, but also necessary to say that the law and death once did have power over Christ.

At Ease in Exile

March 29, 2011

Amos 3: I have known only you
out of all the clans of the earth;
therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities.

Amos 6: Woe to those who are at ease in Zion

and to those who feel secure on the hill of Samaria—
the notable people in this first of the nations,
those the house of Israel comes to.
Cross over to Calneh and see;
go from there to great Hamath;
then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
Is their territory larger than yours?
You dismiss any thought of the evil day
and bring in a reign of violence.

They lie on beds inlaid with ivory,
sprawled out on their couches,
and dine on lambs from the flock
and calves from the stall.
They improvise songs to the sound of the harp
and invent their own musical instruments like David.
They drink wine by the bowlful
and anoint themselves with the finest oils
but do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore, they will now go into exile
as the first of the captives,
and the feasting of those who sprawl out
will come to an end.


It’s ok to not work all the time. I like Stellman’s chapter 11 against the puritans, even though I wish he could have found somebody besides the Romanist (Calvinist-hating) Chesterton to make his case. But he does quote a book I like: How to be Idle by the British writer, Tom Hodgkinson.

We don’t need to talk about “common grace” to make this point. Read Protestant Reformed leader Englesma’s plea against profaning grace in his answer to Mouw .

I do want to recommend some better books on the topic of living in exile in the world. I will only list one Mennonite book: For the Nations, by John Howard Yoder (Eerdmans), expecially the chapter on diaspora, “See How they Go with Their Faces”. And one book by a Quaker, A Biblical Theology of Exile, by Daniel Smith-Christopher( Fortress). And by the premill evangelical Robert H Gundry, Jesus the Word According to John the Sectarian (Eerdmans).

On the land, read Reformed amill The Israel of God, by Palmer Robertson (P and R). On weakness, read the Lutheran (and expert on Ellul) Marva Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God. For Romans 6, read Robert Haldane. If you want something very short on Romans 6, read Steele and Thomas, Outline on Romans , p46.

Federal visionists (Leithart, James Jordan) use Hauerwas to defend something a lot more Constantinian than what I think Stellman would approve. But Stellman seems to agree on sacrament holding the church together .

I am not sure that Hauerwas and Stellman would be agreed on what to say about the Exodus 32 ordeal/ intrusion. After the golden calf, Moses asked: who is on the Lord’s side? Go forth, and kill your brother… Today you have ordained yourselves for service. “ Even though they want to follow the OT (the covenant) model for worship, they are not agreed about what is legitimate for the people of God when they operate in another kingdom.

Stellman has an interesting note about being guilty as a member of what he thinks is the “legitimate” (natural law) second kingdom because of the guilt of the innocent killed in Iraq.(p71)

But he still interprets God’s protection from the death penalty (on earth) as being about God’s “common grace” giving the state to protect us. (p56) I guess he thinks it’s good to kill for the state (or the economy), just so long as we don’t make the mistake of thinking this is redemptive.

As a pacifist, of course, I don’t find much to get excited about in this distinction. It’s like talking about talking about the glories of the new covenant, as a chaplain in the military!

Christ’s Work Does not Depend on You

March 27, 2011

Unconverted professing Christians worship some other person than the Christ described in the Bible. They worship somebody whose work depends on the sinner to accept it. But the true Christ was imputed with the sins of the elect, and bore these sins one time in the past.

The true Christ is not bearing sins now.

The true Christ did not bear the sins of those who will one day bear their own sins. The cross was not a general or infinite bearing of sins with the meaning and success to be determined later by what sinners thought about it. Christ did not come to save more than Christ will save. When Christ comes a second time, He will save the elect.

So there is a future salvation, but there is not a future determination of who will be saved by the cross. The non-elect will bear their own sins.

Christ is no longer bearing the sins of the elect. All the sins of the elect will have been taken away by the cross. Romans 5:9, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by the blood, much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God.”

The New Testament has a difference between election, the death of Christ, and justification. All the elect have not yet been justified and none of the elect has been resurrected on the last Day. But these facts do not change the truth that Christ has either already died for a sinner or has not, and that this is not the sinner’s decision.

Even though non-elect sinners were involved in putting Christ to death, Christ never died for them. The purpose of Christ’s death was the salvation of only the elect alone.

Certainly we should think about Roman politics and Jewish religion when we think of the human means God used to accomplish His purpose, but there has never ever been any purpose to give Christ without also a purpose for elect sinners. Christ was not given first, before the election of sinners second. The elect were always chosen in Christ, and Christ’s incarnate glory was always about Him being given for the elect.

Sacraments Do Not Dispense Grace

March 16, 2011

I do not agree that, when we hear Christ preached, that we then hear Christ preaching. I do not agree that when we hear an “ordained” “minister” absolving our sins, that we then hear Christ forgiving our sins.

WHO IS HEARING? Are the non-elect not hearing, because they don’t care about their sins? Are the non-elect hearing “you are forgiven”?

Is it “pietism” (or “being a baptist”) to warn people that the New Testament is written only to Christians? It’s ironic to say that Christians doing politics must do so as if they were not Christians, but then not make such a distinction for those “taking the sacrament”.

The assumption, the pretense, the official lie, is that everybody observing the sacrament is an exile from the world and a Christian. Otherwise the sacramentalist would have to speak to the church as if were the world.

And then the sacramentalist would need to think more about water giving salvation to pagans who are not children, and about the supper being converting for those halfway in. Even if there is no faith, is there no blessing?

To the extent sacramentalists use “the covenant” to argue for sacraments, the redemptive-historical political distinction between the old and new covenants collapses. And no attention is given to the differences between the promises of a covenant. Reformed folks tend to focus on one undefined positive promise (is it that my child should assume already that he is a Christian?) and to ignore the fine print about “covenant curses” for those who “participate in the sacrament. Call them “negative sanctions”— God may break you off if you don’t observe the sacramental rituals.

They do not want us to talk about “dead” Christians as if some internal work of the Spirit needed to be done, but rather asks if people are “observant” at the sacraments. I am glad that not all paedobaptists agree with him on that. If you are faking it at the “sacrament”, then God can kill you. That argument in itself does not prove that it is a sacrament or that God is the agent in the Supper or in the water. Those questions have to be answered biblically and not by confessional presupposition.

Now that You Have Professed Faith, You Cannot Trust the Promise Until You See Works?

March 16, 2011

Stoever, A Faire and Easy Way, explains that “John Cotton professed himself unable to believe it possible for a person to maintain that grace works a condition in him, reveals it, makes a promise to it, and applies it to him, and still not trust in the work. Even if a person did not trust in the merit of the work, he still probably would not dare to trust a promise unless he could see a work?”

“Grace and works (not only in the case of justification) but in the whole course of our salvation, are not subordinate to each other but opposite:as that whatsoever is of grace is not of works, and whatsoever is of works is not of grace.”