Justification Is Not Eternal
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?
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.