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

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.

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9 Comments on “The Atonement Happened in Time, and the Justification of the Elect at Different Times”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Turretin (chapter 4 on justification, p48, P and R): “God does not remit our sins and afterwards impute righteousness, but He first imputes righteousness and afterwards on account of that imputed righteousness, remits our sins. For a satisfaction, a ransom, is made the foundation of the absolving sentence which is made in favor of the elect.”

  2. Hiram Says:

    I’ve been mulling this over lately as I’ve considered how to best articulate why the Arminian belief in conditional security is heretical.

    And this is the central difference. Arminians believe that faith is the effectual cause of justification, although they will deny this, and those who believe Scripture understand that faith is the instrumental cause.

    Arminianism masks what it really is: Salvation by works. Of course, again, the Arminian will deny that this is the case, but then he will go on to state that a man can be truly saved and then fall away completely blinded to the fact that they are making their faith a work which is rewarded with eternal life.

    I thank God for His mercy in opening my eyes to see and understand just how much different Arminianism is from Biblical Christianity…


    • markmcculley Says:

      What do you mean by “instrumental cause”? I know that 95% of Calvinists use that phrase, but are you one of them that can explain it. Is salvation conditioned on faith in some way? Also, how do you obtain assurance that you have faith? If assurance is by works, what’s the big difference between effectual and instrumental cause?


    the bad side of Bruce McCormack

    The nature of the atonement is not the satisfaction of the demands of divine justice but the destruction of the old sinner by the proclamation of the gospel. (sounds very Lutheran and sacramental!, as in Forde. And Luther himself)

    For Us and Our Salvation, Studies in Reformed Theology. p30

    p 27–”they make God’s mercy the prisoner, so to speak, of His righteousness, until such time as righteousness has been fully satisfied.”

    “We reject an understanding of biblical inspiration which would require that all biblical statements find their source in a Single Author.” p 195, “Actuality of God”

    Also, like Barth, McCormack tends to make time (history) and evil (sin) be nothing (privation).
    I don’t like the logic of his “paradoxes”


    Blocher, p 581, From Heaven He Came—Theology has run the risk of undermining the significance of the successive events which realize salvation in time. An emphasis on God’s sovereignty combined with a Platonic notion of “eternity” results in phrases like “pure present” and “for God, there is no before or after, neither past nor future. History became mere manifestation, only epistemology. One symptom of this Platonism was “eternal justification”

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Nettles explains that Andrew Fuller “misconceives the biblical relation of imputation. Justification should not be considered as analogous to atonement but rather to the imputation of Adam’s sin”.Error one: it’s tantamount to identifying the doctrine of effectual calling with atonement. What one really means by definite atonement is that the difference is not in the atonement but in the Spirit’s work of calling.“A second error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although Jesus’ death is spoken of as passive obedience–and though the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son–when the sufficiency of the death of Christ arises, the emphasis shifts from the Son’s passive obedience to what he actively accomplished by his infinite divine nature.”…/20/reading-tom-nettles/

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Romans 4:25 died because of our sins, and raised because of our justification

    if all the elect were not going to be justified, then Christ would not have been raised

    but the verse does not prove that all the elect have been justified

    not all the elect were even born when Christ was raised

    and all the elect are born condemned in their sins, not yet justified

    notice the parallel—Christ died because of our sins, even though some of our sins are still future, we are still sinners

    future sins are imputed to Christ (by God, which means by the Father, also by Himself to Himself)

    now, go back to the other side of the parallel, raised because of our justification

    future justifications (and past justifications (like those of David and Abraham) are the reason that Christ was raised

    the elect will be justified because of Christ’s death

    the elect will not be justified because of Christ’s resurrection

    Christ’s resurrection already happened because of the justifications (future and past) of all the elect

  7. markmcculley Says:

    God is not boxed in to only one time. God acted and imputed before the cross, and God acts and imputes after the cross. All the sins of all the elect were imputed by God some time before the cross (probably before the incarnation, certainly not after Christ died in that “three hours of soul trouble” that preachers like to talk about

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