Now Everybody Can Be Free From Pharoah?

Jason Stellman, p 143: When Paul spoke to those saints in the churches of Galatia who desired to be under the law, was he talking to people who longed to be under the condemnation of the law?…When Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the law, did he mean that Christ was born under the condemnation of the law?”

Stellman: “If under law and under grace are existential categories describing an individual’s condemnation or justification, then Paul’s argument is a non-answer. It is not justification but sanctification that frees us from the dominion of the sin.”

Stellman’s reading of Romans 6 is common to many Reformed
people today. John Murray, Lloyd Jones, and Sinclair Ferguson tell
us that “freed from sin” in Romans 6:7 cannot mean “justified from sin” because this chapter is about sanctification and not about justification.

It seems to me that this begs the question, and without some attention to the chapter, I will be guilty of simply begging
the question the other way.

I want to attend to the two rhetorical questions about Romans 6:14. The first asks: When Paul was warning the Galatians, were the false teachers wanting to be under condemnation? My answer: Paul’s answer is that the false teachers were under the condemnation. If you go their way, Christ will be of no profit to you.

The gospel does not tell people that they WANT TO be damned.
The gospel says that THEY WILL be damned if their trust in anything else but Christ’s death for the elect. That death alone, apart from our works enabled by the Spirit (be those works of Torah or works of new covenant) is the only gospel.

The second rhetorical question: when Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the law, did he mean that Christ was born under the condemnation of the law? My answer is yes. Gal 4:4: born of the law to redeem those under the law cannot mean only that Christ was born under the jurisdiction of Moses to get Jews free from that jurisdiction.

According to Gal 3:13, Christ became a curse under the law to redeem a people from the curse of the law. I am not denying that Christ kept the Mosaic law. I am not even denying that Christ was under the Mosaic law to keep that law vicariously for the elect. I am affirming that the sins of all the elect were imputed to Christ, and that as surety for the elect, Christ was born under the condemnation of God’s law.

To see this, we need to attend to the first part of Romans 6 before we rush to the second part and conclude that it has to be about a sanctification that makes it just for God to justify the ungodly. Romans 6:10 says that “the death He died to sin”.

Before we jump to the redemptive historical complexity of union and
identification with the death (when? 2000 year ago? At imputation? Before or after faith?), we need to focus on Christ’s death to sin. Does this mean that Christ was unregenerate and then positionally cleansed by the Holy Spirit? God forbid.

Does “dead to sin” mean that Christ became carnal but then again infused with the divine and thus again a partaker of the divine nature? Again, God forbid.

Does “dead to sin” mean that Christ by being in the environment of the world and of the old covenant needed a deliverance from “the flesh” and from the physical body? Once more, God forbid. Does Romans 6 mean that Christ had to suffer intense and infinite “spiritual death” before He died physically, because only in that way would He be “dead to sin”?

What does it mean that Christ died to sin? It means that the law of God demanded death for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ. As long as those sins were imputed to Christ, He was under sin, he was under law, He was under death.

Now death has no more power over Him? Why? Because the
sins are no longer imputed to Him, but have been paid for and satisfied. The gospel is not only about God justifying, but also about God being justified when God justifies.

Much is written about imputation these days, a lot of it Arminian or
Lutheran language about an exchange brought about by the sinner’s faith. Less is written about the imputation of Adam’s sin. (Blocher, for example, in his Original Sin book, concludes that Adam’s sin moved the redemptive historical clock forward (bringing in death) so that individual sins could then be imputed.)

But even LESS is written about the imputation of sins to Christ. I think at least part of the reason for the silence is that preachers don’t want to talk about either whose sins are imputed or when they are imputed.

This is not the time to think through the timing. (Even when we agree that sins which have been imputed to Christ are still imputed to the elect until their justification, we still have the question if imputation logically immediately precedes or follows faith.)

If we only say that the sins of BELIEVERS are imputed to Christ, we not only avoid the good news of election but also (by lack of antithesis) contribute to the evangelical consensus that the efficacy of Christ’s death depends on believing. The true gospel tells how the new birth (and believing) is the effect of Christ’s work.

Stellman’s reading of Romans 6 is not the way most Reformed people in the past read Romans 6:14. Maybe now it’s the new majority way. But everybody needs to deal with the question: whatever you say about the Christian being dead to sin, this also needs to be said about Christ.

If Romans 6 means is that nobody is now under Moses, and that everybody can in principle objectively be free, is that your gospel?

Is it the gospel that Christ was born under the Mosaic law but isn’t
anymore? Isn’t that something like an universalism which assumes that “we” are all already Christians?

Nobody is under Moses anymore —how is that a good news for an individual on his death bed?

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One Comment on “Now Everybody Can Be Free From Pharoah?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Tim Keller in a sermon about crossing the Jordan at the Gospel Coalition, taught that Christ’s death makes salvation possible, and the difference depends on how you respond to this possibility. He says that you can be included if your faith “unites” you to Christ’s death. They tell you that grace and Christ’s death has no effect until you believe. But the true gospel does not leave out the offense of election, and explains that God’s love for the elect exists before Christ’s death, and that Christ’s death is what purchased faith for all for whom Christ died. But the Gospel Coalition avoids the offense of denying that the lake of fire will be filled with those for whom Christ died.


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