Archive for September 2011

Life in the Son

September 27, 2011

I John 5:11-12, “God gave us lasting life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life, whoever does not have the Son does not have life.”

Having life is having the Son, but what is the condition of having the Son? It’s a fact that all who have life and the Son are those who “believe in the testimony that God has made concerning His Son”’. It’s a fact that part of this testimony (in places like John 6 and 10) is that the Son has been given an elect people and that the Son has come to give His life for them alone and not for those God has not chosen.

But is believing in the Son, and believing in election, the condition of having life? No. How can a dead person believe to get life? How can a dead person do anything to get life? Before a person can believe the gospel, that person has to be born again and before that person can be born again, that person has to have life and the Son.

“Whosoever” in I John 5 (and in John 3:16) is not indefinite. The idea is not that potentially the number could be bigger, if only more people would believe. Rather, “as many as”, no more and no less, believe are the only ones who will not perish and who have life. Those who have the Son are being identified. God has an exact number who will believe God’s testimony, and we know them as those who have life.

But notice that the text does not teach that their faith causes them to have life. Nor does the text teach that their having life causes them to believe. The point is about an identity between having the Son and having life. Even though we can make a distinction between “lasting life” (forgiveness and justification forever) and the life we need in order to believe the testimony of God about the Son, both are part of “salvation”. Life to believe the gospel is also a gift from God, and certainly not our gift to God.

The Arminian conditions having life on the sinner believing. The assumption is that if we need to have life before we can believe, then we can have life without believing, and believing becomes unnecessary. As if a newborn baby did not need to breathe, since that baby has to have life to breathe!

My friend David Adkins reminds us to ask: necessary for what reason? Yes, believing the gospel is evidence of having life. Faith does not have to be a condition of anything in order to be necessary. All those who have been saved from God’s wrath need to believe God’s gospel, including God’s testimony about election. And they will believe! They believe in the Son not in order to get the Son but because they have the Son.

So I John identifies having the Son and having life, but which comes first? The justified elect have the Son and life at the same time, but logically which is first? If we get the Son by first getting resurrected to life and being born again and believing, that would mean we get resurrection and new birth first before and without the Son.

Nobody gets any blessing apart from being elect in Christ. Those who are elect don’t become elect by believing. We don’t become elect by having Christ. Election itself is in Christ and by Christ. God loves nobody apart from Christ. God did not first put a sinner into a future judicial relationship with Christ and then elect that sinner because of that future relationship with Christ. God’s decision for the elect is also at the same time a decision about Christ.

God chose the elect for Christ’s sake. Hebrews 2:11, “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin.” Isaiah 8:18, “Behold, I and the children who the Lord has given me.”

All who get life have been elected in Christ, and this election in Christ before the beginning of the ages is the reason these sinners are eventually imputed with Christ’s death and then born again. The same Christ who gets life for the elect gives life to the elect. People either already are or are not elect in Christ. Everybody needs Christ to get life, but not everybody is elect in Christ.

But being elect in Christ is not the same as having Christ according to I John 5. Whosoever has Christ has life, but the elect in Christ do not have life before God’s imputation of Christ’s death to them.. God has promised the elect in Christ to have Christ, and that promise is sure, but the elect in Christ do not have Christ until they are justified by God in Christ.

Life, both in the sense of new birth and also in the legal sense of lasting life, is a result of the elect being baptized by God into Christ’s death and being raised with him, and thus no longer under sin. (Romans 6:10).

Sanctification Is Not “More and More”, by AW Pink

September 26, 2011

In the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Assembly the question is asked, “What is sanctification?” To which the following answer is returned: “Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby, they whom God hath before the foundation of the world chosen to be holy, are in time through the powerful operation of His Spirit, applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life.”

Now far be it from us to sit in judgment upon such an excellent and helpful production as this Catechism, which God has richly blessed to thousands of His people, or that we should make any harsh criticisms against men whose shoes we are certainly not worthy to unloose. Nevertheless, the best of men are but men at the best, and therefore we must call no man “Father.”

First, the definition or description of sanctification of the Westminster divines is altogether inadequate, for it entirely omits the most important aspect and fundamental element in the believer’s sanctification: it says nothing about our sanctification by Christ (Heb. 10:10; 13:12), but confines itself to the work of the Spirit, which is founded upon that of the Son.

This is truly a serious loss, and affords another illustration that God has not granted light on all His Word to any one man or body of men. A fuller and better answer to the question of, “What is sanctification?” would be, “Sanctification is, first, that act of God whereby He set the elect apart in Christ before the foundation of the world that they should be holy. Second, it is that perfect holiness which the Church has in Christ and that excellent purity which she has before God by virtue of Christ’s cleansing blood. Third, it is that work of God’s Spirit which, by His quickening operation, sets them apart from those who are dead in sins, conveying to them a holy life or nature, etc.”

Thus we cannot but regard this particular definition of the Larger Catechism as being defective, for it commences at the middle, instead of starting at the beginning. Instead of placing before the believer that complete and perfect sanctification which God has made Christ to be unto him, it occupies him with the incomplete and progressive work of the Spirit.

Instead of moving the Christian to look away from himself with all his sinful failures, unto Christ in whom he is “complete” (Col. 2:10), it encouraged him to look within, where he will often search in vain for the fine gold of the new creation amid all the dross and mire of the old creation. This is to leave him without the joyous assurance of knowing that he has been “perfected forever” by the one offering of Christ (Heb. 10:14).

Our second observation upon this definition is, that its wording is faulty and misleading. Let the young believer be credibly assured that he will “more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life,” and what will be the inevitable outcome? As he proceeds on his way, the Devil assaulting him more and more fiercely, the inward conflict between the flesh and the Spirit becoming more and more distressing, increasing light from God’s Word more and more exposing his sinful failures, until the cry is forced from him, “I am vile; 0 wretched man that I am,” what conclusion must he draw?

Why this: if the Catechism-definition be correct then I was sadly mistaken, I have never been sanctified at all. So far from the “more and more die unto sin” agreeing with his experience, he discovers that sin is more active within and that he is more alive to sin now, than he was ten years ago!

That we may not be charged with partiality, we quote from the “Confession of Faith” adopted by the Baptist Association, which met in Philadelphia 1742, giving the first two sections of their brief chapter on sanctification: 1. “They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also (a) farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, (b) by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them; (c) the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, (d) and the several lusts thereof more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. 2. This sanctification is throughout in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abides still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war.”—

This description of sanctification by the Baptists leaves something to be desired, for it makes no clear and direct statement upon the all-important and flawless holiness which every believer has in Christ, and that spotless and impeccable purity which is upon him by God’s imputation of the cleansing efficacy of His Son’s sacrifice.

In the second place, the words convey a misleading conception of the present condition of the Christian. To speak of “some remnants of corruption” still remaining in the believer, necessarily implies that by far the greater part of his original corruption has been removed, and that only a trifling portion of the same now remains. But something vastly different from that is what every true Christian discovers to his daily grief and humiliation.

All the Reformation “standards” (creeds, confessions, and catechisms) will be searched in vain for any clear statement upon the perfect holiness which the Church has in Christ or of God’s making Him to be sanctification unto His people. Most theological systems have taught that while justification is accomplished the moment the sinner truly believes in Christ, yet is his sanctification only then begun, and is a protracted process to be carried on throughout the remainder of this life by means of the Word and ordinances, seconded by the discipline of trial and affliction.

But if this be the case, then there must be a time in the history of every believer when he is “justified from all things” and yet unfit to appear in the presence of God. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves; and yet, according to the doctrine of “progressive sanctification,” until we can say it we are not meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.

Not only are those who have no complete sanctification unfit for eternal glory, but it would be daring presumption for them to boldly enter the Holiest now—the “new and living way” is not yet available for them, they cannot draw near “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” What wonder, then, that those who believe this doctrine are plunged into perplexity, that such a cloud rests over their acceptance with God.

The glorious Gospel of God reveals to us a perfect Savour. It exhibits One who has not only made complete satisfaction to the righteous Ruler and Judge, providing for His people a perfect righteousness before Him, but whose sacrifice has also fitted us to worship and serve a holy God acceptably, and to approach the Father with full confidence and love.

If the conscience be still defiled, if the eye of God rests upon us as unclean, then confidence before Him is impossible, for we feel utterly unfit for His ineffable presence. “Now where remission of sins is, no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:18, 19).

The same sacrifice which has procured the remission of our sins, provides the right for us to draw nigh unto God in acceptable worship. “By His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:13).

The Christian is regarded not only as guiltless, but also as spotless and holy. Oh to realize by faith that we are assured of the same welcome by God now as His beloved Son received when He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. God views us in Christ His “Holy One”.

No-Law-Ism is BOTH Antinomian and Legalistic

September 24, 2011

Romans 7:4–“You have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we bear fruit for God.”

Saying that our “activity” is not law-obedience is still NOT the gospel. First, there is no end run around God’s law. God is both just and justifier of the ungody, so God’s law has been satisfied for the elect alone by Christ’s obedience to death. Second, faith has as its object not just any “Jesus” or any “grace”, but the Jesus 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).

There is no escape from legalism in a “difference” between a demand for faith and a demand for law-obedience. Does faith include works or not? If faith works and faith is an instrument, why can’t works of faith be an instrument?

In our day many folks think they have escaped legalism by simply eliminating any antithesis between law and gospel. Thus they want to distribute Christ’s righteousness to both the “instead of us” AND the “in us”. They instruct us to stop looking only at the past and at the cross, and begin to look also to the salvation of the Holy Spirit in us (and thus the future work of Christ in our “activity”)

The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. 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. Only one sin puts you under its curse. No matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law never promises everlasting life.

The “end of the law” is Christ’s death satisfying what the law demand, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

We must not attempt to eliminate the law/gospel antithesis by the abolishment of law. “No-law-ism” is not only antinomian but also still legalistic –it misses what the gospel says about Christ’s satisfaction of the law for the elect.

Christians sin, and therefore their activity (even if you don’t call it “fulfillment of the law” as in Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But God’s law will not go unsatisfied.

The law is not the gospel and 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.”

Romans 4:17 NOT A LEGAL FICTION—calls things into existence that do not exist

September 19, 2011

Romans 4:17 —-as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Many Reformed theologians, even though deny that forensic imputation is a “legal fiction”, nevertheless worry about the reality of “mere” justification by Christ’s righteousness “alone”. They say: don’t worry about that, because in the same “union”, God also “sanctifies” and that takes care of the reality problem.

This vision of God’s grace locates the “ reality” in ideas like “infusion” and “impartation”. It claims “made sin” is “MORE than legal” and “become the righteousness” is “MORE than God’s legal declaration”.

Abraham did not die at the cross. Christ died for Abraham, as Abraham’s substitute, so that Abraham would NOT die the second death but be raised to life on Resurrection Day. Yet the legal reality is that Abraham did die at the cross, and that by imputation, so that Abraham was legally “constituted” as righteous many years before Christ died.

The ‘things which are not’ refer to the things determined by God to come to pass but which have not yet been been fulfilled. Abraham was justified by a righteousness which had not yet been brought in by Christ. But this does not mean that Abraham’s justification is a “legal fiction”. It does not mean that God in sovereignty can simply declare the elect righteous without Christ actually coming into history to die to bring in righteousness.

But neither is God’s righteousness only about God’s justice. God’s righteousness is always about God’s sovereignty also. And when God justifies Abraham on the basis of an atonement that has not yet happened, then that is both just and “real”. It’s not fake and it’s not arbitrary. Abraham received by imputation the reconciliation before the reconciliation was even made. The elect who are now being justified are receiving the reconciliation long after the reconciliation was made, but that does not mean that God is being arbitrary or merely sovereign.

God is just in God’s timing. It is not unjust for God to be sovereign in God’s imputing. Even though future sins have already been imputed to Christ, some of the elect have not yet been justified and therefore have not yet been “joined to His death”.

Romans 4:23-24 “Righteousness” was counted to Abraham was not written for Abraham’s sake alone but for ours also. Even when our justification has not yet happened, Christ was raised because of our justification. Romans 16:7 “Greet Adronicus and Junia…They are well known to the Apostles and they were in Christ before me.”

God’s imputations are sovereign. 1. God only imputed to Christ the sins of those God loves. 2. God legally makes each of those for whom Christ died members of Christ.

Where does the Bible speak of impartation or incorporation?

Since faith is not the righteousness of Christ, then we should not speak of “justifying faith” because what God uses to justify sinners is Christ’s death. Faith in Christ’s death is not Christ’s righteousness. Christ’s death is Christ’s righteousness, and Christ’s death is the object of faith.

Infused and Imparted–Esteemed among Humans, Abomination to God

September 16, 2011

That which is highly esteemed among humans is abomination in the sight of God. Luke 16:15

I often ask Calvinists about why they have not yet reformed from using the idea of “infused righteousness”.

I want to see the word “righteousness” in the Bible where it has the meaning of “infusion”. I am not asking to see the word “infusion”. I know it’s not there. But I want these Cavinists to show me some inner righteousness, which is not legal and imputed.

Many read Romans 6 with the assumption that it says that the Holy Spirit (or the church) unites us to Christ on the inside. The chapter does not say that, and we should not read it with that assumption.

It’s not enough to give a formal “I don’t deny that it also means the legal also”, if you then consistently look at texts and say “more than the forensic”, especially when the texts don’t mean anything other than the forensic. The legal death has effective inner consequences, but the consequences are not to be equated with the death or the righteousness.

Romans 6:20,21–”when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed. The end of those thing is death”

It is legal union with the death which has justified the elect and set them free. Before their justification, they may have already been ashamed of immorality. But they were not ashamed of their piety, their self-righteousness, or of their attempts to cooperate in the building of their own righteousness in attempts to gain assurance by a pattern of obedience to imperative. Now they count all that as trash (Philippians 3).

Christ’s righteousness is the merit of His work (His death). Christians are “servants of righteousness”. But it has not been demonstrated that “the righteousness” is both imputed and infused.

But Calvinists continue to talk like this: “I would say that the righteousness that is imputed to us in justification is the same righteousness that is also infused into us in our sanctification.”

Where does the Bible use the word “righteousness” in such a way that we should know that it means infused habits, imparted energies or “inside you” righteousness?

Many assume “if imputed, then also infused”, but if that were the case, then how could we from Scripture show any distinction between that righteousness which is “sanctification” and that righteousness which justifies? How could we avoid the path to Osiander?

If It’s Faith that Causes You to be United to Christ, then it’s Faith that Causes Your Sins to be Imputed to Christ

September 15, 2011

Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

Romans 8:10–“But if Christ is IN YOU, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Galatians 4:5-6 –“to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Imprecise “union” talk can be very dangerous. SOME theologians (Kevin Dixon Kennedy, Torrance) are using the concept of “union” to say that the atonement which really matters is the application of Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, SOME OF THEM TEACH THAT CHRIST DIED ALSO FOR THOSE WHO WILL PERISH.

It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

But SOME use “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse the rest with thinking there is no need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it. This is the claim made by SOME who use “union” to make the application of the atonement to be the atonement.

But it’s clear that Owen did not teach justification apart from faith. It’s also clear that Owen did not teach that faith was a mere recognition that we were already justified. (See Carl Trueman’s various books and essays on John Owen). “Unionists” should not ignore Owen’s careful distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement. Some unionists do, some don’t
Some “unionists” locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration and faith to unite people with that propitiation. This is their argument: “you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”

But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. So, again according to them, it’s the “union” which designates for whose sins Christ died.

Imputation Without Hands, Into the Death which is the Death of Death

September 11, 2011

Colossians 2:11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses….

Even though it was ordained by God, the death of Christ was done by human hands. In my view, the “circumcision of Christ” is not a reference to Christ’s literal circumcision as a child. Nor is the “circumcision of Christ” a metaphor for regeneration and the work of the Spirit in the elect. It’s one circumcision, both for Christ, and for the elect. Colossians 2 is about the elect’s legal identification with Christ’s one death. Our death is His death, NOT some other death done IN us.

Even though God used human hands in the state murder of Christ, imputation by God into Christ’s death is made without hands. Human sinners do not make the imputation.

The imputation is something you can’t see. But that legal “you also were circumcised” is the basis for God’s forgiveness of the sins of the elect.

Some “Calvinists” stress God’s sovereignty but not God’s justice, and so for them, God can and does forgive without any legal identification of the elect with Christ’s death. Many Calvinists are against “easy believism”, and so their response is to not deny that what I have said is theologically true, but to still assume that the three Bible texts are talking about “something more” than merely justification and the forgiveness of sins.

When these Calvinists say Romans 6 must also be about regeneration and not only about not being under the law and the guilt of sin, in just what way are they affirming that legal identification (without hands) with the death of Christ is the death of death for the elect?

Isn’t the result of legal union with Christ glorious good news? Isn’t the result of “circumcised with Christ” an immunity from death for sin?

Romans 1 shows the irony of sin as a punishment for sin. God sovereignly “hands over” sinners to more sin. Sinners are not only punished by being sinned against by other sinners, but also punished by God by being “given over” to more sinning. But there is irony in the good news as well. God’s solution for death is death. The death of another (the last Adam) is the death of death for the elect. There is nothing more gracious (and yet just) than the legal transfer of the death of Christ to the elect, so that there is legal solidarity of the justified elect with Christ’s death.

Sin has no power over the justified elect to kill them, because in Christ’s death they already died. This is grand. This is hope. This clears the way for a future. While most folks want something else, or something more that they can see, let us rejoice in what God does without hands: God counts the death of Christ as also the death of the justified elect.

Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the One who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace.”

Hebrews 10 has been often used to teach that the new covenant is bigger than election, and that grace is for more than the elect. The idea of “common grace” is that God has some grace for everybody, more grace for those in the covenant, and even more grace for the elect. This idea of common grace is not biblical.

The Hebrews 10 warning is not saying that an apostate was in the new covenant. I do not think it is even saying that the apostate appeared to be in the new covenant, although this is a possible interpretation if you want to work out a visible and invisible church contrast.

The “Son of God” is the closest antecedent of the pronoun “he” in the phrase “the covenant by which he was sanctified”. Of course we need to remember that “sanctify” does not mean to get better and to go in the right direction, as most common theology would have it.

“Sanctify” is to set apart before God, both in the Old Testament context of Hebrews 10, (blood of the covenant, Zechariah 9:11, Ex 24:8) and in John 17. “And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they shall also be sanctified.”

Those who profane the death of Christ teach that Christ sanctified Himself for some sinners in “the covenant” who will nevertheless perish. They teach that, elect or not, some are set apart in “the covenant” who will not be justified by Christ’s blood.

Those who profane the death of Christ tell us that the glory of Christ involves dying for many sinners who will never be glorified. They dishonor Christ by telling us that Christ died also for those who are not and who will never be children of God.

When we baptize with water, we baptize with hands and we cannot know for sure if the subjects know the Lord. But this does not eliminate our duty to judge by the gospel. Baptism with hands is NOT about putting folks into a conditional covenant.

Submission to the righteousness brought in by Christ’s death means that we confess our personal bankruptcy, and this rules out past and future covenant keeping as a basis for blessing. Our only hope that we will be raised to immortality is that we died when Christ died. And if that legal identification with Christ’s death has happened, it was an imputation made without hands that nobody could see.

Circumcision in Colossians 2 is not a reference to “regeneration” or to “vital union” but to the bloody death of Christ. Don’t assume that Colossians 2 is saying the same thing as Romans 2, Colossians 2 is talking the justified elect being legally identified with Christ’s death, and thus cut off from Adam’s body, from Adam’s guilt. Water is done by hands, so water can’t be the antitype. Water does not replace physical circumcision in Colossians 2. That’s an assumption read into the text. Many commentaries (Bruce, Dunn, Garland, O’Brien) takes the “body of flesh” as Christ’s flesh and the “stripping off of the body of flesh” as the same as the “circumcision of Christ” as metaphor for Christ’s crucifixion. Two different circumcisions doesn’t work in the context of Colossians. It’s the same circumcision, both for Christ and for the elect, Christ’s one death. Our death is His death, not some other death done in us. It’s not Christ died and then we died. It’s we died when Christ died.

The Gospel Includes the “In Us”, but Also Includes Election in Christ and Atonement in Christ

September 6, 2011

Louis Berkhof, History of Christian Doctrines, p220–”Calvin and Luther both described justification as a forensic act which does not change the inner life of man, but only the judicial relationship in which he stands to God. Moreover they deny that justification is a progressive work of God, asserting that it is instantaneous and at once complete, and hold that the believer can be absolutely sure that he is translated forever from a state of wrath and condemnation to one of favor and acceptance.”

The next time you hear that same old Calvin quotation (as long as outside us, 3:11:10), please read L Berhof back to the quoter. (from his systematic, p452)

“It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. “

“Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing (or future) condition, but on that of a gracious imputation–a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.”

In By Faith Not By Sight, Richard Gaffin teaches that the “in us” of the gospel means that there is a future aspect to the justification of an individual sinner. His assumption is that its faith in us (not election in Christ) which unites a sinner to Christ and thus to the power to do the works necessary for future justification.

It is God who gives the faith; it is God who gives the works; therefore it seems right to Gaffin to condition justification on the faith and works of the sinner. Gaffin does not tell us what gospel must be the object of the faith which unites to Christ. Nor does he tell us how imperfect works would have to be to miss justification and be condemned.

Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…” p110

Gaffin wants to say that both the “in us” and the “outside us” are our hope. And so do all of us! But part of his hope is an “in us” defined power over against sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

Gaffin says many good and right things about imputation, the crediting of the “outside us”. For example, on p51, he lists three options for the ground of justification. A. Christ’s own righteousness, complete and finished in his obedience…B. the union itself, the fact of the relationship with Christ…c. the obedience being produced by the transforming Spirit in those in union. Gaffin rightly concludes that “the current readiness to dispense with imputation” results from taking the last two options as the ground of justification.

Gaffin agrees that we are united to Christ now and justified now (because faith in something, he thinks, even in Arminianism, unites us now to Jesus), but then he always implicitly defines the “union” as the “in us”. He always puts what he calls “union” before justification. He always puts the “in us” before the “imputed with the outside us”.

And then also Gaffin always has a “not yet”. He teaches a justification by sight, ie by works. Instead of reading the “according to works” texts as having to do with the distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin conditions assurance in future justification on imperfect but habitual working.

Instead of saying that works motivated by fear of missing justification are unacceptable to God, Gaffin teaches a justification which is contingent on faith and works.

Gaffin follows his mentors John Murray and Norman Shepherd in taking Romans 2:13 to be describing Christians. The hope for future justification is not Christ’s death, resurrection, and intercession outside us alone. Without defining “sanctification” (by the blood?, by the Spirit?, or by us working out what’s been worked in?) Gaffin warns of an “unbreakable bond between justification and sanctification” in the matter of assurance for future justification. (p100)

Yes, faith (in which gospel?) is the alone instrument, he agrees, yes his finished righteousness is the alone ground, he affirms, but at the same time and however, works in us factor in also. Just remember that these works which factor into your assurance come from God working in you and not from you.

I agree with Gaffin that the gospel is not only about what Christ did outside of the elect for the elect; the gospel is also about the effectual call which results from election in Christ and atonement in Christ.

One evidence of effectual calling in us is that the justified elect do not put their assurance in their “bearing fruit for God”. To work for assurance of future justification is to “bear fruit for death”. Romans 7:5

If “Owenites” Are Right, There is No Need for Faith?

September 5, 2011

Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

Fullerites teach that the “atonement” which really matters is the application of Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, they teach that Christ died for some who will perish.

There are also many who sincerely believe that God only intended Christ to die for the elect, and that all of these elect will be saved, but who still did not understand the nature of the atonement.

It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

The difference between the Fullerites and those they dismiss as “Owenites” is not for the need of the Spirit’s work or faith in the gospel. Even though at the end of the day, we have different gospels (objects of faith), we do not disagree about justification being through faith. We who are called “Owenites” do not teach eternal justification, or justification apart from faith, even though our accusers claim that this makes us inconsistent.

We do NOT teach that the elect are free from condemnation before being “baptized into Christ”. Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, John Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are placed into that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

But those who accuse us of thinking there is no need for faith claim that it is not logical for us to teach such a need for faith. If the substitution has already been made, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it. This is the claim made by those who follow in the wake of Andrew Fuller and the Torrance brothers.

Notice two details. One, it’s clear that Owen did not teach justification apart from faith. It’s also clear that Owen did not teach that faith was a mere recognition that we were already justified. (See Carl Trueman’s various books and essays on John Owen).

But two, what is it that those who make the accusations are teaching about the atonement? Some like the Torrances think that saying that Christ died only for the elect leads to this error. Some like Andrew Fuller agree that Christ only died to gain faith for the elect, but they make this purchase of faith to be what it is limited about the intention of the atonement.

Fullerites do not want to teach that Christ’s substitution under God’s wrath was limited only to the sins of the elect. They can rightly say they teach “limited atonement” but they do not think that the propitiation is limited.

The Fullerites teach that the atonement is unlimited in its ability to condemn everybody. (Andrew Fuller himself regarded the transfer of the sins of the elect to Christ as figurative and as not legally possible.) The Fullerites teach that the atonement is unlimited in its proclamation of God’s offer to love everybody. But despite that general love, and general propitiation, they add that Christ’s death did not purchase faith and “union with Christ” for everybody.

Of course there are all kinds of sophisticated (sneaky and subtle) ways to say such a thing. Listen to this one: “Owenites must argue that substitution for the elect logically requires that God regenerate elect sinners.” But that objection ignores Owen’s careful distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement.

One, it ignores that the application of the atonement is a legal placement of the elect by God the Father into Christ’s atonement. The objection jumps ahead to “regeneration” and the work of the Spirit. But Romans 6 never tells us that “regeneration” places the elect into Christ’s death. Romans 6 never tells us that it’s the work of the Spirit that puts the elect into Christ’s death.

Two, the objection fails to define the difference between “substitution” and obtaining (the Torrances would never say “earn”– too legal, too contractual) the blessing of “regeneration”.

Of course “substitution” and “regeneration” are not the same thing. Substitution has to do with “all died” (II Cor 5:15) when this means that Christ alone died for the elect, without the elect being there, so that His death legally counts for them to take God’s wrath away from them. But those who leave “substitution” undefined cannot define the difference between it and the application of “substitution”.

Our accusers claim that we who teach substitution only for the elect should agree that the elect can go free before they are converted and believe the gospel. They want to put us in that box, so they can then deny that the death of Christ is the effective difference between saved and lost. Thus they accuse: if no efficacy to set free before faith and without faith, then no legal efficacy by itself.

But notice where our accusers locate the efficacy: not in propitiation, not in Christ’s bearing the sins of the elect, but only in the efficacy of “regeneration” and “union with Christ”.

And we would could answer back: what do you need the death for, if the real thing is the new birth and the indwelling? And it’s a good question, but I am sure that they think the incarnation (if not the death) is a necessary prelude to “union with Christ” and “sacramental fellowship” with the humanity of Christ.

But this is their argument: you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice. But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the sins of sinners.

How can they say that Christ’s death for sinners is not enough payment for the sins of these sinners? Listen carefully, think seriously, to their answer: “Baptism into Christ’s death is what makes Christ’s death the death of the sinner”.

This is their answer to Romans 6. Unless we want to say that Christ’s death is legally effective without faith, then they tell us that something after Christ’s death is what makes Christ’s death legally effective.

I hope you think that through. Unless we want to go the way of those who teach eternal justification (or justification of all the elect at the time of the death and resurrection of Christ), we must agree that many of the elect (all those born after Christ’s death) for whom Christ died are nevertheless born in their sins, under the sentence of death. Of course we would stipulate that God’s justice demands that they will not die in that unjustified state. But how can we explain that temporary legal condemnation when we are also teaching a substitution by Christ for their sins?

It depends on what you mean by “union with Christ”. The Torrances (also the Fullerites) think of the baptism as either a water sacrament or as the “binding by the Spirit of the elect to Christ by means of faith”. In other words, they think of being placed into Christ as identical to “Christ in us”.

But the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is not taught in Romans 6. It is God the Father’s legal imputing of the death to the elect which is in view. NO, the word “imputing” is not there. But neither is the word “Spirit” or the words “regeneration” or “indwelling”. As I Cor 1:30 teaches: because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

Previously I wrote: it’s one thing to say Christ’s death is effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective.
The death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice. It’s possible to teach that Christ died for everybody or that Christ died only for the elect, and still not teach the justice of God revealed in the gospel.

One of the better discussions in print on this topic is by Tom Nettles in By His Grace and For His glory and his chapter on “Christ Died for our Sins, According to the Scriptures”. Nettles quotes Andrew Fuller: “We could say that a certain number of Christ’s acts of obedience becomes ours as that certain number of sins becomes his. …His one undivided obedience affords a ground of justification to any number of believers; His one atonement is sufficient for the pardon of any number of sins or sinners.”

Nettles explains that 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”.

Andrew Fuller is identifying the application of the atonement with effectual calling , and then on top of that he is identifying the application of the atonement with the atonement. What he really means by definite atonement is that the difference is not in the legal substitution but that Christ obtained only for the elect the Spirit’s work of calling.

Listen carefully to Abraham Booth’s Divine Justice Essential to the Divine Character, book 3:60

“While cheerfully admitting the sufficiency of Immanuel’s death to have redeemed all mankind, had all the sins of the whole human species been equally imputed to Him, we cannot perceive any solid reason to conclude that his propitiatory sufferings are sufficient for the expiation of sins which he did not bear, or for the redemption of sinners whom he did not represent. For the substitution of Christ, and the imputation of sins to him, are essential to the scriptural doctrine of redemption by our adorable Jesus…

Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

This receiving is not the sinner believing. It is not an “exercise of faith” . The elect receive the atonement by God’s imputation. The elect do not impute their sins to Christ. Nor do the elect impute Christ’s righteousness to themselves. God is the imputer.

The legal receiving of the atonement is not the same as the righteousness. The legal imputation is not always at the same time as when Christ accomplished the atonement. God declaring the elect to be righteous in Christ is not the same thing as Christ’s righteousness. There is a difference between imputation and righteousness. There is a difference between justification because of the atonement and the atonement.

John Owen is not doing the Torrance double-talk about a difference between redemption and atonement. Rather, Owen explains the biblical difference between the atonement and justification. The difference is not that the elect do something to get justified. The difference is that, in justification, God credits the atonement to the elect. That atonement was already made for the elect before God legally placed the elect into the death.

Even before they are justified, the elect are entitled by Christ’s work to justification. But the elect are not justified until God imputes the righteousness to them.

Well, all this sounds logical enough, but what does it practically mean? Is not the safest answer to those who accuse us of denying the need for faith to deny the need for faith? Is it not safest to teach eternal justification and to say that conversion does not matter?

I have continually challenged the notion that the best way to counter salvation conditioned on the sinner is to teach eternal justification, so that conversion becomes only knowing that you were converted. (In other words, the idea is that since I was always elect, I was always “saved”, I was never not converted.)

The safest and best place to be is not the most extreme away from what the Arminians say. The safest and best place to be is what the Bible says.

I have no big problem with saying that the elect were “in some sense” always saved, but only if this “sense” is that they are elect. In other words, from God’s perspective, the elect are never in danger of perishing. But before we heard the gospel, we didn’t know know we were elect, and we were not justified. It wasn’t only an epistemological problem we had; we were under the wrath of God.

The gospel does not tell anyone: you are elect. The gospel tells everyone: God loves the elect and Christ’s death will save the elect.

Where the Arminian wants to tell every unconverted person that God loves them, those who teach eternal justification (or presumptive regeneration, which of course is not taught by all who teach eternal justification) want to tell SOME of the unconverted that God loves them.

I Thessalonians 1:4 “For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

We can and should insist on the necessity of conversion without falsely confusing the atonement with the application of the atonement. It would be an injustice if the death of Christ were sufficient for those for whom it will not be applied.

Arminians, along with Andrew Fuller and the Torrances, rejoice in the idea that they “have been died for”, but they reject any kind of “logical completeness” which would point out that their false gospel teach that even those who perish have been died for.

Some Calvinists make the imputation of Christ’s death and resurrection a second blessing, subsequent to “union with Christ”. Other “Calvinists” ( NT Wright, Don Garlington) teach that the Spirit’s continuing work of uniting some to Christ makes any talk of “imputation” redundant.

To this end, the accusers often use the same Calvin quotation from 3:11:10 “As long as Christ is outside us…” The priority of the Spirit in applying the atonement functions as an unexamined given. Nobody, except Bruce McCormack in What’s at Stake in Justification (p104-116) (also Mike Horton and John Fesko), seems to have examined the possibility that Christ is outside us as long as we are outside Christ forensically.

Legal imputation is that aspect of union with Christ which results in Christ’s gift of the Spirit, because Christ’s death has justly purchased both that legal application and the resulting work of the Spirit in the elect.

Yesterday by Grace, But Today by Labor?

September 5, 2011

Romans 6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, HAVING BEEN set free from sin, HAVE BECOME slaves of righteousness.

19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you ONCE presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so NOW present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

21 What fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and HAVE BECOME slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

The context is Romans 5: we are not first condemned for our sinful conduct but by imputation of Adam’s sin. Even so, in Romans 6, we are not saved by OUR BETTER LIVING. We are not saved BY BELIEVING. We are saved by imputed DEATH: the elect for whom Christ died also died with Him, and we must COUNT on that death (and resurrection) as the only condition of salvation. We do not count on our faith or our labor.

You cannot use labor to get assurance because labor done without assurance does not please God, but is instead an “abomination” to God. Pharisees like Nicodemus got assurance from their labor. But the light of the gospel exposes even our “good” labor as sin.

Romans 8:13. “Put to death the deeds” includes putting to death assurance by works and blessing by works. Before I was converted, I had read this text only in terms of morality. Certainly we are to be moral. But morality can be done in the flesh: I can no longer use Romans 8:13 to create doubt and legal fears. Nor James and I John.

To doubt that you are saved because of what you did or didn’t do is to take the focus off of what Christ did. Living by the gospel is having confidence in the gospel of Christ’s doing and dying. Even though I agree that Christians have both sinful doubts and degrees of assurance, I do not agree that we should attempt to gain assurance ALSO by our labor.