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

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

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

  1. David Bishop Says:

    There be many who think justification was but the first step in a process. They think the next step of justification involves them performing behavior modification. These people are well on their way to confessing at the last day, “But Lord, Lord did I not . . .”


    unless the atonement can be left out of the gospel, then neither can election be left out of the gospel

    Lewis Sperry Chafer. ST, 3, p187—-”The highway of divine election is quite apart from the highway of redemption. ”

    Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, volume 3, Reformed Dogmatics, 2006, p 469—-”The center of gravity has been shifted from Christ and located in the Christian. Faith (not the atonement) has become the reconciliation with God.”

    Jonathan Gibson, From heaven, p 358—-Election and the Atonement do not operate on separate theological tracks. What God has joined together, let no theologian separate. Affirming union with Christ before the moment of redemption accomplished counters any disjunction between the effect of Christ’s death and the effect of His resurrection. (Those who put union later) sound as if Christ’s death might lead to the death of some sinners, but not also to their resurrection. This is not only analogy. if one, then the other. if death with, then resurrection with.

    Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his.

    mark: Being united with Christ before the moment of redemption means that the atonement is both substitutionary and representative. The death is not only representative, not only “on behalf of”, as if there could be other deaths along side the one death. But also the death is not only substitutionary, as if Christ were some arbitrary individual who died for no one in particular because he had no covenantal relationship with those for whom He died, as only some “available substitute”. Christ was already united by election to those for whom He died.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Dan Fuller (the Unity of the Bible) quotes Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    ospel Reformation Network Affirmations and Denials

    Article IV – Union with Christ and Sanctification
    • We affirm that both justification and sanctification are distinct, necessary, inseparable and simultaneous graces of union with Christ though faith.
    • We deny that sanctification flows DIRECTLY from justification, or that the transformative elements of salvation are MERE consequences of the forensic elements.

    my questions

    1. Who is the Gospel Reformation Network? Is it a conference of friends who think alike, or does it agree to certain confessions, and does it have ecclesiastical and sacramental authority?

    2. Why is it a problem to deny that “sanctification” flows from justification, as long as “sanctification” result (flows)?

    3. Is the problem that “justification” is defined, but that “sanctification” and “union” are not?

    4. What does “sanctification” mean in Hebrews 10:10-14?

    5. What does “union” mean? Is “union” non-forensic? Is “union” both forensic and non-forensic?

    6. Once you have defined “union”, will you consistently use the word “union” in the way you defined it? Will you be thinking of “union” only as a result “flowing from” faith?

    7. If “faith-union” is a result of faith, and if faith is a result of regeneration, where do faith and regeneration come from?

    8. Is the problem with saying that “sanctification” results from “justification” the fact that we are either justified or we are not? Are we not also either “united to Christ” or not? (Please define “union”. Do you mean “in Christ”? Or do you mean “Christ in us”? Is there a difference in those two phrases? Why do you say “union” when you could be saying “in Christ” and “Christ in us”?)

    9.When you deny that “sanctification” is a “mere consequence” of the forensic, did you mean to deny that “sanctification” is a consequence of the “merely forensic”? What do you have against “merely” or any “sola” which points to Christ’s earned outside righteousness imputed to the elect?

    10. Is the point of the Gospel Reformation Network denial that “union” is not forensic or is the point that it is not “merely forensic”? Is this a question-begging point?

    11. If “sanctification” is “more than” than a “mere consequence”, does that mean that “sanctification” is also more than a result of “union”, so that “sanctification” is in someway identical to “union”, or at least a necessary “condition” for “union”?

    12. Does “union” flow from merely the transformative elements? If union is transformation, and union must come before justification, how is it that God is still justifying the ungodly?

    13. If becoming children of God only means being born again so that we are freed from the power of corruption, what is the need for those who are no longer ungodly to be justified or adopted?

    14. Is “union” a cause or a result of sacramental efficacy? It’s too late now to tell us that the order of application does not matter so much, since you insisted on denying that “justification” was a result of “sanctification”.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    there is some difference between the work of regeneration and “Christ in us”. The former is one-time event, logically before justification (though not a condition of justification), and the latter is logically after justification and is ongoing.

    imputation – regeneration – faith – justification – indwelling

    I didn’t mean to say “progressive sanctification” = false gospel, just that it has been used as a way of distracting from the truth of positional sanctification and instead asking man to expect (and produce with God’s gracious help) holiness in themselves in order to see the Lord.


  6. markmcculley Says:

    Bruner quotes, ‘Many believers count on the ‘Christ for us,’ but not on the ‘Christ in us’ [Colossians 1:27]; and yet it is this ‘Christ in us’ who is the hope of glory. That means: the heavenly resurrection life can only be imparted to us when we let Christ live in us. The forgiveness of sins, as important and necessary as it is, does not suffice for this.’

    Bruner notes that ‘in Col. 1:27 the not primarily individual or internal, but communal congregational. . . . Furthermore ‘Christ in us’ is not a higher better form of ‘Christ for us.’ ‘Is Christ divided?”

    Gordon H. Clark, The Holy Spirit, . 94

  7. markmcculley Says:

    The Trinitarian justification of elect sinners is a benefit of Christ’s atonement. The gospel is not only news about Christ and Christ’s work but also about God’s promise to each sinner who obeys in faith the command to believe the promise of the gospel. Christ gives the elect His Holy Spirit and faith to believe the gospel.

    Acts 2:32 “God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this.33 Therefore, since He has been exalted to the right hand of God and has RECEIVED FROM THE FATHER THE PROMISED HOLY SPIRIT, He has poured out what you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into the heavens, but he himself says: The Lord declared to my Lord,
    ‘Sit at My right hand 35 until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’
    36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!”

    Galatians 3 You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you,[ before whose eyes JESUS CHRIST WAS VIVIDLY PORTRAYED AS CRUCIFIED 2 I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith

    Romans 4: 13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not through the law, but through the righteousness that COMES by faith. 14 If those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made empty and the PROMISE is canceled

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Donald Macleod—It was no part of the work of Christ to make God love us, The very fact of his being on earth at all was proof of the divine love. The business of the atonement, therefore, was to propitiate the God who already loves us: to lay the foundation for an advocacy directed towards him specifically as Father
    (1 John 2: 1). God unequivocally requires such propitiation,
    but in the last analysis God also provides the propitiation and God even becomes the propitiation. The whole cost of our redemption is borne by the triune God. In that sense, the atonement is a transaction entirely internal to the trinity. But by virtue of the incarnation, it is also external. It takes place not in heaven, but on Calvary; not in eternity, but on Good Friday, p 71

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Williams Evans– Number Ten: You define the “gospel” primarily in terms of freedom from the condemnation of sin (justification) rather than freedom from both the condemnation and the power of sin (justification and sanctification).
    Number Nine: You are much more much more concerned about legalism than antinomianism.
    Number Eight: You view sanctification as a more or less optional add-on to justification (or maybe as an evidence of justification, though you are concerned that even that concession to necessity might be potentially legalistic) rather than as grace parallel to justification that comes with our union with Christ and that is essential to the walk of faith and the path of salvation.
    Number Seven: You sense a tension between the Christ pro nobis (Christ for us) and the Christ in nobis (Christ in us).

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