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

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.

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8 Comments on “Romans 4:17 NOT A LEGAL FICTION—calls things into existence that do not exist”


    vs, it’s all now to God, atemporality

    God now knows that Christ will return to earth
    God does not now knowing that Christ is now returning to earth
    God now knows as future that Christ will come again to earth

    Christ’s return is not present or past, because it is future

    God does not now exist in the future

    God existed before the world existed
    before God created the world, the world’s existence was future to God

    This is not God learning something God didn’t know.
    This is things being true today that weren’t true yesterday and
    God knowing that.

    Romans 1:2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David[b]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, Jesus Christ our Lord….

    1 Corinthians 15:45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

    This is not a surprise to God. God did not learn now that now was going to be past tomorrow…nor does God learn now what is still in the future for God. God knows the future. And the future is not now.


    Robert Reymond: It is a non sequitur to conclude from the fact of God’s omniscience that God has no idea of succession, that is, that relative to his own existence he has no knowledge of a past, present, and future applicable to his own existence. This is to confuse the notion of the succession of ideas, which is surely not true of God if one means by this notion that God learns new facts, with the notion of the idea of succession which I submit God surely has.

    Dabney observes:
    If … the divine consciousness of its existence has no relation to successive duration, I think it unproved, and incapable of proof to us. Is not the whole plausibility of the notion hence; that divines … infer: Since all God’s thoughts are ever equally present with Him, he can have no succession of His consciousnesses; and so, no relation to successive time. But the analysis is false and would not prove the conclusion as to God, if correct. …

    In all the acts and changes of creatures, the relation of succession is actual and true. Now, although God’s knowledge of these as it is subjective to Him, is unsuccessive [I take him to mean here that God does not first learn about them as the creature thinks and acts these changes — author], yet it [his knowledge] is doubtless correct, i.e. true to the objective facts. But these [the objective facts] have actual succession. So that the idea of successive duration must be in God’s thinking. Has He not all the ideas which we have; and infinitely more? But if God in thinking the objective, ever thinks successive duration, can we be sure that His own consciousness of His own subsistence is unrelated to succession in time?”

    I concur with Dabney’s analysis. Not to do so and to insist that God is timeless, that is to say, that the distinctives of time and hence existence with succession have no reference to him, lies behind much theological mischief.

    For example, Charles Hodge writes that “with [God] there is no distinction between the present, past and future, but all things are equally and always present to Him. With Him duration is an eternal now,” that “to Him there is neither past nor future … the past and the future are always and equally present to Him [as an eternal now (or present)],” and that “to Him there is neither past nor future, neither before nor after.”

    Such words seem to go too far, first, in that, if taken literally, they reduce to zero significance the temporal reference in every finite Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek verb form God employed in his revelational description to us of his thoughts, words, and actions, and virtually transform them all into timeless participles.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Augustine eschewed any sort of Salvation History which was linear. For him it was a tragic waste to try to superimpose a time line on God’s redemptive plan, if for no other reason than the fact that Christ Himself did not know when it would end. God’s medium of salvation was not history, but rather the individual. Individuals will be raised with corporeal bodies, but these bodies will live in the heavens, not in some kingdom on earth. There will be no food, no social relations in God’s kingdom. Instead, perfected beings in their thirties will stand around gazing at God. What, then, is the seventh age of a thousand years for Augustine? Although the first six ages were indeed historical, the seventh age is the saints themselves: “After this present age God will rest, as it were, on the seventh day; and he will cause us, who are the seventh day, to find our rest in him.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Roberts—“Martin Luther’s resistance to the ‘linear model’ of the Christian life, with an one time conversion followed by progress beyond that point. Luther maintained that we never move beyond the point of water baptism. . Conversion is an ongoing reality in the Christian life, a continual act of going back to water baptism as the beginning. The efficacy of water baptism day after day makes death and resurrection a reality that has not yet been fully accomplished IN US.”

  5. markmcculley Says:

    The Shape of Death by Pelikan

    Plantinga’s conclusions are straightforward: (i) God has a nature distinct from himself; (ii) the claim that God has a nature, while not incompatible with the belief that God is sovereign, does conflict with a common though mistaken intuition about God’s sovereignty; and (iii) in whatever way we are ultimately to conceive of God’s relation to his own nature and to other necessarily existing abstract entities, it is at any rate clear that God has no control over either their existence or their essential characteristics.
    If we define Platonism as the view that there are innumerably many necessarily existing abstract entities, then we can justly characterize Does God Have A Nature? as a defense of Christian Platonism. Plantinga realizes that many Christians, apparently with the heavy weight of theological tradition on their side, will be predisposed to balk at tbe suggestion that God is not the sole necessary being, i.e., the only being whose nonexistence is metaphysically impossible. For we hold that God is the creator and sustainer of all things, and that whatever occurs falls within his providential control. But if this is so, then the abstract entities countenanced by the Platonist seem to run afoul of the Christian worldview:

    According to Augustine, God created everything distinct from him; did he then create these things? Presumably not; they have no beginning. Are they dependent on him? But how could a thing whose non-existence is impossible–the number 7, let’s say, or the property of being a horse–depend upon anything for its existence? Does God (so to speak) just find them constituted the way they are? Must he simply put up with their being thus constituted? Are these things, their existence and their character, outside his control? (pp. 4-5)

    Similar difficulties attend the assertion that God has a nature, i.e., a property that he has essentially and that includes every property he has essentially. For if God has a nature, then he could not have existed without having that nature, and he is powerless to alter that nature. “So God’ s having a nature seems incompatible with his being in total control” (p. 8).

    One strategy available to the Christian Platonist would be to show that while the rejection of abstract entities (nominalism) coheres better than does Platonism with the revealed truth that God is sovereign, nonetheless nominalism is unacceptable on purely philosophical grounds. Then, armed with Aquinas’s characteristic assumption that there can be no conflict between revealed beliefs and beliefs firmly established by unaided reason, the Platonist would attempt to prove that the common understanding of God’s sovereignty is mistaken. This line of argument thus begins with the concession that Platonism, but not nominalism, requires a departure from the Christian community’s intuitive construal of what Sacred Scripture has to say about divine sovereignty.

    Plantinga, however, is unwilling to grant this much to nominalism. Instead, he tries to persuade us that Platonism and nominalism are on equal footing vis-a-vis the “sovereignty-aseity intuition” (SAI) common among believers. According to the SAI, God is sovereign and exists a se only if

    (a) he has created everything distinct from himself, (b) there is nothing upon which he depends for his existence and character, (c) everything distinct from him depends upon him, and (d) everything is within his control. (p. 78) /79/

    The most important dialectical transition in the book occurs on pages 67-84, where Plantinga argues that (d) is the central element of the SAI, and that the other elements are simply special cases of the idea that everything is within God’s control. In broad outline the argument goes like this:

    The proponent of the SAI finds the denial of (a) unpalatable because that denial entails that there is something distinct from God whose existence or non-existence is independent of God’ s will. So (a) falls under (c). But (c), in turn, is just an instance of (d), since what is really objectionable about such independent beings is that it is not up to God whether or not they exist. In short, their existence or non-existence is beyond God’ s control. Likewise, (b) is just a special case of (d), for if God’ s existence and character depended on something other than himself, then various truths about him, e.g., that he is omniscient, would not be within his control.

    Some Christians will probably find this argument less than compelling. They might contend, for instance, that the Bible clearly teaches that God has created everything distinct from himself ex nihilo. This, rather than any considerations having to do with the notion of control, is the main reason why the denial of (a) is theologically untenable. Again, someone might point out that Platonic entities have traditionally been construed as exemplars (or paradigms or models) according to which created things are fashioned. But if such exemplars were wholly distinct from and independent of God, then his creative activity would be constrained by standards which originate outside the divine intellect. In that case God in creating would be more like the imitator who copies an original painting than like the creative genius who produces the masterpiece “on his own.” Some such line of reasoning apparently led Augustine and Aquinas to “Christianize” the Platonic Forms by conceiving of them as ideas in the mind of God. So if we interpret (b) in such a way that it rules out the dependence of God’s creative activity on outside standards, then (b) is by no means merely a special case of (d). For one might hold, as Augustine and Aquinas did, that God has no control over the existence or character of the divine ideas, and yet still insist that a proper understanding of the mystery of creation precludes the hypothesis that the exemplars used by God are entities which are in no way dependent on the divine intellect.

    Plantinga can, I believe, respond plausibly to these objections. In the first place, it is surely not obvious that the relevant biblical authors intended to address the philosophical problem of abstract entities. They did, of course, mean to teach that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. But barring further considerations of the sort articulated by Plantinga, questions about the existence and status of abstract entities seem to be left open.

    Second, Plantinga quite clearly does not think of abstract entities–even the most obvious candidates, viz., properties–as exemplars for God’s creative act. In fact, one might reasonably doubt whether creation requires exemplars in addition to the properties, propositions, and states of affairs championed by Plantinga. Aquinas posited the divine ideas as exemplars in order to preserve the Christian dogma that the universe came about neither by random chance nor by necessity, but rather by the free action of an intelligent and provident agent. It seems, however, that we can safeguard this dogma just as well by conceiving of creation as God’s freely actualizing certain contingent states of affairs or, equivalently, as God’s freely making true certain contingent propositions. Moreover, Plantinga speculates at the end of his lecture (pp. 145-46) that there may be some non-trivial sense of dependence in which abstract entities, though they are necessary beings, depend asymmetrically on God’s intellect. This conjecture, which would bring his conclusions more into line with those of Augustine and Aquinas, is spelled out in a bit more detail in his recent Presidential Address to the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association. /80/

    Let’s provisionally grant, then, that the notion of control is central to the SAI. With this preliminary conclusion in hand, Plantinga argues next (pp. 84-95) that the SAI, properly understood, entails the strong thesis that God is absolutely omnipotent. That is,

    (A) For any proposition p, (i) God has the power to make p true and (ii) God has the power to make p false.

    (A), of course, entails “universal possibilism”, i.e.,

    (B) There are no necessary truths or necessary falsehoods.

    If (B) is true, then even logical laws and simple mathematical truths might have been false, and any contradiction you please might have been true.

    Plantinga shows impressively and convincingly that universal possibilism is neither unintelligible nor incoherent (pp. 114-26), and he musters a strong case for the historical claim that Descartes actually held this view, having adopted it because of his antecedent commitment to the SAI and (A) (pp. 95-114). (Plantinga does not, unfortunately, attempt to square this claim with the fact that in the Meditations Descartes contended that God cannot be a deceiver.)

    If the SAI does indeed entail (A) and (B), then it is easy to understand why nominalism is no more congenial to it than is Platonism. The simple assertion that there are abstract entities is just as compatible with (B) as is the denial that there are such entities. What makes Platonism as defined above repugnant to the friends of the SAI is the further claim that the existence and character of such entities are necessary and hence not within God’s control. But nominalists have typically accepted the parallel thesis that some truths are necessary and hence not within God’s control. So nominalism as such is neutral with respect to the SAI. It follows that if (A) and (B) are false, then Christian Platonism is just as theologically viable as any form of Christian nominalism which repudiates (A) and (B). In short, if the Christian Platonist can show that (A) and (B) are false, then he will have undermined the SAI and provided an adequate defense of his position against the “sovereignty objection.”

    Notice that Plantinga’s argument here does not depend essentially on the contention that the SAI entails (A) and (B). For suppose that this entailment does not hold. In that case it is difficult to see how anyone could plausibly assert that there is a conflict between God’s sovereignty and his having a nature–except perhaps on the grounds that God’s sovereignty precludes the existence of “outside standards” for his creative activity. But we have already seen how tenuous an appeal to such grounds is when directed at Plantinga’s version of Christian Platonism. The Christian Platonist’s main opponent, then, is the advocate of (A) and (B), regardless of whether these two theses are derivable from more basic intuitions about divine sovereignty. My own experience with undergraduates suggests, in fact, that (A) may itself be a basic prereflective intuition for many Christians.

    In any case, it is not surprising that Plantinga next (pp. 127-40) attacks (B) in an effort to bring (A) into disrepute. His argument is a simple one: if (B) is true, then each of the following is possibly true:

    (1) God is wicked,
    (2) God is powerless,
    (3) God is without knowledge,
    (4) God knows that He does not exist;

    but it is much more intuitively obvious that (1)-(4) are impossible than that (B) is true; so it is more reasonable for a Christian to reject (B) than to accept it.

    Of course, a tenacious defender of (A) and (B) might counter that on his view it is also possible that the negation of, say, (1) be true when (1) is true, in which case God would be /81/ non-wicked as well as wicked. But he will likewise have to admit that (1) might be true when its negation is false. And, in any case, my suspicion is that an orthodox Christian will be extremely reluctant to concede that any of (1)-(4) could be true in any circumstances.

    It is hardly surprising that the doctrine of absolute omnipotence encapsulated by (A) has not found many supporters in the history of theology. Our Christian heritage instills in us an overwhelming inclination to believe that there are necessary truths at least about God himself and his “great-making” attributes. Even the nominalists among us grant this much. Moreover, if we believe that God is a necessary being and conceive of his nature as a Platonic property, then, as Plantinga intimates, God’s having a nature is just logically equivalent to there being necessary truths about him. Hence, it is eminently reasonable for a Christian to reject (A) and (B), and at the very least theologically permissible for him to accept the Platonist’s claim that God has a nature. As I see it, then, Plantinga has clearly succeeded in defending Christian Platonism against the “sovereignty objection.”

    We should note immediately, however, that Plantinga’s argument against universal possibilism does not deal a mortal blow to the more modest thesis that if God is sovereign, then many allegedly paradigmatic necessary truths (e.g., truths of logic and mathematics) are in fact only contingently true and within God’s power to make false. (Perhaps this is what Descartes and hosts of undergraduates really have in mind.) Even philosophers with no theological axe to grind have had doubts about the alleged necessity of logical and mathematical truths. So perhaps for at least some Christians the proposition, say, that it is necessary that 2 + 2 = 4 is no more intuitively plausible–and maybe even less so–than the proposition that if God is sovereign, then it is possible that 2 + 2 do not equal 4.

    In addition to the main line of argument just discussed, Does God Have A Nature? contains two subplots which merit passing attention. First, Plantinga aptly uses the occasion of his Aquinas Lecture to launch a devastating attack on the obscurantist thesis, apparently held by some contemporary theologians, that we cannot even discuss God’s nature because none of our concepts applies properly, i.e., non-metaphorically, to God. (Aquinas criticizes this very position in Summa Theologiae I, 13, 3.) After carefully distinguishing this claim from the hallowed via negativa, Plantinga shows convincingly that no one can coherently hold it (pp. 20-26). For anyone who asserts its main justificatory premise, viz., that God transcends human experience, presupposes that our concept transcending human experience properly applies to God. Worse yet, to assert the conclusion that none of our concepts applies to God is self-referentially incoherent, since being such that none of our concepts applies to him is itself one of our concepts and must be properly applicable to God if the conclusion in question is true.

    Second, if there is any part of this masterful little book that ought make the theologically educated reader uneasy, it is the discussion (pp. 26-61) of Aquinas’s explication of the venerable doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS). According to the DDS, God lacks any sort of metaphysical composition and because of this is neither perfectible nor corruptible. It follows, according to Aquinas and others, that God is identical with his nature and with each of his perfecting attributes.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    (Matt. 22:32. Mark 12:27. Luke 20:38). In these scriptures it is stated that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” But Traditionalists, believing that the “dead” are “the living,” making God the “God of the dead,” which He distinctly says He is not.

    Interpreting the words in this way, they utterly ignore the whole context, which shows that the words refer to the RESURRECTION.. Notice how this is emphasized in each Gospel:

    (i) “Then come unto Him the Sadducees, which say there is no RESURRECTION” (Matt. 22:23. Mark 12:18. Luke 20:27).

    (ii) The one issue raised by the Sadducees was the question, “Whose wife shall she be in the RESURRECTION?” (Matt. 22:28. Mark 12:23. Luke 20:33).

    (iii) The answer of our Lord deals solely with this one issue, which was RESURRECTION. Hence He says:
    Matt. 22, “as touching the RESURRECTION of the dead” (v. 31).
    Mark 12, “as touching the dead that they RISE” (v. 26).
    Luke 20, “now that the dead are RAISED, even Moses showed at the bush, when he called the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, for he is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto him” (v. 38).

    These words were spoken by the Lord Jesus in order to prove “that the dead are RAISED.” Traditionalists use them to prove that the dead are “living” without being RAISED!
    The Sadducees may have denied many other things, but the one and the only thing in question here is RESURRECTION. Christ’s argument was:

    1. God’s words at the bush prove a life for the dead patriarchs.
    2. But there is no life for the dead without a resurrection.
    3. Therefore they must be RAISED FROM THE DEAD; or “live again” by Him. This argument silenced the Sadducees. For if they are “living” now, and not dead, how does that prove a resurrection?
    Like · Reply · Just now

  7. markmcculley Says:

    traditionalist—“In one sense, no human being really dies, for God is not the God of the dead but the living.”

    If no human ever really dies, and if Jesus is really human (which is what we seem to be really talking about, is Jesus still human, or is Jesus now something which is not completely human, not in a place, not there instead of here, not coming again but always here), if Jesus is really human and humans don’t really die, then Jesus did not die, then we have no gospel and no hope. But then again, if humans don’t really die, then there is no real enemy Death, and no need for a gospel…

    It’s a denial of the resurrection, a denial of even the need for the resurrection. Because if no human really dies, then no human ever needs to be resurrected. In context, God is God of the living is not at all about Abraham never dying. it’s about God raising Abraham from the dead

    Matthew 22: 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

    Romans 6: 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. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin would be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

    Romans 8: 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

    I Corinthians 15: 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead

    my brain
    is always ticking
    cool little cluster
    steady working
    flustered, losing power
    1200 neurons every hours
    getting pounded
    pretty soon i’ll be dumbfounded

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