Archive for October 2011

Believing What we Know, or When Was Cornelius Justified?, by David Bishop

October 4, 2011

Many who argue that justification is timeless also like to argue that the justification of all the elect happened when Christ died and rose again. One such self-contradictory person argues: “Another reason why the sinner’s faith is not the condition or instrument of his justification from sin is found in the story of Cornelius. According to Peter, Cornelius did not hear and believe the gospel until Peter preached it to him . . . Yet God informed Peter before he ever met Cornelius that Cornelius was already cleansed: ‘What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common (Acts 10:15).’ This surely proves that Cornelius was already freed from the guilt of sin before he believed!”

No, it doesn’t prove that Cornelius was already freed from the guilt of sin before he believed. What it does prove is exactly what the verse states, which is that Cornelius was not common! Or to put it another way, there exists one kind of vessel for common use, and another kind for uncommon.

Up until this moment in time in Peter’s life, Peter was under the impression that certain Jews only were numbered as God’s elect. God corrects him through a vision. No, Peter, certain Gentiles are also numbered as My elect.

The “timeless but at the cross” guys then argues: “Furthermore, it is the Holy Spirit’s own testimony that Cornelius had been a devout man and had feared God before he ever believed the gospel! Peter acknowledged this at the outset of his first discourse at Cornelius’ household: ‘But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righeousness is accepted with him.’ (Acts 10:35)”

We must not ignore the context in which that verse appears. Acts 10:37-43 very clearly and plainly states (Peter speaking to Cornelius and company): “You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God annointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear, not to all the people, but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”

In Acts 10:37-43, it is very plain that Cornelius, a Gentile convert to the Jewish religion, and a man who lived in Joppa (a city located in the northwest corner of Judah, about forty or so miles from Jerusalem) knew who Jesus was, knew what He had done, knew that He had been crucified, and knew that certain men were proclaiming the news that they had ate and drank with Him after He had been raised from the dead.

Also, being a Jewish convert and one of God’s elect, Cornelius was well aware of the gospel message contained in the Old Testament Scriptures, and of the promise of a Messiah.

Now compare this with Ephesians 2:17 “and He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and peace to those who were near.” Afar off does not mean they lived an hour’s drive from the church. Afar off was a Pharisee term that was used to designate Gentile converts. Though they were converts, they were still nevertheless considered to be far from the covenant promises of God, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise – afar off, in other words.

The problem for Cornelius was that he had not yet been justified nor regenerated, and so did not believe what he knew. This does not mean Cornelius had been justified six months before he heard the gospel! Nor does it mean that I was born in a justified state, having been already justified for two-thousand years.

Faith is not the condition of justification. Imputed righteousness is the condition of justification. God in time imputes righteousness to the elect. If the “timeless” folks can say that the righteousness was imputed at the cross, why can’t they say it is imputed at different times to different elect?

We know when that time is, because the immediate effect of the imputation of the righteousness is faith in the gospel. Romans 8—the elect are given the Spirit of life because of righteousness. Galatians 4–because you are sons, God has given you the Spirit.

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The Spirit is Life BECAUSE OF Righteousness

October 3, 2011

Romans 8: 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 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.

John 16: 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Romans 5:19 calls events in history “being constituted”. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be appointed righteous.”

Notice, first, that “the many” are the elect in Christ. Like I Corinthians 15, Romans 5 is not talking about the non-elect who are also constituted sinners by Adam’s disobedience. The same exact number who are chosen in Christ were also all born legally dead in Adam and appointed sinners. Even though they are elect in Christ, they are born into this world needing Christ and needing life.

Trying to understand these imputation events in Romans 5 without talking about election is impossible, but almost everybody tries to do it. They end up changing God’s freely GIVEN salvation into something caused by sinners actively “receiving”, even though “receive” in Romans 5:17 is passive and does not refer to the consent of sinners.

Man does not become a sinner by consenting to Adam’s sin, and the elect in Christ do not become appointed righteous by consenting to Christ’s obedience. The elect in Christ become righteous by imputation. This legal event results in new birth, but it does not include new birth.

Why does this distinction matter? Even if you agree with me that sinners are made guilty in Adam by legal imputation,why does it matter? Don’t I agree that the moral corruption of sinners is the immediate result of the imputation of guilt? Am I just being picky, just arguing for argument’s sake?

NO! If the only problem elect sinners have is corruption and inability to believe, then the only need they have is for the Holy Spirit and the new birth. Then it finally does not matter what Christ did, and it certainly makes no sense to argue about for whom Christ did it.

If “life” in the Bible is ONLY about the ability to believe God’s testimony about the Son, then the good news is no longer what the Son did or did not do, but the good news instead becomes our believing, and being careful to give God all the praise for our believing.

But we need more than the life to believe. We need legal life by God’s judicial declaration based on God’s judicial sharing to the elect of what Christ did for the elect alone.

I agree that new birth is necessary, but it is a logical result and not a condition of God’s imputation of Christ’s death.. The elect don’t become united to Christ by believing. Nor do the elect become united to Christ by water baptism.

The new birth does not unite the elect to Christ. The Holy Spirit does not unite the elect to Christ. God unites the elect to Christ by judicial declaration. Romans 4:17, “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things which do not exist.”

The Bible gives first place to Christ and what Christ got done judicially. To look to Christ in us and to life in us (given by the Holy Spirit) is to look away from the testimony about what Christ has done at the cross and in His resurrection.

I Corinthians 1:28-30, “God chose even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh can boast in the presence of God. God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

It is not faith that made God the source of life. It is not the Holy Spirit who made God a source of life. God not only chose the elect in Christ; in time God also judicially declares the elect to have life in Christ.

Having Christ and having life is a result of God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect. If the elect could have life and Christ before that imputation, it would be too late for the imputation and there would be no need for the imputation or for the merits of the death which is imputed. After God’s imputation,  the ungodly elect  become godly and receive the Holy Spirit and the new birth. But if they could get the Spirit and life without the righteousness, they would not ever need the righteousness. Romans 8:10, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”