Archive for December 2011

Bavinck Opposes “Instrumental Condition” Language

December 24, 2011

As the internal call directly and immediately,without a time lapse, results in regeneration with “habitual faith,” so also does this faith include from the very beginning of its existence the assurance that not only to others but to me also forgiveness of sins has been granted. This assurance does not need to be added through a special revelation, as asserted by Rome.

When the Scriptures say of this justification in “a concrete sense” that it takes place by and through faith, then it does not intend to say that it is produced and wrought through that faith, since Jesus Christ is all our righteousness and all benefits of grace are the fruits of his labor and of his labor alone; they are entirely contained in his person and are not in any need of any addition on our part.

The terminology, that active justification takes place unto and passive justification by and through faith may have some value against nomism; but the Scriptural language is entirely adequate provided it is understood Scripturally. Saving faith directs our eyes and heart from the very beginning away from ourselves and unto God’s mercy in Christ.

Many have in later years, when the confessional power of the Reformation weakened, entered the way of self-examination, in order to be assured of the sincerity of their faith and their salvation. Thus was the focus shifted from the promise of God to the experience of the pious.

It is not we who approach the judgment of God, after self-examination, with the sincerity of our faith, in order to receive there the forgiveness of our sins; God does not sit in judgment by himself in heaven to hear the parties and to pronounce sentence, a representation which is according to Comrie, too anthropomorphic and unworthy of God. But He himself comes to us in the gospel. The foundation of faith lie outside ourselves in the promise of God; whoever builds thereupon shall not be ashamed.

It is possible for us to conceive of faith at the same time as a receptive organ and as an active force. If justification in every respect comes about after faith, faith becomes a condition, an activity, which must be performed by man beforehand, and it cannot be purely receptive. But if the righteousness, on the ground of which we are justified, lies wholly outside of us in Christ Jesus, then faith is not a “material cause” or a “formal cause.”

Faith is not even a condition or instrument of justification, for it stands in relation to justification not as, for example, the eye to seeing or the ear to hearing. Faith is not a condition, upon which, nor an instrument or organ, through which we receive this benefit, but it is the acceptance itself of Christ and all his benefits, as He presents Himself to us through word and Spirit, and it includes therefore also the consciousness, that He is my Lord and I am his possession.

Faith is therefore not an instrument in the proper sense, of which man makes use in order to accept Christ, but it is a sure knowledge and a solid confidence which the Holy Spirit works in the heart and through which He persuades and assures man that he, not withstanding all his sins, has part in Christ and in all his benefits.

This faith forms a contrast with the works of the law. It also stands opposed to the works of faith (infused righteousness, obedience, love) the moment these are to any degree viewed as the ground of justification, as forming as a whole or in part that righteousness on the ground of which God justifies us; for that is Christ and Christ alone; faith itself is not the ground of justification and thus also neither are the good works which come forth from it.

H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, Vol. IV
(4th ed.; Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1930), pp. 198-207.

With respect to the doctrine of justification there is no difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology as far as the essence is concerned; however, the doctrine does occupy a different place and does receive a different emphasis in the latter. This manifests itself first of all in the Luther pushed predestination steadily into the background, while Calvin placed it increasingly in the center and viewed justification also from that perspective.

“The Lord, when He calls, justifies, and glorifies, does nothing other than to declare his election;” it is the elect who are justified. For that reason, it is entirely correct to say that Calvin never weakens either the objective atonement of Christ or the benefit of justification; but nevertheless, his perspective results in the righteousness of Christ being presented to us much more as a gift bestowed by God than as something which we accept through faith. The objective gift precedes the subjective acceptance.

Calvin feels himself in the presence of God and placed before his judgment throne; for such a creature, humility and trusting in God’s mercy are the only proper thing; to that end are the elect justified, that they should glory in him and not in something else.

Under the influence of Socinianism and Remonstrantism, Cartesianism and Amyraldianism, there developed the neonomiam representation of the order of redemption which made forgiveness of sins and eternal life dependent on faith and obedience which man had to perform in accordance with the new law of the gospel. Parallel with this development, Pietism and Methodism arose which, with all their differences, also shifted the emphasis to the subject, and which either demanded a long experience or a sudden conversion as a condition for obtaining salvation.

As a reaction against this came the development of anti-neonomianism, which had justification precede faith, and antinomianism which reduced justification to God’s eternal love. Reformed theologians usually tried to avoid both extremes, and for that purpose soon made use of the distinction between “active” and “passive justification.” This distinction is not found in the reformers; as a rule they speak of justification in a “concrete sense.” They do not treat of a justification from eternity, or of justification in the resurrection of Christ, or in the gospel, or before or after faith, but combine everything in a single concept.

Efforts were made to keep both elements as close together as possible, while accepting only a logical and not a temporal distinction. However, even then, there were those who objected to this distinction inasmuch as the gospel mentions no names and does not say to anyone, personally: Your sins have been forgiven. Therefore it is not proper for any man to take as his starting point the belief that his sins have been forgiven.

The atonement of Christ is particular rather than universal. The preacher of the gospel can assure no one that his sins have been forgiven since he does not know who the elect are; and the man who hears the gospel is neither able nor permitted to believe this, inasmuch as he cannot be aware of his election prior to and without faith. As a result, the conclusion appeared rather obvious that the boldness to know one’s sins to have been forgiven and to have assurance of eternal salvation only came about after one has fled unto Jesus in faith. But in this manner the ground of justification shifted once again from God to man, from the righteousness of Christ to saving faith; from the gospel to the law.

If, then, not faith in its quality and activity, but the imputed righteousness of Christ is the ground of our justification, the question arises with all the more emphasis: What is then the place of faith in this benefit? Does imputation take place in the death or resurrection of Christ, in the preaching of the gospel, prior to, or at the same time as, or after faith?

The first position was asserted by the real antinomians, such as Pontiaan van Hattem and his followers. According to them justification was nothing else than the love of God which is not concerned about the sins of man, which does not require atonement in Christ, and which only needs to be proclaimed in order to enable man to believe. Faith is nothing but a renouncing of the error that God is angry and a realization that God is eternal love.

This school of thought should be distinguished sharply from the views of the so-called antineonomians who opposed the change of the gospel into a new law as well as the idea that faith was a co-operating factor in our justification, and who from this perspective sometimes came to confess an eternal justification.

Election is from eternity. The “counsel of redemption” which includes the substitution of the Mediator for his people is from eternity.
However, that is no reason to recommend speaking of eternal justification. If one says that “justification as an act immanent in God” must of necessity be eternal, then it should be remembered that taken in that sense everything, including creation, incarnation, atonement, calling, regeneration, is eternal. Whoever would speak of an eternal creation would give cause for great misunderstanding. Besides, the proponents of this view back off themselves, when, out of the fear of antinomianism, they assert strongly that eternal justification is not the only, full, and complete justification, but that it has a tendency and purpose to realise itself outwardly. This amounts really to the usual distinction between the decree and its execution.

The counsel of God and all decrees contained therein as a unit are without doubt eternal “immanent acts”, but the external works of God, creation, preservation, governing, redemption, justification, etc., are in the nature of the case “transient acts.” As works they do not belong to the plan of God’s ordering but to the execution of it.

Under the influence of Arminian and Salmurian theology, and of Pietism and Rationalism, the understanding of this actual justification gradually became that man had to believe and repent first, that thereafter God in heaven, in “the court of heaven,” sitting in judgment, acquitted the believer because of his faith in Christ.


Nobody’s Born In Christ, Everybody’s Born in Adam

December 22, 2011

Romans 5:12 Therefore,just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin,and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

Romans 5 does not directly say that “all sinned in Adam”. Nor does this chapter ever use the word “imputation”. But the sin of verse 12 is not the result of death. The death is the result of “because all sinned”.

We look to the context in chapter 5 to see how it is that the all sinned. We all sinned because of the representative sin of Adam.
Adam was our substitute. We don’t need to sin ourselves to be condemned to death.

We are condemned to death because Adam sinned for us, as our representative. We are not guilty based on our corruption. Corruption is mediated to us because we are guilty. We do sin of course but before we did we were already constituted sinners. We were all born legally guilty in Adam.

Romans 5:13 “for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”

It’s not only infants who died who did NOT sin like Adam. Everybody who died after Adam’s first sin but before the Mosaic law was given did NOT sin like Adam. Yet because of Adam’s sin, all these people died.

But didn’t these people live a while and then die? Why did they get to live even a little if they were born guilty? Genesis: in the day you eat, you will surely die. The death is sure, but not yet executed upon all those represented by Adam.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” ”Truly I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43 Jesus did not wait until after He died to promise the justified thief that He would remember him. The promise to be with Jesus in paradise is sure, even on this day when Jesus died.

“David foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up.” Acts 2:31

Romans 5:16 “For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

Imputation is not first of all about the punishment of sins. Imputation is about the bearing of guilt. Infants who die have been imputed with Adam’s sin, and that doesn’t mean they only bear the punishment of Adam’s sin. Legally they sinned when Adam sinned.

So how did the elect die when Christ died? Again, the logical inference is by the imputation (legal transfer) of what their representative accomplished. What did Christ get done? What did Christ finish? Christ died for the sins of the elect imputed to Him.

Not only did God impute the sins of the elect to Christ, but God also imputes the death of Christ (this good and just death, because of sins) to the elect, in time and individually, one by one as God justifies these elect. This is talked about in the next chapter of Romans. Chapter 6 of Romans, like chapter 5, does not use the word “imputation”. But that is the basic meaning of “being placed into” or “planted into” Christ’s death.

How Could “Dead Works” Prove that You are Alive?

December 14, 2011

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Hebrews 9:14
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

You cannot use works to get assurance because works done without assurance are not pleasing to God. In John 3:17-20, the Pharisees like Nicodemus got assurance from their works. But the light of the gospel exposes our “good works” as “dead works”. And our “dead works” are sins.

Romans 8:13– “Put to death the deeds” includes putting to death assurance by works and blessing by works. Before I was converted by God to the true gospel, I had read this text only in terms of morality.

Certainly we are commanded to be moral. But morality can be done in the flesh. But we should not use Romans 8:13 to create doubt and legal fear in Christians. 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.

While we need to be warned of a “dead faith”, assurance is from believing on what Christ did for the elect with His death on the cross and NOT from our “mortification”. Living by the gospel is confidence in the gospel. So I agree that Christians have doubts and degrees of assurance, but I no longer think that we get assurance ALSO by works.

Romans 10:1-3. There are many Arminians who oppose “Lordship salvation” and assurance by works but these Arminians will not submit to the righteousness of God. They only want to talk about grace, but they don’t talk about for whom Christ died or about the fact that God does not give grace to everybody. These Arminian antinomians only want to talk about “no performance”, because they don’t believe the truth about Christ’s performance for the elect.

I would suggest that these Arminian antinomians inherently still think they have “established their own righteousness”. The difference between these Arminian decisionist and the Calvinist “neonomians” is only that the Arminians think they already did what they needed to do to make Christ’s death work for them. The neonomians, on the other hand, thank their god for continuing to prove to themselves that Christ’s work was for them.

When I was still unconverted, I spent all my time talking about “new covenant”. I failed to see the main thing. The only solution to our lack of performance is the death of Christ. This means we need to tell the truth. There is no solution for us if Christ did not die for our sins.

Our faith does not satisfy God. Only the death of Christ satisfies God. Only those sinners legally identified by God with that death will be saved. Those who don’t know or submit to that gospel won’t be saved.

We must learn to have our perspective agree with God’s perspective. Faith in the false gospel leaves people lost. Faith in the true gospel is a result of the righteousness, and the righteousness of God is the death of Christ for the elect.

Election Is Only “Unto Salvation”, So It’s Not Part of the Gospel Itself?

December 12, 2011

Ephesians 3:9-11 “To make all even gentiles see what is the communion of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places would be known by the called out elect the manifold wisdom of God According to the permanent purpose which He decreed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ.”

Sometimes we are told that “election is not salvation” because election is “only UNTO salvation”. Folks like to explain to us that “election is not the gospel” but instead what causes people to believe the gospel.

I want to criticize these often assumed contrasts. Of course the word “salvation” can be used in different senses, but if the denial that “election is not salvation” is saying that the righteousness Christ earned is not intended for the elect until the elect believe, it makes no difference if you say that the righteousness was earned only for the elect or also for others besides the elect.

Christ’s righteousness is the cause of the elect’s believing. This means that we cannot say that election without the righteousness is the gospel. It also means that we cannot say that the righteousness without election is the gospel.

Those who deny that election is in the gospel think they can talk about the righteousness of Christ without saying that this righteousness was only obtained for the elect. The effect of this cover-up is that they end up teaching that the work of the Spirit in the sinner causing the sinner to believe is not a result but the cause of Christ’s work working.

These folks may say: let’s just talk about the cross before we get into the whole election thing. But ironically, they end up not glorying in the cross but putting the Spirit’s work in the sinner in the determinative place. This is the great danger of saying that “election is not the gospel” but only that which makes sinners believe the gospel. I know some people only say that because they have heard other people say it, and it sounds good. But you need to think before you begin repeating what I say!

The texts I have quoted from Ephesians will not support leaving election out of the gospel and salvation. But folks want to leave out election because they don’t want to talk about non-election.

It is wrong to say that non-election is only conditioned on sin and the sinner. Both those elected and those not elected are sinners. If sin were the cause of non-elect, then all sinners would not be elect. God’s justice is no less sovereign than God’s grace.

If we try to take God’s sovereignty out of God’s justice, then there would be no reason for either election or non-election. If we attempt to leave God’s election out of God’s gospel, then there would be no good reason for why some sinners are saved and others are not.

God’s glory is also revealed in His sovereign love and in His sovereign wrath. To know His name is to know Him as the one who has mercy on some and who hardens others.

Schreiner Still Running to Win the Prize

December 11, 2011

Run to Win the Prize, 2010, Crossway, Thomas R. Schreiner

This little book is from lectures given at Oak Hill College in London. It’s a summary of the thinking found in the book Schreiner wrote with Caneday,The Race Set Before Us (2001, IVP). Schreiner again engages in some special pleading for a “paradox” (p73) in which works are necessary but also for not focusing on these works but on Christ.

How it’s possible to rationally live in that paradox is not so clear. Words like “premeditation” and “intention” play a big part in the double talk.

I would NOT say that Schreiner’s thesis comes from the “new perspective” or the “federal vision” There’s no need to go to NT Wright or James Jordan to make his case. Schreiner quotes Jonathan Edwards against John Calvin to argue that works of faith are necessary for justification.

The book Free Justification by Steve Fernandez has mostly been ignored (not heard of) by the Reformed mainstream because it dares to criticize Caneday and Schreiner.

I share the amazement of Don Garlington (who wrote a book on perseverance from the new perspective and got fired for it) that Schreiner seems to be getting a free pass on this. Whether you think Schreiner is right or wrong, it’s difficult to see the big difference between what Schreiner is writing and what Norman Shepherd and Garlington wrote.

Schreiner sees justification as being in two parts of one “whole”: the already and not yet, both the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and also our running to win the prize. All true Christians have transformed hearts, he argues, and thus they also persevere because that is what their new nature does. And “union” with Christ means that we can now focus also on what the Christian does.

Schreiner explains that the biblical warnings ensure that believers will keep running. If they don’t,they will then know that they were not really believers.

Schreiner is denying Calvin’s distinction between law and gospel. Now of course, if you are a Westminster revisionist, you don’t think Calvin has that distinction. But at any rate, Schreiner thinks he is reading the warning texts differently than he thinks Calvin did.

Schreiner does disagree with the federal vision distinction between covenant and election, even though that’s a very old distinction in many Reformed paradigms. But on the question of perseverance as condition (not as evidence alone), Schreiner is on the same page as Garlington.

I read I John 3 in the context of Cain and Abel: two states. I do not buy the “habitual” tenor reading: if we habitually are denying that we are habitual sinners, then we are habitually liars. You see, it’s simple, it’s the verbs! (I think Carson’s commentary on I John 3 will read the text as “ideal” of what should be.)

Habitual failure to do good works is not only evidence of the fact that the justified are sinners. Habitual failure to do good works is also habitual sin. How much is enough?

I think Schreiner’s practical answer is to notice that you are doing as well as the people around you, but stay careful to say that this is mere “byproduct” and that, at the end of the day, the most important place you want to sit is on what Christ’s blood got done.

But You Still Got to Get Running Harder. Than You Are Now.

Why We Must Avoid Coalitions with “Evangelicals” who Teach Conditional Atonement

December 9, 2011

No alliance with Lutherans and “evangelicals” should keep us silent
about Jesus dying for the sheep and not the goats. Why then do so many Reformed preachers talk about the “indicative done” in the context of “you” and never in terms of the Westminster Confession: “for all those whom the Father has given the Son” ?

The problem cannot be a “sectarian” sociology which thinks of the
church as only those who profess to be justified and regenerate. Reformed Confessions teach that the covenant community must by nature and should include some of the non-elect for whom Jesus did not die and who will not believe the gospel. We also know good and well that not every baptized member even of a “sectarian” community is one for whom Christ died. Only those for whom Jesus died have a righteousness which answers the demands of God’s law.

Being “pastoral” gives no preacher the right to assure all his
hearers that Christ will not be a judge to them. Only the bloody death of Jesus Christ(not the sermon or the sacrament)has for the elect(and has not for the non-elect)silenced the accusations of God’s law.

Obeying the gospel is not the condition of salvation, but a blessing
made certain for the elect by the righteousness of Christ. It is not for sure that “you” who are in attendance will be saved. Salvation is promised to all who believe the gospel of salvation conditioned on the blood alone.

The antithesis (not by works in us) will do no good if we “flinch at
this one point”. If we do not confess particular atonement, then the
people who hear will not look outside themselves for the righteous difference which pleases God. If Jesus Christ died for everybody but only “enabled God” to save those who meet further conditions, then people will certainly look to themselves for the difference between lost and saved.

The only way you can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you”
is to tell them that the gospel they must believe to be saved EXCLUDES this believing as the condition of salvation. The only condition of salvation for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, you encourage people to make their faith into that “little something” which makes the difference between life and death!

I am not looking for something “classical” enough to influence
people to join a coalition. Do we believe that the glory of God in the gospel means that all for whom Christ died will certainly be saved? Or has that truth become too “rationalistic” for us? Would that perhaps take the grace of God out of the hands of those who hand out the sacrament and reserve it for the Father who has reserved a people for himself and given them to Christ? (Romans 11:4-6)

The glory of God does not depend on human decisions, and the gospel
must not become a victim of “evangelical” coalitions which agree not
to talk about the extent of the atonement, and thus condition
salvation on what God does in the sinner.

Some Legalist “Calvinists” Have Outgrown the Gospel When It Comes to “Sanctification”

December 7, 2011

The legalist Calvinists of course are careful to say that their “sanctification” by their own obedience is not by “their own strength”. But for “sanctification”, they don’t trust the blood they trusted for justification. Though they know they are not yet perfect, they are now trusting Christ “in them” for their “sanctification”.

These legalist Calvinists are less concerned now with the “benefit” of justification (forgiveness of sins) and more interested (they say) in the Benefactor Himself, Christ in them, the person. And thus they equate “sanctification” with their “good works”, which they think they Holy Spirit is producing in them by means of “union with” the resurrected Christ.

Either have enough of these works, the legalists say, or you will not have evidence that you saved. These legalists do not test their works by their doctrine of righteousness. Most of them think you can be wrong about the doctrine of the righteousness revealed in the gospel (justification), and still give evidence by works of one’s salvation. They raise doubts about those who oppose “Lordship salvation”, but not about sincere hard-working Arminians.

As Hebrews 9:14 and Romans 7:4-6 teach us, that a person not yet submitted to the righteousness revealed in the gospel is still an evil worker, bringing forth fruit unto death.

Since both the Arminian and the legalist Calvinist agree that not everybody will be saved but not about how many sinners Christ died for, they both get assurance from the “tenor of life” of the professing believer.

Indeed, unless we are universalists or fatalists (some Primitive Baptists are both), we cannot avoid the search for evidence. But we need to see that the evidence is submission to the gospel, which involves knowledge about election, imputation and satisfaction. It is a waste of time to talk about other “evidence” unless a person knows what the gospel is. Only after a person knows what the gospel is, can we then ask if that person judges by that gospel.

We first test ourselves to see if we have excluded works as being any part of our righteousness before God. To include the works (done they say with the help of the Holy Spirit) in the righteousness is evidence all by itself that a person still believes a false gospel.

Along with legalism comes indifference about the question of election and about the truth that Christ did not die for the non-elect. Such things don’t matter to the legalist, since what got done on the cross is not enough anyway for the legalist.

There are many false gospels and only one true gospel. There are many different ways to be “legalist”. Either you are a legalist or you are not.

The only way NOT to be legalist is to know that the law demands perfect righteousness and that the gospel joyfully explains how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. One certain result of the righteousness earned by Christ is that the elect will believe this gospel and not any false gospel.

The workers who came before the the judgment in Matthew 7 were sure that their works were enough. They don’t know if their works (even though helped along they think by the Holy Spirit) are satisfactory.

They were not antinomians and they were not insincere. They probably believed in election also (or at least the unconditional right of Israel to the land!). But instead of pleading a Christ who got done a perfect righteousness, they pleaded their “sanctification”

They didn‘t say they had “faith alone”. They were not into “easy believism”. They didn’t say that their obedience was a “second step” of gratitude added to their faith. They avoided the law/gospel antithesis that the legalist “the covenant” folks want us to avoid. They thought they were safe.

Yet despite their false assurance, they were lost. Why? Was it because they lacked enough “sanctification” or was it because they trusted in the false gospel? That’s a trick question: they were lost because they were born lost, and they never were rescued and we know that because they never believed the revealed gospel.