Archive for March 2012

We Stop Sinning When We Die, but That’s It Until Jesus Comes Back Here Again

March 30, 2012

We stop sinning when we die, but we are not resurrected until Jesus comes again. Now Christ is seated in heaven (Acts 2:34; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:13). None of the justified elect are now in heaven. None of the justified elect have ascended to a place from which they never descended. (John 3:13)

Psalm 110:1–”The Lord says to my Lord; Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The justified elect do not share God’s throne and do not sit at God’s right hand.

An ascent directly into heaven from death without a resurrection would be Plato’s pagan idea of death as the release of an immortal soul. Gnostics teach going to heaven without resurrection. Some of these gnostics are preterists, but most of them simply do not think straight about the need for the second coming of Christ.

They also hold onto unbiblical ideas about what “soul” is. Since they do not know that the living soul is body plus breath (Genesis 2:7), they tend to think of the “immortal soul” and they cannot deal with reality of Christ the servant pouring out His soul unto death (Isaiah 53). Since they change Christ’s death into “spiritual death”, they also tend to change Christ’s bodily resurrection into “going to heaven.”

Ephesians 1:20 describes God’s mighty power “which He exercised in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and enthroned Him at His right hand in the heavenlies.” See also I Peter 1:21, 3:22; Eph 4:8-10; and I Timothy 3:16

Acts 3:15–”You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead.”

Because You Went After It the Right Way? Romans 9:32

March 27, 2012

Romans 9:32–”Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.”

In order to perform its killing function, the Mosaic covenant was law demanding perfection with the power to condemn. Law is not only a tutor that “reveals” sin or makes people aware of sin. Romans 5:20 says that the law entered that sin would increase, not simply knowledge about sin would increase.

The law does not only “kill” by making us thinking of things to do that we would not have thought of before. The main way that the law kills is that it is used by idolaters (all of us by nature) to try to justify ourselves before God. We think–I did it, or I did enough of it. The law kills, leads to death, and if no gospel, only that. But the elect while still under the law are taught by the gospel to SEE that they are dead.

Romans 7 verse 9: “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” We were dead by nature, and already sinners. This “I died” is something besides the death we were born with under the law.

It’s life to see that you are dead and to see that any and all righteousness found BY US in the law (Phil 3:9) is insufficient to stand before God. Only Christ by Has death for the elect has satisfied the requirements of law and found a righteousness for the elect, so that the law now demands that the elect be given every blessing of salvation.

But did the Mosaic law-covenant announce clearly that it was a “killing instrument” and not the gospel? If it didn’t, who could blame any Jew for using the law wrong , attempting to be saved by keeping it?

The central text discussed in this connection is Romans 9:32–”They did not seek if by faith, as if it were by works of law.”

Some who focus only on redemptive history say that there is no difference between law and gospel, but only a right way and a wrong way of pursuing the law, and that the gospel is the right way of pursuing the law.

A rebuttal to this idea I have recently is an essay by David Gordon in WTJ (Spring 1992): “Why Israel did not obtain Torah Righteousness; A note on Romans 9:32.”

Gordon writes that the verse should be translated not “as if it were”, but “because the law is not of faith” in line with Gal 3:12. “The qualification works-and-not faith in Gal 3:10-13 is parallel to the qualification works and not faith in Romans 9:32.”

“If one group attained what the other did not, the difference between them might lie in the manner in which they pursued it. This is NOT what Paul says however. The two groups did not pursue the same thing (the gentiles pursued nothing). Paul’s point therefore is NOT that the Gentiles pursued righteousness in a better manner (by faith) than the Jews. Rather, God’s mercy gives what is not even pursued.”

“When Paul asks why the Jews did not attain unto the Torah, his answer addressed the NATURE of the law- covenant (Torah demands perfect obedience), not the nature of the PURSUIT of the law-covenant.”

Those who say “we cause the death of Jesus to save us, and we do it the right way, with the faith and not works” do not understand the gospel. We don’t do it ANY way. God did it. God did it at the cross, for the elect. God imputes that cross-work to the elect, and the elect believe this gospel.

Sufficient for All, Efficient for Believers?

March 24, 2012

I certainly agree that the death of Jesus Christ is the only and entirely complete judicial satisfaction for the sins of anyone. But this satisfaction was never intended to be enough for the sins of the non-elect. It’s not enough to talk about the guaranteed success of the atonement for the elect, because we need to talk about the justice of the atonement and to do that we need to talk about God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ.

It might sound rhetorically neat to say that Christ’s death is enough for the non-elect, but until somebody can tell me what Christ’s death did for the non-elect, all you have is deceptive language.

I Peter 1:18–“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

The Bible uses “commercial” language to talk about the blood of Christ being precious. One death once for all time is the only death Christ had to die for those whose sins were imputed to Him. God’s justice demanded the death of Christ because certain specific sins had been charged to Him by God the Trinity. This is not to say that Christ would have had to die twice if there had been more elect.

The old formula from Lombard was used in the political compromise of the Synod of Dordt, “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect”. In our day many who think themselves more prudent than God don’t want to talk about the word “elect” so instead they say— sufficient for all, efficient for the believer.

What we really need to see is not only the extent of the atonement but its nature. You can’t understand the nature of the atonement without knowing about its extent. But you can know about the extent and still not know about the justice of the atonement. What do people mean by “sufficient for the elect”?

If we don’t understand how Christ’s death is enough for the elect, denying that Christ’s death works for the non-elect will not explain the gospel. Why did Christ need to die for the elect?

The regeneration of the elect does not satisfy God’s justice. Nor is it the Holy Spirit’s application of benefits from Christ’s death which appeases God’s wrath. God’s wrath has already been appeased or not, and justification is what happens when the elect are legally joined to that death. There is no “union” which is more “real” than this legal counting. The legal counting is based on the elect being eternally united to Christ by election and by Christ’s real death for their sins alone.

We need to talk about Christ being “made sin” (II Cor 5:21) by the imputation of all the sins of the elect, and not only about Christ being made a “sin-offering”. The atonement has commercial and legal merit, not only because Christ can and does do things by measure (healing some but not others) but also because the Bible speaks about being bought by blood from the accusations of the law..

One good discussion in print on this 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 questions the formula (sufficient/ efficient) used by Dordt while at the same time being honest about the history of its use.

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. In the former case his one undivided obedience affords a ground of justification to any number of believers; in the latter, 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”.

I encourage you to read more of Nettles. Error one: the tradition leading from Edwards to Andrew Fuller tends to identify regeneration and effectual calling as the “real union” and then it tends to identify this “application” with the atonement itself. What many Calvinists mean by definite atonement is that the “real union” makes the atonement definite. Thus they make the Spirit’s work to be the real difference instead of Christ’s death. These same folks tend to question the traditional tulip. See for example the new book by Todd Billings on “union”

Nettles: “A second error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although Jesus’ death is spoken of as passive obedience–and though the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son–when the sufficiency of the death of Christ arises, the emphasis shifts from the Son’s passive obedience to what he actively accomplished by his infinite divine nature.”

Nettles quotes John Dagg and Abraham Booth against the “sufficient” general view of the atonement. 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 sin to him, are essential to the scriptural doctrine of redemption by our adorable Jesus…

And from Dagg’s Manual of Theology, p330: “Some have maintained that, if the atonement of Christ is not general, no sinner can be under obligation to believe in Christ, until he is assured that he is one of the elect. This implies that no sinner is bound to believe what God says, unless he knows that God designs to save him.”

The Both/And/Not Arminian Gospel

March 24, 2012

Here’s my question for Piper, Keller, Carson, Ware, Driscoll, and
other young restless Reformed. Was Christ Punished Before Sins Were
Imputed to Him?

1. if Christ is made sin before our sins are imputed to Him, then with what sin is Christ made sin?

2. if Christ is already made sin before our sins are imputed to him,
then what’s the point of God then later imputing to Christ the sins of the elect?

John Piper (Taste and See) disagrees with Arminians for not teaching
that Christ died to purchase faith for the elect. But John Piper does
not disagree with Arminians about propitiation and substitution and
punishment. “If you believe, the death of Jesus will cover your sins.”

Piper’s gospel does not teach that Christ was already punished because of the imputed sins of the elect alone. It still only has a punishment in general, to be assigned later to those who believe.

Even though Piper does insist that Christ also died for the elect to
give them something extra that He will not be giving the non-elect, he fails to publicly tell lost unbelievers that Christ was
punished specifically for the imputed sins of the elect.

When Piper leaves that out (does he ever get to that truth even after with post-conversion folks in conferences they paid to get into?), his gospel will be heard as saying that there was enough punishment done to Christ to save even people who will nevertheless end up being
punished (with the second death).

This both/and/not Arminian message makes the important taking away of
sins to be something other than the punishment of Christ. It makes the real reconciliation to be the Spirit Christ purchased giving people a new nature and then faith to believe, even if they happen to believe a message that says Christ died for every sinner.

The alternatives are to either claim that some of the people who have
never heard the gospel are sovereignly saved anyway, or to claim as
gospel the idea of punishment before any sins are imputed.

If we jump ahead to the things Christ has bought for believers, even
including their believing, without telling it straight about the
punishment of Christ specifically for the specific sins of the elect,
then we can easily tolerate a “gospel” which has no election or
imputation in its news.

If the death of Christ is not a result of God’s imputation of specific sins, then it is not the death of Christ which saves sinners. If the atonement is Christ purchasing faith to give elect sinners a portion in a general punishment, then the punishment of Christ is not ultimately what takes sins away.

Is Doing the Precept the Righteousness, and the Death Only Paying the Penalty?

March 23, 2012

A focus on “the active obedience” of Christ can become a distraction from the death of Christ as that which frees the elect from sin and law and death. I have no big problem saying that Christ’s life of obedience also is imputed. But I am looking for texts, not only for what tradition says.

This question makes me uncomfortable. because Norman Shepherd and federal vision and NT Wright deny the active obedience. But I think the debate about the active obedience being imputed CAN BE a distraction from three big facts. It doesn’t have to be.

1. It CAN BE a distraction from Adam’s sin imputed to humans. Wright does not have any place in his theology for original sin as Adam’s original guilt. Who does? We should be talking about that more.

2. It’s a distraction from the sins of the elect being imputed to Christ. This is the main thing. This is more important even that saying that Christ’s death is only for the elect or saying the Christ’s death is effective to save all for whom He died. This is about justice, about the justifying of God not only the justifying of sinners.

This also makes us think about the difference between the atonement itself and the justification which happens in time when the atonement is imputed to the elect. The atonement and justification are not the same thing.

Of course it’s true that, if God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, then Christ only died for the elect. But we need to think not only about Christ’s successful death but also about the justice of Christ’s death.

Focusing on “active obedience” CAN sometimes distract from this. Because lots of folks who are all currently heated up about the “active obedience” almost never talk about Christ’s just death for the elect only. I think of Piper and Sproul and many in the PCA.

To be distracted from the truth that the atonement was only for the elect is also to be distracted from the truth that justification is not conditioned on faith as its preliminary cause. Many of the same folks who fight with NT Wright about faith not being the “active obedience” then turn around and say that God counts faith as the righteousness, and teach that the righteousness is “appropriated” by the condition of faith.

On the one hand, I don’t want to be a distraction by debating “active obedience as vicarious law-keeping” (or by debating if there was a “covenant of works” with Adam.) I want to take sides with these folks against the new perspective.

But on the other hand, most folks on both sides of that debate don’t even believe in Christ’s just death only for the elect. If they did, they would teach it.

3. A focus on doing as the righteousness CAN imply that the death of Christ is not the righteousness. I don’t think active and positive should be split up, not only because the death was active and the obedience passive, but because I want to get away from any idea that the remission of sins is because of the death and that the positive blessing is because of the life.

I see two serious problems with the tradition. 1. The supposed proof texts don’t show vicarious law obedience. They show law obedience. As for ”saved by his life” in Romans 5:10 that’s “saved by his resurrection”.

Problem 2. Which law is being obeyed, which we were supposed to obey? Christ kept the Mosaic law, which none of us were ever under. And more than that, Christ was under unique (only for Him) requirements from God when He became incarnate.

The “new perspective” only wants justification to be about our status and not about the legal record of Christ’s obedience to death (His merits, the righteousness). I don’t think the texts in question (Romans 4, Philippians 3) say that we share only in Christ’s verdict. We share in the obedience that lead to that verdict. Not only the verdict, but the righteousness (the legal value of Christ’s death) was for the elect.

If you don’t want to say that the death of Christ was imputed, since that’s not the exact wording of Scripture, use Romans 6 language and say “placed into the death”. God the Father putting the elect into Christ’s death results in the verdict—–justified, dead to sin, and dead to the law.

Smeaton on I Peter 4:1

March 12, 2012

I Peter 4:1– “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm
yourselves with the same way of thinking, for as many as have suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin”

George Smeaton, p 444, Apostles Doctrine of the Atonement—“Peter recapitulates after completing the intervening parenthesis (3:19-22). When he resumes his previous expressions, he can only refer to Christ’s vicarious sufferings in the flesh. He bids Christians to
realize the fact that, in Christ’s sufferings as their surety, they were co-crucified. Here then we have another instance in which Peter and Paul use nearly the same phraseology in speaking of our death to sin.

Any other explanation is unnatural. Those who represent the expressions as alluding to what Christ encountered in his earthly life from men, and explain the second clause of the believer suffering in Christ’s cause and after His example, can produce nothing to satisfy the forcible terms here as to ceasing from sin.

The meaning of the expression “has ceased from sin” will be that, that we suffered as one person with Christ. Peter considers Christians as one person with Christ, when we died with Christ. There are two modes of speaking in reference to the atonement, either of which presupposes the other. We may say, “Christ suffered for sins, the just for the unjust” or we may say”he that has suffered in the Surety, or in the obedience unto death finished by HIm as a public person, has been discharged from sin.” The person who is regarded at the divine tribunal as crucified with Christ is absolved from sin, dead to sin.

The apostles, when they connect our sanctification with the death of Christ, always presuppose His surety-satisfaction in our stead. This
enables us to meet the only plausible objection to the interpretation now advanced, ie, that the word “flesh” must be taken in two different senses in the two different clauses of this verse. By no means. It has the same sense in both, denoting Christ’s representative suffering, and our act considered as one with Him in God’s account.

The Creation is for the Purpose of the Redemption of the Elect

March 12, 2012

Ephesians 1:9-11–” making known to us the mystery of his will,
according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for
the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…”

The “common grace” theory supposes that God has a second purpose for
history, an intermediate cultural purpose. But “all things were created for Christ”. (Colossians 1:16) Jesus Christ “is before all things” (Colossians 1:17).

Jesus Christ is first in the counsel of God, logically before the
decree of election (and non-election). The elect are chosen in Christ
before the foundation of the world, and this means that logically
Christ was before the elect in the counsel of God.

Those who say that Christ died for every sinner think that they honor
Christ by saying that the decree for Christ to die is before the
decree to elect some sinners. They claim in this way to put Christ
before election.

Not only Arminians but many who call themselves Calvinists want to
place election after the decree to make atonement, so that the
atonement will not be restricted to the elect. They think of election
as something that causes the elect to believe, but they will not teach an atonement only for the elect.

But election in Christ is first! The death of Christ is not the cause
of God’s election in love. God’s election in love is the cause of the
death of Christ. Jesus Christ is first. Jesus, the incarnate, the
eternal Son of God in the flesh, is the foundation of election by
being Himself the object of election. “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things.”

This means that the creation is for the purpose of the redemption of
the elect. This also means that God does not have a second “cultural
only” purpose for the creation.

God’s purpose in history is to bring glory to Jesus Christ. He is not simply the one who makes election work. Jesus Christ Himself is first. Jesus Christ Himself is chosen first, before all the others. All the other elect were chosen in Jesus Christ, and not apart from Jesus Christ. Those God loves are “chosen in Him”. Ephesians 1:4