Where Faith in the Gospel Is, Christ Lives, but Christ also lives in Heaven and Not Just Your Heart

Some who tell sinners to look outside themselves end up telling these sinners to look to “the sacraments” and to the priests authorized to dispense the “seals” in which the “sign is united with the reality”. But salvation from death and the forgiveness of sins are mediated realities, in which the Mediator is Jesus Christ, the great High Priest.

John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[a] Footnote: Some manuscripts add who is in heaven

Some scholars think that this verse is talking about Christ’s continuing divine presence in heaven, even from the beginning of His incarnation. Maybe so. I know the verse is teaching us that no other human has gone to heaven except Christ alone. We wait for heaven to come to earth.

But right now I want to think about two other truths. Christ in His humanity is now absent from earth. We wait for Him to return. Christ in His divinity is now present also in our hearts.

Objection: God reckons this thing Christ purchased for the elect to the elect. If that’s the case, then I have to ask, where does Christ fit into that? Why don’t you talk more about real stuff, like Christ in your heart?

mark: 1. Christ being God is the imputer. Christ took the sins to Himself, and thus took the death to Himself. 2. Christ, besides being the earner who obtained all the blessings of salvation for the elect by His obedience, now does these two things. Christ both indwells (lives in) the justified and also intercedes (in heaven) for the elect.

The indwelling—- Where faith is, Christ is. Luther was right about that, but it’s a mistake to locate the righteousness in the faith, or identify the righteousness with Christ’s life inside us (as Osiander did.

The work to earn righteousness for the elect was done outside of the elect. The righteousness which resulted and which is imputed is always outside of the elect. Bunyan explained: the righteousness is in heaven. The righteousness belong not to us alone on the inside but also to all the elect. The righteousness also belongs still to Christ.

objection: Because if that is indeed the case, then to be blunt about it, we don’t even need Him anymore. He bought what we need, so now He can step back, go do whatever while God hands out what He purchased. Why would we have faith in Him? Our faith would be in what He purchased instead. How does that glorify Christ?

mark: I do think you for these questions. Of course Socinians who deny forensic justification often ask this. But you are not denying any forensic thing I am saying: you want that plus more, also Christ Himself the person living in you.

And my answer: justification is not the only thing. Christ the person is not a something to be imputed. I agree that the true Christ is given to live with the justified elect and in the justified elect. I am glad that we don’t need false alternatives, such as “HIM vs His work”. I am glad that you don’t deny “imputation” as a fiction which is not real. But I am concerned when you dismiss assent to the gospel of imputation as something less important than the “life of God in the soul of the man”.

In By Faith Not By Sight, Richard 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. His hope “as well” is Christ’s life in us defined as the power to avoid sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

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 bases assurance on Christ’s life in us
evidenced by our imperfect but habitual obedience.

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. His hope “as well” is Christ in you. 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
aasurance for future justification. (p100)

Yes, Christ’s finished righteousness is the alone ground, he agrees, but at the same time and HOWEVER, Christ’s life in us factors in also. Gaffin cautions to remember that the obedience and avoidance of sin which factor into your assurance come from God living 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

One evidence of effectual calling in us is that the justified elect do not put their assurance in Christ’s life in them as proven by their “bearing fruit for God”. To look in us for Christ’s life is to “bear fruit for death”. Romans 7:5

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9 Comments on “Where Faith in the Gospel Is, Christ Lives, but Christ also lives in Heaven and Not Just Your Heart”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    What does “For I through the law died to the law” mean? Galatians 2:19

    Machen, Notes, p 159 “The law . . . led men, by its clear revelation of what God requires, to relinquish all claim to salvation by their own obedience. In that sense, surely, Paul could say that it was through the law that he died to the law. The law made the commands of God so terribly clear that Paul could see plainly that there was no hope for him if he appealed for his salvation to his own obedience to those commands.”

    Machen: “This interpretation yields a truly Pauline thought. But the immediate context suggests another, and an even profounder, meaning for the words.”

    Machen: “The key to the interpretation is probably to be found in the sentences, I have been crucified together with Christ, which almost immediately follows. The law, with its penalty of death upon sins (which penalty Christ bore in our stead) brought Christ to the cross; and when Christ died I died, since he died as my representative.”

    Machen: “The death to the law… the law itself brought about when… Christ died that Since He died that death as our representative, we too have died that death. Thus our death to the law, suffered for us by Christ, far from being contrary to the law, was in fulfillment of the law’s own demands. “

  2. markmcculley Says:

    from a Gaffin review of Horton’s Covenant and Salvation, in Ordained Servant: “Having been called effectively involves having been regenerated, but the two are not identical. The exercise of the Spirit’s energies in calling produces an enduring change within sinners distinct from that exercise. The result is a new and lasting disposition, what Scripture calls a new “heart.” That is, at the core of my being, I am no longer against God and disposed to rebel against his will but, now and forever, for him and disposed in the deepest recesses of whom I am to delight in doing his will.

    In view of the undeniable reality of their own indwelling sin, believers need to be exhorted not to quench or grieve the Spirit at work in their lives. But his work in the justified ungodly does not merely consist of an ongoing countering activity within those otherwise only disposed to be thoroughly resistant and recalcitrant. The definitive, nothing less than eschatological death-to-life change effected and maintained in believers by the Spirit provides a stable basis within them for his continuing day-by-day activity of renewing and maturing them according to their inner selves (2 Cor. 4:16), for his continuing toward completion the good work begun in them (Phil. 1:6). The Reformed use of “habitual” to describe this irreversible change, this radical dispositional reorientation, in believers seems appropriate.

    Gaffin, in By Faith and not By Sight, p103—“The law gospel antithesis enters not by virtue of creation but as the consequence of sin…The gospel is to the purpose of removing the law gospel antithesis in the life of the believer…In Christ, united to Him, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend.”

  3. markmcculley Says:

    HeIdelberg Catechism Q. 76.

    What is it then to eat the crucified body, and drink the shed blood of Christ?

    A. It is not only to embrace with believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin, and life eternal; but also, besides that, to become more and more UNITED to his sacred body, (b) by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both IN Christ and IN US; so that we, though Christ is in heaven (c) and we on earth, are notwithstanding “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone” (d) and that we live, and are governed forever by one spirit, (e) as members of the same body

  4. markmcculley Says:

    John Kinnaird—“To interpret the role of good works in all the Biblical passages that connect the good works of believers to salvation as merely being the “fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” is to go on a fool’s errand. It just can’t be done (see Romans 8:12-13). The Puritans, by and large, recognized this and understood there to be a positive connection between obedience and salvation broadly considered.”

    “John Bunyan beautifully illustrates this distinction in his famous book Pilgrim’s Progress. At the beginning of his journey, Christian is given a certificate. This is his title to salvation. No one enters heaven without it. Nonetheless, Christian still needs to make his way to the Celestial City. If he returns to the City of Destruction then he will die. Thus the only way for him to possess heaven is to complete the journey.”

    John Kinnaird—“He doesn’t enter heaven because he made the journey. He enters because of his certificate. The certificate and the journey are both necessary to enter heaven but they are not necessary in the same way. The same is true for the roles of faith and obedience. By faith alone a sinner is justified and the road that a justified sinner must travel in order to enter glory is paved with good works. In this way the Reformed tradition affirmed the importance and necessity of new obedience without compromising the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Piper is not denying sola fide but articulating that we enter into a right relationship with God by faith alone. As Goodwin noted “faith is that alone which puts us into a condition of having the title and right to life.” But Piper also notes that we need to love and obey the Lord in order to enter heaven.”


  5. markmcculley Says:

    Even heaven would not be a cosmic reality in the biblical sense if it were only the Whence of the divine activity and not as such also the Where, the place of its Subject and Author. The former itself would not be true without the latter. Heaven is a place: the place of God in view of which we have to say that God is not only transcendent in relation to the world but also immanent and present within it; the place of God from which His dealings with us, the history of the covenant, can take place in the most concrete sense, and His majesty, loftiness and remoteness can acquire the most concrete form, where otherwise they would simply be a product of human fantasy. As the place of God heaven is, of course, a place which is inconceivable to us. It cannot be compared with any other real or imaginary place. It is inaccessible. It cannot be explored or described or even indicated. All that can be affirmed concerning it is that it is a created place like earth itself and the accessible reality of earth which we can explore and describe or at least indicate; and that it is the place of God. The final point is the decisive one. And for good reasons the Old and New Testaments do not hesitate to speak of the fact that God is in heaven and heaven is the place of God.

    [Karl Barth, CD III.3, p. 437]

  6. markmcculley Says:

    A A Hodge: “It does not do to say this presence is only spiritual. If it means that the presence of Christ is not something objective to us, then it is false. If it means that Christ is present only by His Spirit, it is not true, because Christ is one person and the Holy Spirit is another perso

  7. markmcculley Says:

    II Thessalonians 2: 9 The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, 10 and with every unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a strong delusion so that they will believe what is false, 12 so that all will be condemned—those who did not believe the truth but enjoyed unrighteousness.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    not only did God the Son raise Himself from the dead
    but God the Son stays alive when you eat Him

    that’s what more than half of those who profess to be Christians believe

    it’s not that this is “too much to believe”

    it’s that the Bible does not teach it

    was God the Son in his living body before He died handing out another living body?

    that’s not incarnation, that’s docetism

    it’s not me asking “what would be the point of eating God the Son while He’s still living”
    it’s that the Bible does not teach it
    if that makes me a biblicist and a rationalist and a modernist, I don’t care

    God the Son offered Himself in death once for all time, not to us but to God

    yes, I believe in the unfinished work of God the Son
    His present intercession and His future coming to earth to raise the justified from the dead

    but the real humanity of God the Son is now seated in heaven
    neither the deity or the humanity of God the Son is seated in my stomach

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