“Faith to Apply”?

The Faith Needed Is Purchased by Christ For the Elect Alone

Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

Many today teach that the only “atonement” which really matters is the “faith which applies” Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, they teach that Christ died for some who will perish.

It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

The difference between the “faith to apply” folks and those who teach that many do not believe because they are not Christ’s sheep (John 10) is NOT about the need of the Spirit’s work or faith in the gospel. Even though at the end of the day, we have different gospels (objects of faith), we do not disagree about justification being through faith. Neither side teaches eternal justification, or justification apart from faith, even though the “faith to apply” folks claim that this makes the rest of us inconsistent.

We do NOT teach that the elect are free from condemnation before being “baptized into Christ”. Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, John Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are placed into that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

But those who accuse us of thinking there is no need for faith claim that it is not logical for us to teach such a need for faith. If the substitution has already been made, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it.

But we do NOT teach justification apart from faith. Neither do we teach that faith is a mere recognition that we were already justified.

What is it that those who make the accusations are teaching about the atonement? Some like the Torrances think that saying that Christ died only for the elect leads to denying the need for faith. Some like Andrew Fuller agree that Christ only died to gain faith for the elect, but they make this purchase of faith to be the only thing that is limited about God’s intention in the atonement.

The “faith to apply” folks do not want to teach that Christ’s substitution under God’s wrath was limited only to the sins of the elect. They can rightly say they teach “limited atonement” but they do not think that the propitiation is limited.

The “faith to apply” folks do teach that the atonement is unlimited in its ability to condemn everybody. (Andrew Fuller himself regarded the transfer of the sins of the elect to Christ as figurative and as not legally possible.) But they all teach that the atonement is unlimited in its proclamation of God’s offer to love everybody. But despite that general love, and general propitiation, some of them add that Christ’s death did not purchase faith for everybody.

Those who teach “faith applies” are confusing “regeneration” and the work of the Spirit with the atonement and imputation. But Romans 6 never tells us that “regeneration” places the elect into Christ’s death. Romans 6 never tells us that it’s the work of the Spirit that puts the elect into Christ’s death.

“Substitution” and “regeneration” are not the same thing. Substitution has to do with “all died” (II Cor 5:15) when this means that Christ alone died for the elect, without the elect being there, so that His death legally counts for them to take God’s wrath away from them.

The “faith to apply” folks claim that we who teach substitution only for the elect should agree that the elect can go free before they are converted and believe the gospel. They want to put us in that box, so they can then deny that the death of Christ is the effective and just difference between saved and lost. Thus they accuse—if no efficacy to set free before faith and without faith, then no legal efficacy by itself.

The “faith to apply” folks locate the efficacy of the atonement not in propitiation, not in Christ’s bearing the sins of the elect, but in the efficacy of “faith applying”.

And we would could answer back: what do you need the death for, if the real thing is the new birth and the indwelling? And it’s a good question, but I am sure that they think the incarnation (if not the death) is a necessary prelude to “faith applying”.

But this is their argument: you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by “faith applying”. Only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice. But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the sins of sinners.

How can they say that Christ’s death for sinners is not enough payment for the sins of these other sinners? Listen carefully to their answer: “Baptism into Christ’s death is what makes Christ’s death the death of the sinner”. Unless we want to say that Christ’s death is legally effective without faith, then they tell us that something after Christ’s death is what makes Christ’s death legally effective.

I hope you think that through. Unless we want to go the way of those who teach eternal justification (or justification of all the elect at the time of the death and resurrection of Christ), we must agree that many of the elect (all those born after Christ’s death) for whom Christ died are nevertheless born in their sins, under the sentence of death. Of course we would stipulate that God’s justice demands that they will not die in that unjustified state.

But how can we explain that temporary legal condemnation when we are also teaching a substitution by Christ for their specific sins? It depends on what the Bible means about “being placed into Christ”.

The “faith applies” folks think placed into Christ means “Christ in us”. But the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is not imputation.Not indwelling but imputation is taught in Romans 6.

God the Father’s legal imputing of Christ’s death to the elect places them into Christ. No, the word “imputing” is not in Romans 6. But neither is the word “Spirit” or the words “regeneration” or “indwelling”. But the meaning of Romans 6 is God’s imputing.

I Cor 1:30— because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

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9 Comments on ““Faith to Apply”?”


    from Blocher, p 564, From Heaven he Came

    Some of the Reformed have denied the universal love of God. though they quote verses such as Malachi 1:3 (Esau I have haged) and Psalm 5:5, their denial is so opposed to the drift of Scripture that I rule it out of court.

    So Blocher teaches universal love but not ‘egalitarian love which smacks of humanism”

    So he disagrees with Barth and the Torrances when they claim that “any attribute necessary to God is necessarily exercised by God equally on all of whom it is logically possible to exercise it.”

    Blocher praises the “beautiful essay” by Andrew Swanson, “The Love of God for the Non-Elect”, Reformation Today, May 1976

    p 565 “I choose to speak of God’s will of desire (which generates precepts) and God’s will of decree.”

    “The permissive character of the sovereign decision over the vessels of wrath makes it possible to coexist with the salvific desire and universal love. Yet it is no rational decision solution. I cannot understand why the Lord of Lords so decides about men and women he loves.”



    the difficulty of “offering” one thing, when two things are needed

    the slippery word “provision”

    making the cross necessary but not sufficient “by itself”

    since those who “offer”
    don’t think Christ’s death is enough (insufficient sufficiency!) alone
    they don’t think it works unless you repent and make it work

    and the “offer Reformed” teach that
    the non-elect are unable to repent
    and since they are non-elect, God has no plan to give them repentance
    they can’t ever get what’s “offered”

    since they can’t get that second thing, the first thing is useless
    of no account

    Galatians 2:2 1 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness[c] were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

    God commands faith in the gospel, even though God knows which ones will not and cannot ever have faith in the gospel

    so it’s not only a matter of our being ignorant of who will or won’t believe the gospel


    Andrew Fuller–who uses or doesn’t use the death of Christ does not change the nature

    as in, who eats or doesn’t eat the banana does not change the nature of the banana

    I agree, at least when it comes to Andrew Fuller’s false view of the nature of the death of Christ

    since in Andrew Fuller’s view the death is not a judicial payment for the specific sins of specific beneficiaries

    Fuller’s idea that the beneficiaries will be “named later”, according to God’s intent on what to do with Christ’s death

    shows that Andrew Fuller denies the nature of Christ’s death as a propitiation

    we are not the imputers, we don’t “use” the death of Christ


    Arminians and Lutherans claim that the sin of unbelief is different from other sins

    David Allan, “Atonement: Limited to Universal’, Whosoever Will, 2010, p 88—“Unbelief is not an offense like any other, because it must be dealt with not only by forgiveness but by regeneration and regeneration only has an indirect relation to the gospel.”

    And Calvinistic baptists whose entire gospel is about God’s sovereignty in regeneration will have no answer for this. These Calvinistic baptists don’t talk much about justification or the atonement, and what they do say is not different from Arminians in the Southern Baptisst Convention say. Even if they say that regeneration is purchased by Christ’s death. these Calvinistic baptists are not likely to talk about the judicial significance of the fact that “Jesus Did Not Pay It All” for the non-elect.

    They are not talking abut the forgiveness of sin, but about regeneration.

    But to get back to Allan’s comment, whatever the solution may be, nothing changes the fact that unbelief is a sin that God condemns. So Arminians need to tell the truth about what they are teaching—Jesus died for you, but this doesn’t mean for all your sins, since it doesn’t mean for your final sin of unbelief.

    It is true that the elect do not need to be forgiven for the sin of final unbelief, since the elect are transformed (regenerated) so that they do not commit that sin.

    Jacobus Andreae, Acta Colloquij Montisbellogartensis, 1613, p 447

    “Those assigned to eternal destruction are not damned because because they sinned. They are damned for this reason, because they refused to embrace Jesus Christ with true faith, who died no less for their sins than for the sins of Peter, Paul and all the saints.

    Beza, p 448–”To me what you say is plainly new and previously unheard–that men are not damned because they have sinned….

    Garry J Williams, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, ed Gibson, Crossway, 2013, p 513—”The notion that the lost will be punished for the sin of unbelief and not for sin in general allows Lutherans and Arminians to hold that Jesus died for every general sin of every individual, and yet not all must be saved, because unbelievers may still be justly condemned for their unbelief since Christ did not die for it. This reply limits the sins for which Christ died.”

    Williams: “The Lutherans and Arminians have created a difficulty with biblical texts referring to the sins for which Christ died. Every affirmation that sins have been borne by Christ must now be understood to contain a tacit restriction—except the sin of unbelief….If a sinner believes and becomes a Christian at age forty, since the Lutherans teach that Christ did not die for the sin of unbelief, this means that Christ did not die for this man’s sin of unbelief committed over forty years.


    Jonathan Gibson, “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of Christ”, From Heaven He Came, p 355—Interestingly, this verse has been neglected in Constantine Campbell’s otherwise comprehensive treatment of union with Christ (PAUL AND UNION WITH CHRIST, Zondervan, 2013)

    14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

    p 352—”Some conclude that the efficacy of Christ’s work occurs only at the point of faith, and not before. This ignores the fact that union with Christ precedes any reception of Christ’s work by faith. It is union with Christ that leads to the efficacy of Christ’s work to those who belong to Him.”


  6. markmcculley Says:

    For Luther, justification by faith does not refer to faith as that which receives righteousness, but rather as the righteousness itself that God gives to the believer through the gospel.

    For Luther, faith is what truly fulfills the law of God. By ascribing to God truthfulness, faith fulfills every divine demand, according to Luther Unlike Calvin, Luther does not speak of faith as something empty in and of itself. For Luther, faith is the righteousness of a Christian.

    Luther’s argument that faith is the righteousness depends on a distinction between commands and promises, a distinction that would later be formulated in terms of law and gospel. I agree with that distinction between law and gospel, but I still (with Calvin at this point) reject the notion that faith is the righteousness, because Christ’s death (not faith) satisfies the law. The law requires either perfect obedience or death. Not both.

    Faith is not perfect obedience. Faith created in us by the gospel is not perfect obedience. Christ’s presence in us is not perfect obedience.

    Faith in Christ’s death is not the same thing as Christ’s death. The object of faith is not the same thing as faith. The presence of Christ in us is not the same thing as faith. The presence of Christ in us is not the righteousness. The object of faith is not Christ’s presence in us.

    Of course I reject Melanchthon’s reject of the bondage of the will and endorsement of synergism, but I do agree with Melanchthon in making it clear that faith is NOT the righteousness.

    Luther is more Augustinian on the bondage of the will, but also more Augustinian in his view of justification being faith in us, and thus Christ in us, as therefore the “alien righteousness” IN US.

    By 1543 Melanchthon locates righteousness in Christ and affirms that faith is merely a means grasps Christ, and, as such, is intrinsically unworthy in itself: . . . we are righteous by faith, that is, through mercy for the sake of Christ we are righteous, not because faith is a virtue which merits the remission of sins . . . . Therefore we do not say that we are righteous by faith in the sense that this is a worthiness of such great power that it merits remission. Melanchthon, Loci Communes 1543 (trans. Preus), p 109

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Torrance argued for an “active obedience” in which Christ repented for us, believed for us, was born again for us, was converted for us, and worships for us. “We must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance” (The Mediation of Christ, p 95)

    Donald Macleod responds—There is a great discontinuity between Christ and sinners. They were sinners and Christ was not. He could not trust in God’s forgiveness because he had no need of forgiveness. He could not be born again because he required no changed of heart. He could not be converted because His life demanded no change of direction.

    If we move from the idea of Jesus as a believer to the idea of Jesus as the one who is believed IN, does Jesus believe, vicariously, in Himself?….It is not his faith that covers the deficiencies of our faith (as it is given to us by God). It is Christ’s death that covers the deficiencies of our faith…Our faith is not in the Son of God who believed for us, but in the Son of God who gave Himself for us.

    p 214, Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified, IVP, 2014—-Christ never fell, had not guilt, and knew no sin. Human nature as individualized in Christ was not fallen. Christ did not suffer from the disease of sin. In what sense then did Christ heal human nature by becoming the patient and taking the disease? As Christ faced temptation and suffering, Christ did so with a mind unclouded by sin…

    Human nature after the cross remains as it was before the cross. If Christ healed our humanity by taking our humanity, then Christ was crucified by the very nature he had healed….

    According to Torrance, Christ condemned sin by saying no to the flesh and living a life of perfect faith, worship and obedience. But this would mean that the condemnation of sin did not take place on the cross, but in the daily life of Christ. But Romans 8:3 says that it not Jesus but God the Father who condemns sin in the flesh. While it was indeed in the flesh of his Son that God condemned sin but it was not only in his Son as incarnate, but in his Son as a sin-offering.. God condemned sin by passing judgement on his Son.

    Theosis (participation in the divine nature, II Peter 1:4) is NOT the reason for God being reconciled to us. We are justified as ungodly (Romans 4:5), not as partakers of a nature which has been united with the divine.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones–Man exercises faith in order to receive the saving benefits of Christ’s works of impetration… Good works a necessary part of our perseverance in the faith in order to receive eternal life. Good works are consequent conditions of having been saved.

    Nathan J. Langerak, –What Mark Jones means by “consequent conditions” is that they are new conditions of salvation imposed on the saved person because the person is now saved

    No benefits applied before faith is exercised? Is not faith itself applied before it is exercised? What about regeneration


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