Neither Your Faith Nor Your Works Make the Difference
Mark Dever writes, “justification is not the same kind of merely
objective act that propitiation is…Christ’s giving of Himself satisfied the demands of the Father’s judgment against us. He did it alone; we played no part in it. Justification, however, includes us and our faith in a way that propitiation did not. We must believe in order to be justified.“ (It is Well, Crossway, 2010)
I agree that propitiation and justification are different, but I would deconstruct the difference as Dever locates it. Like most Calvinists, he and Lawrence (his co-author) have not considered the idea of a “justification through faith” in which the regeneration and faith of the elect are the immediate result of God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect.
Of course Dever and Lawrence have heard of federal union (which they may equate with eternal justification), but they see no other alternative to a justification conditioned on what God does in the elect sinner in causing that sinner to believ
Yes, it’s true that the elect are only justified when they believe,
but it is not being honest to the truth of eternal election in union
with Christ to say that faith is the instrumental condition of
justification. But it does make Arminian evangelism easier.
Who are the we? Who are the us? The New Testament letters were written for those who were already believing the gospel. Of course this “mail for Christians” is also meant to be read and proclaimed to those who have not yet believed the gospel (elect and non-elect)
The pastors Dever and Lawrence, who first did these sermons in their
Southern Baptist church, do a good job of making a distinction between Christians and non-Christian “friends”. But they refuse to talk to these friends about election or about how the effectiveness of the cross not only satisfies justices but causes the elect to believe. Instead, they tell non-Christians that they “can be” saved if they trust Jesus (even the false Christ who died without anybody’s sin being imputed to Him at the time).
They write as if faith is the way to get sins imputed to Christ, as if the lost sinner is the one who is the imputer. On page 200, they
ask:”what will you do with your sins?” On page 213, they ask: “But did Jesus die for you? It depends. Do you know yourself to be
unrighteous?” Is it adding to the gospel (and therefore a false gospel of addition) to tell sinners that making your faith to be the
difference between saved and lost is not only incorrect theology but
unrighteousness based on self-sufficiency?
It’s NOT an addition to the gospel or an optional extra to explain this truth. We should not flatter sinners in their pride that their decision makes the difference.
My plea is not that the lost have to learn what an Arminian is before
they can believe the gospel. My plea is that those who teach the
gospel show how Christ’s death is effective for the elect by showing
how the sins of the elect were imputed to Christ by God, and not by
It is well and good to tell the sinner that if she understands herself to be self-righteous, then she has a substitute. But part of
self-righteousness is any idea that we cause Christ to become our
substitute because God make us believers.
God makes the elect to become believers because the elect died in
union with Christ, so that His death is their death. This book makes
“baptism” in Romans 6 to be a symbol of our faith (instead of God
placing the elect into Christ’s death). On page 111, Lawrence writes
the assumption: “through faith, sinners like you and me are brought
into union with Christ so that our sins are credited to him.”
Why do I call this Arminian evangelism? Don’t the Arminians say that
all the sins of all sinners have already been credited to Christ, and
that this is ineffective? Well, no, Arminians would NOT agree that it’s ineffective. Arminians simply say that the whole thing is ALSO conditioned on faith. While the Calvinist disagrees with the Arminian about the source of this faith, as long as the Calvinist does not talk of a federal union in which God has already credited the sins of the elect to Christ, they can share the same gospel.
They can also agree not to mention that the non-elect sinner cannot
believe the true gospel. They can very much agree not to mention that
the non-elect CAN believe the false gospel that teaches falsely that God loves everybody and that Christ died for everybody.