Archive for November 2012

No Balance, Christ’s Work or Your Works

November 29, 2012

2 Peter 1: Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

With its emphasis on “knowledge” and “calling”, 2 Peter One reverses legalism by commanding us to examine our works by making our calling and election sure. Those who know Christ are commanded to become effective They are not commanded to become fruitful in order to find out if they know Christ (or are known by Christ).

But  many  assume a “practical syllogism” in which assurance of calling is based on our works. To do that,they attempt to isolate one verse and ignore the context, which begins in the very first verse with the idea that faith is given because of Christ’s righteousness. They makes their works of faith the assurance. In effect, their assurance of Christ’s atonement is only as good as their confidence in their own works.  Their “faith” turns out to be assurance in works, not assurance in Christ’s atonement. Because it can’t be both. There is no “balance” in this “sola”.

By what gospel were we called? Was it the gospel of “characteristic obedience” or was it the gospel of “Christ paid it all for the elect”? Legalists are trying to follow Christ as Lord without first submitting to salvation only by God’s perfect and sufficient alone righteousness.

We do not work to get assurance. We must have assurance before our works are acceptable to God. But many puritan “experimental” Calvinists, along with the Arminians, think of faith as the “condition” that saves them.. Yes, they disagree about the cause and source of faith, but they both are way more concerned about the condition faith leaves you in than they are in the object of faith.

Though the true gospel knows that the justification of the ungodly does not happen until righteousness is imputed and faith is created by hearing the gospel, the true gospel also knows that it is the righteousness ALONE (apart from the works of faith created) which satisfies the requirement of God’s law. (Romans 8:4)

The experimentalist wants to say that her imperfect works are the evidence of Christ’s work in them. But way too often this moralist does not test her works by the gospel doctrine of righteousness. 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. Those who work for assurance not justified, and any assurance they have is a deceit.

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 Christ’s satisfaction. It is a waste of time to talk about “obedience to law as evidence” unless a person knows what the gospel is. A person who finds evidence in works shows that they don’t know what the gospel is.

Moralists stress the nature and quality of faith, but not the righteousness COMPLETED by Christ which should be the only object of faith. It is Christ (not us) who satisfies God’s law.

There are many false gospels and only one true gospel. The only way not to be self-righteous is to know that the law demands perfect righteousness and that the gospel proclaims 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.

Legalists thank their false god for enabling them to keep meeting the conditions so they won’t be “broken off the covenant”. The workers who came before the the judgment in Matthew 7 were sure that they had satisfied the conditions. They do not deny that election is the reason that they meet the conditions to stay in and to be sure. But instead of pleading Christ alone who got done a perfect righteousness, they also plead something else.

These moralistic theonomists have flattered themselves about their obedience being acceptable. But those for whom Christ died will came to repent of that false gospel.

Scot Hafemann (p60): “ Sandwiched between what God has done for us and what God promises to do for us in the future, we find the commands of God for the present as the necessary link between the two.” This false gospel makes everything conditional, not on Christ, but on us—- if you do enough right, then God promises not to break you off…

So Your Wanting to be Changed Gives You Assurance?

November 27, 2012

So ever day, you got to, got to, got to keep changed enough to convince yourself that you are not a fraud?

How are you doing with that?

Those who will be condemned were born condemned already, but their wicked attempts to establish their own righteousness with “good deeds” will also be condemned. Those who have been justified have not been been justified by their right attitudes about works and faith. But those who have been justified have also been born again and as result they all now know that they are not working to get God’s blessings and assurance. They have assurance.

Galatians 3: 3. Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4. Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 5. He therefore that gives you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

You can say “blood, blood, blood”, but still not know Christ. Most of those who did many bloody animal sacrifices did not receive Christ as crucified. The Arminians and Lutherans who say that Christ died for those who will perish do not believe in the true Christ and His precious blood.

To know Christ, you must know that God requires a righteousness that sinners cannot produce and that God in Christ established for the elect a righteousness that demands justification for the elect. The law demands death, even the death of One who was never a sinner, but who was imputed with the sins of the elect.

Those who killed Christ thought they could do God some additional service. John 16:1-3. If you think you can add to or complete your righteousness by your changed life, then you are as guilty as those who killed Christ.

To judge by the gospel is to examine if we confess and agree with God’s testimony. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts the justified elect that God requires a righteousness that we cannot produce even with the help of grace John 16:8-13. It is the Holy Spirit who takes away our confidence so that we have NO confidence that we ever did or ever will do anything (even with God’s help) to make ourselves better than anybody else. Phil 3:3. The reason the justified elect are different from others before God is that Christ died for them and not for others.

It is the Spirit who causes us to confess the true Christ and the true gospel. I Cor 1:23-24  A  false spirit that says Christ died for everybody and now it depends on what we with help from that spirit. I Cor 2:11-13: “No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.”

The righteousness of Christ is a free gift. If we say that the accepting of the free gift is something different from the free gift, and that this accepting is “MINE” and what I did (with God’s grace) to be saved, then we may call that “salvation by faith” but what we call “faith” is really still self-righteousness.

“I am a good chooser. And the reason for that is I am a good “wanter”.  I “want” what’s right ( “of course sometimes I sin but I don’t “want” to and don’t really choose to and God is gracious and will overlook it…”) because I have a heart my god has now made better than that of others…”

NO! We were not justified by being in the right place at the right time and reading the right book or tract. If we are justified, it was a SUPERNATURAL WORK OF GOD. So no excuses like ” don’t blame me for not knowing the gospel when I got saved”.

What the Spirit produces is repentance to see that our “mistakes about the gospel” were motivated by our wicked hearts that wanted to condition salvation on ourselves instead of TOTALLY on the righteousness established by Christ for the elect.

“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (3:3)

The typical Calvinist thinks that people can begin as Christian in error and then (maybe as an option) MOVE TO THE TRUTH. But in Galatians we have a different case.  People who begin with the truth (Paul’s’ preaching of the gospel, Romans 1:16-17-faith is no part of the righteousness, circumcision is no part of the righteousness), but who are now in danger of being bewitched by error.

I make two exhortations here:

1. Let us examine our calling. Is it really true that you can be justified by believing a lie? Is it really true that God the Spirit teaches the sheep that Jesus died for everybody but that they are themselves the condition of salvation? Is it really the Holy Spirit that teaches people that Jesus waits for their decision?

2. For those of us who are convinced that we do believe the true gospel, why would we ever listen to  the preaching of those who do not know the gospel? Why do we think we will grow by listening to a false gospel? Why do we think that we can learn something from a false gospel about how to raise our children and love our wives?

Is it because we have confidence in ourselves that WE would never be bewitched?  Do we worry about the world’s influence on our children, but have no concern for the influence of Arminian evangelicalism (salvation by faith, not by righteousness) on ourselves?

“Have ye suffered so many things in vain?” (3:4)

Why do we cry peace to the Arminians and to others who lie about God and sin? Because we want them to be partial to us! If we want their respect, we will have to respect them. But Christ had no respect for them or their opinions, but total respect for the honor of God. If we had that same kind of respect for God, we would not be at peace with Arminian lies, and we would be hated the way Christ was.

Christ suffered because he was a “light” who exposed “good deeds” as being “evil deeds”. John 3:18-20. People hated Christ because Christ told them that God required a righteousness they could not produce: He had no respect for what they produced. They would have respected Him as Messiah if only He had been partial to their good deeds. But He was not.

Used to be a drug addict? So what: if you don’t believe the gospel, you will die in your sins. But I believe the Bible and in a literal second coming. So what? if you don’t believe the gospel, you will die in your sins.

John 7:7 “they hate me because I testify of the world that its works are evil.” Its good works are evil. John 7:24 “Do not judge by outward appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.” Judge yourself and others by knowing that God requires a perfect righteousness and that only those who submit to the gospel have that perfect righteousness.

Why are the Galatians tempted by the legalists? Because if they go along with their lies, they will be respected, and THEY WILL NOT SUFFER PERSECUTION FROM THEM. To say that cross is the only difference is to suffer; to add on to the cross will cause the suffering to go away. To say that those who add on are under the curse (as Paul says) is to make lots of enemies,

Any time people can preach grace as that which changes you to enable you to produce some of the righteousness that God requires,  then they continue hating the gospel of imputation in which the CROSS IS THE ONLY DIFFERENCE. Instead of glorying in the cross (gal 6:14), they are ashamed to say that Christ died only for the elect. Instead, they talk in code language (died for those who would believe) so they can stay at peace with Arminians who buy books.

Thanks for the Person, or Thanks for the Works, or Thanks for the Benefits?

November 22, 2012

Some folks accuse  us of  loving Christ’s work more than His person.  Of course we answer that , if you don’t know what Christ’s work was, then you don’t know Christ the person.  They also accuse of loving the benefits we get from Christ more than we love Christ HImself. These accusers say that  the solution is to put “union” with the person (the Benefactor who blesses) before the receiving of the blessings.  But in their solution, they themselves put faith in Christ before “union” with the person.   Faith is in the person, we are told,  the presence of faith in us,  we are assured, is the indwelling of Christ in us.

And it’s not only Dan Fuller and John Piper who tell us that gratitude is not the right motive, and that we should instead put our faith in the future grace of God enabling us to work with motives of faith. Richard Gaffin sounds much the same note:

Gaffin: In the matter of sanctification, it seems to me, we must confront a tendency,  within churches of the Reformation to view the gospel and salvation in its outcome almost exclusively in terms of justification.  The effect of this outlook, whether or not intended, is that sanctification tends to be seen as the response of the believer to salvation. Sanctification is viewed as an expression of gratitude from our side for our justification and the free forgiveness of our sins, usually with the accent on the imperfection and inadequacy of such expressions of gratitude.

Gaffin: Sometimes there is even the suggestion that while sanctification is highly desirable, and its lack, certainly unbecoming and inappropriate, it is not really necessary in the life of the believer, not really integral to our salvation and an essential part of what it means to be saved from sin. The attitude we may have — at least this is the way it comes across — is something like, “If Jesus did that for you, died that your sins might be forgiven, shouldn’t you at least do this for him, try to please him?”

Gaffin: With such a construction justification and sanctification are pulled apart; the former is what God does, the latter what we do, and do so inadequately. At worst, this outlook tends to devolve into  moralism. I hope, too, not to be misunderstood here. Surely our gratitude is important. How could we be anything but grateful for the free forgiveness of our sins? That note of gratitude, whether or not explicit, is pervasive and unmistakable in Paul . No doubt, too, all of our efforts as believers are, at best, imperfect and flawed by our continuing to sin. BUT Paul sounds a different, much more radical note about sanctification and the good works of Christians. Sanctification, first of all and ultimately, is not a matter of what we do, but of what God does.

mark: Sounds good, does it not. Gaffin goes on to define what God does in us, which is to enable us to work by faith. Gaffin does not call this  “synergism” or even “reciprocity” (even though some of his disciples do) Gaffin explains it with his old “monergism” formula, which is a “comptatiblist” 100% God and 100% man. Like Dan Fuller . Gaffin accuses others of being “Galatianists” who teach sanctification by works instead of by faith, and then himself turns our works into that which is a part of our “faith”, on the basis that our works are caused by God’s work in us. Gaffin insists on defining “justified from sin” (Romans 6:7) into a definitive ontological breach with the power of sin so that we work. And Gaffin does this while accusing us of choosing justification over sanctification!  He does thus by putting “union” before both justification and sanctification, but then explaining that the Holy Spirit’s work in us (regeneration and sanctification) has priority over Christ’s atonement, since he assumes with the majority that the Spriti gives us Christ, instead of Christ giving us the Spirit.

Perhaps we need to think more about the continuity of  persons before and after regeneration (or corruption). Some of us are suspicious of any gospel which makes its “reality” to be ultimately about what God does in us, either in the new birth or habitually.  Say what you want about our new ‘faith disposition”, we know we are still sinners. Others of us (Gaffin, Tipton, Piper, Fuller)  are suspicious of any gospel which puts all the emphasis on gratitude for Christ’s work outside us for us.

I am aware of a long philosophical history of talking about infusion and impartation.   I do not want to discount the wonderful news that God gives the elect a new heart to understand and to keep believing the gospel. Regeneration assures us that the justified, despite their continuing sins, will never stop believing the gospel . “I John 3:9, “No one born of God sins, because God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot sin because he has been born of God.”

I John 3:9 is not only saying that the justified elect cannot be charged with the sin of not believing the gospel. Of course it is true that Christ died as a result of being imputed with the elect person’s sins in not believing. But Christ also died in order to give the Spirit to the elect so that the elect would abide in the gospel, and the gospel would abide in the elect. When I deny that the Spirit gives Christ or that the Spirit unites to Christ, I am not denying that Christ gives the Spirit or that the Spirit gives the elect person a new heart.

But I disagree with John Calvin that the Holy Spirit must join the elect to Christ’s person before they are imputed with Christ’s righteousness.  Here’s the famous (Barth, Torrance, Gaffin) quotation from Calvin (3:11:10): “I confess that we are deprived of justification until Christ is made ours. Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts—in short, that mystical union—are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed.. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that His righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into His body—in short because he deigns to make us one with Him.”

Of course you can say this is all much about nothing, but Calvin seems to think it is very important, and so do the academics   who seem to write every essay so that they can get to that quotation. They quote 3:11:10 often, as that which trumps anything else Calvin wrote.

As long as Christ is outside us, they say, His righteousness is not yet imputed to us, therefore faith in Christ comes before justification.  Of course all agree in theory that there is an eternal election, but there’s hardly any need to ever talk about the sins of the elect having already been imputed to Christ before His death.  The important thing “Gaffin has in common with Arminians (who he defends as his brothers and sisters) who don’t believe in election is that they both agree that faith is the condition of union with Christ and that this union with Christ is the condition of justification.

Berkhof  (systematic, p452)

“It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. “

“Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing (or future) condition, but on that of a gracious imputation–a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.”

Children of Abraham, Not What It Used to Be

November 2, 2012

All the laws God gave are moral, and the cherry-picking which decides some of them are not moral is a weak instrument used by those who want to ignore the flow of redemptive history, in which not all covenants are the same and in which not all of God’s laws are given at one time.

Beginning in Genesis 12. Abram is promised a great nation (polis), and he can’t have a great nation without land, territory for many people, mostly all biologically related to Abram, a land with no other altars allowed except to Yahweh the King. God also promised blessings for other nations based on their relation to Abram’s nation, with curses for those nations which don’t relate favorably to Abram’s nation.

This is one reason we need to deny that the Abrahamic covenant is the new covenant, despite the continuity between some of the promises to Abraham and the new covenant. Promises to Abraham are fulfilled in the circumcision of Christ on the eighth day (Luke 2).

The sign of circumcision was not only about pointing to the bloody sacrifice of Christ, which cuts the justified elect off from legal solidarity with Adam. Circumcision was an initiation rite for every male in Abraham’s family (even if one parent did not go testify before the presbytery!). And what belonging to Abraham’s family means now and what it meant then is not the same thing.

Theonomists are promising us that, with the right attitude and understanding, we already have what the judiazers offered. But to understand the advance of redemptive history is to see that we don’t need what the judiazers offered, And also, we can’t have what the theonomists are offering. There is only one way now to be children of Abraham, and those who are non-elect and who do not believe the gospel cannot now be “children of Abraham”. They can’t be in the new covenant. Nor should they be in “the administration” of the new covenant.

Now that Christ has been born and circumcised, it’s not possible for jewish male infants to be born as types of the birth to come. The solution to this fact is not to divide the Abrahamic covenants into parts, some cherry-picked as “ceremonial” with other parts “moral”.

Sure, the promises to Abraham are typological. But they put non-Abrahamic people out of the territory to make room for the biological-political heirs of Abraham. And the Doug Wilsons of the world, despite their optimism about future generations being mostly Christians, are no more averse than Augustine and Calvin to pushing people not in their “the church” out of their territory.

If it is not Christ who kept all the conditions of the elect being in (and staying in) the new covenant, then we need to hear a lot more from theonomic folks about the kind of “conditionality” involved in the new covenant. Is the new covenant “unbreakable” only in the sense that the covenant stands even if no individuals do what they have to do to “get connected” (and stay connected) with Christ’s death?