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

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.”

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9 Comments on “Thanks for the Person, or Thanks for the Works, or Thanks for the Benefits?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    I Timothy 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

  2. MARK MCCULLEY Says:

    I am still waiting for any Bible verses which prove “infused righteousness”.

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

    mark:. 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 certainly correct about that truth, 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 belongs not to us alone in our insides but 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 Christ Himself 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: Of course Socinians who deny forensic justification often ask this, but I understand that you are not denying any forensic thing. You are only denying the only. You are merely deny the mere imputation. You want the forensic plus more, also Christ Himself the person living in you, but not only that, but let’s say it, Christ in us our righteousness.

    I agree that Christ the person is not a something to be imputed. I agree that the true Christ is given to live in the justified elect. We don’t need false alternatives, such as “HIM vs His work”. But we also need true antithesis. The “life of God inside the of the man” IS NOT THE RIGHTEOUSNESS.

    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” combined 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 making a distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin bases assurance partly on Christ’s life in us evidenced by our imperfect but habitual obedience.

    Gaffin takes Romans 2:13 to be describing Christians. The hope for future justification is not Christ’s death, resurrection, and intercession outside us ALONE. Gaffin cautions us to remember that the obedience (works, avoidance of sin) which he thinks factor into assurance come from God living in us. He gives grace the credit for our “breach with sin”.

    I agree 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. One evidence of this effectual call is that the justified elect do not put their assurance in Christ’s life in us or even in what they call God’s effectual call.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Richard Muller—“Use of the language of personal relationship with Jesus often indicates a qualitative loss of the traditional Reformation language of being justified by grace alone through faith in Christ and being, therefore, adopted as children of God in and through our graciously given union with Christ. Personal relationships come about through mutual interaction and thrive because of common interests. They are never or virtually never grounded on a forensic act such as that indicated in the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works – in fact personal relationships rest on a reciprocity of works or acts. The problem here is not the language itself: The problem is the way in which it can lead those who emphasize it to ignore the Reformation insight into the nature of justification and the character of believer’s relationship with God in Christ.

    Such language of personal relationship all too easily lends itself to an Arminian view of salvation as something accomplished largely by the believer in cooperation with God. A personal relationship is, of its very nature, a mutual relation, dependent on the activity – the works – of both parties. In addition, the use of this Arminian, affective language tends to obscure the fact that the Reformed tradition has its own indigenous relational and affective language and piety; a language and piety, moreover, that are bound closely to the Reformation principle of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The Heidelberg Catechism provides us with a language of our “only comfort in life and in death” – that “I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ” (q. 1). “Belonging to Christ,” a phrase filled with piety and affect, retains the confession of grace alone through faith alone, particularly when its larger context in the other language of the catechism is taken to heart.

    (“How Many Points?” Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28 (1993): 425-33 Riddelblog)

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin: Others do good, not from a desire to do what is right, nor on account of the glory of God, but only to obtain for themselves fame and a reputation for holiness. This last mentioned class Christ now describes, and he properly calls them hypocrites: for, having no proper object in view in the performance of good works, they assume a different character, that they may appear to be holy and sincere worshipers of God.” (Commentary on Matt. 6)

  5. markmcculley Says:

    John Piper—the Bible rarely, if ever, motivates Christian living with gratitude…Could it be that gratitude for bygone grace has been pressed to serve as the power for holiness, which only faith in future grace was designed to perform?… some popular notions of grace are so skewed and so pervasive that certain biblical teachings are almost impossible to communicate. For example, the biblical concept of unmerited, conditional grace is nearly unintelligible to Christians who assume that unconditionality is the essence of all grace.

    Piper—… “the conditional promises of grace are woven all through the New Testament teaching about how to live the Christian life. “If you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). “Pursue…sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14)…I find that Biblical thinking behind these kinds of conditional promises is uncommon in the minds of Christians today. Some popular conceptions of grace cannot comprehend any role for conditionality other than legalism.”

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Sanctification, IVP, 2014, ed Kapic, Julie Canlis, “Sonship. Identity and Transformation”, p 246 “Gratitude may not fully capture the fullness of Calvin’s vision for the redeemed…Calvin expresses that our gratitude is a gift of the Holy Spirit and therefore flows naturally from our newly transformed identities…Christ’s finished work is for me—NOT HOWEVER BY APPLICATION BUT RATHER BY ACTIVE PARTICIPATION…

    http://oldlife.org/2014/10/gratitude-motivation

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Brain Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude, p 61—The familial imagery runs along side the forensic imagery, and finally supplants it. In the end, Christ saves us reconcilies us, justifies us as God’s son who takes us for his brothers and sisters.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    those who deny Romans 5 teach that
    people only become guilty because they sin

    But the imputation of Christ’s death ito s undeserved by us

    and the imputation of Adam’s guilt was un-deserved by us

    ———
    those who equate imputation of righteousness with righteousness
    make Adam and history irrelevant

    preach Christ, they say, and don’t bother about Adam
    it does not matter if Adam really existed
    it does not matter if there was a real sin in history that is imputed
    it does not matter how Christ was made sin

    and whatever “propitiation” might be, there is no before or after to propitiation
    Christ was born justified
    just preach Christ, the living person in you, they say

    forget Adam, because if Adam was elect, Adam was born justified
    forget Abraham, because if Abraham was elect, Abraham was born justified

    forget faith, forget history, only just preach Christ, they say

  9. markmcculley Says:

    First they say, there is no priority between Christ’s person and Christ’s work

    second they say, you must be united to Christ’s person before you can have the benefit of Christ’s work

    so they have contradicted what they said about person and work

    third I ask, but how can you be united to Christ without first being imputed with the righteousness which Christ obtained by the work of His death?

    how can the holy Christ live in you before you are declared righteous?

    how could the Holy Spirit regenerate you and give you life before you even share in Christ’s death?

    fourth is what is almost never said, well Jesus died for everybody, Jesus has available righteousness enough for everybody

    assumed but not said, election is not about Christ’s death but about who the Holy Spirit chooses to give to so they can exercise faith and then that makes Christ’s death work

    assumed but not said, if the Holy Spirit does not choose to give you faith, you can still be fairly condemned because at least jesus died for everybody including

    so jesus died to make if just for God to damn you?

    if Jesus had not died for you, then God would not be sovereign enough to damn you?
    If Jesus had not died for you, then God would not be both just and the one who condemns you?


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