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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