How Could Questions about “The Order of Salvation” Be Practical?

Edwards puritan: The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. I am not sure how we can be united to one without being united to the other.  There is no  imputation of the righteousness of Christ before the actual union with Christ.

mark:  The puritan continues to say “actual union” in a question-begging fashion, and the problem is that he does not define what that means, except for his assumption that the “actual” is not the legal (which he does not deny). What he needs to do is find a term for what he’s calling “actual”. Is what he’s calling “actual” regeneration? Is what he’s calling “actual” the indwelling of the person Christ in us, so that (as in Luther), when faith is in us, Christ is in that faith and thus in us? In any case, he needs to explain what he means. Faith is an experience. Imputation (God’s legal sharing of the merit of Christ’s work) is not an experience.

I certainly agree that nobody can be united to Christ without also being united to the Holy Spirit. But the question concerns the Spirit’s priority in the “application”.  Calvin assumed this. But does this mean that the elect are united to the Spirit logically before they are united to Christ, and then the Spirit binds Christ together with elect persons? This is not a technical query about the order of salvation application (or even about the order of redemptive history). Rather, it’s a basic exegetical question about baptism in and with the Holy Spirit. Though the puritan agrees that Christ purchased the work of the Spirit for the elect, he still seems to think that the Spirit baptizes into Christ, but exegesis of all the seven texts (including Corinthians 12:13) tells us that Christ is the one who baptizes in and with the Spirit.

But how could this possibly be anything but a technical scholastic “order” question? Gaffin and all who dismiss the order question (Barth, Anthony Hoekema, Ferguson) as of no importance tend to have their own order, at the end of the day. Yes, you can’t have the Spirit without Christ, or Christ without the Spirit, but then it turns out that, when it comes to “actual union”, the priority always goes to the work of the Spirit in us, to faith as that which ‘applies” Christ. And this is practical, because that gets us away from thinking about the atonement or about the atonement being only for the elect, and gets us back to the place where we can work with Arminians–ie, the place where the atonement is for those who believe (whatever), the place where atonement is for those with the Spirit, the place where the atonement is not back there then but here now, so that the atonement becomes the application of the atonement, so that the “real” atonement becomes what the Spirit does with Christ.

if indeed the order is not practical and important, why is it that Gaffin and others spend so much time insisting on the priority of union with the resurrected Christ over any “legal union” with what Christ did in the past? If it doesn’t matter, then why not let us other folks keep on talking the way we do?

But the Confession says the Spirit applies, and Calvin did also. I won’t take the time to talk about the ambiguity in Calvin (or the Confessions), but I think the reason Calvin gives priority to the Spirit uniting to Christ has something to do with the way Calvin thought he had been baptized (in water). But why do puritan credobaptists also give the priority to the Holy Spirit? Some of them think water baptism is about Spirit baptism (or about both that AND baptism into the death of Christ, but my guess is that these puritan credobaptists give priority to experience. Imputation is not an experience..

A lot of the discussion of this is simply question-begging (probably mine also!).  Reasserting again that imputation can’t take place logically before the experience of faith. the puritans say imputation would be a fiction because imputation does not take place before the “actual union”. But if the Spirit (the blessing of Abraham) is given to sons, not in order to constitute sons (Galatians 3-4), then God’s imputation is first.

The puritans agree that Christ purchased the Spirit. they also agree that faith is not really the righteousness. But nevertheless they thinks it acceptable for us (and the Bible) to say that God counts our faith experience as the righteousness, and acceptable to say that the Spirit gives Christ (at least when it comes to “union”, as opposed to Christ giving the Spirit). But the result of that is always going to be us talking about regeneration and indwelling and our hearts instead of about Christ’s guilt-bearing for those elected in Christ.

I ask that we define “union”. It does no good to agree that “union” has various aspects (ie, it’s by election and it’s legal also) if we then go on from that to use the word “union” to mean “experimental break with the pattern of sin”.

Romans 6 is certainly a key text on the relationship of justification and the Christian life. Many read Romans 6 as if it were saying: don’t worry about that two legal heads stuff in Romans 5, because there is another answer besides justification as to why we don’t sin, and that is “union”. Or don’t worry about justification of the ungodly now, because God is not only looking to Christ’s death but also looking to what the Spirit is going to do in us in the future.

Others (like Robert Haldane) read Romans to say that the answer to the question about the Christian life is not something else besides justification, legal identity with Christ’s death and resurrection. We read Romans 6:7 as saying that the answer continues to be “justified from sin”. We insist on that because Christ became dead to sin, was justified from sin, and that certainly was NOT “regeneration” or the work of the Spirit in Him. We insist on reading Romans 6 in terms of “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law”.

Others of course read Holy Spirit baptism into Romans 6. They don’t talk about Christ giving the Spirit (which also is not in Romans 6). They talk about the Spirit giving Christ (which is not in Romans 6). Others talk about the sacramental water of the church. But it is no way acceptable to these folks to think that Romans 6 is about justification and legal identification. They already have their minds made up that imputation is not a good enough answer to the question of Romans 6.

If this topic is not practical, don’t waste your time on it. If you spend time on it, let’s agree that “order” questions are important even for you.

Explore posts in the same categories: atonement

Tags: , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

12 Comments on “How Could Questions about “The Order of Salvation” Be Practical?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    The Holy Spirit does not unite the elect to Christ. God unites the elect to Christ by judicial declaration. Romans 4:17, “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things which do not exist.”

    The Bible gives first place to Christ and what Christ got done judicially. To look to Christ in us and to life in us (given by the Holy Spirit) is to look away from the testimony about what Christ has done at the cross and in His resurrection.

    I Corinthians 1:28-30, “God chose even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no flesh can boast in the presence of God. God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

    It is not faith that made God the source of life. It is not the Holy Spirit who made God a source of life. God not only chose the elect in Christ; in time God also judicially declares the elect to have life in Christ.

    “Consider your calling,” begins I Corinthians 1: 26. It does not begin with the Holy Spirit changing the elect or causing them to believe. It begins with the Father declaring and calling. It begins with justification.

    Having Christ and having life is a result of justification. If the elect could have life and Christ before justification, it would be too late for justification, and there would be no need for justification or for the cross. After the justification of the ungodly elect, they become godly but they still need the Holy Spirit and the new birth. But if they could get the Spirit and life without the righteousness, they would not ever need the righteousness. Romans 8:10, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

  2. johnyeazel Says:

    Excellent clarifying post Mark.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    RS: But one cannot have faith apart from regeneration and it is regeneration that precedes (logically) faith. So faith itself is the work of the Spirit and it is faith is the “instrument” that receives Christ.

    MARK: BUT BOTH THE REGENERATION AND THE FAITH ARE THE IMMEDIATE EFFECT OF THE IMPUTATION. Justification is “through faith” does not mean that faith is the condition of the”union”. Nor does it mean that regeneration is the condition of the union. Please read the following from Bavinck on how “pietism” turns the gospel into conditional-on-faith neonomianism.

    H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, Vol. IV (1930), pp. 198

    With respect to the doctrine of justification there is no difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology as far as the essence is concerned; however, the doctrine does occupy a different place and does receive a different emphasis in the latter. This manifests itself first of all in the Luther pushed predestination steadily into the background, while Calvin placed it increasingly in the center and viewed justification also from that perspective.

    “The Lord, when He calls, justifies, and glorifies, does nothing other than to declare his election;” it is the elect who are justified. For that reason, it is entirely correct to say that Calvin never weakens either the objective atonement of Christ or the benefit of justification; but nevertheless, his perspective results in the righteousness of Christ being presented to us much more as a gift bestowed by God than as something which we accept through faith. The objective gift precedes the subjective acceptance.

    Calvin feels himself in the presence of God and placed before his judgment throne; for such a creature, humility and trusting in God’s mercy are the only proper thing; to that end are the elect justified, that they should glory in him and not in something else.

    Under the influence of Amyraldianism, there developed the neonomian representation of the order of redemption which made forgiveness of sins and eternal life dependent on faith and obedience which man had to perform in accordance with the new law of the gospel. Parallel with this development, Pietism arose which also shifted the emphasis to the subject, and which either demanded a long experience or a sudden conversion as a condition for obtaining salvation.

    As a reaction against this came the development of anti-neonomianism, which had justification precede faith, and antinomianism which reduced justification to God’s eternal love. Reformed theologians usually tried to avoid both extremes, and for that purpose soon made use of the distinction between “active” and “passive justification.” This distinction is not found in the reformers; as a rule they speak of justification in a “concrete sense.” They do not treat of a justification from eternity, or of justification in the resurrection of Christ, or in the gospel, or before or after faith, but combine everything in a single concept.

    Efforts were made to keep both elements as close together as possible, while accepting only a logical and not a temporal distinction. However, even then, there were those who objected to this distinction inasmuch as the gospel mentions no names and does not say to anyone, personally: Your sins have been forgiven. Therefore it is not proper for any man to take as his starting point the belief that his sins have been forgiven.

    The atonement of Christ is particular rather than universal. The preacher of the gospel can assure no one that his sins have been forgiven since he does not know who the elect are; and the man who hears the gospel is neither able nor permitted to believe this, inasmuch as he cannot be aware of his election prior to and without faith. As a result, the conclusion appeared rather obvious that the boldness to know one’s sins to have been forgiven and to have assurance of eternal salvation only came about after one has fled unto Jesus in faith. But in this manner the ground of justification shifted once again from God to man, from the righteousness of Christ to saving faith; from the gospel to the law.

    If, then, not faith in its quality and activity, but the imputed righteousness of Christ is the ground of our justification, the question arises with all the more emphasis: What is then the place of faith in this benefit? Does imputation take place in the death or resurrection of Christ, in the preaching of the gospel, prior to, or at the same time as, or after faith?

    The first position was asserted by the real antinomians. According to them justification was nothing else than the love of God which is not concerned about the sins of man, which does not require atonement in Christ, and which only needs to be proclaimed in order to enable man to believe. Faith is nothing but a renouncing of the error that God is angry and a realization that God is eternal love.

    This school of thought should be distinguished sharply from the views of the so-called anti-neonomians who opposed the change of the gospel into a new law as well as the idea that faith was a conditional factor in our justification, and who from this perspective sometimes came to confess an eternal justification. And it is true that election is from eternity. The “counsel of redemption” which includes the substitution of the Mediator for his people is from eternity.

    HOWEVER, THAT IS NO REASON TO RECOMMEND SPEAKING OF ETERNAL JUSTIFICATION. However, that is no reason to recommend speaking of eternal justification. “Justification as an act immanent in God” must of necessity be eternal, then it should be remembered that taken in that sense everything, including creation, incarnation, atonement, calling, regeneration, is eternal. Whoever would speak of an eternal creation would give cause for great misunderstanding.

    Besides, the proponents of this view back off themselves, when, out of the fear of antinomianism, they assert strongly that eternal justification is not the only, full, and complete justification, but that it has a tendency and purpose to realise itself outwardly. This amounts really to the usual distinction between the decree and its execution.

    The counsel of God and all decrees contained therein as a unit are without doubt eternal “immanent acts”, but the external works of God, creation, preservation, governing, redemption, justification, etc., are in the nature of the case “transient acts.” As works they do not belong to the plan of God’s ordering but to the execution of it.

    Under the influence of Arminian and Amyraldian theology, and of Pietism, the understanding of this actual justification gradually became that man had to believe and repent first, that thereafter God in heaven, in “the court of heaven,” sitting in judgment, acquitted the believer because of his faith in Christ.

    mark: I recommend those who are interested to read the rest. I agree with Bavinck that we don’t have to teach eternal justification to deny justification conditioned on the Holy Spirit’s work in the elect sinner.

    Bavinck: If justification in every respect comes about after faith, faith becomes a condition, an activity, which must be performed by man beforehand, and it cannot be purely receptive. But if the righteousness, on the ground of which we are justified, lies wholly outside of us in Christ Jesus, then faith is not a “material cause” or a “formal cause.”

    Faith is not even a condition or instrument of justification, for it stands in relation to justification not as, for example, the eye to seeing or the ear to hearing. Faith is not a condition, upon which, nor an instrumental organ, through which we receive this benefit, but it is the acceptance itself of Christ and all his benefits, as He presents Himself to us through word and Spirit, and it includes therefore also the consciousness, that He is my Lord and I am his possession.

    Faith is therefore not an instrument in the proper sense, of which man makes use in order to accept Christ, but it is a sure knowledge and a solid confidence which the Holy Spirit works in the heart and through which He persuades and assures man that he, not withstanding all his sins, has part in Christ and in all his benefits.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Belgic 24: for in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place

  5. markmcculley Says:

    The question is one as to order, not of time, but of cause and effect. All agree (1) That the satisfaction and merit of Christ are the necessary precondition of regeneration and faith as directly
    as of justification; (2) That regeneration and justification are both gracious acts of God; (3) That they take place at the same moment of time. The only question is, What is the true order of causation?

    Is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us that we may believe, or is it imputed to us because we believe? Is justification an analytic judgment, to the effect that this man, though a sinner, yet being a
    believer, is justified? Or is it a synthetic judgment, to the effect that this sinner is justified for Christ’s sake. Our catechism suggests the latter by the order of its phrases.

    God justifies us, ‘only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, and received by faith alone.’ The same seems to be included in the very act of justifying faith itself, which is the trustful recognition and embrace of Christ, who had previously ‘loved me, and given himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20).”

    “By consequence, the imputation of Christ’s righteous to us is the necessary precondition of the restoration to us of the influences of the Holy Spirit, and that restoration leads by necessary consequence to our regeneration and sanctification.

    “The notion that the necessary precondition of the imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness is our own faith, of which the necessary precondition is regeneration, is analogous to the rejected theory that the inherent personal moral corruption of each of Adam’s descendants is the necessary precondition of the imputation of his guilt to them.

    “On the contrary, if the imputation of guilt is the causal antecedent of inherent depravity, in like manner the imputation of righteousness must be the causal antecedent of regeneration and faith.”

    From The Princeton Review —A. A. Hodge, “The Ordo Salutis”


    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.”

  7. markmcculley Says:

    When the Westminster Confession speaks of “being baptized by the Spirit into one body”, that confession has zero biblical support. Christ is the one who baptizes into and with the Spirit. Neither I Corinthians 12: 13 or any other text says that the Spirit baptizes into one body. Look at Ephesians 4 and all the other texts you think teach that, and get back to me. And if that makes me a “landmarker”, I don’t care (even though I don’t care about water)

  8. markmcculley Says:

    my confession—Infants with parents who profess to believe the gospel are nevertheless still strangers to the new covenant, outside a visible congregation, until they profess faith in the promises of the gospel, which promises are no different for them than they are for any other sinners. Notice that my confession is not talking about either water or “baptism”

  9. markmcculley Says:

    There is a difference between the sequence of what God does and sequence of our understanding what God does. There is a difference between the history of redemption and the order of salvation applied to the elect.
    In terms of our understanding the gospel, we first understand that the righteousness revealed is the death of Christ, then we understand that our understanding of the righteousness is because of that righteousness being imputed to us. There is a sequence, not only in our understanding, but also in the priority of God’s work The Holy Spirit (because of Christ’s death) causes the elect sinner to understand the good news of Christ’s completed death when God imputes that death to the elect sinner. Christ gives us the Holy Spirit so that we understand that the Holy Spirit does not give us Christ, but gives us understanding of Christ (and the Holy Spirit)
    We do not understand all implications of the propositions we understand. , This does NOT mean that we do not understand ANY implication of the propositions we understand. Even though our understanding is incomplete, it is still understanding
    This is not to suggest a prescribed time lag between understanding the nature and efficacy of Christ’s death and understanding the new birth, but only making the point that we need to understand the extent and nature of the atonement before we can understand the new birth.
    To meaningfully talk about new birth, we must already understand what the righteousness revealed in the gospel is, but not that we understand everything about that one great act of obedience.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    The confessions teach—The imputation of righteousness does not come to the elect apart from Christ and Christ does not come apart from the Spirit and faith.

    But I say—Christ does not come to the elect apart from the imputation of righteousness and the Holy Spirit is given by Christ.

    Do not assume that “union with Christ” means Christ “indwelling us”

    Christ being in us does not have priority over us being in Christ.

    Christ indwelling is Christ’s presence in us, but without our being in Christ by imputation, we die.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Augustine, John’s Gospel 110.6

    “It was not AFTER we were reconciled to God through the blood of His Son that God began to love us. Rather, God has loved us before the world was created…. The fact that we were reconciled through Christ’s death must NOT be understood as if His Son reconciled us to God in order that God could now begin to love those whom God had hated

    the Father does not love us because of Christ, The Father elects us in Christ because of the Father’s love for Christ. The Father elects us in Christ because of the Father’s love for elect sinners.

    God’s justice in Christ is NOT the cause of God’s love, but it is the necessary means of God’s love.
    Justification is not election, but trying to teach imputation without election is failing to teach imputation and the justice of Christ’s death for imputed sins.

    The death of Christ is not the cause of God’s election in love.
    God’s election in love is the cause of the death of Christ.

    Jesus, the incarnate Son of God in the flesh, is the foundation of election by being Himself the object of election.

    “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things.”

    Bavinck—“Christ is a gift of love from the Father and that love precedes the sending of the Son. The Son did not move the Father to forgiveness, because electing love originated with the Father Himself.” 2:365

    God does not love us because we are justified

    this means not only that no sinners has always been justified

    it means that elect sinners have always been elect

    which means that election has lasted longer than justification

    which means that justification has not always lasted as long as justification

    I Peter 1: 18 For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 CHRIST WAS CHOSEN before the ages but was revealed at the end of the ages for you 21 who through Christ are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

  12. 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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: