Archive for July 2013

No Christian Has Yet “Gone to be with the Lord”— Asleep After the First Death

July 31, 2013

Now Christ is now in heaven. None of the justified elect are now in heaven. None of the justified elect have ascended to a place from which they never descended.

Hebrews 11: 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Acts 2: 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 UNTIL I make your enemies your footstool.”’

Colossians 3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where CHRIST is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, THEN you also will appear with him in glory.

John 3:13–“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”

Psalm 110:1–”The Lord says to my Lord; Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The justified elect do not share God’s throne and do not sit at God’s right hand. The heavenly glory Christ had enjoyed in the Father’s presence before His incarnation has now been “crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death. (Hebrews 2:9)

Sitting there at the right hand, Christ does not simply wait but intercedes for the justified elect. Christ was first resurrected (the first-fruits) and then He ascended to heaven.

An ascent directly into heaven from the cross without a resurrection would be Plato’s pagan idea of death as the release of an immortal soul. Going to heaven is not resurrection.

Gnostics teach going to heaven without resurrection. Gnostics teach that resurrection is going to heaven. Some of these gnostics are preterists, but most of them simply do not think straight about the need for the second coming of Christ. Some of them claim that the second coming and the resurrection are necessary to claim our bodies from the grave, but agree with the popes that “immortal souls” are already either in heaven, or “hell”, or “purgatory”.

Theses traditionalists not only deny a lasting punishment which ends in the second (and final death), but they also hold onto unbiblical (Platonic) ideas about what “soul” is. Since they do not know that the living soul is body plus breath (Genesis 2:7), they tend to think of the “immortal soul” and they cannot deal with reality of Christ the servant pouring out His soul unto death (Isaiah 53). Since they change Christ’s death into “spiritual death”, they also tend to change Christ’s bodily resurrection into “going to heaven.”

Heretics like Harold Camping go so far as to say that Christ’s “spiritual death” (which he locates before the ages of history) is the real and effective death. Then he says that the physical death is only a demonstration of the “eternal” real “spiritual” death. Other unthinking preachers do not go as far as Camping, but they seem to prefer talking about Christ’s “infinite soul suffering” instead of the death Christ died in history which was demanded by God’s law for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ.

Ephesians 1:20 describes God’s mighty power “which He exercised in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and enthroned Him at His right hand in the heavenlies.”

Acts 3:15–”You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead.”

I Timothy 3:16 “He was taken up into glory”.

I Peter 1:20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

I Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

I Corinthians 15:20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, THEN AT HIS COMING those who belong to Christ.

The “Misunderstanding” View of the Law

July 29, 2013

John Armstrong’s Reformation and Revival Journal (Luther 2) endorsed the conditional theology of Daniel Fuller. It has a review essay on Fuller’s “Unity of the Bible” by Chuck Huckaby. Though Fuller accused Calvin of being too unconditional , Huckaby spends much of his time trying to say that Calvin was also conditional.

Huckaby writes that Fuller’s quoting of Calvin is selective, and that we should refer to the creeds which are conditional. Both Piper and Fuller quote Calvin selectively. Piper only quotes that with which he can agree; I give Fuller more credit for at least quoting and disagreeing with Calvin..

Huckaby writes (p220) that the only issue here is the conditionality of faith and “nothing of works”. But “works” are at the very heart of Daniel Fuller’s concerns.

Since the old covenant and the law command faith, Fuller claims, what we need to do is avoid MISUNDERSTANDING so that our works are “works of faith” and not a “legalism of merit without faith.” It’s not “nothing of works”. Rather, it is of works, and besides that, the works must be of faith. So instead of trusting only the finished work of Christ, we must constantly suspect ourselves, and look to see if we have works, and to see if these works are properly motivated. This may be a puritan emphasis but it is not consistent with the gospel.

Here is Huckaby’s defense of the “conditionality” of the gospel–“The law is not the “letter” of 2 Corinthians from which we are released.” Then he quotes a puritan: “The spiritual law of Romans 7:12 cannot be the same as the ‘letter’ of II Cor 3:6. The ‘letter’ from which we are released is the one without the Spirit…and thus is the very opposite of the spiritual law of Romans 7.”

This is the “misunderstanding” reading:—neither Romans 7 or II Cor 3 are seen as being about redemptive history or about the change brought by the new covenant. They are only warnings, proper for any time or covenant, to NOT MISUNDERSTAND, to not be a “legalist with wrong motives”.

Huckaby quotes Cranfield to support his reading of II Cor 3:
“Paul does not use ‘letter’ as a simple equivalent of ‘the law’.” “Letter” is rather what the legalist is left with as a result of his misunderstanding, and misuse of the law in isolation from the Spirit is not the law in its true character….”

This “misunderstanding” view is what many other Reformed folk are doing
to minimize the difference between law and grace. If you get the law back to its “true character”, then salvation is also by law. If you get works back to being enabled by sovereign grace, then justification is by works. They don’t want to us say anymore that God DID what the law could NEVER do (Romans 8:3). That sounds too “antinomian” and “dispensational”.and “Lutheran”.

Does God Count the Faith God Gives us as Righteousness? Since Faith is Not a Work?

July 23, 2013

Does God credit our faith (a gift from God to us) as the righteousness which saves us? In chapter 4, Brian Vickers describes Romans 4: “Paul contrasts two kinds of counting. In the first, wages are counted as the reward for works; in the second, faith is counted as righteousness. This immediately raises the important question: is faith in Christ a replacement for works? Just as works are rewarded with what is due, is faith rewarded with righteousness? This is not the way Paul describes it. God is contrasting two things, not simply swapping one thing for another thing.”

I agree so far. The works are not rewarded with more works. The works are rewarded with wages. The faith is not rewarded by God counting the faith as works. But then comes the problem. Brian Vickers: “God counts one thing for what it is, but the other thing is received by grace AND IS COUNTED FOR SOMETHING ELSE.

Mark: I agree with the contrast between works and faith. But I disagree that God counts faith as the righteousness. You could say that God “swaps” wages for works, or that God rewards for works, but you should NOT say that God “swaps” faith for righteousness. Remember his question: Is faith a replacement for works? Vickers wants to say no to that. But he can’t stay consistent in saying it. Vickers does ultimately think that God counts faith as the righteousness. On p 76, he writes that ‘faith is counted for something else”

The Second London Confession (1689) addresses this question: “Those whom God effectually calls He also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting them as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. They are not justified because God reckons as their righteousness either their faith, their believing, or any other act of evangelical obedience. They are justified wholly and solely because God imputes to them Christ’s righteousness. “

Vickers on one hand seems to know that God does not count faith as the righteousness. Thus he makes important qualifications. “Faith must not be thought of apart from its object.” Good. “Justification is not because of faith but by faith.” And then Vickers uses some more confessional language about “instrumental means” of righteousness instead of faith being the righteousness, or being counted as a substitute or an equivalent for the righteousness. And he concludes, “if faith is the righteousness in question, then faith is a work.” (p77). Again, I agree, but this won’t help much because the Arminians and the “covenantal nomists” will simply explain that faith however is NOT a work.Most of them (Arminians included) will even go on to say that faith is God’s gift to us, and therefore they will argue that it’s just for God to count faith as the righteousness.

Faith is a work. No, it’s not a work. The debate won’t take you very far. Even if the debate is about if faith comes from fallen man’s freewill contribution, the Calvinist accusation that says “well then it’s a work” does not do much because the Arminians will quickly explain that they never say it’s a work and that they know it’s not a work. In this concern that Vickers has about God accepting faith as the righteousness would make faith a work, he’s right to contrast faith and works, but he won’t get far as long as HE ALSO AGREES THAT GOD COUNTS SOMETHING (faith) FOR SOMETHING ELSE (righteousness). His explanation of “imputation” in chapter three has already brought in the false idea of God counting something for what it is not.

Remember what “imputation” is. Not that I care about that word. Use count, credit, reckon, declare, as you like, but the meaning comes down to two ideas. One, a simple analytic (forensic) declaration. We count God as just because God is just. God counts what Phinehas did as righteous because it was righteous. So all “imputing” has this “declaring what it is” idea to it. But two, in some cases, there is the idea of God ‘s sharing what belongs to one person or persons with another person or persons.

Notice, I say, in some cases. In all cases, there is forensic declaring. But in some cases, God creates (appoints, constitutes) a legal solidarity between two persons, so that what one person has also gets used to arrive at a declaring about the second person. So it’s not only judge and defendant, but a third party. In the case of Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness is the wages due to Christ for his work. The righteousness of Christ is God’s analytic declaration about what was accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection. I don’t care if you call this metaphorically Christ’s treasury of wages. The metaphor doesn’t bother me. Salvation is by work, not our works, but by Christ’s work. I don’t care if you accuse this of being “contract talk” and “legalism” (as the Barthians like the Torrances do).

But it’s not only two parties, but a third party. God imputes Adam’s sin to all humans when they are born (Christ the God-man excepted). God. Humans. The third party is Adam. And there are not only two parties (God and the elect) but Christ the third party, when His righteousness is imputed to the elect. Romans 4:6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

Vickers ends up saying that God DOES count faith as the righteousness. This leaves us with an “as though” version of imputation. Even in the cases in which there is legal sharing with the third party, the relationship is not “as if”. For example, between Christ and the Trinity, in the imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ, the imputation does not cause an internal change in Christ (God forbid), but Christ really (legally, not fictionally) became guilty (under the law) until Christ died once and thus is no more under the law (Romans 6). And if you think this is ‘contract talk” and “legalism” and a bad metaphor over-used, I simply don’t care.

Vickers needs to stop thinking of imputation as God accepting faith as righteousness. But he won’t get to the bottom of the problem until he starts talking about election and the death of Christ being a particular propitiation only for the elect. He needs to ask himself: whose sins were imputed to Christ? (election) and when were those sins imputed to Christ by whom? (by God, not by sinners, by God before the propitiation, not after faith)

Romans Thirteen

July 22, 2013

“Christians cannot measure whether we should revolt against the state, as if a certain states could fall short on the status of being states, and therefore need to be revolted against. Nor can we measure by this yardstick whether a nation-state has been ordained by God, because all nation-states have been predestined by God. All the powers that be are subject to the sovereignty of God, and Christians are to be subject to them all.

It is not by accident that the imperative of verse 13:1 is not literally one of “obedience”. The Greek language has good words to denote “obedience”. What the text calls for, however, is subordination. The Christian who refuses to worship Caesar but who is put to death by Caesar, is being subordinate even though he is not obeying.

The motives of this subordination are found not in fear or in calculations of how best to survive, but “in the mercies of God” (12:1) or in “conscience” (13:5). If the reason of our subordination is not God’s having legitimated the wrath of the state (or delegating the wrath to the state), what is our reason? Further attention to the motif of subordination as it is urged upon the slave ( I Peter 2:13) or upon family members (Col 3:18), shows the reason to be that Jesus Christ himself accept subordination and humiliation (Phil 2:5).

The willingness to suffer is then not merely a test of our patience or a dead space of waiting for Jesus to return. Willingness to suffer instead of killing is an imitation of God’s victorious patience with the rebellious powers of his creation.

John H. Yoder, Politics, p 213

Because We are Adopted, We are Given the Holy Spirit

July 21, 2013

Instead of seeing the difference between sinner and sinner as Christ’s justification of some sinners, many see the difference as the new birth causing Christians to not sin (too much) anymore. Their hope is their dying to self and Christ living in them, so much so that they are willing to ignore the context of Galatians 2 which is talking not about Spirit renewal but about Christ’s atonement and Christ’s righteousness. One writer argues: “Galatians 2:20 sure seems to be hard to defeat. It is dying to self and Christ living in you that proves that you are a Christian.”

Galatians 2:16— “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a sinner.

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I would live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in regard to me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

The “experimental” writers use Galatians 2:20 to prove a present ontological renewal by the indwelling Christ. But the context is about legal identification with Christ’s death. Verse 17 speaks of justification in Christ.

Verse 21–Paul does not say that if justification were partly another way, that Christ’s death should still not be denied. Rather, Paul says justification is all or nothing. It’s by Christ’s death or it’s not.

To be “dead with Christ” is not to be dying with Christ because of an inner new brith. To be dead with Christ is to to escape our dead “legal state” by means of Christ’s own legal death. There are only two legal states. Some sinners are not crucified with Christ, and still under the wrath of God. Other sinners, however, Christ loved. And the work of this love is Christ’s death—”gave Himself for me”.

These are not two different blessings here, Christ’s death for the elect, and then the elect’s “died with Christ”. No, the two ways of saying it are about the same good news. The justified elect’s “I have been crucified with Christ” is the Galatians 2 way of saying that Christ’s death was because of Christ’s legal identification with our dead state..“ Crucified with Christ” is Paul’s way to teach that Christ’s representation is substitution.

Galatians 2 is about  justification and the atonement. “I died to the law” in verse 19 is my justification by means of Christ’s death to the law because of my imputed sins.

Look at verse 20 in Galatians 2. In What’s At Stake in the Doctrine of Justification (IVP), DA Carson argues that the “Christ lives in me” should be read as “Christ lives in regard to me” in parallel to texts like Romans 4:25 and 5:10.
He is not denying the important mystery of Colossians 1:27 (Christ in you, the hope of glory). Neither am I.

But let the “Christ who lives in me” stand in 2:20. The “experimental” puritans still need to account for the rest of the verse which says–I am crucified, Christ lives. I am dead. If that death is not by legal justification (being placed legally into Christ’s death), what does it mean?

“I have been crucified” does not mean “I am dying” or “I am being born again”. “I have been crucified” is about Christ’s death in history—he loved me and gave himself for me. The “I died to the law” of verse 19 is NOT by means of the new birth or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 4 teaches us that we are given the Holy Spirit because we are legally adopted. We are not adopted because we have been given the Holy Spirit. 4:5, “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive ADOPTION as sons. 6 And BECAUSE YOU ARE SONS, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” The Holy Spirit of Adoption does not cause the children to be adopted. Christ’s adoption of children results in Christ giving them the Holy Spirit.

Do you want Grace or Justice?

July 19, 2013

Christ’s death, no hope in anything else
Christ’s death, no righteousness without it

God’s grace is either possible or always effective. If grace is only possible, then salvation is not by grace, but rather by works.

God’s grace is either according to justice or it is not. If grace is only non-just, then grace is only about the sovereignty of God and not about the justice of God. But if God’s grace is not only about what God “can do” but what God has done in Christ, then God’s grace is not about what you “can have if you accept it”.

The next time somebody asks you if you want justice or grace from God, remember that God never gives grace without justice. Our only hope is Christ’s death as the justice for all for whom God has grace. God only has grace for the elect and we know that because Christ’s death only satisfied God’s law for the elect. Christ already did justice for only the elect because God has never had grace for any but the elect. And this is the only gospel there is for everybody.

I quote from Chuck Swindoll’s definition— “Legalism is the belief that God does not act of grace but acts out of justice in giving his favor.” He calls it “unmerited favor”. Missing from this “gospel” is the righteousness the God-man obtained by His death for those God favors. Yes, the Bible teaches God’s love for the elect. But the Bible has no either/or between grace and justice, because God is both just and also the justifier of elect sinners.

When God justifies the ungodly elect, God is not justifying the better performers OR the better non-performers. God is not justifying on the basis of faith and works, but God is also not justifying on the basis of faith alone. When God justifies the ungodly elect, God is acting out of justice to Jesus Christ and to the Trinity by crediting these elect with the righteousness the incarnate God-man obtained by His death for the elect in history.

This righteousness is not simply God’s inscrutable “act of grace”. Christ’s death was perfect satisfaction of God’s law for all those who will be in the new covenant (the elect) and there is legal solidarity between the elect who need this righteousness and Christ whose death JUSTLY earned this righteousness.

Are YOU willing to define your gospel and then to have it judged by the Christian Scriptures? You are not submissive to God’s authority if you don’t want to be questioned about your teaching. I am not saying we should spend all our time arguing and debating. But unwillingness to be tested (according to the Scriptures) is arrogant and dangerous.

Pacifists Don’t Permit Murder

July 17, 2013

When somebody murders another person, it’s not the pacifist’s fault but the one who murdered. We should not assume that the pacifist was so sovereign that the pacifist “could have” prevented it.  Nor should we assume that the only thing we can do to prevent murder is to have a gun.

God is not a pacifist. God has not been a pacifist, and God will not be a pacifist. God is sovereign. God can and does prevent anything God wants to prevent. God now prevents what God has always planned to prevent. But God does not “allow” things. God does not “permit” things.
God did not “permit” all of us to murder His Son. God did not even “allow” 
those specific Jews and Romans who did murder Jesus Christ to do so. God ordained it. God planned it.
Acts 2:21 Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Romans 12: 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 
I Thessalonians 1: 3 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath HAS come upon them at last!
Some Christians “act as if some vast conspiracy is brewing in America over the Christian faith, with naysayers organized against Christians. They feel like they live life on the cultural margins, so they take that as their identity–they count their marginalization as their righteousness. They are not looking to Jesus as their only righteousness, and so they act from prejudice, assuming that everyone hates them, and they act in a way that comfirms this.”  (Crucifying Morality, p105, R. W. Glenn)

Some of these folks  read 2 Chronicles 7:14 (if my people) as if it were talking about a covenant of works with the American Empire. And then some of my pacifist friends (I claim to be a pacifist myself) agree with me that Muslims don’t care if they are being killed for Christian reasons or secular ones, well, these folks have no clue about  who God is in His sovereign justice.  They don’t know the gospel, but they do know that Christians should love their enemies and should not kill. They do know that it’s not our job to make justice happen if that means seeing to it that somebody gets what’s coming to them.

That is not only a disappointment to me, but a puzzle. People who have the same gospel have different politics, and people who have the same politics have different gospels. And I ask myself, how can they know so much about the grace of God and think the way they do about their enemies? And they ask themselves about me, how can he be so “conservative and orthodox” when it comes to gospel doctrine, and still not see the right of America to do whatever it takes to protect Israel from the Muslims?

I could say there are different kinds of “conservative”. Neo-cons who want their version of ” economic liberalism” are not the same as Luther and Calvin when it comes to politics. But what I usually say is this–you can believe the gospel without wanting to “conserve” that which has come about with the passing of time..


When Christians attempt to act as God’s agents in holy war, they have confused  the American nation  (or Israel, or “western civilization”) with a church. And it doesn’t make things better when Christians say that they only kill for “secular” reasons. It is inconsistent with the new covenant law of Christ for citizens of the kingdom of heaven to kill for the sake of another kingdom.You can only have one master, and you can only be a citizen of one nation. 

Of course the magisterial Reformers (Zwingli, Calvin, Luther) said to the anabaptists—we don’t drown you for your views on water baptism but rather for your political sedition in sharing those views publicly and acting on them. And now American Christians say—we don’t kill your for being Muslim. We kill you before you can kill us, because you would kill us simply because we are Christians.