Archive for July 23, 2013

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)

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