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

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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14 Comments on “Does God Count the Faith God Gives us as Righteousness? Since Faith is Not a Work?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    I think we need to be very very careful when we talk about God reckoning faith for righteousness. i disagree with what John Murray says in his commentary about Gen 15 and Romans 4. I agree with his nine reasons that faith is not the righteousness, but Murray then concludes that God does indeed count faith as righteousness. We should not say that. Lutherans and Arminians say it, but they should NOT and the Bible rightly interpreted does not say that. .Our object of faith is the righteousness of Christ, and what God counts as righteousness is Christ’s righteousness.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Fesko– “We should also note, however, that Paul writes without qualification or wincing: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). If condemnation is the antonym for justification, then we can also reword Romans 8:1 to say, “There is therefore now justification for those who are in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added). In other words, a robust doctrine of justification is not antithetical to our union with Christ, nor is it superfluous. Rather, it is the legal aspect of our union with Christ. As A. A. Hodge explains, our union with Christ has a federal and representative character.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    What does “For I through the law died to the law” mean? Galatians 2:19

    Machen, Notes, p 159 “The law . . . led men, by its clear revelation of what God requires, to relinquish all claim to salvation by their own obedience. In that sense, surely, Paul could say that it was through the law that he died to the law. The law made the commands of God so terribly clear that Paul could see plainly that there was no hope for him if he appealed for his salvation to his own obedience to those commands.”

    Machen: “This interpretation yields a truly Pauline thought. But the immediate context suggests another, and an even profounder, meaning for the words.”

    Machen: “The key to the interpretation is probably to be found in the sentences, I have been crucified together with Christ, which almost immediately follows. The law, with its penalty of death upon sins (which penalty Christ bore in our stead) brought Christ to the cross; and when Christ died I died, since he died as my representative.”

    Machen: “The death to the law… the law itself brought about when… Christ died that Since He died that death as our representative, we too have died that death. Thus our death to the law, suffered for us by Christ, far from being contrary to the law, was in fulfillment of the law’s own demands. “

  4. markmcculley Says:

    For Luther, justification by faith does not refer to faith as that which receives righteousness, but rather as the righteousness itself that God gives to the believer through the gospel.
    For Luther, faith is what truly fulfills the law of God. By ascribing to God truthfulness, faith fulfills every divine demand, according to Luther Unlike Calvin, Luther does not speak of faith as something empty in and of itself. For Luther, faith is the righteousness of a Christian.
    Luther’s argument that faith is the righteousness depends on a distinction between commands and promises, a distinction that would later be formulated in terms of law and gospel. I agree with that distinction between law and gospel, but I still (with Calvin at this point) reject the notion that faith is the righteousness, because Christ’s death (not faith) satisfies the law. The law requires either perfect obedience or death. Not both.
    Faith is not perfect obedience. Faith created in us by the gospel is not perfect obedience. Christ’s presence in us is not perfect obedience.
    Faith in Christ’s death is not the same thing as Christ’s death. The object of faith is not the same thing as faith. The presence of Christ in us is not the same thing as faith. The presence of Christ in us is not the righteousness. The object of faith is not Christ’s presence in us.

    Of course I reject Melanchthon’s reject of the bondage of the will and endorsement of synergism, but I do agree with Melanchton (and with Piper vs Seifrid) in making it clear that faith is NOT the righteousness.

    Luther is more Augustinian on the bondage of the will, but also more Augustinian in his view of justification being Christ in us (not what Christ works in us, as in Augustine) but nevertheless on faith in us, as Christ in us, as therefore the “alien righteousness” IN US.

    By 1543 Melanchthon locates righteousness in Christ and affirms that faith is merely an instrument that grasps Christ, and, as such, is intrinsically unworthy in itself: . . . we are righteous by faith, that is, through mercy for the sake of Christ we are righteous, not because faith is a virtue which merits the remission of sins . . . . Therefore we do not say that we are righteous by faith in the sense that this is a worthiness of such great power that it merits remission, but in the sense that there must be some instrument in us by which we lay hold upon our Mediator who intercedes for us, and on account of whom the eternal Father is favorable toward us. Melanchthon, Loci Communes 1543 (trans. Preus), p 109.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    M Jones on Franciscus Gomarus,— it was “not the doctrine of predestination but that of justification” which was the “cardinal point on which Arminius deviated from Reformed doctrine.” Arminius also claimed to agree with the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession based on what, according to Richard Muller, can at best be described as a highly defensive and tendentious reading of those documents. minius distinguishes between legal theology and evangelical theology. Regarding, the latter, as sinners, because of the gracious estimation of God, faith is our righteousness. The righteousness of Christ is not imputed to believers, according to Arminius. He did not seem to believe Christ’s righteousness could be imputed. Arminius made us of a concept, known as acceptilatio. Imperfect faith is accepted (by God’s gracious estimation) as righteousness. Or, to put it another way, the human act of faith is by grace counted as evangelical righteousness, as if it were the complete fulfillment of the whole law.
    Aza Goudriaan– “While it is difficult to pin Arminius down on one particular view, it is obvious that he suggested in certain texts a justification because of the act of faith” (Scholasticism Reformed, 163; cf. McCall and Stanglin, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace, 166-169). you might come to the conclusion that the Reformed and the Remonstrants seemed to agree on the formal cause of justification, i.e., imputation. But they differed on the material cause. What is imputed to the believer, our act of faith or Christ’s righteousness apprehended by faith? The Reformed held to the latter, whereas, as noted above, the Arminians typically held to the former. But even on the so-called “formal cause” there was an important difference between the two camps. Based on what I have said above, for the Arminians, imputation is an aestimatio – God considers our righteousness (i.e., act of faith) as something that it is not (i.e., perfect). The Reformed, however, view imputation as secundum veritatem – God considers Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness, precisely because it is
    The act of faith in both the Papist and Arminian schemes seem to reveal similarity between the two positions. But for the Papists, faith is only the beginning of justification, whereas for Arminians faith is the perfect righteousness of the law–the act of faith answers to the demands of the gracious covenant

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Scott Clark keeps the word “condition” but attempts a distinction between condition of the gospel and condition of the law (and then there’s condition of the covenant). Then he is asked— In your scheme “law-keeping” (which is really just self-righteousness) is not and, for whatever reason, cannot be separated from “obedience.” I think you are right in saying that the object of faith is what makes faith alive but the evidence of that life is Spirit-wrought obedience (initially demonstrated in a positive response to the command to believe), hence it is a necessary element. If there is no Spirit-wrought obedience (i.e. there is no faith) then the object of faith is not Jesus (because, in fact, there is no faith at all). It is important to keep in mind, I think, that there are two kinds of law: the law of love (which is the gospel and life) and the law of works (which is self-righteousness and death). You are either a slave to one or the other, you are obedient to either one or the other. The former can only obtain via the gift of God (by grace through faith) while the latter obtains as the initial reality of being fallen.

    You say that faith is a response to a command but that it isn’t a work. Okay, so how does that keep such a response from being described as obedience? What other descriptors are there for doing what one is commanded to do? To describe the response of faith as obedience does not necessitate the presence of law-keeping as you seem to be implying. I wholly agree that faith is passive in justification, it simply receives the righteousness of Jesus; but this doesn’t change the fact that faith is an obedient response to God’s command to believe

  7. markmcculley Says:

    To his credit, Dan Fuller knew he was disagreeing with Calvin. Dan Fuller didn’t “admit it”, but he was self-conscious to point out where he differed. Even though I agree with Calvin, I quote from Dan Fuller’s Unity of the Bible (p 181):

    “In commenting on Genesis 2:17 -do not eat from that tree–Calvin said, `These words are so far from establishing faith that they do nothing but shake it.’ I argue, however, that there is much reason for regarding these words as well suited to strengthen Adam and Eve’s faith

    Fuller: “In Calvin’s thinking, the promise made in Genesis 2:17 could never encourage faith, for its conditionality could encourage only meritorious works. `Faith seeks life that is not found in commandments.’ Consequently, the gospel by which we are saved is an unconditional covenant of grace, made such by Christ having merited it for us by his perfect fulfillment of the covenant of works.

    Dan Fuller comments: “I have yet to find anywhere in Scripture a gospel promise that is unconditional.”

    More from Unity (p310): “If Abraham was not declared forgiven until ten years later, was he still a guilty sinner when he responded positively to God’s promises in Genesis 12:2-3 and also during the following years up until 15:6?”

    Fuller (p313): “Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…James’ s concern in 2:14-26 was to urge a faith that saves a person, not simply to tell a person how they could demonstrate their saving faith…Calvin should have taught that justification depends on a persevering faith, since he regarded Abraham as already justified before Genesis 15:6.”

    As far as I can tell, Tom Schreiner’s proposals about perseverance are not different from what Dan Fuller wrote back then. Many who would disagree with “federal visionists” seem to be “covenantal moralists”. There is a heritage which goes from Jonathan Edwards to Richard Gaffin.

    Turretin (chapter 8, p 89): “Let the exclusives be examined and the thing will be clear–’We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law’ (Rom 3:28); ‘not of works’ (Eph 2:8); ‘knowing that a man is NOT justified by works of the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ. (Gal 2:16)’. The particle is adversative (Matt 12:4; 24:36; Mark13:32; John 17:12; Rev 9:4; 21:27) from the opposition of faith and works, which displace each other.”

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Four Views on The Role of Works at the Final Judgment, Zondervan, 2013, Tom Schreiner, p 89–“Often scholars like John Calvin have argued that the word justify in James means “prove to be righteous” in contrast to Paul where the word justify means “declare to be righteous”. There is scant evidence supporting the meaning “prove to be righteous. The verb regularly has a forensic sense (declare to be righteous) and it should be understand to have this meaning in James 2:14 to 21 as well. …Most scholars also agree that James draws significantly on the words of Jesus. IN Matthew 12:37, Jesus declares that human beings will be ‘justified’ or ‘condemned’ by the words they speak. As Jesus refers to a future judgment in accordance with words spoken, James refers to a future justification in accord with deeds performed.”

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Philip Cary—-“For Augustine and the whole Christian tradition prior to Calvin, it is perfectly possible to have a genuine faith and then lose it. Apostasy from the true faith. For Calvin, on the contrary, there is a kind of faith I can have now which I am sure not to lose, because it comes with the gift of perseverance. What is more, I can know that I have such faith rather than the temporary kind.”

    Cary–“if Augustine is right about predestination, it is logically impossible to know you are saved for eternity without knowing that you are predestined for such salvation. That is precisely why Augustine denies you can know you are predestined for salvation….To require faith that you are predestined for salvation before admission to the sacrament is… to make faith into a work

    Mark Mcculley–To me it looks like Cary (Anglican,but with a Lutheran theology) is saying that faith must have as its object present faith but not future faith AND not penal satisfaction . The idea of sins having already been paid for by Christ’s death has no place in his thinking. Cary is caught in a discussion about the nature of faith, in which he says that other people’s faith is a work, because he thinks the object of other peoples’ faith is not true.

    Philip Cary—”Catholics don’t worry about whether they have saving faith but whether they are in a state of mortal sin—so they go to confession. Reformed Protestants don’t worry about mortal sin but about whether they have true saving faith—so they seek conversion. Luther points here to the words “for you,” and insists that they include me. When faith takes hold of the Gospel of Christ, it especially takes hold of these words, “for you,” and rejoices that Christ did indeed died for me.”

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Some Reformed people, to avoid making faith a condition of salvation, tell us that the continual faith in the gospel by the elect is a work. They do this in order to prove that the elect are saved not by believing but by the work of Christ. For example, Harold Camping quotes John 6:28-28, “ What shall we do to do the works of God? “ Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe in Him whom He has sent.” Then Camping quotes Phil 2:13, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

    Then Camping goes to James about faith working and then says this proves that our human act of believing is no part of salvation. He claims that it’s Christ’s faith that saves.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    God does not count our love as God’s righteousness.
    God does not count our faith as God’s righteousness.
    God does not count Christ’s faith as God’s righteousness.
    God does not count faith as righteousness.
    God counts Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness.
    God counts righteousness as righteousness.
    Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness, but Christ’s righteousness also keeps being Christ’s righteousness.
    Our love does not become God’s righteousness.
    Our faith does not become God’s righteousness.
    God’s faithfulness to God’s covenants does not become our righteousness.
    Christ’s death becomes God’s righteousness because Christ is God.
    Christ became guilty of all the sins of the elect.
    Christ’s death becomes our righteousness.

  12. markmcculley Says:

    do we receive faith by faith?
    faith is not imputed
    faith is given because Christ’s death is imputed
    God imputes Christ’s death to each and every elect person
    elect persons are those for whom Christ died
    2 Peter 1:1 Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal privilege with ours THROUGH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

  13. markmcculley Says:

    Rob Zins, who wrote his masters on Shepherd’s view of Justification, writes on p 189 about Romans 2: “It is difficult to grasp how Paul could be speaking hypothetically. Paul rather seems to be making direct statements of reality. .. The question revolves around whether God gives eternal life `because’ of good works or `in accordance with good works’. ” And then on p 192, Zins concludes: “both James and Paul do not hesitate to apply the word `justification’ when God approves a sinner on the basis of good works…Yet these justification notifications stem from a previous justification by imputation…The blood of Christ had to be applied to Abraham for his justification despite both his faith and the completion of his faith by his good works.” And then Zins quotes favorably ( p 196) the conclusion of Jonathan Edwards about God considering from the first the future works of faith of the believers.

  14. markmcculley Says:

    thesis and antithesis on God’s imputation of Christ’s death

    God imputes Christ’s righteousness
    faith does NOT impute Christ’s righteousness

    righteousness is imputed
    faith is NOT imputed

    God’s righteousness is Christ’s death
    God’s righteousness is NOT in us

    God’s righteousness is the external objective value of Christ’s death
    Christ’s righteousness is NOT imparted or infused

    God imputes Christ’s death to create effectual calling
    God does NOT effectually call in order to imputed Christ’s death

    God imputes Christ’s death to cause faith
    God does NOT impart faith in order to cause imputation

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