Lane Tipton: Is It the Work of the Holy Spirit which Gives Reality to Imputation?

Lane Tipton, Biblical Theology and the Westminster standards, is one more attempt at talking about the “location of justification relative to union with Christ” (p 5, Westminster Theological Journal, 2013)

Tipon wants to put faith before God’s imputation of righteousness. Tipton also wants to put faith before “union with Christ”. Using confessional language( 11:4—“the Holy Spirit doth in due time apply Christ to them”), Tipton reasons that the Holy Spirit has priority over Christ in the event of imputation, since it’s faith that precedes both justification and “union”, and since the Holy Spirit is the one who gives faith.

On the way to his conclusuon, Lane Tipton uses the phrase “faith-union” which of course is NOT confessional. Instead of exploring any definition or distinction between Christ being in us or us being in Christ, Tipton simply stipulates that “union” is preceded by faith. First, this eliminates the alternative that God’s imputation precedes “union”. Second, it decides in advance what “union” is. For Tipton, “union” is assumed to be “union conditioned on faith” and this means there can be no union by imputation (even though he does not deny that Christ’s work is the basis for effectual calling). Thus Tipton begins with his conclusion, which is that effectual calling is not an immediate result of imputation but instead an immediate condition for God’s imputation.

Tipton then goes on to discuss Berkhof’s idea that something called ” active justification” precedes effectual calling and faith. I do not agree with either “eternal justification” or even the idea of some objective “active justification”. I don’t think we should equivocate with the word “justify”, so that sometimes we read it as “before our conscience” and other times we read it as “legally real before the tribunal of God”. When God imputed Christ’s righteousness to Abraham before Abraham was circumcised, that thought/imputation of God was not a “fiction” but a legal sharing at that time which immediately resulted in effectual calling, believing the gospel, and justification.

I anticipate my conclusion. Tipton does not completely think though the distinction between imputation and justification.

Tipton rightly criticizes the idea of justification before and without faith, but he doesn’t seem to have even heard the idea of an imputation that results in faith and justification. Tipton does not even consider the idea of an imputation before faith, despite what Mike Horton and Bruce McCormack have written about this issue.

But, remember the Westminster Confession! It doesn’t say “imputation before faith”. The Confession says “the Holy Spirit does in due time apply Christ to them”. Of course we should still think about what this ” apply Christ” means. If it means that the Holy Spirit gives the effectual calling and faith, without which there is no justification, then I agree. But Tipton seems to think the “Spirit applies Christ” rules out any idea of God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness before this work of the Spirit. It does not.

Tipton does know about a difference between imputation and justification. Tipton correctly speaks of justification as “God’s legal declaration”, and knows this is something different from God’s “constitutive act” which is the basis for the declaration. But even so, Tipton argues that if the declaration “did not bring into view faith, by which alone righteousness is imputed, we would be left with a legal fiction.” (p 9)

I disagree that faith is that which imputes righteousness. We are not the one who make the imputation (the constitutive act). Our faith is not that which imputes. And Tipton does not say either of these things. He writes—“faith, by which righteousness is imputed”. I understand this to mean that God waits to impute, until the Holy Spirit gives faith. If that’s not what Tipton means, I would like to be shown what he did mean. But how can God be justifying the ungodly, if God only imputes righteousness to persons who are already effectually called and who are now believing the gospel?

Yes, the effectual call is not the same as “justification”, and we should not use the word “salvation” in an undefined way so as to confuse calling and justification. But Tipton has not shown that calling must precede imputation. Tipton has not shown that God’s imputation can’t be the real cause of calling.

But how could any of this “order stuff” be so important? First, it must be important to Tipton, because his entire essay is an exercise in talking about the Holy Spirit and faith being first, even to the extent that he assumes that “union” is “faith-union”. Second, it must be important because Tipton says that other readings of the Confession would result in a “legal fiction”. In other words, if I were to say that “union” is caused by God’s imputation, that would be “legal fiction” to Tipton. If I were to say that imputation is first, and not conditioned on effectual calling, that too would be “legal fiction” to Tipton. He insists that it’s work of the Spirit which is the conditional location of the real (non-fiction) and which must precede God’s imputation.

But to pay attention to Tipton’s notice of the difference between imputation and declaration, I quote from p 11—“The declaration of righteousness is not prior to the imputation of righteousness. either logically or temporally, because the declaration takes into account the constitutive act of imputation….” exactly so. You can make a declaration about God being just without any prior constitutive act, because analytically God is just. But you cannot make a declaration about an ungodly sinner being just without the prior act of God’s imputation of righteousness to that sinner.

But then Tipton continues to insist that effectual calling must precede the imputation: “and the transaction of imputation is situated within the broader reality of union by Christ by Spirit-wrought faith.” Notice the use of the word “reality”. Would God’s imputation not be real if it came before and resulted in the Spirit’s work? Is the Spirit’s work more real than Christ’s work? Is the Spirit’s work more real than God’s imputation of the merits of Christ’s work? Tipton is simply begging the question all over again, by assuming that there can be no “imputation-union” but only a ‘faith-union”.

Notice the language—“situated within the broader reality of union”. This is the old cake and eat it also. On the one hand, if you keep the notion “broad” (and undefined) enough, then you can say the order of application doesn’t matter so much (Barth, Anthony Hoekema, Sinclair Ferguson). But then on the other hand, it turns our that the order is important, because “union” has to come after faith and before imputation. It also turns out that “union” needs to be ‘concrete” and that turns out to mean that “union” is by the Holy Spirit, and according to Tipton, dogmatically not “union by imputation”.

And then we come to the inevitable conclusion, which began with John Murray’s idea about divine righteousness and which continued into Gaffin’s dogma about Christ being justified by His resurrection and us being justified also by Christ’s resurrection. As you read the quotation from Tipton, ask yourself two questions about his grand conclusion. First, is this Confessional language? Is this the way the Confession says it? We have moved well past the reference to “the Spirit applies Christ”. Second, is saying it this way the best way to say it, the only way to say it? Is it so important to say it this way that we need to be dogmatic in the way Tipton has been about faith being before “union” or ‘faith-union” being the meaning of “union”

Tipton, p 11—“If we want to locate the judicial ground for the believer’s union with Christ, we do not need to look to the forensic benefit of the believer’s justification.”

mark: Of course not, but we do need to look at Christ’s righteousness as the “judicial ground” . We do need to look to God’s imputation of that righteousness as the basis for “union”, indeed as that which is the real legal cause for calling and faith. Tipton knows the difference between imputation and declaration, knows the difference between the righteousness of Christ and justification as the benefit of that righteousness. But here he ignores the distinction. But there’s NO need to make the benefit of justification be the cause of the imputation of the righteousness. There IS every reason to say that God’s imputation is the “judicial ground” by which the elect are identified with Christ and by which Christ comes to indwell the elect.

Tipton, p 11—“It is not MERELY in the atoning death of Christ that we find the judicial ground for the believer’s justification (by faith alone in union with Christ). It is ALSO FOUND IN THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST AS JUSTIFIED. IT IS THE GOD-APPROVED RESURRECTION RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST ALONE, imputed to me by faith alone, that stands at the tribunal of God.”

I must repeat. The righteousness is NOT imputed by faith. My faith does not impute the righteousness. Nor does God wait for my faith before God can impute Christ’s righteousness. But to the main question. What is imputed? The answer of Gaffin and Tipton ( I leave aside for now the question of John Murray) is that it’s not “merely’ the finished work which is imputed. It’s not “merely” the merits of Christ’s past obedience. According to them, the justified status of Christ is imputed.

But they have kept “within the bounds of the confession”. They have not denied the imputation of Christ’s finished work. When they say “not merely that”, they are also saying “that’s included also”. Unlike the federal visionists (or Michael Bird or N T Wright) who do deny imputation, the “unionists” are catholic enough not to deny it, but also catholic enough to include other “concrete realities” like the work of the Spirit transforming and renovating (“definitively”!) us so that we can one day be justified the same way Christ was, which also was by the reality of the Holy Spirit’s work

I ask again, is this the way Confession says it? If so, perhaps there’s nothing new or important to learn from the Gaffin/Tipton way of saying it. But IS IT the way the Confession says it?

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26 Comments on “Lane Tipton: Is It the Work of the Holy Spirit which Gives Reality to Imputation?”

  1. jsm52 Says:

    Good stuff here, Mark. Your analysis of Tipton shows the subtle yet questionable shift of his language and understanding of imputation and justification away from what one finds in that of the reformers and second generation orthodox reformed. The vague use of ‘union’ keeps coming to the forefront: definitionally elastic? As you wrote:

    “Notice the language—”situated within the broader reality of union”. This is the old cake and eat it also. On the one hand, if you keep the notion “broad” (and undefined) enough, then you can say the order of application doesn’t matter so much (Barth, Anthony Hoekema, Sinclair Ferguson). But then on the other hand, it turns our that the order is important, because “union” has to come after faith and before imputation. It also turns out that “union” needs to be ‘concrete” and that turns out to mean that “union” is by the Holy Spirit, and according to Tipton, dogmatically not “union by imputation”.”



    There are two kinds of justification, but only one kind of righteousness that God will accept. God justifies Christ not because of His resurrection, but because of Christ’s full satisfaction of divine law. Christ’s resurrection is God’s justification based on Christ’s obedience even unto death. We call this Christ’s righteousness.

    Christ’s righteousness is the only kind God accepts. So the second kind of justification is the kind where God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the elect.

    I Timothy 3:16 is a very interesting verse to think about. Christ was justified. Now, how was Christ justified? Certainly NOT by the work of the work of the Holy Spirit. Christ was NOT justified after becoming born again. Christ was justified by satisfying the righteous requirement of the law for the sins imputed to Christ. Christ was justified by His death. Christ needed to be justified because Christ legally shared the guilt of His elect, and this guilt demanded His death. Christ was not justified because of His resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was Christ’s justification, and that judicial declaration was because of Christ’s death.
    Romans 6:9–”We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”

    So Christ was justified by His own righteousness. Christ was declared to be just, not simply by who He was as an incarnate person, but by what He had done in satisfaction to the law. No righteousness was imputed or shared from somebody else to Christ, because Christ had earned His own righteousness by His own death.

    God’s declaration (in the resurrection) that Christ (God the Son) is righteous is on the basis of what Christ did in His death..

    Romans 4:24-25 –Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up because of our trespasses and raised because of our justification.

    The justification of the elect sinner is different from the justification of Christ. The legal value and merit of Christ’s death is shared by God with the elect sinner, as Romans 6 says, when they are placed/baptized into that death. This is NOT the Holy Spirit baptizing us into Christ. Nor is it Christ baptizing with the Holy Spirit.

    So only one righteousness. In Christ’s case, no legal sharing. In the case of the justified elect, that same one death is legally shared, and this one death is enough, because counted to them it completely satisfies the law for righteousness. (Romans 10:4)

    Romans 6:7–”For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”

    Fesko is correct in thinking of resurrection not as the basis but as God’s declaration of justification. The Norman Shepherd (“federal vision”) problem creeps in when people begin to think that since Christ was justified by what He did, then the elect also must be justified by what they are enabled to do.

    But there is only kind of justification for sinners like us, and it’s by imputation. It’s not in the future. And we will never be justified the same way Christ was.

    We are ONLY justified by what Christ did, and NOT by what Christ is now doing in us. Christ alone was justified by what He did. Only Christ could be (and was) justified by producing righteousness.


    In his book on “union with Christ”, Letham contents himself with a couple potshots at folks like Wayne Spear. He takes sides against “the neo-Zwinglianism of William Cunningham, Robert L. Dabney, and latterly Wayne Spear.” (p 120) Even in this, Letham begs the question. His view is “robust”; his opponents (with whom he disdains to interact) are “gnostic” (p 139)

    See for example, his discussion of Hodge: “the focus was on the forensic, on justification and the atonement. The gospel was to be clear and comprehensible. An unfortunate split had occurred in Reformed thought.In part,it explains how the doctrine of union with Christ suffered eclipse.” (p 122)

    Letham sits too high above the controversies to attend to the contested details, and this helps him to think that his own view of union is “the doctrine of union”. This pose does not help him to be clear and comprehensible.

    Letham simply assumes that the Holy Spirit is “the agent of the indwelling”. (p 49) He is not content with the idea that Christ indwells the justified sinner, or with the idea that the Holy Spirit indwells the justified sinner. Without any exegesis of any text, he simply asserts that the Spirit puts Christ in the justified sinner.

    “The Holy Spirit baptizes all believers into one body.” (p 50) But what biblical text says this? Letham quotes I Cor 12:13 correctly–“in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” The text does not say that the Holy Spirit is the baptizer, or the “more basic” agent, but Letham simply presumes this notion.

    Since the Spirit gives faith to the elect, Letham concludes that faith has to be that which unites the elect to Christ. Though he thinks of “union” as the most basic source of all other benefits, he also thinks that faith is a prerequisite to “union”.

    The following quotation from Letham summarizes his basic assumption: “Not only is Christ our substitute and representative, acting in our place and on our behalf, but we are one with him. The work is ours because we are on the same team. If the goaltender makes a blunder, the whole team loses the game…In a similar way, Christ has made atonement and won the victory for his team, while in turn the Holy Spirit selects us for his team.” (p 53)

    The Holy Spirit is not selecting individuals to be on the team in a way that God’s election in Christ has not. Even though individuals are chosen in Christ, Christ is not simply the means election is executed. Christ already (before the ages) elected individuals to be saved from God’s wrath, and the Holy Spirit does not do that now.

    The trend of Letham’s thought is not only to get us not to think about individuals but about “the church” (the team) but also to get us to think about the atonement as what happens when the Spirit “unites” us to Christ. Instead of some idea of an reconciliation which was obtained by Christ “back then and there”, Letham is substituting a notion of “union” as more basic than substitution, atonement,and justification.

    Instead of defining “union” as the legal receiving (by imputation, Romans 5:11, 17), Letham simply assumes that “union” is by faith. In this way, Letham makes the Father’s present legal application of what Christ did to be less basic than the Holy Spirit’s present work. He plays down the legal act of justification in present history and gives priority to the Holy Spirit “selecting the team”.

    Substitution is the death and resurrection of Christ for certain specific sinners, so that these elect sinners do not die for their own sins. But doesn’t the New Testament use the word “with” and not only the word “for”? And doesn’t that mean that the “with” is more basic and has priority? Or as Letham says in the quotation above: don’t deny substitution BUT “not only” that?

    Yes, Christ died “for sin” and yes, this was for the sins of the elect. Letham agrees. But Christ was incarnate and incarnation is with all humanity and doesn’t that mean that, in some more important sense, all humanity died with Christ? II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves but who for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

    We can think about a “for” which is not substitution. I can score a goal for my team, without any idea that I am the only one playing the game. I score the goal for the sake of others on my team, and not only for myself, but that does not mean they do nothing and I do everything. In II Corinthians 5:14-15, it is not the “for” which get us to the idea of substitution. What gets us to substitution is “therefore all died”.

    It is a mistake to reference the “died with” to a “faith-union” given by the Holy Spirit. The idea is NOT that Christ died one kind of death and as a result the Holy Spirit selects and unites some to “the church” by means of water baptism as “laver of regeneration”. (p 103) The idea is NOT that Christ rose again from death and as a result the Holy Spirit “pours the power of Christ into” believers. (p 103)

    The idea of “therefore all died”, the idea of “union with Christ’s death” is NOT that the Holy Spirit becomes the agent of that death, and selects who will be on the team. But in the Torrance?Letham view, Christ died to have a team, and there is no freewill, so you don’t get to decide to be on the team, but the Holy Spirit does.

    The Romans 6 idea of “died with Christ”, the II Corinthians 5:15 idea of “therefore all died” is that Christ died to propitiate God’s wrath because of ALREADY IMPUTED SINS, and that this death is credited by God to the elect.

    The elect do not (and did not) die this kind of death. Their substitute replaced them and died it for them. Christ alone, in both His Deity and His Humanity, by Himself, without the rest of humanity, died this death. Christ the Elect One, without the elect, died this death that God’s law required.

    Letham correctly agrees to the priority of regeneration to justification. (p 74) But he continually puts faith in priority to justification and thus puts his idea of “union” in priority to justification.

    If the Holy Spirit is the one who connects you to redemptive history, then legal imputation has to take second place. But Letham simply assumes that his own doctrine of union is “integrated” the right way (p 122)

    Letham says: not only is Christ our substitute, BUT we are one with Him. I say: the way we are one with Christ is that Christ is our legal substitute. I do not deny that the Son baptizes in the Spirit or that the Spirit indwells the justified sinner, but this gift by the Son is based on a legal union with Christ’s death and that legal union has logical priority.

    Christ has priority over “the church”. The church belongs to Christ; Christ does not belong to the church. Christ gives the Spirit; the Spirit does not give Christ. The elect belong to Christ because the Father gave the elect to Christ, and also because Christ died for and in the place of, instead of the elect. This is what “died with Christ” means.

    Make no mistake. I do not equate the atonement and justification. Nor do I equate election and justification. Though the decree is eternal, neither the atonement or justification is eternal. The atonement is not yet our justification. What Christ obtained for the elect has to be legally imputed (not by the Spirit) to the elect so that they are justified in time. But these redemptive-historical distinctions do not mean that we should confuse “union with Christ” with the atonement.

    The atonement already happened. And “union with Christ” is the legal application (imputation) of that atonement when God “places individuals into Christ’s death”. This is God’s legal act, and not the church acting it as if were God when it baptizes with water. If that makes Letham call me a Gnostic or an Anabaptist, so be it.

    I Corinthians 1:30–“God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”


    true grace is never cheap because it demanded the death of Christ for the sins of the elect. God’s law is not cheap. God’s law will not accept the best that God helps you to do.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Bruce McCormack:

    “The image of vine and branches might easily be seen to connote an organic connectedness of Christ to the believer. The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus). Where that occurs, the life communicated from the vine to the branches flows organically.

    “The difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically. It does not require a legal act of the will. But in the case of Christ and the believer, we are dealing with a willed relation. The ethical ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification. John 15:3–’You are already clean BECAUSE OF THE WORD I HAVE SPOKEN TO YOU.’

    “The term ‘ingrafting’ is used in Romans 9-11 to speak of inclusion in the covenant of grace, which results in a share in all the gifts and privileges. That Paul would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal…”

    • jsm52 Says:

      Amen, Mark. Enough with literal, mystical analogies that believers must cram themselves into. Scripture does define itself.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    For many folks, being more romantic about ritual Christendom transforming the world means also being more open to “deification”. The path this way usually begins with II Peter 1:4 (become partakers of the divine nature) and ends up making justification by Christ’s death merely one extrinsic (not the real) result of “union with Christ”.

    The idea of “union with Christ” is left undefined, especially in ecumenical discussions. What does it mean to be in Christ, and how is it different from Christ indwelling us? This is the kind of question we need to begin asking. .

    We need to read Calvin on this, to see what he did and did not teach. We also attend to the Confessions, especially to what they don’t say. (See the Bruce McCormack and Michael Horton essays in Tributes to Calvin).

    “Perichoresis … is rightly employed in trinitarian discourse for describing that which is dissimilar in the analogy between intra-trinitarian relations … on the one hand and human-to-human relations on the other. Nowadays, we are suffering from ‘creeping perichoresis,’ that is, the overly expansive use of terms – which have their home in purely spiritual relations – to describe relations between human beings who do not participate in a common ‘substance’ and who, therefore, remain distinct individuals even in the most intimate of their relations.”

    —Bruce L. McCormack, “What’s at Stake in Current Debates over Justification? The Crisis of Protestantism in the West,” in Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), p. 111.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Gaffin, Garcia, Tipton, Evans, et al. don’t have a clue concerning the Trinitarian realignment they have constituted because they have adopted an Idealistic notion of subjectivity and human agency that reflects a misunderstanding of the Trinitarian concursio and human agency. There are therefore excellent dogmatic reasons to reject the Spirit’s intrusion prior to the Son’s mediation in the application of redemption. It is not surprising therefore that Tipton doesn’t understand what imputation is.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Garcia complains that if God’s imputation is before “sanctification” and results in “sanctification”, then this means that we have included “sanctification” into “justification” and changed the meaning of “justification”.

    But if that were true, Garcia putting “union” (personal presence) before justification so that “union” results in justification, well, his priority would mean that he includes “sanctification” into “union” and changes the meaning of “union”.

    Garcia: “If we argue, with CJPM, that justification is the cause of sanctification, then we attribute to justification a generative, transformational quality (in that sanctification is generated or produced by justification) and thus, ironically in view of the driving concern in CJPM, compromise the purely forensic character of justification, its nature as a declarative act rather than the beginning of a work.”

    Godfry and Van Drunnen: “It is purely gratuitous for Garcia to say that we attribute to justification a generative, transformational quality. We do not describe justification as containing within itself a generative, transformational power that accomplishes the work of sanctification by its own virtue. Rather, we defend the idea that good works are the fruits of justifying faith and that in the ordo salutis justification has a certain priority to sanctification.

    pages 60-62 of the OPC justification study committee report:

    In addition to the doctrine of union with Christ, the idea of the ordo salutis makes clear that justification is prior to sanctification. This is not priority in the sense that one is somehow more important than the other. Neither is it a temporal priority, strictly speaking, for there is no such thing as a justified person who is not also being sanctified. But while justification is the necessary prerequisite of the process of sanctification, that process is not the necessary prerequisite of justification. It is true to say that one must be justified in order to be sanctified; but it is untrue to say that one must be sanctified in order to be justified. Justification and sanctification bear a relationship to each other that cannot be reversed.

    Godfrey, Van Drunnen:

    one key problem with denying a priority of justification to sanctification is that it makes sanctification something other than what it is. The very character and identity of the Christian life are at stake. As Calvin has stated, when discussing the importance of justification, “For unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God.”[12] There is such a thing as the moral life for the non-justified, non-Christian person. He is constantly confronted by God’s law (whether in nature or in Scripture) and everything he does is in anticipation of a judgment to come. His moral life can be nothing other than a striving by his own efforts to be right with God. For the Christian, the moral life is radically different. In his justification, the Christian has already passed through the judgment of God. He pursues holiness not in order to be right with God, but as a response to God’s gracious declaration that he already is right with him.

    Justification is thus decisive for sanctification and Christian ethics. All the work of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification in a person presupposes that he has been justified once and for all and that he exists as one who is right before God. Hence, it is only a justified person, never a condemned person, who is sanctified. People progress in their Christian lives as those who are justified. But the reverse is not the case. People are not justified as those who are sanctified—instead, Scripture is clear that it is the ungodly who are justified (e.g., Rom. 4:5). There is a relationship between the blessings of justification and sanctification. This relationship cannot be reversed. Justification has priority to sanctification in this sense. Again, as the OPC justification report states: “While justification is the necessary prerequisite of the process of sanctification, that process is not the necessary prerequisite of justification. It is true to say that one must be justified in order to be sanctified; but it is untrue to say that one must be sanctified in order to be justified.”

    Godfrey, Van Drunen; In Romans 6:14 Paul writes: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” For Paul, being “under the law” means being condemned by the law as a covenant of works (see Rom. 3:19; and also Gal. 4:21 and surrounding context). Because of justification a Christian is no longer condemned and hence is not under the law but under grace. In Romans 6:14, then, Paul makes justification, the state of being no longer under the law, the reason and explanation why sin no longer has dominion over us. Sin has no dominion over us because we are not under the law. Romans 7:6 is similar: “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

  9. markmcculley Says:

    p 167, Marcus Johnson, One With Christ, Crossway—”I am referring to the application of redemption in space and time. Some of the benefits of our union with Christ occur above and beyond time (our election in Christ, for instance).

    Johnson writes on the same page: “in salvation God has included us in Jesus Christ, and with this in mind, we are free to discuss his benefits in any order we want…”

    mark: This is a bit slippery. I don’t think the real concern is the order in which we discuss the benefits (even though Gaffin does worry about that when he reads Calvin’s Institutes looking for support for his central thesis). The concern is not about our discussion, but about the logical order, and nobody is more concerned about this than the “unionists”.

    They may say— if you get the person of Christ in there, use any order you want. But they don’t mean it. They are attempting a deception. Because if you don’t agree with them about “union” priority, then they will accuse you of putting the person “in the background”. ( see Gaffin in Always Reforming, ed McGowan, p 280).

    But no way are they saying “use any order you like”! They forbid us putting anything before “union”. But what this comes to is them forbidding us putting God’s legal imputation in front of “union”. They contradict “any order you like” when they themselves put ‘faith” (and the Holy Spirit) before “union”.

    But besides God’s imputation to the elect of Christ’s death, there is Christ bearing the sins of the elect. The death of Christ is not timeless, but comes after imputation to the OT elect and before imputation to the NT elect. But before either Christ’s death or any imputations, first there was election before the ages.

    What’s interesting to me is that Marcus Johnson won’t even allow election to be a cause or condition or source of the “union”. He writes of election as the “benefit” of “union”. But this is more confusion, added to earlier agreement that election is one aspect of “union”, and then his announcement that his book is not about that sense of “union”, but instead about “the application of union”. Johnson proceeds to call the application of union “the union”.

    Even though Marcus Johnson will allow faith and the Holy Spirit to come before “union”, he does not directly call faith a cause or a condition or a source of the “union”. Perhaps he would agree that faith and the work of the Spirit are also “benefits” from the “union”. But even if he does, he still insists that faith must come before “union”.

    But he also insists that God’s imputation is a benefit and a result of “union”, and therefore must come after “union”, Johnson will not say that faith come after “union”, but insists instead that faith comes before “union”.

    I suppose Johnson would have to agree that election comes before “union”, since election comes before time, and Johnson’s topic is the “application of union” which is an event in time. But nevertheless he calls even election a ‘benefit” of “union”.

    I find all this very curious, especially in light of Gaffin’s accusations that those of us without an “union priority” put the person of Jesus into the background. I think that’s Gaffin’s way of saying that those of us who disagree with him about the order of application are inherently people who don’t think enough about redemptive history, about the “biblical theology” which focuses on what God has done in Christ apart from us. In other words, Gaffin thinks “union priority” is “redemptive-historical priority”.

    But where is God’s election in redemptive history? i think Gaffin (with Johnson and other unionists) has managed to put election “into the background”. Election is not denied, but if election becomes a benefit of the “union”, then “union” has been defined as some kind of Holy Spirit “application” which must precede God’s imputation. This means that not only God’s election but also God’s imputation have been “put into the background”.


    Donald Mcleod, p202, the Person of Christ, IVP, 1998–

    The hypostatic union did not by itself secure the theiosis of every human being. In fact, the hypostatic union did not by itself secure the theiosis of even our Lord’s human nature. He was glorified not because He was God incarnate but because he finished the work given him to do (John 17:4).

    It is perfectly possible to be human and yet not be in Christ, because although the incarnation unites Christ to human nature it does not unite him to me.


    Bruce McCormack
    “transfer the concept of irresistible grace out of the realm of the Holy Spirit’s work in calling and regenerating the individual into the work of Christ….”

    Participation in Christ is not of the Spirit but by God’s imputation of Christ’s work.

    “The work of the Holy Spirit does not complete a work of Jesus Christ which was incomplete without it. The work of the Holy Spirit does not make effective a work of Jesus Christ which is ineffective without it.”, p 229, “The Actuality of God, Engaging the Doctrine of God


    the bad side of Bruce McCormack

    The nature of the atonement is not the satisfaction of the demands of divine justice but the destruction of the old sinner by the proclamation of the gospel. (sounds very Lutheran and sacramental!, as in Forde. And Luther himself)

    For Us and Our Salvation, Studies in Reformed Theology. p30

    p 27–“they make God’s mercy the prisoner, so to speak, of His righteousness, until such time as righteousness has been fully satisfied.”

    “We reject an understanding of biblical inspiration which would require that all biblical statements find their source in a Single Author.” p 195, “Actuality of God”

    Also, like Barth, McCormack tends to make time (history) and evil (sin) be nothing (privation).
    I don’t like the logic of his “paradoxes”


    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.”

  14. markmcculley Says:

    [audio src="" /]

    this is Horton’s way of saying that Macarthur is arminian

    but also alas, Horton’s way of saying that all who don’t agree with his version of “covenant theology” are Arminians

    mixed bag

    Horton wants to say, if you don’t have a ‘”category” that says that covenant and election are different, so that non-elect are in the new covenant

    condescending, they don’t know the history

    evangelicals were “basically protestant reformed” but too dumb to know it—- I don’t buy it

    so what does this say about Gaffin—he doesn’t know the history either? he doesn’t have the categories? but Gaffin clearly is looking mroe to the “Christ within” than to “Christ outside”—-but Gaffin escapes the accusation of “pietist” by being “Reformed”

    we don’t make Jesus Savour either

    faith is not the cause of union either

  15. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin: “Osiander objects that it would be insulting to God, and contrary to his nature, to justify those who still remain wicked….. But as it is too well known by experience, that the remains of sin always exist in the righteous, it is necessary that justification should be something very different from reformation to newness of life. This latter God begins in his elect, and carries on during the whole course of life, gradually and sometimes slowly, so that if placed at his judgment-seat they would always deserve sentence of death … But herein is the wondrous method of justification, that, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, they dread not the judgment of which they are worthy, and while they justly condemn themselves, are yet deemed righteous out of themselves.” (Institutes, 3:11.11)

  16. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin: “Hence also it is proved, that it is entirely by the intervention of Christ’s righteousness that we obtain justification before God. This is equivalent to saying that man is not just in himself, but that the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation, while he is strictly deserving of punishment. Thus vanishes the absurd dogma, that man is justified by faith, inasmuch as it brings him under the influence of the Spirit of God by whom he is rendered righteous. This is so repugnant to the above doctrine that it never can be reconciled with it … That this was the Apostle’s view is abundantly clear from another sentiment which he had expressed a little before: ‘As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,’ (Romans 5:19.) To declare that we are deemed righteous, solely because the obedience of Christ is imputed to us as if it where our own, is just to
    place our righteousness in the obedience of Christ. Wherefore, Ambrose appears to me to have most elegantly adverted to the blessing of Jacob as an illustration of this , when he says that as he who did not merit the birthright in himself personated his brother, put on his garments which gave forth a most pleasant odor, and
    thus introduced himself to his father that he might receive a blessing to his own advantage, though under the person of another, so we conceal ourselves under the precious purity of Christ, our first-born brother, that we may obtain an attestation of righteousness from the presence of God. The words of Ambrose are, -’Isaac’s smelling of the odor of his garments, perhaps means that we are justified not by works… And so indeed it is; for in order to appear in the presence of God for salvation, we must send forth that fragrant odor, having our vices covered and buried by his perfection.” (Institutes, III.xi.23)

  17. markmcculley Says:

    Now if adoption is both “already” and “not-yet,” Gaffin reasons, and if all of the benefits of salvation are enjoyed in union with Christ, then it stands to reason that justification would also have both dimensions. .. Gaffin teaches that we will be openly acquitted and vindicated insofar as the transformative benefits of union with Christ will have worked themselves out in our lives as the effectuation of the totality of our salvation in union with Christ. But The “not-yet” aspect of justification (if we must speak of such a thing) is bodily glorification, not the vindication of the profession of one’s faith on the basis of the fruit of faith, i.e., evangelical obedience.

  18. markmcculley Says:

    Gaffin—- where Calvin brings in the proposition, “faith without works justifies”- he says …although this needs prudence and sound interpretation. For this proposition that faith without works justifies is true, yet false … true, yet false… according to the different senses which it bears. The proposition that faith without works justifies by itself is false. Because faith without works is void. But if the clause, “without works,” is joined with the word, “justifies,” the proposition will be true. Therefore faith cannot justify when it is without works because it is dead and a mere fiction. Thus faith can be no more separated from works than the sun from its heat…. Notice what Calvin says. It needs prudence and sound interpretation. It is true yet false. Now there is a paradox. True yet false, depending on the way it is read.

    Gaffin, lectures on Romans, on 2:13:—-As that judgement decides, in its way, we’re going to wanna (sic) qualify that deciding, but as it decides the ultimate outcome for all believers and for all humanity, believers as well as unbelievers. That is, death or life. It’s a life and death situation that’s in view here. Further, this ultimate judgement has as its criterion or standard, brought into view here, the criterion for that judgement is works, good works. The doing of the law, as that is the criterion for all human beings, again, believers as well as unbelievers. In fact, in the case of the believer a positive outcome is in view and that positive outcome is explicitly said to be justification. So, again the point on the one side of the passage is that eternal life… depends on and follows from a future justification according to works. Eternal life follows upon a future justification by doing the law.

    Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, p 38—From this perceptive, the antithesis between law and gospel is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not be virtue of creation but as a consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer

  19. markmcculley Says:

    Was it “grace” to Cain that Cain lived one more minute after Cain killed his brother? I say no.

    Is our obedience to Christ (after we are united to Christ) any part of the reason for our future resurrection, or is “the hope of righteousness” ALL TOGETHER ONLY because of Christ’s finished righteousness obtained outside us by Christ’s obedience outside of us? I say that our obedience is no part of the mix!

    God was not gracious to accept Christ’s obedience. Christ’s obedience was sinless and meritorious.

    God does not accept the obedience of those in union with Christ as any part of the reason those in union with Christ will be raised on the last day. When Tipton brings in the idea of forfeiting blessing by our disobedience, he continues to miss the difference between Adam before the fall and those who have already passed from death to life because of being justified in Christ.

    Tipton wants us to look to the “imperfect active obedience” of Abraham as also part of the mix. so that we can be threatened and encouraged about our own “imperfectly hearing the voice of God” as one factor in our receiving blessings in Christ. Because Abraham was united to Christ when Abraham imperfectly obeyed, Tipton— without denying the finished character of Christ’s death as satisfaction— shifts the attention to our own imperfect obedience is “wrought by the Spirit” in union with Christ,

    Why this change of focus to “the imperfect active obedience”? I am reminded of the interaction of Tom Nettles with Andrew Fuller (By His Grace and For His glory, the chapter on Christ Died for our Sins) Those who want to give priority to “union” instead of “justification” also want to give priority to the doctrine of effectual calling (the application of atonement) instead of to the finished atonement itself.. In this trajectory the idea of “definite atonement” comes to be identified not with the finished death of Christ for the elect alone but instead with the idea that the Holy Spirit will only apply Christ’s “active obedience” by calling a definite number of elect to “believe unto union”.

    Nettles—”The error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although Jesus’ death is spoken of as passive obedience–and though the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son…. the emphasis shifts from the Son’s passive obedience to what he actively accomplished by his infinite divine nature.”

    mcmark: and in the case of Tipton, the shift involves to what those united to Christ accomplish by the Spirit in them…..

    Tipton—”The problem lies in the fact that Israel re-enacts the sin and fall and exile of Adam by apostasy from the covenant of grace.”

    Tipton—”The problem was not that Israel was under a national covenant devoid of grace.”

    Tipton—”Some of the offspring of Israel do not walk as the offspring of Israel.”

    mcmark: Why does Tipton want to get grace into the “national covenant”?

    I think the answer is not that difficult. Tipton wants to say that “some of the offspring of Israel DO walk as the offspring of Israel.”. I myself would say that only one seed of Israel HAS WALKED as the seed of Israel. Our walking is no part of our hope, because we walk by faith in the gospel of what Christ HAS DONE.

    Romans 6: For one who HAS DIED has been set justified from sin. 8 Now if we HAVE DIED with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the DEATH HE DIED TO SIN , once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

    Romans 7: 4 you also HAVE DIED to the law through the body of Christ, so that you belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

  20. markmcculley Says:


    In Gal 3:10 Paul says that those who are of the “works of the law”32 are under a curse, and proves it by quoting Deut 27:26: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Paul follows the LXX in adding the word “all” to the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy, hence emphasizing the entirety of the obedience that the Mosaic law demands. For this verse to prove his point (that all people who are under the law are also under a curse), Paul must be working with an implied premise: no one actually keeps the law perfectly.33 In light of Paul’s view of human depravity outside of Christ, presented explicitly in later epistles (e.g., Rom 3:9-21; 8:7-8), this implied premise is eminently Pauline. The apostle expands his point in the following verses. In 3:11 he quotes Hab 2:4 (“the righteous shall live by faith”) to show that no one can be justified by the law. The law, he adds in 3:12, “is not of faith.” He proves this claim by quoting again from the law, this time Lev 18:5: “The one who does them shall live by them.” While faith promises life by believing, the law promises life by doing.34 Paul’s larger point in Gal 3:10-12, therefore, is that the Mosaic law demands perfect obedience, promising life, but that it inevitably brings a curse because sinful human beings disobey it. Paul echoes these sentiments in Gal 5:2-4, where he says that those seeking to be justified by the law are “obligated to keep the whole law”—a strong demand for perfect obedience35—and find no benefit from Christ. In context, Paul obviously does not consider this a viable option, but one that ends inevitably in failure.

    A number of recent Reformed commentators acknowledge that Paul is sharply contrasting faith and works of the law in these and parallel passages, yet deny that the Mosaic law itself can be contrasted with faith (in this sense adopting a similar conclusion to many New Perspective advocates). Instead, these Reformed commentators believe that when Paul quotes Lev 18:5 or refers otherwise to the law so as to contrast it with faith he thinks not of the Mosaic law itself but of the law as misinterpreted in a legalistic way by his Jewish contemporaries.36 In my judgment this line of interpretation should also be rejected.37 That Paul dealt with people whom he judged to have misinterpreted the purposes of the Mosaic law is unquestionable, but that the law itself stood in contrast to faith, at least in certain respects, was Paul’s own view

  21. markmcculley Says: Gaffin review of Horton’s book on Covenant Union— Throughout Part Two Horton voices reservations about the Reformed doctrine of regeneration. He finds problematic the way it has been formulated, in particular the notion that regeneration produces a habitual change and involves the infusion of new habits.. This he sees as a lingering residue of the medieval ontology that eventually made the Reformation necessary. …I share fully Horton’s concerns about the notion sometime present in Reformed treatments of the ordo salutis that regeneration is prior to effectual calling and produces an antecedent state addressed in effectual calling. That notion is quite problematic and ought to be rejected

    • Jack Miller Says:

      “The covenant of grace differs from the covenant of works in method, not in its ultimate goal. It is the same treasure that was
      promised in the covenant of works and is granted in the covenant of grace. Grace restores nature and takes it to its highest pinnacle, but it does not add to it any new and heterogeneous constituents. From this it follows that in Reformation theology, grace cannot in any respect bear the character of a substance.” – Bavinck

      “If grace is a spiritual substance infused into a person in order to perfect nature, rather than divine favor shown to those who are at fault, we have a perfect example of the contrast between ontological-metaphysical and ethical-covenantal construals of the problem.” – Horton, Michael S. The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology

  22. markmcculley Says:

    I want to see the word “righteousness” in the Bible where it has the meaning of “infusion”. I am not asking to see the word “infusion”. I know it’s not there. But I want these Cavinists to show me some inner righteousness, which is not legal and imputed.

    Many read Romans 6 with the assumption that it says that the Holy Spirit (or the church) unites us to Christ on the inside. The chapter does not say that, and we should not read it with that assumption.

    It’s not enough to give a formal “I don’t deny that it also means the legal also”, if you then consistently look at texts and say “more than the forensic”, especially when the texts don’t mean anything other than the forensic.

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