The “Personal Presence” Priority of Marcus Johnson

One With Christ (Crossway, 2013) by Moody Bible Institute professor Marcus Johnson, is a very question-begging book. It starts with an attack on “the merely forensic” and continually assumes that the forensic is based on the “reality of union.”. The phrase “more than merely” is repeated many many times.

Johnson has no place for the justification of the UNGODLY. He has a “the person priority”. He’s a Lutheran who teaches that “faith unites” because “faith is the presence of Christ”.

But there are no new exegetical arguments, simply “union priority” asserted over and over again. It’s interesting for me to take these statements and simply reverse them, flip them, without me doing any less (or more) exegetical homework than Johnson has done.

Johnson: Many have assumed that justification is a synthetic declaration that takes into account no prior relationship of the believer to the person of Christ. p 92

mark: The “unionists” assume that justification is a legal fiction (as if) unless it’s an analytic declaration that takes into account an already existing personal relationship to Christ. They don’t talk about justification of the ungodly, but only about a justification of those united to Christ.

Johnson: It is because of this union that the believer is justified.

mark: it is because of God’s imputation that the believer is united to Christ. A bride is not legally married because another person is already “really” in her. Rather, a bride becomes really married because she is legally married.

I need to review to see how many times Johnson uses the Calvin quotation (as long as he remains outside of us) but the entire book is meant to lead to a Lutheran sacramental view (unless you eat my flesh taken in a literal fashion) with almost not mention of election, and no mention of some human individuals not being elect.

Johnson: The benefits of Christ’s saving work are received only insofar as Christ Himself is received. p 93

mark: Christ Himself is received by the ungodly elect only insofar as these ungodly elect are imputed with Christ’s righteousness.

Johnson: Justification is a legal benefit of a personal reality.

mark: The personal indwelling of Christ is a benefit of the legal reality of God’s imputation.

Johnson: God justifies us because we are joined to Christ.

mark: God joins us to Christ when God imputes to us (while we are ungodly) the righteousness of Christ. God joins us to Christ because God imputes to us the death of Christ.

Johnson: In Philippians 3, we are only imputed with righteousness because we are found in Christ. p 95

mark: In Philippians 3, we are only found in Christ because of the righteousness imputed.

Johnson: Berkhof thinks that justification cannot be the result of any existing condition in the sinner, not even an intimate, vital, spiritual, person union with Christ. This strikes me as enormously confusing. p 97

mark: Johnson thinks that both the atonement and justification are fictions unless the incarnation means that all sinners are already in some kind of union with Christ before legal imputation. This strikes me as an universalism which removes the reality of God’s justice in giving Christ as a propitiation for sins legally imputed.

Johnson: What exactly is this union which can be REDUCED to either justification or the results of justification? p 98

mark: What is the reality of God’s imputation of righteousness to the ungodly elect if it’s not real apart from some other previous (and more than merely legal) connection?

Johnson: William Evans argues that Berkhof’s soteriology is the logical conclusion of a federal theological trajectory, epitomized by Charles Hodge, in which union ceases to function as an umbrella category unifying all of salvation.

mark: Johnson rejects “imputation priority” because he has already rejected the federal imputation of Adam’s guilt (see his chapter 2 on incarnation) and because he has already rejected what he calls a “mechanical transfer” of sins to Christ. I would say “the sins of the elect” but Johnson does not consider the doctrine of election in his discussion of imputation and justification. Election for him seems to be only an “apologetic doctrine” which he does not deny but which plays no part in his soteriology. (This is his accusation against those of us with “justification priority”, that the incarnation and the Trinity are no part of our gospel., p 41)

Johnson: Both Horton and Fesko subordinate union with Christ to justification, indicating that they see union with Christ as reducible to sanctification.

mark: Johnson denies the reality of legal imputation, and subordinates imputation as merely one benefit of “union”, and then he defines “union” as the personal presence of Christ in us because of our faith (given to us by the Holy Spirit). So Johnson subordinates the work of Christ to the person of Christ, and then accuses those who disagree with him of dividing person and work. And then Johnson subordinates the imputation of Christ’s work to the work of the Holy Spirit, who he thinks is the one who unites us to Christ’s person by creating faith in us.

Johnson does not deny “union with Christ in election” (p 35) but he never ever says that any human is not elect and his doctrine of “union with Christ in the incarnation” (p 36) ignores election and focuses on the human nature of Christ as the human nature of every sinner. Having ignored any notion of Christ having died for the elect alone, Johnson announces that “the normal referent of the phrase union with Christ in this book is to subjectively realized EXPERIENTIAL union by the power of the Holy Spirit.” p 39

Not denying the eternal election in Christ, Johnson insists that there is only one :union” (not two, as he describes the position of Horton, Fesko, and Berkhof), but then he takes his “one union” and agrees that it has different “aspects” of which election is one, and then he takes the “application of the union” as being his working definition of “the union”. This of course fits with the Barth/Torrance notion of actualist election and of the atonement as that which the Holy Spirit does in creating faith (and thus creating a real union, so that imputation won’t be “merely” “synthetic”).

But let’s get back to the fun of copying Johnson’s assertions and then reversing them.

Johnson: A truncated reading of John 14-17 where the sending of the Holy Spirit is interpreted as something other than Christ’s presence by the Spirit. This is reinforced by notions of Spirit baptism that fail to stress that the Spirit baptizes believers into Christ,” p 44

mark: give me one Bible text that says that the Spirit is the baptizer. Romans 6 does not teach that. I Cor 12:13 does not teach that. Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Christ is the baptizer (not with water but with the Spirit). In Romans 6, there is no Holy Spirit, and the one who baptizes the elect into Christ’s death is God (not the Holy Spirit apart from the Father or the Son).

Johnson: Faith justifies only because faith unites us. p 99

mark: faith is a gift given to the elect because of Christ’s purchase of faith by His work. Therefore, faith is not a condition for God’s imputation but a result of God’s imputation. Therefore, no elect person is ever justified apart from faith in the gospel, but no elect person has this faith before regeneration and no elect person has this regeneration before God’s imputation of Christ’s merits earned by Christ’s death.

Johnson: Saving faith engrafts us to Christ

mark: Since faith is a benefit of Christ’s work, how can we have this faith unless we are first engrafted into Christ by God’s legal imputation? II Peter 1:1— “a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ”

Johnson: Faith is nearly synonymous with life in Christ. p 100

mark: Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. The righteousness of Christ is not imputed because of the personal presence of Christ mediated by the Holy Spirit. Life in Christ and the Spirit is because of God’s imputation of the righteousness.

Johnson: Christ died FOR US, in our place, but he also crucified US WITH HIM. There is a convergance of the “for us” with the “with us”. Believers participate in Christ’s death. p 102.

mark: Although I don’t know anything about Johnson except what I have read in his book, my guess is that his presuppositions about the nature of the atonement are the biggest reasons for the moves he makes in this book about “union”. Without denying the forensic nature of Christ’s death, he wants to continue to use the words “penal substitution” but without that meaning that Christ really (actually) bore the specific sins of the elect. It’s not “merely” semantics . The Torrance view of the nature and intent of Christ’s death is an intentionally deceptive account of legal representation. Volf, for example, calls it “inclusive substitution”, but what it really means is that legal imputation is not allowed to explain the “died with”.

The idea of “in our place, instead of us. so we don’t die, because Christ’s death is our legal death” is dismissed as a fiction, and something supposedly more just (and more “real) and more mysterious (ineffable) is put in the place of “federalist” accounts of substitution for the elect alone.

“Union with Christ” does not matter if we miss out on what Christ’s death does.In his book, Free of Charge (Zondervan, 2005, p 147), Volf writes: “Since Christ is our substitute, after reading ‘one has died for all,’ we’d expect him to continue, ‘therefore none of them needs to die.’ Had he written that, he would have expressed the idea that theologians call EXCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION. According to this view, Christ’s death makes ours unnecessary. As a third party, he is our substitute, and his death is his alone and no one else’s. But that’s not how the Apostle thought. Christ’s death does not replace our death. It enacts it. That’s what theologians call INCLUSIVE SUBSTITUTION.”

What does Johnson (or Torrance, or Volf) mean by substitution? The problem here cannot be fixed by simply noticing that Christ died only for the elect. Torrance is not an Arminian who conditions the salvation of a sinner on the sinner. Torrance is an universalist who say that God (not wants to, which would be bad enough, but has already) saved everybody because Christ was united by incarnation to all humanity.

We need to think about the nature of substitution.If Christ’s death replaces people’s death, why does II Corinthinas 5:14 teach that the all died? My answer is that “all died” is how the text tells us that the death of Christ replaces the death of the all. Since the death of Christ comes to count as the death of the elect, once the elect have been legally joined to that death, this tells us that another death is not necessary.

If Christ’s death gets counted as the death of the elect, the death of the elect is a death like Christ’s death because it IS Christ’s death. It is not some other death. Romans 6 teaches that it is one death, counted as the death of all the elect.

II Corinthians 5:14 “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.”

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. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”

Johnson: The way we conceive of justification is predicated on how we think of the nature of our union with Christ.

mark: The way we conceive of being “in Christ” is predicated on how we think of God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Why was Christ’s death necessary? Why do the ungodly elect need to be credited with Christ’s death? Why do the ungodly elect need to be placed into Christ’s death? Is that “legal placement” merely one benefit based on some more important and real personal indwelling of Christ (in an ungodly person?)

Johnson: If we conceive of union in merely or primarily legal terms, we face the ever present danger of reducing the penal substitutionary vicarious humanity of Christ to a merely mechanical forensic transaction. p 103

mark: If Johnson denies the reality of legal sharing of sins or the merits of Christ’s death without some kind of synthetic basis in an already existing personal presence, then Johnson gives evidence that he has already decided that it would be unjust for God to say that all humans are guilty by mere imputation. It’s also evidence (again, see his chapter two) that Johnson has already decided that it would be unjust for God to impute righteousness to a person unless that person first already has Christ personally present in them.

Johnson: We risk reading the Romans 6 assertions (we died with Christ) as mere “as ifs”. p 103

mark: Having already decided that the legal is not real unless it’s based on actual corruption or on the actual presence of Christ in the person, Johnson follows Augustine and Osiander into a misreading of Romans 6 that ignores the redemptive-historical reality that Christ Himself was under the law (by the imputation of the sins of the elect) and that Christ Himself was justified (not under law anymore) not by grace but by His death as real legal satisfaction of the law.

Johnson: A great deal rests on how we conceive of the word substitution. If we understand this to mean that Christ acts outside of us in a merely representative way, so that our sin is somehow mechanically transferred from us to us, then we have a doctrine of penal substitution that flounders in unreality. p 84

mark: Johnson wants us to say first –“because he assumed our human nature”, but I don’t know anybody who is denying that Christ assumed our human nature. The problem for Johnson is that he thinks the incarnation means that Christ is in someway already “united” to all sinners. Therefore he has all sinners dying with Christ. But where does Johnson locate the ‘reality” of “union”? He locates it in the work of the Spirit creating faith in us, which faith then “unites” us by experience to the humanity of Christ in heaven.

What does this say about the “reality” of federal election in Christ? If the atonement is nothing but “mechanical” and not yet real until “personal union” becomes real, then it seems that the reality of salvation comes to depend not on what Christ did but on what the Spirit will do in us, or WITH us…

Johnson quoting Torrance: It will not do to think of what Christ has done for us only in terms of representation. If Jesus is a substitute in detachment from us, who simply acts in our stead in an external, formal or forensic way, then his response has no ontological bearing upon us but is an empty transaction above our heads. p 84

mark: Don’t you love that imperial “it will not do”? It’s good for assertions, based on personal authority. In other words, I know what “union” means, and I am telling you, without argument or exegesis. I am telling you that Fesko and Horton are wrong, and Torrance is correct. And Torrance says the ontological is more important than your mere imputation or Christ’s death apart from Christ’s personal indwelling in us. But who has decided that God’s legal imputation alone is an “empty transaction”? Johnson already decided that before he wrote the book.

Indeed, if Christ died with some vicarious intention, but without God legally imputing the sins of the elect to Christ, the efficacy of that death would have been empty and made to depend on something more “real”, something brought about or created by the Holy Spirit.

But because those for whom Christ died were in Christ by election before the ages, then the death of Christ was legally significant. \ That death really causes Christ and the Holy Spirit and the Father to live in those to whom that death is imputed. Nothing is more basic that the atonement or the effect of that atonement when the elect receive it by God’s imputation (Romans 5;11, 17, receive in these two verses is not by faith but by imputation)

Johnson: The righteousness of Christ is alien to us in the sense that it is not an achievement of ours. But Christ Himself is not alien to us. p 110

mark. This is merely more priority question begging. If we are all elect (Johnson never says), then when was Christ ever alien to anybody? Since Christ was incarnated with the same humanity, has Christ since His incarnation ever been alien to anybody? Johnson is simply reasserting his beginning assumption that God cannot impute righteousness to us unless we first have Christ within us. So let me counter-assert. Christ cannot and does not indwell the ungodly until God has imputed them with Christ’s righteousness. I have no more proven that proposition (in this short essay) than has Johnson proven His assertion (in his long book)

Johnson quotes Packer: God reckons righteousness to them, not because God accounts them to have kept the law, but because God account them to be united to the one who kept the law representatively…

mark: God reckons righteousness to the elect, not because Christ is already personally present in them, not because they are personally included in Christ by experience or by regeneration, but because God has elected them in Christ and they need a legal share in Christ’s work before they can be joined personally to Christ, the righteous one.

Johnson: Salvation in its essence is Christ, not one of his benefits.

mark: Sounds very pious, doesn’t it? But do you know who Christ is apart from doctrines about who He is and what He Did? Is not “faith-union” one of the benefits of Christ’s work? Is not “union” one of the benefits of Christ, or is “union” something that exists prior to and apart from the redemptive work of Christ? Is not ‘faith” one of the benefits of Christ, a gift given by the Holy Spirit, who is Himself a gift given by Christ based on Christ’s death under the law (see Galatians 3:12-13, 4:4-6).

So what is Johnson saying with his “person priority”? He is not merely saying Christ is other than, and more important to glory in, than the benefits we receive from Christ. Johnson is saying that “union with Christ” (the personal presence of Christ with us) is salvation. To be consistent, then, Johnson would have to say that this “union with” (personal presence) is not a benefit, or at the very least not a benefit of Christ’s presence. But if we ungodly sinners can have Christ the person with us apart from God’s imputation of the merits of Christ’s work, then why do we ever really need the “benefit” of imputation? I mean, if Christ himself is “salvation”, then what He did and its imputation to us is not salvation.

Of course that is a silly distinction, and not what Johnson “really” meant. But if my caricature is not what he meant, then why all this fuss against Hodge and Berkhof and their “reductionistic” (mechanical) forensic priority? Why is it that Johnson’s emphasis on the “ontological” presence of Christ is not also “reductionistic”. Well, he doesn’t deny imputation, and some folks (NT Wright, Seifrid, Garlington) do. But then again, people like Hodge and Berkhof (and Horton and Fesko) don’t deny the personal presence of Christ either. But they get called confusing and reductionistic because they don’t agree with the priority being emphasized by Johnson, Torrance, Gaffin, and Evans.

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31 Comments on “The “Personal Presence” Priority of Marcus Johnson”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Bruce McCormack protests against the “uncritical expansion of the concept of perichoresis today on the past of a good many theologians.The term “is rightly employed in trinitarian discourse for describing that which is dissimilar in the analogy between intra-trinitarian relations among the divine ‘person’ 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. This surely has to be true of the relation of the human believer to the human Jesus as well.”

  2. markmcculley Says:

    p110, “What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?”, professor Bruce McCormack, Princeton Theological Seminary

    “I do not participate in the historical humanity of Christ ( a thought which would require an unity on the level of ‘substance’. Rather, I participate in the kind of humanity which Jesus embodies. That is why I John 3:2 says that when we see Him as He is, we shall be LIKE him. The individual Christ’s humanity and my own was thought to be transcended in terms of a Platonic realism which holds that universals are more real than particulars (substance and accidents)…

    “We need to remember the degree of residual Catholic content in the Reformation understanding of eucharistic feeding. It is in the context of his treatment of eucharistic feeding that Calvin borrows rhetoric from the early church that brings him into conflict with his own doctrine of justification.

    “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. To be sure, it would be difficult to understand, on this view, why the Holy Spirit would be needed as the bond joining us to Christ…

    “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….

  3. 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.”

  4. 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.


    Jonathan Gibson, “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of Christ”, From Heaven He Came, p 355—Interestingly, this verse has been neglected in Constantine Campbell’s otherwise comprehensive treatment of union with Christ (PAUL AND UNION WITH CHRIST, Zondervan, 2013)

    14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

    p 352—”Some conclude that the efficacy of Christ’s work occurs only at the point of faith, and not before. This ignores the fact that union with Christ precedes any reception of Christ’s work by faith. It is union with Christ that leads to the efficacy of Christ’s work to those who belong to Him.”

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Richard Muller—“Use of the language of personal relationship with Jesus often indicates a qualitative loss of the traditional Reformation language of being justified by grace alone through faith in Christ and being, therefore, adopted as children of God in and through our graciously given union with Christ. Personal relationships come about through mutual interaction and thrive because of common interests. They are never or virtually never grounded on a forensic act such as that indicated in the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works – in fact personal relationships rest on a reciprocity of works or acts. The problem here is not the language itself: The problem is the way in which it can lead those who emphasize it to ignore the Reformation insight into the nature of justification and the character of believer’s relationship with God in Christ.

    Such language of personal relationship all too easily lends itself to an Arminian view of salvation as something accomplished largely by the believer in cooperation with God. A personal relationship is, of its very nature, a mutual relation, dependent on the activity – the works – of both parties. In addition, the use of this Arminian, affective language tends to obscure the fact that the Reformed tradition has its own indigenous relational and affective language and piety; a language and piety, moreover, that are bound closely to the Reformation principle of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The Heidelberg Catechism provides us with a language of our “only comfort in life and in death” – that “I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ” (q. 1). “Belonging to Christ,” a phrase filled with piety and affect, retains the confession of grace alone through faith alone, particularly when its larger context in the other language of the catechism is taken to heart.

    (“How Many Points?” Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28 (1993): 425-33 Riddelblog)

  8. markmcculley Says:

    if you would only
    put union first
    then sanctification would not get the short end

    and it would make a difference
    in your life
    as it has in mine

    i assume the difference
    is good and better

    but I am not sure by what standard

    my hope is not that
    i fall less short of the glory
    than others do

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Calvin: And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him, all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him (3.1.1).\

    I trust I have now sufficiently shown how man’s only resource for escaping from the curse of the law, and recovering salvation, lies in faith; and also what the nature of faith is, what the benefits which it confers, and the fruits which it produces. The whole may be thus summed up: Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit; first, being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ, God becomes, instead of a judge, an indulgent Father (3:11)

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Gospel Reformation Network Affirmations and Denials

    Article IV – Union with Christ and Sanctification
    • We affirm that both justification and sanctification are distinct, necessary, inseparable and simultaneous graces of union with Christ though faith.
    • We deny that sanctification flows DIRECTLY from justification, or that the transformative elements of salvation are MERE consequences of the forensic elements.

    my questions

    1. Who is the Gospel Reformation Network? Is it a conference of friends who think alike, or does it agree to certain confessions, and does it have ecclesiastical and sacramental authority?

    2. Why is it a problem to deny that “sanctification” flows from justification, as long as “sanctification” result (flows)?

    3. Is the problem that “justification” is defined, but that “sanctification” and “union” are not?

    4. What does “sanctification” mean in Hebrews 10:10-14?

    5. What does “union” mean? Is “union” non-forensic? Is “union” both forensic and non-forensic?

    6. Once you have defined “union”, will you consistently use the word “union” in the way you defined it? Will you be thinking of “union” only as a result “flowing from” faith?

    7. If “faith-union” is a result of faith, and if faith is a result of regeneration, where do faith and regeneration come from?

    8. Is the problem with saying that “sanctification” results from “justification” the fact that we are either justified or we are not? Are we not also either “united to Christ” or not? (Please define “union”. Do you mean “in Christ”? Or do you mean “Christ in us”? Is there a difference in those two phrases? Why do you say “union” when you could be saying “in Christ” and “Christ in us”?)

    9.When you deny that “sanctification” is a “mere consequence” of the forensic, did you mean to deny that “sanctification” is a consequence of the “merely forensic”? What do you have against “merely” or any “sola” which points to Christ’s earned outside righteousness imputed to the elect?

    10. Is the point of the Gospel Reformation Network denial that “union” is not forensic or is the point that it is not “merely forensic”? Is this a question-begging point?

    11. If “sanctification” is “more than” than a “mere consequence”, does that mean that “sanctification” is also more than a result of “union”, so that “sanctification” is in someway identical to “union”, or at least a necessary “condition” for “union”?

    12. Does “union” flow from merely the transformative elements? If union is transformation, and union must come before justification, how is it that God is still justifying the ungodly?

    13. If becoming children of God only means being born again so that we are freed from the power of corruption, what is the need for those who are no longer ungodly to be justified or adopted?

    14. Is “union” a cause or a result of sacramental efficacy? It’s too late now to tell us that the order of application does not matter so much, since you insisted on denying that “justification” was a result of “sanctification”

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Posted June 2, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Bill Evans—-”If good works play a role in whether one makes it to the pearly gates then there is some sort of connection to justification….Conspicuous by its absence in Phillips’ post is any mention of the believer’s union with Christ…. “in Christ” we receive what Calvin called the duplex gratia or “double grace” of justification and transformation of life. For this reason, we must not say, as Phillips seems to, that the necessity of good works pertains only to sanctification and not to justification….

    Bill Evans—”This rootedness of justification in union with Christ has implications for our understanding of justification itself. To be justified in Christ is to be so joined with Christ that his own resurrection justification applies also to us. He was, as Paul declares in 1 Timothy 3:16 in reference to the resurrection, “justified in the Spirit”, and for this reason he was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). All this, of course, implies that justification is both forensic and relational—it is a legal judgment that is received through union with Christ.”

    mcmark: of course, which is why Evans thinks Horton and Godfrey and Hodge just do not “get it”.

    Bill Evans—”Many Reformed theologians have sought to protect the gratuity of justification by temporally sequestering it from transformation of life so as to underscore that justification cannot depend upon sanctification … But the result here is the same as the first, in that justification is abstracted from the ongoing life of faith. Thus it is that a good deal of conservative Reformed theology has been more or less unable to give a coherent account of the Christian life…..Much more satisfactory is the EARLY REFORMED CONCEPTION of the believer’s participation in Christ’s resurrection justification that has been more recently RETRIEVED by Geerhardus Vos, Richard Gaffin, and others….”

  12. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Karlberg— “The priority for Gaffin is union with Christ, what is the “absolutely necessary, indispensable context for justification. Gaffin contends that union with Christ must be kept central and controlling.,,, Contrary to Gaffin’s teaching, justification is not contingent upon sanctification, perseverence in holiness, or any of the other benefits accruing from union with Christ. The reformers were right in speaking of good works as the fruit of saving faith. Justification rests exclusively on the
    finished work of Christ. Gaffin prefers to speak of the ongoing work of Christ.”

    MK–”For someone to rely wholly on Christ’s finished work at the cross, Gaffin warns, he has then cut himself off from the ‘whole Christ’ from the Christ who now is working out the benefits of atonement. What is obscured in Gaffin’s formulation is the fact that the application of salvation has already and completely been secured by Christ in his work of reconciliation. There is nothing future to be attained by Christ.”

    MK–”Gaffin speaks repeatedly of the irreducible benefits of union with Christ. What does this mean? I take it that the point Gaffin is wanting to make is this: We are not to isolate (i.e., discriminate) one benefit among others, nor are we to give one benefit special weight in the application of redemption. (Of course, Gaffin does give special weight to the benefit of union with Christ. And he is free to do so because matters of ordo ­ are “indifferent theologically” to him…

  13. markmcculley Says:

    A A Hodge: “It does not do to say this presence is only spiritual. If it means that the presence of Christ is not something objective to us, then it is false. If it means that Christ is present only by His Spirit, it is not true, because Christ is one person and the Holy Spirit is another person…It is a great mistake to confuse the idea of presence with nearness in space…Presence is not a question of space. Presence is a relation.” (Theology, Banner of Truth, p 356)

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

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

    “By consequence, the imputation of Christ’s righteous to us is the necessary precondition of the restoration to us of the influences of the Holy Spirit, and that restoration leads by necessary consequence to our regeneration and sanctification.
    “The notion that the necessary precondition of the imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness is our own faith, of which the necessary precondition is regeneration, is analogous to the rejected theory that the inherent personal moral corruption of each of Adam’s descendants is the necessary precondition of the imputation of his guilt to them.

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

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

  14. markmcculley Says:

    John Gill—-The mission of the Spirit into the hearts of Cod’s elect, to regenerate, quicken, and sanctify them, to apply the blessings of grace to them, and seal them up to the day of redemption, and the bestowing of his several gifts and graces upon them, are in consequence, and by virtue of an antecedent union of them to the Person of Christ.

    They do not first receive the Spirit of Christ, and then by the Spirit are united to him; but they are first united to Christ, and, by virtue of this union, receive the Spirit of him… A person is first joined to Christ, and then becomes one Spirit with him; that is, receives, enjoys, and possesses in measure, the same Spirit as Christ does, as the members of an human body do participate of the same spirit the head does, to which they are united: he that is joined unto the Lord, is one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17).

    Christ, as the Mediator of the covenant, and Head of God’s elect, received the Spirit without measure, that is, a fullness of the gifts and graces of the Spirit: These persons being united to Christ, as members to their Head, do, in his own TIME receive the Spirit from Christ, though in measure. They are first chosen in Christ, adopted through Christ, made one with Christ, become heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; and then, as the apostle says, Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Gal. 4:6).

  15. markmcculley Says:

    after you use your faith to get united to the vine,
    then works are automatic, no decisions necessary
    so, just that first decision
    which we are not sure you made
    because we will always be looking to see that fruit

  16. markmcculley Says:

    Is it your duty to have other motives besides thanksgiving? is that because “faith alone” is only for beginning justification but not for final justification? those who won’t exclude “works of faith” from what they call “sanctification”, will not exclude “works of faith” from gaining immortality on the last day.

  17. markmcculley Says:

    214, Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified, IVP, 2014—-Christ never fell, had not guilt, and knew no sin. Human nature as individualized in Christ was not fallen. Christ did not suffer from the disease of sin. In what sense then did Christ heal human nature by becoming the patient and taking the disease? As Christ faced temptation and suffering, Christ did so with a mind unclouded by sin…

    Human nature after the cross remains as it was before the cross. If Christ healed our humanity by taking our humanity, then Christ was crucified by the very nature he had healed….

    According to Torrance, Christ condemned sin by saying no to the flesh and living a life of perfect faith, worship and obedience. But this would mean that the condemnation of sin did not take place on the cross, but in the daily life of Christ. But Romans 8:3 says that it not Jesus but God the Father who condemns sin in the flesh. While it was indeed in the flesh of his Son that God condemned sin but it was not only in his Son as incarnate, but in his Son as a sin-offering.. God condemned sin by passing judgement on his Son.

    Theosis (participation in the divine nature, II Peter 1:4) is NOT the reason for God being reconciled to us. We are justified as ungodly (Romans 4:5), not as partakers of a nature which has been united with the divine.

    Torrance argued for an “active obedience” in which Christ repented for us, believed for us, was born again for us, was converted for us, and worships for us. “We must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance” (The Mediation of Christ, p 95)

    Donald Macleod responds—There is a great discontinuity between Christ and sinners. They were sinners and Christ was not. He could not trust in God’s forgiveness because he had no need of forgiveness. He could not be born again because he required no changed of heart. He could not be converted because His life demanded no change of direction.

    If we move from the idea of Jesus as a believer to the idea of Jesus as the one who is believed IN, does Jesus believe, vicariously, in Himself?….It is not his faith that covers the deficiencies of our faith (as it is given to us by God). It is Christ’s death that covers the deficiencies of our faith…Our faith is not in the Son of God who believed for us, but in the Son of God who gave Himself for us.

  18. markmcculley Says:

    quotation, George Zeller, p 3—Our righteous standing in Christ is due to the fact that we have been united to the risen Christ, and He as a Person has become our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). The righteousness of God, we receive by faith, apart from the law” (Rom. 3:22), and HAS NO LEGAL BASIS WHATSOVER

    mark—that is antinomianism, a false gospel which does not talk about the guilt of sins imputed to Christ demanding Christ’s death under law

  19. markmcculley Says:

    Lane Tipton, “Biblical Theology and the Westminster standards” (p 5, Westminster Theological Journal, 2013)

    If we were to say that imputation is first, and not conditioned on effectual calling, that would be “legal fiction” to Tipton. He insists that it’s work of the Spirit which is the conditional location of the “real” and which must precede God’s imputation.

    Tipton notices the difference between imputation and declaration. 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 insists 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.” Would God’s imputation not be” real” if imputation 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 begs the question by assuming that there can be no “imputation-union” before 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. 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 this turns out to mean that “union” is by the Holy Spirit, and according to Tipton, dogmatically not “union by imputation”.

  20. markmcculley Says:

    The notion that Christ must have assumed a fallen (i.e., corrupt, enslaved) human nature in order to be “made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb 2:17) subtly transforms sin into a constituent of human nature per se rather than an acquired status and condition by virtue of man’s failed ethical response to God and his covenant revelation. By contrast, those who maintain (against Barth; see CD, 4/1, pp. 478-513) a genuine transition from man’s original state of innocence to an estate of sin and misery through Adam’s historical fall hold that human nature as such is necessarily finite but not fallen. To put it differently, original sin is not a given of created humanity, but came upon humanity in the fall. It is, therefore, an ethical, not a metaphysical, aspect of the post-fall condition of man prior to his ethical resurrection in regeneration.

  21. markmcculley Says:

    Robert Letham—I will focus my comments on chapter 4, which addresses the question of what kind of humanity the Son of God assumed. The thesis is that for Christ to identify with us in our fallen condition, it was necessary for him to have a fallen human nature. By assuming humanity in its fallenness he redeemed it from where it actually is, otherwise he could not have saved us in our actual state as fallen human beings. This is akin to the teachings of Edward Irving and Karl Barth, as well as Torrance.

    This argument is a protest against all tendencies to docetism. An unfallen nature, it is held, would mean his humanity was not a real one for it would be detached from the world in which we find ourselves. Rather, Christ acted in redeeming love from within our own nature, sanctifying it and offering it up to the Father. Like Irving, Barth, and Torrance, the authors defend Christ’s sinlessness vigorously (p. 121–22). Indeed, they argue that his triumph is magnified by his living a sinless life from out of the depths of our own fallen nature.

    There are a range of problems with the claim. At best, it entails a Nestorian separation of the human nature from the person of Christ. The eternal Son—the person who takes humanity into union—is absolutely free from sin but the assumed humanity is fallen. If that were to be avoided, another hazard lurks; since Christ’s humanity never exists by itself any attribution of fallenness to that nature is a statement about Christ, the eternal Son.

    The authors do not consider biblical passages that tell against their views. Romans 5:12–21, crucial for understanding Paul’s gospel, is not mentioned. If Christ had a fallen human nature it is unavoidable that he would be included in the sin of Adam and its consequences. In short, he could not have saved us since he would have needed atonement himself, if only for his inclusion in the sin of Adam.

    The authors state that Christ assumed flesh “corrupted by original sin in Adam” (p. 116, italics original). He took a humanity “ruined and wrecked by sin” (p. 119), “corrupted human nature bent decisively toward sin” (p. 121). He healed the nature he took from us (p. 117). In this they acknowledge that a sinful nature and original sin are inextricably linked and that Christ himself needed healing. Such a Christ cannot save us for he needed saving himself.

    Christ’s healing of human nature happened from the moment of conception (p. 121–22). He was without sin. Thankfully this obviates the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph but simultaneously it destroys the argument for it means Christ’s humanity was not entirely like ours after all. Indeed, a citation of John Webster follows, in which he emphasises that Christ does not identify with us to the extent of being a sinner, has “a peculiar distance” from our own performance, does not follow our path, and has an “estrangement from us” due to his obedience (p. 122–23).

    The book’s argument can be turned on its head. For it to be sustained Christ should have a complete identity with fallen human nature and be a sinner. In this case he really would have been just like us. This Clark and Johnson, quite rightly, find unacceptable. A line has to be drawn somewhere.

    Throughout, the authors oppose the idea that Christ took into union a nature like Adam’s before the fall. However, this is not the only alternative. Reformed theology has taught that Christ lived in a state of humiliation, sinless and righteous but with a nature bearing the consequences of the fall in its mortality, its vulnerability and its suffering—but not fallen. Furthermore, the NT witness is that the incarnation is a new creation, the start of the new humanity, not a re-pristinization of the old. Christ is the second Adam, not the first. In the position the book opposes I fail to recognize the classic Reformed Christology.

    The authors’ premise is that anything other than a fallen nature would diminish Christ’s identification with us in our humanity. However, a fallen nature is intrinsic to a fallen human being but it is not definitive of, but incidental to, a human being.

    While the book’s emphasis on the atoning life of Christ correctly integrates the atonement with the incarnation (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, 37) we miss the repeated stress in the NT on atonement being achieved by the blood of Christ, his life laid down in death. Instead of “redemption by his blood” (Eph. 1:7) and reconciliation by the death of the Son (Rom. 5:9–10) these realities are established “within the being and life of our Mediator” (p. 128). In seeking to correct a problem the book is in danger of presenting, in a phrase of R. P. C. Hanson’s, redemption by a kind of sacred blood transfusion.

    There are sweeping references to “modern Christians” throughout the book—who have consistently got it wrong. The tone is strident. The historical positions are painted as heretical, versions of what Torrance called “the Latin heresy.” Yet the putative antidote is itself a modern idea. Attempting to correct a perceived imbalance the authors have set up one of their own.

  22. Mark Jones—The incarnation gives us the highest blessing possible: the beatific vision. We see the face of God in the man, Christ Jesus (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 3:18, 4:6; 1 Jn. 3:2). We behold God’s glory in the God-man (Jn. 14:9). Apart from the incarnation, we would be without this great blessing. But the incarnation gives us a sight of God that Adam could never have attained to. To think that we would have missed out on this if Adam had not sinned makes little theological sense to me. Indeed, it makes little sense that a loving God towards his creatures would withhold from them the greatest blessing he can give to them: an ocular, not just intellectual, sight of God in the flesh.

    Mark Jones– I do not believe Adam could have gained for humanity what Christ was able to gain. He simply could not merit anything from God, much less could he merit the same blessings as Christ was able to merit as the God-man. Our union with the God-man brings us into a state far greater than what would have happened if Adam did not sin. The incarnation adds an incredible and immense dignity to our nature. Moreover, our adoption is on a higher level, for we are united to the God-man, not just a man.

    Mark Jones–The incarnation as it happened gives us so much, is so rich in gifts of divine friendship and intimacy, that it cannot be explained as only a divine countermeasure against sin. There is no speculation here about a hypothetical situation; there is no discontent with the Christ as he is; rather, I am so impressed with the Christ as he is that I argue that the category of redemption is not rich enough to explain the wonder of his presence”

    What God’s law to Adam promised for obedience can be debated, but without question the law given to Adam did NOT promise immortality for death (not even for imputed vicarious death). This may seem very obvious. Death is not immortality. Immortality is the opposite of death. But the lack of a promise of blessing because of death means that there was no grace or gospel in “the covenant of works”.

    Therefore Mark Karlberg and Lee Irons are correct to challenge the notion that there was “grace before fall”, no matter how popular the equation of “condescension” and “grace” may be in Reformed circles today. Karlberg is correct to show how Leithart brings in Romanist grace/nature claims.

    Cloppenburg– “Whereas God’s revelation to Adam was both natural and supernatural, Adam’s ability to know God and to trust him required the supernatural communication of grace. The covenantal relationship – personal communion and fellowship with God – was not natural to Adam’s original state in creation, but rather rested upon a special act of condescension on God’s part. Although the covenantal reward of eternal life was contingent upon Adam’s compliance with the law of God, the actual granting of eternal life was itself purely a matter of God’s grace.

    Leithart–Cloppenburg made use of the distinction between the reward based on ‘strict justice’ (intrinsic merit) and reward granted in the way of covenant. As image-bearer of God, Adam was a servant of the Creator; his elevation from the status of servanthood to sonship was contingent upon God’s covenantal love and condescension.”

    Law goes with works, not with faith—–grace goes with faith, not works. Faith is not obedience to the law.

    • markmcculley Says:

      John Sanders, The God who Risks, p230 —“Although Scripture attests that the Incarnation was planned from the beginning of creation of the world, this is not so with the cross. The path of the cross comes about only with God’s interactions with humans in history. Other routes were open. Sin and evil thwart God’s will and disappoint God. God never wanted sin. God redeems from sin, but this was not God’s original plan. But God is working within the rules of the game God established, and so it is quite possible that God may not get everything God wants.”

  23. “the redemptive-historical reality that Christ Himself was under the law (by the imputation of the sins of the elect)”

    I listened to this sermon the other day (David Bishop, Heb 7) and there is a rejection of the covenant theology idea of a covenant of works for Adam. Is your quote above an example of how you understand Christ to be under the law in a different way than Adam was?

    If that question is not clear, do not sweat it. It’s only secondary to this question: What does it mean for Christ to be under the law by imputation of the sins of the elect?

    • markmcculley Says:

      Adam was not under the law of Moses. Christ was. Adam did not have the sins of the elect imputed to him. God did impute all the sins of the elect to Christ. This shows that Christ was not under the same law as Adam was. There is no need to call God’s law to Adam “the covenant of works”. That law to Adam did not promise immortality. That law to Adam only promised death for disobedience. For obedience, the law to Adam promised only more life until Adam sinned. The law to Adam did not forbid Adam from eating of the tree of life. The law to Adam did not promise Adam any future time off from law and probation.

      Smeaton, Atonement As Taught By Himself, p 78—The Son of God took sin upon Him, and bore it simultaneously with the taking of the flesh, nay, in a sense even prior to the actual fact of the incarnation. The peculiar character of the Lord’s humanity, which was, on the one hand, pure and holy, and yet, on the other, a curse-bearing humanity, plainly shows that in some sense He was the sin-bearer from the moment of His sending, and, therefore, even prior to His actual incarnation.

      And when it is said that God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh, we have the very same thing…Sin was borne by God, not alone in the sense of forbearance, but in such a sense that it was laid on the sin-bearer, to be expiated by the divine Son.
      Thus the Lamb of God appeared without inherent sin or taint of any kind, but never without the sin of others. The sin of man was not firsti mputed to Him or borne by Him when He hung on the cross, but in and with the assumption of man’s nature, or, more precisely, in and with His mission.

      The very form of a servant, and His putting on the likeness of sinful flesh, was an argument that sin was already transferred to Him and borne by Him; and not a single moment of the Lord’s earthly life can be conceived of in which He did not feel the harden of the divine wrath which must otherwise have pressed on us for ever.
      Because He bore sin, and was never seen without it, it may be affirmed that the mortality which was comprehended in the words, “Thou shalt surely die”—that is, all that was summed up in the wrath and curse of God,—was never really separated from Him, though it had its hours of culmination and its abatements.

      As the sin-bearer, He all through life discerned and felt the penal character of sin, the sense of guilt, not personal, but as the surety could realize it, and the obligation to divine punishment for sins not His own, but made His own by an official action; and they who evacuate of their true significance these deep words, “that beareth the sins of the world,” allowing Christ to have no connection with sin, and only dwelling on His purity and spotless innocence as our example—they who will not have Him as a sin-bearer—are the most sacrilegious.

    • markmcculley Says:

      The Fatal Flaw, by Jeffrey Johnson, Free Grace Press, 2010

      I very much recommend this new book. It is an excellent study of various covenant theologies and also an argument against infant baptism. But I still want to quibble . I quote Johnson:

      “The covenant of works that Christ was obligated to fulfill could not have been the covenant of creation. Why ?Because this covenant had already been broken and its death penalty issued upon Adam’s fallen race. Thus Christ had to be born outside the broken covenant of creation…He could not be born under the federal headship of Adam. As Wisius explains, ‘That the surety was not from Adam’s covenant, not born under the law of nature, and consequently not born under the imputation of Adam’s sin.’

      Johnson continues: “The law justifies but before the law men could not merit salvation by works, because there was no covenant….If all this is true, then the Mosaic covenant had to be a covenant of works; our salvation depended upon it. If not, there would be no covenant to reward the man Christ Jesus for His obedience.”

      I have of course not quoted the entire argument. I encourage you to buy the book and read the discussion beginning on p 146 an ending on p162. What do I disagree with in the above argument? I agree that Christ was not born under the federal headship of Adam. I agree that the Mosaic covenant was a legal conditional covenant.

      I even agree with Johnson’s larger point, which is that the Mosaic covenant cannot be seen as an “administration of the covenant of grace”. But I go further and question even the idea of any “the covenant of grace.” Which covenant is “the covenant of grace”? Is it the Abrahamic covenant? Is it the new covenant? Are both those covenants one and the same? Are both those covenants administrations of “the covenant of grace”?

      Johnson is very good in showing that the Abrahamic covenant had both its unconditional and conditional aspects. At one point (p215), he even refers to Bunyan’s idea that Christ kept the conditional aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, that had NOT been kept by anybody else. When Gal 3:16 explains that the promise was made to Abraham and his seed, and then explains that Christ is that one seed, why not see Christ alone as obeying the Abrahamic requirement for blood?

      Why does Johnson think he needs to see the Mosaic covenant (instead of the Abrahamic legal aspect) as the covenant of works Christ kept? Isn’t circumcision a requirement of not only the Mosaic but also of the Abrahamic covenant? Does not physical circumcision point to the need for the blood not of animals but of Christ?

      Make no mistake. I believe and rejoice in the federal headship of Christ. My objection is to the idea that the Mosaic covenant is the condition of the agreement of God the Father, Son and Spirit to redeem the elect. Why must the “covenant with Christ” be conflated with either the covenant with Adam or the covenant with Moses?

      I am not disagreeing that there is legal covenantal arrangement with Adam. Even though as a supralapsarian, I do question language about what Adam “could have earned if he had passed probation”, I do not at all question the federal imputation of Adam’s sins to the human race, including to the elect. And I also agree that the Mosaic covenant is conditional.

      I am only questioning why Johnson must locate the legal conditions of Christ the covenantal surety in the terms of the Mosaic covenant. His answer is that Christ was not under Adam. But why not say that Christ was under the Abrahamic conditions? Why not agree with Bunyan in saying that Christ kept the Abrahamic requirements so that the promise would be unconditional to all those promised salvation by the Abrahamic covenant?

      Johnson does not really answer this question, and I would love to have a talk with him about it. Were the Gentiles (for example, those addressed by some of the prophets) ever under the curse of the Mosaic law? I am only asking a question here. Please don’t call me a dispensationalist for asking the question! My hope in the gospel has everything to do with Christ legally paying off (satisfying) the curses of God’s law against the elect. But my hope in the gospel does not depend on me identifying God’s law with the Mosaic law.

      On page 163, Johnson seems to give away his case for the Mosaic covenant being the “covenant of works”. In a footnote, he acknowledges that Gentiles were not under the Mosaic covenant, but then says “nevertheless they were still under the covenant of works” and then quotes Romans 2:14 (a law unto themselves). But doesn’t this show that you can be under a covenant of works and not be under Moses? And if so, doesn’t this show that Christ could have been under a “covenant of works” for His elect without that being the Mosaic covenant?

  24. markmcculley Says:

    Tiessen is not merely for “incorporation, but against “imputation”

    Although Jesus “knew no sin,” in accordance with what Reformed theologians call the “covenant of redemption,” God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Here we see the core of the doctrine of incorporatedguilt and incorporated righteousness.

    [Protestants have tended to speak of imputed guilt and righteousness, and our intent has been good, but I think the choice of terminology is unfortunate. It implies an externality which prompts people to question why one person should be accounted guilty for the sin of another {Adam}, or accounted righteous for the righteousness of another {Jesus}, as though some sort of external transfer was the mechanism at work in such accounting. But I believe that the more biblical way of speaking is incorporation

  25. markmcculley Says:

    irst they say, there is no priority between Christ’s person and Christ’s work

    second they say, you must be united to Christ’s person before you can have the benefit of Christ’s work

    so they have contradicted what they said about person and work

    third I ask, but how can you be united to Christ without first being imputed with the righteousness which Christ obtained by the work of His death?

    how can the holy Christ live in you before you are declared righteous?

    how could the Holy Spirit regenerate you and give you life before you even share in Christ’s death?

    fourth is what is almost never said, well Jesus died for everybody, Jesus has available righteousness enough for everybody

    assumed but not said, election is not about Christ’s death but about who the Holy Spirit chooses to give to so they can exercise faith and then that makes Christ’s death work

    assumed but not said, if the Holy Spirit does not choose to give you faith, you can still be fairly condemned because at least jesus died for everybody including

    so jesus died to make if just for God to damn you?

    if Jesus had not died for you, then God would not be sovereign enough to damn you?
    If Jesus had not died for you, then God would not be both just and the one who condemns you?

  26. markmcculley Says:

    Apart from insisting that our union with Christ is in fact a real union (a point with which I certainly agree), it is not clear to me that our union with Adam is the same kind of “real.” That is to say, our union with Christ is a mysterious reality. Our union with Adam is a seminal reality–the entire human race really was in his DNA, so to speak. While this is certainly a parallelism of sorts, I remain convinced that the language of Romans 5 requires a more precise parallel and that the federal headship view better accounts for this parallelism. Just as all who die in Adam are united to Adam as their federal, covenantal representative, so also all who live in Christ are united to Christ as their federal, covenantal representative. While granting the real danger of objectifying salvation, we must also let the text speak for itself. My concern with Johnson’s reading of Romans 5 is that he is letting his definition of union with Christ color his interpretation rather than letting the text guide his definition. Could we not allow for a “Christological covenantal” reading in which Christ’s covenantal representative role is the dominant emphasis in Romans 5 while also recognizing that union with Christ goes beyond the emphasis of this chapter?

    Johnson rightly observes, “If the objection to the doctrine of imputation rests on the notion that Christ’s righteousness is transferred mechanically and extrinsically from him to believers–that is, the ‘righteousness of Christ’ is a quality or commodity that can exist apart from Christ’s person–then I believe the objection is legitimate” (p.108). This of course brings to mind the well-known objection from Wright that “it makes no sense whatever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom.” (2) Johnson’s citation from Calvin, however, is devastating to this caricature: “We do not . . . contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body–in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him.” (3) That is to say, we have his righteousness because we have him.

    his chapter in particular should be of great value to those with a strictly “memorialist” view of communion as well as those who fear too frequent observation of the Supper might result in minimizing its significance. Johnson’s main task in the chapter is to argue for a modified version of the Calvinist view of the sacraments. In short, Johnson contends, “To deny the true, sacramental presence of Christ in Word and sacrament is to implicitly deny that Christ continually gives himself to the church, his body” (p.217). After a short discussion of the “sacramental value” of baptism (because it results in real communion with Christ), Johnson focuses most of his attention on the Lord’s Supper. It is perhaps in this chapter that Calvin’s influence finds its clearest expression, for Johnson goes to great lengths to defend the great Reformer against misunderstandings of his view of the Lord’s Supper while also providing a positive articulation of Calvin’s view. For Calvin (and for Johnson and, I would argue, for the Bible), “Christ is truly present to bless and nourish us with his life-giving flesh and blood in the visible word of the Supper” (p.234). The real presence of Christ is the Supper is not a “sacramentalism” per se, but rather an extension of Calvin’s soteriology. Although it is a mystery, through the Lord’s Supper, the grace of God realized in our union with Christ is specially and particularly mediated. Because of this mediated grace, Johnson argues, “There is no more reason to fear idolatrous excesses in the Supper than there is to fear such excesses in our understanding of the Bible, preaching, or faith” (p.2370

  27. markmcculley Says:

    mcmark—Since “the covenant” is conditional, even 100 percent God and 100 percent you might not be enough. Try 110 percent….

    William Evans–Number Four: In order further to separate the forensic and the transformatory and to portray the forensic as independent of other considerations, you place enormous emphasis on the theme of covenant—especially on constructs such as a “covenant of redemption” between the first and second Persons of the Trinity (never mind that such a notion implies two divine wills and is thus implicitly tri-theistic) and a “covenant of works” in the Garden (never mind that, as John Murray pointed out, the term “covenant” is not used until Genesis 6:18). Your attachment to the covenant theme is due in large measure to the fact that it gives you a vocabulary and conceptual apparatus for expressing the purely extrinsic, nominal relationships that will, you think, safeguard the doctrine of justification. Of course, it is difficult to completely expunge the notion of conditionality from the concept of covenant and you may be dimly aware of the way that foregrounding the covenant theme has placed the Reformed tradition on the horns of the conditionality/unconditionality dilemma, and so you may eventually feel the tug of Lutheranism.

    mcmark—Since we will never be certain enough about if effectual calling has happened , we need to welcome everybody into “the covenant” and then on the basis of that covenant grace, we can begin to command them if they are “antinomian” about the consequences of not sufficiently keeping covenant If there is no assumption of grace before a profession of effectual hearing, then there can be no “threats of grace”. Everybody knows that the power of sin is something different other than the guilt of law. Everybody knows that Romans 6 is not talking about being legally placed into Christ’s death but rather is talking about becoming regenerate like Jesus was….

    Williams Evans– Number Ten: You define the “gospel” primarily in terms of freedom from the condemnation of sin (justification) rather than freedom from both the condemnation and the power of sin (justification and sanctification).
    Number Nine: You are much more much more concerned about legalism than antinomianism.
    Number Eight: You view sanctification as a more or less optional add-on to justification (or maybe as an evidence of justification, though you are concerned that even that concession to necessity might be potentially legalistic) rather than as grace parallel to justification that comes with our union with Christ and that is essential to the walk of faith and the path of salvation.
    Number Seven: You sense a tension between the Christ pro nobis (Christ for us) and the Christ in nobis (Christ in us). Thus, you are very suspicious of those you deride as “unionists” who want to see justification as communicated to the Christian through spiritual union with Christ.

    Scott Clark–I received this blurb for a new book from a young prof at Moody:–Increased study of the significance of believers’ union with Christ has propelled the doctrine to the forefront of theological conversations in both the academy and the church. In this accessible introduction, Marcus Johnson argues that union with Christ stands as the dominant organizing concept for salvation in the New Testament and as the lens through which all other facets of redemption should be viewed. Interacting extensively with the biblical text and the testimony of church history, he offers a timely reminder that our union with Christ is actual, mystical, and sacramental.

    Union: It’s the new thing.

    Number Six: It is not enough to affirm that justification is forensic and synthetic (a justification of the ungodly that involves the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the merits of Christ) and received by faith as the instrument that unites us to Christ who is our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Rather, if the gratuity of justification is to be properly safeguarded justification must be completely abstracted from transformation of life. Thus, if justification from eternity is too daring for you, you place heavy emphasis on an ordo salutis (order of salvation) that seeks logically and temporally to separate justification and transformation.

    Number Five: In order further to keep justification and sanctification separate you are suspicious of any real transformation intrinsic to the Christian. Thus, your view of sanctification tends to be that of a divine actualism.

    Number Three: You are firmly committed to the notion of “immediate imputation” as an adequate description of the mode of imputation whereby both the sin of Adam the righteousness of Christ (i.e., the active and passive obedience of Christ) are credited. This “immediate imputation” involves a purely extrinsic legal or forensic divine act that is independent of any realistic relationship between the persons involved (e.g., Christ and the Christian). Along these lines, you are convinced that the choice between the scholastic categories of “mediate imputation” (i.e., imputation through participation in a moral quality) and immediate imputation pretty much exhausts the possibilities for thinking about the mode of imputation (despite the fact that, e.g., Calvin’s view of the mode of imputation seems to correspond to neither).

    Number Two: In keeping with the above, philosophically speaking you are basically a pretty radical nominalist rather than a realist.

    And, finally, Number One: Deep down you harbor the suspicion that John Calvin just might be a little shaky on the doctrine of justification. In particular, passages like this trouble you greatly:

    How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only begotten Son—not for Christ’s own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us (Institutes of the Christian Religion [McNeill/Battles ed.], III.1.1).

    We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body—in short, because he deigns to make us one with him (Institutes of the Christian Religion [McNeill/Battles ed.], III.11.10).

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