“Faith Alone” is NOT the “Instrumental Condition”

Faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus is not the cause or condition of justification. Of course I have read discussions about distinctions between conditions, where it is explained that faith is an “instrumental” condition. However a mainline term that may be, I don’t agree with that explanation of faith.

My problem is not that the traditional “instrumental” language can be misunderstood. Any explanation of faith’s necessity that I give can also be misunderstood. I believe that faith in the true gospel (which includes “for the elect alone”) is necessary evidence that a person has passed from a state of condemnation to a state of justification.

This faith in the gospel is not a knowledge that a person has been justified all along, or assurance that a person has been justified from the time of the cross or before a person was born. This faith in the gospel, which includes understanding of the gospel, is the immediate result of being born again, which is the immediate result of being imputed by God with the merits of Christ’s death.

In the false gospel which tells all sinners that Christ died for them, faith is misunderstood as making the difference between saved and lost. Even in cases where the fine print tells you that this making-the- difference faith is a result of predestination and regeneration, the credit for salvation does not go to Christ. The credit may go to the Holy Spirit or to predestination, but it cannot go to Christ, if Christ died for all sinners but only some sinners are saved.

We need to put a stop to the double talk which tells all sinners that Christ died for them, but then explains (not to everybody but only to some who have already professed Christ) later that Christ died for some people to get them something different and more for them than He did for everybody else.

This kind of double talk implicitly says that Christ propitiated the wrath of God for all sinners but that Christ also died extra for the elect to give them the faith to get the benefit of Christ’s propitiation.

In other words, the doubletalk has no antithesis with the false gospel of Arminianism. Since they still want to be thought of as evangelicals, and still want to have influence on evangelicals, many “Reformed” preachers don’t teach the nature and intent of Christ’s atonement. Even if they don’t explicitly say that this was to take away the wrath for every sinner, by their silence about the question, they go along with what everybody already understands, which is that faith alone makes the difference.

They can try to put boundaries around that, and say that the object of faith is important. They can even say that Mormons and open theists are not evangelicals, and maybe not even justified. But they are still agreeing, sermon after sermon, every time that they do not say “ died for the elect alone”, that it is faith alone which makes the difference. And when they do that, there really is no “Christ alone” left.

In the fine print, the glory may go to God for predestinating the Spirit to give us faith. But it is no longer Christ’s death which saves, if Christ died for all sinners, and some of these sinners are lost. And though we may talk of Scripture alone, we end up with a canon within a canon, where what the Scripture says about the elect in Christ and therefore being elect in His death becomes segregated out from the gospel and thus unspoken or denied.

Instead of saying that Christ died only for the elect and not for the non-elect, they leave out the e word and say that Christ died for believers, which then means that faith alone makes the difference and not Christ. If they want to keep the “thoroughly reformed” happy, they might say sometimes that Christ died for his covenant people, but then later they will make it clear that the covenant is conditional and that his people are the believers, so that it will all come back to faith alone.

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11 Comments on ““Faith Alone” is NOT the “Instrumental Condition””

  1. markmcculley Says:

    BAVINCK ON FAITH AND JUSTIFICATION
    Vol. IV; Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1930), pp. 198-207.

    As the internal call directly and immediately,without a time lapse, results in regeneration with “habitual faith,” so also does this faith include from the very beginning of its existence the assurance that not only to others but to me also forgiveness of sins has been granted. This assurance does not need to be added through a special revelation, as asserted by Rome.

    When the Scriptures say of this justification in “a concrete sense” that it takes place by and through faith, then it does not intend to say that it is produced and wrought through that faith, since Jesus Christ is all our righteousness and all benefits of grace are the fruits of his labor and of his labor alone; they are entirely contained in his person and are not in any need of any addition on our part.

    The terminology, that active justification takes place unto and passive justification by and through faith may have some value against nomism; but the Scriptural language is entirely adequate provided it is understood Scripturally. Saving faith directs our eyes and heart from the very beginning away from ourselves and unto God’s mercy in Christ.

    Many have in later years, when the confessional power of the Reformation weakened, entered the way of self-examination, in order to be assured of the sincerity of their faith and their salvation. Thus was the focus shifted from the promise of God to the experience of the pious.

    It is not we who approach the judgment of God, after self-examination, with the sincerity of our faith, in order to receive there the forgiveness of our sins; God does not sit in judgment by himself in heaven to hear the parties and to pronounce sentence, a representation which is according to Comrie, too anthropomorphic and unworthy of God. But He himself comes to us in the gospel. The foundation of faith lie outside ourselves in the promise of God; whoever builds thereupon shall not be ashamed.

    It is possible for us to conceive of faith at the same time as a receptive organ and as an active force. If justification in every respect comes about after faith, faith becomes a condition, an activity, which must be performed by man beforehand, and it cannot be purely receptive. But if the righteousness, on the ground of which we are justified, lies wholly outside of us in Christ Jesus, then faith is not a “material cause” or a “formal cause.”

    Faith is not even a condition or instrument of justification, for it stands in relation to justification not as, for example, the eye to seeing or the ear to hearing. Faith is not a condition, upon which, nor an instrument or organ, through which we receive this benefit, but it is the acceptance itself of Christ and all his benefits, as He presents Himself to us through word and Spirit, and it includes therefore also the consciousness, that He is my Lord and I am his possession.

    Faith is therefore not an instrument in the proper sense, of which man makes use in order to accept Christ, but it is a sure knowledge and a solid confidence which the Holy Spirit works in the heart and through which He persuades and assures man that he, not withstanding all his sins, has part in Christ and in all his benefits.

    This faith forms a contrast with the works of the law. It also stands opposed to the works of faith (infused righteousness, obedience, love) the moment these are to any degree viewed as the ground of justification, as forming as a whole or in part that righteousness on the ground of which God justifies us; for that is Christ and Christ alone; faith itself is not the ground of justification and thus also neither are the good works which come forth from it.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Bavinck: With respect to the doctrine of justification there is no difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology as far as the essence is concerned; however, the doctrine does occupy a different place and does receive a different emphasis in the latter. This manifests itself first of all in the Luther pushed predestination steadily into the background, while Calvin placed it increasingly in the center and viewed justification also from that perspective.

    “The Lord, when He calls, justifies, and glorifies, does nothing other than to declare his election;” it is the elect who are justified. For that reason, it is entirely correct to say that Calvin never weakens either the objective atonement of Christ or the benefit of justification; but nevertheless, his perspective results in the righteousness of Christ being presented to us much more as a gift bestowed by God than as something which we accept through faith. The objective gift precedes the subjective acceptance.

    Calvin feels himself in the presence of God and placed before his judgment throne; for such a creature, humility and trusting in God’s mercy are the only proper thing; to that end are the elect justified, that they should glory in him and not in something else.

    Under the influence of Socinianism and Remonstrantism, Cartesianism and Amyraldianism, there developed the neonomiam representation of the order of redemption which made forgiveness of sins and eternal life dependent on faith and obedience which man had to perform in accordance with the new law of the gospel. Parallel with this development, Pietism and Methodism arose which, with all their differences, also shifted the emphasis to the subject, and which either demanded a long experience or a sudden conversion as a condition for obtaining salvation.

    As a reaction against this came the development of anti-neonomianism, which had justification precede faith, and antinomianism which reduced justification to God’s eternal love. Reformed theologians usually tried to avoid both extremes, and for that purpose soon made use of the distinction between “active” and “passive justification.” This distinction is not found in the reformers; as a rule they speak of justification in a “concrete sense.” They do not treat of a justification from eternity, or of justification in the resurrection of Christ, or in the gospel, or before or after faith, but combine everything in a single concept.

    Efforts were made to keep both elements as close together as possible, while accepting only a logical and not a temporal distinction. However, even then, there were those who objected to this distinction inasmuch as the gospel mentions no names and does not say to anyone, personally: Your sins have been forgiven. Therefore it is not proper for any man to take as his starting point the belief that his sins have been forgiven.

    The atonement of Christ is particular rather than universal. The preacher of the gospel can assure no one that his sins have been forgiven since he does not know who the elect are; and the man who hears the gospel is neither able nor permitted to believe this, inasmuch as he cannot be aware of his election prior to and without faith. As a result, the conclusion appeared rather obvious that the boldness to know one’s sins to have been forgiven and to have assurance of eternal salvation only came about after one has fled unto Jesus in faith. But in this manner the ground of justification shifted once again from God to man, from the righteousness of Christ to saving faith; from the gospel to the law.

    If, then, not faith in its quality and activity, but the imputed righteousness of Christ is the ground of our justification, the question arises with all the more emphasis: What is then the place of faith in this benefit? Does imputation take place in the death or resurrection of Christ, in the preaching of the gospel, prior to, or at the same time as, or after faith?

    The first position was asserted by the real antinomians, such as Pontiaan van Hattem and his followers. According to them justification was nothing else than the love of God which is not concerned about the sins of man, which does not require atonement in Christ, and which only needs to be proclaimed in order to enable man to believe. Faith is nothing but a renouncing of the error that God is angry and a realization that God is eternal love.

    This school of thought should be distinguished sharply from the views of the so-called antineonomians who opposed the change of the gospel into a new law as well as the idea that faith was a co-operating factor in our justification, and who from this perspective sometimes came to confess an eternal justification. This doctrine of eternal justification contains a valuable truth which cannot and may not be denied by anyone who is Reformed. Election is from eternity. The “counsel of redemption” which includes the substitution of the Mediator for his people is from eternity.

    However, that is no reason to recommend speaking of eternal justification. If one says that “justification as an act immanent in God” must of necessity be eternal, then it should be remembered that taken in that sense everything, including creation, incarnation, atonement, calling, regeneration, is eternal. Whoever would speak of an eternal creation would give cause for great misunderstanding. Besides, the proponents of this view back off themselves, when, out of the fear of antinomianism, they assert strongly that eternal justification is not the only, full, and complete justification, but that it has a tendency and purpose to realise itself outwardly. This amounts really to the usual distinction between the decree and its execution.

    The counsel of God and all decrees contained therein as a unit are without doubt eternal “immanent acts”, but the external works of God, creation, preservation, governing, redemption, justification, etc., are in the nature of the case “transient acts.” As works they do not belong to the plan of God’s ordering but to the execution of it.

    Under the influence of Arminian and Salmurian theology, and of Pietism and Rationalism, the understanding of this actual justification gradually became that man had to believe and repent first, that thereafter God in heaven, in “the court of heaven,” sitting in judgment, acquitted the believer because of his faith in Christ.

  3. MARK MCCULLEY Says:

    unless the atonement can be left out of the gospel, then neither can election be left out of the gospel

    Lewis Sperry Chafer. ST, 3, p187—-“The highway of divine election is quite apart from the highway of redemption.”

    Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, volume 3, Reformed Dogmatics, 2006, p 469—-“The center of gravity has been shifted from Christ and located in the Christian. Faith (not the atonement) has become the reconciliation with God.”

    Jonathan Gibson, From heaven, p 358—-Election and the Atonement do not operate on separate theological tracks. What God has joined together, let no theologian separate. Affirming union with Christ before the moment of redemption accomplished counts any disjunction between the effect of Christ’s death and the effect of His resurrection. (Those who put union later) sound as if Christ’s death might lead to the death of some sinners, but not also to their resurrection. This is not only analogy. if one, then the other. if death with, then resurrection with.

    Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his.

    mark: Being united with Christ before the moment of redemption means that the atonement is both substitutionary and respresentative. The death is not only representative, not only “on behalf of”, as if there could be other deaths along side the one death. But also the death is not only substitutionary, as if Christ were some arbitrary individual who died for no one in particular because he had no covenantal relationship with those for whom He died, as only some “available substitute”. Christ was already united by election to those for whom He died.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Jonathan Gibson, “The Glorious, Indivisible, Trinitarian Work of Christ”, From Heaven He Came, p 355—on II Cor 5:14-15 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.

    ”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.”

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Galatians 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles BY FAITH, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

    Galatians 3:22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise BY FAITH in Jesus Christ would be given to those who believe.

    Galatians 3 : 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

    Gaffin argues that “by faith” in Ephesians 2:8 means that it’s implicitly “raised by faith” in Ephesians 2:5

    Acts 15: “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith

    Acts 26: 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified BY FAITH in me.’.”

    Romans 5: Therefore, since we have been justified BY FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access BY FAITH into this grace in which we stand,

    Romans 3: 28 For we hold that one is justified BY FAITH apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised BY FAITH and the uncircumcised THROUGH FAITH

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Vos–Evidence that in this sense conditions are attached to the covenant of grace: 1.The Scriptures speak in this way: John 3:16, 36; Rom 10:9; Acts 8:37; Mark 16:16; and in many other places.
    2.If there were no conditions, there would be no place for threats, for threatening only makes sense to those who reject the conditions; that is to say here, those who do not walk in the God-ordained way of the covenant.
    3.If there were no conditions, God alone would be bound by this covenant, and no bond would be placed on man. Thereby the character of the covenant would be lost. All covenants contain two parts.”

    Vos—The covenant of grace is not conditional concerning the covenant benefits. Let us say, for example, that justification is a covenant benefit….But now, what about faith itself? Is faith, in its turn, again tied to something else? Evidently not, for otherwise we would get an infinite series, and nowhere would there be an absolute beginning where the grace of God intervenes. Therefore, we say that the covenant of grace is conditional with respect to its completion and final benefits, not as concerns its actual beginning.

    Vos—”Some say that the internal covenant is not properly a covenant because it involves no conditions or proposals for man, given that the exercise of the conditions of the covenant is itself his entry into the internal covenant. In other words, a covenant always has in view something still to be done. In this way the idea of commitment is employed in order to deny fellowship the name of covenant. But Scripture does not speak in this way (Jeremiah 31. This whole objection immediately collapses as soon as one makes a distinction between the initial assent of faith and the ongoing exercise of faith. Faith is the ongoing activity that unlocks continual access to the good things of the covenant

    Geerhardus Vos Reformed Dogmatics (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013) vol. 2, ch. 3 Q. 30

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones—In debates with Remonstrant (i.e., Arminian) theologians, the Reformed and the Remonstrants seemed to agree on the formal cause of justification, i.e., imputation. But they differed on the material cause. What is imputed to the believer, our act of faith or Christ’s righteousness apprehended by faith? The Reformed held to the latter, whereas the Arminians typically held to the former. But even on the so-called “formal cause” there was an important difference between the two camps: for the Arminians, imputation is an aestimatio – God considers our righteousness (i.e., faith) as something that it is not (i.e., perfect). The Reformed, however, view imputation as secundum veritatem – God considers Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness, precisely because it is, through union with Christ. The verdict that God passes on his Son is precisely the same verdict he passes on those who belong to Christ – but only through imputation.
    So in saying that God accepts our imperfect obedience, we must be careful not to bring this “acceptilatio” into the realm of justification, but keep it in the realm of sanctification.

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/02/god-accepts-imperfection.php

  8. markmcculley Says:

    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/05/arminian-versus-reformed-views.php

    Mark Jones—Gomarus said that it was “not the doctrine of predestination but that of justification” which was the “cardinal point on which Arminius deviated from Reformed doctrine.” , Arminius claimed to agree with Calvin on justification in book 3 of the Institutes, but Arminius also claimed to agree with the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession based on what, according to Richard Muller, can at best be described as a highly defensive and tendentious reading of those documents.

    Witsius also drew attention to this deviation by Arminius: “Arminius, by his subtlety, frames vain empty quibbles, when he contends that the righteousness of Christ cannot be imputed to us for righteousness…” He adds: “It is well known that the reformed churches condemned Arminius and his followers, for saying that faith comes to be considered in the matter of justification as a work or act of ours.”

    Arminius made use of a concept, known as acceptilatio. Imperfect faith is accepted (by God’s gracious estimation) as righteousness. Or, to put it another way, the human act of faith is by grace counted as evangelical righteousness, as if it were the complete fulfillment of the whole law. This genuine human act comes forth from the ability to choose (liberum arbitrium). God has a “new law” in the evangelical covenant, whereby faith answers to the demands of the covenant.

    As Aza Goudriaan says in his excellent essay on this topic, “Arminius suggested in certain texts a justification because of the act of faith” (Scholasticism Reformed, 163; cf. McCall and Stanglin, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace, 166-169).* Because the act of faith constitutes righteousness, the manner in which a sinner is justified is not because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us through the instrument of faith, but because of the act of believing which answers to the demands of the evangelical covenant.

    IThe Reformed and the Remonstrants seemed to agree on the formal cause of justification, i.e., imputation. But they differed on the material cause. What is imputed to the believer, our act of faith or Christ’s righteousness apprehended by faith? But even on the so-called “formal cause” . for the Arminians, imputation is an aestimatio – God considers our righteousness (i.e., act of faith) as something that it is not (i.e., perfect). The Reformed, however, view imputation as God considering Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness, precisely because it is, through union with Christ. We can stand before the tribunal of God with as much assurance of our righteousness as Christ can before the Father. Not because God accepts imperfection, but because God demands perfection from all who would enter life, and we possess a perfect righteousness, by imputation. T

    “For although the Papists teach that we are justified by faith taken in the literal sense, yet they do not teach that faith is our whole righteousness: they just teach that faith is the beginning of our justification…Servetus, however, and Socinus teach that faith is our whole righteousness,

    ,Arminians say that we are justified by faith, and in contrast deny, against the Papists, that faith is only the beginning of our justification,. Arminians deny against the Papists the merit of faith, and assert, with Servetus and Socinus, that faith justifies because of God’s valuation. Arminians come closer to Servetus and Socinus than to the Papists.

    WCF 11.1, “… nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness …” The Assembly seems clearly to have in view the views of the Arminians

    • markmcculley Says:

      After we are justified through faith, does God then also justify our faith?
      For what reason would our faith need to be justified, after we are justified?
      Our faith is not perfect, but it does not need to be because none of our faith is the righteousness God imputes to us for our justification. God gave us faith, but the object of our faith is not that our faith has been justified. Our faith is not perfect, which is another way of saying that sinners believe the gospel , and sin even in our believing the gospel.. Since our faith is not perfect, God does not count our faith as perfect nor is there any need for God to do so.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Tom Schreiner—-Faith alone, highlights grace alone. God’s grace and kindness save us through the atoning work of Jesus as our crucified and risen Lord. But how does our faith save us? We aren’t saved by our faith per se. Faith saves us because of its object—BECAUSE THROUGH FAITH WE ARE UNITED TO JESUS CHRIST.

    Schreiner—“Too many Protestants reduce faith to mere verbal agreement. Many are mistakenly assured they’ll enjoy eternal life apart from any obedience if they accept Jesus as Savior. Bates convincingly demonstrates that such a reading doesn’t accord with the New Testament’s emphasis on works, for works are clearly essential for the reception of eternal life. We must maintain our faith until the end to be saved.

    Schreiner—“The empty hands with which we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior don’t remain empty. By virtue of being in Christ, we’re empowered to live a new life that pleases God. Genuine trust in God—saving faith in Christ—inevitably leads to a new life manifesting the Spirit’s fruit. The gospel can’t be reduced to the formula “Jesus died for our sins,” since the gospel centers on the truth that Jesus is King. He’s the resurrected and enthroned Lord over all, and we’re called to express our allegiance to him as our Lord. ”

    https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-review-salvation-by-allegiance-alone

    https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2015/10/08/are-good-works-necessary-to-salvation/


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