Why Two Way Love Is Not the Grace of the Gospel

William Blake

If Moral Virtue was Christianity
Christ’s Pretensions were all Vanity

In The God of Promise and the Life of Faith: Understanding the Heart of the Bible (Paperback) footnote 6 on p244, Scott Hafemann writes: ” The position I am advocating is based on a reassessment of the traditional Lutheran, Calvinistic and dispensational view of the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. The traditional view saw a conflict between the two, with the law viewed narrowly as God’s demand for sinless obedience as the ground of our salvation, while the gospel called for faith In God’s grace in Christ, who kept the Law perfectly in our place.”

Hafemann does not understand correctly the antithesis he is opposing. Yes, the law is the divine demand for perfection (and also for satisfaction for sins). But he is wrong to focus on a demand for perfection being replaced by a demand for faith. The only accptable “end of the law” is not faith but the righteousness obtained and imputed by God. .

Hafemann is inattentive to three facts about the divine alien righteousness. First, Christ died under the curse of God’s law only for the elect alone. Second, faith has as its object not just any Jesus or any “grace”, but the Jesus who satisfied the law for all who will be justified (and not for the non-elect). Third, this faith is not only a sovereign gift but a righteous gift, given on behalf of Christ and His law-work (Philippians 1:29; John 17).

When Hafemann makes the difference to be between a demand for faith and a demand for obedience, the only thing left to discuss Is the nature of faith. Does faith include love and works or not? If faith loves and works and faith is an instrument, why can’t love and works of faith also be instruments? Since faith is a result of regeneration, won’t that faith include works?

Of course Hafemann does discuss the object of faith. His theme is that the law/gospel antithesis is wrong to put all the emphasis on the past. He denies that the past work of Christ is sufficient or the only object of faith. He insists that we look also to the life of Christ in us, and to the future work of Christ in us.

To his credit, Hafemann openly acknowledges his differences with Luther and Calvin’s law/grace antithesis. He thinks his different gospel is more biblical.

I think we would all see the difference between the two gospels if we stopped explaining the antithesis by talking only about “faith alone”.

The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about the satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect.

Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function. Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation;y one sin would put you under its curse, no matter how many acts of obedience to the law you had.

Hafemann thinks that the antithesis understands “Christ to bring the law to an end in the sense of abolishment”. But the antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 only in terms of redemptive-historical abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. Romans 10:4 is also first about redemptive-historical fulfillment.

The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

Hafemann reduces the law/gospel antithesis to the abolishment of strict law, and says that what the Spirit does in us helps satisfy the law enough. This misses what the gospel says about Christ’s complete satisfaction of the law for the elect.

Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

Back to footnote 6 on page 244: “In this view, the law itself taught a legalism that Adam and Israel failed to keep but that God continues to demand in order to drive us to the gospel”. Hafemann does not define this “legalism”.

Is “legalism” a demand for perfection? If God demands perfection, is God therefore a “legalist”? It seems to me that the only alternative to a demand for perfection is either no law at all or a “new” softened-down demand which calls only for imperfect righteousness so that “grace” makes up the difference.

Hafemann is simply following the direction of the Torrances who reject the “contract God” who demands perfection and operates by justice. The Barthians put “grace” and not justice into the pre-fall situation of Adam.

There are some who think that even talking about law’s demand for perfection is “legalism”. But God has told us that the law is not the gospel and that it never was the gospel. Romans 11:5–”So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

It is Hafemann who is the legalist, because he identifies law and gospel, and then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. What God does in us (by grace) is necessary for a different reason than the satisfaction of God`s law. What God does in us keeps us believing the gospel, but our believing the gospel is not what satisfies the law.

Read carefully what Hafemann writes about the “obedience of faith” (p 188): “Still others consider obedience to God’s law to be the necessary evidence of faith. For them, if one believes, then obedience becomes the mandatory sign of something else, namely faith, which is the human response to God’s grace that actually saves us. Faith must lead to obedience as a sign that it is real.”

While that it is an accurate description of many Calvinists who talk about assurance, it is not biblical assurance. We do not work to get assurance. We must have assurance before our works are acceptable to God. We must be saints before we can offer proper thanks and worship to God. We must make our calling and election sure before we take the first step of obedience in which God can delight.

Through faith in Christ we are sanctified by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:10-14), even before we do good works. Because they do not understand the distinction between Christ’s obedience for us alone for sanctification and our works after we are saints, most folks continue to seek a way to build Spirit-wrought obedience into acts that will help sanctify them

The Spirit works faith in the hearts of saints through the preaching of the gospel even after they are saints. Continuing faith is not a condition but a result of sanctification. Saints are commanded to continue to have faith but this faith is still never a work. It’s an anti-work because it has no inherent goodness or holiness. Faith itself is nothing in sanctification. Only Christ and His finished work counts in sanctification.

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11 Comments on “Why Two Way Love Is Not the Grace of the Gospel”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    D A Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway, 76—-”If one holds that the Atonement is sufficient for all and effective for the elect, both sets of texts and concerns are accommodated.


    Torrance can say that Jesus believed for us, or repented for us, but he ends up denying that Jesus paid legal satisfaction for anybody (bear sins).

    Torrance sneers at, disapproves of penal satisfaction, as an external forensic thing. But he never shows that “made sin” in II Cor 5:21 means anything other than imputation.


    question for Barth—if election is universal, then why isn’t salvation universal ? Or is Barth back to the old idea that God is inscrutable, “God’s good pleasure”? Or does a human still have the choice to exclude self? does a human still have the will to bring into effect the wrath of God?

  4. markmcculley Says:


    In the third use, the Law as a description of the obedience in which believers should walk, the “Law” no longer functions as a covenant at all. (Legalists–and we all know plenty–would disagree at this point. And I think in our battles in the Reformed church, perhaps the key line of attack is to force them to come out in the open about this and say point blank that the Law functions as a covenant between God and the Church.)

    Rather, this “third use” considers the Law in the abstract as a delineation of righteous behavior, though not as a covenant by which we will be justified or condemned. This attempt to strip the Law of its covenantal sanctions and use the remainder is fraught with peril. Far better to see the Law fulfilled in Christ and take our example from him. He will not lead us astray. Nor will his example lack anything necessary.

    Luther told us rightly that we sinners cannot approach a naked God, but must always approach him in Christ. We also cannot approach a naked Law, but must always approach the law in Christ as well.

    This is true not merely for our justification, but for our sanctification. This truth is obscured in most formulations of the “third use of the Law.” Those formulations speak of the Law as a guide for the believer directly. They rarely mention the necessity of a Mediator and a better covenant at this point, having covered that necessity in the “second use.”

    This has unfortunate repercussions. It can lead believers to think that, for their justification, they approach the Law in Christ; but for their sanctification, they approach it directly. Having begun by the Spirit of Christ, they seek to be perfected by the flesh. Justified in the Spirit, they seek to be sanctified by their own efforts. They approach the Law as though it has been de-fanged and may now be handled directly without harm. They attempt to approach God on their own apart from Christ.

    The Law has indeed been “de-fanged” if you will; its curses have been borne by Christ, and God’s wrath has been turned aside. But the conclusion to this is not that we may now approach God or his Law on our own. Rather, the conclusion is that we may approach him and his Law in Christ. And as we do so, we find not an implacable Judge but a loving Father. For the Father loves the Son and all who are in him.

    So it is with the Law. We can never approach it as those to whom it has primary reference. Its primary reference is to Christ, in its third use as much as in any other. Any attempt to approach the Law apart from its fulfillment, our Savior, will produce in us either legalism or despair (and may God be gracious and grant that it produce despair).

  5. markmcculley Says:

    the distinction between “merits in and of themselves” and “merits”….
    Lutzer, Moody Church—“The works we do after our conversion do not have merit in and of themselves. They only have merit because we are joined to Christ. Also, we should not think of God as our employer who has a legal obligation to pay us….Your Eternal Reward, 1998, p 14)
    But Lutzer does assure us that we will get paid, if we work the right way, with the right motive. And the pay will be getting a better job, with more responsibility on the new earth”
    Is the new earth material? or is the new earth “Spirit-controlled” or both?
    if you don’t pick it up, you might be cleaning toilets on the new earth.
    Gloria Copeland–God knows where the money is, and God knows how to get the money to the people with faith
    Joyce Meyer—If you stay in your faith, you are going to get paid. I am now living in my reward.
    Lee Irons—-God’s freedom must be maintained, but not at the expense of the divine perfections (i.e., wisdom, goodness, justice, holiness, truth, and rationality). God does not act arbitrarily, for all his actions are expressive of and delimited by his attributes….A covenant is the revelation of God’s justice. It follows, therefore, that (we) must reject the distinction between condign and congruous merit. The problem with this distinction is that congruous ex pacto merit becomes gracious when it is placed by way of contrast beneath condign merit as something less than full and real merit. Thus, grace inevitably enters the definition of congruous merit.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Tom Nettles—the Arminian idea of free will is not demanded by the Bible at all, but only by the inference drawn from the no-grace-no-justice assumption….”Add the call for repentance and obedience throughout Scripture to Hebrews 10:12 to land on a paradoxical combination of grace and ability that is the basisof prevenient grace”. This piggy-backing of grace onto the command does not come from any element in the text….the whole idea of obligatory grace is contrary to the biblical presentation of grace as pure



  7. markmcculley Says:

    Pity would be no more,
    If we did not make somebody Poor:
    And Mercy no more could be,
    If all were as happy as we;

    And mutual fear brings peace;
    Till the selfish loves increase.
    Then Cruelty knits a snare,
    And spreads his baits with care. William Blake

  8. markmcculley Says:

    A modern dictionary defines “gift” as something delivered to a recipient “gratuitously, for nothing.” Yet, according to John Barclay’s new book Paul and the Gift, It is Paul—not intuition or common sense or objective, timeless instinct—who is almost single-handedly responsible for making it seem obvious to most of us in the modern West that God’s grace excludes human working.
    For many 1st-century readers, God upheld his fidelity to Israel by distributing his grace to those who are worthy of it. For them this did not make God’s grace any less gracious. To define grace otherwise—to say that God gives it in disregard for the worth of its beneficiaries—they thought would be to open the door to moral chaos and anarchy, to snip the thread that links human pursuit of virtue with the deep structures of creation and providence.
    It was not “Lutheran theology” but Paul who undermined human religion’s quest to climb its way into divine favor. Opposing the “Judaizers” of his day, Paul in the 1st century anticipated Martin Luther’s struggles against a petty and fastidious medieval Catholicism in the 16th.
    Barclay grants that Luther mistakenly thought that Paul’s target in his Galatians epistle was self-reliant boasting (if that were the burning issue, “it is hard to see why Paul would discount both circumcision and uncircumcision”).
    Over against the “new perspective,” Barclay understands Paul to be unleashing a “bizarre,” even “dangerous” definition of grace . For Paul, grace is incongruous—it is a gift that does not “fit” or “match” the worth of those to whom God gives it. In defiance of human achievement, God gives grace to a supposedly successful but actually bankrupt person like Paul (the acme of Paul’s human “achievement” had actually set him against God’s church).
    In defiance of human failure, God gives grace to the utterly unworthy idol worshipers of Gentile cities around the Mediterranean. Because grace erupts, cause-less, in the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it can therefore be given to anyone ….No preparation is necessary, and no conditions must be met before the gift of Christ may be received. http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2016/janfeb/grace-redefined.html?paging=off

    • markmcculley Says:

      Schreiner review of Barclay—I am not persuaded that there is no polemic against doing in Galatians. Faith is set against doing, even if the doing is circumscribed by Torah (Gal 3:1–9). The contrast is particularly strong in Gal 3:12 where the law, in contrast to faith, is characterized by performance. The reference to uncircumcision does not negate what is said since people can boast in what they do (get circumcised) or what they do not do (uncircumcision). That is why Paul trumpets the cross as his only boast (Gal 6:12) and the new creation is the rule by which all should live (Gal 6:16). Additionally, Barclay does not reflect enough on the difference between promise and law. Law does not avail since it focuses on what human beings do (or more precisely fail to do), while the promise stresses what God in Christ does for believers…..

      When it comes to Romans, Barclay sees a pronounced emphasis on the superabundance of grace. In Romans, like Galatians, Paul sees God’s grace as incongruous so that it is granted to the unworthy, and fitting, in that it changes those who are its recipients. The incongruous grace of God continues to be given in Jesus Christ. At the final judgment there will be evidence that those who have received God’s grace have changed. Hence, God’s grace is unconditioned (given to the unworthy), but not unconditional (those who have received such grace are transformed).

      On the other hand, he is not convincing when he says that there is no polemic against a Jewish conception of works in Rom 4:4–5. Has not Barclay already shown that some would not agree with Paul’s notion of an incongruous gift? In these verses we see a different conception of grace. Some Jews certainly depended on their works for vindication; otherwise, the boasting of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector (Luke 18:9–14) does not relate to anyone. Barclay thinks Paul has an exegetical but not a polemical purpose in Rom 4:4–5, but that is a very unlikely splitting of categories. Paul writes about matters present in people’s lives. In the same way, it seems as if Barclay strains to deny any sense of trusting in one’s own righteousness in Rom 9:30–10:8. In Barclay’s reading of Rom 10:3, Paul speaks of confirming or validating one’s righteousness instead of establishing or achieving righteousness. He does not think Paul criticizes an attempt to be righteous by works or human achievement. The issue is that some believed that Torah observance made one a fitting recipient of God’s kindness. Paul does not criticize works-righteousness “but the criteria by which worth is defined” (p. 541 n46). This is a possible reading, but it is a very fine distinction. It seems likely that people would boast about meeting such criteria. Indeed, Paul sets boasting and works over against faith in Rom 3:27–4:5.


      gifts not to the worthy

      arbitrary, lottery

      to ungodly enemies

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