Archive for June 2014

“Reformed” Versions of the False Gospel–None are Justified who Do Not Yet Believe the True Gospel

June 25, 2014

Faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus is not the cause or condition of justification. 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. And I do 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. All who are gospel believers are justified, none are justified who are not gospel believers. None are born again who are not gospel believers, none are justified who are not born again

This faith in the true 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 result of being born again, which is the result of being imputed by God with the merits of Christ’s death. God’s legal imputation, the Holy Spirit’s work in us, our faith, God’s declaration that we are justified—all these blessings happen at the same time, and not from before the ages began (also not at the same time when Christ died and rose)

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.

In the fine print, in “Reformed” versions of the false gospel, glory may go to God for predestinating the Holy Spirit to give us faith. But in “Reformed” versions of the false gospel it is no longer Christ’s death which saves, if it is taught that Christ died for all sinners, but that some of these sinners are lost. Though they may talk of Scripture alone, the “Reformed” false teachers 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 and denied.

Instead of saying that Christ died only for the elect and not for the non-elect, “Reformed” versions of the false gospel leave out the word election and say that Christ died only for believers. But this is teaching that it is faith which makes the ultimate difference and not Christ.

If they want to keep the “thoroughly reformed” happy, “Reformed” versions of the false gospel sometimes say that Christ died for his “covenant” people, but then later they will make it clear that this “covenant” is conditional and that “his people” are the believers, so these “Reformed” versions of the false gospel still bring everything back to our believing.

Letham’s Book on Union with Christ

June 24, 2014

Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, by Robert Letham, Presbyterian and Reformed, 2011

“Space prevents me from recent discussions of the relationship between union with Christ and justification.” (p 82). This book is so disappointing. Letham does not use his space is a wise and helpful way. He merely keeps begging the question and repeating himself. “Faith-union is by faith” seems to be his conclusion, and that is not a very useful explanation of anything.

Even though Letham relies on Evans and Garcia, he avoids interaction with recent discussions by Fesko, Horton, and McCormack on the priority of forensic justification. Letham persists in saying that “union” is “more basic” with indifference to the specific arguments.

Letham contents himself with a couple potshots at folks like Wayne Spear. He takes sides with John Knox against the Anabaptists and what he calls “the neo-Zwinglianism of William Cunningham, Robert L. Dabney, and latterly Wayne Spear.” (p 120) Even in this, Letham begs the question. His view is “robust”; his opponents (with whom he disdains to interact) are “gnostic” (p139)

See for example, his discussion of Hodge: “the focus was on the forensic, on justification and the atonement. The gospel was to be clear and comprehensible. An unfortunate split had occurred in Reformed thought.In part, it explains how the doctrine of union with Christ suffered eclipse.” (p122)

Letham sits too high above the controversies to attend to the contested details, and this helps him to think that his own view of union is “the doctrine” of union. This pose does not help him to be clear and comprehensible, but perhaps it means that he worships a God who is “more than” we find revealed in Scriptures.

“The Holy Spirit baptizes all believers into one body.” (p 50) But what biblical text says this? Letham quotes I Cor 12:13 correctly–”in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” The text does not say that the Holy Spirit is the baptizer, or the “more basic” agent, but Letham simply presumes this notion throughout his book.
Since the Spirit gives faith to the elect, Letham thinks this faith has to be that which unites the elect to Christ, and thus he insists on the tradition that says it’s the Spirit who unites the elect to Christ.

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

I don’t need to say anything about the Torrances or Karl Barth here. You don’t need to have read Evans and Garcia to follow. The Holy Spirit is NOT choosing individuals to be on the team in some different way than the Trinity has already elected individuals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a mistake to reference the “died with” to a “faith-union” given by the Holy Spirit. But Letham’s idea is that the Holy Spirit selects and unites some to “the church” by using water baptism as a “laver of regeneration”. (p 103) Letham’s idea is that the Holy Spirit “pours the power of Christ into” believers. (p 103)

The idea of “therefore all died”, the idea of “union with Christ’s death” is NOT that the Holy Spirit becomes the agent of that death, and selects who will be on the team. . The Romans 6 idea of “died with Christ”, the II Corinthians 5:15 idea of “therefore all died” is that Christ died to propitiate God’s wrath because of ALREADY IMPUTED SINS (Romans 4:25, on account of sins). This death is eventually credited by God to all the elect.

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

Letham rightly asks questions about the priority of regeneration to justification. (p 74) There is no such thing as a regenerate person who is not yet justified. But then Letham puts faith in priority to justification and thus puts his idea of “union” in priority to justification. But what is this “faith-union” if not regeneration?

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

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

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

Christ will give the elect to the Father. Letham worries some about Calvin’s comments on I Corinthians 15:27 and the handover of the Kingdom to the Father. Letham worries that Calvin sounds Nestorian (handing over the humanity to the divinity) in this regard. (p39, 114)

For my part, I worry that Letham is not attending to discontinuity in redemptive history. I am thinking not only of the handover of the kingdom in I Cor 15 (see also John 17) but of the difference between the elect’s sins being punished at the cross and the new view that this punishment only works once the Holy Spirit “selects the elect” and then “unites” them to Christ.

Make no mistake. I do not equate the propitiation and justification. Though the decree is from before the ages, neither the propitiation or justification is from before the ages. And the propitiation is not yet our justification, because in time we come to share legally in Christ’s death What Christ obtained for the elect has to be legally imputed (not by the Spirit) to the elect so that they are justified in time. Redemptive-historical distinctions do not mean that we should confuse “union with Christ” with the propitiation.

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

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

Romans 8:2 The law of the Spirit of Life

June 15, 2014

Romans 8:2 is NOT about the interior work of the Spirit on the heart, as in Jeremiah 31, or Romans 2:29. Romans 8: 2 is NOT about the letter/spirit contrast found in II Cor 3:6 or Romans 7:6–(But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code).

(II Corinthians 3:6– who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life).

Octavius Winslow explains what Romans 8:2 DOES mean— “A simple examination of the words, taken in their connection, will remove the obscurity which may be supposed to veil them. The evident design of the Apostle is, to furnish an argument in support of the leading proposition he had just laid down, namely, the believer’s deliverance from condemnation. There is clearly a connection between that declaration and the passage under consideration. “For the law of the Spirit of life.”

By some expositors, the “law of the Spirit of life” is interpreted of the influence or control exerted by the Spirit of God over the minds of the regenerate, emancipating them from the curse and tyranny of sin, and supplying them with a new authoritative enactment for their obedience and regulation,\ as those whose course is guided by the Spirit. “The law of
sin and death,” is by the same authority interpreted of the contesting power of sin, leading to death and condemnation; having its throne in the heart, and from its governing and despotic power, maintaining a supreme and dire sway over the whole moral man. The freedom, therefore, which the law of the Spirit of life confers upon those who are bound by the law of sin and death, is just the supremacy of one principle over the force of another principle: the triumph of an opposing law over an antagonist law.

But the interpretation which we propose for the adoption of the reader, is that which regards the “law of the Spirit of life,” as describing the Gospel of Christ, frequently denominated a “law”- and emphatically so in this instance- because of the emancipation which it confers from the Mosaic code, called the “law of sin and death,” as by it is the knowledge of sin, and through it death is threatened as the penalty of its transgression.

In the preceding chapter, we were led to regard all who were outside of Christ, as under a present, and as exposed to a future condemnation. Not less awful is the condition of the unconverted, as depicted in the passage before us. Reverse the state of the believer and you have the exact
state of the unbeliever. Is the believer in Christ a free man? The unbeliever is a slave. Is the believer justified? the unbeliever is condemned. Is the believer a reconciled son? The unbeliever is a hostile rebel. Between these two conditions there is no neutral ground. You are, my reader, either for Christ, or you are against Christ.

But in what sense is the believer “free from the law of sin and death?” As a covenant he is free from it. How clear and impressive is the reasoning of the Apostle on this point! “Know you not, brethren, (for I speak to those who know the law) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he lives ; but if the husband is dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.” The believer’s union to Christ, represented under the figure of a marriage covenant, frees him from the condemnatory power of this law.

He looks not to the law for life; he rests not in the law for hope; he renounces the law as a saving covenant, and-in his marriage to Christ- he brings forth fruit unto God. Not a single precept of that law, from whose covenant and curse he is released by this act of freedom, is compromised. All its precepts, embodied and reflected in the life of Christ- whose life is the model of our own- appear more clear and resplendent than ever they appeared before. The obedience of the Lawgiver enhanced the luster of the law, presenting the most impressive illustration of its majesty and holiness that it could possibly receive.

The instrument to whose agency this exalted liberty isascribed is, the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” The term law is forensic; though not infrequently used in God’s\Word to designate the Gospel of Christ. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No;but by the law of faith.” In this sense we hold that the word is used in the text, to designate the Gospel of the blessedGod, as the great instrument by which the freedom of which we have spoken is obtained.

A few particulars will, we think,justify this view. The Gospel is the law which reveals the way of salvation by Christ. It is the development of God’s great expedient of saving man. It speaks of pardon and adoption, of acceptance and sanctification, as all flowing tothe soul through faith in his dear Son…. The Gospel proves a “savor of life unto life,” to all who believe in it

A holy, filial, joyful liberty, is your birthright. It is the liberty of a pardoned and justified sinner. It is the liberty of a reconciled, adopted child. It is the liberty of one for whom there is “now no condemnation.” (1 of 4) [05/05/2006 11:07:31 p.m.]Freedom from the Law of Sin and Death

In contrast to Winslow, John Piper attempts to use Romans 8:2 to teach both justification apart from works and justification by works:

John Piper—-Now I want to stop and make sure that you are hearing what I believe the Scripture is saying, because it is not commonly said, but our lives hang on it. There is a real sense in which our justification depends on our sanctification. There is a sense in which whether we are acquitted before God depends on whether the law of the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death.

But how can this be? The sentence of “not guilty” has already been given, and it was given to those who have faith. How then can I say that the past sentence of “not guilty” is dependent on the present process of sanctification? And how can I say that to experience justification one must not only have faith but also be freed by the Spirit from the power of sin?

1) The faith to which justification is promised is not merely a single decision to acknowledge Christ’s lordship and accept him as Savior. The faith by which we are justified is an ongoing life of faith. When we read Romans 4 and James 2 carefully we see that Abraham believed God’s promise and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He was justified by his faith. But then we notice that the illustrations of this faith in Romans 4 and James 2 are not merely its first act in Genesis 12 that caused Abraham to leave the land of Ur and follow God to Canaan, but also Abraham’s faith in God’s later promise in Genesis 15 to make his own son his heir, and the faith in Genesis 22 that enabled him to almost sacrifice his only son, Isaac. In other words, when Paul and James think of the faith by which Abraham was justified they think not merely of his initial belief but of his ongoing life of faith. Therefore Paul says in Colossians 1:21–23,

And you who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, IF INDEED YOU REMAIN IN FAITH stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.

Or as he says in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2: I preached to you the gospel which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, IF YOU HOLD IT FAST—unless you believed in vain.
We are justified not ALONE by that initial reception of the gospel but by an ongoing life of faith.

2) Second, the coming of the Holy Spirit into a person’s life and the working of the Spirit to liberate that life from the law of sin and death always accompany genuine faith and there is no other way to have it….It is by faith that we receive the Holy Spirit, and it is by faith that the Spirit works within us. To live by faith and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit are the same thing, viewed from two different angles.

Paul says in Romans 8:14, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” . One must believe in Christ to be God’s child; one must be led by the Spirit to be God’s child. And these are not two conditions but one, for it is by faith that God supplies to us the Spirit, and it is by a life of faith he works miracles among us.

Now with these two insights I think we can solve our earlier problem. On the one hand Romans 5:1 says we have been justified by faith. . Freedom from condemnation is made conditional upon the work of the Holy Spirit freeing me from sin.

May no one react and say, O, that cannot be. All you have to do is believe in Christ as Savior; you don’t have to overcome sin by the power of the Spirit. That error cheapens faith, contradicts the teaching of Romans 8:1, 2, and runs the risk of hearing Jesus say on the judgment day: Depart from me, you evildoers, I never knew you.

You don’t want to believe in a Christ who makes no difference in your life, do you? Who wants a Jesus who is so nothing that all he can produce is a people who think, feel, and act just like the world? We don’t want that.

But Charles Hodge explains the problem: The law kills but the spirit (i.e. the gospel) gives life. This II Corinthians 3 passage and the following context present two important questions. First, in what sense does the law kill? And second, How is it that the apostle attributes to the Mosaic system this purely legal character, when he elsewhere so plainly teaches that the gospel was witnessed or taught both in the law and the prophets?
The answer furnished by the Scriptures is plain. The law demands perfect obedience. It says, “Do this and live,” Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12, and “Cursed is every one who CONTINUES not in ALL things written in the book of the law to do them,” Gal. 3:10. As no man renders this perfect obedience, the law condemns him. It pronounces on him the sentence of death. ….These effects of the law are systematically presented by the apostle in the 6th and 7th chapters of his epistle to the Romans, and in the third chapter of the epistle to the Galatians.

—Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians , p 56.

Is Your justification Still a Work in Process, both In You and In Heaven? (Mark Jones and Gaffin)

June 14, 2014

In his preface to the new Presbyterian and Reformed edition of Gaffin’s By Faith Not by Sight, Mark Jones confuses John Cotton’s position oo faith and justification. Mark Jones falsely identifies Cotton teaching imputation before faith with Cotton teaching justification before faith.In A Faire and Easy to Heaven (1978, p43), William Stoever quotes Cott0n: “We must be good trees before we can bring forth good fruit. If then closing with Christ be a good fruit, we must be good trees before we can bring it forth. And how can we be good trees, before we be engrafted into Christ?”

Cotton was not teaching that anybody can be justified before or without faith. Cotton was denying that faith is something the elect have before or without God’s imputation of Christ’s death to these elect. The apriori assumption for Jones and Gaffin is that faith is a condition of what they they call “union”. What they call “union” is a condition for their view of “justification”, a view in which justification continues to have “not-yet” aspects, so that final justification is conditioned on continuing works of faith.

Gaffin and Jones insist on faith before “union”, but if their logic holds, then “union” also has “not-yet aspects”, which are conditioned on the “not yet” aspects of “faith after”. Thus they have an incomplete union and an incomplete justification.

It is a CONTRADICTION to say that all of God’s acts depend on “union”, and then to turn around and also say that “union” depends on faith. Does faith also depend on “union”? Or does “union” depend on faith” While Gaffin and Jones never clearly define “union”, it seems like they think that we receive the “personal presence” of Christ inside us BEFORE we receive the benefit of Christ’s finished work. In other words, since Jesus is now the Holy Spirit in redemptive history, for Gaffin and Jones (and for Sinclair Ferguson and many others), this is read to mean that we must obtain possession of Christ as a person not only before we are justified but also before God will impute Christ’s righteousness to us.

(Despite all their focus on the priority of redemptive history, Ferguson and Gaffin and Jones are not clear about how any of this changed between the old covenant economies and the incarnation of Christ.)

There are many unanswered questions about this “not yet” paradigm which are ignored in Gaffin’s little book. If there is some sense in which those who have been justified are not yet justified, is there also some sense in which God has not yet imputed all the sins of all the justified to Christ? Since the absence of “works of faith” is seen by Gaffin as not only a lack of evidence of final justification but also as the means by which many who have been “baptized” will instrumentally fail to be finally justified, how do the sins (or non-works) of the not-yet completely justified factor into their final justification? Is there a difference between good works and faith, or between sins and lack of faith and works?

If faith is a condition of “union”, and if faith is yet incomplete and uncertain (as far as one individual is concerned), does that not mean that “union” is also incomplete? How does a person get faith before they are united to Christ? If a person has to get faith before they can get the personal presence of Christ, how does a person get this faith? How can “calling” be a condition of the “union” but not a benefit of the “union”?

If the gift of faith is not given to us based on Christ’s righteousness (as taught in II Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ), but instead the righteousness of Christ is given to us based on union, and that union is based on faith, and that faith is still always incomplete, how can anyone now think that their sins have already been imputed to Christ or that Christ’s righteousness has already been imputed to them? if our justification by God is in some sense future, does that not mean that our baptism into Christ’s death is still in some sense future?

Jones acts as if he all who disagree with Gaffin are antinomians who do not even know the difference between impetration” and ‘application”. Jones writes: “Faith marks the transition from being in a state of wrath to being in a state of grace”. “Marks” is an interesting word choice here, because Jones avoids the word “cause” while at the same time assuming that the “application” is created by faith. (Norman Shepherd and others use the same word when they say that water baptism “marks” the transition).

But my big question here concerns the main factor in the transition from wrath to favor, between the two states. While Gaffin and Jones claim that it’s faith which marks the transition, I agree with John Cotton (and Berkhof, and Bavinck and many others) that it’s God’s imputation of righteousness to the elect individual which marks (Causes!) the transition.

Sure, we  agree to a distinction between impetration and application. But is the application the gift of faith before and apart from God’s imputation? is the application (calling by the gospel to faith) before and apart from God legally placing the elect into Christ’s death? (Romans 6) Why must we agree that Gaffin and Jones that we receive the personal presence of Christ in us before we are legally planted in Christ’s death? I get that Gaffin and Jones are insisting on this priority, but I do not get where they have argued convincingly for the priority.

Why would they want to say that the person of Christ is more important than the work of Christ? is it because they want to say that the present work of Christ (now as resurrected and as the Spirit) is more important than the past work of Christ? (death by law as a satisfaction for the all future sins of all the elect) Is their priority on the present work because they don’t think justification is complete yet? Since they don’t seem to think faith and union are complete yet either, why are they so eager to say that Christ in us is “union” and thus “the cause of all other graces”, when they themselves are saying that our faith is the cause of “union”? Since our faith has not worked and persevered completely, how then could our “union” be complete? How then could Christ be personally present in us already completely?

It really is ironic when Jones claims that “the Lutheran view” ends up “attributing to justification a renovative /transformative element”. First, Jones still has not defined either union nor sanctification, but he seems to be equating “sanctification” with ethical renovation. Second, if we were to say that God’s imputation results in or causes ethical renovation, that is NOT saying that imputation is the renovation. It’s saying that renovation is a result, not the imputation. Imputation is one thing, the renovation is another thing.

I am seeing this accusation more and more, and it makes no sense. God’s legal declaration in imputation (based on Christ’s death) results in many blessings, including regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit. But that does not confuse the Spirit’s work (or regeneration) with imputation. In fact, it makes the distinction plain. On the contrary, to start with undefined “union”, which consists of Christ’s personal presence but which is somehow before God’s imputation, is the ordering which opens the way for “union” as a renovation. If Christ can enter your heart before Christ’s righteousness is imputed to you and as the “condition” for that imputation then taking place, then what you have is something taking place in us before any legal transfer by God of the results of Christ’s past work. It seems like some kind of “renovation” is happening, merely by Christ’s presence, which is supposedly more important than Christ’s death or at least which does not depend on Christ’s death.

II Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours BY THE RIGHTEOUSNESS of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

We all believe in a distinction between what Christ did (impetration) and the application of that. But the application is by God’s imputation, and Jones and Gaffin want to put something else into the application first before God’s imputation. And I cannot help thinking that the reason they point to Christ’s present resurrection instead of to Christ’s past righteousness (either imputed already to a sinner, or not) is because they think of our justification as a process which still depends on our faith, with faith as defined as that which changes us, with faith defined even as that which unites us to Christ and that which keeps Christ united to us.

Gaffin follows his mentors John Murray and Norman Shepherd in taking Romans 2:13 to be describing Christians. Jones agrees, and continues to label John Calvin’s reading of Romans 2 as the “hypothetical” view.  I myself argue for the  “empty set” view (nobody will be justified by works),  What I see is that old covenant members Ishmael and Essau (along with many others) by their sin earned God’s wrath Romans 5:20 “Now the law came in to increase the trespass”

So, instead of Jones complaining about  those who introduce “hypothetical merits” into Romans 2. I will complain about him suggesting that some really are saved (by doing the law the right way) in Romans 2. Romans 2 is teaching that nobody is justified by doing the law, no matter which way they do the law. I quote Paul Helm: “On the Gentile Christians view, while Paul argues that all are under the just judgment of God, the section 2.1-16 is not a direct contribution to that argument, but…takes us forward to the last judgment, and …. to some people who are under grace and not under the law – Gentile Christians). But such a claim might simply be a begging of the question at issue….It is only a reasonable assumption if Paul has in mind Gentile Christians, which is precisely the issue we are considering.”

Jones is caught in between saying that what Gaffin has written is nothing new but also saying that everybody in the Reformed tradition now needs to say it the way that Gaffin says it. But to say even this much is to agree that not all Reformed people say it or have said it the way Jones wants it to be said. But instead of leaving the diversity as it is, Jones wants to argue that we must not anymore like Luther said it, and that Calvin never did say it that way. First, Reformed folks never taught law-grace antithesis to that extreme. Second, and also, now is the time for Reformed folks to stop teaching law-gospel antithesis to that extreme.

For example, Jones writes “the idea that Christ’s resurrection and justification is also our resurrection and justification are also our resurrection and justification is not a recent invention. Of course, and the idea that Christ’s death is our death is not a recent idea either. It’s in Romans 6. and the idea that Christ’s death becomes our death by God’s imputation is not a recent idea either, but Jones now wants to say that union with Christ the person must come first before this imputation of Christ’s death to us. Does this mean that union with Christ the person must come first before our resurrection and our justification come to us? Do the resurrection and the justification come to us by imputation? Or do the resurrection and the justification come to us “by the union” and not by imputation? Does the resurrection come to us “by faith” and not by God’s imputation? Is God’s imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness only after faith? If this faith does not come from God’s imputation, and if this faith comes before “union”, how does this faith come to us?

I am having difficulty seeing why all Reformed folks have to agree to say it Gaffin’s way. But part of the problem is that Gaffin is still not giving arguments about why the link between redemptive history and the order of application must put faith in priority to imputation. Sure, we all know the difference between impetration and application, and we all know that Romans 6 (and Colossians 2, with the other texts) is not only talking about Christ’s new life but also about our new life, but all that being the case, why is it that we must put the focus on Christ as the personal life-giving Spirit now instead of talking about Christ’s completed righteousness. as some Reformed folks used to do?

Gaffin’s thesis is that there is a future aspect to the justification of an individual sinner. His assumption is that it is faith (not election nor imputation) which unites a sinner to Christ and thus to the benefits/power to do the works necessary for the not yet aspect of justification.

Since it is the same God who gives us the faith who gives us the works, therefore it seems right to Gaffin to condition our final justification on the faith and works of the sinner. Faith works yes, but also work believes. Gaffin does not tell us which gospel must be the object of the faith which unites to Christ. Does that gospel ever mention that God imputed only the sins of the elect to Christ? Nor does Gaffin tell us how imperfect works would have to be to miss out on the not-yet aspect of justification so that those once in (Christ and covenant) might still be condemned.

Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…” p 110

Gaffin wants both faith in Christ’s past work and also in Christ’s present work in us. He cannot place all his hope in what Christ already did to satisfy the law for the elect, because part of his hope is a “sanctification” defined as a power over against sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

Gaffin does not deny but affirms many correct things about imputation. For example, on p 51, he lists 3 options for the ground of justification. A. Christ’s own righteousness, complete and finished in his obedience…B. the union itself, the fact of the relationship with Christ…c. the obedience being produced by the transforming Spirit in those in union. Gaffin rightly concludes that “the current readiness to dispense with imputation” results from taking the last two options as the ground of justification.

But Gaffin always has his not yet. That’s the way he keeps it all gray. Though we are justified now, Gaffin still teaches a justification by sight, ie by works. Instead of reading the “according to works” texts as having to do with the distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin conditions assurance in future justification on imperfect but habitual working. Instead of saying that works motivated by fear of missing justification are unacceptable to God, Gaffin teaches a final justification which is contingent on faith and works.

Gaffin teaches an “unbreakable bond between justification and sanctification” in the matter of assurance and hope for future justification. (p 100) Yes, faith (in which gospel?) is the alone instrument, he agrees, yes Christ’s finished righteousness is the alone ground, he affirms, but at the same time and however, works factor in also. Just remember that these works which factor into your assurance come from God working in you and not from you.

I hope that critics of Gaffin will not make the mistake of identifying him with N.T. Wright who denies imputation. I also agree with Gaffin that the gospel is not only about what Christ did outside of the elect for the elect. The gospel is also about the effectual call which results from election in Christ and Christ’s work for those elect . One evidence of effectual calling is that the justified elect do not put their assurance in their “bearing fruit for God”. To work for assurance of future justification is to “bear fruit for death”.

Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, p 38

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

Gaffin, lectures on Romans, on 2:13:

That judgement decides…the ultimate outcome for all believers and for all humanity, believers as well as unbelievers. It’s a life and death situation that’s in view here. Further, this ultimate judgement has as its criterion or standard, brought into view here, the criterion for that judgement is works, good works. The doing of the law, as that is the criterion for all human beings, again, believers as well as unbelievers. In fact, in the case of the believer a positive outcome is in view and that positive outcome is explicitly said to be justification. So, again the point on the one side of the passage is that eternal life… depends on and follows from a future justification according to works. Eternal life follows upon a future justification by doing the law.

Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight, p 106—IN book 3 of his Institutes (The Beginning of Justification and its Continual Progress), Calvin explains “We must have this justification not just once but must hold it it throughout life.” Justification is bound up with Christ’s present ongoing intercessory presence, in the sense that our remaining in the state of justification, depends on this unfailing intercession. His presence in that place of final judgment is the effective answer….Christ is the living embodiment of that righteousness…and as such he continues to work for the justification of God’s already justified elect….Because of this intercession they cannot and will not ever fall from the state of justification.”

Faith in Christ’s Death, not Faith in Faith or the Working of Faith

June 10, 2014

God’s Words, p 145—the rendering which declares Abraham’s faith to have been counted “as righteousness” is not good. “As” suggests identity, as if righteousness was being used here in Romans 4 in the sense of man’s obedience to God. “As” represents the Greek proposition eis, meaning “toward” or “with a view to” and “for righteousness” was a much better way to translate it. Paul is not saying there that faith is our righteousness….

Our faith needs to be in Christ, and not faith in faith, not even faith in faith caused and enabled by God’s regeneration. My own opinion is that we will never stop finding assurance in our WORKS of faith until we also stop finding assurance in our FAITH. Works of faith are not our righteousness. But neither is faith our righteousness.

Galatians 3:5-8, which quotes Genesis 15:6, tells us that Abraham believed God and “IT” was imputed to him as righteousness. Many read this text as saying that faith alone is imputed as the righteousness. Luther, for example, reminds us that to have faith is to have Christ indwelling, and tells us that God really is pleased with the faith God has given us, and this faith is really righteous in God’s sight. But Luther does not explain how this righteous faith (produced by God in the water of regeneration) satisfies the law of God . It is NOT our faith (or works) which satisfies God’s law.

To begin to understand Genesis 15:6, we need to know that “as righteousness” should be translated “unto righteousness”. (See Robert Haldane’s commentary, Banner of Truth). That’s important to see, but at the end of the day, it does not explain the imputation. What is the “it” which is being imputed?

No matter if we have gone to great lengths to say that the “IT” is not credited as righteousness but only unto righteousness, what is the “IT”“ and why is God imputing “IT

Those who now define justification simply by talking about “union” with the resurrected Jesus feel not need to talk about a legal transfer of a righteousness that Christ brought in for the elect by His death.

The “It” has an antecedent, but the antecedent is not faith alone. God imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel to the person justified by the gospel.

Galatians 3:5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and IT was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith

In Genesis 17, God warned Abraham that anybody not circumcised would be cut off from the covenant. But that conditional “work of faith” is NOT the gospel God preached to Abraham. God did not say to Abraham: if you believe, then I will bless you. God said, I will bless you without cause, not only so that you will believe but also so that in your SEED there will be one who will bring in the righteousness for the elect alone required by the law.

The “IT” which is imputed by God to Abraham is the obedient bloody death of Christ Jesus for the elect alone.. The death of Christ is the righteousness of Christ and this is the “IT.

Do we Continue to Be Being Justified? Is This Because of Continuing Faith or Because of Continuing Works

June 2, 2014

Matt Perman explains the difference between “hard legalism” and “soft Legalism”. Soft legalists (Augustinians) give God the credit for the works which they do which they think are necessary for final salvation.

“Since works of the law are not faith (Romans 3:28) and whatever is not faith is sin, the “continue to be justified” theologians generally conclude that works of the law are therefore sin. Further, many continue to be justified theologians argue that “works of the law” refers not just to sin in general, but rather to a specific kind of sin–the sin of trying to earn from God. Towards this end, they often point to Romans 4:6: “to the one who works his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due.” Like traditional Protestant theology, continuist theologians see Paul’s term “works” to be roughly synonymous with his phrase “works of the law.” From this passage in Romans 4:6 they infer that “works”–and thus “works of the law”–are things that are done in our own strength rather than God’s with a view to earning merit from God in the sense of doing God a favor such that God is obligated to return the favor.”

“The error in “continue to be justified” theology is in seeing only two kinds of disposition towards God: faith and sin. Contrary to such thinking, it is clear from the apostle Paul that there are actually, at the very least, three categories of human activity towards God. First, there is sin–that which breaks God’s law and thus displeases God and deserves His wrath. Second, there is gospel faith–the act of relying on Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel to save us from our sins. But, third, there is obedience–which is neither sin nor faith but is instead that which complies with God’s law of morality and thus pleases Him.”

“Faith can be referred to as obedience in the sense that when we believe in Christ we are doing what God tells us to. Thus is why the Scriptures sometimes speak of “obeying the gospel.” But “doing what God tells us to do” is not the definition of this third category that we are calling “obedience.” Obedience does not simply mean “doing what God says” but doing what is virtuous. Faith in the gospel is not love for our neighbor.”

Romans 9:11-12 …for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘the older will serve the younger.’”

Matt Perman– “Not because of works” is parallel with “had not done anything good or bad”–just as “in order that God’s purpose according to election might stand” corresponds to “because of Him who calls.” “Anything good or bad” explains the term “works.” Consequently, “works” are “anything we do, whether good or bad.” Works are not simply acts one does without faith or to put God in one’s debt. Rather, “works” is a term used to refer to human behavior in general. This behavior can then be classified as either obedience or disobedience. ”

Douglas J. Moo, “Law, Works of the Law, and Legalism in Paul,” Westminster Theological Journal, Vol 45, 1983, p. 95)—The use of erga in Romans 4 instead of ta erga tou nomou is undoubtedly to be explained by recalling that Paul generally confines nomos to the Mosaic law; a law which could not therefore have had relevance to Abraham. But what is especially relevant to the present argument is that erga in the two chapters must, if Paul’s argument is to possess any logical force, mean the same thing. Thus, the general usage of the two expressions, when considered in light of Romans 3-4, suggests that ta erga tou nomou should be viewed as a particular subset of erga, the difference being, of course, that the former spells out the source of the demand for the works in question

Matt Perman: “God’s law defines what is righteous and what is sinful. That which conforms to the law is righteous, that which violates the law is sinful. Since faith in Christ is not a “work of the law,” it must follow that faith in Christ as Savior is not commanded in that moral standard. Faith is not a requirement of the law but of the gospel. This means that faith in Christ is not a morally virtuous thing (as loving our neighbor, telling the truth, etc. are), for virtue is that which accords with God’s moral law. But gospel faith is not commanded by the law, and so is not a virtuous entity.”

MP–“What do we make of Romans 14:23 that “whatever is not of faith is sin”? …It seems best to understand Paul as using faith in a broader sense than he does in Romans 3 and 4. By faith in 14:23 Paul means the belief that a certain behavior is right. Paul is not using faith in the sense of believing in Christ for salvation. But even if Paul were speaking of saving faith in Romans 14, it would not follow that faith and obedience are the same thing. Paul is simply saying that what is not from faith is sin; Paul is not saying that anything which is not faith is sin.”

MP—Some “continue to be justified” theologians would not want to say that faith and obedience are the same thing. they argue that faith and obedience are so closely tied together that you cannot have one without the other….But many of them do not mean simply that obedience always results from faith. What they mean, rather, is that while obedience involves things other than faith, faith is still part of the very nature of obedience. Faith is an ingredient in obedience on their view–and, in fact, for them faith is the ingredient that makes obedience virtuous.”

Gospel Mortification, by Ralph Erskine

June 2, 2014

1. Gospel mortification is from gospel principles, viz. the Spirit of God [Rom. 8. 13], ‘If ye through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live’; Faith in Christ [Acts 15. 9], ‘Purifying their hearts by faith’; The love of Christ constraining [2 Cor. 5. 14], ‘The love of Christ constraineth us.’ But legal mortification is from legal principles such as, from the applause and praise of men, as in the Pharisees; from pride of self-righteousness, as in Paul before his conversion; from the fear of destruction; from a natural conscience; from the example of others; and many times from the power of sin itself, while one sin is set up to wrestle with another, as when sensuality and self-righteousness wrestle with one another. The man, perhaps, will not drink and swear. Why? Because he is setting up and establishing a righteousness of his own, whereby to obtain the favor of God here is but one sin wrestling with another.

2. They differ in their weapons with which they fight against sin. The gospel believer fights with grace’s weapons, namely, the blood of Christ, the word of God, the promises of the gospel, and the virtue of Christ’s death and cross [Galatians 6. 14] ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom (whereby) the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.’ But now the man under the law fights against sin by the promises and threatenings of the law; by its promises, saying, I will obtain life, I hope, if I do so and so; by its threatenings, saying, I will be damned, if I do not so and so. Sometimes he fights with the weapons of his own vows and resolutions, which are his strong tower, to which he runs and thinks himself safe.

3. The believer will not serve sin, because he is alive to God, and dead to sin [Romans 6. 6]. The legalist forsakes sin, not because he is alive, but so that he may live. The believer mortifies sin, because God loves him; but the legalist, that God may love him. The believer mortifies, because God is pacified towards him; the legalist mortifies, that he may pacify God by his mortification. He may go a great length, but it is still that he may have whereof to glory, making his own doing at least some of the foundation of his hope and comfort.