Romans 1:17 God’s righteousness is not an offer, God’s gospel is power to salvation
Romans 1: The gospel is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes… For in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed
Modern universalists dismiss any need for sinners to believe the gospel so they tell us that “the faith of Christ” is what Christ did before Christ died. These universalists teach us that Christ’s incarnation and resurrection and indwelling are the righteousness revealed and have nothing to do with any satisfaction of God’s law for selected elect sinners. These “grace, no law” antinomians sound much like Agricola.
But, on the other hand, most professing Calvinists respond to this law-less universalism by teaching that God’s righteousness is only an OFFER which depends on God giving us faith to “access it”. just like the Arminians, these professing Reformed don’t teach that only the sins of the elect were imputed by God to Christ. Instead, like the Arminians, they teach that Christ’s death doesn’t work for you unless you believe in it. These “faith is the condition of union and union is the condition of justification folks” tend to define faith after conversion in terms of fidelity and good but imperfect works
Even though these professing Calvinists agree that your believing in the gospel is the result of Christ’s death, they also explain Christ’s death as something which makes it possible for anybody to be saved. Like the Arminians, these professing Calvinists deny that faith is a work, but have no problem saying that the Holy Spirit gives faith in a false gospel teaching that Christ died for every sinner.
Don’t believe in anything that depends on your believing in it. If you believe the true gospel, your believing is only a result of Christ’s death for those God has elected in Christ. There is no “tension” or “dialectic” here between God’s sovereignty and your need and duty to believe the gospel. The gospel you need to believe does not assure you in particular that you will believe or that your sins were imputed to Christ. The gospel you need to believe instead assures you that each and every sinner God elected and for whom Christ died will believe the gospel which has election as good news. The power of the gospel teaches us to not leave election out of the gospel. We learn to repent of any thought of assurance in the gospel for those who deny or remain ignorant of God’s election of sinners in Christ. God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, and Christ only died for those sins.
You don’t necessarily need to hear law before you hear gospel. Your own natural idea of what sin is does not come close to being the reality of what it means to be a sinner. The gospel itself can and does teach sinners about the sin of self-righteousness. When we learn what it takes to satisfy God’s law, then we learn that our own attempts to satisfy the law with our faith or our works is nothing but self-righteousness. Our own attempts to thank God for enabling us to believe God in order to enable God to save us are then revealed as the very worst kind of rebellion against God.
Psalm 98: The Lord has made His victory known;
He has revealed His righteousness
in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered His love
and faithfulness to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth
have seen our God’s victory.
4 Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
be jubilant, shout for joy, and sing.
5 Sing to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and melodious song.
6 With trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn
in the presence of the Lord, our King.
7 Let the sea and all that fills it,
the world and those who live in it, resound.
8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the mountains shout together for joy
9 before the Lord,
for He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world righteously
and the peoples fairly.
Psalm 143: Do not bring Your servant into judgment,
for no one ALIVE is RIGHTEOUS in Your sight.
4 My spirit is weak within me;
my heart is overcome with dismay…
I am like parched land before You.
my spirit fails.
Don’t hide Your face from me,
or I will be like those
going down to DEATH
Because of Your name, Yahweh,
let me LIVE.
In Your RIGHTEOUSNESS deliver me from trouble