Archive for March, 2012


What Can God Do With Stones?

I am intrigued by the statements Jesus and the biblical writers made about stones, and what God is able to do with them. I just read again this morning John the Baptist’s statement in Matthew 3:9 “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” He followed that statement by telling them that even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees and that every tree that did not bear fruit would be cut down. It seems clear he is telling these Jews, the special natural seed of Abraham, there was more to being the true people of God than physical descent. Later, Jesus tells a group of Abraham’s descendants that if they were truly the descendants of Abraham in the spiritual sense, they would believe in him as their professed father had done, and thus done the works of their “father.” What John was telling these arrogant Jews was that God was not limited to their nation as a source of a seed to serve him. If he willed to do so, he could raise up such seed from the stones.

In the next chapter, immediately following his baptism, Jesus is led into the desert to be tempted by the devil. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Matthew saw a connection between John’s statement and the Devil’s demand. There is clearly a connection between the occurrences surrounding Jesus’s baptism and the devil’s hissing insinuations. God the Father had borne witness to Jesus’ deity in a rather spectacular way in sending the Spirit to rest on him and in declaring from heaven, “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” It does not seem strange, then, that the first words from the tempter’s mouth are “If you are the Son of God. . . .” These words sound eerily similar to “Did God actually say. . . ?” (Genesis 3:1). Could there not also be a connection between John’s declaration about what God can do with stones, and the devils suggestion that if Jesus is the Son of God, he should be able to turn the stones in to bread (see-Matt. 4:3). There is no indication in the passage that Jesus could not have performed such a miracle, had it been the Father’s will for him to do so. The point of the passage is that, to use Jesus’ words from the preceding chapter, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’ mission as the last Adam was to obey in all the points in which the first Adam had disobeyed. Here, he shows his absolute love for and submission to the Father by humble obedience to his law.

Later, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, riding on a donkey [apart from a fulfillment of prophetic Scripture, one would have expected better for a conquering prince], in keeping the stage of his incarnate existence called his “humiliation,” his disciples begin to cry out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the LORD. . . . (Luke 19:38). When the Pharisees insisted he silence these disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). He will be praised. If men with stony hearts will not praise him, God is able to cause the creation itself to sing hymns to his majesty.

It seems more than passing strange that the Old Covenant God cut with the nation of Israel was inscribed on tables of stone. Why tables of stone? The answer some have given is not only less than satisfying but is in direct contradiction to plain Scriptural statements. Their answer is that God inscribed this covenant on tables of stone to indicate the permanency of the Ten Commandments. This, we are told, is the eternal, universal, moral law of God. Not only do the Scriptures never describe these tables of stone in this way, they clearly state that the covenant written on tables of stone was one that God intended to be eclipsed by a new and better covenant. In 2 Corinthians 3:5-11, the apostle Paul wrote,

5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,
6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,
8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.
10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.
11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

The apostle clearly tells us “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone. . . was being brought to an end.” He contrasts that covenant with the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit referring to it as “what is permanent.”

There must be another reason why God carved his covenant in letters on stone. I believe it was to point to the adamant nature of sinners in an unregenerate condition. What is God able to do with stones? In his promise of the New Covenant, Jehovah says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezek 36:26-27).

This is a part of what makes the gospel “good news.” God knows how to deal with stones. There is no sinner so hardened in his rebellion that God cannot break his stony and recalcitrant heart and incline him toward loving obedience to his revealed will. He can raise up from stony hearted rebels, children unto Abraham who not only believe as did their father, Abraham, but also sing his praises and exclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”


Which “gospel” are we to believe?

One would have thought that after all these centuries Christians would have come to agree on the nature of faith. This does not seem to be the case, even among so-called evangelicals.

I recently read an interesting definition of faith. The writer expressed his concept of faith this way, “The condition of the Mosaic covenant was faith; but this faith was understood in holistic terms, and primarily expressed using the language of hearing and doing, i.e., covenant obedience.” In other words, “faith” is really obedience to the covenant.

Further he wrote,

The new covenant, therefore, like the old covenant, is a conditional covenant of grace; but the new covenant will succeed where the old covenant failed precisely because Christ will work through the power of the Holy Spirit to ensure that the new covenant community (as a whole) will fulfill the covenant condition of holistic faith. [He has already defined faith as “covenant obedience”] Those individuals who exhibit the right response of faith under the new covenant experience the grace of justification in the present, and will (on condition on perseverance in faith) be justified by God on the day of judgment, and thereby qualified to live eternally in God’s holy presence, experiencing the fullness of salvation and covenant blessing forever more.

I don’t see how one can escape the conclusion that he is saying one must continue in “covenant obedience” as a condition of being justified by God on the day of judgment.

Additionally, it seems clear he is saying the New Covenant community will be enabled to fulfill the covenant condition of holistic faith, i.e., obedience to the covenant. In plain language, the heirs of the New Covenant will be enabled to earn eternal life because the Spirit causes them to obey the conditions of the covenant. If they persevere in this “holistic faith” i.e., “covenant obedience,” they will be justified in the last day.

To put this in plain language, he is saying we are justified by our perseverance in works of obedience that we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to perform.

This is in sharp contrast to the words of the apostle Paul who wrote, “but unto him who does not work, [i.e., perform any works of obedience to whatever covenant arrangement he may find himself under as the ground of his acceptance before God], but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Romans 4:5). Also consider Galatians 3:12, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.'” Here, faith is set over against the “doing of the law.” If faith were “holistic,” i.e., “covenant obedience,” then the “doing of the law” would be faith. The “doing of them” cannot be “faith” and “not faith” at the same time.

Though true faith will always produce obedience, faith is not obedience. If it were, salvation would be by works, not by the unmerited favor of God toward those who have merited his wrath. The truth that God’s people will persevere in faith and in the obedience that accompanies it belongs to the realm of sanctification and has nothing to do with the basis of justification before God.

If these words had been written by a Roman Catholic, we would not be surprised at them. This is fairly consistent with Papal doctrine. It is not their teaching that sinners are declared righteous before God by their own works of righteousness, unaided by the grace [by which they mean enablement, not unmerited favor] of God infused to them and flowing to them as a benefit of Christ’s death. A good Roman Catholic can say, “I could never be declared righteous before God apart from Jesus’ death on the cross, but in making such a statement, he does not mean the same thing as would a good Baptist making the same statement. The Roman Catholic Catechism #1821 speaks of “obtain[ing] the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ.”

What is shocking is that these words were written by a man who, it would appear, would claim to be within the Reformed tradition, though leaning toward New Covenant Theology, whatever that may have morphed into in our day.

It seems we are left with a choice between two “gospels.” One is a false gospel that falls under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9. The other is the good news that God declares sinners righteous apart from any merit they have attained or obedience they have performed, solely on the basis of Christ obedience and death in full satisfaction of God’s righteous demands. One makes our continued “faith” defined as “perseverance in covenant obedience” the ground of our justification; the other sees Jesus’ perseverance in covenant obedience as the ground of our justification. One says, “Jesus hit the ball [maybe even hit it out of the park], but the whole issue depends on how I run the bases.”

The other says,

“Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain–
He washed it white as snow.”


Why no “sanctification” in God’s golden chain?

There has been a bit of discussion in recent days about Paul’s omission of the term “sanctification” in Romans 8:30. Some have suggested that the way one explains that omission is an indication of whether or not he is a New Calvinist. At the risk of being dubbed a “heretic” once again, I thought I might attempt an explanation of this verse that describes what has been called “the golden chain of redemption.” This chain stretches from eternity past to eternity future and explains the absolute certainty of the believer’s glorification.

The chain begins in eternity with God, the Father’s, predetermination to conform all his foreknown people [i.e., all those on whom he had set his love] to the image of his incarnate Son. Since God works all things according to counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11), since his counsel stands and he does all his pleasure, and if he purposed it, he will also perform it (see–Isa. 46:10-11), the believer’s purposed glorification is an absolute certainty.

In accordance with his eternal purpose, [Paul states in Romans 8:28 that we are the called ones according to his purpose. see also 2 Tim. 1:9], God effectually calls believers into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9). In other words, he calls us into union with Christ. It should be clear that “called” in this verse cannot refer to a mere invitation since every one who is thus called is also declared righteous in God’s sight. If “called” means no more than invited, then all who have every been invited by the gospel are also justified.

Now, what is the result of the believer’s union with Christ? It is that all Christ’s accomplishments and all his merits are imputed to the believer. Since, based on his perfect conformity to God’s Law and his death under the penalty of that Law, he has been declared righteous before the Law, all in him are also justified. The resurrection clearly declared that he had abundantly dealt with all the demands of the law on him as one who was born under the Law (Galatians 4:4). Additionally, since, at his resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand, he entered into his glory, we are now “glorified” in him.

This understanding of the verse involves us in another “already/not yet” category. It is clear we are not yet glorified in our experience. That will occur when we see him at his return, but in union with him, we are already glorified.

The question remains, Why does Paul omit sanctification from the chain? There may be several reasons. Perhaps it is because sanctification, though a work of God’s free grace, involves the believer’s obedience. Since that obedience is as yet imperfect [It will only be perfected when Jesus returns in glory] its inclusion in the chain would weaken it significantly. Though we are assured by God’s promises that we will ultimately be made completely holy, our current condition in sanctification would more than likely detract from the assurance the apostle is seeking to instill in believers.

A second reason for omitting sanctification from the chain may have been that Paul merely assumed, in keeping with his argument in Chapter 6, that the road from justification to glorification necessarily passes through sanctification. All whom Christ died to justify, also died in him and with him to the reigning power of sin. Sin will not have dominion over true believers. Glorification is really but the grand climax and culmination of what God has been doing in the work of sanctification. Of course, added to that work he will climax in believers will be the cosmic effects he will affect at the same time. Notice how the apostle connects the sanctifying work that is now occurring with the climax of that work at Christ’s return–” Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

A third reason for the omission is that the verse follows Paul’s argument from Rom. 5 to Rom. 8. That argument passes directly from justification to glorification. “Therefore, having been justified by faith. . . we rejoice in hope [confident assurance] of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2). Even though in chapter six he deals with the issue of sanctification indirectly in answering a supposed objection to his teaching, that doctrine is not a part of his main argument. That argument is interrupted by a lengthy parenthesis that begins at the first verse of chapter six, and continues all the way through chapter seven.

The believer’s ultimate experiential glorification does not depend on what is happening right now in his sanctification. If it did, his confidence would be up and down like a yo-yo. Instead, it depends on the accomplished work of Christ in justifying him freely by his grace.

The work of redemption from first to last is the work of our sovereign God. It is ordered in all things and sure.


A God Centered Gospel–An Excerpt from Packer’s Introduction.

It has been over fifty years now since J.I. Packer wrote his introduction to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. The following is an excerpt from that introduction. The church should have listened.

There is no doubt that evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and or equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. Why?

We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man — to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction — and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’, too — more so, indeed, than is the new — but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach people to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.


Can you trust God for sanctification?

There seems to be an overwhelming fear among those who deny the idea of “gospel sanctification” that we will encourage licentiousness if we are too free in our expressions of Christ’s sufficiency in the whole of salvation. Often these days we hear the charge of “Antinomianism” being bandied about, and those who teach that Jesus accomplished every aspect of our salvation up to and including our glorification are regarded as heretics. In reality, being open to this charge is perhaps the best evidence that the message we proclaim is indeed God’s gospel. Dr. Lloyd-Jones wrote.

The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge [antinomianism] being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel(Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 1973,8).

Jesus died not only to guarantee his people’s justification but also to secure our sanctification and ultimate glorification. Though we are responsible to obey him in the process of sanctification, the work is his, not ours.

Over 100 years ago, Bishop J. C, Ryle wrote,

He who supposes that Jesus Christ only lived and died and rose again in order to provide justification and forgiveness of sins for His people, has yet much to learn. Whether he knows it or not, he is dishonoring our blessed Lord, and making Him only a half Savior. The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by his atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them but also to sanctify them. He is, thus, not only their “righteousness” but their “sanctification.” (I Cor. 1:30). ( J. C. Ryle, Holiness. (Available online at pp. 27-28).

Octavious Winslow also wrote about our completeness in Christ,

From every tongue in glory, and through the high arches of heaven, the anthem shall peal, “Worthy is the Lamb!” Believer in Christ! pants not your soul to join that song? and exults not your spirit in the truth that salvation, from first to last, is of God? Oh, how precious is the truth in the consciousness of our many failures and defects! Our salvation is all in Christ–our righteousness is all in Christ–our merit is all in Christ–our completeness is all in Christ–in Christ our Covenant Head, our Surety and Mediator; and no flaw in our obedience, no defect in our love, no failure in our service, should so cast us down as to shut our eye to our acceptance in the Beloved. Imperfections we would not overlook, sin we would not allow, disobedience we would not indulge, temptation we would not encourage; nevertheless, we would ever remember, for our encouragement, that, in default of perfection in the most perfect of our doings, we are fully and eternally, complete in Jesus.

Octavius Winslow, The Sympathy of Christ With Man, (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1863) pp. 83-84.

One wonders how a person can claim to trust God to justify sinners based on his promises of salvation to all who believe and mistrust him in the matter of promised sanctification. We should note that though believers are commanded to obey and thus become involved in the matter of sanctification, this work, like the act of justification, is a work of God’s free grace and is accomplished by the redemptive work of Christ. It becomes clear that sanctification is God’s work when we consider that he has promised to complete this work in every true believer. In his first Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

The apostle Peter wrote, “. . . .the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

In Romans 6, Paul sums up his answer to the charge that preaching unconditional pardon will lead to licentious living with these words in verse fourteen, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

These are not just nice little memory verses; they are God’s promises. “He who promised is faithful. . .” (Heb. 10:23).

Here is the point. If you are concerned about true believers turning the grace of God into licentiousness and sensuality [lasciviousness if you are a KJV advocate] because they enjoy a sense of full and free forgiveness in Christ, you can relax. God has it all under control. If he has justified us, he has also promised to sanctify us through the same redemptive work of Christ that declared us righteous. In fact, not only has he guaranteed our perseverance in believing attachment to Christ; he has assured our final conformity to the image of Christ as well. It is his work. Trust him to accomplish it.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).


Twenty Questions

I am posting the following questions as an attempt to clarify various issues regarding justification and sanctification. I will be posting my answers to these questions in an effort to provoke discussion of these issues. I think the answers should be fairly straightforward, but if you disagree with me, let’s discuss it.

True or False?

1. God’s work in us, as an application of Christ’s work, is as important in forming the basis of the believer’s justification as is Christ’s objective work of redemption.

2. The believer’s performance in the process of sanctification has no effect on his standing in justification.

3. The basis of justification before God is the believer’s faith.

4. In justification, God makes believers righteous in their moral character.

5. Through the righteousness of Christ infused to believers we are able to attain justification.

6. Justification is through faith in Christ alone but sanctification is the work of the believer.

7. Justification is based on faith in Christ and the faithfulness of believers to Christ.

8. Even thought God has declared believers righteous in his sight, they must wait until the final judgment to see if they have been sufficiently faithful to the commands of Christ to be finally declared righteous in his sight.

9. If we teach that Jesus has fulfilled all the conditions of the covenant so that no conditions remain for the believer, believers will continue in sin and dishonor God’s name.

10. Because of the believer’s union with Christ, it is impossible for them to continue to practice sin since they died to the reign of sin when his death was applied to them.

11. Sanctification, like justification is a work of God’s free grace.

12. It is not necessary for believers to be obedient to the Scriptures since nothing can change their righteous standing before God.

13. In sanctification like justification, the believer has no involvement whatsoever.

14. When we say sinners must receive Christ as Lord, we mean sinner’s must change their lives before Jesus will receive them.

15. Ever true believer will persevere in faith and the obedience it produces as long as they live.

Multiple Choice

16. Justification is based on:

a. Faith in Christ

b. Faith in Christ and the faithfulness of believers

c. The obedience of Christ

d. The faithfulness of Christ and the faithfulness of believers to Christ’s commands.

e. The believer’s obedience to God’s commandments enabled by the grace of Christ that flows from his death.

17. Justification is:

a. God’s declaration that sinners are righteous in his sight, is based completely on the objective accomplishments of Christ.

b. a work in which God makes sinners righteous

c. a declaration that those who have faith have, through the enablement God has given them by virtue of Christ’s work, done enough to merit his approval.

18. Sanctification occurs because:

a. God has regenerated believers and this enables them to obey his commands apart from any additional prompting of his Spirit.

b. In union with Christ, believers have died with Christ to the reigning power of sin.

c. The indwelling Spirit works in believers to give them the desire and the ability to do what pleases God.

d. Out of gratitude and the sheer determination of his will, the believer obeys Christ’s commands.

e. The believer experiences a second work of grace in which he receives the Holy Spirit.

f. Two of the above. Which two?

19. Since God has declared believers righteousness in his sight, so that we can never be found guilty in his presence:

a. It doesn’t matter how much we sin

b. We can never displease him as our Father

c. We are motivated to live our lives for him who gave his life for us.

d. No sin we can commit can nullify his declaration.

e. Two of the above. Which two?

20. Sanctification is produced:

a. simply by the determination of the believer to obey the Ten Commandments.

b. by the indwelling Holy Spirit who, as a blessing of the New Covenant, inclines us toward obedience.

c. by realizing that if we are not faithful to the covenant, God will divorce us as his spouse.


Answer key for Twenty Questions

True or False?

1. F The basis of our justification is totally outside of us in Christ.
2. T
3. F The imputed righteousness of Christ is the basis of justification. Faith is the hand that receives it.
4. F Justification is totally outside of us. In itself, it doesn’t change our character.
5. F Christ’s righteousness is not infused but imputed for justification.
6. F Both justification and sanctification are a work of faith, and both are a work of God’s grace.
7. F justification is based on Christ’s imputed righteousness.
8. F Through faith, God has already declared believers righteous in his sight. see Rom. 5:1
9. F Romans 6:1ff
10. T
11. T
12. F
13. F See Phil. 2:12-13
14. F Repentance is a purpose of heart to bring our sins to Jesus that he might save us from them. It is an acknowledgment of our helplessness. Faith is an acknowledgment of his ability.
15. T See Hebrews 3:6

Multiple Choice

16. C
17. A
18. B & C
19. C &. D
20. B


Theological Precision

Have you ever noticed we demand precision from everyone except the preacher and theologian? We want precision from our surgeon, our barber or hairdresser, musicians, cooks, drivers etc., but allow imprecision in the pulpit.

A few years ago we had ordered cabinets for the bathroom in our house here in Costa Rica. We had commissioned a man named Marcos to build these cabinets for us. As my helper and I were installing the cabinets, we found they were out of square. Since we were complaining about the problem as we tried to find a way to cover the difficulty, my wife, Vickie, came in to see what was going on. When we told her the cabinets were not square, she said, “But Marcos is so sweet.” To this my helper replied, “He might be sweet, but its still not square.”

How often have I heard someone remark about a certain Pastor or Evangelist, “His theology might not be quite right, but he is so sweet, or he is so loving, or he has such a passion for the lost,” as if that excused his lack of theological precision. To this we could reply, He might be sweet, but its still not square.

I am sure I will, from time to time, make statements that are confusing or even misleading. None of us communicates perfectly. It is for this reason we offer opportunity for comments or questions about our posts. It is my desire that everyone understand precisely what I am trying to communicate. This is why I like the idea that we should restate our opponent’s position to his satisfaction before attempting to answer it. That means we will say something like, Are you saying. . . ? Instead of, You are saying. . . . In other words, let me tell you what I am saying rather than you telling me what I am saying.

I would like to encourage everyone who writes about the gospel in all of its ramifications to write or speak as precisely as possible. If we are writing about justification, let’s use the term justification, not salvation since justification is a more precise term. We are not talking about a bad haircut here, or a meal that is too salty; we are talking about God’s good news.


Justification through Jesus’ faithfulness or ours?

I was just over at where Josh made the statement “Our salvation is by both trust in the One Who is just and faithfulness to the One Who is just.” This statement made me wonder whether the term “sound church” means solid and trustworthy or if it means there is just a lot of sound.

Now perhaps he meant to say exactly what the statement implies, but, for now, I am willing to cut him some slack and assume he was simply being imprecise. After all, “love believes all things,” right? The statement along with his entire post makes it appear that he has been drinking at the fountain of N.T. Wright and “The New Perspective on Paul.”
I left the following comment to his post:

There is no question that your statements are self-contradictory.  Perhaps, they would be less so if, rather than using the general term, “salvation,” you would specify which aspect of salvation you are talking about.  Since “salvation” encompasses both justification and sanctification, it is true that the latter involves our faithfulness.  Still yours is a dangerous and misleading statement.  

When Jesus talked about Abraham’s works, there was no suggestion that he would be declared righteous in the day of judgement based on his faith and his faithfulness, i.e., works.  In John 6:28  the Jews asked Jesus a question. “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?'”

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  It was in this sense the Jews addressed in John 8 were failing to do the works of Abraham.  Abraham acted as he did because he believed as he did.  He rejoiced in the coming Messiah; the Jews wanted to kill him.

When Paul talked about justification through faith alone, he was answering the question, “What justifies before God, faith or works?”  When James declared that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” he did so in a context in which he is answering a completely different question.  That question was not, “What is the means through which sinners are justified, faith or works of obedience?”  The question he was answering concerned the nature of justifying faith.  “Can a faith that does not produce obedience be the means of justification before God?”  Of course not,  since it is not faith.  True faith will produce obedience, but to say that salvation is both by trust in the one who is just and faithfulness to the one who is just is terribly misleading.

Since I posted the above, Josh responded to my comment and assured me he was not talking about earning our justification but about sanctification. Though some of the statements he made disturbed me, I was doing pretty well giving him the benefit of the doubt until he made the following analogy:

The analogy of marriage can clear up some your misunderstanding about how actions do not “earn”, but might be “necessary.” On my wedding day, I promised to love and be faithful to my wife. We made a covenant. My actions/deeds did not buy or merit or earn her love, however, my faithfulness will maintain that covenant. If I demonstrate a lack of faithfulness, I can break that covenant and our marriage could end in divorce. To reiterate: faithfulness does not earn covenant blessing, but a lack of faithfulness can destroy that covenant.(emphasis mine). This is why salvation is often compared with marriage in Scripture and why the Bride in Rev. 19 is clothed with linen that symbolizes the deeds of the saints

Now, I don’t want to misrepresent his position and he is free to correct me if this is not what he is saying, but the following seems to be his meaning.

God has entered into a covenant with us based on the redemptive work of Christ alone [he denies the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to believers in justification]. As a blessing of that covenant, we are justified before God apart from our own works. We do not earn justification. Still, if we act unfaithfully we can break the covenant. It appears from his analogy, that God would divorce us at that point.

For me, the question at this point is, how much faithfulness does God require? Let’s use his analogy. Suppose he was only sexually unfaithful to his wife one time and in his heart he didn’t mean it, he just wanted a sexual thrill, would that be enough to break the marriage covenant, or would he have to be unfaithful repeatedly and habitually? The answer is, it doesn’t matter whether he is unfaithful one time or many times, he has still been unfaithful. If you have no positive righteouness imputed to your account but are only pardoned, then all the positive righteousness is up to you. The maintenance of the covenant is your responsiblity. Since justification is a blessing of the covenant, that means the maintenance of justification is my responsibility. I can have it by faith alone, but I must keep it by my life long obedience.

Then, he posted this:

The only thing we can do to attain justification is have faith in Jesus to whom we must be faithful in all things for the rest of our lives (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:2), if we want to inherit salvation of the Father and heaven (Emphasis mine) (John 14:6).

Perhaps you are more holy than I, but I must confess that if that were the case, God would have cast me off long ago. This is why it is important to understand that we are not under law, but under grace. If those under the law failed to continue in all the commandments that were written in the book of the law, they were under a curse. It was for this reason that God cast them off. Why are we not under law? Because Jesus, our representative, has been faithful to all the covenant obligations under which he was placed. He has fulfilled that covenant once for all. He has filled it up with obedience and cancelled its curse for all who are in him. We are no longer under that covenant. We are under a new and everlasting covenant that is based on Jesus’ faithfulness to fulfill all the demands of the first covenant. Describing the blessings of God’s new covenant of promise, the author of Hebrews wrote,

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:17-20).

The integrity of the covenant depends on Jesus’ faithfulness, not ours.

If he were right, and our final justification depended on our faithfulness, not a single one of us would arrive in heaven safely.

These two doctrines (single imputation and covenant maintenance by our faithfulness) he is teaching go together, and this is why they think double imputation is dangerous.  If believers are really secure, we are in a dangerous position since we don’t have to do a single thing to maintain the covenant and the justification that flows from it.  If he were right, Romans six and seven would have been unnecessary or would have read much much differently. Paul would have written something like, “What shall we say then, shall we continue in sin since we have been forgiven for everything we have done to this point? God forbid, because if we are unfaithful to the covenant, God will divorce us.” That, my brethren, is another gospel.


The “Heresy” of Double Imputation?

Heretics are popping up everywhere. If you don’t believe that, just ask the merry band of would-be theologians who are roaming the net and producing you-tube videos that declare the majority of the theologians who have lived since the beginning of the Great Reformation “heretics.”

Now, “heresy” and “heretic” are very strong words. It may be defined as “Any opinions or doctrines at variance with the official or orthodox opinion.”

It has not been that many centuries since even the Reformers were executing people for heresy. This is one reason I am thankful Theonomic Reconstructionists have not come to power. Many of them would no doubt wish to burn me. As you can see, the charge of “heresy” is a very serious charge that a person should never make unless 1) he is certain he is representing the official or orthodox position, 2) there is an official or orthodox position, and 3) the departure is sufficiently grave as to rise to the level of “heresy.”

A person who submits to the authority of the Papacy may be tried for heresy if he departs from the official dogma of the “Church.” A person may be tried for heresy if he belongs to a particular Christian Denomination whose doctrinal standards he has pledged to uphold, but how can a person be an internet heretic? It seems to me, there is no official or orthodox opinion governing the internet. That in itself would suggest that the web is an improper forum to bring such a charge. If those being charged here are guilty of departing from their Denomination’s “orthodox opinions,” it is up to the Denomination to deal with them.

The Issue

The issue in this particular charge of heresy is what they call “Double Imputation.” What they deny is not that our sins are imputed to Christ and that the satisfaction of his death is imputed to believers. In my view, that would be double imputation. If we should add in the reason for the sin problem in the first place, i.e., the imputation of Adam’s guilt, that would involve yet a third imputation [triple imputation]. What they are denying is that the imputation of Christ’s “obedience” or righteousness involves any more than the imputation of the merit of Christ’s death. This aspect of Christ’s obedience is what theologians have referred to as Christ’s “passive obedience.” John Murray, among other theologians, referred to this aspect of Christ’s obedience as his “penal obedience” since he was anything but passive in the offering up of himself as the substitute of his people. In reality, the whole of his humiliation was characterized by obedience so that it is impossible to rightly separate these two aspects of that one obedience. The prevailing opinion [though not the only opinion] among Reformed and Calvinistic thinkers has been that both the obedience and death of Christ have been credited to the believer’s account for justification. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith states, ” . . . accepting their persons as righteous. . .by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them. . . .” (Chap11, I). “Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified . . . . ” (Chap. 11, III). It seems clear they made a distinction between Christ’s obedience and Christ’s satisfaction/death. In this case, “obedience” would refer to his life of obedience to the precepts of the law under which he was born (Galatians 4:4) and to which he rendered perfect, continual and inward obedience.

The following statement by John Calvin clearly affirms the doctrine they deny:

There is great weight also in these words of Paul: “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain,” (Gal. 2: 21.) For we hence infer, that it is from Christ we must seek what the Law would confer on any one who fulfilled it; or, which is the same thing, that by the grace of Christ we obtain what God promised in the Law to our works: “If a man do, he shall live in them,” (Lev. 18: 5.) This is no less clearly taught in the discourse at Antioch, when Paul declares, “That through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13: 38, 39.) For if the observance of the Law is righteousness, who can deny that Christ, by taking this burden upon himself, and reconciling us to God, as if we were the observers of the Law, merited favour for us? Of the same nature is what he afterwards says to the Galatians: “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” (Gal. 4: 4, 5.) For to what end that subjection, unless that he obtained justification for us by undertaking to perform what we were unable to pay? Hence that imputation of righteousness without works, of which Paul treats, (Rom. 4: 5,) the righteousness found in Christ alone being accepted as if it were ours.

It appears to me that those who are bringing this charge of heresy may themselves be the heretics. In reality, that is difficult to determine since it is unlikely they are confessionally bound to any major Denomination. I have examined the doctrinal statement of some of these accusers, and to me it looks quite orthodox. As I understand their statement it seems to affirm what they deny. Re: the Doctrine of Justification they state:

We believe that the justification of sinners is the act of God (Rom. 3:21-26, 8:33) by which He legally declares righteous those who, through faith in Christ, repent of their sins (Isa. 55:6-7; Luke 13:3; Act 2:38; 3:19, 11:18; Rom. 2:4, 5:1; 2 Cor. 7:10) and confess Him as Sovereign Lord (Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 12:3; 2 Cor. 4:5; Phil. 2:11). This righteousness is apart from any virtue or work of man (Rom. 3:20, 28, 4:6), and involves the imputation of our sins to Christ (Col. 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:24), and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). By this means God is enabled to be “just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

Please note they do not say “the imputation of Christ obedient death,” but the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us.”

It seems to me this whole issue calls into question the orthodox teaching that justification involves not only the pardon of our sins but the crediting to our accounts of a positive righteousness. The satisfaction of Christ, though leaving us “righteousness”  in a neutral sense, provides for us no positive righteousness.  Yet, the Scriptures clearly state that Christ is our righteousness and that this is so by imputation. 

The other issue is whether the imputed righteousness is a righteousness belonging to God intrinsically, a divine righteousness untested by the law of God to which we human beings have been subjected,  or is it the righteousness of a true human being who was subject to God’s law and filled it up with perfect obedience.  If we should define “righteousness” as conformity to law, it would seem to follow that the righteousness that is imputed to believers must be the righteousness of one who has been “under law” and who has obeyed it fully.

I will return to what I believe is meant by “Christ’s righteousness” in a moment. First, I would like to pose a few pertinent questions.

1. What do the biblical writers mean by the term “righteousness?”

2. Does God require any righteousness from sinners?

3. If God requires any righteousness from sinners, what level of righteousness does he require? Does he require a perfect life of righteousness, or is the best we can do good enough?

4. Does the Law of God demand perfect, continual and inward obedience from sinners?

5. Is Adam’s unrighteousness imputed to all whom he represented?

6. Have God the Father and God the Holy Spirit ever been subject to the law?

7. Would it be possible to impute to believers a legal obedience performed by either God the Father or the Holy Spirit since neither of them has ever been subject to the law?

8. Prior to the incarnation of Christ and his life of subjection to the law, would it have been possible to impute his “righteousness” to believers? One of those denying this doctrine defined righteousness as “conformity to law.”

9. In the declaration of justification, is God merely concerned with pardoning the believer’s sins or does he also accept us as positively righteous in his sight?

10. Were it not for the imputation of Adam’s guilt, would the law justify us on the condition of perfect, continual and inward obedience? Does the Bible teach we cannot be justified by the law because the law cannot justify or the law cannot justify those who fail to obey it?

I believe the way we answer those questions will determine where we land on this issue.

Let’s examine them one by one and see where they lead us.

1. What do the biblical writers mean by the term “righteousness?”

As I mentioned, one of their own number defined righteousness as “conformity to law.” I believe that is exactly right, though I might expand on it a bit. Since the greatest commandment in the law is to love God supremely, wholly and without rival, we ought to define righteousness as supreme, wholehearted, and unrivaled love for God that manifests itself in perfect, continual and inward obedience to his will revealed in the Scriptures.

2. Does God require any righteousness from sinners?

In Romans, chapter one, the apostle Paul makes it very clear that even those who have no written revelation from God are responsible to glorify him, show him gratitude, and bow before him in worship. If they fail to do so, they are without excuse before him. He concludes that they, together with the Jews are “all under sin.” If God did not expect any righteousness from them, they would not be under the sentence of condemnation. “If they have sinned without the law, they will also perish without the law” ( Rom. 2:12).

3. If God requires any righteousness from sinners, what level of righteousness does he require? Does he require a perfect life of righteousness, or is the best we can do good enough?

4. Does the Law of God demand perfect, continual and inward obedience from sinners?

I want to answer these two [groups of] questions together since they are integrally related. One of the accusers wrote to me the other day, “God does not require a perfect life, just a perfect sacrifice.” This really sums up their position, but is it accurate?

If God did not require a perfect life, why did he pronounce a curse on those Israelites who did not obey his covenant perfectly and continually? “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Gal. 3:10. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). Their obedience was a mere external obedience. God requires more than that. What the Mosaic law required, but could not provide was righteousness as we have defined it above. Apart from that kind of righteousness, he cannot accept any sinner as righteous in his sight. Believers are more than “just forgiven.” We are credited with a spotless righteousness in God’s presence.

5. Is Adam’s unrighteousness imputed to all whom he represented?

Though this is a larger issue than we are able to deal with in a short blog, I believe Romans 5: 12ff leaves no doubt that it is. To me, the importance of this question is this–Adam stood as a type of Christ in that both stood as the representative of all who are united to them. It is for this reason we have the “In Adam” and “In Christ” language in the New Testament Scriptures. If it was a human righteousness that was lost in the garden, the righteousness God imputes to us needs to be a human righteousness. For this reason, Galatians 4:4 not only tells us Jesus was born “under the law” that he might forge for his people a legal righteousness, it also tells us he was born of a woman, that he might forge for us a perfect human righteousness. The righteousness God imputes to believers in justification corresponds to the unrighteousness he imputed to us in Adam. The death Jesus died effectively pardons the believer’s unrighteousness in Adam, but it does not restore to the believer a positive righteousness.

6. Have God the Father and God the Holy Spirit ever been subject to the law?

7. Would it be possible to impute to believers a legal obedience performed by either God the Father or the Holy Spirit since neither of them has ever been subject to the law?

8. Prior to the incarnation of Christ and his life of subjection to the law, would it have been possible to impute his “righteousness” to believers?

These three questions all speak to the same issue. The answer to all three questions is no. number six is no. If “righteousness is conformity to law,” the righteousness imputed to believers could not that intrinsic righteousness belonging to the Trinity. God in his intrinsic righteousness is not subject to the same law he imposes on his creatures. He defines righteousness for his creatures by the standard of supreme love for the Creator that manifests itself in obedience. It is that righteousness Jesus fulfilled and God the Father imputes to his people in justification. Jesus learned obedience, not because he had ever been disobedient, but he had never been “under the Law.” In his mediatorial capacity, every act he performed was in representation of those “in him.”

9. In the declaration of justification, is God merely concerned with pardoning the believer’s sins or does he also accept us as positively righteous in his sight?

The law had a positive and a negative demand. Positively, it demanded a perfect righteousness. Negatively, it demanded death for law breakers. Death for law breakers only meets one of those demands. It does not provide a positive righteousness. Pardon wipes the slate clean but puts nothing in its place. Christ’s work accomplished both pardon and the imputation of a positive righteousness. Pardon is only half of what God intends in justification. “just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:” (Romans 4:6).

10. Were it not for the imputation of Adam’s guilt, would the law justify us on the condition of perfect, continual and inward obedience? Does the Bible teach we cannot be justified by the law because the law cannot justify or the law cannot justify those who fail to obey it?

I believe the apostle Paul very clearly teaches that the law is able to declare a perfectly obedient man righteous. In Romans 2:13 he wrote, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” He is not talking about God’s method justification in that verse but about God’s standard of justification. No one who fails to meet that standard will be justified. Privileges of race, religion, ritual, or respectability will be no advantage. Righteousness in conformity to his law is the standard of judgment. Consider also Galatians 3:12–“But the law is not of faith, rather “‘The one who does them shall live by them.'”

The Bible does not teach that no one can be justified by the works of the law because the law is unable to justify; it teaches that the law cannot justify law-breakers. There was one man who went to heaven because he was perfectly righteous in the eyes of the law. That man was Jesus Christ. By imputation, he became a lawbreaker and paid the penalty in full as his people’s representative. He suffered for lawbreaking that was not personally his.

By imputation, we have been declared to possess a law righteousness that is not ours. We are accepted before the throne of God’s unbending justice by the merit of our substitute. We are accepted not because we could suffer enough to purchase pardon for our sins but because the death of our substitute has infinite value to pardon the most heinous of crimes against his holy law. We are able to appear in robes of righteousness before his throne, not because we are good, but because we are united to him who magnified the law and made it honorable and thus fulfilled all righteousness.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21).

” And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'” (1 Cor 1:30-31). ”

Our sins, when laid upon Christ, were yet personally ours, not his; so his righteousness, when put upon us, is yet personally his, not ours.” – John Bunyan

Righteousness supposes that the whole law has been fulfilled; innocence imports only that it has not been transgressed….In the case of a sinner, therefore, the imputation of righteousness is pre-supposed as the ground of his justification, which, consequently, implies something more than simple remission….If he [i.e., the sinner] cannot himself fulfill the law, another, taking his place, and coming under his obligations, may fulfill it in his name; and the obedience of this surety may be placed to his account.

John Dicks

All Christ did and all he bore was for our salvation. He suffered in obeying. He obeyed in suffering. No fair criticism can ever shew that righteousness in this verse or obedience in v. 19 means simply his sufferings, much less his obedience in the mere act of dying. His circumcision and baptism were as much in fulfillment of all righteousness as his death. His perfect love to God and his equal love to man, evinced in every way, were essential to his righteousness. There is a sense in which Christ’s righteousness is one. It is a seamless robe. There is no rent in it. It is undivided. It cannot be divided. But this is a very different thing from saying that Christ wrought out his righteousness the last few hours of his life. The parallel between Adam and Christ is not intended to be preserved in the shortness of the time in which, or the ease with which ruin and recovery were wrought. No? Destruction is easy. Recovery is difficult. It is so in every thing. A rash act of one may destroy a thousand lives, but all the power of men and angels cannot restore one life. A child may in a few hours burn down a city, which ten thousand men could not build in a year. In a moment Adam brought down ruin. It required the righteousness and obedience of the life of Christ and his agony in the garden and on the cross to bring us to God. Yea, to the same end he ever liveth to make intercession for us. “The truth is, the work of Christ is just the whole of his humiliation, with all that he did and all he suffered in the nature which he humbled himself to assume. That on account of which God exalted and glorified Christ, is that on account of which he justifies and glorifies sinners.

Wm. S. Plumer

Call this “heresy” if you like, but I, for one, will, by God’s grace, never cease to glory in it. It is the glorious gospel of our great God and Savior. R. C. Sproul wrote, ” “This is the description of how salvation comes. It comes as a result of the atoning work of Christ and the exchange of our sin from our backs to His, as well as the cloak of His righteousness being transferred from His account to ours. Anything that eliminates this double exchange, this double imputation of sin and righteousness, falls short of the biblical Gospel.”

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.


I have attached a number of brief statements from various Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms, simply to show what has been the widely held “orthodox” opinion through the centuries.

“God imputeth the righteousness of Christ unto us for our own: so that now we are not only cleansed from our sin, and purged, and holy, but also endued with righteousness of Christ.” Confession of Helvetia

“When therefore we do say, that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1), this is our meaning: that we do obtain remission of sins, and imputation of righteousness, by mercy showed us for Christ’s sake.” The Augsburg Confession

“Casting away all opinion of virtues and merits, we do altogether rest in the only obedience of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us, both that all our sins may be covered, and that we may obtain grace before God.” The Confession of France

“Christ Himself is our righteousness, because that by His merit we have remission, and God doth impute His righteousness to us, and for Him doth account us just.” The Confession of Saxony

“We are accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by faith; and not for our own works or deservings, wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine and full of comfort.” The Church of England

“Christ Himself is our righteousness, which imputeth all His merits unto us: faith is but the instrument, whereby we are coupled unto Him.” Confession of Belgia

“What believest thou concerning the forgiveness of sins?” “That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long, but will graciously impute to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never be condemned before the tribunal of God.” The Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 56

“Justification is an act of the grace of God, judging and proclaiming man to be righteous, through imputing to him the righteousness of Christ, which is received by the sinner through faith. ” The Welch Calvinistic Methodists’ Confession

“Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justified, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in His death, for their whole and sole righteousness.” The Philadelphia Confession

“What is justification?” “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer 33