Another Conversation With Paul Dohse

I asked people at Paul’s Passing Thoughts to provide me just one proof that Calvin, a Puritan, or any Calvinist believed or believes in “progressive justification” in the sense that believers become progressively more righteous in God’s sight than we were the first moment we believed. I am still waiting for one of them to respond. In reality, they can’t respond since that is not our teaching. Of course, that doesn’t keep them from making the claim since telling the truth doesn’t seem very important to any of them. Slander is their favorite hobby.

Paul, of course, evaded the question by engaging me in a converstation about whether the Bible teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers through faith. After about an hour of asking him to define “righteousness,” [I didn’t want to define it because I knew he would reject my definition] he answered that righteousness is conformity to God’s law.

After I left the discussion, and, of course, after calling me a heretic, he wrote the following eight statements. I have included my answers to those statements.

1. We were declared righteous and justified before Christ became a man and went to the cross (Romans 8:29, 30). Therefore, there was no need for His perfect life to be imputed to our justification. His obedience to the cross and His resurrection was all that was needed.

Then you believe we are justified apart from faith, since we were justified before we even had being. You are confusing the purpose of God with the accomplishment and application of that purpose. If you believe in “eternal justification” you are in a very very small minority.

If you are correct that we don’t need his perfect life imputed to us for justification, how is it that we are credited with “righteousness” which you and I have agreed is defined as obedience to God’s law. Where does that righteousness come from if not from Christ. The Law demanded perfect, continual and internal obedience. We have no such obedience to present before God as the ground of our justification. How is that demand met if not by Christ?

2. We are justified APART FROM THE LAW.

We are not justified apart from the Law. God’s righteousness [the phrase Paul uses to describe God’s method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] is REVEALED apart from the Law. It is true we are justified apart from our personal obedience to the Law, but we could never be declared righteous if the Law did not declare us righteous. That is God’s standard for justification. “the doers of the Law will be justified.”

3. We are presently righteous because God’s seed is in us and we have righteous/good desires.

If you think this statement concerns justification in any way, you are conflating justification and sanctification. We are presently becoming more and more righteous as a result of God’s works in us, but this concerns our sanctification, not our justification.

4. We are not perfect because our body is not yet redeemed, but that doesn’t exclude the fact that we are righteous.

This statement taken on its face would indicate you believe sin resides in our bodies. If you believe that, you subscribe to Gnostic Dualism in which spirit is good and matter is evil. Please keep in mind that we are discussing justification. In terms of justifying righteousness, we will never be righteous in this earthly life. If you want to discuss sanctification, that is another matter altogether. Justifying righteousness is perfect. Our righteousness in sanctification is ever growing but never perfect in this earthly life.

5. The part of us that isn’t righteous is not under the law but under grace.

If we are believers, all of us is under grace, not just part of us. No part of us would be righteous apart from grace.

6. Christ’s obedience IS NOT imputed to our sanctification.

No one said, and no one believes Christ’s obedience is imputed to our sanctification. However, his enabling grace is imparted to us for sanctification.

7. NO one is justified by the works of the law. I would assume that would mean Christ didn’t have to keep the law for our justification. Why would he if we are not justified by the law to begin with?

See my answer above.
8. Our sin was imputed to Christ, and God’s righteousness was imputed to us. We were justified by Christ’s one act of obedience to the cross, not the obedience of His life. That one act resulted in the righteousness of God being put to our account.

But, we agreed that “righteousness” in the context of justification is defined as obedience to God’s Law. God as pure Spirit did not obey his Law. Since we are human beings, he requires of us a human obedience to his Law. God’s righteousness is whatever he does within the bounds of his holiness. It is not that which is put to our account.

Christ’s one act of obedience encompasses his entire life culminating in his crucifixion. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “. . . .he became obedient unto death, even death by crucifixion.” His entire life was a life of obedience. The writer to the Hebrews tells us “He was made perfect [a complete Priest/Savior] by the things he experienced/suffered [the word can be translated either way]. These words occur in a context that describes his perfect obedience/submission to his Father’s will.

Justification is not simply a declaration of “not guilty.” For that a payment of the penalty would have been sufficient. Justification is also a declaration of positive righteousness. That positive righteousness is defined as perfect, continual and internal obedience to God’s law. God the Father did not obey the law. He was never under it. We have not obeyed the law perfectly, continually or internally. If God imputes such a righteousness to our account, where else is such a righteousness to be found if not in Christ.

It is the “In Christ” relationship that is the key to this issue. Either we are “In Adam,” or “In Christ.” If we are “In Adam,” we die as a result of his unrighteousness, i.e., his breaking of the expression of God’s law that was given to him in the garden. If we are “in Christ,” we are co-heirs with him. All that can be ascribed to him as a perfect human being, now belongs to us in union with him. We are loved because we are “in him.” We are justified because we are “in him.” We are heirs because he is the heir, and we are “in him.” We are glorified because we are “in him” who is glorified.

If righteousness is defined as conformity to God’s law, there is no righteousness apart from Christ since he alone in all the universe has been fully conformed to God’s law.


3 Responses to “Another Conversation With Paul Dohse”

  1. March 18, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    “Christ’s one act of obedience encompasses his entire life culminating in his crucifixion.” BINGO! If Jesus had not been perfectly obedient all his human life He would not have been eligible to be our propitiation. Praise Him for His life of perfect obedience!

  2. 2 markmcculley
    April 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    A focus on “the active obedience” of Christ can become a distraction from the death of Christ as that which frees the elect from sin and law and death. I have no big problem saying that Christ’s life of obedience also is imputed. But I am looking for texts, not only for what tradition says.

    This question makes me uncomfortable. because Norman Shepherd and federal vision and NT Wright deny the active obedience. But I think the debate about the active obedience being imputed CAN BE a distraction from three big facts. It does not have to be.

    1. It CAN BE a distraction from Adam’s sin imputed to humans. N T Wright does not have any place in his theology for original sin as Adam’s original guilt. Who does? We should be talking about that more.

    2. It’s a distraction from the sins of the elect being imputed to Christ. This is the main thing. This is more important even that saying that Christ’s death is only for the elect or saying the Christ’s death is effective to save all for whom He died. This is about justice, about the justifying of God not only the justifying of sinners.

    This also makes us think about the difference between the atonement itself and the justification which happens in time when the atonement is imputed to the elect. The atonement and justification are not the same thing.

    Of course it’s true that, if God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, then Christ only died for the elect. But we need to think not only about Christ’s successful death but also about the justice of Christ’s death.

    Focusing on “active obedience” CAN sometimes distract from this. Because lots of folks who are all currently heated up about the “active obedience” almost never talk about Christ’s just death for the elect only. I think of Piper and Sproul and many in the PCA.

    To be distracted from the truth that the atonement was only for the elect is also to be distracted from the truth that justification is not conditioned on faith except perhaps “instrumentally” Many of the same folks who fight with NT Wright about faith not being the “active obedience” then turn around and say that God counts faith as the righteousness, and teach that the righteousness is “appropriated” by the condition of faith.

    On the one hand, I don’t want to be a distraction by debating “active obedience as vicarious law-keeping” (or by debating if there was a “covenant of works” with Adam.) I want to take sides with you against the new perspective and against this idea of a “progressive impartation or infusion of righteousness”

    But on the other hand, most folks on both sides of the debate don’t even believe in Christ’s just death only for the elect. If they did, they would teach it.

    3. A focus on doing as the righteousness CAN imply that the death of Christ is not the righteousness. I don’t think active and positive should be split up, not only because the death was active and the obedience passive, but because I want to get away from any idea that the remission of sins is because of the death and that the positive blessing is because of the life.

    I see two serious problems with the tradition. 1. The supposed proof texts don’t show vicarious law obedience. They show law obedience. As for ”saved by his life” in Romans 5:10 that’s “saved by his resurrection”.

    Problem 2. Which law is being obeyed, which we were supposed to obey? Christ kept the Mosaic law, which none of us were ever under. And more than that, Christ was under unique (only for Him) requirements from God when He became incarnate.

    .I don’t think the texts in question (Romans 4, Philippians 3) say that we share only in Christ’s verdict. We share in the obedience that lead to that verdict. Not only the verdict, but the righteousness (the legal value of Christ’s death) was for the elect.

    If you don’t want to say that the death of Christ was imputed, since that’s not the exact wording of Scripture, use Romans 6 language and say “placed into the death”. God the Father putting the elect into Christ’s death results in the verdict—–justified, dead to sin, and dead to the law.

  3. April 15, 2013 at 3:51 pm


    Thanks for you comment. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time right now to answer all the issues you raised, but I will say that we can clearly be guilty of emphasizing one aspect of Christ’s work at the expense of another. Of course we must not neglect speaking of the just sacrifice of Christ because we have focused excessively on his preceptive [what you are calling active] obedience, but that does not mean we should neglect preceptive obedience either.

    It seems to me, it would not have been necessary for Christ to have been made under the Law, if all we needed was a death to satisfy God’s righteous demands. The Father would only have needed to impute our sins to Jesus that he might die under the penalty which God had imposed as the result of Adam’s guilt as our representative.

    Not every issue can best be resolved by proof-texts. I think it is our responsibility to bring our God-given reasoning ability to bear on these issues. One question I think we need to answer in regard to the “active obedience” of Christ concerns the nature of justification. In justification, does God merely forgive our sins, or does he impute to us a righteous status? I, of course, believe the latter is true. Christ is made unto us “righteousness.” We would then need to ask what “righteousness” is. I think the answer can only be given in terms of Law. Righteousness is defined as obedience to law. God’s law requires love for God and neighbor. Jesus exhibited the love God required perfectly. In his case, he exhibited this love in the manner required by the highest expression [codification] of God’s law to that point in redemptive history. It was not necessary for us to be under that codification of God’s law. It is enough that we are united to him who was not only “made of woman” thus coming under the general curse on creation, but “made under the law” which brought him under the curse of the law [when our sins were imputed to him]. I have written on this much more extensively in my book, “The Fulness of the Time.” I will be happy to send you a PDF if you wish.

    I do believe Christ death was imputed to us as well as his preceptive obedience.

    I agree with you that “saved by his life” does not refer to his active obedience during his humiliation but to his resurrection [exaltation] life, specifically to his ministry of intercession.

    Let me know what issues of concern I have failed to comment on and I will try to address them when I have more time.



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