Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Perfect Obedience of the Law Is Righteousness

We've been discussing the righteousness of the Law and the imputation to the elect of Christ's righteousness, i.e. his perfect obedience (passive and active) to the Law. What follows below are some excerpts of John Calvin on this topic. I've added italics and bold emphasis to certain portions of the text to draw attention to them, highlighting Calvin's argument. And I've also added some [bracketed phrases] that, I think, help clarify what it means to be righteous before God in Calvin's view. In other words, do we define righteousness as a substance or quality of goodness transferred from Christ to believers, one that continues to grow in believers? We know that when Scripture or the Confessions speak of Christ's righteousness being imputed to believer's through faith that they have in view the passive and active obedience of Christ to the Law. So it is helpful to keep together that relationship between righteousness and his perfect obedience as we think about what righteousness is in the believer and his good works.

CALVIN’S INSTITUTES 3.17.
7. Nor do I deny that the Law of God contains a perfect righteousness. For although we are debtors to do all the things which it enjoins, and, therefore, even after a full obedience, are unprofitable servants; yet, as the Lord has deigned to give it the name of righteousness, it is not ours to take from it what he has given. We readily admit, therefore, that the perfect obedience of the law is righteousness, and the observance of any precept a part of righteousness, the whole substance of righteousness being contained in the remaining parts. But we deny that any such  righteousness ever exists [i.e. for sinful man]. Hence we discard the righteousness [that comes through perfect obedience] of the law, not as being in itself maimed and defective, but because of the weakness of our flesh it nowhere appears...
The things contained in the law God enjoined upon man for righteousness but that righteousness we attain not unless by observing [through perfect obedience] the whole law: every transgression whatever destroys it. While, therefore, the law commands nothing but righteousness [i.e. perfect obedience]...
8. … Paul finds nothing stronger stronger to prove justification by faith than that which is written of Abraham, he "believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness [i.e. for perfect obedience to the Law]," (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6.)...
Here I beseech believers, as they know that the true standard of righteousness must be derived from Scripture alone, to consider with me seriously and religiously, how Scripture can be fairly reconciled with that view. Paul, knowing that justification by faith was the refuge of those who wanted righteousness of their own, confidently infers, that all who are justified by faith are excluded from the righteousness of works [for that requires perfect and complete obedience].
Justification, moreover, we thus define: The sinner being admitted into communion with Christ is, for his sake, reconciled to God; when purged by his blood he obtains the remission of sins, and clothed with righteousness [the perfect obedience of Christ], just as if it were his own, stands secure before the judgment-seat of heaven. Forgiveness of sins being previously given, the good works which follow have a value different from their merit, because whatever is imperfect in them is covered by the perfection of Christ, and all their blemishes and pollutions are wiped away by his purity, so as never to come under the cognizance of the divine tribunal. The guilt of all transgressions, by which men are prevented from offering God an acceptable service, being thus effaced, and the imperfection which is wont to sully even good works being buried, the good works which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or; which is the same thing, are imputed for righteousness [i.e. as perfectly obedient to the Law for Christ's sake].

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Our Hope is Built on Nothing Less...

Righteousness and perfect obedience aren't to be equated in such a way that they are made to be the very same thing, or that believers are actually made righteous. Yet for sinful man, there is no justification apart from presenting to God a righteousness that consists of a perfect obedience to the Law. That is, in order to be declared righteous by God he must have a just status of having perfectly satisfied the Law both to its demand for sin-payment and perfect obedience of every precept. And the obedience that fulfills the Law is not and never is his own. Rather his obedience before the Law upon which he is accounted with a righteous standing is Christ's imputed passive and active obedience before the Law. It's not a mere technicality. Christ's righteousness before the law is legally and justly my righteousness. It is not the status of a "quality" or substance of righteousness that is imputed or imparted, but the forensic status of having actually "done" the righteousness required by the Law. The sinner has nothing to offer here. Hence there is no righteousness for the sinner apart from a death for sin and a perfect obedience performed by Another that is imputed to him. So we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ because his passive and active (perfect) obedience to all the Law are imputed to us.

Louis Berkhof:
“It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of the fundamental element in the doctrine of redemption, namely, of the doctrine of justification. Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing (or future) condition, but on that of a gracious imputation–a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner.” (systematic, p 452)By God's election we are legally united to Christ our Surety and Mediator. Thus his death is our death. His obedience is our obedience. Upon his resurrection God imputes Christ's finished work to the elect."
It is Jesus, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). The declaration of Justification is then brought to us in the gospel and made ours when by the work of the Holy Spirit through God's effectual calling we are made alive in Christ, given the grace of saving faith by which we are united spiritually with Christ and justified in Him. The imputation of Christ's passive and active obedience is the legal (forensic) ground of our effectual calling. We receive that judgment or status, that legal justification through faith upon hearing the gospel. Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 57. What benefits hath Christ procured by his mediation?
A. Christ, by his mediation, hath procured redemption, with all other benefits of the covenant of grace.
Q. 58. How do we come to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured?
A. We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured, by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost.
Q. 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?
A. Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.
Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
Q. 71. How is justification an act of God's free grace?
A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.
Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Christ's Active Obedience: The End of the Law Unto Righteousness To Everyone That Believes

Last excerpt from Thomas Jacomb, a contemporary of John Owen, on this topic. This post and three previous posts from his 17th century work explain clearly and convincingly the Reformed understanding of the imputation of Christ's active obedience to believer's as held by the Divines of that era.
But 'tis queried, Was not Christ's passive obedience, without the active, sufficient for both of these? for righteousness and for life? To which they of the Opinion answer, No; they say upon Christ's death and suffering we are freed from guilt, but upon that (abstractly from his active obeying of the Law) we are not strictly and positively made righteous: So also, upon his death and suffering (they say) we are saved from wrath and Hell, but yet upon that alone we are not entitled to Heaven: they grant in Christ's death alone we are not entitled to Heaven: they grant Christ's death a fulness and sufficiency of Satisfaction, but as to merit for that they must take in the holiness and obedience of his life
I do but recite; not undertaking (at present) to defend what is here asserted: only let me close this Head with one thing which (to me) is observable. Our Lord being both to do and to suffer, to obey actively and passively (that he might fully answer the Law's demands for the justification and salvation of Sinners); 'tis considerable how the New Testament, in two eminent places, speaks distinctly to both these parts of his Obedience, in their distinct reference to both the parts of the Law under the old Testament, and in their distinct influence upon the Sinner's good. Gal. 3:13. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one & c. or as 'tis Vers. 10. Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things & c. --- here is Christ's passive Obedience (with respect to the old curse or penal part of the Law here mentioned), and the benefit which we reap thereby viz. deliverance from the Law's curse. That's one place; the other is Rom. 10:5. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth: for Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the Law, that the man which doth these things shall live by them: here is Christ's active Obedience (with respect to the mandatory part or doing righteousness of the Law here mentioned also), and the imputation and benefit of this to believers viz. righteousness and life: Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness, (that is to convey that righteousness which the Law could not, or to perform the Law in order to righteousness which the Sinner could not); take it as you will, it must have reference to the Moral Law and to the preceptive part thereof, for so the Apostle opens it in that which follows Vers. 5.  
Now Christ's active Obedience thereunto is imputed to believers, otherwise why is it said that he is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth? All that I drive at is (1.) That the imputation of the passive obedience in Gal. 3:13. must not justle out the imputation of the active obedience in Rom. 10:5. (2.) That as the imputation of the one is necessary to free from the Law's curse, so the imputation of the other is necessary for the having of righteousness and life.
4. If Christ actively fulfilled the Law for us then his active fulfilling thereof must be imputed to us, but so he did, ergo. The Consequence I judge to be good and strong; for surely whatever Christ did on our behalf, in our stead, as designing and aiming at our good as his main end, that must needs be imputed to us; otherwise he and we too might lose that which he principally designed in his Obedience (which is not to be imagined). As to the Assumption that Christ actively fulfilled the Law for us, that is generally asserted and defended by Divines against SOCINIANS and Others: For whereas these affirm, that Christ fulfilled the Law for himself (he as a Creature being under the obligation of it), they prove the contrary (of which before); shewing, that Christ was not, in that way wherein he fulfilled the Law, at all obliged so to fulfil it for himself; but that all was done by him purely upon our account: he obeyed not merely as a Subject but as a Surety therefore his Obedience must be for us, and so imputable and imputed to us. And whereas others affirm, that Christ actively fulfilled the Law that he might thereby be fitted and qualified for his Mediatory Office, two things are answered:
(1.) The Scripture, where it speaks of Christ's subjection to the Law and accomplishment of it, doth not lay it upon this end or upon what refers to Christ himself, but upon that which refers to us (as the proper end thereof): He was the end of the Law for righteousness to them that believe; ---&c. made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of Sons
(2.) They say, that Christ's fitness for his Mediatory Office did result from his Person, from the personal Union of the Divine and Humane Natures in him, rather than from his active Obedience to the Law; else he could not have been looked upon as one fit to be a Mediator till he had finished his whole Obedience to the Law; whereas from the first instant of the personal Union he was fit for that Work and Office
'Twas fit, nay necessary, that Christ the Mediator should conform to the Law; but these are two different things, what was fit for the Mediator to do and what must fit him to be the Mediator. These Ends therefore respecting Christ himself being removed, it follows that it was wholly for us that he fulfilled the Law: whence then I infer that that must be imputed to us, otherwise the end of it would not be attained; for without the imputation of it we should neither be the persons designed in it nor profited by it. To prevent mistakes and to give this Argument its full strength, I would state it thus: Whatever Christ did that we were obliged to do and which was to be our righteousness before God, that certainly must be imputed to us; I do not say that all which Christ did is strictly and properly imputed to us, but whatever he did if we were bound to do it, and if the doing of that was to be our righteousness, that must be imputed (or else we are in a sad case). He was incarnate for us yet that is not formally imputed, why? because Sinners were not under any obligation to any such thing; so I might instance in his working of Miracles, Intercession &c. But now if our Lord will be pleased to put himself under the Law and to fulfil the Law, that must be made over to us because that was a thing which we ourselves (according to the capacity of Creatures) were bound unto, and this was to be our righteousness before God: what is so circumstantiated, must be imputed; therefore this being taken in the Argument is good. [emphasis in the original except for bold type] 
 Eighteen Sermons on Romans 8:1-4, pp 591-93 ( 1672). Thomas Jacomb

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The "Righteous" Necessity of the Imputation of Christ's Active Obedience

More from Eighteen Sermons on Romans 8:1-4, pp 590-91 ( 1672). Thomas Jacomb makes the case for the necessity of the active obedience of Christ imputed to the believer in justification - a necessity, he argues - extending beyond the justification which comes to the sinner upon first believing in Christ but further unto the believer's "title to eternal life."
And I desire the words may be well observed; 'tis not said that the righteousness of the Law might be endured, suffered, or undergone by us, as if it did relate to the penalty of the Law; but that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, which surely most properly must relate to the doing part of the Law: doth he *fulfil who suffers? that's very harsh. To say that one of the things that have been spoken of was or is sufficient viz. the undergoing of the punishment without the doing of the duty, and that therefore the imputation of Christ's death and sufferings is enough: I say for any to assert this, they do (in my thoughts ) offer some violence to the Text in hand, which tells us the righteousness, the whole righteousness of the Law was to be and is fulfilled in believers. 
3. 'Tis urged thirdly, 'tis necessary not only in respect of the Law, but of ourselves also that Christ's active Obedience should be imputed, inasmuch as our righteousness and title to eternal life do indispensably depend upon it. The Law is the measure and standard of righteousness, let that be fulfilled and a person is righteous, otherwise not; without this none can stand before the great God as being such. Well then, the Sinner himself being altogether unable thus to fulfil the Law thereby to be made righteous; Christ's fulfilling of it must be imputed to him in order to righteousness. Guilt and righteousness do both carry in them a reference to the holy Law; when that is broken, 'tis guilt; when that is kept, 'tis righteousness: therefore as, supposing that Law had not been transgressed, we had not been guilty, so unless that Law be fully conform'd to, we cannot be *righteous. Now where shall we find this full conformity to the Law but in Christ? and what will that in Christ avail us if it be not imputed and made over to us? So as to eternal Life, unto which without fulfilling the Law we can have no claim or title: For the old Law-condition or Covenant being yet in force, do and live, (Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; Luke 10:28); unless this Condition be performed we cannot hope for life. True indeed, under the Covenant of Grace God accepts of what is done by the Surety, and he doth not expect of the Sinner in his own person the perfect obeying of the Law as a condition of life, but yet he will have the thing done either by or for the Sinner, either by himself or by his Surety, or else no life: doth not this then evince the necessity of the imputation of Christ's active Obedience? [emphasis in the original]

Monday, October 13, 2014

Interpreting Romans 8:4 - Imputation

Thomas Jacomb's exposition on Romans 8:1-4 was *described by John Owen in this way:

The same truth is fully asserted and confirmed, Romans 8:1-4. But this place has been of late so explained and so vindicated by another, in his learned and judicious exposition of it (namely, Dr. Jacomb), as that nothing remains of weight to be added unto what has been pleaded and argued by him, part 1 verse 4, p.587, and onwards.  And indeed the answers which he subjoins (to the arguments whereby he confirms the truth) to the most usual and important objections against the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, are sufficient to give just satisfaction unto the minds of unprejudiced, unengaged persons. I shall therefore pass over this testimony, as that which has been so lately pleaded and vindicated, and not press the same things, it may be (as is not unusual) unto their disadvantage. *[THE NATURE OF JUSTIFICATION AS DECLARED IN THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL, IN THAT UNTO THE ROMANS ESPECIALLY]

Continuing the case to be made, Jacomb furthers his explanation of how and why the "requirement of the Law" is fulfilled in believers (Rom. 8:4) through the imputation of both the passive and active obedience of Christ:


2. That Obedience of Christ must be imputed without the imputation of which the righteousness of the Law is not, or could not be fulfilled in believers: (this cannot be deny'd, for 'tis brought in here expressly as the end of God's sending his Son, that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us). Now I assume, but without the imputation of Christ’s active Obedience, the Laws righteousness is not and could not be fulfilled in believers, ergo. This I prove from - what hath been already said; the Law’s righteousness consists in two things, (1.) in its requiring perfect conformity to its Commands: (2.) in its demanding Satisfaction, or the undergoing of its penalty upon the violation of it: This being so, how can the Law’s righteousness be fulfilled in Saints either by the active or by the passive Obedience of Christ apart and alone? put them both together and the thing is done, there is that in both which is fully adequate to the Laws demands; but divide them, and it is not so.

The passive Obedience satisfies as to the Law’s penalty and secures from the Law’s curse, but where's our performing of the Duty which the Law requires if the active Obedience be not imputed also? And 'tis conceived, that this righteousness of the Law doth mainly and primarily refer to the preceptive and mandatory part of the Law, and but secondarily to the penal and minatory part of the Law: For in all Laws ( Civil or Sacred ) that which is first intended in them is active Obedience; the bearing the penalty is annexed but to further and secure  that: so that he who only bears the penalty doth not answer the first end and the main intention of the Law. Whence I infer, since the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in believers (as the Apostle here saith it is), that therefore the commanding part of the Law must be fulfilled in them, (that being the main branch of its righteousness and that which is principally designed by it ); but that cannot be, unless the active Obedience of Christ be imputed to them. This Argument (with submission to better judgments) is to me of great weight. [emphasis in the original]

Eighteen Sermons on Romans 8:1-4, pp 589-90. Thomas Jacomb 1672 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Goodness of God Leads To A Free Obedience...

... yet if you but consider the Lord's ways towards you, and your ways towards him, you will mourn with a gospel-mourning, reasoning with yourself after this manner: Was I under the law of works by nature, and so, for every transgression against any of the ten commandments, made liable to everlasting damnation? and am I now, through the free mercy and love of God in Christ, brought under the law of Christ, and so subject to no other penalty for my transgressions, but fatherly and loving chastisements, which tend to the purging out of that sinful corruption that is in me? Oh what a loving Father is this! Oh what a gracious Saviour is this! Oh what a wretched man am I, to transgress the laws of such a good God, as he hath been to me! Oh the due consideration of this will even, as it were, melt your heart, and cause your eyes to drop with the tears of godly sorrow! yea, the due consideration of these things will cause you to "loathe yourself in your own sight for your transgressions", (Eze 36:31), yea, not only to loathe yourself for them, but also to leave them, saying with Ephraim, "What have I to do any more with idols?" (Hosea 14:8) and to "cast them away as menstruous cloth, saying unto them, Get ye hence," (Isa 30:22). And truly you will desire nothing more, than that you might so live, as that you might never sin against the Lord any more. And this is that "goodness of God which," as the apostle says, "leadeth to repentance"; yea, this is that goodness of God which will lead you to a free obedience. So that if you do but apply the goodness of God in Christ to your soul, in any good measure, then will you answerably yield obedience to the law of Christ, not only without having respect either to what the law of works either promiseth or threateneth; but also without having respect to what the law of Christ either promiseth or threateneth; you will do that which the Lord commandeth, only because he commandeth it, and to the end that you may please him.
Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Be Persuaded...

So that all the covenant that believers are to have regard to, for life and salvation, is the free and gracious covenant that is betwixt Christ [or God in Christ] and them. And in this covenant there is not any condition or law to be performed on man's part, by himself; no, there is no more for him to do, but only to know and believe that Christ hath done all for him...
I beseech you to be persuaded that here you are to work nothing, here you are to do nothing, here you are to render nothing unto God, but only to receive the treasure, which is Jesus Christ, and apprehend him in your heart by faith, although you be never so great a sinner; and so shall you obtain forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal happiness; not as an agent but as a patient, not by doing, but by receiving. Nothing here comes betwixt but faith only, apprehending Christ in the promise. This, then, is perfect righteousness, to hear nothing, to know nothing, to do nothing of the law of works; but only to know and believe that Jesus Christ is now gone to the Father, and sitteth at his right hand, not as a judge, but is made unto you of God, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What Does Your Obedience Look Like?

In the New Testament,  Jesus gives a summary of the entirety of the moral law as taught in the Old Testament: 
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matt 7:12
 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-40
The exacting and uncompromising standard of what is required of man by the Law of God is distilled into these two basic commands of loving God and loving neighbor. In other words, 1) Put the Lord your God first in all that you think, purpose, say, and do... and 2) In all your interactions with other people put them first in all that you think, purpose, say, and do. 

Christians are those who by God's grace have trusted in Christ for salvation. Through faith they are justified before the moral law, i.e. forgiven their sins and accounted righteous (perfectly obedient) for Christ's sake. And as believers in Christ they have a new heart and renewed will by which they have a new desire to obey. Sealed by the Holy Spirit and no longer under the reign of sin, God is now their Father who further sanctifies them by the Spirit of Christ. This and more is the status of the redeemed as they begin each day.

So, in light of all that God has done in Christ for us, my question is, what does your (and my) obedience look like? In other words, how obedient is your obedience to the perfection of the Law as described above? What does your obedience look like? To answer that, if you're like me, your mind races to whatever examples you can find of overt acts of other-centeredness such as going out of your way to help a disagreeable customer at work or surprising your wife by doing the dishes so she doesn't have to. As to God-centeredness, you recount your times of prayer and Scripture reading in the morning and faithful attendance of Lord's day worship. You might also venture into those examples of fighting temptation. At this point, you're probably not be feeling too bad about your obedience. Sure, you slip up every now and then. But who doesn't? More or less, as they say, you're imperfectly yet sincerely obeying. Come on, can anyone realistically perfectly obey the law? Hmm... Careful, unwittingly you may begin lowering the standard of God's law.

Well, how about those "occasional slip-ups?" What do they look like and what do they reveal? 
An example: 
At work you go through a long day of seeming non-stop interruptions from fellow workers, customers, and phone calls as you are attempting to complete various time sensitive tasks. Despite the impatience you feel, you more or less keep your frustrations relatively in check. Finally the day is done. You "did your best." How's your obedience looking? Well, outwardly, not too bad. But don't look too deeply.  
Next, you arrive home from work. Sitting down comfortably on your front porch and looking forward to some well-deserved relaxation, you finally get back to reading that book you've been trying to finish. Moments later your neighbor drops by and asks to borrow your lawn mower, as his won't start (he always has trouble starting that old mower) . Reluctantly you get up and head off to the garage thinking, "Great, now I got to listen to a lawn mower while I read." You pull the mower out of the garage and your neighbor thanks you as he heads off to his chore. 
At last... back to your book. Leaning into your chair and now reading, you begin to hear the stuttered sounds of unsuccessful attempts to start the mower. Minutes later your neighbor sheepishly returns asking for some help starting your mower... Frustration now peaking and visibly showing, you head off to help. After several yanks on the pull cord without success, you open the fuel tank. Empty. "Come on, Harry... You got to put gas in the thing!", you exasperatingly point out with a forced smile. Looking somewhat reprimanded, Harry thanks you. Problem solved, you walk back to your porch shaking your head, feeling justified in your frustration and yet also somewhat unsettled by a vague sense of failing. Loving neighbor as yourself... how's that obedience looking right about now? Apparently after you "obeyed" the law's command to help your neighbor, it had not yet finished doing its work, it's most important work.
In sanctification, God's moral law does much more than direct (WLC Q/A 97). It exposes us as we are in order that we might, more and more, come to see ourselves not as we want to see ourselves or want to be seen by others but as we really are: self-centered people who don't love as we ought. The law requires perfection and diagnoses our real problem, not just our outward sins of selfishness but - us - as self-absorbed individuals who at the core are first and foremost committed to ourselves and not others. When confronted with that inescapable evidence we can try to slough it off as just the product of a tough day at work or an inconvenient neighbor. Or, by following up on that vague sense of failure, we can weakly and soberly agree with Paul (Rom. 3:19) and let the law slay our self-justifying thoughts. The air goes out of our balloon. Cataloging our good works seems vain and pathetic. Convicted, we know we are worthy of rejection. We can't and don't keep the law in its perfection. In that inexcusable and helpless state the burdened soul needs and desires only one thing and that is the cleansing mercy and forgiveness of God in Christ. And it is there in our wretched state (Rom. 7:24) that God's grace (Rom. 7:25; 8:1) is most available and most realized (Heb. 4:14-16). I would argue that it is precisely at times like this that the work of sanctification is especially present in our lives. And then, with a more realistic humbled view of ourselves, we can commit to a renewed thankful obedience expressed as our uneven growing love of God and love of neighbor - yet paradoxically with less self-confidence - which is a good thing (Isa. 66:2b). We might call this progressive sanctification through Spirit-wrought self demolition (Luke 9:23-24)...

We go through life building, enhancing, and protecting an image - a self-image - the purpose of which is to gain certain affirmations and positive responses from others; and even more to avoid the self-exposure that leads to the dismissals, the rejections, and the not-being-taken-seriously in our carefully constructed self-project. This is what it means to be a sinner. Yet even though our faith in Christ for salvation is lively, we're not yet so convinced. Thus God, again and again, applies the hammer of his law to us at the most inopportune times. And he does so in order to methodically and lovingly dismantle our carefully crafted mirage of ourselves, that in its place his grace might abound more and more. With this gradually-more-healthy view of ourselves we find that we can more honestly agree with the words of Jesus, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’" Why? Because we're beginning to realize that our feeble obedience really doesn't look all that great under the bright light of God's law and the abundant grace that has been poured out upon believers in Christ.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Obedience envy?

The calls for more obedience and more holiness keep getting more insistent as exhibited on a number of blogs, and in the comments to this post and this post. And we agree, as followers of Christ, we are called to holy living; a life that is normed by the moral law of God as given to mankind in Adam and as summarized in the Decalogue and, I might add, as given to believers in Christ. If we are going to emphasize obedience in some way as necessary for salvation, then the question is how much? For some perspective...
HC Question 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
Answer: No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.
HC Question 115. Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?
Answer: First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ; likewise, that we constantly endeavour and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.

WLC Q. 149. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.
WLC Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men [Q/A 95], it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same [i.e. their thankfulness] in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
So… No one keeps the commandments even close to perfectly (far from it), which is the only kind of “keeping” the moral law recognizes. And that ought to daily stop us and always lead us into an attitude of repentance, seeing our need of Christ and how by grace both his passive and active obedience replaces our moral deficiency with his perfect sufficiency… and likewise lead us to greater thankfulness in that it is he who first loved us and laid hold of us, even while we were yet his enemies and dead in our sin. Then in thankfulness as we look to walk in the direction of his moral law, we can know that he accepts our imperfect and inconsistent growth in obedience inasmuch as it is sanctified by his blood – that God, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere [which sincerity by definition is always lacking due to the "corruption in every part"], although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (WCF 16.6)

In my mind this kind of levels the sinner/saint-obedience playing field for all concerned; and causes me to think, in light of Christ's perfect obedience for us, that my own (and yours) is not all that and a box of biscuits...

So what should the emphasis be? Grace or obedience? How about the full and free grace of God in Christ as proclaimed in the gospel, which gospel is the ground and even the Rock, upon which all obedience is commanded to believers and accepted by God. Again some perspective, this time from our tertiary standards in the OPC:
The preacher must, as Christ's ambassador, seek to build up the saints in the most holy faith and beseech the unconverted to be reconciled to God. Nothing is more necessary than that the gospel of salvation by grace be proclaimed without any adulteration or compromise, in order that the hearers may learn to rely for salvation only on the grace of God in Christ, to the exclusion of their own works or character, ascribing all glory to God alone for their salvation. The preacher is to instruct his hearers in the whole counsel of God, exhort the congregation to more perfect obedience to Christ, and warn them of the sins and dangers that are around them and within them. A preacher fails to perform his task as a God-appointed watchman on Zion's walls who neglects to warn the congregation of prevalent soul-destroying teachings by enemies of the gospel. [Directory for the Public Worship of God, Book of Church Order]
And now for the TWR benediction:
... and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:14-17)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Romans 8:4 Justification or Sanctification?

In his book, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? (p. 56), Mark Jones writes:
In 1 Corinthians 7:19, there is a contrast that runs counter to a strict law-gospel distinction: “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.” Similarly, in Romans 3:27, Paul contrasts a “law of works” with a “law of faith.” Moreover, in agreement with what has been said above, the law actually becomes a quickening Spirit that sets us free from sin and death. By this principle, the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in believers (Rom. 8:1–4).
Then in one of his Ref 21 blog posts he zeros in on Romans 8:4,
Romans 8:4. Enough said. Though, the reader should know that the context shows that Paul is clearly speaking about sanctification, not justification.
I guess for Mark Jones that settles the issue once for all. If we only knew what he knows then we wouldn't be so careless as to think Romans 8:4 could be speaking about anything other than sanctification! Now, I'm aware that there are good men who believe this verse is about sanctification. Yet, I find it curious that Mark Jones can make such an unequivocal statement. I rather doubt that he is unaware of what many, if not most, older Reformed theologians understood this verse to be teaching.

But just in case, here are samplings of a few of the old guys who might have possibly stated it this way:  The context of Romans 8:4 shows that Paul is clearly speaking about justification, not sanctification. 

John Owen, THE NATURE OF JUSTIFICATION AS DECLARED IN THE EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL, IN THAT UNTO THE ROMANS ESPECIALLY.
5. As was before observed, reconciliation and the pardon of sin through the blood of Christ do directly, in the first place, respect our relief from the state and condition whereinto we were cast by the sin of Adam, — in the loss of the favor of God, and liableness unto death. This, therefore, is that which principally, and in the first place, a lost convinced sinner, such as Christ calls unto himself, does look after. And therefore justification is eminently and frequently proposed as the effect of the blood-shedding and death of Christ, which are the direct cause of our reconciliation and pardon of sin. But yet from none of these considerations does it follow that the obedience of the one man, Christ Jesus, is not imputed unto us, whereby grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life.
The same truth is fully asserted and confirmed, Romans 8:1-4. But this place has been of late so explained and so vindicated by another, in his learned and judicious exposition of it (namely, Dr. Jacomb), as that nothing remains of weight to be added unto what has been pleaded and argued by him, part 1 verse 4, p.587, and onwards. And indeed the answers which he subjoins (to the arguments whereby he confirms the truth) to the most usual and important objections against the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, are sufficient to give just satisfaction unto the minds of unprejudiced, unengaged persons. I shall therefore pass over this testimony, as that which has been so lately pleaded and vindicated, and not press the same things, it may be (as is not unusual) unto their disadvantage.
Thomas Jacomb: pp 576-77, The Righteousness of the Law Rom VIII Ver. IV

3. Thirdly, Others open it thus, the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in Believers perfectly, yet not personally, but imputatively.

Their meaning is this, the Lord Jesus in his own person whilst he was here on earth did obey the Law, perfectly conforming to it in all its holy commands; now this his most perfect obedience to the Law made over, reckoned, imputed to his members, as if they themselves in their own persons had performed it. The Law’s righteousness is not fulfilled in them formally, subjectively, inherently or personally; but legally ( they being in Christ as their Head and Surety) and imputatively so it is. This is the fulfilling which suits with the words, for ’tis said that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, not by us, but in us; in us (that is) not only for our sake and for our good, but as Christ’s Obedience is ours by imputation. If the former senses [1. and 2.] be rejected this must be received; for since the Law’s righteousness must be fulfilled in the Saints, (otherwise what the Apostle here affirms would not be true), and since there are but two wayes wherein it can be fulfilled, either by themselves or by some other; it necessarily follows, if they do not fulfil it the first way that the second must take place; and so it must be fulfilled by Christ for them and his obedience be imputed to them. And this is that Exposition of the words which our * PROTESTANT Divines (so far as imputation in general is concern’d) do commonly give: but about it many things are necessary to be spoken unto, both for the explaining and also for the vindicating of it (which therefore shall be done by and by).
[emphasis in the original]
John Calvin, Commentary on Rom 8:4:
That the justification of the law might be fulfilled, etc. They who understand that the renewed, by the Spirit of Christ, fulfil the law, introduce a gloss wholly alien to the meaning of Paul; for the faithful, while they sojourn in this world, never make such a proficiency, as that the justification of the law becomes in them full or complete. This then must be applied to forgiveness; for when the obedience of Christ is accepted for us, the law is satisfied, so that we are counted just. For the perfection which the law demands was exhibited in our flesh, and for this reason — that its rigor should no longer have the power to condemn us. But as Christ communicates his righteousness to none but to those whom he joins to himself by the bond of his Spirit, the work of renewal is again mentioned, lest Christ should be thought to be the minister of sin: for it is the inclination of many so to apply whatever is taught respecting the paternal kindness of God, as to encourage the lasciviousness of the flesh; and some malignantly slander this doctrine, as though it extinquished the desire to live uprightly.
Charles Hodge, Commentary on Romans 8:4:
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, etc. This verse expresses the design of God in sending his Son, and in condemning sin in the flesh. He did thus condemn it, ἵνα, in order that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled. The meaning, therefore, of this passage is determined by the view taken of ver. 3. If that verse means, that God, by sending his Son, destroyed sin in us, then of course this verse must mean, 'He destroyed sin, in order that we should fulfill the law;" i.e. that we should be holy. But if ver. 3 is understood of the sacrificial death of Christ, and of the condemnation of sin in him as the substitute of sinners, then this verse must be understood of justification, and not of sanctification. He condemned sin, in order that the demands of the law might be satisfied. This is the view of the passage given even by the majority of the early Fathers, and by almost all evangelical interpreters, including the performers...
2. The analogy of Scripture. To make this passage teach the doctrine of subjective justification, that we are freed from condemnation or delivered from the law by our inward sanctification, is to contradict the plain teaching of the Bible, and the whole drift and argument of this epistle.
3. The concluding clause of the verse, (who walk not after the flesh, etc.) demands the interpretation given above. In the other view of the passage, the latter clause is altogether unnecessary. Why should Paul say, that Christ died in order that they should be holy who are holy, i.e. those who walk not after the flesh? On the other hand, the second clause of the verse is specially pertinent, if the first treats of justification. The benefits of Christ's death are experienced only by those who walk not after the flesh. The gospel is not antinomian. Those only are justified who are also sanctified. Holiness is the fruit and evidence of reconciliation with God. There is no condemnation to those who walk after the Spirit; and the righteousness of the law is fulfilled by those who walk after the Spirit. In both cases, the latter clause is designed to describe the class of persons who are entitled to appropriate to themselves the promise of justification in Christ.
4. Finally, as intimated in the above quotation from Calvin, it is not true that, the righteousness of the law, in the sense of complete obedience, is fulfilled in believers. The interpretation which makes the apostle say, that we are delivered from the law by the work of Christ, in order that the complete obedience which the law demands might be rendered by us, supposes what all Scripture and experience contradicts. For an exposition of the last clause of the verse, see v. l.

Friday, September 12, 2014

But Now! Apart From Works of the Law

As Michael Horton has pointed out, humans identify with law and works. It is our default position. Faith and trust in Christ alone, i.e. dependence on what Christ has done through the cross, is counter-intuitive and itself a gift of grace. Paul in Rom. 3:21, after showing how all are shut up in sin under the law, introduces the good news of justification by faith with the exclamation "But now!". We hear that good news and too often instinctively ask,"Yeah, but what do I need to do?" It's as if God has only started our justification through faith in Christ and now, in order to complete it and maintain it, we need to make sure we're holding up our end of the bargain.

Indeed, there are good works. But they necessarily proceed from our justification in Christ. Trusting in Christ alone for one's salvation results in a new heart (a work of the Holy Spirit) that is now alive to God and inclined toward obedience. Thus works flow from faith and thankfulness in light of his wondrous gift of forgiveness and justification. But these works (being yet imperfect) are never, partially or whole, the basis of our right standing before God. That righteous standing is secured solely on the basis of Christ's finished work of redemption. So to say "by faith alone" is to say "by faith in Christ's finished work of the cross alone", i.e. being declared righteous before God because of his perfect sacrifice for our sins and his perfect obedience on our behalf for our justification. Our motive then for obedience is one of thankful duty, not one of need or fear.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hart, Covenants, and Concerns...

Darryl Hart at his Old Life blog has a new post, Flattening Will Get You Nowhere, that I'm linking to as a follow up on yesterday's Machen, Jones, Quotes, Questions. Below is the lede to his post.


"Mark Jones wonders what is so controversial about the view that the covenant with Adam      was gracious:
. . . for the sake of argument, let’s say the Mosaic covenant has a meritorious element. Does that make it a republication of the covenant of works? Not necessarily. After all, you would have to re-define the covenant of works to make it a meritorious covenant. But what if you hold to the uncontroversial view that Adam, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, lived by faith in the Garden of Eden as he perfectly obeyed God’s law (for a time)? How is Sinai similar to that covenantal context and how is it different?
In other words, Adam was dependent on the work of grace to keep the law in a way comparable to what the Israelites experienced after the Mosaic Covenant. And as I gather from his interview (haven’t read his book yet), Jones also draws comparisons between Christ’s pursuit of holiness and the Christian’s similar endeavor. Lots of flattening in Jones’ reading of the Bible and history, though not much attention to Paul who may have provided a few reasons for not exalting every valley in redemptive history..."

Read Darryl's entire post here.