Thursday, August 30, 2012

Peter & Paul, and God's free mercy in Christ

Delving into the 2 Peter passage introduced in the previous post, here are some thoughts:

2 Pet. 1.1: “obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ…”
This echoes Paul’s words in Phi. 3 – 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…
and Romans 3:
21 But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; 24 being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:25 whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; 26 for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith. 28 We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.;
[Note that Paul makes a distinction between law and works, so as to exclude any kind of works belonging to us when it comes to our justification, even our salvation. "Where then is the glorying? It is excluded." This is supported by  Eph. 2:8-9, for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.]
This understanding, that man is justified by faith apart works is easily understood as the same with which Peter is writing as he opens his epistle. The admonitions to godly living that follow have the same thrust one finds elsewhere. We are saved by the righteousness of God that comes by faith for the very purpose of righteousness as evidenced by godly living, i.e. the fruit of the Spirit that Peter mentions. Being justified through faith alone doesn’t render these admonitions empty. Rather, because we are still sinners we need the Word of God in the imperative to convict us, sober us and direct us, that through faith and repentance we might more earnestly cling to Christ only, who died for our sins (being aware of how far we continually fall short) that we might live more faithfully unto God.
9 For he that lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins. 10 Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble:
As to “the blind”… these can be understood as the hypocrites, those who outwardly profess, but inwardly have no true faith in Christ. They have forgotten the cleansing of sin promised in their baptism in that their repentance wasn’t accompanied by faith. And Peter’s warning, if heeded, might yet result yet in true faith for these.
And overall, by attending to the things Peter admonishes, a believer will be all the more sure of God’s gracious call and election, not as an additional cause securing that salvation, but evidence affirming God’s gratuitous and free mercy, by the working of the Holy Spirit, through faith.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Calvin on 2 Peter 1

Jason Stellman, recent convert to Roman Catholicism, commented the following thoughts for discussion at Green Baggins on 2 Peter 1:3-11:

1. The whole discussion about fruitfulness and its resulting entrance into the eternal kingdom is rooted in the believer’s participation in the divine nature, which coincides perfectly with Jesus’ emphasis on union (“I in them, them in me”), as well as Paul’s (“in Christ”) and John’s (“abide in him”). Union rather than imputation seems to be the consistent emphasis on the part of the NT writers.

2. Faith alone, for Peter, is not enough for entering the eternal kingdom. It must be “added to” or “supplemented” with other spiritual fruits, the final of which is “love.” This is what James argues more directly when he says that “faith alone” justified neither Abraham nor Rahab, but “faith was active along with their works” (and in that context he cites familiar “loving your neighbor fulfills the law” refrain). It’s not hard to see the connection between this and “faith working through love.”

3. If these qualities are in us, we are “fruitful,” but if they are lacking, we are not just unfruitful Christians, but “blind.”

4. By reminding his readers that they had “escaped the corruption that is in the world” and were “cleansed from their former sins,” Peter seems to be saying (1) that such could be the case for people who fail to “enter the eternal kingdom,” and (2) that it was their “former sins” from which they were cleansed, and not all their sins, past, present, and future.

5. At the end, Peter ties together very explicitly the “practicing of these qualities” on the one hand, and “gaining an entrance into the eternal kingdom” on the other.

In response, John Calvin weighs in via his Commentary on the 2 Peter passage:

It may, however, be here asked, whether Peter, by assigning to us the work of supplying or adding virtue, thus far extolled the strength and power of free-will? They who seek to establish free-will in man, indeed concede to God the first place, that is, that he begins to act or work in us; but they imagine that we at the same time co-operate, and that it is thus owing to us that the movements of God are not rendered void and inefficacious.

But the perpetual doctrine of Scripture is opposed to this delirious notion: for it plainly testifies, that right feelings are formed in us by God, and are rendered by him effectual. It testifies also that all our progress and perseverance are from God. Besides, it expressly declares that wisdom, love, patience, are the gifts of God and the Spirit.

When, therefore, the Apostle requires these things, he by no means asserts that they are in our power, but only shews what we ought to have, and what ought to be done. And as to the godly, when conscious of their own infirmity, they find themselves deficient in their duty, nothing remains for them but to flee to God for aid and help....

But he that lacketh these things. He now expresses more clearly that they who profess a naked faith are wholly without any true knowledge. He then says that they go astray like the blind in darkness, because they do not see the right way which is shewn to us by the light of the gospel.  This he also confirms by adding this reason, because such have forgotten that through the benefit of Christ they had been cleansed from sin, and yet this is the beginning of our Christianity. It then follows, that those who do not strive for a pure and holy life, do not understand even the first rudiments of faith.

But Peter takes this for granted, that they who were still rolling in the filth of the flesh had forgotten their own purgation. For the blood of Christ has not become a washing bath to us, that it may be fouled by our filth. He, therefore, calls them old sins, by which he means, that our life ought to be otherwise formed, because we have been cleansed from our sins; not that any one can be pure from every sin while he lives in this world, or that the cleansing we obtain through Christ consists of pardon only, but that we ought to differ from the unbelieving, as God has separated us for himself. Though, then, we daily sin, and God daily forgives us, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins, yet sin ought not to rule in us, but the sanctification of the Spirit ought to prevail in us; for so Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 6:11, "And such were some of you; but ye are washed," etc...

Now a question arises, Whether the stability of our calling and election depends on good works, for if it be so, it follows that it depends on us. But the whole Scripture teaches us, first, that God's election is founded on his eternal purpose; and secondly, that calling begins and is completed through his gratuitous goodness. The Sophists, in order to transfer what is peculiar to God's grace to ourselves, usually pervert this evidence. But their evasions may be easily refuted. For if any one thinks that calling is rendered sure by men, there is nothing absurd in that; we may however, go still farther, that every one confirms his calling by leading a holy and pious life. But it is very foolish to infer from this what the Sophists contend for; for this is a proof not taken from the cause, but on the contrary from the sign or the effect.

Moreover, this does not prevent election from being gratuitous, nor does it shew that it is in our own hand or power to confirm election. For the matter stands thus, -- God effectually calls whom he has preordained to life in his secret counsel before the   foundation of the world; and he also carries on the perpetual course of calling through grace alone. But as he has chosen us, and calls us for this end, that we may be pure and spotless in his presence; purity of life is not improperly called the evidence and proof of election, by which the faithful may not only testify to others that they are the children of God, but also confirm themselves in this confidence, in such a manner, however, that they fix their solid foundation on something else.

At the same time, this certainty, mentioned by Peter, ought, I think, to be referred to the conscience, as though the faithful acknowledged themselves before God to be chosen and called. But I take it simply of the fact itself, that calling appears as confirmed by this very holiness of life. It may, indeed, be rendered, Labor that your calling may become certain; for the verb poieisthai is transitive or intransitive. Still, however you may render it, the meaning is nearly   the same.  The import of what is said is, that the children of God are distinguished from the reprobate by this mark, that they live a godly   and a holy life, because this is the design and end of election.

Hence it is evident how wickedly some vile unprincipled men prattle, when they seek to make gratuitous election an excuse for all licentiousness; as though, forsooth! we may sin with impunity, because we have been predestinated to righteousness and holiness!  For if ye do these things. Peter seems again to ascribe to the merits of works, that God furthers our salvation, and also that we continually persevere in his grace. But the explanation is obvious; for his purpose was only to shew that hypocrites have in them nothing real or solid, and that, on the contrary, they who prove their calling sure by good works, are free from the danger of falling, because sure and sufficient is the grace of God by which they are supported.

Thus the certainty of our salvation by no means depends on us, as doubtless the cause of it is beyond our limits. But with regard to those who feel in themselves   the efficacious working of the Spirit, Peter bids them to take courage as to the future, because the Lord has laid in them the solid foundation of a true and sure calling.  He explains the way or means of persevering, when he says, an entrance shall be ministered to you. The import of the words is this: "God, by ever supplying you abundantly with new graces, will lead you to his own   kingdom." And this was added, that we may know, that though we have already passed from death into life, yet it is a passage of hope; and   as to the fruition of life, there remains for us yet a long journey. In the meantime we are not destitute of necessary helps. Hence Peter obviates a doubt by these words, "The Lord will abundantly supply your need, until you shall enter into his eternal kingdom." He calls it the kingdom of Christ, because we cannot ascend to heaven except under his banner and guidance.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our hope of Righteousness...

For we through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness. (Gal. 5:5)
The way I understand it, the Roman Catholic (and all too many Christians) isn't so much as waiting for the hope of righteousness as cooperating with grace in order to progress to the final goal of attaining complete righteousness, hoping that he'll make it!
Whereas Paul is saying that, being justified by faith, we are now cleansed of our sins and clothed or covered with Christ’s perfect righteousness, which covering we receive and possess through faith in Him. I still sin and will continue to sin until the day I die. Yet by faith I stand secure before the throne of grace because Jesus my Advocate and Priest mediates my sin before that throne by His perfect sacrifice and merit. Why the hope? That with the resurrection of the body, on that day when I see Him as He is, I shall be made like Him, i.e. confirmed in a righteousness which He purchased with His own blood.
And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests… (Rev. 5:9-10)

Works and Justification...

Excerpts from Book 3 of Calvin's Institutes:

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, 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...

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... Thus he will be forced to confess that no good work exists that is not defiled, both by contrary transgression and also by its own corruption, so that it cannot be honored as righteousness...

Let us have done then with this frivolity, and confess the fact as it stands; if any righteousness which works are supposed to possess depends on justification by faith, this doctrine is not only not impaired, but on the contrary confirmed, its power being thereby more brightly displayed. Nor let us suppose, that after free justification works are commended, as if they afterwards succeeded to the office of justifying, or shared the office with faith. For did not justification by faith always remain entire, the impurity of works would be disclosed. There is nothing absurd in the doctrine, that though man is justified by faith, he is himself not only not righteous, but the righteousness attributed to his works is beyond their own deserts...

In this way we can admit not only that there is a partial righteousness in works, (as our adversaries maintain,) but that they are approved by God as if they were absolutely perfect. If we remember on what foundation this is rested, every difficulty will be solved. The first time when a work begins to be acceptable is when it is received with pardon. And whence pardon, but just because God looks upon us and all that belongs to us as in Christ? Therefore, as we ourselves when engrafted into Christ appear righteous before God, because our iniquities are covered with his innocence; so our works are, and are deemed righteous, because every thing otherwise defective in them being buried by the purity of Christ is not imputed...

Thus we may justly say, that not only ourselves, but our works also, are justified by faith alone... There is much less to trouble us in the name of righteous which is usually given to believers. I admit that they are so called from the holiness of their lives, but as they rather exert themselves in the study of righteousness than fulfill righteousness itself, any degree of it which they possess must yield to justification by faith, to which it is owing that it is what it is.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Calvin on Law & Gospel

John Calvin, The Institutes (2.9.4), 1536
By the term Law, Paul frequently understands that rule of holy living in which God exacts what is his due, giving no hope of life unless we obey in every respect; and, on the other hand, denouncing a curse for the slightest failure. This Paul does when showing that we are freely accepted of God, and accounted righteous by being pardoned, because that obedience of the Law to which the reward is promised is nowhere to be found. Hence he appropriately represents the righteousness of the Law and the Gospel as opposed to each other. But the Gospel has not succeeded the whole Law in such a sense as to introduce a different method of salvation. It rather confirms the Law, and proves that every thing which it promised is fulfilled. What was shadow, it has made substance...

A righteousness found in Christ...

In light of the debate regarding the competing views of the believer's righteousness as presented by Roman Catholics and Protestants, I wanted to highlight two sentences from comment #139, at Green Baggins, by Jeff Cagle who is responding to Jason Stellman.  Rome teaches an infused righteousness defined as agape in the believer.  Reformed Protestants teach a righteousness imputed to the believer in Christ Jesus.

From Jeff's comment:
-Our sins are forgiven on the basis of a righteousness that is not our own, but is had by being ‘in Christ’, by faith (Phil 3)... 
-It is ‘us in Christ’ and not ‘Christ in us’, that is the basis for our acceptance as God’s children. 

When it comes to understanding the argument for imputed righteousness against that of infused righteousness, the above sentences point to a crucial theme of Paul's summed up in the two words 'in Christ.'  That theme is found clearly Romans 6.  Here, it seems to me, Paul is strongly making the case that it is 'in Christ' that the believer receives the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection because His death is our death, His resurrection is our resurrection.  His penalty-paying is accounted to us.  We paid the penalty for sin in Christ.  His vindication/justification in His resurrection is our justification.

Several key phrases that Paul uses in the first part of chapter six of Romans:
- all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death
- buried with Him through baptism into death
- united with Him in the likeness of His death
- we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection
- our old man was crucified with Him 
- for he who has died is freed from sin.
- For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all

In those phrases, as well as others, imputation and substitution are interwoven into Paul's presentation of the good news of reconciliation to God of sinners in Christ Jesus.  Good news that the penalty for sin is paid in Christ... there is forgiveness of sins in Christ... and sinners are reckoned righteous through faith in Christ.

The righteousness that comes from God is not an infused-righteousness to be found within the believer, as if it were his own.  Rather it is the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer, when by grace he is "found in Him, not having [his] own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith..." (Phil. 3:9).

- A couple added thoughts from an earlier post in 2010:

And although Christians, as recipients of a new heart and right-will through regeneration by the Holy Spirit, may by His grace exhibit the fruit of godliness on many occasions, yet never in this life do they own inherent godliness within themselves.

Godliness and salvation are in Christ alone, received and held through faith in Christ alone by God's efficacious work of grace in our hearts. No work of merit on our part secures them nor maintains them.