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. 

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.


  1. Excellent work, Jack, love it!

  2. Jack,

    Really appreciate your contributions in clarifying these points for me; I am a layman but very interested in these discussions. 7 stars (Sincerely, Genuinely)!

  3. Thank you... to both of my Anonymous readers.

  4. Smeaton, Apostles Doctrine of the Atonement, p 178–“Romans 8:4–That the righteousness of the law would be fulfilled in us. That is so like another expression of the same apostle, that the two passages might fitly be compared for mutual elucidation (II Cor 5:21). This expression cannot be referred to any inward work of renovation; for no work or attainment of ours can with any propriety of language be designated a “fulfillment of the righteousness of the law”.

    The words, “the righteousness of the law,” are descriptive of Christ’s obedience as the work of one for many (Romans 5:18). This result is delineated as the end contemplated by Christ’s incarnation and atonement, and intimates that as He was made a sin-offering, so are we regarded as full-fillers of the law…”

  5. Mark Jones is still astonished that these famous dead people "read justification into sanctification".

    Mark Jones--Good scholars, theologians, and pastors can sometimes have such an aversion to the dangers of moralism, “neonomianism,” or legalism, etc., that they seem to approach the Scriptures in a way where they see “imputation” in places where the Scriptures are speaking rather obviously about the habitual righteousness of God’s people (cf. Matt. 5:20 as an example). A “justification–centrism” approach to the Scriptures is robbing us of a doctrine of good works and rewards that God intended to be a blessing to his people and not a curse. I think we actually harm the doctrine of justification by faith alone (whereby our sins are forgiven and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us) when we find this doctrine in places where the Scripture is speaking about sanctification. Opponents of this Reformation doctrine end up finding our case so weak that we have to strain for the doctrine in places we have no business finding the doctrine of justification.

    Mark Jones—“A wise man once said, we should not turn the covenant of grace into a covenant of works. We should also not let our proper concern about legalism turn sanctification into justification. The moment that occurs, you are dead (i.e., a gospel threat)

    Mark Jones–“There is a word used by Arminius: acceptilatio. The concept behind the word is good, but Arminians place it in the wrong category, namely, justification. Imperfect faith is “accepted” as righteousness.. The Reformed, however, view imputation as secundum veritatem – God considers Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness, precisely because it is, through union with Christ. …So in saying that God accepts our imperfect obedience, we must be careful not to bring this “acceptilatio” into the realm of justification, but keep it in the realm of sanctification.”

    Mark Jones--The obedience we offer to God does not have to be sinless obedience or perfect obedience, but it must be sincere obedience. Sincere obedience means we may be called “blameless.” ... It is wrong-headed, I believe, to suppose that we exalt the grace of God by suggesting that the only righteousness pleasing to God is Christ’s righteousness. This is a radical form of substitution that would confuse any honest reader of the Scriptures. God manifests his grace not only in providing a perfect (imputed) righteousness that can withstand the full demands of his law, but also an inherent, imperfect righteousness that he declares to be both good and pleasing

  6. The mercy seat sits over the Law commandments. Our imperfect obedience (i.e. obedience still measured as sinful before God's holy and unyielding standard) is accepted by God our Father for Christ's sake alone. Regarding our works...

    //Notwithstanding, the persons of believers not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God's sight;w but that he, , is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections. WCF 16:6//

  7. John Murray--In Romans 8:3, the apostle had spoken of the impotence of the law. How then can the apostle construe the holiness of the Christian state as the fulfillment of the law's requirement? The fact, however, cannot be disputed and it is conclusive proof that the law of God has the fullest normative relevance in that state which is the product of grace. The dictating power in their lives is not the flesh but the Holy Spirit. By grace there is no antinomy between the law as demanding and the Holy Spirit as energising. "The law is spiritual". Romans 7:14

  8. Why an either/ or antithesis? see John Murray, p 279 Satisfying the law could not overcome the power of sin "in that it was weak through the flesh" The flesh is sinful human nature. As confronted by sin, satisfying the law can do nothing to meet the exigency created by the flesh. ..."And for sin" Although it would be in accord with scripture with Scripture to regard sin as meaning sin imputed or sin offering. BUT THERE IS NO GOOD REASON to inject any other thought but that when the Father sent the Son it was for the purpose of DEALING WITH SIN. ...Sin has been deprived of its power and the beneficiaries walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit....Jesus not only blotted out sin's guilt but also vanquished sin as power. ....Freedom from condemnation MUST EMBRACE freedom from the judgment of sin's power as well as the judgment of sin's guilt. Romans 8:4 will have to be regarded as the singed effect in us of the judgment executed on the power of sin in the cross of Jesus AND of the inwardly operative power of the Holy Spirit emanating from the cross. It is eloquent of the apostle's view of the place of the law of God in the believer's life that the apostle should conceive of the holiness in the life of the believer as the fulfillment of God's law.