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.

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].

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