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. 

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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Machen, Jones, Quotes and Questions...

Pulling quotes is hardly the best way to make comparisons when it comes to evaluating theology. And it certainly can give an inaccurate picture, so I'm open to that criticism on that score. But after reading Mark Jones' book, Antinomianism, I did come away with some concerns as to the template he is operating with when it comes to explaining how redeemed sinners live the Christian life. To what degree and in what way was Jesus Christ's life on earth the template or example for our sanctified living? What parallels are we to draw between Christ's sinless walk as the Lamb of God and ours as miserable offenders who by grace have trusted in him for salvation - an "It-is-finished" salvation secured by his shed blood and perfect obedience under the law for those whom he came to save.  Consider the quote comparisons below as a way to initially highlight some points in need of clarification and further inquiry.

J. Gresham Machen from his book, Christianity & Liberalism:
According to modern liberalism, in other words, Jesus was the Founder of Christianity because He was the first Christian, and Christianity consists in maintenance of the religious life which Jesus instituted. But was Jesus really a Christian? Or, to put the same question in another way, are we able or ought we as Christians to enter in every respect into the experience of Jesus and make Him in every respect our example? Certain difficulties arise with regard to this question…
But there is another difficulty in the way of regarding Jesus as simply the first Christian. This second difficulty concerns the attitude of Jesus toward sin. If Jesus is separated from us by his Messianic consciousness, He is separated from us even more fundamentally by the absence in Him of a sense of sin…
Once affirm that Jesus was sinless and all other men sinful, and you have entered into irreconcilable conflict with the whole modern point of view…
The religious experience of Jesus, as it is recorded in the Gospels, in other words, gives us no information about the way in which sin shall be removed.
Yet in the Gospels Jesus is represented constantly as dealing with the problem of sin. He always assumes that other men are sinful; yet He never finds sin in Himself. A stupendous difference is found here between Jesus’ experience and ours.

Mark Jones from his book, Antinomianism:
Christ is our mediator, our union with him means not only that we must be holy (i.e., necessity), but also that we will be able to be like him (i.e., motive)…
In other words, whatever grace we receive for our holiness first belonged to the Savior (John 1:16)…
How and in what power was Christ made holy? And what relation does his own pattern of holiness have to his people?…
He, like us, relied upon the Holy Spirit for his holiness (Isa. 11:2)….
Since Christ was rewarded for his good works, his people can rejoice that they too will be rewarded for their good works. In this way, the role of good works and rewards finds its Christological basis, which is crucial to any discussion of applied soteriology…