Sunday, July 5, 2015

Imputation Precedes Faith

Lord's Day 23:

At first view it seems absurd that we should be justified by any thing without us, or by something that belongs to another. It is necessary, therefore, that we should explain more fully how the satisfaction, or obedience of Christ becomes ours; for unless it be made ours, or be applied unto us, we cannot be justified by it, just as little as a wall can be white, if whiteness be not applied, or fixed upon it. We remark, then, that there are two ways in which the satisfaction of Christ is made over unto us: 
1. God himself applies it unto us, that is, he makes the righteousness of Christ over unto us, and accepts of us as righteous on account of it, as if it were ours. 
2. We apply it also unto ourselves when we receive the righteousness of Christ through faith, that is, we rest assured that God will grant it unto us, that he will regard us as righteous on account of it, and that he will free us from all guilt. 
There is, therefore, a double application; one in respect to God, and another in respect to us. The former is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, when God accepts of that righteousness which Christ wrought out, that it might avail in our behalf, and accounts us as righteous in view of it, as much so as if we had never sinned, or had at least fully satisfied for our sins. The other side of this application which has respect to us, is the act itself of believing, in which we are fully persuaded that it is imputed and given unto us. Both sides of this application must necessarily concur in our justification; for God applies the righteousness of Christ unto us upon the condition, that we also apply the same unto ourselves by faith. For although any one were to offer another a benefit, yet if he to whom it is offered does not accept of it, it is not applied unto him, and so does not become his. Hence without this last application the former is of no account. And yet our application of the righteousness of Christ is from God; for he first imputes it unto us, and then works faith in us, by which we apply unto ourselves that which is imputed; from which it appears that the application of God precedes that which we make, (which is of faith) and is the cause of it, although it is not without ours, as Christ says, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” (John 15:16)
Heidelberg Commentary, pp. 590-591 - Ursinus


  1. For when Paul says, that to believers reward is imputed not as of debt but of grace; and again, that the inheritance is of faith that it may be of grace, (Romans 4:4,) how is it possible in expounding it to give it any other meaning than that of free favor? What else is meant by a purpose of grace? One of the most striking passages is the first chapter to the Ephesians, where, going on word by word, he tells us that the Father hath made us acceptable to himself in the Son.

    Calvin, John. Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote

  2. WCF 11.1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

    The previous WCF chapter is Effectual Calling -

    10.2. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.

    Since one is not justified until they believe then it seems plausible, that since receiving by faith (justification) follows after imputing by God (11.1), that imputation of Christ's righteousness is to be found in the grace of effectual calling and by that grace the man is enabled to believe in Christ unto his justification.

  3. “Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” [Calvin. Institutes, 3.11.2]

    Horton, Michael S. (2011-01-04). The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Kindle Locations 15463-15465). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

  4. “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. The judicial ground for all the grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us.”

    Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology

  5. I certainly agree that God's imputation of Christ's death is logically (not temporally, as in a time-lag) prior to the elect sinner's faith in the gospel. The atonement of Christ is NOT imputed by God to us on the basis of the Spirit’s work of giving us faith. Christ gives us the Spirit on the legal basis of the imputation.

    But Bill Evans and Mark Jones (and other unionists) not only disagree with this but read it back into the tradition.

    Bill Evans—”This rootedness of justification in union with Christ has implications for our understanding of justification itself. To be justified in Christ is to be so joined with Christ that his own resurrection justification applies also to us. He was, as Paul declares in 1 Timothy 3:16 in reference to the resurrection, “justified in the Spirit”, and for this reason he was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). All this, of course, implies that justification is a legal judgment that is received through union with Christ.”

    mark: of course, which is why Evans thinks Horton and Godfrey and Hodge just do not “get it”.

    Bill Evans—”Many Reformed theologians have sought to protect the gratuity of justification by temporally sequestering it from transformation of life so as to underscore that justification cannot depend upon sanctification … But the result here is the same as the first, in that justification is abstracted from the ongoing life of faith. Thus it is that a good deal of conservative Reformed theology has been more or less unable to give a coherent account of the Christian life…..Much more satisfactory is the EARLY REFORMED CONCEPTION of the believer’s participation in Christ’s resurrection justification that has been more recently RETRIEVED by Geerhardus Vos, Richard Gaffin, and others….”

    In his introduction to the second edition of Gaffin’s By Faith, not by Sight, Mark Jones suggests that anybody who has a different order of salvation than Evena or Gaffin is antinomian.

    Mark Jones– “The position that faith followed imputation was not typical of Reformed thought in his day but rather was associated with antinomianism.”.

    Mark Jones—”Any view that posits faith as a consequence of imputation (John Cotton) is not the typical Reformed position.”

    Mark Jones—”The Lutheran view that justification precedes sanctification..ends up attributing to justification a renovative transformative element.”

    Mark Mcculley— that’s the same accusation which Lane Tipton makes. Mark Jones is dogmatic that “union” precedes imputation, and that “faith” precedes “union”.

    Does that not end up attributing to “union” a renovative transformative element?

    Does that not end up attributing to “faith” a renovative transformative element?

  6. Bruce Mccormack in What’s at Stake in Justification (p 104), asks us to considere the alternative that Christ is outside us as long as we are outside Christ forensically, that God’s imputation of Christ’s death results in Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit, because Christ’s death has purchased that Spirit’s work in the elect.

    p 110“The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus). Where that occurs, the life communicated from the vine to the branches flows organically…But the difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically.But in the case of Christ and the individual believer,the ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification.” That Paul in Romans 11 would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal.”

    Carl Trueman, p 96—”Owen claims that that the union of Christ with the elect in his atonement is not actual direct participation but that it must be understood in terms of federal representation. The imputation of sin to Christ is thus not strictly parallel to the imputation of Christ’s death to sinners. This is because it is not simply incarnation which is the foundation of salvation, but the covenant which lies behind the incarnation.”

  7. Richard Muller—“Use of the language of personal relationship with Jesus often indicates a qualitative loss of the traditional Reformation language of being justified by grace alone through faith in Christ and being, therefore, adopted as children of God in and through our graciously given union with Christ. Personal relationships come about through mutual interaction and thrive because of common interests. They are never or virtually never grounded on a forensic act such as that indicated in the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works – in fact personal relationships rest on a reciprocity of works or acts. The problem here is not the language itself: The problem is the way in which it can lead those who emphasize it to ignore the Reformation insight into the nature of justification and the character of believer’s relationship with God in Christ.

    Such language of personal relationship all too easily lends itself to an Arminian view of salvation as something accomplished largely by the believer in cooperation with God. A personal relationship is, of its very nature, a mutual relation, dependent on the activity – the works – of both parties.

    (“How Many Points?” Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28 (1993): 425-33 Riddelblog)

  8. Mike Horton—Even if it is granted that justification is an exclusively forensic declaration, the rest of the order of salvation has usually been treated in Reformed theology as the consequence of an entirely different event the implantation of new life in regeneration.” (Covenant and Salvation p 216)