Friday, February 29, 2008

People Need the Lord

 The Apostle John said - Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you (1 John 3:13).  Having recently posted a video review of Hitchens' book god is not Great, I have been reminded of the Apostle's wisdom concerning the predictability of the world's vehemence against Christ.  I would ask that you pray that some of these critics of Christ would watch the above video and consider the folly of "atheism" while giving an ear to the Gospel as it is presented in both the You Tube and God Tube versions.  People need the Lord.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Christopher Hitchens Believes in God...

...or at least we can say that Christopher Hitchens knows very well that God exists, and that by using the word "believe," I mean no more than what is taught in James 2:19.  Ultimately, men like Mr. Hitchens live in the denial of their innate knowledge of God because all men are in fact suppressive persons (SP).  No, I don't mean SP as denoted in the vernacular of Scientology (SP = anyone who opposes Scientology).  Instead, by calling men suppressive I mean this:

Romans 1:18: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness...

Apart from grace, all men suppress (katechonton > hold down, hide) the fact that they know the truth about God, His righteousness, and His coming wrath.  As to this latter point, men tend to resist the truth of God's wrath with special fervor, and for this reason the doctrine of hell is often tossed about like an unwanted rag-doll; even by those who profess to believe the truth of the Gospel.  Having mentioned Mr. Hitchens in this context, let me add another player into this discussion of suppression -  Mr. Brian McLaren.  Consider what Mr. McLaren has to say about the doctrine of Hell:

McLaren: This is, one of the huge problems is the traditional understanding of hell. Because if the cross is in line with Jesus’ teaching then—I won’t say, the only, and I certainly won’t say even the primary—but a primary meaning of the cross is that the kingdom of God doesn’t come like the kingdoms of the this world, by inflicting violence and coercing people. But that the kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing, voluntary sacrifice. But in an ironic way, the doctrine of hell basically says, no, that that’s not really true. That in the end, God gets His way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination, just like every other kingdom does. The cross isn’t the center then. The cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God. [Interview With Brian McLaren, By Leif Hansen]

What we have here, in McLaren's intuitive theology, is a classic example of a man who has chosen to place all his bets on a deity that only possesses a handful of attributes - as in love, mercy, and grace.  This is one of the central legacies of theological liberalism: just take the God of the Bible and redress Him with a few threads of divine attributes, while casting aside all other aspects of His character, like His holiness, righteousness & justice.  This little trick is called jelly-bean theology - just pick out the ones that you don't like, and eat only what satisfies your personal taste.

Mr. McLaren's theology of Hell is completely devoid of...theology.  Sadly, his notion of truth represents the theological trend of the past 100 years here in America, and it is becoming more mainstream via the Emergent Church movement. 

Now let us compare Mr. McLaren and Mr. Hitchens for a moment.  As odd as it may seem, Mr. McLaren's doctrine of hell is actually exceeded by the "atheist," Christopher Hitchens!  I say this because on several occasions, Mr. Hitchens has expressed a wish for the existence of hell so that some transgressors on our planet could receive the just judgment that Mr. Hitchens believes they deserve.  With reference to this, Hitchens has expressed his desire that Jerry Falwell and the Archbishop of Canterbury to go to the Lake of Fire; as well, he has frequently called "Mother Theresa" the Angel of Hell.  Clearly, as an atheist, Mr. Hitchens' views of justice and truth are rooted in nothing more than his own intuition of justice - which, like a sine wave, only intersects the axis of truth from time to time; however, within the crucible of his angry rants are the remnants of this suppressed truth:  "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men..."  Hitchens would no doubt claim that his statements regarding hell are ironic, and yet his emotive rants do reveal a desire within his heart for some form of divine justice - albeit subjectively defined by his own views of truth.  The point here is this -

It's a sad day in America when an atheist's notion of hell & justice exceeds that of a reputed "Christian" theologian.

Strangely, Hitchens is closer to the concept of hell than is the "theologian" Brian McLaren - and yet, neither of them comprehend this important doctrine in any real sense.  In the broader scheme of things, both men are suppressing the truth of God's holiness, justice, and wrath through their own stilted opinions.  One does it by means of the false garb of religion, while the other does it via the self-deception of "atheism." 

In the end, they both amount to nothing but a denial of God's authority and truth.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Religions of Hatred

often find myself repeating Solomon's wisdom concerning the wickedness of mankind:

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10: 9 That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”? Already it has existed for ages which were before us."

This world, along with fallen humanity itself, yields nothing that is ever substantially new.  Based upon this truth, I no longer look at anything in the present day as a novelty, rather I see the innovations of modern man as being nothing more than a tired-out rehashing of humanity's longstanding devotion to sin, corruption, and all that is deemed as useless in the eyes of almighty God.  Thus, whenever men craft a "new" philosophy or a "new" religion, we can be sure that such a "new" thing "already has existed for ages which were before us."  This principle is most often seen in the generational rehashings of man-made religion.  At the most fundamental level, all man-made religions share the common thread of rejecting biblical Christianity.  This is most often evidenced by means of direct denials of Christ's deity, His crucifixion, and His exclusivity as the only Savior of mankind.  However, for the scores of people who don't even understand such doctrinal matters regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ, they should still be able to see obvious differences between the false religions of this world and the genuine article of Christianity.  The differences of which I speak are that of hatred versus love. There are many false religions of the modern day which show their true colors by means of the hatred that they have for their critics and defectors.  Uniquely, it is the Christian who loves his enemies - even those who persecute, mock and criticize them (Matt. 5:43-48); and yet we don't have to go very far to find examples of false religionists who are eager to persecute, mock, and hate their opponents.  We have recently seen the barrage of hate supplied by the disciples of Muhammed who will gladly "behead those who insult Islam."  The westernized version of this doctrine is seen in the form of the countless lawsuits leveled against anyone who dares to question the actions and teachings of Islam.  In America, we have litigious hatred that is expressed by Islamic groups like C.A.I.R., and Canada is getting a taste of this same vehemence via the Alberta Human Rights Commission vs. Ezra Levant here.  Needless to say, these westernized followers of Muhammed are not the only perpetuators of litigious violence.  Consider, for example, the "doctrine" of L. Ron Hubbard who taught his followers that the detractors of Scientology should be met with vengeance:

SP Order.  Fair game.  May be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist.  May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.  [HUBBARD COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE, Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex Remimeo.  HCO Policy Letter of 18 October 1967, Issue IV]

"SP" stands for "Suppressive Person" - i.e., any critic of Scientology.  The evidences of this hateful policy are here with us today, as in the case of the BBC program, Panorama - Scientology and Me:

Despite the ugliness of what takes place in the program produced by BBC's Panorama, it should be noted that such abuse is quite mild in comparison to the vast lineup of people who have been harassed, persecuted, and even sued by the "church" of Scientology.  The many testimonies of these victims stand as the stark evidence of Hubbard's "Fair Game" doctrine of hatred and retribution; and while the church of Scientology's doctrine of vengeance does not explicitly include the beheading of "SP's," we should still remember that such retributive policies are only a few degrees away from the ancient and violent standards of Mohammedanism.  In the end, these religions unveil a common essence of hatred:

James 1:20: ...the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

All of this I offer to the reader for two important reasons: 

1.  For Christians - let this be a reminder to us about what it means to imitate the Lord our God.  Being salt and light in this world means imitating our Heavenly Father who "causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:45).  It is not for us to take vengeance on our critics, but instead we are called to obey Christ who said:  “...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44).  We are called to more than just speaking the Gospel - we are called to live it in the presence of men.

2.  For non-Christians - please read #1 above (if you haven't already).  Do know that you will meet many people in your life who name the name of Christ, but seem to serve a religion of hatred rather than of love.  When such experiences come your way, recall to mind the words of Christ above and remember that Hell will be filled with such false pretenders (Matt. 7:21-23).  People who walk perpetually in hatred and vengeance are not serving Christ - so do not be deceived.  But do know this - the Gospel's message of grace and mercy is coming to an end; and it will come to an end when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.  This is why the Christian does not exact vengeance upon the critics of Christ, for only Christ has been given the prerogative of such judgment (John 5:26-27, Revelation 6:12-17); and when His judgment comes, God's Gospel of grace and mercy, in Christ alone, will end.  So do not be deceived.  God's patience is indeed great, but it will not endure forever.

Christianity is the one unique gem which sits atop the dark backdrop of man-made religion.  It glistens with brilliance in contrast to the lightless void which surrounds it, therefore the religious harbingers of hatred are quite evident, revealing the clear differences between the children of God and the children of the Devil [1 John 3:10-13].  In many respects, those who believe that vengeance is their prerogative are in fact looking to take the place of God Himself.  Let no one be deceived - this is nothing less than human pride, arrogance, and blasphemy - the very worn-out things that have been around since the fall of mankind.

Indeed, nothing is new...

Update:  I would also recommend the following video which surveys Hubbard's life.  Frankly speaking it is an interesting illustration of how men will gladly believe a lie rather than believe the truth.  Hubbard seemed to understand this principle and he exploited it to the fullest measure.  Ultimately, L. Ron Hubbard was nothing more than a science-fiction writer - from his beginning and to his bitter end:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Guest Post: The Theological Journal, Part II

THEME: HYPER-CALVINISM PART 2 of 3 Review by your Editor

James Zaspel

n the first of three articles critiquing the errors of hyper-Calvinism which were never held by true or Reformed Calvinism, we discussed their first of three erroneous doctrines - Eternal Justification.

This is the doctrine whereby they believe that since we are the elect from eternity, we are justified from eternity. That God decreed the justification of all of his elect from eternity cannot be denied, but everywhere justification is said to be by faith (Rom.1:16; 3:22,26,28.30; Gal. 2;16; Phil. 3:9, etc.  Such faith is the instrumental, but not the meritorious cause of justification. The meritorious cause is the redemptive work of Christ. Faith is the means, the instrumental cause.

Hyper-Calvinists make election the reference point (the grid) through when they understand justification. But one cannot do this without twisting biblical statements and forcing them into a mold they do not fit.

Even the elect (before salvation) are unbelieving sinners, guilty, ungodly and condemned already (Jn.3:18,36). Before faith, the elect are the objects of wrath. That is, before faith the elect are not justified. God justifies only the believing sinner. How can a yet unbelieving sinner be declared righteous? Justification is a great transaction that hinges on faith and union with Christ experienced at conversion. Until a sinner is united to Christ by faith, he is not yet freed from condemnation (Rom.5:1).

 

REGENERATION:  Part 2 of 3
Mediate or Immediate?
by

Fred Zaspel

Theological Clarification

egeneration is the life-giving work of God in which he brings the sinner out of spiritual death, thus radically transforming his inner being. Scripture variously represents regeneration as a New Birth (e.g., Jn. 1:12, Jn.3:1ff) Resurrection (e.g., Rom. 6: 3-11, Eph. 2:5), Creation (2 Cor. 4:6, 5:17, Gal. 6:15, Eph. 2:10), and Restoration of sight (e.g., Jn. 3:3, 9:39, 2 Cor. 4:4- One point rising from all these metaphors is that Regeneration is a Divine work – something God alone does and in which man is passive. Regeneration entails a new disposition on the part of the individual, transforming him in "new life" toward God bringing him to repentance and faith resulting in Conversion (1Jn. 5:1), and his on-going progress in holiness (2 Cor. 3:18).

With this much virtually all Calvinists agree. Some debate exists, however, concerning the means of regeneration. Reformed interpreters have traditionally held that God sovereignly employs his Word, the gospel, in bringing sinners to life. This position is sometimes referred to as mediate, or gospel regeneration. Some among the "higher" (Hyper) Calvinists espouse a view of immediate regeneration and argue that God uses no such means at all in regeneration — He sovereignly brings the sinner to life apart from any means whatever. God uses his Word / the gospel in conversion, bringing individuals to an awareness of their new life, but he does not use his Word in bringing them to life. He does this without the use of any means(immediately)

In the course of defending immediate regeneration, advocates will commonly but mistakenly characterize gospel regeneration as advocating the Arminian notion that regeneration comes by means of the sinner’s response to the gospel and that regeneration is dependent upon so much human activity.

This mis-characterization of gospel regeneration often drives the opposition to it, and

arguments are too often advanced on this level. But this misunderstanding / misrepresentation only clouds the discussion. The traditional Reformed position of gospel regeneration entertains no such notions at all. It simply holds that God sovereignly employs the gospel, making it effective in the experience of his elect as he calls them in grace to faith. Both sides in this debate agree that regeneration is a work of God alone, that regeneration is not given "in response" to faith or anything human, that regeneration precedes faith, and that the gospel / God’s Word has no power of itself either to regenerate or convert. All these things both sides affirm together. The question does not turn on questions of divine sovereignty but of the sovereign use of the gospel.

Gospel regeneration does not hold that the new birth is dependent upon human response. This is sheer Arminianism. Rather, it holds simply that God alone gives life and that he does so by means of the Word of God. This was the position of John Calvin and of John Owen and consistently of Reformed interpreters generally. Since Reformation times Reformed theologians have maintained a healthy, Biblical emphasis on"the Spirit and the Word." It is not the Word alone that accomplishes anything. But neither does the Spirit work in a vacuum — he works by means of the Word of God. Again, God alone regenerates, and he does so by means of the gospel.

That God gives life by means of the gospel is in no way a capitulation to Arminianism. Indeed, if that were the case then the charge of "Arminian" could be used against the immediate regeneration position also, as most of its adherents affirm that God uses the gospel as the instrument of conversion. In neither case is the instrumental means dependent upon human response. Rather, in both cases the instrumental means (the Word) brings about the human response. That is to say, God uses his own powerful Word both in regeneration and in conversion. In the one case it results in life; in the other it results in faith. In neither case is the "power unto salvation" left to human agency. it is in both cases God at work through his own Word.

Exegetical Considerations

1 Pet. 1:23 says that we are "born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, through (dia) the living and enduring word of God." Unquestionably a first reading of this verse would lead us to think in terms of gospel regeneration. That is what it manifestly seems to say — that the new birth comes via God’s Word. Calvin comments here accordingly:

For, as in Hebrews 4:12, because God sees all things, and nothing is hid from him, the apostle argues that the word of God penetrates into the inmost marrow, so as to discern thoughts and feelings; so, when Peter in this place calls him the living God, who abides for ever, he refers to the word, in which the perpetuity of God shines forth as in a living mirror.

Calvin’s comments are self-evidently appropriate to this passage.

By contrast, advocates of immediate regeneration strain the language of the text beyond its limits and assert, surprisingly, that since in this phrase Peter says dia (and not ek) he indicates that the Word of God is the means of conversion but not regeneration. But this surprising assertion is so patently not what Peter says it scarcely requires rebuttal. The verse plainly says that regeneration comes via the Word. The Word as the means of conversion is not the subject addressed in this verse. Advocates of immediate regeneration need for it to say that, so they assert that it is so. But the text itself does not say it at all. It says very simply that regeneration comes via the living Word of God. Simply put, the gospel is the instrumental means of regeneration — that is the plain statement of the text.

Since James 1:18 affirms the very same thing, even though with different terminology, we needn’t spend much time on it. James says "Of his [God’s] own will he brought us forth by the word of truth." Here is the traditional Reformed position stated exactly. God and God alone ("of his own will") brings us to life by means of the gospel. Again, this is the easiest first reading of the text, and it would be difficult to imagine what else it could mean. Opponents argue that the terminology involved (apokueo) indicates birth rather than conception and that birth, in turn, indicates conversion not regeneration. But such a strained interpretation is unconvincing to say the least. It is virtually unthinkable that James’ readers would have made such fine distinctions and understood these words in such a complicated way. It just is not, in Greek or in English, the face reading of the text. It is obvious how hyper-Calvinists, advocates of immediate regeneration, could read the verse in this way, but they must, in order to maintain their position. However, such a reading of the text is clearly presuppositionally and not exegetically driven. The text itself simply cannot be made to bear all that weight.

Again, 1 Pet.1:23 and James 1:18 affirm explicitly the traditional Reformed position — God alone gives new life, and he does it by means of his life-giving Word.

These two verses are probably the clearest, most succinct statements of the doctrine. But there is more. The apostle Paul affirms the same in 1 Cor. 1:17-31. His whole argument here can be reduced very simply to this: Because of the darkness of the unregenerate heart, men find the gospel "foolish" however, this gospel, when coupled with God’s efficacious call to those whom he has chosen, proves powerful in bringing life and faith. Nor can this be relegated to a discussion of conversion merely, although conversion surely has a rightful place in the interpretation of this passage. Paul’s statement is specific — the gospel coupled with God’s call proves powerful. Unless there is some way to separate God’s call from regeneration at some biblically unprecedented distance, this passage demands the traditional Reformed interpretation — that God brings sinners to life by means of the gospel. Once again, Paul’s thinking assumes the utility of the gospel in God’s sov ereign regenerating work.

Closely related to this is 2 Thess.2:13-14, where Paul says plainly that we who are saved have been "called to (eis) this through (dia) the gospel." Again, it would require an unwarranted separation of calling and regeneration to relegate this text to a discussion of conversion merely and not regeneration. The plain assumption of the verse is that of the utility of the gospel in calling and, therefore, in regeneration. It is in this same vein that the New Testament writers speak of the "power" of the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 1 Thess. 1:5, etc.). God’s Word is powerful not just in conversion but in regeneration which brings about conversion.

And with all this it is difficult to understand Paul’s claims in 2 Cor. 3:1-6 in any other light. Here he characterizes his ministry as a ministry that in God’s grace results in life and deep renewing of heart?

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant — not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

It would seem impossible to understand this in any way other than that Paul saw his gospel / new covenant ministry as a ministry that in God’s powerful grace brought about regeneration. It is so plainly stated – the Spirit writing on the heart, giving life– that further comment is scarcely required. As Paul understood it, his gospel was a gospel that in God’s hands was life-giving.

This theology is illustrated for us in the experience of Lydia in Acts 16:14. The narrative plainly says that Paul preached and then that God opened Lydia’s heart to receive that preached Word. It was not Paul who did the regenerating or the converting — he affirms that in 1 Cor. 1 when he says the gospel is effective only when coupled with God’s efficacious call. The Word preceded the giving of life and in God’s sovereign hands was a means to it. The narrative of Ezek. 37 reads the same. The prophet is commanded to preach to the bones and then to the winds, and in turn God gave life. This is the traditional Reformed view exactly.

More subtle but much to the same point are Paul’s earlier words to these same believers in Corinth.

Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel (1 Cor. 4:15).

Similarly his words to the Galatians:

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you (Gal.4:19).

These words seem to reflect, particularly in the light of all we have seen elsewhere in the New Testament, that Paul understood his ministry as, in God’s sovereign grace, resulting in life. It would be difficult to understand how the apostle could speak so unguardedly if in fact he believed held to the position you advocate.

Brief mention should be made of 2 Tim. 1:10 briefly.

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Hyper-Calvinists, the advocates of immediate regeneration, take this verse to mean that the gospel brings the regenerate to simply become aware of their new life. But this is to "personalize" the verse beyond its intent. Paul’s statement is that Christ by his death and resurrection has accomplished these great things that, in turn, are preached in the Christian gospel. Once again, the language cannot be made to bear any more weight than this.

Synthesis

All of this squares perfectly well with all those many passages which affirm God’s sovereignty in regeneration (John 3, Eph. 2, etc.), that regeneration precedes faith (Phil. 1:29; 1 Jn. 5:1; etc.), that God alone gives ears to hear, that man is willing only in the day of God’s power, etc. God and God alone, gives life. And he does not give life in response to our faith or anything else about the sinner. It is his work alone. But it is no less his work because he does so by means of his Word — this is a false disjunction that only hinders clarity in the discussion. God’s Word alone accomplishes nothing. But his Word coupled with his Spirit is powerfully life-giving.

Regeneration and Conversion

Finally, the doctrine of immediate regeneration forces a wedge of considerable distance between regeneration and conversion that simply cannot be sustained exegetically. Strictly speaking, regeneration and conversion are not actually simultaneous — regeneration must precede faith and give rise to it (1 Jn. 5:1). Extrapolating from this technical distinction, the doctrine of immediate regeneration holds that regeneration occurs in a vacuum, apart from the gospel, and that a person may therefore be born again for any indefinite length of time before believing. However reasonable this theological notion may seem, it is impossible to sustain exegetically. And for an obvious reason:

The Bible knows of no regenerate unbelievers. There simply is none. The Bible knows only of regeneration issuing in faith, and in the Biblical record there is no evident time lapse between regeneration and conversion. Indeed, many hold that regeneration and conversion are simultaneous for these reasons exactly — the Bible knows of no regenerate unbelievers, regeneration necessarily and inevitably shows itself in faith, and in the Biblical record this faith always comes immediately upon regeneration. Regeneration is unto faith. And all this brings us back very close to our original discussion of regeneration by means of the gospel. Accordingly, the standard Reformed Confessions, both Presbyterian and Baptist, scarcely reflect any distinction between regeneration and conversion at all — not because they would deny such but that biblically understood the one inevitably implies and results in the other. Regeneration and conversion simply cannot be separated so dras tically as demanded by immediate regeneration. It is to drive a wedge between the two that Scripture simply will not allow.

Summary

That God sovereignly calls and gives life by means of the gospel is the plain statement of several New Testament passages and the necessary implication of several more. The traditional Reformed interpretation as advocated by so many such as John Calvin, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon, and the Confessions rests on solid exegetical ground. And it lends no support whatever to any Arminian notion of salvation via human initiative any more than does the teaching of gospel conversion. God alone gives life, and God alone converts. And he does so by means of his powerful, life-giving and faith-giving Word. To believe otherwise impedes our obedience to the Great Commission.

Guest Post: The Theological Journal, Edited by Jim Zaspel

PART I:  ETERNAL JUSTIFICATION

A CRITIQUE

by

by Fred G. Zaspel

Definition

ustification is a pronouncement of righteousness. It is God’s "legal" or official declaration that a person is "righteous" before him as judged by his law. This righteous standing is grounded in the person and work of Christ, the sinner’s substitute who took the sinner’s guilt to himself on the cross under the judgment of God and therefore satisfied the just demands of God against him. In turn, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner, and he is given a new status, standing now before God free of all his sin and credited with all the righteousness of Christ. In short, Christ in his redemptive work is the meritorious cause of justification (solus Christus).

But exactly when this justification is applied to the elect is a question on which Reformed theologians have not always agreed. Traditionally, Reformed Theology has affirmed that sinners are justified / pronounced righteous before God upon faith in Christ. This is the well-known Reformation dogma, justification by faith alone (sola fide).

The doctrine of "eternal justification," (held by "higher" or hyper-Calvinists) by contrast, affirms that God pronounces elect sinners righteous from eternity, that their justification is not made actual or complete in time but in eternity past. So they teach that though a given elect sinner is yet unregenerate and unbelieving, he is justified, and his coming to faith merely brings to him a realization of his eternal justification by God’s grace.

Eternal justification reasons from the standpoint of God’s eternal and electing decree. God chose a people to save and decreed that Christ the Son would come as their substitute and surety in anticipation of which the elect are pronounced righteous in Christ. They are "in Christ" from eternity by God’s decree and are therefore justified from eternity.

Being "in Christ" from eternity they cannot be considered guilty but stand righteous before God based on the redemptive work of Christ.

 

Problems / Critique

That God decreed from eternity the justification of his elect cannot be denied. Yet several observations serve to militate conclusively against the doctrine of eternal justification.

First, justification is everywhere said to be "by faith" (pistei [simple dative of means], ek pisteos, epi pistei, dia pisteos (Rom. 1:16, 3:22, 26, 28, 30; 5:1;Gal.2:16; Phil.3:9,etc). That is, faith is said to be the instrumental (but not the meritorious) cause of justification. The meritorious cause of justification is the redemptive work of Christ. Faith is the means, the instrumental cause. Justification is by grace through faith.

Paul emphasizes that God justifies the believing sinner so repeatedly it can scarcely be missed. "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:3). He was not justified before God by his works, but righteousness was credited to him through the instrument of faith. "With the heart you believe and are justified" (Rom. 10:10). "Through him everyone who believes is justified" (Acts 13:39). "So we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ" (Gal. 2:16). Righteousness is imputed not by works but by faith (Rom. 4:5). And on this listing of Biblical statements could go. The Biblical language pervasively speaks of justification in terms of a transaction that hinges on faith, and this language is rendered meaningless if, as advocates of eternal justification demand, it means that by faith the elect merely become conscious of a justification that was already theirs.

Closely related to this is the simple statement of Rom. 5:1 that peace with God comes as a result of justification by faith — "Having been justified by faith we have peace with God." Similarly, Rom. 5:2 states that access into grace comes via faith, not by eternal decree — "through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand." It is not that the already-justified person by faith merely becomes aware of his already-bestowed privileges but rather that these blessings (peace, access, etc.) are themselves attained by faith. These kinds of statements go much further than the doctrine of eternal justification can allow.

Nor is this a challenge to grace as though faith were a work for which the believer is rewarded, for "it is of faith that it might be by grace" (Rom. 4:16).

                                     

Faith is simply the instrumental means. "The [justifying] righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13; 10:6) is the righteousness of Christ imputed to the elect by means of faith. The point is too obvious to mistake — justification comes to us by faith.

Similarly, because justification is by faith, justification is said also to follow calling in the ordo solutis (Rom. 8:30). Justification does not precede faith — it is granted to those who are called to faith.

Further, although Scripture does speak of us as "in Christ" from eternity, it also speaks of our union with Christ as an experience in time, when we believe. For example, In Rom. 16:5 Paul speaks of his "dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert in Asia to be in Christ" (aparche tes Asias eis Christon). Similarly in Rom. 16:7 he speaks of Andronicus and Junias "who were in Christ before me" (pro emou gegonan en Christon). These words are meaningless read on the grid of eternal justification. Unmistakably, union with Christ is experienced in time. Accordingly, in 2 Cor. 5:17 the apostle describes our union with Christ as the experience by which we become a new creation, the event at which time "old things pass away and all things become new." Not until Saul of Tarsus turned away from his own merit to trust in Christ alone could he receive justifying righteousness and be found in Christ (Phil. 3:7-9). To be sure, none of this is to deny the fact t hat the elect are chosen in Christ from eternity. But it is to affirm that there is an in-time experiential aspect to our union with Christ that the doctrine of eternal justification cannot accommodate.

Moreover, the New Testament plainly describes all unbelievers as "condemned already" (Jn. 3:18; cf. 3:36). "Just as" all the non-elect, believers were themselves children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3) and are therefore brands snatched from the fire that apart from faith would have

been their end (Zech. 3:2). Before faith the elect are guilty, condemned, and the objects of God’s wrath. That is to say, they are not yet justified. God justifies the believing sinner (Rom. 4:5). Once again, peace with God comes via faith (Rom. 5:1).

Summary

That God decreed the justification of his elect from eternity cannot be denied. But if election is made the sole grid through which justification is understood, too many Biblical statements will be twisted and forced into a mold that cannot fit them. The Biblical writers everywhere speak of even elect (unbelieving) sinners as guilty, condemned, and ungodly, of justification in terms of a transaction that hinges on faith, and of union with Christ as experienced at conversion. Until the sinner is united to Christ by faith he is not yet freed from condemnation (Rom. 5:1).

                      

The justification of God’s elect is: 1) decreed in eternity, 2) accomplished in time by Christ blood, and 3) applied to individual experience through faith. If these distinctions are confused, the Biblical doctrine of justification will be distorted.

Thomas Goodwin summarized the matter helpfully as follows:

1. In the everlasting covenant. We may say of all spiritual blessings in Christ, what is said of Christ Himself, that their `goings forth are from everlasting.’ Justified then we were when first elected, though not in our own persons, yet in our Head (Eph. 1:3).

2. There is a farther act of justifying us, which passed from God towards us in Christ, upon His payment and performance at His resurrection (Rom. 4:25, 1 Tim. 3:16).

3. But these two acts of justification are wholly out of us, immanent acts in God, and though they concern us and are towards us, yet not acts of God upon us, they being performed towards us not as actually existing in

our selves, but only as existing in our Head, who covenanted for us and represented us: so as though by those acts we are estated into a right and title to justification, yet the benefit and possession of that estate we have not without a farther act being passed upon us.

Their justification before faith, coram Deo, in the sight of God, is of them not as actually existing in themselves, but only as they were represented in their head; for their persons, as considered as represented in Christ, did in him, as their head, receive justification, and all blessings else, but not in themselves do they receive them actually as existing until faith; as we are said then to be condemned and corrupted in the first Adam, when he sinned, as representing us, but we are in our own persons not actually corrupted till we exist and are born from him. So as to conclude this, they are said before faith to be justified in Christ by representation only, and not as in themselves. They are said to be in themselves actually justified through Christ after faith, but they cannot be said to be justified of themselves without Christ, neither before nor after faith (Works 8:137-8).