Archive for the ‘Justification’ Category

Since I’m preaching through Galatians, one of the topics or themes is justification: how we are in a right relationship with God.  It is the main idea of the letter since they had fallen prey to false teachers with hetero-gospels.

I thought it would be a good time to list my recommendations for books on the doctrine of justification.

Great Books I’ve Read:

The Doctrine of Justification by Jame Buchanan.  This is THE book any serious student of the doctrine must read.  I loved this book, and was challenged by this book.  He traces the history of the doctrine, then explains the doctrine.  There is plenty of historical data (keeping in mind it was originally published in 1867) that helps us gain some perspective on the current deviations from the biblical doctrine.  It is rather lengthy, and this may turn off some people.

Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification by R.C. Sproul.  R.C. wrote this, in part, in response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together.  He saw that movement as undermining the heart of the gospel.  This is typical RC- good stuff written for average people.  He has a gift for making theology accessible to laypeople.

Justification By Faith Alone by Charles Hodge.  The old Princeton theologian tackles the subject thoroughly in this book.

The Future of Justification & Counted Righteous in Christ by John Piper interact with the current attacks on the historical Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone (but that is not alone).   Piper does a good job, and a fair job, but they are polemical theology.  He is disputing a matter.

Books I Hope to Read Someday:

The Doctrine of Justification by Faith by John Owen.  I’ve got this in my Works of John Owen volumes.  I’ll get there.  He can be a difficult read, but I find it immensely rewarding.  As the subtitle reads, he explains it, confirms it and vindicates it as only he can.

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine by John Fesko.   A bit pricey, it also looks at the classic formulation of the doctrine in light of current challenges to the doctrine.

Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification edited by K. Scot Oliphint.  It contains chapters by Westminster professors past and present.

Justification by Francis Turretin.  This is edited from his Institutes of Elentcic Theology, which is very good.  It presents theology in a question and answer format.  He was one of the early Reformed “scholastics”.  Sproul highly recommended Turretin when his Eclentic Theology was finally reprinted by P&R.

Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation by Brian Vickers.  It covers both the imputation of our sin to Jesus, and His righteousness to us.

Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification by Mark Seifrid.  This is part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series edited by D.A. Carson.  A bit academic, but focused on biblical theology.

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I’ve done a few posts on A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love by Milton Vincent already.  This would be my review of this great little book.  As the title indicates, the focus on the book is on the gospel for Christians.  In the final part- Surprised by the Gospel- Pastor Vincent relates how he finally grasped that the gospel is ALWAYS the basis for our acceptance before God.  It is not just about our initiation to Christianity, and then we work our tails off to stay in God’s good graces.  He was at the end of his religious rope when he spent time meditating on Romans 5 and it all clicked for him.

The book includes a series of meditations on the gospel to rehearse or preach the gospel to yourself each day.  Then he includes 2 gospel narratives, one prose and the other poetic (see the Table of Contents and Forward). 

The heart of the book is really the meditations.  I recommend going through one a day, spending time to mull over the truth of what he is saying.  The goal is not to finish the book, but to sink the gospel and its implications increasingly deeper into your heart.  The gospel is not just about our justification, but about how Jesus severes the root of sin and is the power of godliness. 

“Never be content with your current grasp of the gospel.  The gospel is life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth.  It has more facets than a diamond.  Its depths man will never exhaust.”  C.J. Mahaney

So this little book is intensely practical.  I highly recommend getting a copy and keeping it handy to drink deep of the gospel.

I’ll close this with a quote from Horatio Bonar that he includes:

“Terror accomplishes no real obedience.  Suspence brings forth no fruit unto holiness.  No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor can subdue one lust, or correct our crookedness of will.  But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches.  Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this.”

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I’ve got to stuff all of Galatians 2 into one sermon.  Oh the madness and folly of it all!  One of my favorite works on Galatians is Luther’s commentary.  I don’t agree with all he says, but there are some great things in there.  He had … a way with words.   Let’s see some of it.

“The truth of the gospel is that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the law. The corruption or falsehood of the gospel is that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the law.

I like how he reminds us that most false gospels do not deny the need for faith, or Jesus.  What they deny is the sufficiency of Jesus’ work for us.  This is why they are so dangerous, there is an element of truth to be found in them.  Satan uses a little truth to float big lies.

“…we will suffer our goods to be taken away, our name, our life, and all that we have; but the gospel, our faith, Jesus Christ, we will never allow to be wrested from us.”

Martin points to how precious this gospel is- it is more valuable than our possessions, reputations, and even earthly life.  This is why Paul fought so vigorously for the “truth of the gospel”.

“We therefore make this definition of a Christian: a Christian is not one who has no sin, but one to whom God imputes not his sin, through faith in Christ. That is why we so often repeat and beat into your minds, the forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake.”

Imputation is a necessary element of the gospel.  Our sins are no longer imputed (or accounted) to us AND Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.  We must remember both.  We cannot bring both our own righteousness and Christ’s to God.  It is one or the other.  We need constant reminders of this truth because our default mode is to try and earn SOMETHING.  We want to contribute something (besides our sin) to salvation.  Jesus, save us from our pride.


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I’m excited to be studying Galatians for the next 3 months.  It is a controversial book these days- particularly in the dispute over the meaning of justification.  I take the historical, Reformed Protestant view as espoused in the Westminter Confession of Faith where we are declared righteous because God imputes Jesus’ righteousness to us.  Anyway, here are some of the resources I’ll be using and some I wish I was using.

What I’m using:

  • Commentary on Galatians: Modern-English Version by Martin Luther (The link is for the Crossway version, sorry).  Classic!  There is some great stuff in here from the man who recaptured the doctrine of justification triggering the Reformation.
  • Commentary on Galatians by John Calvin from his Commentary set.  Have to use it!
  • The Message of Galatians (The Bible Speaks Today series) by John Stott.  Tried and true, this will be my 3rd go round with Stott.  Great stuff, and not overly technical.
  • Galatians and Ephesians (New Testament Commentary) by William Hendriksen

What I Wish I Had Handy:

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With my Presbytery exam tomorrow- here is some more stuff to chew on.


Chapter XIII: Of Sanctification

132. Define sanctification? It is a free grace of God whereby we are made to die more and more to sin and live more and more to righteousness.

133. What means does God use in sanctification?  God uses the means of Scripture, sacraments, prayer, providence and the other members of the Body in sanctification.

134. In what sense is the believer sanctified in this life?  We are sanctified progressively but imperfectly.  We will make real progress as our struggle with sins shifts from surface sins to heart sins.  We are often more aware of our sin as a result, and more aware of our need for Christ.

135. Why is sanctification a work and not an act?  It is not accomplished through an instantaneous blessing, but is a process with many ups and downs.  This keeps us humble and dependent upon Christ.

136. Distinguish sanctification from justification?  Justification is an act & perfect involving our position before God- we are declared righteous; sanctification is a process and imperfect until glorification involving our persons before God- we become like Christ.  Justification is the basis for our sanctification.

137. How does the law of God relate to our sanctification? The law of God continues to reveal our sin that we might repent, and reveals what pleases God.  It has no power to change our behavior- that power comes from the Spirit who leads us into greater obedience.

138. Who is the sole author or sanctification?  God who works in us through the Holy Spirit

139. What is perfectionism? What are its expressions today? Perfectionism is the erroneous teaching that we can achieve a state, in this life, in which we know longer sin (often deemed consciously).  It is often seen as a second blessing.  It is expressed today in theologies that minimize the sinfulness of sin by focusing on outward manifestations of sin- the holiness movements, Pentecostalism.

140. Distinguish a Reformed view of sin from other views.  In the Reformed view sin is an inward orientation to worship idols rather than the one, True God.  Sins proceed from our corrupt nature (sin because we’re sinners).  In other views, sins are seen as corrupting us (sinners because we sin).  It is largely externalized and manageable as a result.

141. Distinguish progressive and definitive sanctification.  Definitive sanctification occurs as an aspect of our conversion where we are positionally sanctified as belonging to God.  Progressive sanctification is the process in which we become more like Christ experientially.

142. In what way, if at all, is sanctification by grace?  It is all of grace (Galatians 3)- Christ works in us by the Spirit to apply the work of redemption to us.

143. What is the believer’s role in sanctification?  Our role is to make use of the means of grace by faith- trusting God to work in us to accomplish His sanctifying work.


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Yes, I’ve fallen behind on posting these answers to my study questions on theology from the Westminster Confession of Faith.  I’ve got to make progress prior to my examination before Presbytery next week.

Chapter XI: Of Justification

119. Use Scripture to accurately define justification? In Romans 3-5 justification is to be declared righteous.  We are all guilty and condemned, but God has provided Jesus as the sacrifice of atonement.  Though he had previously not punished sin, he punished the sin of the elect in Christ.  This righteousness is received by faith in Christ & his work.  In 2 Cor. 5 he who was without sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God.  In Galatians 2 we see that Christ has borne the curse of us.

120.Distinguish the element of pardon from the more comprehensive doctrine of justification.  Pardon means that God has released us from the debt we owe due to our disobedience.  We are forgiven.  This is but a part of justification.  Innocence is not sufficient, but to enjoy fellowship with God we must be righteous.  God imputes the obedience of Christ to us.

121.What is meant by the imputation of righteousness?  God reckons Christ’s obedience to us.

122.Distinguish imputation from infusion of righteousness.  Imputation is a transfer of merit (or sin) from one person to another (our sin was imputed to Christ).  It refers to our position before God.  Infusion is the process in which God makes a person righteous in their conduct- experientially.  This happens in sanctification.

123.What is the ground for justification?  The active & passive obedience of Christ.

124.How is faith related to God’s act of justification? Faith is the instrumental means of our justification.  We receive Christ’s righteousness when we believe in Him.  Faith is not an act of righteousness.

125.What is the difference in the justification of believers under the Old Testament and the New Testament?  In the OT it was foreshadowed in the sacrificial system.  It was always by faith, as Paul notes in Romans 4 (quoting Gen. 15)- “Abraham believed and it was imputed to him as righteousness.” In the NT it is accomplished in the obedience & sacrifice of Christ.  The content of our faith has been progressively expanded and made more clear until God’s final revelation in Christ.

126.What happens when a Christian sins after his has been justified?  God continues to pardon those sins when we confess them because of the work of Christ (1 John 1-2).


Chapter XII: Of Adoption

127.What are the privileges of the children of God? They have his name placed upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace through prayer, are pitied, protected, provided for and chastened by the Father until such time as we inherit the promises of eternal salvation.

128.What is adoption? Support with Scripture.   In adoption we are made full sons, with rights of inheritance, with Christ.  The Spirit is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephesians 1).  The Spirit testifies to us that we are indeed God’s children (Romans 8) and helps us to pray to our Father.

129. What is meant by “sealing”?  The Spirit is the seal or mark of God’s ownership, that we are under his authority and protection.

130. Is anyone a true child of God if he is not chastened for disobedience?  No, they are called illegitimate children (Heb. 12 & Proverbs 3).  God proves his love by working to conform our character to his. 

131. What is the significance of the word “Abba”?  It is the Aramaic word for “Father” or “Dad”.  The Spirit prompts us to see God not just as a holy God and Lord, but as a Father who is kindly disposed toward his children.


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I’m not sure if enjoying is the right word.  I guess the right word would be benefitting.  I am greatly benefitting from my reading of The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  He is able to expand on some ideas found in his sermons on the Parable of the Lost Sons.  He develops a better understanding of both sin and lostness.

We tend to tie sin in with rebellion- which it is.  But sin is craftier than that.  It can look like obedience!

It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it’s the pride he has in his moral record; it’s not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.

His obedience produces a pride that keeps him apart from his father and younger brother.  Sin can work thru “obedience” to keeps us from Christ and His people.  We seek to save ourselves.  This is the work of the religious fanatic Martin Luther said lives in each of us, the default of our hearts, trying to earn merit before God.

You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws.  If you do that, then you have “rights.”  God owes you answered prayer, and a good life, and a ticket to heaven when you die.  You don’t need a Savior who pardons you by free grace, for you are your own Savior.

Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.

Keller continues to say that these 2 conditions are not equal.  It is easier for the licentious to see his sin and seek to return home.  The legalist thinks he already is home!  He is more blind to his sin because he looks so good.

What are the signs of an elder brother (legalist, self-righteous, Pharisee)?

The first sign you have an elder-brother spirit is that when your life doesn’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter.

Keller notes this can function in 2 ways.  If I perceive I have been obedient- I am angry with God and rage against him.  If I perceive I have not been obedient- I am angry with myself and become filled with self-loathing.  Hey, been there, done that- and still take trips there.


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I’m continuing to work my way through McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christian.  I would sum it up as increasingly frustrating.  Neo keeps getting further and further out there.  And the strawmen he argues against are increasingly obscure.

This is an incredible nit-pick, but World Cup soccer is played by national teams.  DC United wouldn’t play, much less win, that competition.  Yep, this is fiction but try to keep the connections to reality there to make it believable and in the spirit of being missional- being ignorant of such matters means you lose street cred.  Okay, off the box.

Neo’s sermon contains a section from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, one I have a particularly difficult time with.  But Neo uses it to teach truth, not illustrate truth.  This would be because the truth he’s trying to illustrate doesn’t exist.  Kind hearted muslims (or pick your religion) are not serving Jesus unknowingly.  In Scripture you find that people forsake their worthless idols to worship the true God.  That’s a bit different than what Neo is trying to encourage.

I’ll give McLaren the credit for reminding people that the church exists to expand the kingdom, benefiting the world.  How he and I understand that is a bit different.  Yes, some Christians reduce the gospel to personal salvation, ignoring the cosmic implications.  Is it possible to make too much of the cosmic implications?  Yes, if you minimize what Scripture maxamizes.  Scripture addresses the need for personal salvation far more than the cosmic implications of redemption.  Jesus and the Apostles do show a great deal of concern for the people’s fate.  His first “sermon”, “repent and believe for the kingdom is at hand.”  “Repent and believe” is conversion talk.  “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” is conversion talk, and the point of Peter’s very first sermon.  So this notion that “it’s none of your business who goes to hell” is not in step with Scripture.  If modern evangelicals are to be chastized for importing  modern notions onto the Scripture (and they are at times), so should McLaren be chastized for importing notions foreign to Scripture and deny notions prevalent in Scripture.  He also takes some Scripture completely out of context to make his point.  He mentions Jesus’ words to Peter as though we should not be concerned with anyone else’s eternal destiny.  But Peter is asking how John will die.  THAT is of no concern to Peter.


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WTS Books is having a summer sale until 7/30, so you had better hurry up!  They offer flat rate shipping and books are 50% off, so now is the time to buy!  I just wish I had a book allowance to enjoy this great opportunity 😦  However, if enough of you, my fair readers, visit via my blog I’ll get a good gift certificate!

Here are some Cavman recommendations-

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Scottish pastor-theologian Eric Alexander has said this about Our Sovereign Saviour: The Essence of the Reformed Faith by Roger Nicole: “I could not speak too highly of this book.”  That is an apt summary of my sentiments as well.

All the more reason for me to wonder why this delightful little book is so unavailable.  It seems downright difficult to find in the places it should be easy to find.  Dr. Nicole is one of the pre-eminent theologians of the 20th century.  In the words of ‘King Arthur’, “You make me sad.”  But to the book!

In 184 pages Dr. Nicole summarizes and explains the distinctives of the Reformed Faith, and its implications on other doctrines.  Here is a chapter outline:

  1. The Meaning of the Trinity.  He establishes the 3 truths we hold in balance, and how the various heresies exalt one truth at the expense of the others.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria– or to God Alone be the glory.  This is a chapter on the glorious extent of God’s sovereignty, including individuals and the Church.
  3. Predestination and the Divine Decrees.  He explores what is meant, and not meant, by God’s sovereignty.  It does not mean we are puppets, for as the Westminster Confession notes, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (III, 1).”  God ordains all things in keeping with our nature/character and how he plans to work to change our character.  He also briefly explains & critiques supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.
  4. Calvinism: the Five Points.  He briefly explains the 5 main ideas of Calvinism, and dispells some common misunderstandings based on poor terminology.
  5. Particular Redemption.  He explains and defends the doctine of definite atonement, summarizing John Owen’s arguments from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
  6. The Doctrines of Grace in the Teachings of Jesus.  He shows that these are not doctrines of John Calvin, or Paul but taught by Jesus Himself, particularly in the Gospel According to John.
  7. Reconciliation and Propitiation.  He explores the use of these terms in Scripture and how they fit best with an understanding of definite atonement.
  8. Justification: Standing by God’s Grace.  He explores the 3 main illustrations of justification in Scripture to understand it fully.  In this chapter he mentions students who ‘made a virtue of being poorly attired’ hoping they learned to dress better before candidating for a position.  Sadly, I was one of these immature slobs who thought so little of themselves.
  9. Sanctification: Growing unto God.  He explains what it means negatively (mortification) and positively (vivefication).  Whereas justification is something done for us, sanctification is something done in us.
  10. Predestination and the Great Commission.  He shows, primarily through the example of William Carey, that election and evangelism are not at odds with one another if properly understood.  He defends the free offer of the gospel from misunderstandings.
  11. When God Calls.  Shows from God’s call of Paul and Barnabas that God is mission-minded in a way that ought to challenge us all to become engaged.  Without using the term, he builds a quick case for missional living.
  12. Freedom and Law.  He addresses the issue of what freedom really is, against some silly misconceptions, and how the Law fits into freedom.
  13. Prayer: the Prelude to Revival.  He addresses prayer as an established means for revival.  He also talks about some fundamentals of prayer in relation to sovereignty.
  14. The Final Judgment.  He defends the doctrine of the final judgment.

In these chapters you find typical Dr. Nicole.  Though humble and irenic, you find him quite knowledgable and more than capable of dispelling any misunderstandings or strawmen opposed against the truth.  He is brief, not laboring his points.  He uses illustrations from everyday life, and history.  I’m not sure if he’s ever seen a movie.  But this means that the book is not bound in time unnecessarily.  How I wish he wrote more!  This is a book that often moved me to prayer- gratitude and petition.  That is what good theology does.  This is a book that can encourage those who understand the distinctives of the Reformed Faith.  It is also a great, winsome book for those who do not yet understand and embrace them. 

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Thus, the sovereignty of God immediately crushes man as sinner into the very just of the ground, for he is unable to rise in God’s presence but must be the object of his fearful condemnation. … When we talk about the sovereignty of God we emphasize the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit who works in the lives of men and does not await some consent that would be coming fron unregenerate sinners but who himself transforms at the very depths of their personality lives that are disrupted, distorted and destroyed by sin.”

“There is no circumstance of life that should be totally disconcerting, because God has ordained it and is at the back of it.  His loving and gracious purpose is fulfilled even in the events which may appear quite contrary to our wishes.”

“The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which subdues the resistance of our wills.  God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.”

“Authentic Calvinism has always confessed particular redemption and at the same time insisted on the universal offer of the gospel.”

“God cannot punish a sin twice.  He cannot punish it once in the person of the Redeemer and then punish it again later in the person of the perpetrator.”

“The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is not going to allow his sheep to wander away.  That, in fact, is expressly stated.  He gives them eternal life.  They shall never perish.”

“It is only when we consider how grievous a thing sin is and how greatly displeased God is with it, that we are in a position to understand what it means to be reconciled to him.”

“The very fact that you know this person- the very fact that you are in contact with this person, the very fact that there is a burden upon your heart for this person- ought to be an indication that quite possibly, even probably, he or she has been picked by God.”

“There is no Christian who can say, ‘I am not a missionary.’  There are places that you can reach that nobody else can reach.  There  are people for whom you can work that nobody else can invite in the same way in God’s name.  We have a task to accomplish.”

“What people fail to understand is that the spiritual laws that God has established are equally binding. … They think they can violate the moral laws that God has established at the root of the universe and not bear the consequences. … To disregard the laws of God is not to achieve freedom; it is to sink into futility.  It is to break oneself against the structure of the world in which we live.”

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I recently had a conversation with some people who were uncertain about Sonship, a ministry of World Harvest Mission.  They thought the idea that we “never move beyond justification” (accepted by God on the basis of Jesus’ obedience) meant that Sonship did not move on to address our progressive sanctification (becoming more like Jesus in character & obedience).

I tried to explain that “not moving beyond justification” means that our acceptance before God is always based on Jesus’ substitutionary obedience and punishment.  We never become so good, so righteous that we no longer need the work of Messiah on our behalf.  We never out-grow our need to hear, and believe, the gospel.  As such, Sonship is a grace-oriented lifestyle.  Our salvation by grace alone through faith alone includes our sanctification.  As Paul chastized the Galatians, we do not start by grace and persevere by the flesh.  It is from grace to grace, as we trust God to apply the work of Jesus to us by the power of the Spirit.

I think that what throws some people off is that Sonship focuses on our new identity as adopted children of God as a foundation, with justification, for our progressive sanctification.  You find this most clearly in Walter Marshall’s Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.  Counterfeit sanctifaction is when we change through self-effort rather than by grace.  It is an attempt to earn or maintain our standing before God.  But properly understanding and believing in our justification and status as heirs frees us from such attempts, and we rely further for his grace to transform us.

Another aspect that throws some people off is the focus on sins of the heart instead of the external behaviors or sins.  Many people only address that which is seen- words, actions.  These are but the tip of the iceburg, or the stem of the weed.  Beneath them are attitudes of the heart and mind- idols- which produce these effects.  Our sinful attitudes and attachments are the ice below the surface, or the roots of the weed.  To truly make progress in our Christian experience, we must address these in addition to the visible sins.  If you don’t pull up the roots, the weed just grows back.  So, by grace, we seek to kill the root.

So we find that Sonship is concerned about sanctification, but it keeps our progress rooted in our justification, our new status, and addressing our heart in addition to our actions.  I find it to be a more biblical approach to life change, for, after all, grace teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness (Titus 2).  I discover that I’m a bigger sinner than I ever imagined, but that Jesus is a greater Savior than I could ever imagine (1 Timothy 1:15).  Sonship is about gospel transformation!

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Sunday afternoon I sat on the back porch to continue reading The Reason for God while enjoying a rainstorm.  The chapter, Religion and the Gospel, that I read first is probably one of the best chapters of a book I have read in some time.  No, he didn’t say anything new, but the way he expressed it was fresh.  It didn’t hurt that he illustrated all this with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which I’ve been wanting to read for some time) and Les Miserables (one of my favorite stories, the musical excepted).

The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me.  This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time.  It undermines both swattering and sniveling.  I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone.

This is the existential reality that should be produced as we more fully grasp the objective reality of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.  I am humbled because it has nothing to do with any merit on my part, quite the opposite actually.  But it also frees me from the game of “one up-manship” that frequently gets played out.  We no longer have to validate our existence and prove ourselves.  We become free from the clamoring of our flesh (sinful nature) which wants to be validated and glorifed, to prove its worth and superiority over other people.

His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to every save myself through my own effort), yet is also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God’s unconditional acceptance).

It is only grace that frees us from the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion.  Grace is only a threat to that illusion that we are free, autonomous selves, living life as we choose.

The Christian message is that we are saved not by our record, but by Christ’s record.

Keller explained biblical and theological concepts in everyday language.  He did not use the language of theology.  He never said “justification” and yet he proclaimed and explained it.  He never said “substitution” or “imputation” and yet proclaimed and explained them.  He is not speaking to “us”, the church so much as those who are not in the church, or who are trapped in religion without realizing it.

These are the things we need to preach to ourselves everyday that we might be both humbled and lifted up.  We are humbled because we continue to wander from God and cannot save ourselves from the slightest sin.  We are lifted up because Christ is more than able to save us and restore us.  We need not fall into despair but look to a Great Savior of big sinners.

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Here are 2 of my favorite, non-colorful (or Driscollesque), Luther quotes.  I used them in my sermon yesterday on the Lost Sons.

 “Something inside of us strongly compels us to keep trying to earn God’s approval.  We look for good works, in which we can place our trust and which will bring us praise.  We want to show God what we have done…  None of us should be overconfident when it comes to forgetting our own good works.  Each one of us carries in our heart a horrible, religious fanatic. … We should realize that we all carry in our heart a horrible, religious fanatic, who will destroy faith with foolish delusions of good works.  … God’s approval doesn’t come to us by what we do.  Rather it comes through the holiness of Christ, who suffered for us and rose again from the dead.”  Martin Luther

”Therefore we make this definition of a Christian: a Christian is not he who has no sin, but he to whom God does not impute his sin, through faith in Christ.  That is why we so often repeat and beat it into your minds, the forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake.”  Martin Luther

The first quote is found in a devotional called By Faith Alone.  The second is from his Commentary on Galatians.  When I was a kid there was a local hardware  chain called Grossman’s.  The ads declared “There’s a little Grossman’s in everyone, there’s a little Grossman’s in you.”  Luther would concur, if it is acknowledged that the little Grossman in you is a religious fanatic.  The default of our heart is to seek to establish our own righteousness.  Every other major religion has this as it basic idea.  This is the primary way people run from God- religion, or legalism (being a good person).  We make an idol of our own goodness/sincerity, and subtly despise the perfect righteousness of Christ.

This is why Luther talks about ministry as “beating” the doctrine of justification into people’s heads.  We must do this because people are prone to lapse back into a legalistic mindset and earn their blessings for God.  Hard message to sell, since it undermines the idols of men’s hearts.  But this is primarily what gospel ministry is.

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Finished up Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Jeffery, Ovey & Sach today.  Between being sick and adopting, I went slowly.

I covered the first main section of the book in a previous post.  The rest of the book focused on the objections that are being raised to penal substitution (Jesus suffered God’s wrath in our place).  It spelled them out, including various variations on a theme, and then responded to them.  Some were very easy to respond to- all you do is essentially point to the biblical data in an earlier chapter to show they objection has no merit in fact.  Some show gross misunderstandings or they are only concerned with setting up strawmen.  Some were much more difficult.  Here is some of the main objections, and answers.

Penal Substition is not the only model of the atonement.  I can’t ever remember reading a book that said it was.  The atonement is far more rich, and has many aspects (like a diamond in A.A. Hodges’ words).  But penal substitution is essential to any biblical and meaningful explanation of the atonement.

 Penal substitution diminishes the significane of Jesus’ life and resurrection.  Jesus entire life was part of his atoning work.  His perfect obedience was essential to his saving work.  His resurrection is also essential to his saving work, not just an add on.  It declares that he is the Son of God, and we were raised up in union with him.  He now enjoys the power of everlasting life so he lives forever to intercede for us.  Apart from his substitionary death, he could not rise as the firstfruit of the recreation.


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All is (mostly) well here in the Adirondacks.  We’ve gone from lots of snow with temps below zero last week to temps in the 50s yesterday and rain this morning.  Most of the snow is gone.  Sadly my injured knee has not permitted me to enjoy much outdoor activity.  Watching some of the political debates (both parties), and I wonder how long I’d have to wait for an MRI under national health care.  And if I do need surgery, since it isn’t time critical, I wonder how long I’d have to wait for that.  Any English or Canadian friends may want to enlighten us Yanks who face the frightening prospect of a President who may try to cram this down our throats.  A quick note to those who say we can afford it based on the War in Iraq: we really can’t afford the War (the debt is increasing again), and the War is a short-term budget expense whereas nationalized healthcare would be a permanent budget increase.

I’m still not sure for whom I’ll vote in the upcoming primary.  It will NOT be McCain- this I know.  It is becoming clear that a vote for either Rudy or Fred would be wasted (though Rudy might make a good VP- he’s got more experience in an executive office than any other candidate, period).  Huckabee intrigues me.  He’s probably the best communicator among the conservatives.  The idea of reforming taxes is refreshing- and necessary to a sound economy.  I’m not yet sold on the specifics of the Fair Tax, but it sure beats the regressive, loophole-ridden, bureaucratic monstrosity to we have today.  I wouldn’t mind moving to a flat tax with a basement (under $xK you don’t pay taxes) and not loopholes.  I think fair share does not mean wealthy people a higher percentage of their earning, but the same percentage of their earnings.

Enough of politics!  We shortened our vacation to provide more time for CavWife to prepare to head to China.  We got concrete travel dates, and have been scrambling to make sure we get all our bases covered.  Now that I have a knee injury, I’m really glad I’m not going.  The long flights would really cause problems for me above and beyond my normal problems with long flights (inability to sleep, restlessness driving me to insanity…).  She departs 1/17 and returns with Eli 1/30.  The flights for her and her former roommate cost us $130 thanks to her friend’s frequent flier miles.  Initially, but the airlines rules, they were both going to have to fly out of the same place, so CavWife was going to have to fly to Albany, which means that on the return she and Eli would fly to Albany and then down to FL.  Poor kids.  Her friend was on the phone with 2 supervisors until midnight and finally got an exception, so CavWife will fly in/out of Tampa and meet up with her in Detroit.  Due to the timing of the flights, this rules out the need for hotel stays in Albany on both ends of the trip.  All in all, we are quite thankful for how this has all come together.  We may still need to borrow a few thousand from family, but we’ve been amazed at the many gifts and other manners of provision God has provided.

We have been the Coughing CavFamily for about a week.  Last night was the first time I was able to go to sleep without coughing fits in about that time.  Hopefully I have passed through the worst of it.  CavWife seems to be a day ahead of me, having had this thing first.  CavDaughter is a day or 2 behind.  She coughed much of last night and had a slight earache too.

CavDaughter’s birthday lasted about 3 days and 3 celebrations.  That meant 3 rounds of gifts.  My desire to hinder covetousness has been squashed by the surpassing power of the flesh.  Jesus, send grace!  She got more dolly stuff, a new purse and cell phone (she’s been calling her cousin Drue), the Jesus Storybook Bible, (which I love since it uses a biblical theological method so each story points to Jesus), a Veggie Tales DVD on fear, and some Play-Doh toys.  The prospect of me having to plan another party back home without CavWife, on a gimpy knee, is not enticing.  We’ll see…

I’ve been reading the Psalms on vacation.  A few thoughts- first, the frequency with which the Psalmist talks about singing is astounding.  Sadly, some in the Reformed heritage downplay singing in favor of the preached Word.  This misses our need (yes, need) as redeemed people to sing praises to the Redeemer.  The Word sung is just as important as the Word preached in my opinion.  Second, wouldn’t Paul be inclined to use “righteousness” as the Psalmist does (which is in keep with the rest of the Old Testament which Paul says is helpful for instructing us in 2 Tim. 3)?  I tried to insert N.T. Wright’s “translation” in some Psalms and the thing doesn’t fly.  The concept of covenant faithfulness is more commonly conveyed by ‘hesed’ (often translated love or faithfulness).  So, N.T. Wright would be isolating Paul from the greater biblical context, which skews his interpretation unnecessarily and dangerously.

That knee- I am able to walk nearly normally some of the time.  Sometimes it will hurt and I’ll gimp around more.  I had to be here, not Florida, when I did this.  I can’t get anywhere in this house without encountering stairs.  I was able to climb stairs normally before I was able to descend normally.  But at times I still need to navigate them one stair at a time.  It doesn’t seem to be getting better anymore.  At times it can “stiffen up” and be painful.  No apparent rhyme nor reason.  I cannot twist it either.  I want to wait until I get home before getting the MRI and discovering if I need surgery.  We are 17 miles from the Urgent Care facility where they did the x-rays.  We’d have to head to Glens Falls for an MRI (about 40 minutes away minimum).  I’d rather have the same orthopedic person do the MRI and any potential surgery.  My worry is that my muscles are learning bad habits and resuming natural function will take longer, assuming there is more at work here than a strained ligament.

When I get home I also have to touch base with a few search committee chairmen.  This is going SLOWLY, which is okay due to the adoption stuff.  But, I’d like to know where I will serve next and make my preparation more specific than it has been thus far.  But I wait, wait, wait…

CavWife is amazed that I’m still ‘musing’, so I’ll skip the story about the flies for some other time.

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N.T. Wright builds much of his case on “Second-Temple Judaism”, arguing that it has been mischaracterized by many and that Paul is in agreement with “Second-Temple Judaism”.  John Piper summarizes those claims in the 9th chapter of The Future of Justification.

“According to Wright, the term “works of the law” referred not to law-keeping in general, but to the acts of circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and dietary regulations.  These, he explains, were pursued, not for the purpose of earning a right standing with God, or getting saved, or entering the covenant people of God, but rather as a “badge” to show that those who did these “works of the law” would be found on the last day to belong, by grace, to God’s people.”  As a result of this, the problem of Paul’s opponents was that they used these “badges” to exclude Gentiles.  For Wright, the issue is ethocentrism, not “legalism”.

“Badges, what are stinkin’ badges?” you might ask.  They would be signs pointing to a deeper reality.  But was this what got Paul so worked up in his letter to the Galatians?  No!  He thought it was a gospel issue at work, and those who continued to teach as the Judaizers did were condemned- not wrong and misled and therefore overly strict and judgmental- anathematized!  I have a hard time reconciling this with the idea of “badges”.

As a covenantal theologian, I see the various covenants as part of the over-arching covenant of grace.  There is progress and development taking place, and the covenants are administered differently.  As a result, we see that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of grace- God had redeemed them.  The covenant stipulations (we call them the 10 Commandments) were how redeemed people were to live under God’s rule- NOT what someone does to earn heaven.  But, as Paul notes in Romans 9-11 they (most Jews) had begun to live by works, not faith.  So, I can give N.T. Wright credit for recognizing the gracious character of the Mosaic covenant (if he does that), but we can’t confuse that with 2nd-Temple Judaism.


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In the 8th chapter of The Future of Justification, Piper asks the question of whether or not N.T. Wright is merely using different terminology to say the same thing as the Reformed heritage from whence he comes. The question ends up revolving around what he means by “basis” when saying that the basis of our final justification is our works. Piper laments that Wright has been vague on this issue, and has left some significant questions unasked and unanswered.

“Huge and important questions go unaddressed here. The allusion to 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 (“he himself will be saved, but only as through fire,” v. 15) as confirming the seriousness of the final judgment does not work. At the place where it cries out for reflection, Wright does not come to terms with the fact that Paul threatens baptized professing Christians not just with barely being saved, but with not being saved at all at the last judgment (Gal. 5:21; 6:7-9; 1 Cor. 6:9). The whole question of how Paul can speak this way and how our works actually function at the last day are passed over. This is a silence where we very much need to hear Wright speak with detail and precision, since the issues are so controversial and so important for the central doctrine of justification.”

Wright seems inconsistent. At times he can be understood as affirming the historic Protestant position: “They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation.” (from “New Perspectives on Paul”). Or, “they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ as been at work in him.” (NPoP) Where Wright appears to depart from the historic understanding of things is also expressed in NPoP: “Why is there ‘no condemnation’? Because, on the one hand, [1] God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ … and, on the other hand, [2] because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do- ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit.” So, for Wright, our final justification is based on Jesus’ substitutionary death and our sanctification. This sounds to me like Catholicism without the sacerdotalism. He is talking about impartation, not imputation. Wright calls imputation “saying a substantially right thing in a substantially wrong way.”  (Paul in Different Perspectives) He continues to say “What I do object to is calling this truth by a name which, within the world of thought where it is common coin, is bound to be heard to say that Jesus has himself earned something called ‘righteousness’, and that he then reckons this to be true of his people, whereas on my reading of Paul the ‘righteousness’ of Jesus is that which results from God’s vindication of him as Messiah in the resurrection…”

N.T. Wright upholds the idea of union with Christ that dominates Reformed thought, but he excludes the imputation of righteousness from his understanding of the benefits we receive from that union. In N.T. Wright’s formulation, through our union with Christ we receive the imputation of His death & resurrection life, which leads to assurance of final vindication. He dismisses the representative obedience Jesus performed as our covenant head in that imputation. So, instead of bringing us to Romans 5, Wright brings us to Romans 6 and Paul’s theology of baptism to understand union and imputation. “In choosing Romans 6 as the ‘central passage’ for illuminating ‘the truth which has been expressed in terms of ‘imputed righteousness,’ Wright seems to suggest that in his mind the really new moral nature that ‘walk[s] in newness of life’ (Rom. 6:4) is part of what the Reformed folk should mean by ‘imputed righteousness’ in union with Christ.” So, what Wright is doing is similar to the problem with the Evangelicals & Catholics Together documents: they use the same words, but mean different things by them. As a result, they give the appearance of commonality without the substance of the same. Piper summarizes the problems of Wright’s view: “1. It leaves the gift of the status of vindication without foundation in real perfect imputed obedience. … 2. This absence of a foundation for our vindication, in real perfect obedience, results in a vacuum that our own Spirit-enabled, but imperfect, obedience seems to fill as part of the foundation or ground or basis alongside the atoning death of Jesus. … 3. The ambiguity about how works function in ‘future justification’ leaves us unsure how they function in present justification.” This last problem is revealed in how Wright talks about faith. He often conflates ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness (faithful obedience)’.  You can’t truly have one without the other, but we must distinguish them, particular in this important matter of justification: does Christ save me, or does he help me save myself (Jesus-assisted salvation)?  Historic Reformed theology declares that Messiah saves people, Wright would appear to teach that Jesus helps us to be saved.  This is a dramatic difference than can easily get lost in the verbiage.

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In the 7th chapter of The Future of Justification, John Piper looks at the basis of justification in N.T. Wright’s writings.  Wright talks about our present justification on the basis of faith, and our future justification on the basis of works.  It is important that we understand what he means by this, if possible.

Romans 2:13 shapes most of Wright’s thinking on the subject.  It reads this way: It is not the hearers of the law who will be righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.  Wright seems to lift this verse out of its polemical context to establish the need for our obedience, not Jesus’, as the grounds for our justification.  Wright does this by connecting it to Romans 8:3-4.  In Romans 8 we see that the penalty for our sin is paid by Christ.  Then, those who walk according to the Spirit will fulfill the righteous requirements of the law.  “The Spirit is the path by which Paul traces the route from justification by faith in the present to justification, by the complete life lived, in the future.”  But Wright has jumped over nearly 6 chapters of Romans to make this connection- and in the process Paul has changed subjects (from justification to sanctification). 

In Romans 2 Paul is still building his argument that both Jews and Gentiles are under God’s just condemnation.  The fact that Jews had the law was not sufficient to set them apart from Gentiles morally- they had to actually obey it.  Paul lays out this profound thought about “the doers of the law” but doesn’t quite explain what he means.  Here are the options:

1. the deeds are done in a meritorious way.

2. they are the Spirit-wrought fruit of faith.

3. they are evidence & confirmation of faith in Christ who has cancelled our sin.

4. they are also the evidence & confirmation of faith in Christ in whom we are counted righteous.

5. as Stott asserts this could be a hypothetical statement which no person has satisfied (but Messiah himself).

Paul is answering the objection that God is unfair to judge the Gentiles since they don’t have the law.  But Paul responds with the fact that Gentiles do have the moral law written on their hearts.  Like the Jews, they fail to keep it and are condemned.  Paul had expressed this in Romans 1:18, 21 & 32.  Paul’s over-arching argument here is that everyone needs Jesus for all are under God’s just wrath.  We find Paul summing this up in Romans 3:20.  Knowledge of our sin and guilt, not justification, comes from the law.

Why is Wright taking a different track on this?  The “massive conspiracy of silence about something that was quite clear for Paul (as indeed for Jesus).  Paul, in company with mainstream second-temple Judaism affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led- in accordance, in other words, with works.”  Wright is complaining that the evangelical church has neglected the need for good works.  This is his way of bringing them back into the picture for us.  Is he correct about this “massive conspiracy of silence”?  Does he need to reformulate the doctrine of justification of fix a problem?

As part of the Reformed heritage, N.T. Wright should be familiar with the Reformed Creeds (including the 39 Articles), which all stress good works as the fruit of faith.  For instance, from the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 16:

II. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith; and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto; that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have in the end eternal life.

So, if there is silence, it is on the part of ignorant or disobedient clergy/theologians, and not on the part of our theological heritage.  Wright misleads people when he ignores such things.  Like Piper, I affirm Wright’s concern, but find his solution just as problematic if not more than the problem he seeks to address.  The number of problems with N.T. Wright’s thinking on this topic is increasing quickly.

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In the 4th chapter of The Future of Justification, John Piper continues to assess N.T. Wright’s use and application of the law-court dynamics.  The first problem he encounters here is that Wright fails to come to terms with the omniscience (all-knowledge) of the Judge.  In God’s law-court we have to deal with an omniscient and just Judge.  As a result, perfect justice will always be the result, unlike in earthly courtrooms even with the best of intentions.  Wright rightly connects the atonement with forgiveness, but something more must happen if God is to declare us righteous.  Not guilty is not enough.  Innocent is not enough.  We must be righteous if we are to dwell with God (Psalm 15 for instance).

The context of Romans 3, where our problem is sin, does not lend itself to Wright’s understanding of justification.  Our problem is not status, but sin.  Justification must deal with our sin problem in a more significant way than forgiveness (though that is incredibly significant).  Piper draws on Psalm 32, which Paul used in Romans 4.  This Psalm ends with calling the forgiven person “righteous.”  “I am not saying that the psalmist has a full-blown doctrine of justification as imputed righteousness.  I am simply observing that Paul may have meditated long and hard on the Psalms, including the often perplexing language of righteousness, sin, blamelessness, and forgiveness, and drew the inference that divine forgiveness never stands alone without God’s counting the forgiven person as positively righteous.  This would account for the logic of Romans 4:6-8 better than assuming that forgiveness and being counted righteous are “equivalents.”” 

Piper is not dealing with simple logic, but the logic of Paul in Romans 4.  It is Paul who raises this issue of an imputed righteousness.  This poses a serious problem for Wright’s understanding of both the text and the doctrine of justification.


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In chapter 3 of The Future of Justification, John Piper pretty much dismantles N.T. Wright’s views concerning law-court dynamics and the meaning of God’s righteousness.

Wright tends to prefer  that justification, and the law-court imagery, refer primarily, though not exclusively, to the final law-court.  He does tie this to what has happened in Christ.  The issue revolves around his distinction between the righteousness of a judge and that of the defender.  Wright points to 4 senses in which the Judge is righteous: “his faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham, his impartiality, his proper dealing with sin and his helping of the helpless.”  So, for the Judge it refers to His actions.  Wright does not go deeper into His character that produces those actions.

With regard to the defendant, righteousness is a status- that one is a part of God’s family.  It is not status in terms that one is righteous (in the greek, righteousness and justice are the same word group, and context determines the meaning).  So, Wright writes “it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendent.  Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom. … To imagine the defendent somehow receiving the judge’s righteousness is simply a category mistake.”

I would agree, to a point.  The defendent is receiving the righteousness of the Substitute, the Representative.  His righteous actions, according to all Paul belabors in Romans 3-5, are imputed to all who believe, or trust in, that Representative.  The Judge declares us righteous because we are united to the Righteous One.  It is Wright who makes a profound “category mistake”.  He misleads through his use of the law-court imagery, not the imagery itself.

Piper focuses on the issue of God’s righteousness, asserting that Wright’s understanding is too superficial as I noted above.  He summarizes his argument from his book The Justification of God (very good, but very technical book).  “The simple way is to say that God’s righteousness consists in his unswerving commitment to do what is right.”  What is right?  “‘Right’ actions are those that flow from a proper esteem for God’s glory and that uphold his glory as the most valuable reality there is.”  Piper then goes on to show how this fits Paul’s argument from Romans 1-3, showing Paul had this view in mind.  As a result, we find that this view of righteousness creates a problem for covenant faithfulness, in that we have become idolators, and God should bring covenant curses on our heads.  While sins went unpunished, it seemed like God didn’t value His glory.  “When he justifies the ‘ungodly’ (who have treated his glory with contempt, Rom. 1:18, 23; 4:5), he is not unrighteous, because the death of Christ exhibits God’s wrath against God-belittling sin.”  Sin has a big part Paul’s notion of justification.

In the basis of Romans 3:5 & 7 (parallels) Piper shows that it is righteous for God to show wrath for his own glory.  This is something Chalke wants to deny, which is why Wright’s endorsement of his book is problematic.

As Piper works through Romans, he asks that we do that same thing with his definition of righteousness that he did with Wright’s: does it work in the whole text?  Remember, Wright’s didn’t make sense in many parts of Paul’s argument (part of the same context, so we’d expect it to have a similar if not identical meaning).  Piper’s makes much more sense.  The implications of this will be explored more fully in his fourth chapter.

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