Archive for the ‘Historical Reformed Theology’ Category

On the Present State of the Gospel

November 16, 2008

On this blog, we have been looking at History and Reformed Theology for a few months now. Underlying this title is a basic belief that what is called Reformed theology in our day is not in line with what was historically Reformed. The last discussion was on the word “by” in justification by faith alone which points to the use of faith in justification. This is a greatly neglected topic. Yet without that topic many people see no real difference between the Reformed view of justification and other views. There has been a lot of agreement between Reformed people and those of other views. Again, is this to say that people with other views are not Christians? Regardless of that, what we must wrestle with is that there is only one Gospel and there is only one way of salvation. We must also wrestle with the idea that people mean differing things when they use the same words and the fact that the words do not always express accurately what is the deepest belief of the heart. It is easier to join hands and call all other people brother than it is to deal with the hard issues of the Gospel.

During the time of the Reformation and then in those who followed the thinking of the Reformers as biblical, some great distinctions were seen between Roman Catholicism and biblical teaching. In more recent times those who desired unity have desired to see the great distinctions between Rome and Protestantism gradually diminish and even disappear. One issue that will not go away is that of justification. To achieve unity with Roman Catholicism one has to ignore the biblical distinctions set out in the Reformation. A unity achieved at that price is not true unity but is just simply a case of people ignoring what is important in order to get along. Paul told us that there is only one Gospel. The issue is not being gracious to people and it is not getting along just to get along, but it is seeking the Lord to glory in Christ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the modern day the distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism is having a veneer put on it as well. It is thought to be gracious and winsome to get along. But the unity between the two positions is really nothing more than appearance and is perhaps as simple as people wanting to get along for the reasons (as they call it) of a higher purpose. It is also true that Paul said that if he were still trying to please men, he would not be a bond-servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10). The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we not link hands with those who deny the Gospel even if they profess to believe it. It seems as if the Gospel is taken for granted by so many as being just a few facts about Jesus, and as long as people agree on a few facts in word they are brothers.

Jesus Christ commands His people to love Him with all of their hearts, minds, souls, and strength. This means that doing theology will be tough and we are to submit to Scripture in all things rather than to get along for the sake of getting along. The Gospel has been eclipsed in our day by many false gospels (even in the name of orthodoxy) and by the joining of groups who come together for what they see as good reasons. The phrase justification by faith can be used by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. It can be used by liberals and conservatives. The phrase justification by faith alone will weed out some, but it still will not bring all together in unity in the Gospel. The phrase Arminian means so many things today and many who are Pelagians use that to describe themselves. There are many who claim to be Reformed who are really Arminian at the root issues.

What is to be done? We must know that true unity will only be found in Christ and in truth. We cannot just use the name Christ and say we have unity because we use the same name. As set out in the past few weeks on the word “by” and the use of faith, there are enormous differences between people on the use of faith. Does one have to be a Calvinist to be saved? What is a Calvinist? Does one have to be an Arminian to be saved? What is an Arminian? What we do know is that one has to be justified by grace alone apart from any works that contribute to salvation by the human being saved. What we do know is that true faith must be in Christ and not in self. As the distinctions are continually watered down by people on all sides, we must learn to go to God Himself through Christ by means of the Scriptures. We must learn to pray as we read and meditate on Scripture asking for God to show us Himself. It may be that as our nation is going through a battle that is shaking it at its very core, the professing Church will be shaken as well. It may be that those who wish to get along despite the truth will be shaken free from any theological moorings at all. No matter what people call themselves in terms of theological distinctions, all true believers must adhere to the historical teachings of justification by faith alone in all of its parts. The foundation of Christianity is rooted in Christ and His grace. What we know as good and right is falling away to the winds and waves of liberalism. Soon we will only be left with the Gospel. The true Church that is founded on the true Gospel will never truly be lost as the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We must fight for the true Gospel.

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Faith Points to the Grace & Power of God

November 14, 2008

Past writers spent a lot of time on this particular part of justification because by it, grace alone by Christ alone is preserved and set forth. It is also hard to know when a good stopping point has been reached. Perhaps a good point has passed already, but the intent is to have this post as the last one on this subject for the time. One more quote from Turretin and we will stand down from this subject.

“Faith is said to save us (Lk. 7:50), not by meriting something in order to justification, but only receptively and organically because it was the instrument receptive of that benefit. Nothing is more frequent than by a metalepsis to ascribe to an instrument the effect of the principal cause (as when “the gospel” is said “to be the power of God unto salvation,” Rom. 1:16; the diligent hand is said to increase the house; the plough to enrich the farmer; the hand of the giver to relieve the poor; and the like). If elsewhere the greatness of the faith of the Canaanite woman to whom Christ granted the sought-for blessing is extolled (Mt. 15:28), its merit and efficiency is not on that account denoted. Believing, she was certainly healed because, faith being the medium, God bestowed this blessing upon her; but believing, he healed her, not on account of the fact that faith properly speaking effected or merited the healing.”

Scripture attributes a lot to faith and so it is very easy to look upon faith as the cause of salvation and of works rather than the instrument of receiving Christ and grace. The word metalepsis is not one commonly used in our day. The meaning of it is seen to some degree from the two Greek words that make it up. “Meta” means beyond and lepsis has the idea of to take. It has the basic idea of participation or to partake. It was used in ancient rhetoric “as a figure consisting of the substitution by metonymy of one word for another which would itself be taken figuratively” (1923 edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary). A metonymy is a more familiar word and it is used in modern English as using a word to stand for other things. The American Heritage Dictionary gives the example of “a pen is mightier than the sword” as a metonym. The pen is used to stand for the writing and publishing of ideas that are themselves the real power. But the pen is used to point to the whole.

Scripture uses this device in many places (Turretin points out a few). The point at this juncture is that when Scripture speaks of faith as saving sinners, it is not a unique thing to point out that the word “faith” is being pointed to in a way that stands for a bigger process (like the pen above). One example that Turretin points to is when the Gospel is said to be the power of God. The written words that speak the Gospel have no power in and of themselves. The spoken words of a preacher have no power in and of themselves. The power of the Gospel is when God takes the Gospel and applies it. The Gospel itself is an instrument in the hands of the power of God to change hearts and transfer sinners from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son. The Gospel in Romans 1:16 is not powerful in and of itself, but in the hands of God it is divinely powerful.

When God created the Scripture says in several places “then God said…and it was so.” Did God simply speak a word into nothingness and the very sounds of His voice bring all things into being? It is easier to think that what happened is that the words “God spoke” represent His power and wisdom in creating. When the power of God carries out His own words His words are powerful. God must watch over His Word to see that it is done. It is not that a word has power in and of itself apart from the true agent of power. The Gospel will not change any heart unless it is used by God to do so. God alone can change hearts. So Scripture uses metonyms over and over. The Gospel is to be preached because it is what God uses to save sinners. We are to tell people that they are saved through faith because Christ and grace are received through faith. When faith is stressed in this sense, the real point is that salvation is by Christ alone and by grace alone. When we stress the preaching of the Gospel we should not be speaking of the power of our words but of the power of God to save through the Gospel.

It is very important to stress this in evangelism or people will think that salvation must come from them as a result of their coming up with faith. We must learn to preach the Gospel while looking to the power of God to make it effectual and we must learn to preach faith alone as a way of getting men, women, and children to look to Christ and His grace alone to save rather than to themselves to come up with faith. If this is thought to be picky and an effort to explain everything to those being evangelized, then let the names continue while the Gospel is preached. The only faith that saves is a faith that looks to Christ alone and receives Him. Justification is all of God.

Faith in Conversion & Sanctification

November 11, 2008

It may appear to some as more than just a bit strange to make so many posts on this issue. On the other hand, it appears to me that this is a hidden issue in the modern day and yet it is utterly vital to justification. If anyone is inclined to think that justification is not important, that person cannot have a very high view of the Gospel. We live in a day where sincerity is thought to be more important than doctrinal precision and fidelity to Scripture. As Luther wrote, “one little word will fell him.” The Word of God is still the Word of God and we must be utterly submissive to it in all parts. Understanding the Gospel of Christ alone and grace alone requires us to think with precision in order to cut off the routes and inroads of error into it. In our day there are many exits and escapes that people are taking from the Gospel of Jesus Christ while still holding to the name of Christian. Francis Turretin is quite precise in blocking off many of those exits and escapes. This is more than just an intellectual exercise; it is an attempt to take every thought captive to Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Faith is viewed in different lights: either in the act itself of justification or in the person of the justified or in the effect of justification. In the person of the justified, it is well called ‘the beginning of righteousness’; not imputed but inherent because it is the root of all virtues. Thus in the effect of justification, it is the principle and cause of new obedience; but in the act of justification, it can be nothing else than an instrument apprehending and applying to man that which justifies. Thus he is justified not by the merit of faith, but only by it as a means.”

In many congregations and “revival” meetings, people are told that they must come to the front of a building and pray a prayer. They are told that if they do that they will be saved. The prayer or perhaps believing is said to be an act of faith. Reformed people do the same thing. The goal it appears is to get the sinner to do an act that is interpreted as an act of faith. The Arminian will say that the person did it from a free will and the Reformed person will say that God gave the person faith. Nevertheless, the result is the same. Neither theological camp is giving the person a true account of faith. The person that prays the prayer understands that the act leads to something or s/he would not do the act. Does the person believe that it is the faith itself that saves? If so, that person does not believe on Jesus Christ alone for salvation and is not looking to be justified as an act of God’s grace alone.

Our primary concern must be the biblical message and not just lining up under a particular theological banner. But surely it is obvious that if a person is trusting in the act of believing or in the prayer to save, that person is not resting on Christ alone by grace alone to be saved. Now, if that person goes on in the practice of sanctification with that same idea of faith, they will also be given over to works for sanctification and will think that since all is being done by faith that all is well. Faith is the instrument that receives Christ for justification but also continues to receive grace to live by in sanctification. If a person starts off with a wrong view of faith in terms of justification, that person will continue to live under a wrong view of faith. We must always remember that “it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace” (Romans 4:16). We are not justified by a work (not even of faith) or many works, but by Christ alone through faith alone. We are not sanctified by a work or many works either, but instead by Christ alone through faith alone. Faith receives grace and is not something of self that we do.

If we take people and only tell them to pray a prayer or make an act of belief, then fallen human nature will think that faith is their own act. If they go to church and make a moral change, they will think that this validates their faith. As long as they have a belief in Christ and believe enough to do what is externally correct, they will think they are converted. It is utterly vital that the biblical teaching of faith be taught. We are told to be gracious, yet if we are gracious in the modern sense and never get to the offense of the Gospel, we will graciously deceive people. Some will say that we must have unity with all that hold to the basics of the Gospel. That is all well and good, but we must get down into the Word of God and determine what the Gospel truly is and what it is that is consistent with the Gospel of Christ alone. Paul was very clear in Galatians 1:10 that if we are striving to please men (which is what being gracious can be) we are not bond-servants of Christ. By nature human beings hate God and will hate the glory of God as it shines out in the grace of the Gospel. They want to do something. When we try to appease men and not make it clear that they can do nothing, we are unfaithful to the Gospel. Assuredly justification is by faith alone, but to be faithful we must teach people what faith really is. A Calvinist or Arminian who says he holds to the doctrines of the Gospel but will not deal with the souls of men and instruct them about true faith has some deep beliefs in the heart that are quite different than what is espoused by the mouth.

Arminius on Imputed Righteousness

November 8, 2008

Last time I gave a quote from Francis Turretin. Interestingly enough, I tried to find from the writings of Arminius regarding what he had to say about the subject. I did not find it until after the last post, so I will try to give Arminius a place to defend himself here. In the second volume of his works (pp. 42-45) he denies the charge that some had made against him in this matter. The first quote is from Turretin and is the same from the last post. The second quote will be from Arminius.

In vain, however, does Arminius contend that the righteousness of Christ is not imputed for righteousness, since it is that very righteousness itself (to wit, supposing that is not properly righteousness which is imputed to us for righteousness). He falsely confounds to impute for righteousness by gracious acceptation that which is not a righteousness and to impute to a person for righteousness which he did not have. The first sense has no place here, only the latter. Accordingly what Abraham had not is said to be imputed to him for righteousness and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us (i.e., reckoned ours), which was not ours. Thus imputation does not deny the truth of the thing of the perfection of the righteousness, but only the truth of the possession by ascribing to a person what was not properly his. (Turretin)

I have said, that I disapprove of the SECOND enunciation, “The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us for righteousness:” And why may not I reject a phrase which does not occur in the Scriptures, provided I do not deny any true [sensum] signification which can be proved from the Scriptures? But this is the reason of my rejection of that phrase: “Whatever is imputed for righteousness, or to righteousness, or instead of righteousness, it is not righteousness itself strictly and rigidly taken: But the righteousness of Christ, which He hath performed in obeying the Father, is righteousness itself strictly and rigidly taken: THEREFORE it is not imputed for righteousness. (Arminius)

If what Arminius says here is his correct position, then Turretin has indeed misread his intent. The little word “for” indeed has different meanings, but we also don’t know how if it is different in the language it was originally written in. The word “for” in English and in this context can mean that one thing is given to be something in and of itself or it can mean that one thing is accepted in place of another and is not that thing itself. Evidently Turretin read Arminius as meaning the righteousness of Christ cannot be imputed to us for righteousness because what is imputed cannot be righteousness itself. Arminius tries to explain his denial by saying that he used the word “for” in a different way. Arminius used the word “for” in this context as meaning “instead of.” His denial, then, of the righteousness of Christ for righteousness simply means that he does not believe that the righteousness of Christ is imputed instead of a real righteousness. He says that he believes the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers but that it is a real righteousness. His use of language at this point can certainly be read either way and would almost certainly be read the way Turretin read it apart from some very clear and precise language.

Arminius also uses different language in describing how he does not believe that faith is righteousness itself despite others reading him as saying so. He also asserts that he believes that faith is an instrument of justification but does not believe that it is an instrument of God in justification. What these writings do for us, despite the different interpretations, is show the glory of God in justification. God uses theological differences to set out His truth with more clarity. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to sinners and is a perfect righteousness in and of itself. No sinner needs any righteousness but the perfect righteousness of Christ Himself. Christ does not give something that God accepts in the place of righteousness and just calls it righteousness, but a strict, rigid, and even perfect righteousness is given to the sinner by the grace of God.

Regardless of what one thinks of Arminius or Turretin at this point, in the providence of God a great truth of the Gospel flows out of this. The justice and holiness of God is set out in the Gospel because He will not allow for anything but a perfect righteousness to enter into His presence. Yet we can also see the shining of the glory of His mercy, love, and grace in that He gives a perfect righteousness to sinners apart from their worth or merit in and of themselves. God does not just accept sinners by counting something which is not righteousness as righteousness, but because they have the perfect righteousness of Christ. The sinner with Christ has escaped hell by the cross of Christ and also has the gates of heaven opened because of the perfect righteousness of Christ counted as his.

Faith Itself is not our Righteousness

November 5, 2008

Today we will return to more of the thought of Francis Turretin.

“In vain, however, does Arminius contend that the righteousness of Christ is not imputed for righteousness, since it is that very righteousness itself (to wit, supposing that is not properly righteousness which is imputed to us for righteousness). He falsely confounds to impute for righteousness by gracious acceptation that which is not a righteousness and to impute to a person for righteousness which he did not have. The first sense has no place here, only the latter. Accordingly what Abraham had not is said to be imputed to him for righteousness and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us (i.e., reckoned ours), which was not ours. Thus imputation does not deny the truth of the thing of the perfection of the righteousness, but only the truth of the possession by ascribing to a person what was not properly his.”

“What is said concerning anyone in Scripture ought to be altogether in him, but according to the manner which it teaches itself. Now the manner in which justification and salvation are ascribed to faith, does not consist in its own proper efficiency (as if our faith wrought or effected them), but they are placed only in its fiducial apprehension and applications. Nor otherwise are we said to please God by faith (Heb. 11:6) and to be purged of sin (Acts 15:9), than because it applies to us the righteousness and blood of Christ, who purges us from sins and makes us acceptable to God.”

Once again we see the importance of determining the biblical use of faith. It is clear from what Turretin has written and what he writes in the quote above that this is a slippery issue and many appear to have slipped and crashed on the rocks at this point. Not many that call themselves Calvinists believe all that Calvin wrote and certainly not all Arminians believe all that James Arminius wrote. However, it is quite interesting to note where a position will take you when that position is taken to its own logical end. If I understand Turretin’s representation of Arminius’ position correctly, it seems that Arminius believed that a person who had faith was graciously accepted by God as if it was the faith itself that pleased God. In doing so this led to his denial of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as the very righteousness of the believer.

Arminius and so many in history as well as our day want to make faith out to be something the human does in order to obtain something from God. Indeed they say that when a person has faith it is a gracious acceptation on the part of God, but the faith is still something that the human being comes up with apart from the efficacious grace of God and it is granted righteousness by God because He is pleased to do so by grace. But this is a vastly different use of the concept of grace that is found in Scripture. It is also a very different version of the use of faith. If we agree with Arminius or those today who follow his general thought, then Turretin is correct in saying that essentially that position has God counting as righteousness (faith) that which is not righteous in and of itself. No human being can come up with a perfect faith and so if faith itself which is imperfect is counted as righteousness that would leave all human beings without a perfect righteousness.

In contrast to the faith that is counted as something and even as righteousness in and of itself, we have the biblical position of faith as an instrument. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Faith is what receives Christ and receives grace. It is only those who receive Christ by grace alone that are united to Christ and are considered as one with Him (Ephesians 5). Believers are married to Christ and are considered as one with Him on the basis of that marriage. The believer is acceptable to God only because of Christ. When a person is truly united to Christ, then the person has received Christ Himself. To be united to Christ Himself is (as marriage used to be thought of) for Him to take all of my debts and to pay them by the ransom price of Himself. When a person is united to Christ and all the debt of sin is taken away, then that person has the righteousness of Christ imputed or reckoned to him or her. But all of this is based on Christ and Christ alone who grants these things based on grace and grace alone. The use of faith is to receive Christ as the only One who can satisfy the wrath of God for my sin and as my perfect righteousness Himself. Faith cannot obtain a perfect righteousness itself or be graciously accepted as righteous by a perfectly just and holy God. However, one can receive Christ by faith and He is the perfect righteousness Himself. That is the biblical teaching.

The Importance of Understanding Faith in Evangelism

November 3, 2008

Last time I gave a quote from Robert Trail who made an important distinction in faith itself. That quote is simply tremendous and is worthy of serious thought. Here is the same quote again:

“There appears to be some difference, or misunderstanding of one another, about the true notion and nature of justifying faith. Divines commonly distinguish between the direct act of faith and the reflex act. The direct act is properly justifying and saving faith, by which a lost sinner comes to Christ and relies upon him for salvation. The reflex act is the looking back of the soul upon a former act of faith. A rational creature can reflect upon his own acts, whether they are acts of reason, faith, or unbelief. A direct act of saving faith is that by which a lost sinner goes out of himself to Christ for help, relying upon him only for salvation. A reflex act arises from the sense that faith gives of its own inward act, upon a serious review…But, as plain as these things are, yet we find we are frequently mistaken by others, and we wonder at the mistake; for we dare not ascribe to some learned and good men the principles of ignorance or willfulness, from which mistakes in plain cases usually proceed. When we press sinners to come to Christ by a direct act of faith, consisting in a humble reliance upon him for mercy and pardon, they will understand us, whether we will or not, of a reflex act of faith, by which a man knows and believes that his sins are pardoned, and that Christ is his, when they might easily know that we mean no such thing.”

This comment by Trail should awaken all who do evangelism from their slumbers. If we just tell people to believe, we might mean one thing by it but they most likely will hear and believe something else. A self-centered person will always look to self to come up with what they think is needed for salvation rather than deny self and look to Christ alone. Men and women hate to be saved by grace alone and will do anything to save for themselves one little act so that salvation will depend on what they do to some small degree. I remember a man telling me that he knew a man that said that even if God came a million miles to save him that last part of the inch was up to him. We are deluding ourselves and deceiving others if we think that we can tell people that they are justified by faith alone or that they need to believe in Christ and that they will know what it means to truly believe and trust in Christ.

We know that people are told to believe and so when they start looking for assurance we ask them if they made a choice or made a decision at some past time. What people begin to do is to look at themselves to see if they have faith. Whether a believer or not, that is utterly fatal in some way. Paul tells us to examine ourselves to see if we have Christ (II Corinthians 13:5). If a person truly has Christ, then that person has faith because Christ only comes to those who receive Him and His righteousness by grace alone which can only be received by a true faith alone. Faith is what receives Christ, but if we look to the faith itself that is fatal to faith because the only thing faith can do is to receive Christ. If we look to our faith, there is nothing to be seen. If we look to Christ, we may be able to know if we have faith or not. A simple act of intellectual belief can be trusted in by people for years until they lift up their eyes in hell. That simple act of intellectual belief can be followed by moral reformation and fervent works and religious practices in attending church. But that is to do nothing more than the Pharisees did. It is not a faith in Christ but a faith in faith or a faith in the faith of self. It is not faith in Christ. Thus we can at least begin to see how our forefathers from the Reformation and their followers had a strong distaste for Arminianism because it had a different view of how Christ came into the soul. Their way taught that Christ came in a way that the old writers would say denied grace alone. This is a very serious charge. But of course it is not politically correct to say things like this in our day and it is considered to be non-gracious. If we do not point these things out, however, we are not faithful to God, His Word, the Gospel, or to our spiritual heritage. These things are vital.

As we think of the differences this would make on evangelism, it changes most everything. If we not only have to explain to people about who Christ is and of His work on the cross, but now we have to explain what faith really is, this will require a lot more teaching. In fact, we might have to go over and over it because people are so opposed to it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is important enough to spend a lot of time over. No longer would it be acceptable to just ask people to pray a prayer or to walk an aisle. No longer is it acceptable just to tell people to believe some facts. We must always remember that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Jesus taught us that we must be turned and become like children to even enter the kingdom. A true faith receives Christ by grace and so the soul must be broken from pride and humbled in order to receive this grace. This makes things much harder.

Some Implications for Evangelism

November 1, 2008

One might wonder why so much effort and time are being spent on the issue of the use of faith. It is because it is utterly vital to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It would appear that the whole world follows after the idea that faith is a work. While many if not most would deny that, the way people do evangelism makes it appears that they are describing a faith that the person can just do in a way that is or at least sounds like a work. It has been noted in past posts that there is a massive difference in understanding between those who at least outwardly adhere to the phrase “justification by faith alone.” That difference in understanding will inevitably lead to a difference in evangelism. Those who believe (regardless of words) that faith is something a person must come up with or do to be saved will practice an evangelism that tries to get the person to come up with that faith. Those who really believe that faith is an instrument of the Holy Spirit and not something to be worked up will focus on the truths of the Gospel and the need for those evangelized to be broken from any hope from self.

If justification comes through faith as an instrument that is a far different thing than if justification comes on behalf of faith or even because of faith. Our true view of the use of faith will determine in some measure how we practice evangelism. A person might be in line with any number of theological positions, but still if they do not understand the use of faith, the evangelism that the person practices will inevitably depend on faith as a work. This, I think, is one of the most disturbing signs in our day. One can go to an Arminian web site and find out that it is really closer to historical Pelagianism. One can go to many Reformed in name sites and read their information on how to be a Christian and virtually all of them give a view of faith (not necessarily explicitly) that is not in line with faith as an instrument. The information on how to become a Christian is perhaps less than what John Wesley would have written if he were alive. We have become infatuated with learning and teaching doctrine in an informational way and have forgotten the heart. How can a professing Reformed person practice evangelism without teaching a person that s/he is dead in sin or at least with that understanding solidly in the background? How can we just teach people to pray a prayer or lead someone in something like a sinner’s prayer if we have not told them the use of faith? It is not that we have to use the word “instrumental” as it is the concept that is important. If we don’t get that across to people, they will think that by an act of intellectual belief or a choice they can make salvation come to them. That is an utter denial of justification by faith alone as taught in Scripture and by the Reformers.

Some of the older writers (Robert Trail and Walter Marshall) made an important distinction in faith itself. Here is what Robert Trail said:

“There appears to be some difference, or misunderstanding of one another, about the true notion and nature of justifying faith. Divines commonly distinguish between the direct act of faith and the reflex act. The direct act is properly justifying and saving faith, by which a lost sinner comes to Christ and relies upon him for salvation. The reflex act is the looking back of the soul upon a former act of faith. A rational creature can reflect upon his own acts, whether they are acts of reason, faith, or unbelief. A direct act of saving faith is that by which a lost sinner goes out of himself to Christ for help, relying upon him only for salvation. A reflex act arises from the sense that faith gives of its own inward act, upon a serious review…But, as plain as these things are, yet we find we are frequently mistaken by others, and we wonder at the mistake; for we dare not ascribe to some learned and good men the principles of ignorance or willfulness, from which mistakes in plain cases usually proceed. When we press sinners to come to Christ by a direct act of faith, consisting in a humble reliance upon him for mercy and pardon, they will understand us, whether we will or not, of a reflex act of faith, by which a man knows and believes that his sins are pardoned, and that Christ is his, when they might easily know that we mean no such thing.”

This is a very good explanation that is in accordance with what “by faith” means. A true and saving faith is not one that looks upon itself and its own act of faith, but instead is focused on the object of faith and that is Christ alone. Faith as an instrument looks to Christ alone and not to faith itself. A true faith does not look to itself but is emptied of self and receives Christ alone. A faith that looks to itself is not looking to Christ but self. A faith that looks to itself is a faith that trusts in itself to trust in Christ. Surely, then, if we are going to proclaim the true Gospel of Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone we need to teach people about the use of faith and not just urge them to believe. They need to be taught to be broken and so receive Christ apart from their own abilities.

Faith is Not a Work

October 30, 2008

Francis Turretin is our guide through the process of looking at why faith itself cannot be accepted as righteousness. In past posts we looked at his first three reasons: “(a) because what is only the instrument for receiving righteousness cannot be our righteousness itself formally…(b) Because faith is distinguished from the righteousness itself which is imputed to us, both because it is said to be “of faith” and “by faith.” (c) Because we are not justified except by a perfect righteousness. This time we will look at (d) given below.

“If faith is counted for righteousness, we will be justified by works because thus faith cannot but have the relation of a work which justifies. And yet it is clear that in this business Paul always opposes faith to works as incompatible (asystata) and two antagonistic (antidieremena) means by which man is justified either by his own obedience and in himself, by the law, or by another’s obedience by the gospel. Nor does the difference between these modes of justification consist in this-that in the former a perfect obedience and in the latter an imperfect is accepted of God as perfect, since the mode of justification would be always the same-by works. Rather the difference consists in this-that since in both cases a perfect righteousness is required, in the former from the strictness (akribodikaio) of the law God demands a personal righteousness, here from the forbearance (epieikeia) of the gospel he admits another’s (to wit, the righteousness of Christ). Thus faith cannot be said to justify properly and by itself unless we slide back to the old covenant and return to legal justification.”

For many in our day this description by Turretin should strike home. There are many within the ranks of the Reformed and of all theological stripes that make faith out in some way to have a relation to works in terms of justification. But if faith does something other than receive righteousness by grace, then it is doing a work that in some way obtains righteousness because of that work. When faith is something other than an instrument which the Holy Spirit works in and through for the sinner to receive grace, it is destructive to the Gospel of grace alone. If justification is by grace alone, then the faith that is used in justification cannot be a work or it will not be grace alone. Interesting enough, it would also then not be by faith alone because if we make faith to be a work and then attach a work to the righteousness of Christ, we are left with Christ plus faith which is a work. If faith is said to be our righteousness itself, it becomes a work and overthrows justification by faith alone.

Turretin points out that if faith is counted for righteousness, it is inevitable and of necessity (his exact words: “cannot but have”) that justification will be by works. Whenever Paul uses the language of justified by faith and not by works, the idea of faith as a work would be included in that language. Romans 4:4-6 sets the basic concept out perfectly: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” Verse 4 teaches us that if we work for salvation, then what is received in return for that work is not a favor or grace, but it is due to the person that did the work. Applying Turretin’s thought to this, if faith is a work for righteousness, then salvation comes by a work and makes salvation by grace alone incompatible with the work of faith.

Verse 5 tells us clearly that faith is not a work. Indeed one must believe in God who justifies the ungodly, and it is also true that faith is credited as righteousness. This thought is used several times in the Bible. What we must do, however, is consider whether faith is considered as righteousness in and of itself or because of the fact that the one that has faith has Christ as its object of faith. If faith is considered as righteousness in and of itself, then salvation is credited as what is due to the one who has faith. That makes faith to be a work and a work that ends up justifying the sinner. But we know that verse 5 is not talking about faith as a work of justification because verse 6 speaks of the blessing to the man that “God credits righteousness apart from works.” This tells us for certain that God reckons/credits/imputes righteousness in a way that is not a work. Faith cannot be a work or Paul is utterly inconsistent with the Scriptures that he wrote. God will never be satisfied with anything less than a perfect righteousness and the only perfect righteousness available is the righteousness of Christ. He only gives His righteousness as a gift of grace. We receive Christ and His righteousness by faith, but we cannot take it or earn it by the work of faith. As Turretin says, and this should shock people who hold to these things back to their biblical senses, to hold that faith is a work is to return to legal justification. Paul fought against that mightily.

Justification is Only by a Perfect Righteousness

October 27, 2008

Francis Turretin is our guide through the process of looking at why faith itself cannot be accepted as righteousness. In past posts we looked at his first two reasons: “(a) because what is only the instrument for receiving righteousness cannot be our righteousness itself formally…(b) Because faith is distinguished from the righteousness itself which is imputed to us, both because it is said to be “of faith” and “by faith.” In this post we will look at (c) given below.

“Because we are not justified except by a perfect righteousness. For we have to deal with the strict justice of God, which cannot be deceived. Now no faith here is perfect. Nor can it be said that it is not indeed a perfect righteousness of itself, but is admitted as such by God and considered such by a gratuitous lowering of the law’s demands. For in the court of divine justice (which demands an adequate and absolutely perfect payment), there cannot be room for a gracious acceptation which is an imaginary payment. Again, since our justification is a forensic and judicial act (where God shows himself just, Rom 3:25), it does not admit of a gracious acceptance (which never proceeds from the authority and sentence of the Judge, but from the voluntary and private stipulation of the parties).”

If Turretin had said nothing else but this statement his case in this point against Socinianism, Romanism, and Arminianism would have been sealed and over. Why is it that faith itself cannot be accepted as righteousness in and of itself? It is “because we are not justified except by a perfect righteousness.” This is a massive bomb launched into the theology of the groups listed above. I fear, however, that it is also a bomb that needs to explode in the theology of many that call themselves Reformed in our day. The reason that we must have a perfect righteousness is because God is perfect in all He is and all He does. As a just God, He demands perfect justice. As a perfect God who is omnipresent, all-wise, and omniscient, He cannot possibly be deceived. God will not declare anyone just on the basis of anything but a perfect righteousness. We are now right back to the basic issues in theology and that is the character of the living God. We may want to water things down to allow some small wiggle room for human activity in salvation, but Turretin takes us right back to the glory of the justice of God. We tend to forget that the Gospel is the Gospel of the glory of God. We want to think that God is all about us, so we conveniently ignore the fact that the Gospel is so that He may be just and the justifier. For God to declare a sinner just, that sinner must be perfectly just in His eyes. That declaration will take place in one of three ways: 1. It will be by the perfect righteousness of Christ granted by grace. 2. It will be the righteousness of the sinner him or herself. 3. It will be by mostly Christ and a little of the human being.

For the Socinian or Arminian position to be true, faith itself must be counted as a righteous act (however small) that is acceptable to God. Perhaps most Arminians in our day would deny position 3, but at some point they would have to be driven there. If faith is exercised by the human being apart from grace alone in order to attach itself to Christ, then that is something that must be a perfect act or we would not be justified by a perfect righteousness. As Turretin points out, that demands that God be something less than perfectly just. All that have any real view of Scripture know that the sinner will never be righteous in and of himself (view 2). However, it is very hard for people to see that their faith must come from them as fallen individuals and must be perfect in and of itself if they are going to be saved by a perfect righteousness. It is hard to get people to see that they must be saved by the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ alone apart from any act of their faith if their faith has to have merit. But once it is admitted that a person must be saved by the righteousness of Christ alone, the only place to go is that faith is an instrument that receives grace. Faith does nothing in and of itself but receive grace. It is this position alone that allows for God to be perfectly just in declaring sinners perfectly righteous in His sight because Christ alone has earned a perfect righteousness. If the sinner trusts in his own faith as the part he needs to do, then the sinner needs a perfect faith that will merit righteousness in the eyes of an all-knowing and perfectly just God. It is nothing but supreme arrogance to state that a sinner can do one thing perfectly righteous when Scripture says that “ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE” (Rom 3:12). We are all helpless sinners in the hands of God who alone can give us a perfect righteousness that saves completely because it alone satisfies perfect justice. Instead of arguing that we can work up one little perfect act ourselves, we need to be on our knees crying out to this great God for mercy in the name of Christ. It is only on the basis of His name that a perfectly just God can show mercy.

The Righteousness of Christ

October 25, 2008

What Turretin, John Owen and many others from history have tried to get at in the discussion or teaching that faith must be viewed as an instrument in justification is that in order for justification to be by grace alone and Christ alone all the righteousness must be the righteousness of Christ. If this is thought and meditated on with open Bibles and prayerful hearts, the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be seen with greater clarity. The use of faith is crucial in this discussion and Arminian theology will also be seen as severely lacking. Again, this is not a diatribe saying all professing Arminians are lost, but in the context of justification by faith alone it is an attempt to show that Arminian theology is severely limited (at best) in its explanations of the Gospel by grace alone. There also appears to be many presentations in the Reformed camp today that do not take into account the use of faith. If faith is an instrument to receive grace, then clearly one cannot believe on behalf of an infant as one does not receive grace for another. If faith is an intellectual exercise of believing some facts, then faith is something other than an instrument to receive Christ Himself. When faith is viewed as an instrument in receiving Christ and His grace, it is a very different thing than if faith does something in and of itself that pleases God or fulfills a covenant in some way.

In the last post we started looking at how Turretin handled this. In that BLOG the whole of reason (a) was given. This time just a short part of (a) will be given in order to help with the thought. We will continue to look at the vital point that believing or faith itself cannot be our righteousness itself. Our righteousness is Jesus Christ and He is the righteousness of God that is given through faith.

As to the former, faith or the act of believing is not considered as our righteousness with God by a gracious acceptation: (a) because what is only the instrument for receiving righteousness cannot be our righteousness itself formally…(b) Because faith is distinguished from the righteousness itself which is imputed to us, both because it is said to be “of faith” and “by faith” (Rom 1:17; 3:22; Phil 3:9) and because Christ with his obedience and satisfaction is that righteousness imputed to us (Isa 53:11; Jer 23:6; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13, 14), which faith indeed apprehends as its object, but with which it cannot be identified. Hence Scripture nowhere says that God willed to count our faith for righteousness, but that he made Christ unto us righteousness; that he is Jehovah our righteousness and that we are the righteousness of God in him.

Romans 3:22 – “even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.”

Philippians 3:9 – “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

1 Corinthians 1:30 – “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.”

Galatians 3:13 – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE “– 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Romans 3:22 sets out for us the truth that the righteousness we are declared righteous by is not our own righteousness, but it is the righteousness of God and it comes through faith in Jesus Christ. A person is not declared righteous because s/he has righteousness in and of himself or because faith is counted as righteousness itself, but because one has faith in Jesus Christ. A true faith unites a person to Christ and so one is declared just or righteous based on the righteousness of Christ imputed to the person. Philippians 3:9 specifically says that our righteousness is not what we have derived, but comes through faith in Christ. This is a righteousness that comes from God but is not the faith itself. I Corinthians 1:30 is also specific in that it says that Christ is our righteousness rather than faith itself is our righteousness. The other side of imputation is seen when Christ redeems people from the curse of the Law (their unrighteousness) by “having become a curse for us.” How much of the curse did Christ bear and how much of the curse did He deliver us from? Does the act of faith also have something in it that will bear part of the curse of the Law? No, but faith is the instrument of receiving Christ Himself. The sinner that has true faith has received the true Christ. The sinner that has received Christ has all of his or her sin taken away by the work of Christ on the cross. The sinner that has received Christ has all the righteousness that is needed or will ever be accepted by God imputed to him. The Gospel is Christ alone and grace alone. Faith receives Christ who alone became a perfect curse and a perfect righteousness in the place of sinners. All the glory belongs to God and men try to steal the glory of God when they say that faith itself is righteous. Psalm 115:1 should be our Gospel cry.