Where’s Waldo Wednesday: The Power to Confuse

Nick Batzig has a useful post on union with Christ that I believe illustrates what some people find confusing about the doctrine — at least I do. I interact with this post not to single out or pick on Nick, who is a friend and whose ministry I respect, but because it is an example of the assertions that follow from union with Christ — assertions that do not necessarily follow as a form of argument but may work more as a kind of inspiration. If readers can help me understand better, or fill in the holes of a necessarily short essay, I’d be grateful. Unionists may plausibly consider me a hostile reader. But since I am also some kind of Vossian and generally agree with the unionists on a variety of other matters, such as worship and polity, they may actually consider the questions raised here as a useful prod to the kind of clarity and explanation that would greatly advance their cause and aid the churches they admirably wish to serve.

I’ll paste below the full text of Nick’s post — to let him have his due — and supply a running commentary at the bottom.

One of the most beneficial things I learned from my professors during my seminary days was that ministers must continually preach the message of the cross to the people of God for their growth in grace. One professor in particular constantly exhorted us to preach Christ “for pardon and power.” The longer I have been a Christian, the more I see the wisdom of this counsel. The message of the cross meets our deepest need for pardon, but it also meets our need for power as we seek to overcome indwelling sin.

Few things trouble the soul of the child of God so much as the presence of indwelling sin, and the sober realization of the inability of the flesh to overcome it. True believers often come to an end of themselves and cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Rom. 7:24)? Christians grieve over sin and spiritual weakness. They long for victory over it. The Scriptures command us to be diligent in examining ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28; 2 Cor. 13:5), taking heed to ourselves (1 Cor. 10:12), and asking the Lord to “search us…and see if there be any grievous way in us” (Psalm 139:23-24); but they do not stop there. God’s word reveals that the work of Christ is the source of pardon for sin—as well as the source of power to overcome it. Believers possess this power by virtue of their union with Christ in His death and resurrection. In order to grow in Christ-likeness, the believer must remember that sin’s dominion was broken when Christ died in their place and rose again. This is the apostle’s chief concern in Romans 6:1-14—a passage to which we must regularly return.

All of this seems so clear that I marvel at how quickly we forget it, and how seldom it is mentioned in pulpits and Christian literature (a grand exception being Walter Marshall’s Gospel Mystery of Sanctification!). The deficiency is apparent in many seeker-sensitive churches where pragmatism abounds; but sadly, it is also prevalent in many of our more traditional Protestant churches. I often fear that those who are most skillful at diagnosing the complexity and atrocity of sin in themselves—and in pointing it out in others—are the least skillful in pointing themselves and others to the Savior. It is far easier to fixate on the problem than to focus on the solution. It is actually quite easy to focus on sin and quite difficult to keep our eyes steadfastly fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2). Consequently, it often seems expedient to offer pragmatic—dare I say it, even biblical—advice that does not actually give the power to overcome sin (Col. 2:20-23). In order to progress in Christian living, we must remember that sin’s dominion was broken when Christ died for us at the cross.

Paul began to address the issue of sanctification in Romans (Rom. 6:1-14), by reminding believers of the freedom they have from sin’s dominion by virtue of their union with Christ: “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). Sin’s power was broken in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christ came not only to cancel sin’s debt; He came to break its power. Therefore, the apostle exhorted: “You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom.6:11). When we forget that sin’s power over us was broken in the death of Christ, we will inevitably fail to walk in the newness of life that we have in union with Him. If we neglect this crucial aspect of Christ’s work we will inevitably end up living in bondage, discouragement, fear, doubt, and anxiety—or else we will become self-righteous, judgmental and proud.

Union with Christ truly is one of the most precious doctrines for Christian living. It is mentioned nearly 150 times in the New Testament by use of the phrase “in Christ,” “in Him,” “in Jesus,” or “in Jesus Christ.” The apostles relentlessly remind believers of their position in Christ. By faith, we are united to Him, in whom we receive all the spiritual blessings of God (1 Cor. 1:31).

We do not come to Christ by faith for justification and then depart from Him for sanctification. In Christ our sins are pardoned, and in Him the reign of sin is overthrown. The same Christ who justified us, also sanctifies us; therefore, the same faith that justifies us also sanctifies us (cf. John 15:1-5). John Owen captured this truth magnificently when he wrote: “While by faith we contemplate the glory of Christ as revealed in the Gospel, all grace will thrive and flourish in us towards a perfect conformity unto Him.” By union with Christ, believers have power to put indwelling sin to death (Col. 2:20-3:17). With the apostle we answer the question, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?,” with the joyful exclamation, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

So, we begin with the message of the cross and the power of the cross in addressing the sinner’s need for pardon and power to overcome sin. So far, no union. It’s the cross. Lots of hymns support that theme.

In the second graph we have more on the problem of indwelling sin and the power of the cross to overcome this dominion. So far, still no union. It’s the cross. But at the end of the graph we have mention of the resurrection. And for most union advocates, following Richard Gaffin, it is the resurrection that brings the power to overcome sin’s dominion (did someone say “dominionism”?). For that reason, I was a little confused by Nick’s start with the cross. Now that he turns to the resurrection I’m feeling on more familiar ground.

Then in the fourth graph we arrive at union with Christ, having moved from the power of the cross first and then the power of the resurrection. But this is an odd argument at this point because we have freedom from the power of sin by virtue of union, but then we can fail somehow to possess the power, possibly by a failure of memory. Granted, believers who forget the doctrine of union fail to find comfort from it. But the problem that Nick addresses from the outset is a person who has sinned. The sinner hasn’t merely forgotten union but is actually struggling with the betweenness of belonging to Christ and doing something that looks like he belongs to the devil. Obviously, remembering union won’t solve the problem of having just sinned and trying to account for its presence in the believer’s life.

This is why I find talk about the wonders of the doctrine of union frustrating. It is apparently the cure for what ails the saint battling sin. But union is apparently a reality even when a saint sins, just as justification is. A saint united to Christ has power over indwelling sin even while he has sins in his life which testify to the power of indwelling sin. Which would suggest that the doctrine of union faces the same dilemma as justification — just as the saint is simultaneously justified and a sinner, so the one united to Christ is both united and a sinner. Either way, sin is still there and the believer is wondering, with Paul, how will I escape this body of death? I don’t see how union is so much more comforting than justification.

Then in the last two graphs we see fulsome praise for the doctrine of union, how it combines both justification and sanctification. Nick writes, “By union with Christ, believers have power to put indwelling sin to death.” But again, didn’t this post begin with the presence of sin in the Christian life, and evidence that indwelling sin has not died? Wasn’t the believer who sinned united to Christ? So how does union fix this problem?

To summarize: again, I am not picking on Nick. His piece is a perfect example of the kind of pro-union statements I regularly see and hear. And despite how often I hear the doctrine, I am still left confused by its explanation and power of inspiration. For one thing, its articulation seems often to merge thoughts about the power of Christ’s death and his resurrection, running all too quickly between the two. I guess this is an objection about the lack of precision. The other source of confusion is the alleged solution that union seems to provide to believers who struggle with sin and doubt. Union is supposed to point to the power over indwelling sin that believers possess by virtue of union at precisely the time in their life when they are most aware of indwelling sin’s ongoing power. Since I sin, I have tested the capacity of union to ease my burdened soul. But I find much more comfort in the face of guilt to know that I no longer face condemnation.

Postscript: And while I’m at it — I know a certain lay person (not all about me) who wonders how union with Christ is different from union with God. Since Christ is God, an ordinary believer may think that all of the talk about union with Christ leads to a view of being united with God that is at odds with what Christians also believe about the categorical distinction between the creator and the creature. If anyone who wants to help me out with this lay person’s confusion, I’d be grateful.

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509 Comments

  1. Posted November 27, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Mark, that did not help clarify anything to me. Now you are saying that God imputes not only our sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us (something that belongs to another) but faith is something imputed to us too. Also, that God legally marries us to Christ- huh? You keep adding things that happen in the imputation. Please sort that out for me.

  2. Posted November 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Mark,

    I think I see what you mean by your last Gaffin (unionists) post. That is very subtle stuff and it does seem to make sanctification something that we have to cooperate with grace in order to reap its benefits (syergism on our part helped along by the power of the Holy Spirit that now dwells in us). In a a previous post you had this to say about Romans chapter 6: “The context of Romans 6 is the righteousness of Christ in Romans 5:21. However, I will start with verse 18 to give a better context to what is being said: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is not the righteousness produced in us by the indwelling of the Spirit. The reason given in Romans 6 for why sin shall not have dominion over you is “that you are not under law.” I know that now usually gets read redemptive-historically, so that it means that now that you are in the new covenant and have the indwelling, you can now do habitually better. But I think it means: you are not under guilt anymore, because as long as you were under guilt, you are free from righteousness (or, you do not believe you possess the righteousness of Christ-my addition), unable to please God. Romans 6 speaks of Christ being under the dominion of sin. Christ was never corrupt or unregenerate. Christ was under the imputed guilt of the elect, but is no longer, and when his elect are now placed into that same death, they are no longer guilty.”

    Mark also added this in a previous post: When folks say, “it’s first of all about union”, they don’t usually define union, but it usually means, “it’s not all about the justification of the ungodly.” And if that doesn’t mean regeneration, it does mean the Holy Spirit and faith and whatever else is needed to make sure that the justification is not of those who are still ungodly.”

    Another post of Mark: “I would submit that it’s the faith alone which can obscure the forensic nature of justification, justification is not because of faith, but because of the righteousness Christ obtained in history. When God imputes that righteousness, the result is justification through faith.”

    Another post of Mark: “The main idea of Mike Horton’s ‘covenantal ontology’ is that justification is not an inert but a living word, on a par with creation ex nihilio (p. 247)- (I did check out this page and Horton did in fact say this in his 3rd book of his Divine Drama series). I understand when folks worry that this collapses justification with regeneration (meaning, I think, that justification comes before regeneration-my addition), but I think Horton is talking about God’s justification of the ungodly as God’s performative act that then causes the work of the Spirit in the elect believer. Romans 8:10 teaches Christ in you and “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Galatians 4:6 teaches that “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts. This then leads us to 2Cor. 5:14-15: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therfore all have died; and he died for all (this sounds like universal atonement to me, but I digress and I know all does not necessarily have to be a universal term- my addition), that those who live (this may not included all then- only those who live or have received the imputation) might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

    I want to continue on here through the end of the chapter because I believe the remaining versus show us that it is the imputation which makes us a new creation. Starting at verse 16-21: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God (notice not God the Son or God the Holy Spirit-my addition), who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    Now that is good news. And I think it proves that the new creation is not something the Holy Spirit does but it the direct result of the imputation by God the Father himself. So, a lot of stuff does happen as a direct result of the imputation and the imputation seems to be the foundation of the doctrine of justification. The work of the Holy Spirt, ie., regeneration, repentance and faith, does seem to follow the imputation from these scripture passages.

    As an aside, it seems to me that there is batlle going on between Westminster East and Westminster West about justification priority and union priority. Those at Westminster East prefer the union priority and those at Westminster West the justification priority. There is very subtle stuff going on here .

    Here is one last post by Mark: “How is the reconciliation received? (Rom. 5:11,17). The Gaffinists (unionists) always assume that the application of reconciliation is by faith. But Berkoff and A.A. Hodge (and Horton and Bruce McCormack) argue that reconciliation is received by God’s imputation with faith as the immediate result. If you take a look at the two versus in question, you find a passive receiving. And there’s nothing more passive than a legally dead ungodly sinner being baptized by God (without hands- meaning no water here according to Mark, but I have questions about that) into the death of Christ.” Verse 11 states: “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Verse 17 states: “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

    The only problem with all this is Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” I let someone else try to explain that verse.

  3. Posted November 28, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I think the answer to the problem of Romans 5:1-2, which seems to imply that the imputation occurs after faith (not faith being the result of the imputation) and is applied to us by the Spirit is the comment by Brian many posts ago. He was the one who introduced everyone to the idea of Bavinck, which Horton seems to have picked up on too, that there is an “active justification” and a “passive justification.” Here is what Brian had to say about this:

    Brian
    Posted September 12, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink
    Bavinck 4.201:
    “Yet, although Calvin proved his independence also in the doctrine of justification, he did not solve all the problems that present themselves in the study of this article of faith. This applies especially to the relaationship of justification to election and satisfaction, on one hand, and to sanctification and glorification, on the other. If justification has a place somewhere between the two, there is always a reason to connect it more with the preceding or more with the following group of benefits, depending on the choice made, and justification itself acquires a different meaning. If one’s purpose is to maintain the objective forensic character of justification, it is natural to tie it closely with election and satisfaction. It then becomes the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, which took place long before, in the gospel, in the resurrection of Christ, or even from eternity, and is then appropriated much later by the subject in faith. Then that faith is no more than a vessel or instrument, a merely passive thing, so that it becomes hard to derive from it the new life of sanctification. On the other hand, if a person is focused more on practical than on speculative interests, one naturally tries to forge a close connection between justification and faith. In that case, justification coincides with the benefit of the forgiveness of sins, which is received and enjoyed in faith, and faith becomes communion with Christ. It has Christ dwell in us through his Spirit, assures us of God’s benevolence toward us, and pours out new life and new powers in our hearts.”
    […]
    “As a rule, Reformed theologians tried to avoid two extremes [i.e., favoring one over the other] and to that end soon began to employ the distinction between active and passive justification.”

    Worth reading in full.

    I think Brian (and Bavinck) is referring to the “active justification” as the “performative act of God” (which is what Horton called it) where God imputes our sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us. This takes away our guilt and the power of sin which is sins ability to condemn us. Remember that Horton also stated that this act of God was similar to God creating a “new creation” ex nihilio, or, out of nothing good in us (the ungodly). I personally think there is a distinction between the “new creation” and being “born again.” The new creation is something God the Father does, while the “born again” or regeneration is something God the Holy Spirit does. The new creation is the result of the imputation but the regeneration is the result of the the gifts of faith and repentance which the Holy Spirit gives to us. The agent or one elected by God is passive in the “active justification” but active in the “passive justification.” I could be wrong about this but that is what makes sense to me of this puzzling puzzle.

  4. Posted November 28, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Brian also made this interesting comment but I am not sure what he is talking about here:

    When Bavinck and Berkhof affirm these two different senses, I consider this a case of careful nuancing. It’s only contradiction if you can’t live with tension. But you’ve got to read it for yourself before you dismiss it.

    I’m happy to say that faith and repentance, as obligations, are “associated” with the gospel. These are especially appropriate in response to the gospel–faith as looking extraspecitvely to the mediator, and repentance as the first act of obedience flowing from faith. But strictly speaking, they are not required by the gospel itself. To say that they are puts you squarely in the neonomian camp. The Marrow Men do some fantastic work on just this question–whether faith and repentance are required by the law. Read the queries that were put to them on the occasion of the Marrow controversy. Again, read it before you write it off. In this case, a good dose of historical theology can set straight a lot of the fuzziness that comes with swallowing whole the “all-embracing” sorts of doctrinal assertions.

    I don’t know who these Marrow Men are- does anyone know “what fantantic work in just this question-whether faith and repentance are required by law” is? What is this Marrow controversy?

  5. Posted November 28, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Mark McCulley also made this remark in response to some of Brian’s comments:

    mark mcculley
    Posted September 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
    I very much appreciate Brian’s post because it shows that this is NOT “merely” an abstract discussion about the order of salvation for individuals. Brian wrote:”The union folks talk as if when they tell you what the law says (since the law tells you that you should have more faith than you do), that what they’re actually telling you is the gospel. They’re not. Keep telling me that since I’m united to Christ that I can overcome indwelling sin, and you’ll keep driving me to ask “How that can be?”, since my life does not give much manifest evidence that this is true. Instead, you drive me to a reflex act of faith, calling it a direct act of faith, and drive me to introspection, which is deadly before or apart from driving me to Christ.”

    After all has been said, what has been done? What the Spirit does in us cannot satisfy God’s law. What has been done that has satisfied God’s law for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect, and it is the elect’s legal union with that death which keeps them off probation. Think of Romans 5:21: “as sin reigned in death, grace also reigns through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    What is this righteousness by which the justified elect reign? It is NOT the Spirit “through Christ in us” giving us the power to do the law. The righteousness by which the justified elect reign is the “one man’s obedience” (Romans 5:19). Those who receive by imputation the reconciliation (5:11) and the “free gift of righteousness” (5:17) are legally constituted righteous by the one man’s righteousness.

    I have my righteousness not in an example, not in a new power or a new potential. I have my righteousness in the One who is not only my representative but also my substitute, in the One who died for me a death which God counts as my death. The anabaptists and Wesley and Baxter were very anxious about the “antinomian consequences” of that. They thought it “cut the nerve” of the motive for morality. Thus they conditioned the blessings of salvation on what they thanked their god for doing in the sinner.

    As a person who remains both a pacifist (and a credo-baptist), my joy and hope is not that God now makes me love my enemies. After all, after all has been said, nothing has been done. (Some would even say that’s what pacifism is: doing nothing!)

    Even when it comes to “reflex faith”, I make my calling and election sure by looking again to Christ crucified outside me as He is revealed in the “gospel, which is the power of salvation”. In this gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed. And that righteousness is “in Christ” because it is the obedience (even unto death) done by the One Man.

  6. Posted November 28, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    When all this is said, I still have questions about the role the sacraments play. However, I am leaning towards, that they strengthen our faith because our faith easily gets weakened. They point us to a continuing feeding on Christ (by looking back at our Baptism) and participating in the Lord’s Supper each week. This helps to assure us that the still indwelling sin we struggle against has certainly been dealt with when God imputed our sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us. We don’t think the sacraments save us but we do continually feed on Christ when we make use of them. We hear the Gospel when the Word is preached and taught, but we see, taste and feel it when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. These means of grace strengthen and increase our faith in what Christ did for us. I’m sure some of you will disagree with me here. We also participate in the means of grace corporately which also makes us a part of the covenant community. We are no longer individual lone rangers easily tossed to and fro by those forces which weaken our faith.

  7. Posted November 28, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I thought I learned a lot this holiday weekend so I am probably being too wordy which probably not too many people are interested in. I am writing it down so I will reinforce it and remember it. This post I found when taking the copious amount of notes I did from previous posts. It is from Brian again and is one of the best things I have read about assurance which is what this debate is really all about. Brian says this:

    Brian
    Posted September 10, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink
    Jeff,

    Red herring. My point is that assurance of union always comes first through assurance of justification, and this is because justification is promised to the ungodly.

    Union, as an “all-embracing” category, ought to produce the kind of fruit that includes obedience. The blessing of justification does not produce (or, as you and others have pointed out, “cause”) obedience. So if the focus of my assurance is on what union ought to manifest, then I’m looking at both faith and works. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as it is put in its proper place (priority). These broader fruits of union, which include obedience, are indeed a secondary source of assurance–there’s a reason why the “inward evidence” of graces is listed second, rather than first, in WCF 18.3. The primary source of assurance is rather found in the first thing listed in 18.3, the promises of God, something external to us. Because that promise is made to those who are themselves ungodly, here is how we know that God receive sinners and that these promises do apply to them, even when the fruits of union (obedience included) are not evident to others or to themselves. If all I need to be, covenantally, before God, in order to qualify for receiving justification is “ungodly,” then I am confident that I meet this qualification, and this confidence gives him further assurance that all the rest of it will come from God in Christ. If God is for me (a matter of favor/forensic standing), then how will he not also give me all things (all blessings and fruits of union in full)?

    The real issue behind this debate is the nature of assurance and upon what it ultimately/primarily rests.

    I would certainly allow Brian to be my Pastor- plus he knows how to tame the Victorious Christian Life types like John T, however, that is another story.

  8. Posted November 28, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    OK. Long overdue.

    Theses on justification and faith

    (1) In the Scripture, faith is presented as prior to justification.

    (2) This priority is a causal priority, the priority that an instrument has prior to its effect.

    (3) There are no Scriptures which suggest that justification may be divided into two portions, an active portion and a passive portion.

    (4) Rather, justification is univocal in Scripture, referring to the declaration of “righteous” in the courtroom of God (and thus encompassing both active and passive senses).

    (5) It is this same univocal justification which is received “by faith.”

    (6) And this is the understanding of Scripture that is presented in both Calvin and the Westminster Standards.

    (7) So that there is no room in the Standards for a view in which our “active justification” is accomplished prior to faith.

    (8) The proper term for the fact that Jesus paid for the sins of the elect at the cross is the atonement.

    (9) The atonement is the objective ground of our faith, that which the Spirit uses to create faith in us.

    —-

    The real issue is to prove (1) and (2). Here we go.

    First, there are many passages that suggest that faith precedes justification. These include Gen 15.6; Mark 8.12; John 1.12; 3.15-16; 3.36; 5.24; 6.40, 8.24, 47; Acts 10.34, 13.38-39; 15.8-9; 16.31; Rom 10.4, 9-10.

    Second, this suggestion is confirmed by passages that directly teach that faith is the instrument by which we are justified.

    To forestall a misunderstanding: the term “instrument” here views faith as a receptive organ that relies and rests on Christ’s finished work alone. In no sense is faith imputed to the believer.

    Anyways, those passages include the whole of Romans 1 – 5, as well Ephesians 2.7-9, and Phil. 3.9.

    Romans 3 is particularly telling:

    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. — Rom 3.21 – 31 ESV

    Here, the English phrases “justified by faith” and “through faith” translate the Greek δια πιστεως, a preposition of agency; or in v. 28, the Dative of Instrument πιστει. Both grammatically and contextually, it is unquestionable that Paul is teaching that justification comes through the agency of faith.

    Faith precedes justification as an instrument precedes an effect.

    The same construction occurs in Eph 2.7-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith δια πιστεως. We might argue that “being saved” encompasses more than justification; but it surely does not fail to encompass justification!

    And in Phil 3.9 we have it again: Paul desires to be found in Christ, not having a righteousness that comes through the law, but a righteousness that comes through faith and is upon faith: την δια πιστεως χριστου την εκ θεου δικαιοσυνην επι τη πιστει. Here, επι with the dative is either (unlikely) temporal, “at the time of” or (likely) causative, “on the basis of.”

    Third, that faith is an instrument, and not an effect, of justification is proved by the fact that faith is commanded “in order to” be justified. This occurs in several places in Scripture:

    John 12.36: While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light. … ινα υιοι φωτος γενησθε

    John 20.31 these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. …και ινα πιστευοντες ζωην εχητε

    Gal 2.16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. …επιστευσαμεν ινα δικαιωθωμεν εκ πιστεως χριστου

    In each case, the Greek ινα indicates a cause/effect relationship: becoming a son of God, having life, being justified are the effects; faith is the cause.

    Finally, we need to look at the broad scope of the arguments in Romans and Galatians. At no point does Paul argue that we are given faith on account of our justification; at every point he argues that we are justified through faith.

    This is particularly noteworthy in Romans 5.1

    Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    The justification that comes to us through faith is the justification that gives us peace with God. It is not, as Ursinus would have it, a consciousness of that peace. No, from the flow of Romans it is clear that this is the change of God’s anger towards us into peace, the so-called “active justification” in the sight of God. This is what we have received through faith.

    And thus Calvin, Luther, and the Confession understand it.

  9. Posted November 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    So why am I arguing a causal priority instead of “logical priority”?

    For a simple reason. Having observed many a discussion concerning logical priorities (both here and also in the supra/infralapsarian debates), I have become convinced that the term “logical order” has no meaning unless the ordering principle is first stipulated.

    A is logically prior to B — if the ordering principle is “alphabetical order.”
    B is logically prior to A — if the ordering principle is “reverse alphabetical order.”
    E is prior to them both — if the ordering principle is “frequency of use in English.”

    And so it goes with the assertion that “justification is logically prior to faith.”

    What does that even mean? Usually, someone will explain it as, “A is logically prior to B if A is a necessary precondition for B.”

    But what does “pre” mean? It means “before, according to some ordering principle.” If that principle is not stipulated up front, then the claim of logical priority is without meaning and is void.

    So: My account of priority is a causal account. There could be other orderings, but they must state up front what the ordering principle is to be.

    DGH, this is somewhat pitched in your direction. You’ve explained the “priority of justification” as

    * Justification is of central importance.
    * Justification is the lens through which we understand the rest of salvation
    * Justification is the cause of sanctification. Wait, no it’s not. Well, if it is, how bad would that really be?

    There needs to be frank clarity as to what ordering principle we are talking about before we can even understand, much less evaluate, claims of logical priority. Are we ordering according to importance, ground, proper pedagogy, cause, what?

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