Where's Waldo Wednesday: Dazed and Confused

Why is it that discussions of the law and sanctification invariably circle back to union with Christ? My own hunch, expressed several times, is that union becomes the way to cement sanctification to justification, especially if neither is prior to the other but union precedes both. This way, supposedly, Protestants can look Roman Catholics straight in the eye and to the charge that justification by faith alone is antinomian reply, “pound sand.”

Bill Evans stirred up the hornet’s nest with some contested hypotheses about the different emphases in Reformed circles as demonstrated in an exchange between Kevin DeYoung and the grandson of Billy Graham whose name I cannot pronounce or spell without buying a couple more vowels. Evans appealed to union to once again cut the Gordian knot between the forensic and moral renovation, but that did not satisfy Sean Lucas or Rick Philips. (Jared Oliphint has a good list of the various iterations of this discussion.)

Since so many have weighed in on Evans’ provocations, I will only make one brief comment about his initial post. He wrote this, which I believe to be typical of the kind of confusion that comes when asserting the simultaneity and denying the priority of justification and sanctification:

. . . it is unconvincing to suggest that Paul does not use the expectations and sanctions of the law as a motive for sanctification. More than once the Apostle provides extensive vice lists of behavior forbidden by the law of God, adding that those who behave thus “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-5). That sounds like motivation to me!

Well, a quick check of Calvin’s commentary on that passage in Galatians (recently preached by my pastor) shows that the Geneva pastor did not interpret Paul to be motivating believers to obey God’s law “or else.” On Calvin Galatians 5:21, Calvin writes:

Paul does not threaten that all who have sinned, but that all who remain impenitent, shall be excluded from the kingdom of God. The saints themselves often fall into grievous sins, but they return to the path of righteousness, “that which they do they allow not,” (Rom. vii. 15) and therefore they are not included in this catalogue.

In fact, gratitude, not fear of punishment, is the chief motivation for the Christian life throughout the most influential Reformed creeds.

I will also express some bafflement at Rick Phillips denial of any legitimacy to the idea that justification “causes” sanctification when he can assert that union “causes” justification and sanctification. If causal language is a problem for justification priority folks, why can causal language (which justification prioritoryists seldom use crudely) be applied to union?

Jared Oliphint tries to bring the whole question of the relation between justification and sanctification or between the indicative and the imperative back to the historia salutis.

Eschatology. Eschatology. Eschatology. It may initially sound foreign, but eschatology is the background of and essential to the gospel. What sets the stage for how we are justified, how we are sanctified, and what’s called the “order of salvation” is what was accomplished in history by Christ to make possible those benefits you receive by being in Christ; the history of salvation is the context for the gospel and your own personal salvation.

But the appeal to the historia soon swerves back to micromanaging the ordo salutis:

Because of the already/not yet aspect to all of reality now, that reality must inform discussions regarding the gospel, salvation, what Christ has done, what he will do, etc. There is a sense (already) in which we are no more justified or sanctified now than we ever will be, even in the new heavens and the new earth. But there is another (not yet) sense where there is still work to be done in us and with God’s unredeemed, temporary creation. While this already/not yet tension is still a reality here while our Lord tarries, the indicative of who we are as believers united with Christ and receiving every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3) as a result is never in tension with what God calls us to do here as his sons and daughters in Christ.

As an aside, do unionists ever talk about union being already/not yet? If eschatology goes all the way down and colors all the benefits of redemption, then the answer would appear to be “yes.” But the permanence and necessity of union never seems to allow for a concession that union also partakes of the two-age construction.

Yet, when Oliphint tries to clarify the relationship between justification and sanctification from the perspective of union and the historia salutis, he winds up with an explanation that adds very little to or resolves the recent discussions.

When sanctification is defined as “getting used to your justification” or “forgetting about yourself” and the law and the gospel/grace are in a tug of war of emphasis, do you not see that the entire crucial context and substructure of what Christ accomplished and how he applies it in your life is missing? Sanctification is a dying to sin and rising with Christ and has so much more to do with what Christ did for you than in your disposition of just letting the reality of the benefit of judicially being declared righteous sink in; not to mention the need to distinguish for clarity’s sake the difference between being definitively sanctified (1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; Heb 10:10,14) through our union with Christ and progressively sanctified (Rom 12:2) over time in the life of believers.

That sounds awfully antinomian. Sanctification has to do with what Christ did. So my imaginary Roman Catholic interlocutor is now wondering why the Reformed doctrine of sanctification or union does not lead to complacency? After all, Christ did it all.

To avoid that charge, Oliphint resorts to a legal “must”:

As redeemed believers we must do good works “for Jesus” as God works in us progressively to sanctify and we must do so as good and faithful servants of the Savior who requires that of us, but not do them from a false motivation to earn our salvation already achieved for us by Christ. We obey as God’s new creatures, groaning with creation for our Savior to come and complete his work in us.

This attempted resolution is not necessarily wrong. Neither is it particularly different, despite all the gloss of Vos, from what Reformed theologians have tried to say about God at work in the believer as the believer works. Another way of saying this is the third use of the law. We needed the historia salutis for that?

From my blinkered theological mind, the big question seems to be how the law functions in the life of the believer and in what way it is necessary. Here the Shorter Catechism appears to be remarkably helpful. It distinguishes two sets of requirements.

The first is what are the duties God requires of man (39)? This is the lead question for the explanation of the Decalogue. And second, after the law is parsed, the catechism asks another “require” question: What does God require of us that we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin (85)? (Notice the difference between the law required of all men and the requirements associated with the “us” of the redeemed.) From here the catechism goes on to discuss the means of grace.

A recognition of these distinct requirements and their stated audiences plausibly leads to the conclusion that the law is not a means of grace. Clearly, the law is not in view when the catechism explicitly addresses the means of grace – that is, word, sacrament, and prayer. This doesn’t mean that the law is bad, not to be followed, or not a standard of conduct. But following the law as a requirement does not contribute to justification – or to sanctification, for that matter. Attending to the means of grace, however, does contribute to salvation as a way of reassuring believers that God has promised to save them from their sins.

In other words, following the law is only the fruit of salvation, not the means of salvation (which includes justification and sanctification).

One last thought: since starting this post I see that Evans cannot let Oliphint or others have the last word, and so he writes this:

I firmly believe that balance in the Christian life is possible and that our people see the glory of God not only in the grace of justification but also in the demands of God’s law and in the way that the whole of Scripture marvelously fits together–what WCF 1.5 calls “the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and the entire perfection thereof.” And to this end we must proclaim the whole counsel of God. This means that we proclaim the imperatives of transformation as well as the gratuity of justification. Furthermore, we must do this without separating them, for both are found in Christ. Law without grace and mercy is just as unbalanced as grace and mercy without law.

As mechanical and confusing as “the imperatives of transformation” and the “gratuity of justification” as a formulation is, I don’t understand how Evans is not attaching an “or else” to “do this.” And I don’t for the life of me understand how this is a comfort, or how it does not undermine the assurance of the gospel. After all, everyone has a sense of justice and the idea that no matter what I do I belong to God because of Christ’s work on my behalf does not seem to be fair. Surely, I can prove my worth if I obey God’s law. But this is precisely what is so marvelous about the gospel, and why the law should send shivers down the spine of all people. No one can keep the law, not even the saints. That’s why good works are filthy rags. The only bleach available to make us presentable at the day of judgment is not the white hot flame of the law but the blood of Christ. Like the gospel, using a red fluid that will only stain to make ourselves clean makes no sense. But it’s the only hope for those who know that the law will always show the filth of human depravity and the dirt of good works.


49 thoughts on “Where's Waldo Wednesday: Dazed and Confused

  1. Recently, I’ve been reading some of the back and forth between Tullian and DeYoung on this topic. Thanks for your enjoyable and clear post.

    Bleached by the blood of Christ, now and forever…



  2. The moral law reminds us of our complete dependence upon Christ, and thus provokes us to a thankfulness that is expressed through diligent obedience to its imperatives.

    WLC Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?

    A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.


  3. Billy Graham’s grandson’s last name is prounounced CHUH-VID-JIN. Kind of like
    Cha-Pidgeon but you substitute a V for the P.


  4. DG. Great post, but I have a few questions.

    “In fact, gratitude, not fear of punishment, is the chief motivation for the Christian life”. – To that I say a resounding amen! That sentiment seems to be the most organic understanding of Christ’s handling of love and obedience in John 14 and 15. Calvin’s handling of the Gal 5.21 is also a correct understanding of the texts regarding those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Using those as law driven motivations of fear leads to a convoluted and hopeless salvation where one is never sure they are saved if they die “in sin” or wondering if they were ever saved to begin with when they have besetting sins in their life. That being said, I do believe the third use of the law can be expected of the believer, and in fact commanded of those who are falling into a pattern of sin. Isn’t a command to repent and turn from sin the point of church discipline? In my understanding the church has the obligation to command God’s children to obey the law, not as a way to be saved but as a pattern of holiness, the third use of the law correct? I think the church can expect obedience in it’s members and judge sanctification by the fruit of each believer without becoming Theonomists who, judging from Rushdoony/Bahnsen, seem to be in love with the notion that sanctification is contingent upon obedience (oh the dangers of inverting cause and effect…)

    Also with regard to the language and application of the doctrine of union. Tying union as the cause of both, and in essence joining justification and sanctification, is a dangerous business. It seems very dangerous to me to have both justification and sanctification as the effects of union, and not of sanctification as the effect of justification, primarily because works has a part in one and not in another. That being said, I remember a post you had about union and I am still confused by one thing. What is your contention with union exactly? The doctrine of union seems to be precious and neglected by many today (I had no idea about “union” until I studied some Eastern Orthodoxy, and that what a wacky type of union indeed). The doctrine seems so crucial to sacramental theology and the assurance of the believer. I remember your contention was that it was not given a point in the confessions, but I don’t think that makes it unimportant. Just wondering about whether you actually hold to the doctrine or not, in any form.


  5. DGH, I wonder whether part of the problem is seeing the essential categories as forensic vs transformative. The unionist doesn’t want to separate these, but runs the risk of undermining the assurance of the Gospel, taking us back to Rome’s “you are only justified to the extent that you are sanctified” (understood as conformity to the Law). But when the impression is sometimes given that the purely forensic is the foundation on which the transformative is built, then that runs the risk of identifying sanctification with our own efforts at legal obedience, or seeing it as an optional extra.

    Would it not be better to see justification and the presence of the indwelling Spirit as simultaneous gifts flowing from faith-union with Christ? Sanctification in this fundamental sense is part of the indicative, and we are then called to exercise and grow in what we already have (and I agree, the Law here operates as guide rather than motivation).


  6. Stephen, what is this “faith-union with Christ”? It is a curious phrase. “Faith” takes “in.” “Union” takes “with”. “Faith-union with Christ” prioritizes union but tries to get cover by using faith. Should it really be “Faith-union in-with Christ”? Put a back-slash in there and you’ve got Kline.

    Well, it seems to me that unionists always resort to sanctification (i.e. definitive) as the indicative. But that only pushes the charge of antinomianism back another layer. Plus, the indicative of justification was always supposed to produce good works as the inevitable fruit of saving grace.


  7. I think the locus of the problem in the “unionist” view is that while righly distinguishing between decretal, federal, and mystical/existential union, it refuses to acknowledge that the latter (i.e. mystical union) is grounded on the priority of justification. We are existentially united to Christ, in our own history, by virtue of faith, through grace, and in Christ. This has been the classic, orthodox, Reformed position.

    The unionists acknowledge that their view is indeed contrary to systematic and historical formulations but sacrifices these in the altar of supposed exegesis (biblical theology).

    Dr. J.V. Fesko offers “reconciliation” here: http://underdogtheology.blogspot.com/2011/07/westminster-wednesday-unionism.html.

    He also exposes the problem of finding support for unionism in Calvin here: http://underdogtheology.blogspot.com/2011/08/westminster-wednesday-more-on-unionism.html.


  8. Dear Dr Hart, that’s the question. I remember 30 years ago a recent graduate from Westminster coming back to our (reformed baptist) church and telling us that we could forget ” imputation” in Romans 6 because it was a complex called “faith-union”. That was supposed to be the answer to all questions, and also that which would let us escape “federalism”

    In The Verdict That Does What It Says.” In chapter 10, Mike Horton quotes Bruce McCormack and takes issue with Reformed theology’s practice of treating the order of salvation after the forensic declaration of justification as if it were the consequence of something else entirely–“namely, an infusion of a new habitus (disposition) prior to effectual calling” (216). The reason that Reformed theologians reintroduced a medieval ontology of infused habits, Horton argues, is that “justification was still regarded as strictly forensic, but just for this reason had to be securely walled off from the rest of the ordo, which was attributed to regeneration.”

    Following McCormack’s lead, Horton attempts to “recover the earlier identification of the new birth with effectual calling and treat justification as the forensic source for all of the benefits that flow from union with Christ. Eliminating the distinction between regeneration and effectual calling entails the elimination of any appeal to the category of infused habits.”

    “Effectual calling is regeneration (the new birth), and although the Spirit brings about this response when and where He will, it is brought about through the ministry of the gospel. Through
    the announcement of the external Word, declaring the absolution, the Spirit gives us the faith to receive the verdict, which in turn begins in us from that moment on the fruit of faith.”


  9. I must say that I still find it a bit confusing that DG Hart would take sides with “justification now and first” which is more associated with pietism over against the preparationists who defend the church’s means of grace in the process. I am not only puzzled but also grateful!

    The latest from Williams Evans: “Lucas cites Janice Knight’s argument in her Orthodoxies in Massachusetts that the New England pastors with their emphasis on means and obedience and John Cotton’s emphasis on spiritual immediacy were within “the mainstream” of the Reformed tradition. A rather different appraisal of the situation, however, is found in William K. B. Stoever’s splendid volume, A Faire and Easie Way to Heaven: Covenant Theology and Antinomianism in Early Massachusetts (Wesleyan UP, 1978), a book of subtle and exceedingly well-informed scholarship that I wish all Reformed pastors would read. A key issue in the Antinomian controversy, which Stoever explores at length, was the conflict between mediate and immediate views of divine grace. The New England elders recognized and affirmed the use of means, such as the preaching of the law, while Cotton and Hutchinson viewed grace in more immediate terms and tended to regard reliance on such means as opening the door to legalism. And despite Sean’s attempt to distance Cotton from Hutchinson, as I read the texts there is not much daylight between them on these matters, and her condemnation (as Sean notes) resulted from her pushing this emphasis on immediacy even further by claiming direct revelation. Significantly, Stoever attributes this emphasis on immediacy in Hutchinson and Cotton, not to the mainstream Reformed tradition, but to a subcurrent of English radicalism that had nothing to do with Reformed theology.”


  10. Here’s where Evans’ mustiness is hanging me up:

    As redeemed believers we must do good works “for Jesus” as God works in us progressively to sanctify and we must do so as good and faithful servants of the Savior who requires that of us, but not do them from a false motivation to earn our salvation already achieved for us by Christ. We obey as God’s new creatures, groaning with creation for our Savior to come and complete his work in us.

    Doing good works ‘for Jesus’ as Evans describes here, that aren’t sourced in ‘false motivation’ seems to presuppose prior sanctification in the first place. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t think of much that I do that has pristine motivations, but I still am called to do good. I think the priestly ministry in the OT might illustrate my point:

    [36] “You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the LORD.’ [37] And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. [38] It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.
    (Exodus 28:36-38 ESV)

    The holy gifts that the Israelites gave to the construction of the temple isn’t unlike the work we render to God, yet our best still bears guilt, as did Israel’s here, that has to be dealt with. In the old administration it was through the priestly office that Israel’s ‘good works’ were sanctified of the profanity that comes from anything that man does. Through Christ, our work is sanctified and accepted. Any true decency in our motivation, that should be growing against our depraved inclinations, seems to be as the result of the prior sanctifying work of God. However, even works that don’t come from the purest motives can be accepted by God. So I don’t understand the musts that Evans emphasizes here.

    So my questions aren’t posed as against union per se, but I don’t understand why it is being juxtaposed against the priority of justification, and the work of God in sanctification


  11. Darryl,

    I’m with you insofar as the gospel is the only place where believers can/should look for assurance, and our justification in Christ is the only way we have peace with God. However, I have a pretty hard time buying the idea that the law is excluded as a means of grace in the Shorter Catechism. Notice in Q. 90 that one of the ways the word becomes effectual unto salvation is that we “practice it in our lives.” To this is appended the proof text, James 1.22-25, thus making clear (to me at least), that the law is not at all out of the picture as means of grace. Of course, saving faith remains receiving and resting upon Christ alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel (86). But repentance unto life is also required for us to escape the wrath of God due to us for sin (85). And this repentance includes a “full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.” (87)

    Now, of course, the law doesn’t justify. But it certainly does play a part in sanctification, and sanctification is one of the benefits of redemption–a work of God’s free grace (wsc 35). Don’t be hatin’ on it! 😉



  12. Jonathan, then why a separate section in the catechism devoted to the law? You’re not wearing those union spectacles, are you, where you can see in the catechism whatever you want to see?

    Obviously, the word, as a means of grace, contains the law. But the law is a category that stands by itself — hence a chapter in the confession which is different from the chapters on good works and sanctification.

    A means of grace is something where by Christ communicates the benefits of redemption. Are you prepared to say that the law by itself (not in relation to our actions) communicates the benefits of redemption?


  13. Well of course the law is distinct from the gospel. I don’t mean to deny the distinction by any means. (It’s not only a Lutheran but a Reformed distinction, btw…) But sanctification is a work of God’s free grace, it is a benefit of redemption, and it includes doing of the word. But no… the law *apart from the gospel* does not communicate the benefits of redemption. However, the Spirit of God does make the word (including the law) an effectual means of “building them of in holiness and comfort” (89). So, it is in this sense a means of course. Though it’s not a means of justification–but justification is not the only grace believers receive.


  14. Btw, Darryl, in further response to your concluding question: In a Reformed understanding, are any benefits of redemption communicated *apart from* our response? We must receive and rest upon Christ as he’s offered to us in the gospel. The promise is objective, but faith is still necessary for the communication of its benefits. The Spirit produces justifiying faith just as He produces new obedience–and he does both through the means of the word. In justification faith is passive. In sanctification it is active. But the Spirit brings about both both through the means of grace.


  15. I’m pretty favorable to Evans’ critique, though youve given food for thought.

    On the other hand, what about WCF 19.6. While its true the catechism doesn’t include “law” it does include the word as a means of grace, which “building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.”

    You say

    ” But following the law as a requirement does not contribute to justification – or to sanctification, for that matter.”

    But 19.6 says

    “the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience,and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law: and not under grace.”

    it expects that a man will in fact try to follow the law as a constituency of his sanctification. (in fact we could hardly ever say a man makes progress in sanctification if he isn’t actually in fact following the law more and more in his life, could we?)


  16. “the indicative of justification was always supposed to produce good works as the inevitable fruit of saving grace.”

    Yeah, but is knowing more about it going to produce more and more of it? Why?

    the other funny thing about all sides of the discussion is the worry about audiances and how we have to tailor the message ‘just right’ to balance the indicatives and imperatives.

    If its all the work of Christ and the elect will hear his voice, why worry about confused people being confused. If they confuse themselves into heresy its because they weren’t elect. to much worry from people claiming to rest in God’s sovereignty


  17. p duggan,

    it expects that a man will in fact try to follow the law as a constituency of his sanctification. (in fact we could hardly ever say a man makes progress in sanctification if he isn’t actually in fact following the law more and more in his life, could we?)

    No one is arguing that a regenerated, justified individual isn’t striving to keep the Law. The increasing and latent desire to follow the Law is an evidence of the progressive sanctifying work of God. Progressive sanctification as you state: “try to follow the law” assumes a measure of striving. A man can externally obey the indicatives or even strive to, but he will always struggle with a measure of mixed motives, and yet God receives and sanctifies the obedience and work we render to him through the completed work of Christ (cf. the eschatological/messianic significance of Ex. 28:36-38).

    Yeah, but is knowing more about it going to produce more and more of it? Why?

    Yes, if we look at knowing in its biblical context that has to deal with a holistic, organic apprehension of the integrated self, it does. True knowledge assumes an integration of the proper content of knowledge, and the proper apprehension/appropriation of the knowledge in relation to the thing known. This is why we affirm that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). There is a sense where Edwards does get this right, as knowing produces the proper disposition to the One being known. I don’t think it is a stretch at all to affirm that this sort of knowledge is cultivated through the due use of the ordinary means (WCF 1.7). WCF 18.3 affirms this as well:

    This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

    I liked Reed DePace’s distinction over at Green Baggins, where he speaks of the priority of justification v. union debates as a issue of emphasis, hinging upon the vantage point from which we view the benefits accorded to us in Christ. So, while I do appreciate union advocates emphasis, and I see tremendous value in their exegesis and analysis, I don’t see why there is the need to wash out the priority of justification as the ground of God’s work of sanctification definitively and progressively.


  18. Thinking Luther (not pietism), I appreciate the most recent essay by Mark Seifrid in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society: “The distinction between Law and Gospel does not entail a negative view of the law, as NT Wright and others suppose. It is based on a radical affirmation of the Law–and a realistic understanding of the human being.” (Near Word of Christ and the Distant Vision of NT Wright, p283)

    p288—“The external voice of the Law is decidedly different from the self-torment of guilt…We cannot diagnose and cure our own illness; we need a word from without…”

    p295–“Wright favors a Spirit-worked transformation of the human being that brings us to the goal. He does not recognize that the goal has come to us….”


  19. Good job Jonathan…I’ve been preaching through the shorter catechism and the texts cited very much affirm the law as part of the Word which together with the promises of Scripture are a means of grace to build us up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation. If you then go to the confession on saving faith you will see that the Spirit gives believers the faith to respond to each passage of Scripture appropriately whether to promises for this life or the life to come, commands, warning, etc….


  20. “A recognition of these distinct requirements and their stated audiences plausibly leads to the conclusion that the law is not a means of grace. Clearly, the law is not in view when the catechism explicitly addresses the means of grace – that is, word, sacrament, and prayer. This doesn’t mean that the law is bad, not to be followed, or not a standard of conduct. But following the law as a requirement does not contribute to justification – or to sanctification, for that matter. Attending to the means of grace, however, does contribute to salvation as a way of reassuring believers that God has promised to save them from their sins.”

    Dr. Hart,

    I am confused about something. Clearly the word is a means of grace, and the two parts to that means of grace are law and gospel. If this is true, then how can the law not be a means of grace? Certainly the law is not a means of grace in itself or by itself, but if it is part of the word as means of grace isn’t in that limited sense a means of grace?

    Can we affirm that the law is a means of grace in this limited sense and still affirm its role as guide (not empowerer or motivator)? Or does the law have to be considered as not a means of grace in any sense in order for us to affirm its role as only a guide? Are they mutually exclusive?

    My question comes from the perspective of Berkhof’s systematic where he discusses law and gospel as the two parts of the word as means of grace. Is what you are saying as plausible regarding the law a difference between the Continental and the British Reformed?

    Am I misunderstanding something?



  21. PD, but does more knowledge of union solve the problems either? We’re all talking doctrine and the relationship among those doctrines. As for what actually happens in a person, it’s pretty mysterious but generally explained by “the work of the Spirit”, which means that salvation is monergistic.


  22. Allan, you have a point and I need to look at Berkhof. But think of it this way: what is required of us to escape the wrath and curse of God do to us for sin? Faith, repentance and ordinances. Do you want to add law to that list?


  23. Dr. Hart,

    I see what you are saying. I definitely would not want to add law to that list. But if we drop “us” from what is required, then I see no harm in saying that the law in its second use (conviction/mirror) is a means of grace. I definitely get your point though.


  24. At the risk of sounding Lutheran (I am not, don’t even use the word “sacrament”), I would suggest that the law serves to convict and to “kill”. God uses both the law and the gospel, and it never becomes so “domesticated” in our hands that that we can “use” it without fear about “the motives of our best works”. (I prefer Luther’s Heidelburg Disputations to Gary North’s “it can’t kill you now, so do it”.)

    1.Antinomians never have had any proper fear of God. That describes me (one individual standing before God) before I was justified by God. So evangelism certainly needs law, even if the way we come to see what the law demands is to see what the solution is in what Christ had done.

    2. Any “use” of law whereby the already justified are told it’s not strict anymore, that there’s some “slack” because we are now in the family but nevertheless that staying in, or getting extra rewards, are conditioned on the work of the Holy Spirit in us, is not only incorrect, but distracts from basic function of the law —to remind us again and again of our need for the imputed obedience (unto death) of Jesus Christ. It is not the Holy Spirit who died for us. The Holy Spirit is not the one God gave as as our substitute “to bring in the righteousness”.

    3. Those who will be condemned will be judged according to works ( also on the basis of works). Those who will be resurrected and escape the second death will have been justified according to the imputed (outside of us, alien, extrinsic) righteousness of Christ.


  25. Luther, Heidelberg Disputation

    The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.

    Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.

    Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really for good and God’s glory.


  26. Jonathon, I suppose it is technically correct to say that since the Word of God contains the law that the law can be said to be a means of grace. But if law as a category is a means of grace then so are wisdom, poetry and parable. Again, technically correct but doesn’t it seem a little this side of clunky? But more than that, it seems to me that with the all-too-easy confusion of law and gospel that this language of “law as a means of grace” is much too confusing. You admit that you “don’t mean to deny the distinction by any means,” and I think your bona fides speak for themselves on that score. So I am left wondering if you can see how there is much more lost than gained by the language of “law as a means of grace.”

    But if we want law and sanctification to occupy the same breath it has always seemed to me far better to say that the law is the structure, while the Spirit is the power of our sanctification. The law is simply what we do outwardly and plainly as the Spirit inwardly and mysteriously performs his work of sanctification by grace alone and through faith alone.


  27. Sinclair Ferguson in a recent article on the Preacher’s Decalogue. William Evans it seems doesn’t know who is really on his side:

    “A “Preacher’s Decalogue” might be helpful, but at the end of the day we are nourished not by the commands of law but by the provisions of God’s grace in the gospel. It is as true of our preaching as of our living that what law cannot do, because of the weakness of our flesh, God accomplishes through Christ, in order to fulfill his commands in us by the Spirit. May it be so for us! ”



  28. Zrim,

    If someone were to ask me, “What are the means of grace?” I would simply answer, “The word, sacraments, and prayer.” I would not include the law specifically, since it’s not a means of grace considered outside of the broader category of the word as whole counsel of God. So, technically, it’s not correct to say the law is a means of grace, *full stop*, because it’s not so considered apart from the gospel. But the *Word* is a means of grace, and it includes both law and gospel. There’s no indication in the Westminster Standards that when they speak of the word, it’s synonymous with gospel as over against law. In fact, all indicators are the exact opposite. This may lead to confusion or it may not. My point wasn’t about the theological propriety of it–just that it’s clearly the teaching of the Westminster Standards. But I agree with that teaching. So, there you have it…


  29. RE: “Law” as a part of the Word/means of grace, the Heidelberg catechism deftly distinguishes between the working of law and gospel in preaching.

    In q. 3, we know our sin and misery “out of the law of God.”

    In q. 19, we learn of our deliverance “out of the holy gospel.”

    In q. 65, faith comes from “the Holy Spirit, who works it in our hearts through the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.”

    Good works, of course, fall under the purview of gratitude, and the faithfulness which is key to them being adjudged “good” stems from the preaching of the Gospel.

    On the whole, the “triple knowledge” guilt/grace/gratitude schema seems to simplify a lot of these questions.


  30. Hey, for a fun & interesting exercise, take the Catechism of the Catholic Church, read paragraphs 1987-1995 on justification, and substitute the term “union with Christ” for justification. Outcome? Sounds like some of the statements I’ve heard from those who reject the priority of justification for the centrality of union with Christ. Just saying. BTW, I won’t have internet access for the next few days, so forgive me for pulling the pin on the hand grenade & running away. 🙂


  31. DGH,

    What is an oridanance but something that the Lord has instituted by way of command? An ordinance is not an ordianance unless it is established by the law of God. If I practice an ordinance in obedience to God then I am obeying his law.

    Would you want to say that prayer and the sacraments are dilligent effort on our part to do anything is necessary to our justification? Of course not. The catechism is not speaking of salvation as only encompassing our justification, but would include sanctification and perseverance.

    Look also at how the Confession speaks of saving faith. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to respond appropriately to each part of the word; promises for this life, promises for the life to come, warning, and COMMANDS…

    The Word of God in all its parts is a means of grace used by the Spirit of God as he gives us faith and power to respond to each part appropriately.


  32. Andrew, so what are you saying? That we need to do everything in Scripture in order to be saved? And what happens if we don’t? Wasn’t that the problem that the Reformation tried to solve? Or are you suggesting that we are justified by faith but sanctified by works?


  33. “We get the benefit of justification when God creates faith in us” certainly sounds more “evangelical” than saying “God causes us to hear and believe the gospel when God justifies us by imputation”. But is it more biblical to say it one way than the other? I am not saying that the only reason Reformed folks want to give the priority to “when God is in us” is so that they will sound more “evangelical” (and less Lutheran), but that does seem to be one consequence. In Christ by election (and not by preaching); and then one elect person in Christ before another elect person in Christ…by God’s imputation.


  34. DGH,

    What is the confession saying? Is it saying that we need to do everything in the Scripture to be saved when it tells us that the saving faith the Spirit grants responds to each part of the word appropriately including the commands? Is that a serious question or a straw man?

    If I am saying that we are sanctified by works you must be saying that we are justified by works. If the question is, as you interpret it, asking what is required of us for justification and you include a diligent use of the ordinances of God (word, prayer, sacraments) how have you not added to the work of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone? How does interpreting “Word” as only including gospel promises help at all. Do our prayers, diligent use of promises, or use of sacraments contribute to your acceptance before God? Of course not.

    The catechism (and the confession) calls things necessary that are not the ground of our salvation. Take repentance for instance since the catechism mentions it explicitly. The confession labors to make clear that though it is not the grounds of our acceptance before God it is necessary such that none may expect pardon without it.

    God commands all believers to diligently use his ordinances looking to him in humble faith to grow them in holiness and cofmort and grant them perseverence to the end.

    The means of grace are the ordinary means appointed for us to use that we might be saved. True believers will by God’s grace and by his Spirit be granted the faith to use those means whether it is using the Word, praying, or partaking of the Sacraments. When they use the Word it is the whole of the Word that God blesses to them as he enables them to respond to each part accordingly…again read the confession on saving faith…promises for this life and the life to come, warnings, commands.

    Two more things…

    Tthe confession defines the “Word of God” for us up front. ” Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testament, ”

    Also the proof texts included specifically mention the law…

    Nehemiah 8:8-9. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Acts 20:32. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. Romans 10:14-17. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. 2 Timothy 3:15-17. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

    [186] Deuteronomy 6:16 ff. Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah. Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he hath commanded thee. And thou shalt do that which is right and good in the sight of the LORD: that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest go in and possess the good land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Psalm 119:18. Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. 1 Peter 2:1-2. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.

    [187] Psalm 119:11. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. 2 Thessalonians 2:10. And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Hebrews 4:2. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. James 1:22-25. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed


  35. This might help too from the LC…

    Question 32: How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?

    Answer: The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provides and offers to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promises and gives his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he has appointed them to salvation.

    Don’t miss that last part…”and as the way which he has appointed them to salvation.”


  36. Andrew, I didn’t say justified, I said “escape the wrath and curse of God” to which the catechism says faith, repentance, and ordinances. It is important that that string starts with faith, which is not a work but resting and receiving. Yes, the priority of the forensic. And repentance is not the same as sanctification. Both receive separate treatment. Likewise, the law is not the same as the word.


  37. “Justification in Galatians”, p 172, Moo’s essay in the Carson f (Understanding the Times)—Nor is there any need to set Paul’s “juridicial” and “participationist” categories in opposition to ibe another (see Gaffin, By Faith Not By Sight, p 35-41). The problem of positing a union with Christ that precedes the erasure of our legal condemnation before God ( eg, making justification the product of union with Christ; see Michael Horton, Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ, Westminster John Knox, 2007, p 147) CAN BE ANSWERED IF WE POSIT, WITHIN THE SINGLE WORK OF CHRIST, TWO STAGES OF “JUSTIFICATION”, one involving Christ’s payment of our legal debt–the basis for our regeneration–and second our actual justification=stemming from our union with Christ.”

    mark: No way! so they don’t deny election or legal atonement or legal imputation, but in the end they continue to make “actual justification” the result of “union” which is for them a “faith-union”. They still get faith first (and not God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness) in the “real justification” . Calling Christ’s death (and resurrection?) not only “the legal payment” but the “first justification” doesn’t change the fact that they start by saying there is no order of application and then turn around and make the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith first in the order of application.


  38. http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2014/06/an-apologie.php

    mark jones—-As a pastor I do not like to use big words in the pulpit. I don’t even think we should use the word “eschatological” when preaching. And I’ll be wearing skinny jeans in the pulpit before I preach from the Westminster Confession or Catechisms. So how would I explain all of this to average laypeople?

    mark jones— I tend to dislike the idea that the Puritans were somehow radical or different on soteriological issues compared to the broader Reformed tradition).

    mark jones— Neither Owen, Mastricht, or any other reformed writer has ever suggested that the consummation of our salvation and eternal life is granted on the basis of good works. If one did put good works into the instrumentality of our salvation, then that would make works the basis of eternal life. The language of “basis” suggests ground; but a ground is different from an instrument. So Rick’s concern, if he still has one, might need some fine-tuning.

    mark mcculley—if one did put faith into the instrumentality of our salvation, would that then make faith the basis of of eternal life? Perhaps Mark Jones needs to do a bit of fine-tuning.

    To the extent that you put your faith in your faith as working instead of in Christ’s finished righteousness, then to that extent your working faith becomes the basis/ground of your hope. Instead of looking at Christ’s death as a complete satisfaction of the law, you will “nonetheless” also be looking to your present works (and not your present sins).

    Romans 5:18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and LIFE for all men. ,

    Romans 5: 21 as sin reigned in death, grace also reigns through righteousness leading to ETERNAL LIFE through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is LIFE BECAUSE OF righteousness.

    mark Jones—See Rom. 8:13, which his obviously about sanctification

    mark mcculley—not if you look at the context, beginning in Romans 8:1-4 and paying attention to the “cause” in Romans 8:10

    I don’t know if John Cotton and Ralph Erskine are good “puritans” but consider what Erskine writes about Romans 8:13

    ” Gospel mortification is from gospel principles, viz. the Spirit of God [Rom. 8. 13], ‘If ye through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live’; Faith in Christ [Acts 15. 9], ‘Purifying their hearts by faith’; The love of Christ constraining [2 Cor. 5. 14], ‘The love of Christ constraineth us.’ But legal mortification is from legal principles such as, from the applause and praise of men, as in the Pharisees; from pride of self-righteousness, as in Paul before his conversion; from the fear of destruction; from a natural conscience; from the example of others; and many times from the power of sin itself, while one sin is set up to wrestle with another, as when sensuality and self-righteousness wrestle with one another. The man, perhaps, will not drink and swear. Why? Because he is setting up and establishing a righteousness of his own, whereby to obtain the favor of God here is but one sin wrestling with another.

    Erskine— They differ in their weapons with which they fight against sin. The gospel believer fights with grace’s weapons, namely, the blood of Christ, the word of God, the promises of the gospel, and the virtue of Christ’s death and cross [Galatians 6. 14] ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom (whereby) the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.’ But now the man under the law fights against sin by the promises and threatenings of the law; by its promises, saying, I will obtain life, I hope, if I do so and so; by its threatenings, saying, I will be damned, if I do not so and so. Sometimes he fights with the weapons of his own vows and resolutions, which are his strong tower, to which he runs and thinks himself safe.

    Erskine—The believer will not serve sin, because he is alive to God, and dead to sin [Romans 6. 6]. The legalist forsakes sin, not because he is alive, but so that he may live. The believer mortifies sin, because God loves him; but the legalist, that God may love him. The believer mortifies, because God is pacified towards him; the legalist mortifies, that he may pacify God by his mortification. He may go a great length, but it is still that he may have whereof to glory, making his own doing at least some of the foundation of his hope and comfort.


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