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Posts Tagged ‘Imputed Righteousness’

Do you ever wonder what people think about you? If they like you, or dislike you? If they’re mad at you, or happy with you? And sometimes we don’t have an indicator about these things and we are left uncertain and uneasy. If only we had a glimpse, maybe a smile, or a laugh. Or even better, a pleasant word.

Often times I can remember wondering what God really thought about me. Was he pleased with me? What would he say if I got a chance to talk to him? Oh, if only I could get some reassurance that he wasn’t upset with me, that I was doing okay, that he still approved of me.

I can also remember vividly thinking of how lucky the disciples were for this reason. They got to walk and talk with God every day. They could’ve asked him anything they wanted. If there was ever a pressing issue on their minds or a decision they needed to make, the Lord of the universe was at hand saying things like, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28). Sometimes I would wonder, Did those disciples have any idea how lucky they were?

Another character in the Bible is Jacob. He actually got to talk with God face to face — more than that, he even wrestled with God! That’s when Jacob said to the Lord, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And we can read in the account that the Lord then gave Jacob a new name and blessed him. What is interesting is how Jacob responds after this. We read, “So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Gen. 32:20).

Can you imagine? Getting to talk to God (let alone wrestle him) and then walking away thinking, “Not only did he not destroy me, he even blessed me! God just blessed me! That means he’s not mad at me. The greatest person in all the world, whose opinion about me means more than anything, just smiled upon me and declared his favor toward me. That means I’m not going to die. That means I’m going to live!” Although we can only tell a little from the narrative, it seems fair to assume that Jacob must have been beside himself with joy.

Luther comments on this passage,

Jacob was comforted by showers of blessings from God. he also received the benefits of the blessings that were given to his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham. Nevertheless, he struggled with his weaknesses. You should say to yourself, “I am not alone when I’m afraid of God’s anger, when I wonder if God has chosen me, and when I worry about losing my faith. I am not alone!” All believers–every believer past and present who has ever believed in God’s son–experiences the same struggle. God uses these experiences to refine us. Eventually, like Jacob, you’ll be able to stand up and joyfully proclaim, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Unlike Jacob, we don’t get to talk face to face with our Lord, let a lone wrestle with him. No, we’re left far away with seemingly so little to go on.

Wait a minute. Are we? When we hear God speak to us in his word; when we read of his promise of forgiveness and life everlasting; are we really left so alone and in the dark? When we hear the declaration of pardon every Lord’s day; when we see our baby brothers and sisters receiving the sign and seal of the covenant in baptism; when we taste the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper; do we really have so little to go on? When we hear Christ’s words,

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

Are we really left with so little to go on? Oh, my friends, I think not. For all of these are Christ’s word to us. He has given us a new name and blessed us. Here, we are at a better place than even the disciples. For they could talk to Christ when he was on Earth. But he didn’t disclose nor explain everything to them. For he said it would be too much for them. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. And Jacob, he may have been beside himself that the Angel of the Lord did not destroy him, but oh how we have even a greater word, a clearer promise, and the surest blessings as he ever received — eternal blessings in the heavenly realms, where we are seated presently with Jesus Christ.

What does that mean? Well, that means God is not mad at us! That means we’re going to live. That means we’re going to live forever!

Brothers and sisters, if you hear the word of Christ, his promise of eternal life, the forgiveness of your sins, and everlasting righteousness; If you have believed that word, if you are trusting only on that promise to save you, a poor miserable sinner, and you are not banking on any of your merit, works, or righteousness; then you can be comforted and assured that God is not mad at you. Instead of God coming face to face and seeing your ugly sins, he comes face to face and sees Christ’s beautiful obedience. Just like Esther who was robed in royal gowns so that her King found her pleasing in his eyes and adored her, so we also have found favor in God’s sight because of the righteous robes of Christ.

We don’t have to wonder what God thinks of us. We don’t have to worry whether he is mad, or upset with us. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is well pleased with his son Jesus. And we are in his son. Thus we, too, are safe.

Yes, we can be sure that God smiles upon us. He has given us his word.

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Reading through Pilgrim’s Progress, I found this exchange worthy of particular note. Christian is enquiring with Ignorance as to the state of his soul. And upon hearing that all man’s righteousness is as filthy rags before God, Ignorance responds:

Ignorance: Do you think that I am such a fool as to think God can see no further than I; or that I would come to God in the best of my performances?

Christian: Why, how dost thou think in this matter?

Ignorance: Why, to be short, I think I must believe in Christ for justification.

Christian: How! think thou must believe in Christ, when thou seest not they need of Him! Thou neither seest thy original nor actual infirmities; but has such an opinion of theyself, and of what thou doest, as plainly renders thee to be one that did never see a necessity of Christ’s personal righteousness to justify thee before God. How, then, dost thou say, I believe in Christ?

Ignorance:  I believe well enough for all that.

Christian: How does thou believe?

Ignorance: I believe that Christ died for sinners; and that I shall be justified before God from the curse, though His gracious acceptance of my obedience to His law. Or thus, Christ makes my duties, that are religious, acceptable to His Father by virtue of His merits, and so shall I be justified.

Christian: Let me give an answer to this confession of thy faith:
1. Thou believest with a fantastical faith; for this faith is nowhere described in the word.
2.  Thou believest with a false faith; because it taketh justification from the personal righteousness of Christ, and applies it to thy own.
3. This faith maketh not Christ a justifier of thy person, but of thy actions; and of thy person for thy actions’ sake, which is false.
4. Therefore this faith is deceitful, even such as will leave thee under wrath in the day of God Almighty: for trut justifying faith puts the soul, as sensible of its lost condition my the law, upon flying for refuge unto Christ’s righteousness (which righteousness of His is not an act of grace by which He maketh, for justification, thy obedience accepted with God, but His personal obedience to the law, in doing and suffering for us what that required at our hands); this righteousness, I say, true faith accepteth; under the skirt of which the soul being shrouded, and by it presented as spotless before God, it is accepted, and acquit from condemnation.

Ignorance: What! would you have us trust to what Christ in His own person has done without us? This conceit would loosen the reins of our lust, and tolerate us to live as we list: for what matter how we live, if we may be justified by Christ’s personal righteousness from all when we believe it?

Christian: Ignorance is thy name, and as thy name is, so art thou: even this thy answer demonstrateh what I say. Ignorant thou art of what justifying righteousness is, and as ignorant how to secure thy soul through the faith of it, from the heavy wrath of God. Yea, thou also art ignorant of the true effects of saving faith in this righteousness of Christ, which is to bow and win over the hearts to God in Christ, to love His name, His word, ways, and people, and not as thou ignorantly imaginest.

Taken from Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan (published by Fleming H. Revell: 1999) pp. 138-140.

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Reposted from an earlier entry. Here is an excerpt from a Ligonier interview with Michael Horton discussing the theology of N.T. Wright.

[Q] Considering Bishop N.T. Wright’s doctrine of justification, do you believe he is teaching another gospel?

[A] J.I. Packer has a great line: Tom Wright foregrounds what the Bible backgrounds, and backgrounds what the Bible foregrounds–but Wright does more than that; he denies a crucial component of justification, namely imputation. So, in answer to your question, yes–in denying imputation, Wright is preaching another gospel.

There’s a kind of fundamentalist approach to Scripture that Tom Wright seems to want to confront. And while he does a wonderful job of highlighting the fact that justification in Paul’s writings is understood within a broader redemptive-historical framework, something not all presentations and defenses of justification do, he is not confronting historic Reformed theology. Reformed theology always has understood justification within a broader redemptive-historical framework. If he were to read the Reformers and more recent Reformed writers, such as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos, he would clearly see that justification is placed in its proper context with the believer’s union with Christ and within the whole history of redemption. Reformed writers speak of Paul’s treatment of justification being inseparable from the inclusion of the Gentiles. Then, when you read Tom Wright he makes it seem as if he’s the first person who saw these emphases of Paul, and that everyone else before him sort of taught the four spiritual laws. It’s an incredibly naïve view.

I know Tom Wright–not well, but we had a few conversations in my Oxford days; we’ve gone back and forth about these issues, and he simply doesn’t know historical theology. He’ll actually admit that when you catch him at a few points; he’ll say something along the lines of “well this really isn’t my area of expertise.” Well, if your thesis is that the Reformation fundamentally misunderstood Paul, it better be your area of expertise to at least know what the Reformers said–and he doesn’t. So, Wright creates a straw man. And the people who are swayed by him, who are enamored of him, are also in many cases ignorant of what the Reformers actually taught, what Reformed theology has taught on these matters. And let me offer an impassioned plea to folks: There are Reformed presentations of the doctrine of justification that include some of the very salient points that Tom Wright has raised and incorporated, without denying the very crucial component of imputation as Tom Wright does. Without imputation, justification isn’t good news. When he says that the Gospel is “Jesus is Lord,” I reply, there are many passages that tell me “Jesus is Lord” isn’t good news. There are many passages that tell me “Jesus is Lord” means to a whole lot of people “the great Avenger on the white horse with a sword in His hand, bringing the last judgment.” “Jesus is Lord” means that He will be your judge. On Mars Hill in Athens, Paul said there is a judgment coming, a last judgment coming, and God has given proof of this to everyone by raising Jesus from the dead. So Jesus is Lord is not necessarily good news. Only when God assures me that I am in Christ by grace alone through faith alone and kept by grace is the announcement “Jesus is Lord” good news rather than the worst possible news.

– Michael Scott Horton, December 2009

Taken from Ligonier, here.

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Reading through the Psalms, one is faced with various interpretive challenges. Amongst the foremost in this respect is doubtless the motif of the psalmist’s own righteousness before God: “Judge me O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.” [Ps. 7.8]. Perhaps one may begin with paradigmatic “righteous man” found in Psalm 1.

As J. V. Fesko has helpfully brought to mind in his chapel message earlier this year, no matter how one approaches this issue, one must inevitably ask the question: Who is the Righteous man?

As Fesko points out, one might ask, “Am I the righteous man?” Or more humbly, “I want to be the righteous man.” But what are we to understand the text as telling us?

Fesko notes how some translations render this passage: “Blessed are those…” (plural, neuter, TNIV). And yet in an interest to be gender neutral, not only the text’s language but also it’s theology gets altered. Altogether missing is the original emphasis on the masculine singular, “ha-ish” — indicating, “the man.” Who then is the righteous man?

Well, before we can understand this or any other psalm (especially when the idea of righteousness is involved) we must first see how it points to Christ — who is the “end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” [Rom. 10:4]. And furthermore, we have as a baseline understanding that, “None is righteous, no, not one” [Rom. 3:10].

Thus, we must have a robust view of how Christ is first and foremost the righteous man, and as such, is our righteousness. Then (and only then), can we truly begin to realize and appreciate how we too participate in the blessedness of the righteous man.

For just as Christ has attained to all blessedness by neither walking, standing, nor sitting in the council of the wicked, but rather by delighting in the law of God, meditating on it, and thus prospering in all he did, so we also are now blessed (in him) with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places [Eph. 1:3]. Now we too are planted by streams of living water. We are engrafted into Christ. And thus our leaf will not wither. And by grace alone we will bear fruit in season. To the glory of God alone.

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Yes, that’s Calvin.

Translated from Latin to English, there are still few who compare to him. Pure, reading pleasure. And then he writes things like this…

“That he is justified by faith, who is cleared before God by a gratuitous remission of his sins.” We may also hence learn, the unceasing perpetuity of gratuitous righteousness through life: for when David, being wearied with the continual anguish of his own conscience, gave utterance to this declaration, he no doubt spoke according to his own experience; and he had now served God for many years. He then had found by experience, after having made great advances, that all are miserable when summoned before God’s tribunal; and he made this avowal, that there is no other way of obtaining blessedness, except the Lord receives us into favor by not imputing our sins. Thus fully refuted also is the romance of those who dream, that the righteousness of faith is but initial, and that the faithful afterwards retain by works the possession of that righteousness which they had first attained by no merits. – Calvin on Psalm 32

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Following up on my previous post on Calvin and ‘prayer of gratitude‘ in J. Todd Billings book, Calvin, Participation, and the Gift, I found this set of quotations outstanding in their pastoral insight and theological depth at reading John Calvin. Speaking of the necessity of gratitude in prayer, Billings writes:

Yet there is a ‘negative’ side to this same theme. Two of the central ‘sins’ that one can commit in a wrong approach to prayer involve the violation of Calvin’s Trinitarian portrait of adoption: first, since one is under obligation to always give thanks to God, the sin of ‘ingratitude’ in prayer is a strong concern for Calvin.

The second frequent ‘sin’ of prayer is similar to the first, but it makes the structure of the dublex gratia all the more apparent: an uneasy conscience. The experience of prayer entails ‘extraordinary peace and repose’ for the conscience precisely because of the first grace: the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon believers, assuring them of their salvation. In contrast, others relay upon the prayers of the saints because their consciences have not experienced this first grace. After asking why persons rely upon the intercession of the saints, Calvin writes: ‘If we appeal to the consciences of all those who delight in the intercession of the saints, we shall find that this [practice] arises solely from the fact that they are burdened by anxiety, just as if Christ were insufficient or too sever’. This not only brings dishonour to Christ, but ‘at the same time they cast out the kindness of God, who manifests himself to them as the Father. For he is not Father to them unless they recognize Christ to be their brother.’

One doesn’t have to be Roman Catholic or to have prayed to the saints to appreciate the reality of this uneasy conscience inhibiting one from coming to the Father with full assurance and confidence. It happens to evangelicals too. And yet this is correlated to the abject need for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Billings continues:

If the imputation received from one’s union with Christ is not recognized, the Spirit of adoption does not manifest the kindness of the Father. The conscience can be calmed in only one way: by recognizing the kindness of the Father in freely pardoning the sinner, through the imputation of Christ’s fully sufficient righteousness. In Calvin’s account, those who rely upon the prayers of the saints do not explicitly seek to dishonour Christ. Yet, because they have not accepted the first grace of imputation, they necessarily dishonour Christ by implying that Christ’s righteousness is insufficient…. Calvin’s repeated concern in the prayer chapter is that believers express gratitude to God with a conscience at rest, not trusting in their own righteousness, but in the assurance, that comes through the Spirit that the Father has freely pardoned believers because of their participation in and oneness with Christ. Believers are freed from terror before God, because ‘our prayers depend upon no merit of ours, but their whole worth and hope of fulfillment are grounded in God’s promises, and depend upon them’. Accepting that one has no worthiness ‘in oneself’ before God is part of the dynamic of entering into the wondrous exchange–experiencing the reception of Christ’s righteousness through a restored relationship with the Father through the Spirit.
— 111-2

What a lovely summation and correlation of Calvin’s theology of prayer with his doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the assurance of the believer. For they are all interconnected with each other.

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I stumbled across these quotations today by Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary, Bruce McCormack:

We live in a time in which the churches of the Reformation are in doctrinal chaos. Many there are who, appalled by the gnosticism and even paganism of a good bit of the theology to be found on the left wing of their churches, have turned longing eyes towards Rome and Constantinople.

He then continues:

I think it is accurate to say that there are no hotter topics in Protestant theology today than the themes of theosis, union with Christ, the de Lubacian axiom “the Eucharist makes the church,” etc…. In the process, the churches are slowly coming under the influence of a concept of “participation” in Christ that owes a great deal to the ancient Greek ontologies of pure being…. In truth, forensicism (rightly understood!) provides the basis for an alternative theological ontology to the one presupposed in Roman and Eastern soteriology. Where this is not seen, the result has almost always been the abandonment of the Reformation doctrine of justification on the mistaken assumption that the charge of a “legal fiction” has a weight, which in truth, it does not.
Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, 105-6.

Wow! Any thoughts?

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