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Mike Reeves: James does not contradict Paul or the Reformers

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udclCIFCGr4]

Taken from Mike's series on justification here.

84 thoughts on “Mike Reeves: James does not contradict Paul or the Reformers

  1. billpayer

    Westminster Conf. XI.2: "Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied by all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love."

    Second Helvetic XV.6: "Wherefore, in this matter [justification] we speak not of a feigned, vain, or dead faith, but of a lively and quickening faith; which, for Christ (who is life, and gives life), whom it apprehends, both is indeed, and is so called, a lively faith, and does prove itself to be lively by lively works."

  2. billpayer

    O, when it comes to faith, what a living, creative, active, powerful thing it is. It cannot do other than good at all times. It never waits to ask whether there is some good work to do, rather, before the question is raised, it has done the deed, and keeps on doing it. A man not active in this way is a man without faith. He is groping about for faith and searching for good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Nevertheless, he keeps on talking nonsense about faith and good works. Martin Luther. Commentary on Romans, Preface.

    Our faith in Christ does not free us from works, but from the false opinions concerning works; that is, from the foolish presumption that justification is acquired through works. Martin Luther

  3. John B

    A wise old Lutheran pastor said to me, "I never quote Luther. You can support almost anything by citing Luther. He just said so much." The defense offered here in this video arises from Luther's own characterization of James as an "epistle of straw".

  4. the Old Adam

    “Anyone who is but a little familiar with Luther knows that his different thoughts are not strung together like pearls in a necklace, united only by the bond of a common authority or perhaps by a chain of logical argument, but that they all lie close as the petals of a rose about a common centre, they shine out like the rays of the sun from one glowing source: the forgiveness of sins. We should be in no danger of misleading the would-be student of Luther, if we expressly gave him the rule: Never imagine you have rightly grasped a Lutheran idea until you have succeeded in reducing it to a simple corollary of the forgiveness of sins.”

    from "Our Calling" by Swedish theologian Einar Billing

  5. Brian Midmore

    If we stick rigidly to the idea that justification is the declaration that an individual is righteous then sola fide makes better sense. Abraham is declared justified by his works a second time but this is not an additional justification. There can only be two decisisions guilty or not guilty and therefore he cannot become more not guilty.(see Glen Ive changed my tune) The problems have arisen when justification has become another word for salvation or in general 'how we get to heaven'. Some might see Paul writing Romans to explain that we no longer get to heaven by trying to be good but rather now it is by faith alone. If this caricature is right it is very odd that he writes in Romans 2 v 7 that God 'gives eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honour and immortality'. This statement seems very strange for someone who is about to say 'we get to heaven not by works but by faith'. Of course it can be explained by saying that those who are justified will produce these works. But this statement of Paul strongly undermines the idea that Romans was written to say that we now get to heaven by faith and not by works.There are 2 questions then: Why was Romans written; What is role of works in our salvation.

  6. billpayer

    Luther seems to make perfect sense to me! He seems to be saying that although God declares us right only the basis of us trusting Jesus yet when we trust Jesus we are also brought into His life and love and passion. Trusting Jesus always means following Jesus. As soon as we trust Jesus we are right with God, but then because we trust Jesus we are also born again, adopted as sons, filled with the Spirit. Trusting Jesus unlocks that vast treasure store of blessings that are stored up in Jesus from all eternity. One of those blessings, given immediately, is being declared righteous - but all the other blessings flow out of this trust and love for Jesus too. The person who trusts Jesus obviously is passionate for the honour, glory and immortality that is stored up in Jesus; every day they want to live out that faith in Jesus, enjoying the good works that God has prepared for them to do.

  7. Brian Midmore

    Yes this is true. I suppose what i was saying was although you can make a good protestant case from Romans did Paul set out to make such a case when he wrote Romans. I dont think he did or else why did write a verse like 2.7. If he wanted to stress faith over any kind of works he would have written 'he gives eternal life to those who trust in Jesus' and not to those who do good. I shall speak laconically: In Romans Paul lays out the fact that the Jews have failed to keep the Torah,and are no better than the Gentiles. Now faith is the justifier not the works of the Torah they are on a level playing field with the Gentiles so they can no longer boast. This makes sense of Romans 9-11. (some summary!!)

  8. billpayer

    Yes, Brian, I agree that it is very strange when people talk about Romans or Galatians as if the apostle Paul were part of the Protestant Reformation! Quite often people "translate" his argument into medieval/catholic/protestant categories. Romans 2:7 together with verse 13 make it very clear that it is those who do what the Law requires that are justified. I suppose the question is... what does the Law require? I have heard it said that in verses 14-16 the Gentile Christians do what the Law requires because they are born again by trusting Jesus - and then they have the Law written on their hearts... which leads to a life of love and service. Does this make sense? If the Law requires that we love and trust the LORD God with all our heart [and our neighbours too], then this fulfils all the other requirements of the Law. So, when we love and trust Jesus, following His way and being born again by His Spirit, so the requirements of the Law are fulfilled... whether we have ever heard of the Law or not. I'm not sure I'm making sense with all this.. but I heard something like this from a friend recently. :)

  9. John B

    Hi the Old Adam,

    While Billing's rule for understanding Luther was very clear for him, OTOH, the New Finnish Interpretation of Luther reads him in an entirely different light. They see him as emphasizing Jesus' righteousness which indwells believers. The Finnish School understands Luther's views on salvation to be similar to Orthodoxy's doctrine of theosis.

  10. Brian Midmore

    Hi billplayer,
    I think the point i make is important because if we read Paul,s intention as setting faith against any law as Luther seems to imagine (correct if wrong please) rather than faith against the Torah (new against old covenants) then this leads to discussions like 'Is the sermon on the mount law or Gospel'. Clearly if faith is set against any commandment then the sermon the mount falls into the category of law and therefore in many peoples mind not a thing to aspire to or even 'A bad thing'.

  11. billpayer

    Great point Brian.

    The Sermon on the Mount is not a Law that stands over against us but a wonderful, liberating description of the life of Christ's kingdom and life. Jesus promises that as we follow Him, so we enter into a new kind of life described by His Sermon. It is not that we achieve this kind of life by trying to follow His commands in the Sermon. Jesus' teaching about good trees and bad trees makes that clear! Rather, we become good trees when we trust Him ... and therefore obeying His commands becomes the realisation of our new nature rather than some kind of entrance exam into life. The word 'Law' cannot be taken as a general principle meaning 'any commandments'. When the Bible speaks of the 'The Law' it is speaking specifically of the Law given through Moses, lasting down to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    If we see the 'Law' as a requirement that we must perform [with divine help] then, yes, the Law is a tyrant that can only kill us. When we see the Law as the description of Jesus and His people in Him, then it is promise and glory - the sign pointing to the wonderful reality of Jesus, the way and the life.

    Faith must issue in obedience or else it is an empty and false thing. If a person claims to have faith but feels that there is some kind of threat in 'commands' or obedience, then we must suspect that their faith is dead or false. If we really trust Jesus then we love to obey Him; nothing gives us more pleasure than treasuring His commands; we know that our own ways lead to death and we long for the day when we are set free from our old nature and are able to eternally obey Jesus.

  12. Howard

    The Christian. notes Richard Sibbes, is said to be like a smoldering flax, for grace 'is not only little, but mingled with corruption'. In truth, our faith is like a candle whose flame is sometimes deemed extinguished, and with it, all sign of fruit, but this very text, notes the Puritan, affirms it so that we are forced to pitch our rest on justification. The 'eye' of faith, however dim the gaze, is fixed upon it's author (giver) and finisher, for it is His gift, His work, His life, and the surety of these alone (all that He is and does) that makes us free and secures that freedom. "Holy duties" - the 'fruits' of saving faith, notes Thomas Goodwin, can entirely fail to give us assurance and can actually lead us away from Christ, thus, we 'must cry out against any resting in our duties, and bid men only, as Luther, to take heed of not their sins only, but also of their best works, as possible distractions from Christ'.

  13. John B

    So far in this thread Luther, Billing, Sibbes, and Goodwin have been cited as authorities on the initial question raised here. This group of teachers has the makings of a Protestant sacred magisterium! I hope that Augustine will be included in the group. In The Handbook of Faith, Hope and Love, the Doctor of Grace addresses the question directly in Chapter 67. In the next chapter he writes:

    "...if Christ holds the place of foundation in the heart—that is, if nothing be preferred to Him, and if the man, though burning with grief, is yet more willing to lose the things he loves so much than to lose Christ,— he is saved by fire. If, however, in time of temptation, he prefer to hold by temporal and earthly things rather than by Christ, he has not Christ as his foundation; for he puts earthly things in the first place, and in a building nothing comes before the foundation."

  14. Brian Midmore

    Back to James. It is clear that we are justifed by faith. But the test of whether that faith is live faith is whether we do good works. So we are not justified if we do not do good works. So we are not justified by faith alone if that faith is alone. We are not justified by good works but we are not justified if they are absent. In some sense of the meaning then we are justified by them as James says. Paul too says that God gives eternal life to those who do good (Rom 2v7).

    We are not justified by faith in justification by faith however. We are justified by faith in the life, death and resurrection of the Man-God Jesus of Nazareth. ( This means that people who dont believe in sola fide can be justified if they believe the gospel) Appreciating the idea of justification by faith brings assurance and an understanding of how the church is constituted. No longer ethnically on the basis of the Torah but by faith giving equality to Jew and Gentile. .

  15. Howard

    The 'preferring (receiving) of Christ to (before and above) all things' is indeed the highest, deepest good, and is most certainly so because of the love of God which grace by faith sheds abroad in the heart - therein is the power to become and remain the children of God. So what does this truly entail?

    "Note He does not say 'as many as had an enlargement of duties, or great power against corruption, but those who have taken Christ. We think we must have virtue - grace and holiness - that Christ is seen to be within the godly man, but I tell you plainly that upon such terms He will never justify you, or any man whilst the world stands. It is for the wicked and the ungodly that He has come, and these alone". (Thomas Hooker - The doubting Christian drawn to Christ).

    In the light of this, look upon and consider the amplitude of the covenant of grace (Psalm 89:30-38) - that God will pardon not only those ordinary infirmities, but the worst. 'If my sons forsake my law', the Lord says - those in the state of grace, who live in great sins - it is these He speaks and grants great mercy. Men in a state of grace may indeed be inflamed with lusts, that one would think there is nothing of grace. Yet there is indeed a principal of grace that will reduce them at the very last. So much for the greatness of sin! (Thomas Goodwin - works, volume 8).

  16. billpayer

    Brian, I love that phrase of yours - "we are not justified by faith alone if that faith is alone." That is surely true! Faith alone in Christ alone justifies us before God. But if that faith is alone and doesn't lead to good works, then that was never justifying faith. I think Mike Reeves says something like this in the audio clip. he says that good works justify the faith of the one who is justified by Jesus... in other words, the good works show the reality of the trust in Jesus.

    Howard makes a powerful point. If we start to examine ourselves and start to worry about the lack of [or worse, plenty of] good works, then we have taken our eyes off Jesus. Always, always, always we must trust Jesus... and even if we have fallen into doubts and sins, yet real justifying faith will keep on trusting Jesus. The Bible is full of examples of Christians who fall into sin but show that still they trust Jesus - whether Abraham, David, Moses, Peter or Paul.

    My only slight concern is that if we only ever reassure people who claim to trust Jesus no matter how much they constantly carry on in sin, doubt, selfishness and worldliness... then what is the purpose of the many, many challenging passages in the Bible that warn us not to deceive ourselves in this way? Over the years I've noticed that all the hard challenges of Jesus' own teaching [especially] are typically blunted and deflected in certain kinds of Protestant teaching with an appeal to justification by faith - even though that specific doctrine is not in the text of Jesus' teaching. Do you see what I mean?

    So, I know of examples of people who don't go to church, don't bother with daily Bible reading or prayer, don't share their possessions with the church family [obviously], never fast, prefer to listen/talk/discuss rather than obey/act/serve... yet they always reassure themselves [and others give them the same 'comfort'] that they are saved by simply trusting Jesus and nothing else. If they listen to any Bible teaching at all they just go listen to 'justification by faith alone' style teaching... so they never get anything other than constant reassurance that they are alright, when it is obvious to anybody in a living church that these people are far from alright!

    Does anybody know what I mean? This kind of cheap and corrupt 'grace' is used as a cover for sin and worldliness.

  17. Glen

    Bill, I certainly know what you mean. There might be many different (though related) problems in such churches / preaching. Perhaps they're preaching "grace" and not Christ. Perhaps they're preaching "fire insurance" and not Christ. Perhaps they're preaching gospel-gospel, not law-gospel. Perhaps they're preaching justification without reconciliation/adoption/new life. Perhaps they're preaching an individual walk, not a community life. Perhaps they've mistaken "faith" for an internal, private possession and wrongly developed an allergic reaction to anything active or external. Perhaps they've developed an allergic reaction to any use of the law other than the pedagogical.

    There are all sorts of related problems that might underlie this. But *true* 'faith alone' preaching ought to dispossess us *all* of *any* trust in the flesh - no matter how good our bible reading etc - and cast us onto Christ and Him crucified. Risen up with Him, we eagerly participate in a whole new life of righteousness. And if that's not our experience then, indeed, let the comfortable be disturbed and may they look in repentance and faith to Christ, for He alone saves. But the comfortable being disturbed and the disturbed, comforted seems to be the whole point of law-gospel preaching as practised by Luther and the reformers/puritans.

  18. Howard

    Are we, perhaps, talking about those 'bruised reeds' who, like many today, sat under the sting of the lash of ADDING various works, Galatians style, to salvation for many, many (oh too many years)? Is that why these folks stopped going to church and pretty much stopped doing anything related to that because these very things became AS NECESSARY as Christ Himself? This isn't in any manner a theoretical problem - it's probably why phenomena like the emergent church have developed from evangelicalism in the last few decades - there are plenty of casualties of one cause - legalism - derived usually from one driving vision of spirituality - dualism. Some of us were fortunate enough to hear something better - that Christ surely died for the sins of Christians, that,as Luther so aptly put it, the whole gospel is OUTSIDE OF US, and that saved us, in measure at least, from the same ship-wreck, but make no mistake, there is a huge need for Paul's teaching on this to the church today.

  19. John B

    Hi Howard,

    "So what does this truly entail?"

    That's the $64,000 question!

    T. Hooker says what it is not.

    Augustine speaks to this question in Chapter 52 (of the work cited) on baptism, which is a commentary on Romans 6:1-11.

    Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11)

    For me, another Hooker, namely Richard, helps to elucidate the teaching of the Apostles, which Augustine was following:

    "...there are two kinds of Christian righteousness: the one without us, which we have by imputation; the other in us, which consisteth of faith, hope, charity, and other Christian virtues; and St. James doth prove that Abraham had not only the one, because the thing he believed was imputed unto him for righteousness, but also the other, because he offered up his son. God giveth us both the one justice [righteousness] and the other: the one by accepting us for righteous in Christ; the other by working Christian righteousness in us. The proper and most immediate efficient cause in us of this latter is the spirit of adoption which we have received into our hearts. [Rom 8:15f] That whereof it consisteth, whereof it is really and formally made, are those infused virtues proper and particular unto saints, which the Spirit, in that very moment when first it is given of God, bringeth with it. The effects thereof are such actions as the Apostle doth call the fruits, the works, the operations of the Spirit [see Gal 5:22; 1 Cor 12:6,11]" ~Richard Hooker, Learned Discourse on Justification

  20. John B

    Hi billpayer,

    "Does anybody know what I mean?"

    I do!

    This has really become widespread in local churches around here during recent years.

    Bonhoeffer was a prophet. His study of the Sermon on the Mount, and his thoughts on "cheap grace" provide a Lutheran perspective that is at odds with so much of today's "‘justification by faith alone’ style teaching".

  21. billpayer

    I really like that Richard Hooker quotation. We are justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ - and the Spirit works righteousness in us. It reminds me of Revelation 19:8. The glorified church in heaven is not only saved by the imputed righteousness of Jesus but they are also clothed with righteous acts.

    It is true that there is a lot of legalism in supposedly evangelical churches. I often hear "gospel" sermons that amount to "if you work harder at Bible reading/prayer/worship/devotion then you will be right with God". THAT is a common "gospel" in popular church life - but it is merely human religion.

    BUT, over against that there is also the "cheap grace" 'gospel' that feeds the anti-church people who basically soak up God TV and internet sermons instead of serving real Christians in the church family. Those who believe in cheap grace always feel that people are making them feel guilty, that everybody else are all 'legalists', that any kind of honest Biblical challenge is legalism. That kind of cheap grace that wants fire insurance without the freedom and joy of sacrifice and service is just another kind of human religion.

    A couple of years ago a preacher got savaged by the 'cheap gospel protestants' because he preached that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus expected people to do what he said! True story. The cheap grace protestants hate the wise and foolish builders conclusion to the sermon. Jesus knows that people will find all kinds of ways to merely HEAR his words without OBEYING his words. Some ignore Jesus by openly rejecting him. Others ignore his commands with this kind of cheap grace Protestantism.

    I honestly believe that the kind of passionate obedience and sacrificial service that I read in the sermons of the original protestants doesn't sound anything like this false gospel of a powerless and empty justification alone by faith alone. We need the kind of thing that Glen was talking about "*true* ‘faith alone’ preaching ought to dispossess us *all* of *any* trust in the flesh – no matter how good our bible reading etc – and cast us onto Christ and Him crucified. Risen up with Him, we eagerly participate in a whole new life of righteousness."

    Real faith alone in Christ alone brings not justification alone but justification along with sanctification, adoption, church, service, love, freedom, glorification and holiness.

  22. Howard

    Well, that all seems nicely sown up then - the Spirit of adoption works in us to work Christian righteousness in us, and by teaching on this, we can escape all the 'justification by faith alone style preaching' that is so prevalent today. Except where are the churches which are really (and I mean really) doing these things? What I would have given over most of my Christian life for a church that HAD preached justification by grace alone through faith alone - I had to pretty well leave the church to find that. The vast majority of evangelical/charismatic and reformed churches I attended barely ever mentioned this, but taught works on top of works, oh, and then more works - more prayer, witnessing, submission, study, etc, etc - there wasn't any place for the true freedom of the Christian, so my question is essentially the same it's been for over 30 years - if we really have confidence in the marvel of the Gospel, the totally saving work of Christ, why are we so very afraid of it in most of our churches, and how are we ever going to encourage true growth in inner Christian righteousness if we are unwilling (and probably unable) to truly set people free through the objective gospel of justification by grace alone by the gift of faith alone through the finished work of Christ alone?

    If I'm honest, I haven't a clue where to begin, except that it must be on the sure and true foundation of the Gospel itself. It should be straightforward to start there - to seek to lay this foundation and build upon it - but it seems woefully absent in Christianity today.

    "If you were to lay before me my sins and my good works, I will ask for both to pass from my sight, that I might rest only in the liberating work of Christ, which alone is profitable, and without which I would foolishly presume to purchase for myself some favor by good deeds or despair because of my sins. Let us then learn, with all diligence, to discern and separate Christ far from all works, good and evil, for with all of these, Christ has nothing to do". Luther on Galatians 5:2.

  23. billpayer

    Powerful point Howard. Neither our good nor bad works have any relevance for our justification. Glen speaks about the danger of "offering the offer". I've thought about that a lot this afternoon. I think this happens when preachers say that if we choose Jesus then we have the possibility of new life... perhaps if we work hard enough. BUT, Jesus IS the new life. If we have Jesus we have new life, without any good or bad works on our part. In him, quite outside of ourselves, there is a perfect righteousness - of his life and death. In him, complete without any power or input from us, is his perfect resurrection life, a new humanity that is given to us and cannot ever be defiled.

    So, if Jesus is our objective righteousness... and we clearly and loudly proclaim this... then surely we must also preach what is built on this: the church life of love and service. Howard, it seems that you are concerned with mixing up justification and sanctification. Quite right. That has been a massive problem since the beginning. But, Howard, there is a danger that we are so frightened of mixing justification and sanctification that we simply drop sanctification altogether and only have justification. can you see that danger?

  24. Howard

    I'm really concerned, Bill, with mixing anything into what we do and say that in any way undermines the clear, reconciling work of God in His Son. Let me give an example. I sat in churches for many years where submission to the Lordship of Jesus (via those who lead us) was paramount, but I recently learned a far greater lesson about Christ's Lordship than all those brow-beating messages ever delivered. I was in a Bible study, and the friend giving it asked the question, 'Where do we see the Lordship of Christ? We see it in that moment when Jesus washes His disciples feet'. In a moment, my heart, my mind, my affections, were ravished by God's astonishing love, and my only response was to begin to use my all to respond to that. That is, I believe, the work of God changing us and refining us, not by 'our' works, but the Holy Spirit quickening His life within us, that He might indeed be our sanctification.

    It is only when we are truly drawing from this well of God's astonishing mercy to us that we truly have life, and we can truly begin to be honest and open with each other, sharing that life, knowing the love which covers a multitude of faults, which enables us to convey something of the precious fragrance He has placed within. The joy, the richness, the beauty comes from genuinely seeing and sharing the person and the amazing work of Christ, but we can so easily be several places removed from that, and focusing upon all manner of issues can so quickly make it easier for us to find ourselves in those 'detached' zones.

    We are currently doing a series on Galatians at the church I attend. I've been a Christian for some 40 years, but this is the first time I've truly heard this epistle exposited in this manner (thanks be to God for Luther's commentary). When we commenced Galatians 5, the preacher began with a statement first made several years ago by Dr Rod Rosenbladt - "the first thing which should be evident to anyone who comes into a place of Christian worship is that we share one thing... freedom". When Christ, as found in the manger of the Gospel, is truly the focus of who and what we are, then I know this will be so. Christ makes us free, through the wonder of a love that overwhelms us, free to share such love to each other and in every pour and facet of life - that is what we are hungry to know and to see, a love that marks our failure and weakness with a joy unspeakable - that, I suggest, is the Christian life.

    Hope these few quick ramblings help.
    Further reading - Martin Luther on the Freedom of the Christian.

  25. Pingback: Howard Nolan on Christ Jesus | The Cosmic Logos

  26. Brian Midmore

    My problem with sola fide is not so much whether it is true but whether it is TRUE. For many protestants it is the central idea that controls their theology. But was it Pauls central idea? I dont think so. I had a discussion with Glen about the cost of discipleship. I think Glen was saying that the Gospel was free and therefore it had no cost to us. This for me flew in face of Luke 14vv25-33. Please comment.

  27. Howard

    It's interesting to speak of the centrality of this doctrine to Protestants. I was listening to a radio broadcast recently where people were interviewed randomly at an evangelical Christian booksellers convention in the US, and only around one in ten had any notion as to what the doctrine of Justification by faith was. Most provided an answer that would have nicely fitted into orthodox Roman Catholic theology - that righteousness is a moral quality we possess, and that grace was something infused into us, thereby facilitating good works, so it was essentially something we attained (when what should concern us is the righteousness which comes from God, which, from first to last, is bestowed by faith). This, I think, reveals the reality in many of our churches regarding the very nature of the Gospel message itself. Take the passage in Luke you refer to. Christ's words here follow the telling of the parable of the banquet (14:12-24). Here, Jesus first addresses our own notions of what's required - we invite friends, family, those with prestige that we'd like to influence - that's a nice image of our way of seeing the way to do what is right and good, but the 'kingdom' banquet is totally universal, inviting all of those we wouldn't consider - these truly poor souls are welcomed. Jesus then uses the same scenario to look at those who will excuse themselves from coming - business, pleasure, life - these can all be used to avoid the call to God's table (and Jesus tells us why in John 3:19,20). What's interesting in the story is that it's the 'invited' (those who perhaps felt they warranted an invitation) who do not actually attend. This, I think, gives us the back-drop to Jesus' words about discipleship - the cost is to come and identify with Him in a world which largely spurns not only the invitation but the love of God, and will therefore equally despise those who know this love and seek to share it.

    The propensity we all share is to seek to add to God's work - to inherently adhere to the way of Cain (Jude 11) and believe we have something worthy we can offer to God from ourselves, but this is not so, and therein lye the seeds which murder the way of righteousness by faith (Hebrews 11:4). This is where must truly, by the work of Christ, deny ourselves and be followers of the one who has loved us and given Himself for us, that we might truly be kept from falling by His grace alone. Like the besieged city of mansoul, the old nature naturally rallies against the Lord and His anointed (Psalm 2:1) - surely, we can do something, we reason, but in truth all we bring is our enmity, our hostility to the unmerited wonder of a God who saves us entirely. The cost each day is to trust in Him and His finished work (that He who has begun a good work in us shall complete it), rather than our own inventions and devices.

  28. Glen

    Hi Brian,

    The context was a post on our marriage union with Jesus:
    https://christthetruth.net/2013/02/13/evangelism-training-session-3/

    In that context we offer Jesus for free. Notice that we offer *Jesus* for free - not a Get Out Of Hell Card or an abstract forgiveness. But, having explained that the Christian life is an all-of-life marriage-union to Jesus, we offer *Him*,

    And really we can offer Him no other way. What bargaining chips do we have to 'get Jesus' for ourselves? What do we have to offer? No Jesus is the One Given and we are called to receive Him. Of course life can never be the same once we receive Jesus (and we will lay that out in 'marriage-prep' (eg Luke 14:25-33) but no-one has a thing to offer Him. Which is why we 'seek terms of peace.' And why it's the sinners and tax collectors who gather around Jesus and feast with Him (Luke 15:1 - ignore the chapter divisions).

    When I married Emma I paid no dowry and could pay no dowry. We had little money and had to get in some fly-by-night preacher on the cheap - let the reader understand ;-)

    The relationship was completely free and to make it in any way mercenary would ruin it completely. Of course it has entailed a whole-of-life revolution. But not because any of it is 'pay back'.

    How much more inappropriate is it to speak of 'pay back' with Jesus. When Peter tried to bring to Jesus' attention his sacrifices, Jesus tells him they're not sacrifices at all really, only investments (Mark 10:28-31). We don't lose with Jesus. Not really. Coming and dying with Him IS eternal life. It's not the payment for it. When we think it is payment, we've misunderstood who Jesus is and what He's offering.

  29. John B

    Hi Howard,

    A good church is hard to find, and if I ever find the perfect one, I couldn't join, because I'd spoil it. The Westminster Confession of Faith says, "The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error". So PCA must not mean the Perfect Church in America!

    I'm glad that you've found a church where you experience Christian freedom, and have escaped from the brow beating legalism that you had found in other churches. But, I know that the denomination that Rosenbladt ministers in recognizes the need for church discipline, and even practices closed communion! Luther's Small Catechism is clear in teaching on the church's "use of the keys".

    Jesus is the Christ, the Lord, the only savior of the world. He is the rock and foundation of the Church. All who believe in the Son of God are fellow citizens in God's household, *even if* their faith is weak and they build upon the foundation that which is only temporal and therefore not fitted for the Kingdom. For me, denominational affiliation doesn't matter so much as finding a local church where the leadership is working in earnest to "rightly divide the word of truth", while not holding the faith of "the Lord of glory with partiality". These are ideals, but of course realized very imperfectly in this age.

    I don't know what to make of the random radio interviews that you mentioned. I'd be pretty flummoxed if someone stuck a microphone in my face unexpectedly, and asked me a question like that. Bonhoeffer said, "cheap grace is grace without discipleship". Whereas Jesus links teaching and baptism in the Great Commission, many today are in the church because they've assented to the church's profession of belief in Jesus. But in most cases there's not much catechesis going on. So, many are at a loss to answer such a question, because they're not actually engaged in discipleship. Baptism is enough, or maybe just hearing and assenting to the Good News.

    In "Protestantism Without Reformation" Bonhoeffer wrote:

    “American theology and the American church as a whole have never been able to understand the meaning of ‘criticism’ by the Word of God and all that signifies. Right to the last they do not understand that God’s ‘criticism’ touches even religion, the Christianity of the churches and the sanctification of Christians, and that God has founded his church beyond religion and beyond ethics. A symptom of this is the general adherence to natural theology. In American theology, Christianity is still essentially religion and ethics. But because of this, the person and work of Jesus Christ must, for theology, sink into the background and in the long run remain misunderstood, because it is not recognised as the sole ground of radical judgment and radical forgiveness.”

  30. Brian Midmore

    Glen
    I in no way believe in payback for what Jesus did for us. That would be a nonsense. But your marriage did cost you something. All your worldy goods you pledged to Emma. You lost your independence. Of course ultimately what we give up is dross but it might not always seem that way. So in order that we may gain Christ we must count all things but loss. We must forsake everything. Not as payment but as commitment and yes that 'we might gain Christ'. I suppose its just centres on the meaning of cost. Is it a quid pro quo for services rendered (NO!) is it commitment (YES!).Jesus also calls us to count the cost before we make a commitment to be his disciple. Isnt Jesus saying that there is a cost that is countable before we make a commitment to him, rather than a cost that happens in an automatic way after we are converted. What might this mean in the context of evangelism?

    I disagree with Howard over his belief that Sola fide is central to the gospel. Howard sees sola fide as TRUE but I think it is only true. Thats why I'm an Anglican , I dont like extremes. Via media rules OK!

  31. Howard

    Interesting replies, John and Brian.
    First, I hear what you say regarding the perfect church, but 'perfection' - this side of the new creation - is, I think, attending somewhere where the Gospel is the focus; that at least gives us the charta to allow Christian liberty, but keeping even that is a battle royal - no wonder Luther referred to it's core doctrine as the essential by which we, the church, stand or falls.
    I also what you hear regarding the nature of religion amongst us (Ellul's 'The Subversion of Christianity' is another wake-up call we painfully need to hear) - it all too quickly becomes religion and ethics once the person and work of Christ are smoothly replaced by focusing upon us again.
    As someone attending an Anglican Church at present (much to my own surprise), I can see how easy it is to allow the 'music' of sola fide (actually, all the sola's and semper's of the reformation) to blend into the background, but there are reasons for my insistence here, as I've touched on in some of my prior comments (Most notably, our propensity to become good Roman Catholics in all but name when this occurs), so let's face this head on and ask, why is Sola Fide 'only true' and not 'TRUE'?

    It's certainly all about rightly dividing the word of truth, so it would be great to use this opportunity, on this matter, to look further if people want to.

    Really enjoying the conversation.

  32. Howard

    (Corrected)
    Interesting replies, John and Brian.
    First, I hear what you say regarding the perfect church, but ‘perfection’ – this side of the new creation – is, I think, attending somewhere where the Gospel is the focus; that at least gives us the charta to allow Christian liberty, but keeping even that is a battle royal – no wonder Luther referred to it’s core doctrine as the essential by which we, the church, stand or falls.
    I also hear you regarding the nature of religion amongst us (Ellul’s ‘The Subversion of Christianity’ is another wake-up call we painfully need to hear) – it all too quickly becomes religion and ethics once the person and work of Christ are smoothly replaced by focusing upon us again.
    As someone attending an Anglican Church at present (much to my own surprise), I can see how easy it is to allow the ‘music’ of sola fide (actually, all the sola’s and semper’s of the reformation) to blend into the background, but there are reasons for my insistence here, as I’ve touched on in some of my prior comments (Most notably, our propensity to become good Roman Catholics in all but name when this occurs), so let’s face this head on and ask, why is Sola Fide ‘only true’ and not ‘TRUE’?

    It’s certainly all about rightly dividing the word of truth, so it would be great to use this opportunity, on this matter, to look further if people want to.

    Really enjoying the conversation.

  33. Brian Midmore

    Hi Howard,
    I must confess a secret vice. I have a penchant for NT Wright and his new perspective on Paul. He accepts sola fide but in his Pauline exegesis ecclesiology is more central than soteriology. Luther found sola fide so vital in the context he found himself that he needed to be very defensive about it. I still find this defensiveness towards sola fide today in Protestantism. E.g. ideas of the cost discipleship or that we must strive to enter the rest are defused. Now becoming a de facto catholic is not so bad! I attend (much to my surprise) an anglo-catholic church. If its good enough for C S Lewis and T S Eliot its good enough for me!

  34. Howard

    Thanks for the confession, Brian.
    Like most Christians today, I've enjoyed reading some of N T Wright's writings, but his new perspective, especially on Justification, is tragically holed below the waterline, especially when it comes to his evaluation of the Reformer's work and understanding on the matter (who all wrote on the Gospels as well as Old Testament books as well as the Epistles in relation to the nature and ramifications of the fulfillment of the promises concerning Christ and salvation). Whilst we should indeed, as Wright contends, see the integral relationship between soteriology and ecclesiology, we can so easily and effectively divorce the 'how' and the working-out (history) of these issues if we dismiss the fine work of the Reformers to marry these two key elements of Redemption. Wright effectively downplays the first (by, for example, including political and sociological factors, where Paul himself plainly says the problem was bad theology - i.e. the Law). It is by proposing such 'problems' (and seeking to rectify them) that Wright argues for the shift on understanding Justification that he sees as necessary, but, as I've touched on above, this is actually a serious case of missing the wood from the trees.

    The cardinal value of the Reformation's understanding of this issue is found in the Gospels themselves. It is here, amidst those very days when Jesus walked amongst the Jews, that the questions regarding how can we be saved and inherit eternal life were being asked - the question(s) actually remain the same for us all, and the answer of Jesus Himself in Luke 18:14, concerning the justified sinner, is certainly telling and vital on the nature of our being made right with God. Wright, despite all of his criticism, effectively verifies this, for example, in his unpacking of Daniel 9:4-19. The fact remains that 'none of this future hope is conceivable apart from the repeated emphasis of Paul on the present justification of the ungodly by the imputed righteousness of Christ' (Michael Horton - Review of Justification by N T Wright).

    As I've hinted, there are also places where Wright just argues against scripture. His interpretation of the failure of the Jews (Romans 3:1-8) - a 'faithlessness in their commission' rejects the actual reasons for this given in Romans 9:32 and Hebrews 6:16-19, primarily because of an impoverished approach to the covenant(s) themselves, which is a real loss when we consider what Wright is seeking to do. His understanding of the righteousness given to us in justification is also faulty, as is his constant treating of this as our being virtuous - the complete opposite of the Reformer's view.

    It is in his 'blending' of the two covenants (with Abraham and at Sinai) that we have the biggest problem. Paul's contention in Galatians 4 is that of these one (The Law) simply cannot cause us to be righteous and must be expelled as a means of doing so, but Wright, again, misses the mark here, leading to another false dilemma (God's righteousness as His own covenant faithfulness verses the imputation of Christ's righteousness).

    It is, no doubt, because of these manner of issues and concerns that those of us who hold to 'the old school' on such matters can, perhaps, often be viewed as 'circling the wagons', but as I hope I've tried to show in some of my prior comments on this thread, my concerns are very practical - the impact of 'goods works' theology and piety on mainstream evangelicalism has been all to present in my experience to make it so.

    Wright, Lewis, and Elliott may have much to say on many things that are of value, but when it comes to the nature of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Reformers are indeed most wise to point us back to the teaching of the Apostles (and through them, the 'law and the prophets'), that the truth can indeed make us free.

  35. Chris W

    Howard,

    I think you have seriously misrepresented Wright here. Yes, it is true that he overstates the case against the reformers sometimes (perhaps for rhetorical effect), but his theology is actually very similar to Calvin's on many levels. In no way does Wright set aside soteriology, he merely sets it within its covenantal, ecclesiological context. As for "arguing against scripture", that is preposterous - Wright fully upholds the authority of scripture and there is nothing in his writings which contradicts the stumbling of Israel over the law found in Romans 9:32.

    The fact of the matter is, that there is much more breadth in the reformed community than you are allowing for. Calvin himself upheld the fundamental unity of all of the covenants, including Sinai (see for example his commentary on Jeremiah 31:31-32). And I fail to see anything in Luke 18:14 which goes strongly against Wright's perspective, rather, Calvin defines the 'justification' in this passage as 'forgiveness of sins', much like Wright does in Romans 4. And Calvin's commentary on Galatians 4:5 contains the following: "We must here observe, the exemption from the law which Christ has procured for us does not imply that we no longer owe any obedience to the doctrine of the law, and may do whatever we please; for the law is the everlasting rule of a good and holy life."

    Now, I don't give a diddly squat about the so-called "New Perspective" and I certainly don't agree with Wright about everything, but I think your harsh condemnation of him is unwarranted.

    Brian,

    There is nothing in NT Wright which goes against the doctrine of justification by faith alone. You don't have to choose between the two. Keep reading his stuff and don't be ashamed!

  36. Glen

    Hi Brian, to answer your question about what repentance might look like in the context of evangelism, I wrote this essay:

    http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/repentance.htm

    One quote from it is an imagined dialogue by Edward Fisher:

    "Nom. I conceive that repentance consists in a man's humbling himself before God, and sorrowing and grieving for offending him by his sins, and in turning from them all to the Lord.

    Evan. And would you have a man to do all this truly before he come to Christ by believing?

    Nom. Yea, indeed, I think it is very meet he should.

    Evan. Why, then, I tell you truly, you would have him to do that which is impossible."

    Adam cannot repent, he can only perish. The new life is a gift in Christ to be received by faith.

    You said:

    Of course ultimately what we give up is dross but it might not always seem that way. So in order that we may gain Christ we must count all things but loss. We must forsake everything. Not as payment but as commitment and yes that ‘we might gain Christ’.

    What we give up *is* dross to the eyes of faith - and necessarily so. If we imagine we're procuring Christ by any offering of our own then we don't have faith. Because faith is receiving Christ (John 1:12). By the nature of the case faith is not and cannot be earning Him. Faith only belongs in covenantal relationships, not contractual ones. All this must be made very clear if we are to preach the *gospel*.

  37. Howard

    Hi Chris, and thank you for your reply. Actually, I was careful to examine Wright's work on Justification in the light of recent critical material, principally from the reformed side, which was a great deal more in depth than my brief comments.

    I stated to begin with that Wright does seek to properly affirm the role and value of both soteriology and ecclesiology, and so the cardinal criticisms of his view have to be made within that framework. There are, no doubt, areas of overlap between his work, for example and, as you mention, those of Calvin -these really weren't my concern in a very brief reply, which was to highlight statements where there are, I believe, issues, and it his manner of setting these views within the 'covenantal/ecclesiological' context that appears to have caused much of the concern I have touched upon.

    If he does state, as I've noted (regarding the passage in Romans 3), that the failure of the Jews was essentially to do with failure in their commission to the nations, not, at least principally regarding a keeping of the Law, then that at least raises the question as to why - what validates such an interpretation?Horton and others (in a far more exhaustive fashion than I can begin to write upon here) have identified such issues as a result of his particular approach to both covenant theology and related issues.

    I don't doubt, from my fairly limited knowledge/reading of the breadth of Reformed writings that what you say is true, but I was seeking to make a fairly brief answer to an issue (the approach of Wright on Justification) in the context of the broad discussion of this thread. My intent was not to condemn someone here, but to re-focus on my concern throughout my comments, namely, the loss of Sola Fide and the value of this amongst many schools of thought and practice amongst evangelicals today. Some (as in Brian's comment, which generated my brief comments on Wright) clearly see a connection between such approaches and an allowance for other (i.e. Roman Catholic) soteriological views. I would consider that to be problematic in the light of what scripture is teaching on this matter. My critique is offered entirely in that context, and I'd recommend a reading of Mike Horton's far more thorough examination on Wright's work on this subject - sorry I didn't refer properly to this before, but you can download a PDF copy here:http://www.whitehorseinn.org/free-articles/review-of-wright.html

  38. John B

    Hi Howard,

    Sola Fide is certainly true, as Paul says clearly in Ephesians 2:8,9. In the context of the epistle, I think that the description, attributed to Luther, that ”justification is the article by which the church stands and falls.” is also true.

    But, I echo billpayer's concern when he says, "there is a danger that we are so frightened of mixing justification and sanctification that we simply drop sanctification altogether and only have justification." Luther seems to have gone to such an extreme in the quote that you cited from his Galatians commentary.

    After Paul establishes the principle of Sola Fide in Ephesians 2, he immediately speaks of "good works... that we should walk in them". In the next chapter he prays for the strengthening "with power through his Spirit... so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith". In Chapter 4 Paul urges them "to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called"; and later, to maturity, and even "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ". Then he commands to put off the old self and put on the new, and explains what this means in practice. In Chapter 5 he begins with instructions to imitate God, and to walk in love, like Christ. The climax of the letter is Paul's command to "Put on the whole armor of God".

    Sola Fide is true (or TRUE). But there is no separation from good works, which result from the mystical union that Paul went on to proclaim in the latter part of Chapter 2.

  39. Brian Midmore

    Howard, Chris , Glen, John,(and all the saints)
    I find Tom Wright a breath of fresh air. (It was a mock confession by the way) By simplifying Soteriology and emphasising ecclesiology he defuses a problem I find with some evangelicalism. If we have a sharply defined and developed soteriology the tendency, I believe, is to think that to be saved we must accept that version of soteriology. Thus a very clubby kind of religion is developed. Secure for those on the inside but excluding those who have different approach. Paul however stresses that in the Church the barriers have come down. Has'nt the emphasis on soteriology created a fissiparous Protestantism which is an anathema to Scriptures like Eph 2vv11-22?

  40. Howard

    Thanks for your latest, John and Brian.

    Ephesians indeed begins by turning our gaze to the work of God through Christ (chapters 1 & 2), because it is only when we lay this foundation well that we can begin to build the marvel of Christ 'dwelling in the heart through faith' (3:17), which is where the Apostle desires us to be rooted and grounded. If we are so established, then there can indeed be a common faith and message shared between us because of the grace given 'according to the measure of Christ's gift' (4:6) - that allows us to bear with one another in love. On this foundation, we can indeed begin to fulfill our respective callings via the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son, which is are true safeguard against the winds of doctrine which would otherwise shipwreck our endeavors (4:14), so we must grow by speaking the truth in love. Assuming, says Paul, we have so learned Christ, we can indeed be so renewed in our minds to put away falsehood and be members of one another, no longer stealing, but doing honest labour, etc - being kind to each other (vs 32). If the fragrant offering and sacrifice (the unmerited mercy and love) of Christ are before us, then we are indeed ably encouraged to truly walk in love, which necessitates a severance from our former behavior (5:3-21) and a seeking to do what is truly worthwhile (vs 10,15). This love for God should indeed by palpable in our relationships (5:22 - 6:9), for it is here that we may reflect something of the manner in which Christ nourishes and cherishes us.
    The Christian is able to do this because they are clothed in Christ (the true armor of God - Chapter 6) - which enables us to stand in a world entrenched in the schemes of darkness. Christ, our truth and righteousness, our message of peace with God, our surety amidst all the fury unleashed by the lies of the devil - the word that truly cuts and breaks those lies to make us free.
    In the light of this, Brian, we are indeed His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God Himself prepared before hand, that we should walk in them (2:10).

    I think what's imperative to me here is that Paul is clearly showing how God comes to us in His Son, and it is because of this 'downward' work of grace that we are truly raised up. What should concern us, I think, is when we find ourselves being encouraged to grow or develop in a fashion which side-steps or takes for granted what Paul is declaring here. It's so easy for a fair show in the flesh to be given precedence over the saving work of Christ.

    Coming back to the Luther quote (the one from his Galatians commentary): “If you were to lay before me my sins and my good works, I will ask for both to pass from my sight, that I might rest only in the liberating work of Christ, which alone is profitable, and without which I would foolishly presume to purchase for myself some favor by good deeds or despair because of my sins. Let us then learn, with all diligence, to discern and separate Christ far from all works, good and evil, for with all of these, Christ has nothing to do”. Luther on Galatians 5:2. Is this really extreme, especially in the light, for example, of what Paul writes at the end of Galatians (far be it that I should glory in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ)?

    Regarding Tom Wright, Brian, I understand your delight. I recall some years ago reading a essay written by him on the new creation which set me on a path of discovery on the subject which has been a great joy to me ever since. As I noted yesterday, the criticisms are within a context - those I've been generally seeking to address here - so please read them in that manner.

    I also agree it's incredibly easy for us to become people of a particular party or clique, and that does not help anyone. The barriers must indeed come down, but Paul is equally at pains to tell us that this only truly happens in the richness and splendor of God's saving work in His beloved Son - that is why I would assert that the Gospel of Paul and the New Testament is the key to such freedom and fellowship being truly known and shared between us.

  41. Brian Midmore

    Howard
    NTW 's main gripe is with Luther rather that Calvin. I agree. I find Luther's Law-grace dichotomy very unhelpful and leads to discussions as to whether the Sermon on the mount is Law or gospel. According to NTW Calvin was a covenant nomist: the LAW 'was to a delivered people that God addressed the words of his covenant at Sinai'. In other words the LAW was kept by the Jews from redemption and not to redemption. (Thus the sermon on the mount are commands to be obeyed because we are redeemed.) It is not surprising either that Luther failed to appreciate the very Jewish nature of Paul's theology given Luthers antisemitism. For Luther Judaism was the wrong religion, a mistake (like mediaeval Catholicism) to be corrected.

  42. Brian Midmore

    Corrected version(sorry)

    Howard
    NTW ‘s main gripe is with Luther rather than Calvin. I agree. I find Luther’s Law-gospel dichotomy very unhelpful and leads to discussions as to whether the Sermon on the mount is Law or gospel. According to NTW Calvin was a covenant nomist: the LAW ‘was to a delivered people that God addressed the words of his covenant at Sinai’. In other words the LAW was kept by the Jews from redemption and not to redemption. (Thus the sermon on the mount contains commands to be obeyed because we are redeemed.) It is not surprising either that Luther failed to appreciate the very Jewish nature of Paul’s theology given Luthers antisemitism. For Luther Judaism was the wrong religion, a mistake (like mediaeval Catholicism) to be corrected.

  43. Howard

    I don't doubt, Brian, that many, perhaps including Tom Wright, may have issues with Luther's unpacking of Law & Gospel. The real question, I think, is whether it is Scripture itself, and Paul's theology in particular, which underpins this (therefore making it as relevant now as it was in the days of the Reformation) or not, and that is where I would, perhaps, disagree with some. Paul clearly identifies a particular form of 'judaising' in the church (conforming to the 'days, feasts, ceremonies and practices aspects of the Mosaic law after being made free in Christ) as anathema to the message of grace - imposing religion of various kinds as a means of righteousness to equate to God's work in His Son. Luther identified this as something just as tangible in the beliefs and practices of his day as Paul had done in his. Was he right to draw this correlation? Luther's conviction arose from his discovery that all the religious practice in the world could do nothing to release him from his sin and the judgement of God against this - it was only when he discovered that God had provided Christ as the righteousness which fulfilled the law, accredited to us by faith, which thereby allows us to declared justified, that he found peace. Luther's contention therefore, as with Paul's, comes amidst a situation where men were effectively burying the Gospel in favor of other means of merit and piety, and this was the crux of the issue.

    I am sure there are indeed ways that we need to hone our understanding of the context of redemption (NTW's perspective on the covenant of grace has certainly been valued and appreciated here, even by some of his sharpest critics), but that cannot be at the cost of loosing our conviction that when the Gospel itself is being marginalized or pushed into a corner, we need not be troubled. Paul was, and if Luther hadn't been the 'wild boar in the vineyard', I wonder if we'd even be having this particular conversation :)

  44. Theo K

    Hello all,

    A very interesting discussion, indeed!

    I would just like to add my understanding of the galatian heresy, the heresy that Paul fought against in his letter to the Galatians.
    It seems to me that the problem was that certain false teachers said that in order for someone to be justified before God (or afterwards, in order to keep his justification - Gal 3:1-3, 5:1-6), believing in Christ is necessary but not enough, something else must be added (we see it also in Acts 15). Paul's strong anathema (Gal 1:6-8) against any such teaching should make us pause and think twice before deciding on whether justification by faith alone in Christ alone (because of the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, received by faith alone, as faith unites the sinner to Jesus - Gal 2:11-21) is something that is merely true, or rather it is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.

    There you are, Galatians in a paragraph :)

  45. Brian Midmore

    Howard,
    Of course the Judaisers would insist upon the Gentiles believers keeping the LAW in order to be redeemed. But the important aspect of that law that brought redemption was circumcision. This was the reason Paul was so down on circumcision because it was the redemptive act whereby a man entered Judaism. To submit to this would deny the redemption of Christ. It was this part of the LAW that redeemed not the moral aspect. Once a person was in by cicumcision the LAW was kept from redemption. Thus the ceremonial LAW was ditched and the moral LAW kept by Christianity. Maybe therefore when Paul refers to the LAW in a redemptive context he implies the LAW that used to redeem i.e circumcision. Paul's example of Abraham's being justified by faith before he was circumcised shows how circumcision is the old way of entering God household and faith is the new way.

  46. Theo K

    Brian,

    If you don't mind my intervening, I would think that when Paul speaks of the works of the law, he has in mind something broader than the Law of Moses. It seems to me that Paul is against any effort of observing any code of morality in order for the person to be justified before God. I infer this from the fact that when using Abraham as an example, Paul explicitely states that he was NOT justified by his works. Which works would that be? Not the works of the law of Moses, as this law had not been given yet. Obviously Paul has in mind the works of obedience to God. And Abraham had a lot of them! And even though Abraham had so many works to present, even he was justified solely by faith.
    Taking this into account, Paul in Galatians does teach that someone will either by justified by faith alone in Christ alone, or not at all (Gal 5:1-6).

  47. Howard

    Brian, this is a tad puzzling: "Paul’s example of Abraham’s being justified by faith before he was circumcised shows how circumcision is the old way of entering God household and faith is the new way".

    If Abraham was justified by faith (which is one of Paul's key arguments concerning how we are made right with God in Galatians), then how is that 'the new way' when it clearly predates circumcision? In Hebrews we are told that 'by faith' Abel, Noah and many others were children of God long even before this, so being part of the company of God's people is the 'old way', surely?

    Circumcision was indeed part of the curriculum of the Judaisers, but from what we read in Acts as well as Galatians, there is clearly a comprehensive attempt being made to replace the 'message of the Cross' - seen as little more than 'elemental' by those advocating legalism - with the full requirements of the law.

    Theo - yes, I'd agree that if we codify any form of morality of spirituality into a practice which either reduces or seek to replace the redemptive work of God in Christ, we are making the same deadly error as Paul faces amongst the Galatians and other gentile churches which prompted his epistle.

    A passing thought, Brian, regarding the law. What do you make of Galatians 3:19, especially in the light of verse 24?

  48. Howard

    (Corrected)

    Brian, this is a tad puzzling: “Paul’s example of Abraham’s being justified by faith before he was circumcised shows how circumcision is the old way of entering God household and faith is the new way”.

    If Abraham was justified by faith (which is one of Paul’s key arguments concerning how we are made right with God in Galatians), then how is that ‘the new way’ when it clearly predates circumcision? In Hebrews we are told that ‘by faith’ Abel, Noah and many others were children of God long even before this, so being part of the company of God’s people by faith is the ‘old way’, surely?

    Circumcision was indeed part of the curriculum of the Judaisers, but from what we read in Acts as well as Galatians, there is clearly a comprehensive attempt being made to replace the ‘message of the Cross’ – seen as little more than ‘elemental’ by those advocating legalism – with the full requirements of the law.

    Theo – yes, I’d agree that if we codify any form of morality of spirituality into a practice which either reduces or seek to replace the redemptive work of God in Christ, we are making the same deadly error as Paul faces amongst the Galatians and other gentile churches which prompted his epistle.

    A passing thought, Brian, regarding the law. What do you make of Galatians 3:19, especially in the light of verse 24?

  49. John B

    Hi Howard,

    In the Luther quote you cited in the Galatians commentary, he writes:

    "Let us then learn, with all diligence, to discern and separate Christ far from all works, good and evil, for with all of these, Christ has nothing to do”.

    But,in the preface to his Romans commentary Luther says:

    "And this trust and knowledge of divine grace renders joyful, fearless, and cheerful towards God and all creatures, which [joy and cheerfulness] the Holy Ghost works through faith; and on account of this, man becomes ready and cheerful, without coercion, to do good to every one, to serve every one,
    and to suffer everything for love and praise to God, who has conferred this grace on him, so that it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire."

    White man spoke with forked tongue!

    The Lutheran Confessions include the latter Luther quote. But his entire Galatians commentary is included in their Confessions by extension. It's all very confusing.

    The Lutheran Confessions also say:

    "For especially in these last times it is no less needful to admonish men to Christian discipline [to the way of living aright and godly] and good works, and remind them how necessary it is that they exercise themselves in good works as a declaration of their faith and gratitude to God, than that the works be not
    mingled in the article of justification; because men may be damned by an Epicurean delusion concerning faith, as well as by papistic and Pharisaic confidence in their own works and merits." Formula of Concord [Epitome] IV.(18)

    There's a lot to choose from in these Confessions!

    In light of Galatians 5:12, I don't see how Paul could be any more pointed that he's talking about ritual circumcision here!This seems especially so as he transitions immediately into the passage on walking "by the Spirit". Flesh - NO! Law - NO! Spirit - YES! Fruit - YES!

    Indeed Paul concluded his letter saying that he glories only in the Cross of Christ, and explains that this is because all that counts is "a new creation". Or as he said in Romans 6, that through union with Christ, "we too might walk in newness of life". Circumcision now means nothing. It's replaced by baptism.

    And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galations 6:9

    Semper reformanda.

  50. Brian Midmore

    Hi Howard
    But doesnt it say 'Before faith came we were kept under guard by the law' Gal 3 v23. Faith is the new way but Abraham experienced it early. It is interesting what Abraham belieived : Gods promise about the church.I suppose I would see circumcision as entering into the whole thing of being Jewish. Is this the same thing as legalism. I suppose this is the issue. Of course Luther is an important figure. Logie Baird invented TV but our TV's are nothing like his invention . As for Gal 3.19 and 24 what point do you have in mind.

  51. Howard

    Hello John.

    OK, would you really expect someone who coined the phrase "we are saved by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone" to see no place for good works in the Christian life? Of course there will be good works (as I touched on this morning when Brian & I looked at Ephesians - see above, and hence the Lutheran confessions about this) but that isn't what Luther is driving at in the Galatians quote. The enemy wants us to revel in our goods deeds (and thereby flatter the flesh) or wallow in the misery of our many failures because of sin, but Luther says we must do neither. Our only safe refuge is the work of Jesus for us, so it's coming back to the cross, back to sheltering only in the unmerited mercies of His grace - that is our furnished table in the wilderness.

    As I touched on here a while back, it is when the love of Christ is truly shed abroad in our hearts that we will bear good fruit, but what creates such beauty is an obedience from the heart to the doctrine (and thereby Christ) that truly does us good - than we are free in the Son of Righteousness. If we are united to Christ, good works will be part of what we have become, but for these to really be good works, they have to be part of us being part of Him, not our detaching ourselves from him because we in effect view our deeds or piety of value in and of themselves - His works are what counts.

    There are several instances in the New Testament (Colossians, as well as Galatians spring instantly to mind) where believers fell into the dead fall of believing that certain works had a deeply spiritual worth, whereas Paul states that all these deeds and aspirations had achieved was severed them from Christ Himself. Abel brought an offering to God that declared his faith in God and not himself. Cain brought the work of his hands. Only the first had any merit. Is our 'righteousness' something which grows from the royal 'law' of our redemption, or is it merely the old nature, dressing itself up again so it can appear of value? We can all seek to trundle the glory of the Lord around in an Ox Cart, but the consequences will be fatal - only being hidden in the death and life of Christ alone allows something of true value to be reaped.

  52. Brian Midmore

    Hi Theo
    You say Abraham was unable to do the works of the LAW because the law did not exist therefore these works are general good works. But all Paul says is that he didnt do them, the fact that he couldnt do them seems irrelevant. He was justifiedby faith apart from the works of the LAW (which he didnot and could not do ).

    Paul is deep water.

  53. Howard

    Come on, Brian. You really think, in the light of a passage, for example, like Hebrews 11, that faith was unique amongst the Old Testament saints to Abraham? Circumcision, like the keeping of feasts, etc, was an outward. external sign of something much more important - those who were justified by God expressing their faith. That is why the giving of the Law (in the manner it was at Sinai) was not to in any way add to the manner of salvation (faith in the promises and deeds of God), but to aid in defining our need for this - to school us by placing a mirror before us that confirmed the painful truth of what we are - alienated from God by sin, and therefore, sinners.

    Luther is important because he points back to what Paul and the New Testament teach us about these matters, but neither of them 'invented' the Gospel - grace and truth comes to us from Christ alone, and the intent of any faithful teacher is to lead us to Him and the joy of His saving love.

    My point about the Galatians verse(s) was very simple. The Law was mediated to men by angels, but the Gospel is brought to us by God Himself, incarnated amongst us - that should tell you, as it did via Paul to the Galatians, how we can totally miss the mark by majoring in minors.

    Abraham saw Christ's day by faith, and rejoiced in it. Moses gave up the delights of Egypt because of his love for Christ. Isaiah saw Christ lifted up and knew He was cleansed by Him. Daniel saw Him in the fiery furnace, rescuing His people. One faith, one church, one saviour.

  54. Theo K

    Hi Brian,

    My point is that Abraham did a LOT of works. Paul says this. And still it wasn't his works that justified Abraham before God. You misread the phrase 'works of the law'. By the way Paul speaks about Abraham and his works in Romans 4 (and taking also into account that Rom 4 follows Rom 3) it seems clear to me that for Paul 'works of the law' describe any attempt of keeping any code of morality for justification (I take justifcation to mean the act of God where He declares a sinner to be righteouss).
    4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
    5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Rom 4:4-5)

    These verses are true for believers before the Law of Moses, for believers after Moses and before the coming of Christ (like David - Ps 32), and for believers after the coming of Christ. Clearly works do not simply mean ceremonial rituals!

    To support my position that 'works of the law' include the good works of Abraham I will appeal to James as well. James says that one of the works of Abraham was his offering up his son on the altar (and as a good protestant I will say that Abraham's works justified his faith - that James is concerned with the nature of true, saving faith and not of how a person is justified before God). So Abraham did have works.

    So my point is that believers are declared righteouss by the righteousness of another, namely Jesus Christ. That in order to be justified before God we must trust in Christ alone, and not in the least in our good works that necessarily follow our justification.

    What is your understanding of 'justification'?

  55. John B

    Hi Howard,

    When reading your last, it struck me how in your zeal for Luther, you're like a mirror image of the Catholic criticism of him. They say that if you proclaim Sola Fide, you allow libertinism among the masses. You say that if you allow scripture to speak on its own terms about good works and the fruit of the Spirit, then legalism and self-righteousness results. Like the Catholics, the solution you offer is censorship. They have a sacred magisterium who decide what speech is allowed; you have Luther. In both cases it comes down to men setting themselves above the Scriptures. I want no part of either! This train left the station when Guttenberg invented the printing press. Let Scripture speak in its own voice without the need for any authoritative interpretor or censor.

    There is a lack of consistency with Luther. Talk about a wax nose! You can support almost any claim by citing something from his works. And of course zealots say this is all perfectly explainable. Young Luther, old Luther, Luther before he fell off a horse; Luther when he was in a monkery; Luther when he was constipated! Here Luther says "faith isn't alone"; there Luther says, "James is an epistle of straw".

    Catholics claim authority over the church because they stand in succession to Peter. Anglicans also claim that their bishops stand in a direct line of apostolic succession. What is the basis for your claim of Luther's personal authority over the church and scripture?

    In Hebrews we read:

    And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:24

    As per Luther, when are those in the church free to actually follow this instrucfion, without running afoul of his rule not to revel in good works, lest we "trundle the glory of the Lord around in an Ox Cart"? Good grief!

    As you note, you "touched" on Ephesians earlier. I urge you to go deeper and not just touch on it. I'm convinced that without a right understanding of Paul's teaching about the nature of the church, you can't properly follow what he's teaching in Galatians about freedom. "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." This freedom that we long for is realized in the citizenship that Christ confers on the members of God's household.

    Jesus, "the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him", himself says, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Luther's scruples notwithstandig, Jesus doesn't exclude works; he commands them.

  56. Brian Midmore

    Hi Howard, Theo, John,
    Howard, I agree entirely with your last post. Theo, it is so complicated. But lying in bed this morning I had some ideas about what NTW was really trying to say. I think that sola fide can become bad news. If it says 'you are justified by faith and if you are concerned that you have to add to this by good works dont be ' then this is good news. If sola fide says 'we are justified by faith and this faith must be alone for us to be justified' then this is bad news. If sola fide becomes the latter it becomes an obstacle for me and a barrier to others. It is an obstacle for me since now I must be careful that I am only trusting in Christ and not in my own merit. It is a barrier to others since those who dont share my idea of sola fide are outside the camp. Paradoxically it has become like circumcision, a badge of purity, I am kosher you are not. Wrights understanding avoids this trap into which many protestants have fallen.

  57. Howard

    John wrote: "You say that if you allow scripture to speak on its own terms about good works and the fruit of the Spirit, then legalism and self-righteousness results".

    I'd previously wrote: "As I touched on here a while back, it is when the love of Christ is truly shed abroad in our hearts that we will bear good fruit, but what creates such beauty is an obedience from the heart to the doctrine (and thereby Christ) that truly does us good – than we are free in the Son of Righteousness. If we are united to Christ, good works will be part of what we have become, but for these to really be good works, they have to be part of us being part of Him, not our detaching ourselves from him because we in effect view our deeds or piety of value in and of themselves – His works are what counts".

    What I am saying is the Christian life is replete with good works, as the scriptures state, but that these are generated and produced by our love for God, which is possible because He first loved us and gave Himself for us.

    "You can support almost any claim by citing something from his works. And of course zealots say this is all perfectly explainable".

    I think I've actually quoted from Luther directly a couple of times in this thread, and referred to his life and motivation a few times on top of that - is that excessive? If you see Luther's approach on these issues as too mailable, too detached from what the scriptures teach, how do you define and convey the relationship between Justification and Sanctification?

    "I’m convinced that without a right understanding of Paul’s teaching about the nature of the church, you can’t properly follow what he’s teaching in Galatians about freedom".

    And I'd entirely agree, John, so please, tell us more about our citizenship in Christ - the floor is yours.

  58. Howard

    Brian wrote: "If sola fide becomes the latter (this faith must be alone) it becomes an obstacle for me and a barrier to others. It is an obstacle for me since now I must be careful that I am only trusting in Christ and not in my own merit".

    Faith ("my trust") isn't the issue Brian - that's just the instrument, the gift that allows us to focus on the object of what this means brings to us - Jesus Christ. The love of God revealed through His Son. Take a look at the words of Paul at the end of Romans 8 about that love, and the saviour who brings that love to us - that's who and what faith brings us to.

    Why would we want to exclude ourselves from such love?

  59. Theo K

    If terms are clarified, many misunderstandings simply evaporate.

    Luther (the reformation, and the scriptures, according to my understanding) proclaimed that works must never be trusted (even partially) as the basis of our justification. So he is not inconsistent. He says that we look to Christ alone for our justification, not to our good or bad works. This is the first part of the famous phrase:
    “we are justified by faith alone. And the faith which justifies is never alone.”

    The second part flows from the first (from our union with Christ). So Luther is all for doing good works as an expression of our new life in Christ. Just not as the basis of our justification. I believe this is consistent with the scriptures. Luther did NOT speak with a forked tongue!

    Brian,

    This is why I asked you for your understanding of ‘justification’.
    Sola fide says: “we are justified by faith alone. And the faith which justifies is never alone.” Very clear.
    I find it very strange that you say “It is an obstacle for me since now I must be careful that I am only trusting in Christ and not in my own merit.”. This is what the true Gospel says!!! This is not bad news. It is good news!!! That you are not to trust in the least in your own merit, but that you are to trust in Christ alone!!! This was the problem of Galatians. They started trusting in their own merit. It is exactly this false gospel that Paul anathematized. This was the problem of the Pharisee in the parable. He trusted, even partly, in his good works, and Jesus said that this man perished (he was not justified).

    So I must be clear with you. These are two different, incompatible gospels. Justification (the declarative act of God that the sinner is righteous in Christ) is either solely by faith in Christ alone (the Gospel of the Reformation, and in my understanding the true Gospel) or by faith in Christ plus works (Rome’s false gospel). In my understanding, we are not simply talking about two different ideas of sola fide. We are talking about two different gospels. This is why I believe the scriptural position is indeed that those who reject ‘sola fide’ are outside the camp, because they reject the biblical Gospel. This isn’t a trap that protestants have fallen. It is the inevitable conclusion. It is the barrier Paul has erected with his anathema in Galatians. I know that this may seem hard to you, but if you don’t agree, then what exactly is Paul anathematizing? And why is he so harsh about it? (anathema means ‘condemned to eternal hell’).

  60. John B

    The lead blog post began with the question about a contradiction between James and Paul. If we stand under Scripture and the authority of the Apostles, then the possibility of such a contradiction is an impossibility and a non-starter. The Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide presents no opposition between faith and works at all, as Paul makes clear when he establishes it in Ephesians 2. But the initial question goes on to suggest that some do claim that the Reformers held to the untenable view that there was a schism among the Apostles. Historically, the basis for this claim is that, Luther alone, not the reformers, rejected James as "an epistle of straw". So it's a fair question to ask Protestants whether they, like Luther, find a schism between the Apostles. A defense was provided that implicitily rejects the need to excise James from the canon, as Luther was inclined to do.

    An early response in the comment thread cited Luther as an authority to support the Protestant defense. Not scripture, but Luther! The very one who found James to be in contradiction to Paul to such a degree that he was prepared to just toss James out of the canon; a mockery of Sola Scriptura, the article on which the *Reformation* stands or falls. Not sola scriptura, or even sola ecclesia, but sola Luther. If the appeal is made to tradition as the basis for beliefs, then the Catholic and Orthodox churches make an immeasurably stronger case for authority than Luther could possibly claim.

    That's why the defense of the initial question is of such importance for Protestants. The question very concisely challenges the two core principles of the Reformation, i.e., Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura.

    Citing Luther's authority only begs the question. Certainly there's no resolution here for Catholics, Orthodox, and many Protestants, as well.

    But if by Sola Fide, we mean that Luther's commentary on Galatians governs our understanding of Paul's teaching , there as well as in his other epistles; and if by calling it the chief article, we mean that any who don't hold to it with this precise Lutheran understanding are simply outside the camp; then we are indeed at odds with scripture, not least of all Paul, and not least of all Galatians. In this case, were it true, there would indeed be "a wild boar loose in the vineyard".

    Despite the super-charged polemical atmosphere of the Sixteenth century, such extreme and unscriptural claims for church exclusivity were rejected in Protestant confessions.

  61. Howard

    John wrote: "If we stand under Scripture and the authority of the Apostles, then the possibility of such a contradiction (between them) is an impossibility and a non-starter".

    I think we'd agree that Mike's video clarifies that there is no issue here (regarding the teaching of James and Paul on the place of faith and works), but scripture itself clearly alludes to the fact - in the event of what transpired regarding the incident involving Paul and Peter in Antioch (Galatians 2:11), that the 'circumcision party' had clearly gained an influence even among the Apostles (i.e Peter) and leaders (i.e Barnabas) of the church. Paul notes that at least part of this trouble was caused by 'certain men' coming who, in some manner, associated themselves with James (vs 12 - no doubt to give credence to their teaching), and it wasn't until the council of the Apostles at Jerusalem (Acts 15) that this was properly put to bed (though the problem itself clearly continued to plague the church). This is important, because Paul instructs us, as Theo noted, that if any Apostle or Angel were to declare a different gospel, then they are accursed (Galatians 1:8,9). Apostles can indeed 'seem to be pillars' (2:9), but what counts for them as well as us is faithfulness to declaring the truth that is in Jesus. Paul not only rejected the propensity amongst some to accommodate a works righteousness as grounds for merit, he vehemently denounced and rejected any role for this amongst us (2:15-17).

    "Historically, the basis for this claim is that, Luther alone, not the reformers, rejected James as “an epistle of straw”.

    Let's examine this a little.
    Yes, Luther used this phrase - once - in his 1522 preface to the New Testament. After that one occasion, all further editions of Luther's translation not only dropped the phrase, but the paragraph that placed value judgments on scriptural books, as Luther had come to realize this was wrong. Luther then went on to write such comments about the epistle as that it was a 'good book' because it "vigorously promulgates the law of God". His reasons for doubting the canonicity of the epistle itself were quite common at the time (Eusebius, Jerome and Erasmus had argued along these lines) as there were doubts about the authorship/writer of the work and therefore whether the book was indeed part of the canon. Nothing, perhaps, caused so much trouble for Luther as the apparent conflict between the writings of Paul and James. His own conclusion was actually close to Mike's clarification: "We say that justification is effective without works, not that faith is without works. For that faith which lacks fruit is not an efficacious but a feigned faith. 'Without works' is ambiguous, then. For that reason this argument settles nothing. It is one thing that faith justifies without works; it is another thing that faith exists without works" (Works 34 175-6).

    "The very one who found James to be in contradiction to Paul to such a degree that he was prepared to just toss James out of the canon".

    As outlined in the prior comments, this isn't the Martin Luther who was quite willing to give his theologians cap to anyone who could help him further with the Paul/James issue (see Roland Bainton's biography, Here I Stand).

    "if by Sola Fide, we mean that Luther’s commentary on Galatians governs our understanding of Paul’s teaching, there as well as in his other epistles; and if by calling it the chief article, we mean that any who don’t hold to it with this precise Lutheran understanding are simply outside the camp; then we are indeed at odds with scripture, not least of all Paul, and not least of all Galatians".

    If Luther's commentary aids us in understanding what Paul is seeking to teach - that is, it helps us to begin to unpack Paul's teaching to understand both the issues of Paul's day and in our own, not to make us 'Lutherans' (whatever that means for most of us here, who don't attend Lutheran places of worship), then it becomes, not the chief article, but an aid to understanding scripture, which, if it succeeds in that task, is not at odds at all with what the Apostles would encourage of us.

    In my church, we have just finished a series of Galatians, and part of our reading was some of Luther's commentary, but that was by no means 'it', and very often, this and other materials merely caused those of us preparing the material to seek to look further and deeper than what any one particular commentary had to offer. Luther was quoted - once - at the very end of the studies, not because he didn't have anything of value to say (I've got a seriously underlined copy of his commentary now), but because there is just so much to say.

    What's important about Luther for me is that he cuts to the heart of the matter concerning the nature of our salvation, and what really matters regarding this - that helps to put us in the same framework as the New Testament itself (1 Corinthians 15:3&4). The Reformers and many other writers essentially do the same thing, but there is always that need to make sure that what we're hearing is the message that Paul informs the Galatians that we never loose.

  62. Chris W

    I think the real problem is with this ridiculous concept of merit (this is the issue for Wright as well). We need to expunge the term entirely from our thinking about justification if we are to get anywhere. Think about it. We owe this thing called 'merit' to God. Trouble is, we don't have any. Thankfully, Jesus steps in and provides this 'merit' for us. God is appeased.

    Which is frankly absurd. We are not saved by merit in any sense, we are saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. His death absolves the guilt of our sin and his resurrection provides us with our life and righteousness. The 'righteousness of Christ' has to do with his resurrection glory/fullness, not with a bunch of merit points he accumulated throughout his life. Sure, he had to be without sin - how else would he be a perfect sacrifice? But it's all about the cross, as the apostle Paul says.

    And regarding justification, I agree completely that we are justified by faith alone (trusting only in the promise of God to save us through Jesus). But the focus of Romans and Galatians is primarily redemptive/historical and this is where Wright gets it right. Only Jews can perform 'works of the law' since only Jews are under the Law. That is clear from the logic of Romans 3:28-29,

    "Therefore we reckon a man to be justified by faith, apart from WORKS OF THE LAW. Or is [God] the God of JEWS only?"

    And Abraham is not simply an example of saving faith - he is the father of all the faithful. Since Christ is the seed of Abraham, to be justified in Christ is to be justified in Abraham. As Hebrews 11 makes clear, Abraham already had saving faith when he left Ur (Genesis 12). His justification came many years later though, in Genesis 15, suggesting that his justification was something other than simply his 'salvation moment'. It was, I suspect, his reception of the Holy Spirit (the blessing of Abraham). Unlike Abraham though, we receive the Spirit and are accepted into the covenant promises of God when we believe.

    Thoughts anyone?

  63. John B

    Hi Howard,

    Luther comments on Galatians 1:9:

    "Paul subordinates himself, all preachers, all the angels of heaven, everybody to the Sacred Scriptures. We are not the masters, judges, or arbiters, but witnesses, disciples, and confessors of the Scriptures, whether we be pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, or an angel from heaven."

    This is most certainly true! In verse 8, in his fervor, Paul curses himself, the other apostles, and even the angels of heaven. He's certainly not warning the Galatians to expect to hear another gospel preached from an apostle, any more than he's warning them to expect to hear another gospel preached from himself or an angel.

    Peter and Paul were both fallible men. We see that clearly on several occasions. God spoke through his prophets and apostles. And once he even spoke through a donkey.

    And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

    But, while Luther states the principle of Sola Scriptura boldly, he wasn't consistent in applying it, as he was willing to personally judge the canonicity of James, and also taught of what he identified as a canon within the canon. I think we actually see the beginnings of higher criticism in Luther.

    Luther's attempt to revise the canon was far more serious than you've stated. In addition to James, he disputed the canonicity of Hebrews, Jude and Revelation. This was by no means just a one time slip up, as you suggest. Luther claimed to determine the usefulness of all of the books of the Bible based on the degree to which each proclaimed Christ with clarity. To say that there were questions about canonicity in the fourth century doesn't excuse Luther's low regard for the canon twelve centuries later. The canon has never been a matter of legislation. It's the word of God that the church has received and accepted. As in his comment cited above, Luther professes sola scriptura, while maintaining the unilateral authority to determine what is scripture, independently from the church. Erasmus complaint about Luther was reasonable when he wrote, "You stipulate that we should not ask for or accept anything but Holy Scripture, but you do it in such a way as to require that we permit you to be its sole interpreter, renouncing all others."

    You can find many statements in Luther that support sola scriptura. There simply could never have been a Reformation without this principle. But his rhetoric aside, the scripture alone that we receive must be the total scripture, which, as Peter said, is a prophetic word more sure than his own eyewitness of Jesus' majesty.

    I think what Luther meant about giving away his doctor's beret to anyone who could reconcile James and Paul is the idiomatic equivalent of saying that "I'll eat my hat" if anyone can do it. Luther dismissed Revelation with the wisecrack that "A revelation should be revealing."

    Our authority is the Bible, and not the Reformers, as they themselves, including Luther, were the first ones to say so. If we hear scripture saying something which is out of step with our tradition, the solution is clear: we go with Scripture.

    I'm glad that you've found Luther's teaching to be an aid to understanding scripture. Each of us can decide for himself on Luther's value to us as a teacher. For me, despite his great rhetorical skill, I find him to be inconsistent to such a degree, that I just can't trust his teaching. In a teacher, I prize trust more than rhetoric. Erasmus' criticism of Luther was fair when he said, "...you do not even agree with yourself, since...you say one thing in the beginning and something else later on, recanting what you said before".

    I was a Lutheran for many years, but no longer. Being there provided for me a very different perspective on Luther's teaching; perhaps a kind of New Perspective on Luther! In my view, to understand Luther you have to see him how he saw himself, as a Catholic priest and the leader of the evangelical reforming movement *within* the true Catholic Church. And as such, his opposition to the Protestant churches that emerged in his wake was even greater than his opposition to Rome. It's sort of like Ronald Reagan said, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left me."

  64. Howard

    "Luther’s attempt to revise the canon was far more serious than you’ve stated. In addition to James, he disputed the canonicity of Hebrews, Jude and Revelation. This was by no means just a one time slip up, as you suggest".

    Hi John. Thanks for the quote on Galatians 1:9 - very helpful.

    Regarding the above, I'd say we need to look to how Luther reformed his understanding of the canon (as, I've suggested, in his publishing and commenting on the scriptures themselves), even regarding the book of James. What's interesting here is a shifting away from his own provisional opinions (and those of many of the times) via this. Did he still have need to go further here? No doubt, but I would say there is a moving in the right direction - to listen to what the scriptures are saying, and validate the importance of this.

    "I think we actually see the beginnings of higher criticism in Luther".
    Or was it the opposite - beginning to place the scriptures back in their rightful place amongst God's people? What we need to appreciate is from what depths he journeyed to be brought to a place where he could convey something of the light.

    "In addition to James, he disputed the canonicity of Hebrews, Jude and Revelation. This was by no means just a one time slip up, as you suggest".

    The 'epistle of straw' comment was what I stated was published once in his new translation - this, and the 'value judgement' paragraph on the various books. Yes, Luther did clearly value (and continue to value) certain Gospels and Epistles and Books above others, and yes, there was concern about the reliability of the books you mention (which, again, was common to the scholarship of the times), but the very principal of sola scriptura calls us, as you have done here, to face that issue and, by the equally important reformation principal of semper reformanda (always reforming to what the scriptures declare), grow thereby.

    "I think what Luther meant about giving away his doctor’s beret to anyone who could reconcile James and Paul is the idiomatic equivalent of saying that “I’ll eat my hat” if anyone can do it".

    Bainton, Rupp and other biographers would disagree.

    "If we hear scripture saying something which is out of step with our tradition, the solution is clear: we go with Scripture".

    And we should, but even when we face clarity on a matter - God justifying the wicked by faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ, as taught by Paul - tradition can often get in the way (as what transpires regarding Luther's own aim to reform the church of his day so clearly shows).

    There is doubt that Luther was a man of and for his times, and his bluntness is , no doubt, unsettling, but it's the fact that he is constantly seeking to see Christ and the heart of the matter that is so refreshing and helpful, and that, I suspect, is why he is still so read today.

    "Peter and Paul were both fallible men. We see that clearly on several occasions".

    And this is also so very true of us, and Brother Martin, but he would be the first to affirm - look to Christ, for there, and there alone, is all our comfort, peace and rest.

  65. Howard

    Chris wrote: "the focus of Romans and Galatians is primarily redemptive/historical".

    A really good introduction to this is Willem Van Gemeren's 'The Progress of Redemption', first published in the mid 90's. Noting the approach of George Ladd (that the entire bible is a record of events - holy history - where God visits men to redeem them as men and a society) , he provides a work which spans from the opening of Genesis to our own times, unpacking the centrality of the work of God in Christ to all of this.

    "he had to be without sin – how else would he be a perfect sacrifice? But it’s all about the cross, as the apostle Paul says".

    We are indeed reconciled by His death, but we are also saved by His life (Romans 5:10). These bestow the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness (5:17), bringing justification and life (18).

    "Only Jews can perform ‘works of the law’ since only Jews are under the Law. That is clear from the logic of Romans 3:28-29".

    What of Romans 2:14 & 15? Aren't these people 'doing' the works of the law, even though it isn't written in front of them?

    "And Abraham is not simply an example of saving faith – he is the father of all the faithful".

    Hebrews 11 is a very insightful introduction to some of the earliest saints.We look to Abraham not only because of his faith, but because of the promises God declares He will fulfill through Abraham's house. Abel shared the same faith, and was commended for it. Enoch had such a walk with God that he didn't see death. Noah became an heir of righteousness.

  66. thetotuschristus

    Hi Howard,

    Thanks for the book recommendation! Will look into that.

    The pattern of Romans 5 is death, then resurrection. Death in Adam, life in Christ. Romans 5:10 is exactly the same - the life comes AFTER the death so it must be referring to Christ's resurrection. Now isn't that a much more straightforward reading! How else would the life come after the death? See also 1 Peter 3:18, which says essentially the same thing but makes it clear that the 'life' is resurrection life.

    Romans 2:14-15 clearly teaches that the gentiles do not "have the law". Gentiles can still be saved of course, as the Old Testament repeatedly emphasises - and they could still follow the Law in a sense. But they are not 'under the Law' and so cannot perform 'works of the Law'. It's a technical term, as Romans 3:28-29 suggests. If man is justified by works of the Law then God is only God of the Jews - that's what Paul says. This means that only Jews can perform such works. If Gentiles could perform them then Paul's logic in 3:28-29 would fall to pieces. How would you explain these verses if Gentiles could perform such works?

    My point with Abraham is that justification is not simply 'being saved'. Abraham was following God long before his justification, so it must be something other than that. I think it's the sealing of the covenant promises by the Holy Spirit - which for us occurs when we believe, but for Abraham occurred many years later.

  67. John B

    Hi Chris W,

    In light of your rejection of any place for merit in justification, what is your view of the atonement?

  68. Howard

    Chris wrote: "The pattern of Romans 5 is death, then resurrection".

    A quick response...

    There's more to say here, as Paul shows. Just to outline this: "As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience we are made righteous” [Romans 5:19]. "When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, subject to the law, to redeem those who were under the law” [Galatians 4:4-5]. These passages refer not only to Christ's sacrifice on the cross, but to His very life amongst us. Through such anguish (His oppression, affliction, carrying of our sorrows, rejection, acquaintance with grief, a pouring out of Himself to death - Isaiah 53), many are accounted righteous (vs 11). In short, from the time when he took on the form of a servant, he began to pay the price of liberation in order to redeem us (Calvin).
    "...the Lord Christ fulfilled the whole law for us; He did not only undergo the penalty of it due unto our sins, but also yielded that perfect obedience which it did require... Christ's fulfilling of the law, in obedience unto its commands, is no less imputed unto us for our justification than His undergoing the penalty of it is." - John Owen."because of his reverence. ...he learned obedience ... And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 5:9-10). Numerous reformed theologians have written in depth about this.

  69. thetotuschristus

    Hi John,

    Penal substitution. We have sinned against God and are living in rebellion against him. Jesus receives the punishment for our sins in his death and now we share in his resurrection life.

    Hi Howard,

    Yes, but not all of these theologians agree about exactly how it works. I agree that Jesus had to be obedient, obedient unto death. Romans 5:19 is referring to a specific act of disobedience as verse 18 makes clear. Adam fell and dragged the human race down with him. Jesus rose and lifted a new human race up with him. As for Galatians, 3:13 tells us how Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the Law, by "becoming for us a curse". He came under the Law, that he might bear the full penalty of the Law, to set the captives free. Hebrews 5:9-10 must be seen in the context of verse 8, it's referring to the suffering unto death that he partook of.

    I'm not saying that his obedience to the Father on earth was not important, just that it must be seen in context. Any notion of Jesus performing a bunch of 'merits' which are then imputed to us is alien to scripture. The thing imputed to us is Jesus' resurrection righteousness. Our justification and salvation happened at the cross, vindicated in the resurrection.

  70. Howard

    Chris wrote: "The thing imputed to us is Jesus’ resurrection righteousness".

    Is this, in any way detached from His fulfilling of all righteousness in His life - the 'glory' we behold in Him amongst us, full of grace and truth? The very reason Christ's 'life' is given to us is because He lived as we were (and are) meant to live - His entire life was lived in obedience to the will of the Father.

    "Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the Law, by “becoming for us a curse”.

    That's, again, part of what He has done - He subjected Himself to the law, fulfilling its requirements, because we could not.

    "Any notion of Jesus performing a bunch of ‘merits’ which are then imputed to us is alien to scripture".

    So, if it is enough that Jesus' offering of Himself is sufficient for our salvation, why was it necessary for Him to be born, live, die and rise from death? We are told that He was, inherently, 'the lamb slain from the foundation of the world', and we see God giving us a sacrificial system from Abel onwards to point us to Him, so why isn't just our having faith in the eternal nature of Christ, revealed by His Father, enough (sufficient)? Surely, it is the fact that by 'one man" sin came, and by 'one man' - fully acquainted with our condition, living 'under' (fulfilling) the law that righteousness can be imputed to us, for He is also the one who became our propitiation, our substitute (becoming a curse - crushed and judged in our place), thus, in His resurrection, righteousness and peace kiss one another.

  71. Si Hollett

    John B - having just done an essay on theories of the atonement, 'merit' is very much an Anselmian term - one of Medieval Catholicism. Anselm's ghost came in in the second generation of Protestantism - that turning of the atonement into a mechanical transaction (Chalke and Wright's challenges to Penal Substitution/Imputation are based on very Anselm-y views of the whole thing and they are right to stab the straw man), rather than a relational thing.

    "Wrath"/"Punishment" and "Righteousness" are much better words to use than "debt" (though that has its place) and "merit". "Satisfaction", like "debt" has its place too, especially as Anselm didn't know what that word meant (how is God satisfied if few are saved - slightly more than the number of fallen angels, and only infants and monks/nuns and I better do a lot of asceticism to make sure I'm one of them).

    The common thread through all decent views of the atonement (Recapitulation, Penal Substitution, etc) is union with Christ as the mechanism. We (conservative, solid, protestants) focus on the court (giving credit to Anselm-y views) rather than the (wedding) chapel to our detriment. And there's rather a lot of either/or with effects with a lack of holistic discussion of the effects - united to Christ we die and rise with him - die to the powers (sin, death, devil, the Law, nationality, culture, etc), die to appease wrath, die to Adam and rise to new life, rise clothed in his righteousness, rise in Christ. This is where the 2-1 bit of Glen's 3-2-1 is really good as it makes the main thing the main thing!

  72. thetotuschristus

    Hi Howard,

    "Is this, in any way detached from His fulfilling of all righteousness in His life"

    No, it's all important and it's all related (though it was his death which ultimately fulfilled all righteousness). I think in Jesus's life (and especially in his ministry) we can see the beginnings of Satan's overthrow. But I think it is in his death that he truly fulfilled the Law (Galatians), not in his ministry.

    "why was it necessary for Him to be born, live, die and rise from death?"

    So that he might become a fitting sacrifice, like us in every way except without sin. I agree that it is important that he became like us, the God-man, reconciling man to God in himself. I'm just not convinced that the bible ever suggests that his 'merit' fills in for our lack of 'merit'. Merit theology is not a necessary part of the gospel of justification and it is nowhere to be found in the pages of scripture.

    Besides, we don't need 'merit'. We are united to the risen Jesus who died for our sin (personal unbelief/rebellion not impersonal 'demerit') and is now with the Father in heaven. Why would we need anything more than that?

  73. John B

    Hi Chris,

    Si says that Wright is "right to stab the straw man" of penal substitution. I like, and am intrigued by the thought that you raised here when you said, "We need to expunge the term ["merit"] entirely from our thinking about justification...". It seems to me that when we do, it changes how we view the atonement and turns us back more to the Christus Victor and recapitulation understandings of the early church. Anselm made a contribution to the church's understanding of the atonement. As you observed, Abraham's justification came in Genesis 15. There "the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." As Christ is Abraham's "reward", I think that there is a place to talk about merit in the atonement, if by it we mean the merit of Christ. But, like Si, I don't think it's the best word to use. And all the less so because of the abuses and corruption that became associated with the term during the medieval period, when a whole penitential system sprang up with its full blown treasury of merit, and the papacy as the head banking office. So I'd be happy to steer clear of the term merit, but there are scriptural terms like reward, prize, and crown that are often used in a sense very much like "merit".

    I embrace the idea of going back to the understandings of the early church on the atonement, especially as set forth in Irenaeus. There's a place for merit understood as inherent only in Christ, that becomes ours through union with him. "Christ is all, and in all".

    Hi Si,

    Great illustration on shifting focus from "court" to "(wedding) chapel"!

  74. Si Hollett

    John B - I'm not sure Anselm added that much (certainly not when considered net) - the real restoration of justifying and propitiatory aspects of the atonement was with Luther. Sure Anselm corrects the wrong that a ransom to Satan is needed, saying that surely it's God who there's a debt towards, but in doing so he does a lot of damage.

    When writing my essay, though, I did think Aulen's critique of him in 'Christus Victor' was almost entirely nonsense: really obvious straw men (such as imputing to Anselm a view which Anselm is very clear to say he doesn't share. It's as if Aulen couldn't get through 'Cur Deus Homo', though certainly its a huge struggle to do), bad reasons to ditch it (bordering on heretical at times), etc. 'Christus Victor' is another book like 'Cur Deus Homo' that produces a needed challenge to something bad, but ends up being as damaging as what it challenged.

    I literally lept for joy when I read McGrath saying that "if any idea could be said to be the classic idea of the atonement it is 'union with Christ'" (quoting from memory). He'd already gave Anselm a good slapping, and Aulen picked up some minor bruising, but this blows Aulen out of the water in one sentence. And not just that my thoughts had scholarly backing, but that here's a theologian who gets it.

    And yes on Irenaeus (no to Aulen's re-reading of him and Luther creating a de-personalised 'Christ is Victorious', with no explaination of how that is - other than a small amount of hand waving towards ransom and recapitulation - and that's deliberate that he refuses to see the wood for the trees) and the recapitulation elements of there. Reaction to recent discussions (pre-dating Chalke) have meant that we focus on the penal elements to the detriment of the others, which is a great shame.

    And good expounding of merit and it's role in the discussion.

  75. Howard

    Chris wrote: "Merit theology is not a necessary part of the gospel of justification and it is nowhere to be found in the pages of scripture".

    The oft-used (medieval) understanding of 'merit' - a form of reward seen as due to the sinner from God because they 'performed' God’s requirement and earned this - is essentially Pelagian and indeed, alien to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 4:7). God's love is led "by only one consideration. This is his own free goodness without respect for any merit (in us) at all, since in fact (because of the fall) they can have no merit, either in their works or in their wills or even in their thoughts” (Calvin - Bondage & Liberation of the Will).

    Such goodness and love is entirely unmerited - a free redemption from sin and death in Jesus mediated by faith, so any construction of theology which seeks to re-introduce 'righteousness' from our side back into this issue is poison.

    As those so reconciled, God's abundant mercy and grace are bestowed upon us in Jesus Christ, who has purchased with a price - His 'humbling Himself, even to death' - which solely obtained our deliverance.

    Regarding Irenaeus (John & SI). I'd recommend "Man & the Incarnation" by Gustaf Wingren. Here's a taster: "Resurrection life is not an unnatural addition to what is truly human, but the uncorrupted life of creation, and as such, it breaks through into an unnatural world in which death holds dominion".

  76. thetotuschristus

    John,

    Well, the different understandings of the atonement are partly just different perspectives. Regarding the term 'merit', my hangup with it is that it is a very impersonal term for 'righteousness', which is so much bigger and fuller and more personal. Not only that, but to refer to sin as 'demerit' reduces it to less of a bad thing than it really is - the rejection of our loving Father. If God is an irreducibly personal God, why talk about 'demerit' and 'merit' when we can talk about 'sin' and 'righteousness'?

    Although God as Abram's 'reward' because of Christ's faithfulness and not his own? I don't think that would have made sense to him. In context though, it was Abram's resisting of the King of Sodom's donations (Gen 14:21-24) that led God to say that.

    Si,

    Yes! Union with Christ! That's what we should be talking about.

    John,

    It seems like we are not that far apart really, just semantic differences mostly. I would agree, of course, that human beings have no merit before God, I would just question whether we are really framing things biblically if we start talking about merit and not about a heart which clings to God. When Christ was obedient to the Father in his earthly life, he wasn't doing that 'in his own strength', but was moved by God's Grace and changed from Glory into Glory.

  77. John B

    Hi Chris,

    I agree with all that you've said here about this matter of "merit".

    But, I do see it to be at odds with the focus on the juridical aspects of salvation that's so deeply entrenched in the theology of the Western Church. This came to fruition with Anselm and continues to be expressed in both the Catholic and Protestant branches of the Western Church. This juridical focus in the West can really be traced back as far as Tertullian.

    An example of an early Protestant who would specifically disagree with us on this matter of "merit" is Calvin, who wrote:

    "That Christ, by his obedience, truly purchased and merited grace for us with the Father, is accurately inferred from several passages of Scripture. I take it for granted, that if Christ satisfied for our sins, if he paid the penalty due by us, if he appeased God by his obedience; in fine, if he suffered the just for the unjust, salvation was obtained for us by his righteousness; which is just equivalent to meriting." Institutes Book II, Chapter 17, Section 3.

    So, I'm thinking that the rejection of the term "merit", and thus turning from the juridical view of salvation to the earlier Eastern Church view of adoption through saving union with Christ may be where this is leading us. You say so, while holding to the penal substitution view of the atonement. Si suggests that Wright however is "right to stab the straw man" of Penal Substitution. I don't know enough about Wright to say. The Atonement is a great mystery that we contemplate through Scripture, while recognizing that it's beyond our comprehension in its perfection and fullness. Si said, "...we focus on the penal elements to the detriment of the others, which is a great shame." But, it doesn't have to be. The understandings on the Atonement of many in the early church, as found in Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Cyril of Alexandria, are worthy (dare I say merit!) our renewed consideration. If this is where Wright is leading, I think this is a very wholesome tack.

  78. Chris W

    Hi John,

    I think I meant to put 'Howard' for the last comment. I don't reject merit as a concept altogether, I just think there are better words we could use. I wouldn't necessarily disagree with Calvin's words, although it does seem that he is referring to the cross rather than the life of Jesus. His righteous obedience was unto death, even death on a cross - that's where our focus should be.

    It's true that the west can be too judicial at times. But I think the weakness with the eastern view is that is can also be too impersonal. All this talk of essences and energies distracts from the ultimately personal self-offering of Christ as the Son to the Father, for our sakes. It's all about love - adoption/betrothal (as Si has aptly pointed out).

    Having read Athanasius' "On the Incarnation" it would seem to me that he does refer to Jesus being a propitiation for our sins, though I don't have the reference to hand. It is a myth that penal substitution is a new idea - a crude form of it was there from the earliest times. Although Athanasius seems to most want to talk about Jesus defeating satan or renewing creation, which seems pretty biblical too. And anyway, shouldn't our question be "how does THIS passage present the atonement?" rather than "which model of the atonement is correct?" (as if there could only ever be one!). A biblical theology of the atonement will be a biblical theology of the whole bible, let's not forget that!

  79. Si Hollett

    John B - where did I say that Wright is right to attack the straw man *of* penal substitution? I said this:

    "Chalke and Wright’s challenges to Penal Substitution/Imputation are based on very Anselm-y views of the whole thing and they are right to stab the straw man"

    ie that they are right to take out the straw man, but that straw man isn't Penal Substitution or Imputation but Anselm-y distortions of those doctrines - hence why they are straw men.

    Wright seems to be running down a path that the East took a long time ago (gradually) - similar to the Western path of ignoring and not bothering with non-legal aspects and ending up excluding them and only talking about the legal, it is a path of exclusion and a lack of a holistic view of the atonement. Like Aulen before him, it is done within orthodoxy and scholarship and seems to be a case of not seeing the wood for one tree (which is quite common in Wright) and failing to understand something before rejecting it. However, he gives those wolves-in-sheep's-clothing like Chalke and McLaren cover to reject legal aspects of the atonement simply as they don't like the ideas of wrath, judgement, sin being bad (in the case of McLaren - Chalke's not there yet), etc

    With the 'not-legal-at-all' view, you end up back in a Courtroom - a different looking one, but rather than acquitted defendants, we are courtiers (perhaps sharing in the judgement of the powers, perhaps just having a party). There's a lot of merit (sorry) in both Courtroom pictures, but they fail to show the full picture - the Chapel does.

  80. John B

    Hi Chris,

    For me, the use of the term "merit" isn't a problem. It's the idea of a "mechanical transaction" (Thanks, Si!), where the gospel gets lost. This can happen as readily with the term "righteousness", as it does with "merit". The term "merit" just carries a lot of extra baggage along with it, because of how the term came to be used (and abused) in the medieval church. So it's a helpful distinction in terminology to make for the purpose of historical clarification.

    Whether "merit" or "righteousness", this only ever inheres in Christ, and not in creatures.

    If it's said that humans receive Christ's righteousness by imputation, receiving it through faith, that's good and true. But this can (and often does) become just a "mechanical transaction"; only instead of basing it on an elaborate penitential system, rather, it's reduced to one essential work of faith that triggers the exchange (fideism).

    It's only when Christ unites believers to himself that they become partakers of the divine righteousness that inheres only in Him.

    Penal substitution is true and essential. Much of the Reformation was about Catholic and Protestant distinctions on the Atonement, as both agreed that it was penal and substitionary!

    Many of the Reformers are very good on personal union with Christ. This was a particular strength with the early eastern church fathers, especially in relating it to the atonement.

    Whether east or west, there's a lot to avoid from the Middle Ages, when scholasticism was integrated into church teaching. But much of value to us in the early church. Ad fontes!

    “Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation..." J.I. Packer

  81. John B

    Hi Si,

    I'm sorry. My bad! I read your comment too quickly and missed the point. Thanks for clarifying.

    Your insights on Wright are very helpful, especially since I haven't followed his work at all closely.

  82. Howard

    John wrote: "It’s only when Christ unites believers to himself that they become partakers of the divine righteousness that inheres only in Him".

    I think that's why the Reformers were so careful to clarify that the 'righteousness' we receive from Christ is a righteousness 'from God' (Christ's living of a life well pleasing to His Father, which is accredited to us) and not the righteousness 'of God' (the divine attribute).

    "Whether “merit” or “righteousness”, this only ever inheres in Christ, and not in creatures".

    It's surely imperative that it is from Christ alone, otherwise we can quickly get into all manner of muddles about something 'in us' (merit) that makes a difference. Wesley, for example, believed in 'pre-veining' grace in 'natural' people (who were 'fallen', but still free of will, as they were not responsible for original sin, and this allows them to repent (!).

    "Many of the Reformers are very good on personal union with Christ. This was a particular strength with the early eastern church fathers, especially in relating it to the atonement".

    The focus in any of these matters must indeed be the work of God for us - that is what we are united to by faith - He who begins this work within us will bring this to completion, not because of some 'notion' (merit, stature or inclination) in us, but because of what transpired at Calvary and the grave, and the completed rescue that this, and this alone, has accomplished.

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