Monday, December 28, 2009

A Response to Dave Woolcott's Critique of My View of Justification: Part Two

This post intends to respond to points 1-3 in Dave Woolcott's critique of my view of justification. Dave's critique can be found on my blog in the post entitled “Dave Woolcott's Critique of My View of Justification,” or on his blog in his post entitled “A response to Steven Coxhead’s ‘Absolute and Covenant Righteousness Reconciled.’”

In point no. 1, Dave states that I believe that "there is a fundamental difference between the law of Moses and God’s covenant with Adam." Yes, that is what I believe. God's law as revealed to Adam (before he was kicked out of the garden) effectively contained two laws that we know of: (1) the law permitting him to eat food from all plants and trees with the exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 1:29; 2:16-17); and (2) the creation mandate (Gen 1:28). There was also no provision built into these laws for the forgiveness of sin. The law of Moses on the other hand contained many laws (most of Exod 20–Deut 30), and a large number of these laws had to do with the sacrificial system that offered the forgiveness of sins to the people (e.g., Lev 1-7).

Dave states that I am seeking to reconcile God's covenant with Adam and the law of Moses, but that is not correct. The point of the 32 theses is to reconcile the Old Testament teaching concerning absolute righteousness and covenant righteousness, not the Adamic covenant with the Mosaic covenant. The focus is on the Mosaic covenant, and the two strands of righteousness that emerge there. The question that I am addressing in the 32 theses is: How does the need for the absolute righteousness provided through sacrifice fit in with the divine requirement for covenant commitment on the part of Israel?

The reason I distinguish between God's law in the garden and God's law to Israel is because many people fail to see the way in which grace was inbuilt into the Mosaic law as seen in the laws regarding sacrifice and atonement. Or to put things in terms of the Westminster Confession of Faith, our (i.e., Presbyterian Church of Australia) confessional standard: the Mosaic covenant belongs to the administration of the covenant of grace, not the covenant of works. The Confession teaches that "perfect and personal obedience" was required of Adam in the covenant of works (WCF 7.2), which contrasts with the requirement of faith under the covenant of grace. In other words, the Confession teaches that absolute obedience was required by Adam, which implies that there was no inherent provision for the forgiveness of sins under the covenant of works, otherwise the requirement would have been something other than absolute obedience.

Dave has understood me correctly in his point no. 2. The covenant with Adam did not contain provisions to deal with sin. That is why it is called a covenant of works (WCF 7.2). But the Mosaic covenant did contain provisions for the forgiveness of sin. That is why the Confession groups the Mosaic administration as part of the covenant of grace (see WCF 7.5). The Confession includes the laws that make provision for sin within the category of ceremonial laws: "God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ... ceremonial laws ... prefiguring Christ" (WCF 19.3). Notice that the Confession states that such laws were given to (old covenant) Israel. The Confession also acknowledges that grace was offered to Israel through the sacrificial system (and through other things, such as promises and prophecies), and that all of these were "sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit" for the "full remission of sins, and eternal salvation," because they foresignified Christ (WCF 7.5). In speaking of Mosaic law as including atoning grace to the extent that the sacrificial system prefigures Christ, and in distinguishing this from Adamic law, I believe I am being completely consistent with our confessional standard.

I also have to disagree with Dave's interpretation of Ps 40:6 and Hos 6:6. The Old Testament doctrine of obedience rather than sacrifice was used by the Old Testament prophets not to devalue the need for sacrifice, but to point out that offering ritual sacrifice without covenant obedience is hypocrisy. Concerning Heb 10:1-10, my response is: Yes and no to Dave's suggestion that the Mosaic sacrificial system couldn't deal with sin. In and of itself the blood of bulls and goats cannot bring about the forgiveness of sins, but (as the Confession teaches) to the extent that the sacrifices were a proleptic presentation or prefiguring of Christ to the people of Israel, the sacrifices were "sufficient and efficacious" for atonement. The only sacrifice that counts is the perfect sacrifice of Christ, but the benefits of that were genuinely offered to old covenant Israel through the Mosaic sacrificial system.

Regarding the issue of immediate death for Adam, what I am referring to there is what God says in Gen 2:17: that in the day when Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he would die. The death referred to there by God was primarily the spiritual death of separation from God. This death took place when Adam was kicked out of the garden, which happened almost immediately upon his being convicted of sin (Gen 3:21-24).

Regarding Dave's argument in his point no. 3, I think Dave is referring to thesis 16 when he says that "Steven believes that righteousness comes through works of the law ... but seems to forget that Jesus is the only one to whom this truth can be applied." I think further thinking is required on Dave's part here. He is using his either-or (more Lutheran-type) thinking to critique my (more Reformed) both-and type system. From the beginning of the Reformation, the Reformed side of Protestantism (as against the Lutheran side) has always acknowledged that there is a kind of righteousness that comes from obeying God's law in a genuine but imperfect way in the context of covenant grace. Calvin, for example, holds that after being justified by faith, when God considers our works he does so through the prism of Christ, and God's work of sanctification in us through the Holy Spirit, such that "the good works which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or, which is the same thing, are imputed for righteousness" (see Institutes 3.17.8). Calvin could actually speak of the imputation of good works as righteousness! I invite people to look it up for themselves if they don't believe it.

For anyone further interested in what is called Calvin's doctrine of double justification, you can read my two articles on the righteousness of works in Calvin's system: “John Calvin’s Interpretation of Works Righteousness in Ezekiel 18,” Westminster Theological Journal 70 (2008): 303–16; and “John Calvin’s Subordinate Doctrine of Justification by Works,” Westminster Theological Journal 71 (2009): 1–19; or else read Mark Garcia's book Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin's Theology. I am also working on a third article on Calvin's doctrine of double justification, and I'll let you know when and where that may be published.

Regarding Dave's comments on Paul's use of Abraham in Rom 4, I think that the salvation-historical or covenantal interpretation of Paul makes a lot of sense here. If Paul's argument here is salvation-historical, his point is that Abraham is an example of a person who was right with God before anything like the works of the law (i.e., a faith response to the Mosaic revelation) was on the scene. In other words, in Gen 15 Abraham was right with God when he was a Gentile! If Gentiles could be right with God before the Mosaic covenant existed (or anything approximating it, circumcision being the key identifier), then what is to stop Gentiles being right with God now that the Messiah has come? Covenant righteousness (i.e., the right response to God) in the new covenant age effectively reverts back to the kind of righteousness that Gentile Abraham showed as he responded positively to God's (non-Mosaic) revelation. The righteousness of a positive response to the law of Moses (i.e., the works of the law) is, therefore, seen to be a temporary kind of righteousness, a possibility that applied only as long as the Mosaic covenant was operative. What once was gain—notice that Paul claims in Phil 3:6 that he possessed a blameless righteousness according to the Mosaic law, and he describes such righteousness as gain in Phil 3:7, i.e., it was a true form of righteousness as long as the Mosaic covenant was in operation—what once was gain is, after the coming of the new covenant in Christ, then seen to be loss in comparison with the righteousness that we can possess through faith in Christ. Paul came to understand that the new covenant righteousness of faith in Christ far surpasses the righteousness that Moses was on about in Deut 6:25.

But even if you don't go for a covenantal interpretation of Rom 4, it is wrong to take verses such as Rom 3:10, 20 and make them contradict Rom 10:5, Deut 6:25, and Ezek 18:5-9. Please look at how Calvin interpreted Ezek 18. Calvin doesn't go for the covenantal interpretation of Paul, but he doesn't go for a Lutheran interpretation either. In other words, Calvin acknowledged that after justification by faith has been established, a legitimate form of justification or righteousness on the level of works also exists.

All in all, we who claim to be Reformed really need to understand that the Reformed side of the Reformation has a more nuanced or balanced view on righteousness than exists on the Lutheran side of the Reformation. Luther, for example, acknowledged the righteousness of faith, whereas Calvin acknowledges the righteousness of faith and the righteousness of works in a subordinate sense. In other words, Calvin acknowledged that righteousness language is used in the Bible of the covenant obedience of believers. Think about the righteousness of Noah (Gen 6:9), the righteousness of David (Ps 18:20-24), the righteousness of the author of Ps 119 (Ps 119:30, 56), the righteousness of Zecharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6). In Calvin's system, this is the righteousness of obedience, the righteousness of people who responded genuinely and positively, albeit imperfectly, to God's word in the context of grace, where the righteousness of faith is already presupposed. If we claim to be Reformed, we seriously need to make sure that we understand Calvin's doctrine of double justification before suggesting that someone's view of justification is deficient simply because it links righteousness with the good works of believers.

Calvin could speak of justification by faith alone and of the imputation of the good works of believers as righteousness. When Dave suggests, therefore, that I have forgotten that Jesus is the only one to whom the righteousness of works applies (because I admit that there a legitimate form of law righteousness under the Mosaic covenant to those who had torah written in their heart by the Holy Spirit), to be fair he should also accuse Calvin of having a deficient view of justification as well. In fact, Calvin doesn't just limit law righteousness as applying solely under the Mosaic covenant (which I think is Paul's preferred way of thinking), but he sees law righteousness as applying across salvation history!

Now if Dave really means to say in his point no. 3 that the righteousness of absolute obedience only applies to Christ, I thoroughly agree with him. But this does not rule out the fact that, in the Bible, covenant obedience (which is a genuine, albeit imperfect, positive response to the word of God that is worked in believers by the Spirit of God) is also called righteousness. Jesus came not only to be our righteousness, but also to make us righteous; and both of these types of righteousness are mentioned in the Scriptures.

37 comments:

Steven Coxhead said...

This is a copy of comment no. 1 from Dave on his blog in response to my post above.

#
Dave Woolcott
December 29th, 2009 on 7:06 am

Regarding point number one. I have an issue with what you see as the fundamental differences between the Adamic covenant and the law of Moses.

*Certainly we only know of two laws that were spoken to Adam and Eve, yet as a covenant it contained more than two laws.

*There is a big gap between the Adamic Covenant and the law of Moses. Is this gap filled with the Adamic Covenant only? You mention Two Abrahamic covenants in a previous post of yours on your blog. Do they deal with sin?

*How do you explain that Cain and Abel appear to be making offerings to God before the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants?

*How do you explain Cain killing Abel to be sin when there was no law, according to your system of thought (from what I can gather), against murder?

Steve, you said, “Dave states that I am seeking to reconcile God’s covenant with Adam and the law of Moses, but that is not correct.”

I also said, “In many ways, this difference is at the heart of what Steven is trying to reconcile, but is there anything to reconcile?

I understood that you were trying to reconcile, “the Old Testament teaching concerning absolute righteousness and covenant righteousness, not the Adamic covenant with the Mosaic covenant.” Yet your Theses begin with the issue of there being one covenant where sin was not dealt with, and one where it was. It is because of this that you come to the conclusion that there is something that needs to be reconciled. This was my point.

Steven Coxhead said...

In response to Dave, I am a bit surprised that Dave has trouble with the bit about Adam in theses nos. 3 and 4 in my 32 theses, as this is the standard view in more traditional Reformed circles. The issue of grace built into the Mosaic law is where there are differences of opinion.

Regarding Dave's comment about the situation in the garden, we have evidence for only two laws in the garden. What else was said, we don't know. All we can go on is the biblical evidence. But the question you ask about regarding from the fall to Sinai is a good one, but it is fairly standard in Reformed circles that the gap between the fall and Abraham is considered as being part of the covenant of grace (many indeed suggest that it begins at Gen 3:15). Even though I think the Bible talks about various covenants coming into operation over the course of history in the post-fall world, they have the same relational dynamic and a common goal, and redemptive grace stands at the heart of all of them. My view is that after the fall either redemptive grace or a temporal mitigating grace always have to be part of God's dealings with humanity. The word of God definitely comes to God's people with redemptive grace built in. So, definitely, the Abrahamic covenant deals with sin, and there is redemptive grace in operation in the patriarchal period.

I still don't accept that the problem with my view stems from the view I have regarding the Adamic arrangement as Dave wants to say. My view regarding Adam is basically the standard Reformed view. Other Reformed guys have a similar view regarding the covenant with Adam, but they differ from me concerning how they understand the Mosaic covenant and Paul.

Steven Coxhead said...

This is a copy of comment no. 2 from Dave on his blog in response to my post above.

#
Dave Woolcott
December 29th, 2009 on 7:31 am

Steve, you said, “The question that I am addressing in the 32 theses is: How does the need for the absolute righteousness provided through sacrifice fit in with the divine requirement for covenant commitment on the part of Israel?”

This is helpful. It does leave us with the question, “How does sacrifice provide absolute righteousness?” or more to the point, “Does sacrifice provide absolute righteousness?” when it is a sacrifice other than the sacrifice of Jesus.

Steve, you said, “The Confession teaches that “perfect and personal obedience” was required of Adam in the covenant of works (WCF 7.2), which contrasts with the requirement of faith under the covenant of grace. In other words, the Confession teaches that absolute obedience was required by Adam, which implies that there was no inherent provision for the forgiveness of sins under the covenant of works, otherwise the requirement would have been something other than absolute obedience.”

The issue I have with this is that Abram sinned, and yet was forgiven. Why? Because he had faith in the God who saves, because of grace. Was there not grace when Cain failed to bring a ‘perfect’ offering to God? God is gracious in telling Cain what he must do in regards to sin. You have also failed to recognise the grace that is built into the Adamic Covenant. The Adamic Covenant consisted of more than simply two laws. It also included that they could eat of any of the other trees in the garden, it included full access to the tree of life, it included Eve, when it was not good for Adam to be alone, it included dominion over creation, it included being created in the image of God, it included a garden to tend and develop. There is plenty of grace in the Adamic covenant.

When the Confession refers to a covenant of ‘works’ and of ‘grace’ it is making distinctions between the old covenant and the new covenant. Your Theses is very confused about how and when these Covenants work. Let me explain…

Dave is saying…
*Covenant of Works, instituted in its original form in the Garden and applies from Adam to Christ (and still does today for those outside of Christ).
*Covenant of Grace, instituted in Christ but applies to ALL who have faith in the God who saves.

Steve is saying (I believe)
*Covenant of works, instituted in the garden, applies to Adam.
*Covenant of Grace, instituted through Moses.

You do mention the work of Christ applying back to people in the OT later in your Theses, but do not seem to apply it earlier on. Where does the WCF sit in regard to our two views? I believe more closely with what I am suggesting than with you Steve! ;-)

Steven Coxhead said...

In response to Dave, the Mosaic sacrificial system, using the blood of bulls and goats cannot bring true atonement in and of itself; but to the extent that the sacrificial system was the word of God in action and prefiguring the perfect sacrifice of Christ, it was able to provide a sufficient measure of genuine atonement to those who utilized the sacrificial system through faith.

I like your idea about grace in the garden. I hope you realize that what you said about this is rather controversial for some Reformed guys, but I'm totally with you. I remember doing a presentation in an OT class some years back when I was a student on the idea of grace in the garden, and I certainly argued for grace in the garden, and got good marks for it too. But we need to make a distinction between redemptive and non-redemptive grace in the garden. From the Old Testament Hebrew perspective, divine grace is simply any kindness or favor that God shows us. There was certainly lots of divine kindness and favor in the garden, as you point out. But this has traditionally been called non-redemptive to distinguish it from redemptive grace which includes the forgiveness of sins. God's redemptive grace to Adam in the garden was above and beyond the original arrangement, but Adam was still excluded from God's presence in the holy zone of the garden.

Steven Coxhead said...

As for your covenantal understanding of things, I honestly do not think that it is confessional. It's more like a Lutheran system which uses the Reformed language of covenant of works versus covenant of grace. It is not characteristic of classic Reformed thinking at all. Have a look at WCF 7.5. The Confession clearly identifies the law administration period of the covenant of grace with "the old Testament," i.e., the Mosaic or old covenant. You've got to understand the Confession in the light of broader Reformed tradition. Your identification of the old covenant with the covenant of works without any further nuance definitely appears from my understanding of things more Lutheran than it is Reformed. Luther's theological view was that wherever commandments are talked about, that is the old testament; whenever promise is talked about, that is the new testament.

But instead of an abstract view of old covenant versus new covenant, the Reformed side of the Reformation has always been characterized by a more historical approach, i.e., historically speaking the old covenant is the Mosaic covenant (please see Jer 31:32 where the old covenant is linked with the exodus from Egypt, hence, Mount Sinai, hence, the old covenant is the Sinaitic covenant). Please see also Calvin's opinion in the Institutes. He normally uses the term Law instead of old testament or old covenant, and distinguishes between a broad use of the terms law and gospel, and a narrow use. Broad law (tota lex) is "the whole system of religion delivered by the hand of Moses" (Institutes 2.7.1), and that is usually what Calvin means when he speaks of Law, i.e., normally when he thinks of the old covenant he thinks of the Mosaic covenant. Narrow or bare law (nuda lex) is the Pauline concept of the Mosaic law minus grace. Narrow gospel is the primary use of the term, and denotes the proclamation of Christ following his manifestation in the world. Broad gospel, on the other hand, comprehends all instances of divine mercy and favor throughout time.

Obviously you can still have your opinion, but I don't think it's in accord with the Confession, so I do find that view surprising coming from a Presbyterian minister.

It seems to me that you virtually believe in two co-temporal covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace existing side by side throughout history. Have I understood you correctly?

Steven Coxhead said...

Just to make things clear. I believe that grace is eternal in the Trinity, and that redemptive grace starts in Gen 3. My view regarding redemptive grace is the traditional Reformed view. It wasn't mentioned in my 32 theses as I assumed this was common ground in Reformed circles, and not a subject of debate. I think most traditional-type Reformed guys (i.e. those with a more historical, covenantal approach) would understand what I was doing.

But it does go to show the danger of making assumptions about other people's views on the basis of implications from silence. It's hard to get around that without talking to each other, and I give Dave credit for being willing to do so.

Steven Coxhead said...

This is a copy of comment no. 3 from Dave on his blog in response to my post above.

#
Dave Woolcott
December 29th, 2009 on 7:50 am

Steve you said, “Dave has understood me correctly in his point no. 2.”

I praise God!!

You also said, “In speaking of Mosaic law as including atoning grace to the extent that the sacrificial system prefigures Christ, and in distinguishing this from Adamic law, I believe I am being completely consistent with our confessional standard.”

And yet the Confessional standard makes no comment about the time from the fall to the Mosaic covenant. Is Christ not “prefigured” some how, or were they under the covenant of works? As I said in response to your intro, I am not overly concerned with the WCF because I do not believe it will make comments everywhere we need it to, to deal with the issues you are raising.

Steve, you also said, “I also have to disagree with Dave’s interpretation of Ps 40:6 and Hos 6:6. The Old Testament doctrine of obedience rather than sacrifice was used by the Old Testament prophets not to devalue the need for sacrifice, but to point out that offering ritual sacrifice without covenant obedience is hypocrisy.”

How do you then deal with the statement in Psalm 40:6, “Burnt offering and sin offering you HAVE NOT REQUIRED”? In actual fact it is pointing out that what was really required was faith in God. After all, making a sacrifice without faith was useless anyway! The faith had to be in God, not the sacrifice itself. Ultimately in Christ we have faith in the sacrifice who is God!

I find your statement, “that offering ritual sacrifice without covenant obedience is hypocrisy” strange. I thought you would have said that offering sacrifice was covenant obedience?

With regards to Heb 10:1-10, you said, “In and of itself the blood of bulls and goats cannot bring about the forgiveness of sins, but (as the Confession teaches) to the extent that the sacrifices were a proleptic presentation or prefiguring of Christ to the people of Israel, the sacrifices were “sufficient and efficacious” for atonement. The only sacrifice that counts is the perfect sacrifice of Christ, but the benefits of that were genuinely offered to old covenant Israel through the Mosaic sacrificial system.”

So why were the OT sacrifices “sufficient and efficacious”? Because they demonstrated someone’s faith in the God who saves. But the sacrifices themselves were useless if that faith did not accompany them, because ultimately ther faith was in Christ Jesus, the only name through which people are saved! Sorry Steve but your “Yes and No” response is not good enough in my understanding. The OT sacrifices DID NOT deal with sin. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS.” Heb 10:1.

Steven Coxhead said...

The confessional standard makes no comment about the time from the fall to the Mosaic covenant, because it's assumed (in accordance with the broader Reformed tradition) that it comes under the covenant of grace. So, Christ is prefigured even then.

Regarding Ps 40:6, we always have to balance Scripture with Scripture. Sacrifice was required according to Lev 1-7, and we can't make Ps 40:6 contradict that or any other passage of Scripture, or vice versa. In the broader context of Ps 40, the psalmist seems to be saying that despite his precarious situation for a while, he maintained his trust and commitment to the Lord. Please note Ps 40:4, 8. Like we often see with the psalmists, they often acknowledge to God in prayer that they have been faithful to God. In that context, the point of Ps 40:6 is that God prefers people obeying him (i.e., desiring to do God's will as per Ps 40:8), and that is how the psalmist has been responding to God in his current situation, with trust and obedience.

You should also keep in mind that the Hebrew people love black-and-white language. It's their way of talking, but the exegete has the notice the shades of gray, and reconcile Scripture with Scripture.

Yes, sacrifice is at the heart of covenant obedience, and a key part of it; and that's how Moses and the prophets normally preferred to speak, of covenant obedience, the heart of which is sacrifice. But because of the abuse of the sacrificial system that emerged in Israel (i.e., people offering sacrifice in the temple while habitually committing sin outside the temple), the prophets use the language of obedience rather than sacrifice. See Samuel in relation to Saul in 1 Sam 15:22-23 as the perfect case study.

Regarding your last point in the above comment, hopefully comment no. 4 to this post has already explained that. In and of themselves the Mosaic sacrifices can never take away sin; but as part of God's gracious word in visible form, being a prefiguring of Christ to the people of Israel, they did, but only in their function as a key part of how Christ was communicated to the people.

Steven Coxhead said...

This is a copy of comment no. 4 from Dave on his blog in response to my post above.

Dave Woolcott
December 29th, 2009 on 8:06 am

Steve, you said, “Regarding the issue of immediate death for Adam, what I am referring to there is what God says in Gen 2:17: that in the day when Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he would die. The death referred to there by God was primarily the spiritual death of separation from God. This death took place when Adam was kicked out of the garden, which happened almost immediately upon his being convicted of sin (Gen 3:21-24).”

I am good with that! :-)

You also said, “I think further thinking is required on Dave’s part here. He is using his either-or (more Lutheran-type) thinking to critique my (more Reformed) both-and type system.”

I do not believe I have this “either-or” type thinking you speak of! I believe that I have a “both and” type system, but as I tried to point out in my critique, it is different to yours. I believe that I am more Biblical, no matter how you wish to interpret Calvin (as I said in my email to you, I have not read you work on Calvin yet).

Having said that I need to comment on your words (and Calvin’s), “”the good works which are done by believers are deemed righteous, or, which is the same thing, are imputed for righteousness” (see Institutes 3.17.8). Calvin could actually speak of the imputation of good works as righteousness! I invite people to look it up for themselves if they don’t believe it.”

I will not look it up because I trust you Steve! I just cannot understand why you have interpreted it the way you have. I assume you are claiming that Calvin is saying that a person is made righteous through their good works? But Calvin does not do this. Rather he claims that their good works are righteous! This fits in perfectly with my “both-and” system! The ‘good works’ done by a believer are done through the truth of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the person who is saved does righteous things, indeed is righteous.

Steven Coxhead said...

By "both-and" or "either-or" I'm referring to single justification or double justification. As I understand your system more, I'll have a better idea of what you might be classified as from my perspective.

I don't think you've understood Calvin's point. I am not claiming that Calvin believes that a person is made righteous through their good works. Yes, Calvin says that a believer's good works are righteous, but this is the extra step that perhaps you've missed: God's recognition of a believer's good works as righteous is a kind of justification. It's different and subordinate to justification by faith alone, but a legitimate form of justification nonetheless. In other words, the words "Well done, good and faithful servant" are a form of justification, a legal declaration by the Judge of righteousness on the level of covenant obligations met by God's people as the Spirit moves them to obedience in the context of grace.

The person who is being saved does righteous things and is righteous, and God's recognition of this fact (supremely on the day of judgment) is a legitimate but subordinate kind of justification.

If you can cope with this second kind of justification, then you are "both-and." If you can, that's good. But my experience is that most Reformed guys are not clear on Calvin's doctrine of double justification, which, by the way, also appears in the Westminster Confession under the doctrine of God's acceptance of the good works of believers (WCF 16.6).

My claim is that my system, although different from Calvin at points, is fundamentally consistent with his concept of double justification, which I believe is biblical.

Steven Coxhead said...

This is a copy of the first half of comment no. 5 from Dave on his blog in response to my post above.

Dave Woolcott
December 29th, 2009 on 8:32 am

Steve, you said, “his [Paul’s] point is that Abraham is an example of a person who was right with God before anything like the works of the law (i.e., a faith response to the Mosaic revelation) was on the scene. In other words, in Gen 15 Abraham was right with God when he was a Gentile!”

I guess we agree on this. It was certainly the point I was trying to make. You just go further than I am willing to with how you apply it! We do not import Abraham’s righteousness through faith onto Christ, but rather Christ onto what Abraham believed, after all it was ultimately through Christ that Abraham was saved. It was Jesus who died for the sine of the whole world…even those you claim were covered by the sacrificial system, and even Abrahams!

Steve, you said, “What once was gain—notice that Paul claims in Phil 3:6 that he possessed a blameless righteousness according to the Mosaic law, and he describes such righteousness as gain in Phil 3:7, i.e., it was a true form of righteousness as long as the Mosaic covenant was in operation—what once was gain is, after the coming of the new covenant in Christ, then seen to be loss in comparison with the righteousness that we can possess through faith in Christ.”

You appear to be reading a lot into the text here Steve. Certainly, under the law he was blameless, yet this does not mean he was righteous before God as a result. Please indicate where in the text Paul says this, because this appears to be what you are claiming. He was not more righteous than the other Pharisees and teachers of the law that Jesus criticised. In fact Paul says in verse 9, “in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him, NOT having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law”! Also, Paul is saying that any good that came out of keeping the law (which is holy, righteous and good) he considers CRAP compared to Christ, i.e. not really very good!!

Steve, you said, “But even if you don’t go for a covenantal interpretation of Rom 4, it is wrong to take verses such as Rom 3:10, 20 and make them contradict Rom 10:5, Deut 6:25, and Ezek 18:5-9.”
I am not setting these verses against each other so they contradict each other. For example, Romans 3:10 is clearly talking about the total depravity of mankind. No one is righteous. Romans 10:5 refers to the righteousness based on the law as written by Moses, and yet I would ask you to show me one person (other than Christ, as you yourself outline in your Theses) who has kept the law!

Steven Coxhead said...

This is a copy of the second half of comment no. 5 from Dave on his blog in response to my post above.

You said, “Please look at how Calvin interpreted Ezek 18. Calvin doesn’t go for the covenantal interpretation of Paul, but he doesn’t go for a Lutheran interpretation either. In other words, Calvin acknowledged that after justification by faith has been established, a legitimate form of justification or righteousness on the level of works also exists.”

I trust that what you say about Calvin’s interpretation is correct. It is exactly what I was trying to say to you in my critique, and although I can see how you are interpreting it, it does not back up your Theses!

Finally, Steve you said, “Now if Dave is really means to say in his point no. 3 that the righteousness of absolute obedience only applies to Christ, I thoroughly agree with him. But this does not rule out the fact that in the Bible covenant obedience, which is a genuine, albeit imperfect, positive response to the word of God that is worked in believers by the Spirit of God, is also called righteousness. Jesus came not only to be our righteousness, but also to make us righteous; and both of these types of righteousness are mentioned in the Scriptures.” I fully agree Steve. My beef with your Theses is that you suggest that these righteous works are an essential part of our salvation. To predict where you might go with that statement, yep, a part of God’s judgement is that he will look at our ‘fruit’, but this is because the fruit indicates (in accordance with our faith) what Christ has done in us. It is wrong to suggest that those in Christ will be judged purely upon their works, or for that matter to suggest that Abraham, Moses or David will be.

Thanks for the discussion Steve. Although I am not 100% certain that I understand where you are coming from, nothing you have said yet suggests that I have misread you or your Theses. I look forward to your interaction with these comments and you further responses to my points!

Steven Coxhead said...

If you pay attention to the Hebrew of Gen 15:6, it is clear that Abraham's faith is imputed to him as righteousness. In other words, faith is the right response to God's word, and when you exercise faith God acknowledges that as righteousness.

The Old Testament view is that those who are righteous benefit from the blessings of the covenant, which includes being clothed in the righteousness of the perfect, God-given sacrifice (which is ultimately Christ).

We can't know for sure, but my hunch is that Paul was probably a godly Jew, and responding appropriately to God, up until he first heard the gospel, rejected it, and started persecuting the church. Zecharias and Elizabeth were blameless "in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord" (Luke 1:6). If that was gain for them, why couldn't it have been for Paul?

You ask me to show you one person (apart from Christ) who has kept the law? There are so many, I'll have to make this the topic of a separate post. But for starters, I'll name two! You'll find their names written in Luke 1:6.

Regarding Calvin, my theses are talking about level 2 justification (i.e., the righteousness of good works leads to justification on the level of the covenant) primarily from the Old Testament perspective, while acknowledging the truth of level 1 justification in the introductory comments. You haven't fully understood what I'm doing in the 32 theses. When you have double justification clearer in your mind, then hopefully you'll understand what I'm doing. I am not suggesting that people will be judged purely on their works.

Steven Coxhead said...

This is a copy of comment no. 6 from Dave on his blog in response to my post above.

Dave Woolcott
December 29th, 2009 on 12:15 pm

Also, I should add after my last comment that when you say, “Jesus came not only to be our righteousness, but also to make us righteous; and both of these types of righteousness are mentioned in the Scriptures.” I agree with you, except that I think to understand it correctly we have to see them as one type of righteousness, not two.

As I said in my critique, one leads to the other because the two are inseperable. Thus, the “righteousness of God” imputed onto us is both the Righteousness of what Jesus does in his perfect life AND the righteousness that we live out in this life as believers. BUT (and a big but!) they cannot be seperated. Any righteousness we live out in Christ was impossible to live out before we were believers. Before we were slaves to sin, now we are slaves to righteousness, as Paul says.

Because these two types of righteousness cannot be seperated we do not need to reconcile two types of righteousness, or two types of justification. What we do need to remember is that both these types of righteousness ultimately come through Christ. We are not capable of either type in and of ourselves.

I do wonder if this is getting more to the heart of the discussion? I would love your thoughts when you have the time Steve! ;-)

Dave said...

Confusion raigns! Not because I have not understood stuff you have said Steve, but rather becaue I have not been aware that you have said it! I only just discovered these comments. I have been posting my comments on my blog, and more recently here, because you seem to want to hold the discussion here. The result is that I have been checking my blog and parts of your blog for comments...but missed theses ones!

Personally, I think we differ on some stuff but I do not think it is BIG stuff, if you know what I mean. In fact Steve, I have found you very refreshing to interact with regarding some of your thoughts! I hope my 'not always reformed' type views do not concern you too much!

To me, if we were going to narrow the discussion down to what counts, then it is this idea of double justification. Perhaps I do not struggle with it as much as some...but I do struggle with it. I recognise what you are talking about, but think you are slightly, SLIGHTLY off!

I'll be back!

Dave said...

You answered my request of a person other than Jesus who has been made righteouse through the law. You gave me two - from Luke 1:6. I confess I was intrigued and excited...but then let down :-(

Yes, the text says the were righteouse before God...and that they were also blameless in the commandments and ordinances of God. But the text does not say that they were righteous through the works of the law. They certainly could not be faulted in their external carrying out of the law, but this is not how people are made righteous - and the text does not say it is.

Now, I guess the only concern that I have that I would like you to explain to me is your comment, "I am not suggesting that people will be judged purely on their works." I realise this, which was th ewhole point of my point 10 in my critique. If you are going to have two types of justification, what is the winning formula? I would really like you to explain to me how this works. How do you, Steve Coxhead, see yourself justified before God? What do you have to believe and what do you have to do?

Steven Coxhead said...

I think I'll do a separate post on what Paul means by the righteousness of God; but, yes, it is a comprehensive concept that includes everything that God does to save us in Christ; so yes, I also would view the Holy Spirit moving us to respond in the right way to God (covenant righteousness) as part of the righteousness of God. I'll cover Paul's use of imputation language later on in the relevant post.

I agree that the two kinds of righteousness that we are talking about (the righteousness of sacrifice/Christ and the covenant righteousness worked in believers by the Holy Spirit) have an organic connection. I personally do not feel the need that these two kinds of righteousness need to be reconciled, but it is an issue in Old Testament studies: How does the strong call by Moses and the prophets for covenant righteousness on the part of the people of Israel fit in with the necessity of the righteousness of sacrifice (i.e., the righteousness of Christ)?

I believe I understand how these two kinds of righteousness fit together in the Old Testament Hebrew way of thinking, but other people have trouble understanding, and sometimes think there is a possible or (at first glance) an apparent contradiction in the Old Testament—Calvin is a case in point—such that these truths of Scripture need to be reconciled. The issue is not really reconciling these two kinds of righteousness, but reconciling Scripture with Scripture in relation to this issue. Speaking of how these two kinds of righteousness relate together would be more accurate, and would be the language I would personally use. I actually critique Calvin in my MTh thesis on this issue precisely because he feels a need to reconcile the teaching regarding righteousness in Ezek 18:5-9 with the doctrine of justification by faith alone. So hopefully we have the same concern here.

I also agree thoroughly with you that we must be linked to Christ through faith before we can be slaves to righteousness, and that such sanctification/righteousness is the work of the Spirit in us, not something we perform in and of ourselves. I have never disputed that.

The key to understanding the 32 thesis is understanding that the issue they deal with originates from a particular topic of debate in Old Testament studies. See thesis no. 7: "How then are the requirements for moral perfection (absolute righteousness) and covenant faithfulness/commitment (covenant righteousness) to be reconciled?" Notice that it is a reconciliation of the requirements for these two kinds of righteousness, not a reconciliation of these two kinds of righteousness per se (despite what the catchy title of the theses might suggest).

Steven Coxhead said...

Sorry you were disappointed with Luke 1:6. There are clearer examples. I'll do them in a separate post, because it'll help us to look at the language of law-keeping in the Old Testament.

About my own personal view of justification, and how I would explain it to my kids? Well, I'll put it in adult language for the sake of the readers of this blog.

What counts is being covered with the righteousness of Christ.

But the question is: How can that take place?

My answer: By faith!

And faith I understand to be receiving Christ, his righteousness, and all that he has to give us, and that such faith needs to persevere (i.e., to be an ongoing reality in our lives).

Hopefully nothing controversial there.

Dave said...

I like your last two comments Steve.

With regards to your own personal view of justification, I notice that it appears very 'single' rather than double justificationish. Am I missing something? To be honest it is very boringly non controversial!

Or is the secret in the 'persevere'?

Steven Coxhead said...

Well, I could start talking about faith as covenant righteousness, and that there is a difference between the sheep and the goats on the day of judgment, with the sheepiness of the sheep being acknowledged in some way as opposed to the goatiness of the goats, but I usually only invoke controversial concepts like that when exegeting the relevant parts of Scripture in more formal theological contexts.

In terms of my personal daily walk with God, having God's word in my heart, following in the footsteps of Jesus, keeping my focus on him, is how I normally think of things. All quite simple really.

Let's just call it, walking the Berith Road.

Dave said...

Happy New Year Steve!

Now, on with the business!

I think this would be good to talk about! Your sheep and goat example might be controversial for some, but Jesus told the parable so we should look at it. I get the feeling it will help me understand what you are saying. Correct me if I am wrong but I assume you are saying:

*The sheep were justified by what they did.

*The goats we not justified because of what they failed to do.

*So for you personally, being a sheep means living God’s way in Christ.

Now, if I am correct in my assumptions (I am just trying to understand you), then have you not confused living in Christ (or living by the law of the Spirit of life i.e. Romans 8:2) with receiving forgiveness of sins and reconcilliation with God?

Surely the parable of the sheep and the goats is to demonstrate that we are known through our love for one another. After all, Jesus said we would be known by others as his disciples if we love one another. This fits in with 1 John where we are either of the light or in the darkness. John firmly believes, as do I, that anyone who lives in the light will love (1 JOhn 2:9-11).

Is it double justification or simply single justification and santification?

Steven Coxhead said...

Hi Dave,

Happy New Year in the Lord to you as well.

About your question, if you understand the point about double justification, you'll realize that it's all a matter of perspective. Are we focusing on the beginning of the Christian life and what flows from that, or are we focusing on the day of judgment and what must precede that?

We Protestants are preoccupied by the former, but in the Old Testament and Judaism generally, being in covenant relationship with God is already a given. So for them the question is being right with God now (out of gratitude to God, yes, but also) as a preparation for being right with God on the day of judgment. Please notice what Paul prays in Phil 1:10.

In fact, all of Jesus' parables in Matt 25 focus on being ready for the day of judgment. Notice Jesus' words in Matt 25:34-35: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For [you did good things to me in doing good things to my brothers and sisters]." Jesus links entrance into the eternal state with good works done as his disciples have been blessed by God to inherit what God has prepared for them even before the world was created. It's not just that we are known to be his through our love for others. In Jesus' thinking, there is a causal link between the believer's good works and entrance into the kingdom. As we love Jesus' brothers and sisters, we love Jesus; and being adjudged by God to be one of those who love Jesus, one of those who have been watching and waiting (Matt 25:1-12), one of those who have used their talents well (Matt 25:21), there will be certain privileges that will be ours on the day of judgment.

Paul too sees a causal link between sanctification and salvation on the day of judgment. See Rom 2:6-10. "To those who by patience in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, [God] will give eternal life." And Rom 6:22: "now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." According to Paul here, sanctification results in eternal life. See also Rom 8:13; 11:22; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; 6:8.

Verses like these led Calvin to speak of good works as "inferior causes" of salvation. In other words, God brings his people to salvation on the final day through covenant obedience, and this is taken into account in some way on the day of judgment. It's like God is so gracious that on the day of judgment he wants our entrance into the kingdom to be seen not just as a consequence of Christ's absolute righteousness, but also as a reward for the covenant obedience that God himself has worked in us! We share in the righteousness and glory of Christ on that day, not just through being covered by Christ's righteousness, but also through the acknowledgement that Christ has been graciously at work in us! It's like Christ shares some of his honor with us on that day!

I don't know about you, but I find that thought totally amazing: that even on the day of judgment, when all the focus should be on Christ, he shares some of his glory with us!

Steven Coxhead said...

If I could speculate as to how it all fits together, it would be something like this: upon conversion we enter immediately into a state of absolute justification on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Christ. But upon conversion, we also receive the Holy Spirit, who moves us to covenant obedience (Ezek 36:26-27; Rom 8:4).

Now, on the day of judgment it seems to me that three judgments will effectively be made, and the logical order would be something like this:

(1) The books will be opened and our sins read out; it will be clear that we have all sinned against God; it will be clear that we all deserve condemnation and death. This is absolute condemnation; and we will acknowledge our sin and unworthiness.

(2) But then Jesus will intercede for us in his own court room, and say something like: "But you are in covenant with me, and have been a faithful servant of mine, through the power of my Spirit in the context of my grace." This is covenantal justification.

(3) Then Jesus will say something like: "As one of my people through faith, and on the basis of my covenant promise, receive now officially the white robe of my righteousness which qualifies you to enter the kingdom and to experience the fullness of eternal life." This is absolute justification, i.e., the official, public proclamation of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer.

I take as the model for this reconstruction the procedure of what took place in the Old Testament temple. As you approached the temple, there was an acknowledgment of the absolute holiness of God. No one can compare with God; we are all stained with sin. But, according to God's gracious covenant promise, the covenantally righteous were allowed to enter through the temple gate to offer sacrifice (Ps 24:3-5). And on the basis of the "perfect" sacrifice, they were allowed to have fellowship with God.

Please notice Rev 3:5: "The one who conquers will be clothed ... in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels."

Being clothed with the garments of Christ's righteousness now through faith, it is important to conquer (i.e., to live the covenant life) with a view to sharing in Christ's righteousness on the day of judgment.

Double justification is simply a function of the "now-not yet" structure of the process of salvation.

Dave said...

Steve, very interesting! You note that Paul too sees a causal link between sanctification and salvation on the day of judgement. I agree, as a part of our sanctification is becoming more like Christ, or becoming mature in Christ. I am not sure how Calvin comes to see this as “inferior causes” of salvation. I personally do not see that link there at all, though I see why you are saying it. To me it is more than a stretch, it is just wrong! Sorry!

Yes, they are brought to salvation on judgement day by covenant obedience, but not ours, rather Jesus’. For me this means that Jesus does share much of his honour with us on that day.

With regards to your speculation about how it all fits together. I think you are making conclusions that are not there to be made. You did say it was speculation! I do not see your points 2 and 3 as different. When Jesus says that we are in covenant (pt 2), it will not be because of what we have done outside of Christ (you have more or less agreed with this I believe). As a result it is the same as point 3.

When you quote Psalm 24:3-5 you must be working on the assumption the clean hands and a pure heart can come from works of the law ‘alone’ and not through Christ (and his work in us) to make it fit your model. I believe that this is a problem!

Steven Coxhead said...

Calvin argues that a segment in the order of salvation that precedes another is sometimes viewed in Scripture as a cause. That's fair enough, I think, as long as it's understood as being worked in us by God.

By the way, Dave, do you have trouble with the traditional Reformed language that works are not involved in justification, but that they are necessary for salvation? How would you explain 2 Pet 1:10-11?

How it all fits together on the day, we'll have to wait and see. I did say it was speculation, my best guess. Regarding point 2, are you saying that "Well done, good and faithful servant" (or something to that effect, maybe not so good), will not be heard spoken on the day of judgment? Sure, it's all in Christ, but it is still a judgment made by God concerning our response to the covenant. Everything will be made clear on that day.

Psalm 24:4 is talking about the covenant righteousness (worked by the Holy Spirit) in a believer, so I think you've misunderstood me on Ps 24. This is classic Old Testament covenantal logic. The covenantally righteous shares in the blessings of the covenant, which are talked about in v. 5 (i.e., blessing and righteousness). Interesting that the order is clean hands and a pure heart lead to the gift of righteousness. You always feel the need to twist things around such that the gift always comes first. Truth is: at the beginning and at the end, are both true.

Steven Coxhead said...

That Ps 24:4-5 is talking about the covenantally righteous is made clear in Ps 24:6. Those who seek Yahweh is a classic Old Testament expression to denote those who seek to worship Yahweh in the proper manner, i.e., through prayer, temple worship, and the pursuit of torah righteousness (see Deut 4:29; 12:5; Ps 9:10; Prov 28:5; and especially Isa 51:1 and Hos 3:5; 10:12).

Dave said...

In response to your last two comments…

You said, “By the way, Dave, do you have trouble with the traditional Reformed language that works are not involved in justification, but that they are necessary for salvation? How would you explain 2 Pet 1:10-11?”

I do not have trouble with the traditional reformed language though I would prefer, “Works are not involved with justification though justification involves works”. Yes, I did mean to say that!
I have no trouble with 2 Peter 1:10-11, especially when given in context (c.f. 2 Peter 1:3-9…which I believe backs up my position beautifully!!).

I guess we will have to wait and see how it all works out on the day! I am sure we will hear, “Well done good and faithful servant” (or words to that effect). Who knows, it might even happen in the order you suggest, but the reality of how we have been good and faithful servants is through what Christ has done. I know you are not denying this, but you have not reason to place things in the order you have. Not only that, but you are reversing the way it works in peoples lives.

I have heard people say that is you cannot love someone, do loving things towards them and you will learn to love them. To me this is just a way to resent them even more! It is true though to say that if you love someone who is unloveable, they will become more loveable. Not because your attitude towards them changed, but because love changes people. As John says, we love because God first loved us. What concerns me about your perspective (be it new or not!) is that you expect people to change through doing good things before they have experienced God’s love.

You said, “You always feel the need to twist things around such that the gift always comes first. Truth is: at the beginning and at the end, are both true.”

I am sure something is being distorted…but who is doing the distorting? That is the question! At the beginning and at the end, both are true, but as I have just tried to outline to you, in human hearts there needs to be an order, otherwise we simply make things harder for believers. Being made fully righteous in Christ is a part of becoming the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit so Jesus can complete his work in us. You seem to want to start with works that you claim are through the Spirit, yet without the righteousness of Christ through which the Holy Spirit can work.

Psalm 24:4 has the order of clean hands before clean hearts. True (thgough it ends with not swearing decietfully i.s. torah). And yet with the rich young ruler who wanted to know what to do to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus started with the clean hands, and finished with the pure heart. I hesitate at brinig this story up because I can see how you can use it to back up your own position – yet I can also see how it backs up mine. The young man was not ‘justified’ until his heart was pure…he went away sad!

Thanks for all the verses re seeking Yahweh. I do not agree that they all point to law keeping as being the means through which people seek Yahweh. Rather they suggest things like seeking with all our heart and soul. Psalm 9:10 is clear that those who seek him are those who have faith in him!

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, Dave. Please be assured that I believe that everything starts with God and ends with him. In God, love is eternal; and because of love God created this universe in the first place.

And please be assured that I firmly believe that we must be linked to Christ by faith at conversion before the Spirit can sanctify us.

The 32 theses do actually suggest that there are places in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) where the beginning is not mentioned because it is presupposed. Union in Christ is presupposed, and the orientation is the way it is in the theses reflecting the Old Testament eschatological orientation, that because we are in covenant with God because of what he has done for us in the past, we should pursue the things of God in the present, with a view to a greater experience of these things in the future.

If you'd like to know the bigger picture (something I am keen to stress with all my OT students), I believe that God actually created the world for the purpose of revealing himself. God wants to share all of the good and wondrous aspects of his person and character with creatures made specially in his image such that we might be able to understand and appreciate him. So love doesn't just make the world go round, it made the world in the first place.

Far be it from me to deny the primacy of God's love. God's love comes first, and yet Jesus can say: "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him" (John 14:21).

Do you see what I'm saying? Both things are true. God loves us first (always has), but he also promises that as we give ourselves over in love to him, a greater experience of his love will be there for us to enjoy.

Like a marriage. Aren't we supposed to grow in love for our partner? Love at the beginning, love in the middle, but richer and richer as time goes on. And when it comes to the marriage between Christ and the church, while marveling at the wondrous beginning of the relationship, let's just remember that there's also a consummation of this love, which we should be amazed by too.

I admit the priority of what you are stressing, but the end of the story also deserves some attention. The beginning has priority, but without the consummation the full story has not been told.

The beginning and the end; the alpha and omega. I get the impression that God likes both.

Dave said...

Steve, I agree with everything you said (and it warms my heart with warm fuzzies…cause love does that) except for your use of John 14:21. I believe that textually it can be understood as those who are loving Jesus/God do so because they are linked to him (See where John goes in John 15:1-12). Also though, this is the John who tells us in 1 John 4:17-19 where we are shown that perfect love is the experience we need to drive out fear so we can love.

I understand that you want both, yet all the examples you have given me have either been inconclusive in my opinion or backed up my view when put in context.

Please understand that my position also highlights the end. I agree with everything you say about growing in love and God revealing himself.

Steven Coxhead said...

It's not that I want both. My life would be a lot easier if that aspect was not present in Scripture.

Regarding John 14:21, I agree about John 15, but I think I need to say in response to the rest of your comment that it is legitimate theologically (and pastorally appropriate) when exegeting John 14:21 to say we can only do that as we're linked with Christ—and to say also that Jesus' love precedes any love that we may have for him—but from a strict exegetical point of view that particular verse is an encouragement for Jesus' disciples to continue to love him through obedience with a view to experiencing his love through his coming to them in the Holy Spirit.

I also note in passing the similar language of Peter in Acts 5:32, that God had given the Holy Spirit "to those who obey him."

Surely we should be allowed to repeat the language of Scripture without having to couch everything all the time. You seem to be particularly sensitive; perhaps even over-sensitive? Do we always need to make explicit what lies presupposed in the wider theological context? As long as the presuppositions are shared, I can't see what is wrong if occasionally they aren't mentioned. You can't say everything in one breath, and this seems to apply to the Holy Spirit too (at least when he speaks human languages). But where the presuppositions are not shared, by all means bring them out; but I hope the actual content of the text also gets a mention.

Dave said...

Steve, you said, “It’s not that I want both. My life would be a lot easier if that aspect was not present in Scripture.”

Why would your life be easier if it was not there? You have agreed with me that we only do what we can through the Holy Spirit working in us, that any righteousness or good works come from God. So why is it hard to do these things that God works in you? I am confused by this comment. Perhaps when you do your post on keeping the law it will become clearer?

Steve, I think I agree with your second paragraph because I assume that when you say, “from a strict exegetical point of view that particular verse is an encouragement for Jesus’ disciples to continue to love him through obedience with a view to experiencing his love through his coming to them in the Holy Spirit” you still mean what you said in the first half of the paragraph. If so, this is exactly what I am saying!

So when I come to Acts 5:32 I agree, that God has given his Holy Spirit to those who obey him. Those who have the Holy Spirit obey Jesus. Somehow I do not think we are on the same page…but I am agreeing with you! Perhaps it is the next paragraph that makes me think we are not on the same page yet!

I believe we should repeat the language of scripture…I am right into that! So with Acts 5:32, to say that the Holy Spirit is given as a reward to those who obey Jesus is to say more than the text originally said. ALL the text says is that those who obey Jesus have been given his Spirit. NO comment on order or what came when. This is where we do need to look towards the wider theological context to learn more.

Yes, I am sensitive; perhaps even over-sensitive with regards to the way I see things needing to be said, but this is because this is what I believe it is saying. Although you can’t say everything in one breath, the context, the presuppositions are important and need to be applied.

Steve, you have so far not given me a text that says clearly that obedience comes before salvation/righteousness/justification. All the ones that you have given me, e.g. Acts 5:32 DO NOT back up your point and I would ask you not to read your understanding into the texts! Further to this, I think it is worth revisiting John 14:21, as you brought it up

This is what is said leading up to John 14:21.
*”I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (v. 6)
*”Truly truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”. (v.12)
*”If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (v. 15)
*”Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” (v. 21)

I believe that my understanding lets the text speak!

Steven Coxhead said...

Sorry, Dave, for that enigmatic comment. My life would be easier in the sense that my career in theological education wouldn't have encountered the opposition that it has.

Regarding Acts 5:32, I think there is an order there on account of the grammatical logic; and if we don't understand that, we end up twisting the meaning of the verse. Basically what Peter is saying is that obedience to God in the new covenant age means accepting Jesus as Leader and Savior (v. 31), and that on account of that faith/obedience in the disciples, the Holy Spirit has been given to them (with the implication that you non-Christian Jewish leaders have missed out). I admit that the obedience of faith at conversion is worked in us by the Holy Spirit in the first place, but the order obedience (of conversion) leading to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is nonetheless present in the text.

It's something like the order in Acts 2:42: repent and be baptized, and then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Surely there's an order there!

Your logic for Acts 5:32 is something like God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him after receiving the Holy Spirit. I do think that is twisting things.

You'd probably use a similar "logic" for Heb 5:9.

What about Rev 3:4-5? Is there no order there? Even the language of being worthy to walk with Jesus in white is used!

The way it all goes together, I suggest, is like this:

A) the Holy Spirit moves us to accept the gospel (i.e., conversion);

B) at conversion we enter a state of justification (absolute justification in Christ through faith);

C) conversion also entails the reception of the gift of the Spirit;

D) the Spirit works sanctification in us;

E) sanctification results in, on the day of judgment, an acknowledgment that we have lived a sanctified life through the power of the Spirit (covenantal justification), and (most importantly) a formal proclamation that Jesus' blood covers our sins (absolute justification);

F) absolute justification on the day of judgment then qualifies us to experience the realization of the fullness of the promised blessing.

All I'm saying is that sometimes in Scripture a writer may say: "Make sure you have D, because we have to have D in order to experience F."

In saying D leads to F, they are not denying the rest, but they are still saying D is necessary for F, therefore pursue D. And sometimes they may even summarize D as "obey," hence sentiments like obedience is a condition for eternal life, or Heb 12:14: "Strive ... for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."

I feel that you are not allowing Scripture the right to say D -> F when it wants to.

Steven Coxhead said...

Romans 8:13: "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

What clearer example could we have than this that D -> F?

Hence Phil 1:9-11: "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."

In other words, D -> E (part A). Paul wants us to be filled with the fruits of righteousness on the day of judgment for God's glory, but also because he is aware that there will be a judgment on the level of our covenant response. See also 1 Cor 3:13-15.

Steven Coxhead said...

Regarding the 32 theses, they reflect that fact that, in the Old Testament prophets as a whole, the call to repent (in the context of the covenant lawsuit that they were prosecuting against Israel) focuses on D -> E -> F.

Dave said...

Thanks for these very clarifying comments Steve. I understand what you meant by your comment, and certainly understand why you made it!

I was just lying awake this morning thinking about our discussion and verses like Acts 5:32 and I thought perhaps I should say that I am happy to accept your understanding if we see obedience as accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour! Once again we seem to find agreement!

I do not think in your comment, “Your logic for Acts 5:32 is something like God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him after receiving the Holy Spirit. I do think that is twisting things” that you have understood me, but I think we might have clarified this a bit. I thought you understood obedience to be saying “doing the works of the law”. If, however, obedience at this point is accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour, then I can even see how faith and obedience are similar. I think we are in full agreement…except perhaps the following…

I like your points A-F. I notice, when I look for double justification, that it is in B and E. Correct? To me this is different from your Theses and what you said earlier in your speculation, as earlier you were suggesting that the covenantal justification comes before absolute justification. For me that was a big sticking point, but now you declare absolute justification at B. I think if you stick to that order life should be much easier for you! I hope I am reading you right?

But this leads me to a few loose ends. You have said that there are pastoral situations where it would be appropriate to emphasise covenantal justification without the immediate context of absolute justification. I cannot think of an example. Can you offer either a Biblical or hypothetical one? (Although I am using your ‘double justification’ language I am not comfortable with it. Your covenantal justification I see as evidence of absolute justification i.e. there is only one type of justification and we either have it or not. If we have it we will live differently. If we do not live differently we do not have it.)

And really, really finally. You have not mentioned the law explicitly in your points. In Romans 8 we hear of the law of the Spirit of life. How do you see the Spirit working in us to sanctify us, and how does this relate to the law? I ask not because of an issue I have with what you have said, but because for me, the whole thing did not make sense until I nutted this out, so I am wondering where you stand. Perhaps I should outline what I believe?

Dave said...

Below is my understanding of our relationship with the law. I hope that you can see from it that I have an issue with the suggestion that there is a pastoral situation that calls for focus on covenantal justification outside of the immediate context of absolute justification.

1 – For us – fleshly individuals, the law, combined with our flesh results in sin and death. The law points to what is good, but due to it’s relationship with our flesh, it cannot get us there. Instead, because of who we are it undermines our attempts to live for God.

2 – God knows this. He even gave us more laws to emphasise the problem (i.e., he did so with a purpose). The laws were holy, righteous and good, but caused sin and death when joined with our flesh. The more explicit law is made, the harder it is for us not to break it.

3 – At the heart of the law has always been to love God, and love each other.

4 – Jesus came so that we could be justified (made holy, righteous and good) even though we have failed to meet the law. As Jesus is the only way to the Father, the law is effectively nullified (when we accept his Lordship), and as a result it’s power over us is no more. We are no longer slaves to sin.

5 – The more we know and understand how Jesus has met the demands of the law for us, the more free we are from it’s affects. This is where the hOly Spirit is helpful. Jesus makes it clear that the Holy Spirit will remind us of the truth of what Jesus has done. The HOly Spirit helps us know and understand that we are free from the demands of the law. The Holy Spirit often works through other people in our lives.

6 – Because we are free from the demands of the law, we are better able to love God and love each other. So Paul reminds us that there is only one debt that remains outstanding – that we love one another. Now, however, while we remain firmly anchored to the cross (with the help of the Spirit), we are better equipped to live the law in our lives. We are slaves to righteousness.

7 – And if we fail to love at points, as we all do, John reminds us that we have an advocate with the Father.

John Thomson said...

Re So-called covenant with Adam

1. There is little to prove that it is a covenant. Covenants are for fallen men.

2. It is different in that Adam had 'life' he could lose, however that 'life' is defined; Israel was in death and needed life.

3. There are no 'laws' only one 'law'. That is the point of the narrative. Adam had great freedom. He had but one law with a sanction and yet failed. It is a mistake to assume a probationary period leading to glorification. Adam is promised nothing if he obeys. All suggestion he is, is theological conjecture intended to build a neat covenantal system.