Paul's Passing Thoughts

Mutable Justification: Not Shocking—Just Reformed

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on October 31, 2012

Denver Sound Church is a church of the “Reformed tradition.” I have posted some of their material regarding a rejection of double imputation taught by “some in the Reformed tradition.” They reject the uniquely Reformed idea that Christ lived in perfect obedience to the law as part of the atonement, so that His perfect obedience could be imputed to our sanctification. They rightfully and forcefully make the case that such teachings are “heresy.”

Therefore, you would think that an article published by them propagating a mutable justification would be shocking to me, but not really. The idea that justification has to be maintained by us in sanctification is a Reformed family tradition. Even those who propagate the aforementioned Reformed view of double imputation believe that our justification has to be maintained by faith alone. I know that sounds no-brainer, but there is a big difference between being justified by faith alone and maintaining justification by faith alone. The latter requires faith alone in sanctification, or sanctification by faith alone in order to maintain our justification. The former is free to work in sanctification because justification is finished and immutable. But if justification is mutable as a result of our missteps, we must maintain it the same way we got it—by faith alone. So, we must maintain our justification by faith alone in sanctification. That’s where Reformed double imputation comes into play; we offer the perfect obedience of Christ to the Father in sanctification to maintain our justification.

Denver Sound Church calls that heresy, but agrees that we must maintain justification (obtained by faith alone) via obedience. Here is how they begin the post:

Despite being well-supported in Scripture, the doctrine of the loss of justification is not widely held in the contemporary Evangelical-Reformed community. Instead, most believe and teach that justification is a one-time, legal declaration by God. Contemporary theologians explain that once the decree of “justified” has been declared it cannot be revoked regardless of a person’s future actions.

The idea that justification can be lost is a minority view among Reformed Evangelicals, but that does not necessarily make it wrong. All theologians understand that the majority of Christendom is not always right. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that when it comes to theology, the majority is more often in the wrong. Examples of this from history abound: only eight people made it onto Noah’s ark, the majority of the Old Testament Jews were apostate, Roman Catholics certainly outnumbered Protestants at the beginning of the Reformation, etc.

The point is that every doctrine, even if widely accepted and even doctrines which are at the core of the Reformed faith must be put to biblical test. Our goal throughout this series is to demonstrate that Scripture does not teach justification as a one-time, merely forensic declaration, but that it is a righteous and forgiven state before God which can be lost due to unrepentant sin. Justification is gained by grace through faith alone, but must be maintained through faithfulness. This doctrine is solidly supported through biblical theology and its support from systematic theology is just as sound.

Recently, we published an article highlighting twenty three Scripture passages which teach, imply or warn that a person can lose his justification. That article was followed up with a post about why it is consistent with both Scripture and Calvinistic soteriology to say that one can lose his justification, but that salvation cannot be lost. The doctrine of the loss of justification provides a framework that adds great depth and consistency to the theological unity of Scripture. On the other hand, the more commonly held position that justification is an immutable (unable to be changed) result of a one-time expression of faith causes theological problems throughout the Bible, in fact, the belief in an immutable state of justification undermines many orthodox doctrines. Here are a few:

And the key to the problem here is the words, “orthodox doctrines.”  We owe a great debt of gratitude to church historian John Immel for pointing out that “orthodoxy” is a body of interpretation by Reformed “divines” and “doctors” of the Church. We need to be reminded that we have the same illuminating Holy Spirit that they had; or, those “divines” who actually had Him. The Sound Church guys then go on to make their case in the post with nine arguments, some of which are of the Reformed tradition to begin with.

We will address each, but first let me put the argument to bed. I would also like to preface my rebuttal with the following: I believe a careful study of the apostle Paul’s writings indicate that the offer of salvation to all men is a legitimate offer, and Paul believed that his efforts of persuasion made a difference. How do I reconcile that with God’s knowledge of the future and how He makes that a part of His preordained plan? The best I can do is to state that God wants to involve us in the process while preserving all glory unto Himself. How He weaves His sovereignty together with our will is a mystery, and a debate that I do not enter into.

With that said, I believe justification is immutable because of Romans 8:30:

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

And when did that happen?

Ephesians 1:4 – even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Are we already glorified? No, but I believe Romans 8:30 states our glorification in the past tense in regard to its certainty which is connected to our justification. Glorification comes part and parcel with our justification.

Christ furthers this point:

John 10: 27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.

How peculiar that Calvinism is associated with predestination, yet many of the Reformed tradition believe that we can lose our salvation. Note what Michael Horton writes on page 62 of Christless Christianity:

Where we land on these issues is perhaps the most significant factor in how we approach our own faith and practice and communicate it to the world. If not only the unregenerate but the regenerate are always dependent at every moment on the free grace of God disclosed in the gospel, then nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image. Start with Christ (that is, the gospel) and you get sanctification in the bargain; begin with Christ and move on to something else, and you lose both.

Both what? Answer: justification and sanctification. How peculiar that a doctrine associated with predestination also teaches that we can lose our justification. But they offer assurance that this won’t happen in something that might surprise you, and is offered as one of the nine arguments in said post. Yes, you are predestined for justification, but you can lose it, and the status thereof can change (mutable) under certain conditions. We will get to that, but let me state beforehand that assurance of salvation comes through obedience in sanctification (2Peter 1:5-11 is one of many examples). Our justification cannot change, but assurance of our standing can. Lack of assurance is a time for reevaluation and examination in our Christian lives. And hopefully, we will be associated with those who can help us with the word of God as well.

This brings us to the first argument given:

1. If justification is immutable, then the doctrine of sola fide is destroyed.

So what? Sola fide is one of the five solas of Reformed orthodoxy. It’s NOT Scripture—it’s orthodoxy. And not only that, to many in the Reformed tradition, it isn’t faith alone for justification, but faith alone for sanctification as well. In sanctification, we are called on to mix our faith with works/obedience for the purpose of showing forth our faith—leading to “blessings.” This is what the whole book of James is about. Though Denver Sound Church is not in this camp (sola fide in sanctification), using Reformed orthodoxy as an argument is dead on arrival. And though they offer twenty-three Scriptural arguments in another post, it is obvious from John 10:27, Romans 8:30, and Ephesians 1:4 that those citations cannot be used to make a case for mutable justification. Furthermore, I have reviewed those arguments and do not find them compelling, but you can read them for yourself here;  http://www.soundchurch.org/23-bible-passages-which-teach-the-loss-of-something/ . And by the way, let me further my point on Reformed orthodoxy, and the five solas in particular by saying that Solus Christus is blatantly unbiblical. Salvation is not by Christ alone. The Father elected, the Spirit set us apart, and Christ died for our sins. Salvation is Trinitarian; it is not through Christ alone.

2. If justification is immutable, then church discipline is an empty threat with no realistic consequences.

This is the money argument that takes the place of true biblical assurance, and according to church historian John Immel, is the real crux of Reformed orthodoxy. Justification is maintained and assured by submitting to the authority of the Church and being a member in good standing. This is tied to elder rule which supposedly has the authority to declare people unjustified:

An immutable justification means that the removal from the covenant community (the final step of the process of church discipline) has no teeth. In fact, if one who has been excommunicated retains his justification, church discipline might actually seem like a better situation for the person who has been removed from the church. If justification remains intact, life without membership in the covenant community might actually be attractive to some folks. To eventually go to heaven without enjoying potlucks in the basement or having to deal with the interpersonal relationship stresses that come with church participation seems like a pretty good deal!

However, despite what some may say, Scripture makes it clear that there is no justification available to a person who is outside of the local biblical church. Thus, the only conclusion that we can make is that one who is removed from the covenant community has lost his justification. The belief in an immutable justification is logically inconsistent because it creates a class of believers who are on the “outs” with God’s people, but yet somehow still “in” with God. This is biblically impossible. All believers will be in a biblical, visible, local church – the Body of Christ (Acts 2:38-41; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Ephesians 1:23). The person who is not in the visible, local church cannot be a believer and is therefore, not reconciled to God – i.e. not justified.

By a local “biblical” church, they mean Reformed. So, regardless of the fact that Reformed orthodoxy is fraught with biblical error (like the Synod of Dort total depravity that is also the total depravity of the saints), and we are only truly sanctified by truth (John 17:17), we hold up our part of the marriage covenant (justification) by submitting to a local church whether they are bearing the truth or not. This in and of itself is another element of a long list of error. Justification is a covenant that God upholds Himself; it is a covenant that God in no wise trusts us to uphold in any way, shape, or form. We have a picture of this in Genesis chapter 15. God put Abraham in a deep sleep and consummated the covenant Himself. When God makes any covenant with mankind, he is the one that guarantees it, and we have no part of that guarantee. We cannot participate in the maintaining of any covenant with God any more than Noah participated in making rainbows.

3. If justification is immutable, then obedience becomes optional.

Obedience is optional, but with consequences following: lack of assurance, discipline, loss of rewards, sin unto death, etc., etc., etc. You can read this post for yourself here:  http://www.soundchurch.org/if-justification-is-immutable/  ,but I am not going to address #3 at length.

4. If justification is immutable, then apostasy is a myth.

I believe I stared apostasy in the face shortly before I gave my life over to Christ. God had reach out to me through other people for almost two years. It came to a point where I knew that if I didn’t respond to what God had used other people to do in my life to that point—I never would. What else was God going to do to convince me? I had a very strong sense that it was then, or never. I believe Scripture validates that experience. Again, I have supplied the link to their argument which you can read for yourselves.

 5. If justification is immutable, then there is no reason for the Church to exist.

 This relates to #2. Basically the same argument.

6. If justification is immutable, then a large number of the parables of Jesus are pointless.

Again, you can read this argument for yourself—I do not find it compelling in light of reconciling Romans 8:30 and the other cited passages.

7. If justification is immutable, then pastors and churches are liars.

 See #2.

8. If justification is immutable, then the marriage covenant is irrelevant to salvation.

 See #2.

9. If justification is immutable, then the final judgment according to deeds is a kangaroo court.

Again, this argument depends heavily, heavily on Reformed orthodoxy which holds to one resurrection and one judgment. A biblical argument for two resurrections and 2-3 judgments is very strong if the Scriptures are taken literally.

What was the “Reformation”? What did it reform? It Reformed the Catholic Church. But Scripture doesn’t say to reform heresy; it commands us to “come out from among them.” Yet, the father of the Reformation, Saint Augustine, never repented of being a Catholic nor disavowed the Catholic Church. And the Reformed community is looking more like the Catholic Church everyday despite claims to the contrary. We see the same basic philosophy concerning church authority that seeks to control people and tell them how to think. It is the same philosophy that has always led to the same tyranny whether in Rome or Geneva.

And neither have ever repented of it.

paul

13 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on October 31, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.

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  2. Winston Smith said, on October 31, 2012 at 9:03 PM

    Reading this I can see that this Church is a victim of “Covenant Theology” which is the classic Reformed hermeneutic system of interpreting scripture. It conflates the Old Covenant with the New Covenant rather than the New replacing the Old. As a result, reformed churches believe the blessings and cursings which were part of the OT covenant with OT Israel  (See Deuteronomy 28) are binding to the church today. This is also the basis for the heresy of Post-Millenialism as they see the nations of the earth as separate “Covenant Communities”  each having a direct covenant with God which brings blessings and cursings.

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  3. Argo said, on October 31, 2012 at 10:37 PM

    Paul,

    Well said. If one cannot lose their salvation, then with what do they lord? I guess the threat of burning at the stake is compelling, but how much better the threat of GOD burning you at the stake…forever. For not following THEIR arbitrary whims as the gnostic powers that be.

    As far as whether or not a believer him or herself can chose to reject his or her salvation…I admit that it, along side the free will/election debate, is the most strange and confounding.

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  4. Josh C said, on November 15, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Paul, are justification and salvation the same thing?

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on November 15, 2012 at 1:02 PM

      Josh,

      I would answer that question the same way, but with different words depending on who is asking the question. So, in deciding which terminology to use let me qualify your question a little more with the following eschatology questions for you: How many resurrections? And, how many judgments?

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      • Josh C said, on November 15, 2012 at 1:15 PM

        Salvation and Justification are biblically defined. That should not be a difficult question, but confusing the two is causing many difficulties with your arguments.

        One resurrection, one judgment.

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      • paulspassingthoughts said, on November 15, 2012 at 2:01 PM

        Josh,

        Technically, they are not the same thing, but so what? Christ saves all that the Father elected and gave to Him, and of those, he will not lose any. Maybe you can suggest what is being missed here?

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  5. Josh C said, on November 15, 2012 at 2:46 PM

    All who have been elected unto mercy will persevere unto salvation, but Scripture makes it clear that there will be some who enter into or begin a relationship with God (justification, a right standing), but who fall away, commit apostasy, are severed from Christ, do not bear fruit, soil their garments, are excommunicated, etc. Another way to say this is that they lose their justification.

    Justification is necessary for salvation, but the initial possession of justification does not mean that one will be saved in the end. He must endure.

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on November 15, 2012 at 3:24 PM

      Josh,

      Well stated, but do you think this was Calvin’s view? Where would one find it in the Institutes? Do think it would be fair for someone to then state that the Reformed tradition believes that you can lose a salvation that you once had?

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  6. Josh C said, on November 15, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    I think it is clear from Scripture that salvation (election, calling, justification, glorification) cannot be lost. But justification can be initially entered into via faith alone, but we must then remain faithful. This was the error of theJews, they thought that because they had entered a right standing (justification) with God, they were good to go. Christ reminded them that their circumcision, ethnicity, initial justification was of no avail if they did not also keep the commandments of God in every point – not perfectly, but faithfully. This is why Paul says what he says in 1 Cor. 7:19 and Romans 2. And why a branch can be removed from the vine (John 15), a person can be severed from Christ (Galatians 5) and one who has tasted of the Spirit crucifies Christ again if he seeks to be restored.

    Calvin believed that one could fall away and that obedience is necessary for final salvation (glorification), but I don’t think he worked it out to the degree that we have from Scripture. It is important to remember that we are not going to be held accountable for the Institutes or Westminster or Heidleburg, but we are going to be held accountable for how we handled the Word.

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on November 16, 2012 at 3:47 PM

      Josh,
      The problem is a standard for faithfulness maintaining justification. Those who are justified are no longer under any standard/law that judges whether or not they are justified. The justified live BY the law as a pattern of life, but not FOR justification. We are justified “apart from the law” and it is impossible for us to sin in the eyes of justification because apart from the law, “sin lies dead.”

      That’s the problem. There is no standard or way to judge faithfulness in regard to justification because we are no longer “under the law.”

      paul

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      • Josh C said, on November 16, 2012 at 6:40 PM

        Sure there is – the New Covenant. And our faithfulness to this law will certainly be judged. This is why Paul teaches a gospel of righteousness, self-control and judgment in Acts 25 (or 24?).

        First “under the law” specifically refers to those who lived under the law in regards to cleansing (justification). They were bound to ceremonially cleanse themselves – circumcision, Sabbath, dietary laws, sacrifices, various separations, clothing requirements, etc. This was extremely difficult.

        The important thing to note is that OT “cleansing” (justification) was only passover justification – some call it IOU’s. It functioned as justification, but it was not real justification – that came with the sacrifice of Christ. In this sense, justification could not come through the law, it can only come via the blood of Christ.

        HOWEVER, ceremonial cleansing was not enough to have a relationship with God. All through the OT, God is constantly telling His people to walk according to his commandments. To be faithful, to obey. Thus, the statement, “to obey is better than sacrifice.” This is the problem with the Pharisees, they kept the ceremonial laws, but were unfaithful to the moral law. Thus, they lost their initial justification that came as a result of circumcision.

        Back to your first statement – there is a standard: it is called the New Covenant. We now have cleansing (forgiveness, justification) through faith in Christ, but just like the Jews, we must also maintain that righteousness by virtue of faithfulness to the moral law – which, by the way, has been the same since Adam and Eve. Furthermore, under the new covenant, it is the Church (the Body of Christ) that is the focus of this covenant. We are enslaved to God, we are bound to the law of the Spirit, the law of Christ, etc. We have all kinds of instruction in Scripture about how to keep the law of God and what to do when we break it.

        The key is the covenant community, however. There is no justification outside of the visible, local church.

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      • paulspassingthoughts said, on November 16, 2012 at 8:45 PM

        Josh,

        Indulge me here. Why am I tempted to see being “under the law” as synonymous with being under the dominion and control of sin? Being under grace obeys the gospel (ie, word, law, truth) for the purpose of experiencing salvation which is separate from justification. Justification cancels/abolishes the law. Here is the temptation:

        Romans 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
        15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

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