Paul's Passing Thoughts

Our Justification Crisis, Perseverance, and Assurance: Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on June 17, 2013

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Last week we looked at the nature of the present-day justification crises. Tonight we will look at the relationship between justification, perseverance, and assurance of salvation. This is another topical subject related to the book of Romans that we are adding to our verse by verse study. I have interjected this study because of the rampant confusion related to perseverance and the Christian. Granted, there are verses in the Bible that seem to indicate that Christians have to persevere in their faith to obtain a “final justification.”

If there is anything about election that would endear detractors at all, it is the idea that our justification was determined before the creation of the world, and therefore, there is nothing we or anyone else can do in sanctification to mess that up. Once saved, always saved. Traditionally, Calvinists have been primarily associated with this election idea. The idea makes people uneasy, but at least you get assurance of salvation in the deal. Or do you?

In our endeavor to understand the paramount subject of justification, Calvinism and Reformed doctrine in general must be dealt with. Why? Because as the lazy-thinking church slumbered, Calvinists have established a doctrinal foundation. They own the history. They own the seminaries. They own the publishing companies. They own the debate. They are accepted out of hand as the ones who know. This is what they do—they attempt to create a reality that yields the results that they want. And in our day, they have nearly succeeded. If not for the internet, this would be a done deal.

Many assumptions prevail: total depravity only pertains to the unregenerate. Faith alone (sola fide) only pertains to justification. Christ alone (solus Christus) doesn’t literally mean “Christ alone” to the exclusion of the other Trinity members. Scripture alone (Sola scriptura): instruction for life and godliness, or a meta-narrative for gospel contemplationism? And now we find that election doesn’t really mean “election” per se. Now we find that election justifies you, if you are chosen, but you have to persevere in order to obtain “final justification.”

And this idea is split up into two authentic Calvinism camps. In one camp, the Christian must persevere in sanctification by faith alone with his/her primary nemesis being the temptation to “obey in our own efforts.” “Effort” is the essence of works salvation. Augustine and Calvin both taught that the Sabbath rest was sanctification specifically. Because salvation is a “golden chain” where justification starts, and progresses in the middle towards final justification, we must maintain our justification in the same way that it began at the beginning of the chain. By faith alone. This is the double imputation crowd. Christ’s passive obedience to the cross secured our justification, His active obedience to the law while He lived on earth is imputed to our sanctification as long as we live by faith alone in sanctification. To the contrary, biblical double imputation is the imputation of God the Father’s righteousness to us apart from the law by faith in Christ alone, and the imputation of our sin to Christ. The imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the law being imputed to our sanctification to finish justification is NOT righteousness apart from the law.

Now the other camp. They reject Reformed double imputation, but their view of election is also an initial justification that must be maintained by our perseverance. In this case, a general faithfulness to the New Covenant. Note the following comments I received on my blog from a knowledgeable Reformed teacher from this camp:

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 the Jews, they thought that because they had entered a right standing (justification) with God, they were good to go…. 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….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?)…. 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…. 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.

Here was one of my responses that I think is the crux of my contention:

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.”

This view by camp B is specifically called, mutable justification. So, these are the two authentic Calvinist camps: Reformed double imputation and mutable justification. Both of these ideas are referred to the reformed motto, already-but not yet. Here is yet another assumption, that this is a Reformed paradox. Not so, “already” is initial justification; “not yet” is perseverance. This is why Calvinism is predicated on lack of assurance. The following is an illustration from the Reformed book, The Race Set Before Us p. 40:

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Now, let me begin by saying that election must be completely reevaluated because most of the thinking in regard to it has come from Reformed orthodoxy. That makes election according to the Reformers extremely suspect, especially since it is not really election to begin with. And trust me, for six years, I have been dealing with the justification issue and its relationship to the law and have not had time to reevaluate the metaphysics of election, and I know, much to the consternation of many of PPT’s (blog) readers. But I want to begin our evaluation of justification’s relationship to perseverance and assurance by beginning with what we do know about election. We have addressed the reality of the present-day foundation that dominates the church; now let’s look at this biblically.

What do we know today, here at the Potter’s House, about election? First, we know its purpose. Its purpose is to completely remove works from justification:

Romans 9:11 – though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

This couldn’t be clearer: God’s purpose in election is to remove all of our works from justification and make it dependent on the “call.” By the way, though I haven’t revisited the metaphysical questions of election yet, I do reject, on the basis of Scripture, that the call equals fatalistic determinism. Now, I don’t know how that fact is going to play out when I revisit this, but to date, I know that much. This brings us to the second thing that we know about election. In the following text, election is referred to as the call:

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.

Stop right there. Here is where we drive a stake. If we can’t take this at face value, neither can we take John 3:16 at face value. The two things we know about election is that it has two purposes: one, to eliminate all works in justification; therefore, perseverance must be excluded from justification because perseverance has to be judged by a standard. To meet that standard is a work. Perseverance must be severed from justification completely. Secondly, election is for assurance of salvation. Election is the bedrock of our assurance. Paul makes this clear in the next verses immediately following:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now, how can glorification be spoken of in the past tense? Because it is a finished issue. It is guaranteed. In addition, the philosophers among us can probably be a help here, but I assume there is no beginning and end in eternity. This calling took place before creation. So does this mean there was never a time when we weren’t elected? That would be an interesting discussion for the philosophers among us. But sanctification is not in Romans 8:30 because sanctification has no connection to justification. Justification results in glorification. The two are inseparable because the calling guarantees glorification.

Romans 11: 29 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

John 6:35 – Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Verses that seem to indicate a necessary perseverance by the believer to the obvious hindrance of assurance must be interpreted in light of Romans 8:30 and 9:11-13. These verses are definitive. Furthermore, 1John 5:13 states unequivocally that we can presently know that we have eternal life. If final justification awaits a confirmation in the future as a result of our perseverance, this is ambiguous at best. Though we are born again, our ultimate confidence, our sure confidence, is in God. Moreover, the New Covenant is a one-way covenant that does not depend on anything we do. We enjoy the benefits of the covenant as heirs, but all the riches of the inheritance are because of the testator, not our contribution to that covenant. The Old Covenant was the will; the New Covenant is the inheritance upon the death of the testator, Jesus Christ. The fullness of the inheritance will be realized at the new heavens and new earth.

There are many, many, conditional promises in the Bible, for example, EPH 6:1-3, but The Promise, the Abrahamic Covenant that is built by all the other covenants, is UNCONDITIONAL. God put Abraham in a deep sleep and consummated the covenant himself. The thief on the cross contributed nothing to his election. He only believed, and was assured by God Himself that he would be in heaven that day. Not because of anything he did, there was no perseverance to be had by him—he could only hang there with the hope he had been given by God’s promise.

So what is going on with all of the verses in the Bible that seem to indicate a requirement on our part to persevere in order to obtain a supposed “final justification”? You can consider Romans 8:30 and 9:11-13 point one, and the following point 2: perseverance is stated throughout Scripture as a characteristic of salvation, but not a condition. We are engaged in warfare, and the friends of God and the enemies of God are evident. During the tribulation period as now, the side you are on is manifest. We are not justified by anything we do, but we can be called justified by what we do. Our actions justify our justification. We have a good example of this in the book of James:

James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

This isn’t that complicated. Saving faith justifies us, and is alive: therefore, works result that per se, justify us, or show that we are justified. Rahab wasn’t justified by what she did, her actions revealed the fact that she was justified. This is also the Bible’s way of making a strong statement about Christians acting like Christians. Stating that we are justified by what we do is using an obvious contradiction to get our attention: behavior is so intrinsically connected to the new birth that for all practical purposes you can say one is justified by what they do. This is the point James is making. And I think that point is made throughout Scripture:

Romans 2:13 – For the hearers of the law be not just with God, but the doers of the law shall be made just (Wycliffe Bible).

You can’t read the book of Romans and think for a second that Paul is talking about being justified by the law. The point is made here: obedience justifies the claim that we are justified. Likewise, those who are justified persevere as a characteristic of the justified; the perseverance does not make them justified. It’s our character resulting in practice, not our position. All such verses can be read in that way.

This is the third point concerning assurance: practice gives assurance. No text gives this more clarity than 2Peter 1:5-11:

3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (KJV).

Obviously, Peter isn’t talking about solidifying our election through works; he is talking about making our election sure to ourselves through obedience. This is also the major theme of 1John. Verse ten strikes a contrast between it and verses eight and nine. We can forget that we have been purged from our sins and heaven can become a distant reality. Also note that there is a quality of entry into heaven (v.11). Some translations refer to a “rich” entry into heaven. Verse ten refers to falling into deep sin. This is a picture of someone who is unsure of their standing with God. We can’t work for our justification, but we can certainly work for our assurance. Peter calls for “diligence” in this regard. One of the elements he mentions that needs to be added to our faith is “patience.” This has the idea of “endurance” and “perseverance.” The three words are used interchangeably throughout Scripture. The reward for our perseverance is assurance—not salvation.

I would like to close with some charts. The following two are from last week and illustrate what we have discussed in general.

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The next one is from page 24 of False Reformation:

True Cross Chart

Justification is a one-time declaration. Salvation is a little different. At salvation we receive all of the blessings and power of heaven. As we appropriate that power through obedience in sanctification the reality and power of our salvation is experienced. This gives assurance, and shows others that we are justified. In that regard we are justified by our works.

Addendum:

We have discussed many reasons why we believe that Christians will not stand in a final judgment to determine final justification. We reject the idea that justification has a beginning, process, and end (aka, justification, “progressive sanctification” and final justification confirmed at a final judgment). We find that at the final judgment, books are opened and the “dead” are judged from the books according to what they have done (REV 20:11-14). Being “under the law,” we assume that they are judged according to the law. Everyone at this judgment has died. This is NOT so with the OTHER judgment that seems to be primarily a judgment for rewards.

We believe that Christians will not be judged by the law in a final judgment. It is very possible that our sins were once recorded in those books, but were blotted out when we gave our lives to Christ:

Isaiah 43:25 – I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Many texts document the fact that God will not remember the sins of the redeemed (a few: HEB 8:12, 10:17, JER 31:34, Micah 7: 19 ISA 44:22, Acts 3:19, PS 103:12) . As the apostle Paul said, “love does not keep a record of wrong.” At one judgment, Christ states, “depart from me….I never knew you.” “Knew” probably refers to the fact that He never loved them as a kingdom heir. At the final judgment, there is obviously a record of sin. But of particular interest is the blotting out statements. Again, this probably refers to the idea that our sins were once recorded in those books, but were blotted out when we were saved. Similar language is used to refer to those who are blotted out from the book of life:

Psalm 69:28 – Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

A Scriptural study of the books is critical to understanding justification and the grace of God. How many of us have been taught this subject in-depth? Let me give you some framework as a result of some residual study I have done. There appears to be books where all of the sins of mankind are recorded, and the book of life in which all who are born into the world are recorded. A cursory observation seems to point to the idea that the saved are blotted out of the books that record sin, and not blotted out of the book of life. It is also possible that some are never recorded in the book of life even though they walk the earth at some point. The Lamb’s book of life may also be a separate book. Christ promised the saved would never be blotted out of the book of life (one among many: REV 3:5).

4 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on June 17, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.

    Like

  2. gracewriterrandy said, on June 17, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    Paul,
    “The point is made here: obedience justifies the claim that we are justified. Likewise, those who are justified persevere as a characteristic of the justified; the perseverance does not make them justified. It’s our character resulting in practice, not our position. All such verses can be read in that way. . . .Obviously, Peter isn’t talking about solidifying our election through works; he is talking about making our election sure to ourselves through obedience.”

    Get out your calendar and mark the day in red. I agree with what you have written here. This is what I have been trying to tell you we believe all these months. It sounds as if you have finally understood our position. Congratulations.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on June 17, 2013 at 5:28 PM

      Randy,
      If you believe that, you aren’t a Calvinist. Perhaps we can help you find your identity.

      Like

  3. Argo said, on June 17, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    Paul,

    I see a crack of light in your election argument. I think we can discuss the logical threads of the idea, but I think I am starting to glean what your are saying metaphysically. Very interesting.

    Keep going! Great stuff!

    Like


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