Paul's Passing Thoughts

Simple Theological Math: Protestantism’s Age-Old Gospel of Death and Misery

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on December 31, 2014

PPT HandleOriginally published June 6, 2014

“When it gets right down to the nitty gritty there is NO difference between John MacArthur Jr. and Joseph Prince. The theological math equation is exactly the same.”

“And of course, there are many different takes on which sanctification by faith alone formula best keeps us justified by reoffering the perfect obedience of Christ upon the alter of the law.” 

“Instead of the death of Christ ending the law of condemnation and setting us free to obey the law in order to glorify God, please God, love Christ and others, and abstain from grieving the Spirit by offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, we are told that we must instead continually reoffer the living sacrifice of Christ’s obedience instead… This takes the privilege and calling to love Christ with our obedience in sanctification and makes it part of justification. It circumvents the ability to love our Lord, and makes it works salvation.”      

A friend of this ministry sent me some books that have confirmed a suspicion I have had for some time: Protestants, regardless of the stripe, have always primarily functioned by the same core doctrine of “justification by faith.” I heard Joseph Prince use the term just the other day as I walked past a flat screen here at the Potter’s House.

What is “justification by faith” specifically? This is the core doctrine/gospel that has always driven all forms of Protestantism. Even though there are obviously various and sundry applications—the core ideology that drives its function is the same. When it gets right down to the nitty gritty there is NO difference between John MacArthur Jr. and Joseph Prince. The theological math equation is exactly the same.

The least common denominator is the fact that justification is not finished. As I was walking past the aforementioned monitor, Prince also stated in regard to justification by faith… “it is finished.” Yes, Protestants say that, but that’s not how we function—we function according to what the doctrine is really about; the doctrine is really about a justification that is not finished.

When justification is not finished, souls are skittish about what they do as disciples for fear that it will mess up their salvation, and there will be mass confusion in regard to the relationship between law and gospel. The Christian life will become complicated and in need of a priestly expert to give us our best shot at “standing in the judgment.” Protestant souls will be suspicious of obedience and their motives for doing so. Unhealthy introspection and paralyzing fear in sanctification has been the hallmark of Protestantism from the beginning.

“Yes,” they say, justification is a finished work in regard to our “positional justification,” but Jesus’ work is really not finished, He must keep working to KEEP us in that position where we are covered by His righteousness. So, positional justification and practical justification are both a work of Jesus, and we are justified by faith. This is because God has declared us righteous positionally, but that isn’t true unless we are really righteous practically which begs the question:

“How can we be considered truly righteous as people?”

‘The law must be kept perfectly.’

“But we can’t keep the law perfectly.”

‘Yes, that’s why we are saved by justification by faith.’

Therefore, according to the authentic gospel of justification by faith, there are two things we must believe in order to be saved: Christ’s passive obedience, and Christ’s active obedience. Stalwarts of the Protestant faith like Gresham Machen have stated that there is “no hope” without this belief also known as “double imputation.” Christ died for our positional justification, but He also came to live a perfect life of obedience for our positional justification. There are TWO justifications: positional and practical. One is finished, but Christ continues to be an “advocate” for us to keep us justified positionally:

“So, I must believe that Christ died for my justification and lived for my sanctification?”

 ‘Right.’

“So, what we call sanctification is really a work by Christ that keeps us justified.”

‘Right.’

“…until our resurrection?”

‘Right, we call that final justification.’

“So, there is positional justification, practical justification, and final justification?”

‘Right.’

“So, why do they call practical justification sanctification?”

‘Because sanctification means to be set apart for holiness.’

“Oh, so sanctification describes what practical justification does—it describes the function of practical justification.”

‘That’s a good way to state it.’

“But I can’t keep the law perfectly.”

‘Right, that’s where justification by faith comes in.’

“So, justification by faith means I am justified by faith alone in what Jesus did on the cross for my positional justification, and faith alone in His perfect life of obedience for my practical justification, or what we call sanctification.”

‘You are correct.’

“So, positional justification is a finished work, but practical justification is not.”

‘Both are finished; Christ fulfilled the law by His perfect life so that it could be applied to our sanctification in order to keep us justified positionally. We are justified by Christ positionally and practically.’

This is a false gospel for several key reasons from a biblical perspective, and the reason that Protestantism, like Catholicism, has borne fruits of death over the centuries. It’s a matter of simple theological math. The Bible states explicitly that this very gospel will bear fruits of death for the following reason…

IT KEEPS US UNDER THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.

Clearly, the Protestant gospel focuses on one relationship to the law that never changes for the believer. That’s the first and primary element of the equation. Secondly, justification is a finished two-part work for Christ, but not us. The Reformers believed that the essence of all sin was a propensity on the part of man to believe that he/she can contribute to salvation in some way. Because the Protestant gospel demands a standard for justification that defines righteousness as a perfect keeping of the law, what people believe about practical righteousness becomes paramount. The bottom line becomes the following reality: we can’t keep the law perfectly, and if we can’t, we are not really righteous.

All and all, the issue at hand is what the Reformers believed about justification’s standard. Only recognizing ONE relationship to the law, they also made perfect law-keeping the standard for justification. This also necessitated the belief that because man falls short of perfection, even believers, that man remains fundamentally unchanged until the resurrection. Man remains under the same law that he/she was under before salvation, and that law demands perfection. And that is true, THAT one law does demand perfection, and in fact does nothing but condemn those who are under it. Therefore, justification by faith holds to the idea that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, and came to also fulfill all of the righteous requirements of the law of sin and death.

The fact that Protestantism keeps man under the law of sin and death is really the crux of the issue. Christ is one who has “satisfied the law” in our stead. But the law is not “satisfied” by His death only, it is also “satisfied” by His life. And if we are still under this one law, it cannot be satisfied by anything we do because we cannot keep it perfectly. Therefore, as ones still under it, we must be COVERED by the righteous obedience of Christ until final justification. Here are the elements of the equation:

One law + perfect covering – man’s contribution = final justification.

The following explanation from a Reformed publication could not explain it better:

The Holy Spirit gives the sinner faith to accept the righteousness of Jesus. Standing now before the law which says, “I demand a life of perfect conformity to the commandments,” the believing sinner cries in triumph, “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, His suffering and dying; mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, and suffered, and died as He did . . . ” (Luther). The law is well pleased with Jesus’ doing and dying, which the sinner brings in the hand of faith. Justice is fully satisfied, and God can truly say: “This man has fulfilled the law. He is justified.”

We say again, Only those are justified who bring to God a life of perfect obedience to the law of God. This is what faith does—it brings to God the obedience of Jesus Christ. By faith the law is fulfilled and the sinner is justified (The Australian Forum Present Truth Journal: Law and Gospel; volume, 7 article 2, Part 2).

Contemporary Reformed theologian John Piper states it this way:

We are united to Christ in whom we are counted as perfectly righteous because of his righteousness, not ours. The demand for obedience in the Christian life is undiminished and absolute. If obedience does not emerge by faith, we have no warrant to believe we are united to Christ or justified (Matthew 6:15; John 5:28-29; Romans 8:13; Galatians 6:8-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13;James 2:17; 1 John 2:17; 3:14). But the only hope for making progress in this radical demand for holiness and love is the hope that our righteousness before God is on another solid footing besides our own imperfect obedience as Christians. We all sense intuitively-and we are encouraged in this intuition by the demands of God-that acceptance with God requires perfect righteousness conformity to the law (Matthew5:48; Galatians 3:10; James2:10). We also know that our measures of obedience, even on our best days, fall short of this standard (John Piper: Counted Righteous in Christ; Page 123, 2002).

Though Piper often uses nuance to shade the reality of the less ambiguous prior statement, “We all sense intuitively-and we are encouraged in this intuition by the demands of God-that acceptance with God requires perfect righteousness conformity to the law… We also know that our measures of obedience, even on our best days, fall short of this standard.”

Hence, THE ONE LAW IS STILL THE STANDARD THAT MUST BE SATISFIED IN ORDER FOR US TO REMAIN JUSTIFIED POSITIONALLY.

This requires an ongoing work by us to live our Christian life via a formula that perpetually presents the righteous obedience of Christ upon the alter of the law. This keeps us justified. And of course, there are many different takes on which sanctification by faith alone formula best keeps us justified by reoffering the perfect obedience of Christ upon the alter of the law.

According to Romans 6:14, we are not under law, but under grace :

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

The word for “over,” kyrieuō, means to “have authority or lordship over.”  However, Protestantism holds to the idea that Christians are still under the authority of this particular law which requires/required Christ to fulfill its demands. Remember what John Piper stated?

We all sense intuitively-and we are encouraged in this intuition by the demands of God-that acceptance with God requires perfect righteousness conformity to the law… We also know that our measures of obedience, even on our best days, fall short of this standard.

Clearly, Protestantism keeps us under the authority of this law. This requires a “covering” by Christ to protect us from its condemnation because we are unable to fulfill its righteous requirements. But yet, this does not subtract from the fact that we remain under its jurisdiction.

Law + fulfilment + covering = righteousness ≠ justification.

Another problem is that even if the law is fulfilled, its fulfillment cannot give life:

Galatians 3:21 – Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

We see two things here: the law cannot give life even if it is fulfilled, “For if a law had been given that could give life,” and even if it was fulfilled, it is not the standard for justification; “then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” It doesn’t matter who fulfills it, whether it is fulfilled or not, it cannot give life and it is not the standard for justification—it can only condemn.

8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The apostle Paul drives this point home by reminding us that our father of the faith was declared righteous 430 years before the law:

Galatians 3:17 – This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

What is being missed is the two different relationships of the law: it is the law of sin and death to unbelievers, but it is the law of the Spirit of life to believers. Those UNDER GRACE are led by the law of the Spirit of life, and are not UNDER the law of sin and death. We are no longer under that law’s dominion or jurisdiction. Why would Christ need to fulfill a law that has no jurisdiction over us? Moreover, why does the righteousness of Christ need to cover us in the fulfilling of that law when those under it have died?

Romans 7:1- Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Did not John Piper, like all of the Reformed, state that the law is still binding on us? Not if we died with Christ, and we did:

Romans 6:5 – For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

A dead person who is no longer under the jurisdiction of law does not need to be “covered” with the righteous of Christ’s perfect obedience; we don’t need a covering, in fact, Christ’s death put an END to the law:

Romans 10:4 – For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

We don’t need a righteous covering for a law that has been ended. Our sins are not “covered,” they are ENDED:

Romans 3:19 – Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Romans 4:15 – For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

If the law has nothing to say to us, how can we be, as John Piper asserts, under its demands? Why would Christ have to fulfill the law for us when it has nothing to say to us in the first place? Christ didn’t end the law for us because He fulfilled it, he ended it by His death, and if he ended it by His death, why would He have to fulfill it?

Romans 5:8 – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:13 – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

Romans 10:4 – For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

The Protestant gospel keeps people under the law, and requires a continual living sacrifice on the part of Christ to fulfill the righteousness of the law of sin and death. But that law is ended, and we are set free to follow the Spirit by obedience to the law out of a pure motive of love:

Romans 7:6 – But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

We are now free to obey the law of the Spirit of life:

Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Christ died to set us free from the law of sin and death so that we would be free to obey the law of the Spirit of life. It is really the same law, but this all speaks of two different relationships to the law; i.e., those who are under its condemnation, and those who are free to obey it in order to please God. In regard to these two different relationships…

Galatians 4:21 – Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?

Instead of the death of Christ ending the law of condemnation and setting us free to obey the law in order to glorify God, please God, love Christ and others, and abstain from grieving the Spirit by offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, we are told that we must instead continually reoffer the living sacrifice of Christ’s obedience instead.

Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This takes the privilege and calling to love Christ with our obedience in sanctification and makes it part of justification. It circumvents the ability to love our Lord, and makes it works salvation.

But it gets worse as keeping people under the law has additional consequences.  It not only replaces our obedience in sanctification with the obedience of Christ in order to keep us justified by a perpetual reoffering of Christ’s living sacrifice instead of ours which Paul said was our reasonable service to God, it even takes the death of Christ and reoffers it continually in order to keep us justified as well. Think about it; if we are still under the law of condemnation and its demands, its righteousness requirement not only requires righteous actions, but sinlessness. Therefore, if the law of sin and death is not ended, Christ not only died for our sins under the law, but He must have also died for our sins committed as Christians because we are still under the law. This requires a reapplication of Christ’s death to present sins when we repent of them. Accordingly…

Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.21).

…by new sins we continually separate ourselves, as far as we can, from the grace of God… Thus it is, that all the saints have need of the daily forgiveness of sins; for this alone keeps us in the family of God (John Calvin: Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles; The Calvin Translation Society 1855. Editor: John Owen, p. 165 ¶4).

…forgiveness of sins is not a matter of a passing work or action, but comes from baptism which is of perpetual duration, until we arise from the dead (Luther’s Works: American ed.; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press; St. Louis: Concordia, 1955, vol. 34, p. 163).

For the forgiveness of sins is a continuing divine work, until we die. Sin does not cease. Accordingly, Christ saves us perpetually (Ibid., p.190).

Daily we sin, daily we are continually justified, just as a doctor is forced to heal sickness day by day until it is cured (Ibid., p.191).

This is a perpetual return to the same gospel that saved us. In regard to that, the Hebrew writer stated the following:

Hebrews 6:1 – Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

In the final analysis, being yet under the law of sin and death can only bring forth fruits for death, and by and large, that is the testimony of Protestantism. Its original gospel keeps people under the law of sin and death, and under the slavery of sin. Those under the law of the Spirit of life have the seed of God in them because they are born of God, and are not under a law that can condemn them. A perfect fulfilling of the law of sin and death is not the standard of justification. Christians are under the law of liberty (James 1:25) that frees them from that law of sin and death to walk in the Spirit.

In the same way that one act of sin violates the whole law (James 2:10), one act of love fulfills the law of the Spirit of life (Galatians 5:14). It is obedience motivated by love, but weakened by the flesh. Nevertheless, we ARE righteous practically in sanctification accordingly.

paul

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