Is There a "Monolithic" Reformed View of Justification?

Recently I responded to John Armstrong’s post on the TIME magazine new Calvinist discussion. In his reply, John makes this startling claim:

There is no monolithic Reformed voice on justification (especially re: imputation) and I would be very happy if we allowed a serious discussion without the accusations that are often made about “denying” the gospel when a particular category of this subject (imputation of Christ’s active obedience) is made central to the whole discussion. This is too often the case in this more narrowly defined Reformed/Lutheran debate. If this point is central then only a few Christians, even among Protestants, saw it and today almost no one understands the gospel if this point is essential. I simply do not believe this to be the case. Scott and others may disagree but I think most Christians (including most theologians and biblical scholars) find this form of the debate very unconvincing. A perusal of the written work on Paul and Jesus, done by most scholars today, will bear this point out.

The most basic question here is how to define the adjective “Reformed.” As I’ve argued in RRC and in this space, the most reasonable definition of the adjective “Reformed” is, “the theology, piety, and practice confessed by the Reformed Churches in their public, ecclesiastically sanctioned, summaries of God’s Word, i.e. their confessions and catechisms.” By contrast, John asserts a contrary definition that is private, subjective, and extra-ecclesiastical. By my definition, the word “Reformed” means what it has meant since the early 16th century. By John’s definition, the adjective may mean one thing today and another thing tomorrow, depending upon where his journey from fundamentalism to the emerging church takes him next.

Second, is the Reformed confession concerning imputation “monolithic”? The Oxford American Dictionary defines “monolithic” in this usage as meaning “…intractably indivisible and uniform.” As noted in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, the overwhelming evidence from the history of Reformed theology.

It is beyond dispute that the mainstream of Reformed theologians, and more importantly, the Reformed Churches in their confessions and catechisms, have taught the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the ground of justification. This evidence is surveyed, from primary sources in a chapter in CJPM. One has only to read Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 21 and 60, Belgic Confession Art. 23, Westminster Confession ch. 11, WLC Q/A 70-74 to see the official doctrine of the Reformed Churches in Europe and in the Englsh-speaking world. On this point the doctrine of the confessional Protestants is one.

Among the Reformed, there has been a small, noisy minority (including three divines at the Westminster Assembly that has denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Again, see the chapter in CJPM for a history of this discussion. Overwhelmingly, however, the Reformed Churches and their leading theologians have taught implicitly or explicitly the doctrine that Christ did not obey to qualify himself to be a Savior, but that he obeyed in our place and that, as Heidelberg 60 says, ” yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, [God] grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me….”

It is no surprise that, in the modern period when rationalism and subjectivism have reigned supreme, that both early modern rationalists and late modern subjectivists (both of them equally indebted to the Enlightenment however!) have denied not only the penal substitution as offensive to modern sensibilities but also the imputation of active obedience. It strikes the modern as unfair that Jesus should not only perform our obedience for us (pro nobis!) but also that he should suffer in our place. Rationalists know a priori that this is unjust. Moralists (often the same lot as the rationalists) believe that such teaching subverts Christian morality and ethics by denying an important motive for obedience and Christian life.

Those who still believe the Reformation gospel, who do not think it is outdated or outmoded, understand with Paul that the gospel is not sweetly reasonable, that it is offensive to those who demand power and a stumbling block to those for whom human rationality is supreme. As for Paul, for us, the foolish gospel of the active obedience of Christ, is the wisdom of God. The paradox of the gospel is that it is through the message of salvation and justification accomplished for us, that God the Spirit works new life, faith, and communion with the living Christ.

The choice we have is between revisionists such as John Armstrong, and obscure folk such as Martin Luther, who wrote in 1535 on Gal 2:20 (yes Virginia, there was biblical scholarship before 1980, and yes, Virginia, we used to read the Scripture in Greek and Hebrew):

Read with great emphasis these words, “me,” “for me,” and accustom yourself to accept and apply to yourself this “me” with certain faith. The words OUR, US, FOR US, ought to be written in golden letters—the man who does not believe them is not a Christian.

This discussion reminds me that, for all the posturing of the late modern “emergent” and “emerging” types about how “postmodern” they are, the fact is that they are really quite modern. They simply assume that there was only one branch of modernity (rationalism) and they ignore the historical fact that there was another equally vigorously modernist branch: subjectivism. It’s not as if the subjectivists weren’t modern. They were quite modern. As Mike Horton has said, the postmoderns are really “most modern.” They continue to assume and assert human autonomy over against divine authority and especially that expressed by the Word as confessed ministerially by the churches.

Is the Reformed confession of justification on the basis of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (IAO) a sectarian view?  Does it mean that those who hold it are implicitly condemning to perdition all those who have or currently deny it? No. Those who deny the IAO are missing a glorious, freedom-granting, faith-building, assurance-building truth. Those who deny the doctrine of imputation, however, are denying the gospel. The doctrine of imputation is essential to the gospel such that those who deny it have denied the good news. Confessional Protestants are bound by God’s Word to confess this. Here we stand. The doctrine of IAO is an important, vital Reformed doctrine. My own federation has affirmed in in two synods in 2004 and 2007  over against the Federal Vision and other moralists.

Is the Reformed faith “monolithic” on everything? No. The confessions, which John seems to find so confining, are actually quite liberating in this respect. I am free from your opinion and subject to the Word of God as confessed by the Churches. Where the Churches have not confessed, I am free. I am free to read, learn, and inwardly digest the Word and to do so with the tradition, to learn from it and to grow with it.


For more on the emerging/emergent movements see this volume.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Scott,

    the most reasonable definition of the adjective “Reformed” is, “the theology, piety, and practice confessed by the Reformed Churches in their public, ecclesiastically sanctioned, summaries of God’s Word

    If you use the word you are trying to define, in your definition, you just make a circle (lit. a tautology), not a definition.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    • Bryan,

      Unless I have misunderstood the facts, you’re a Romanist. Who or what defines the Roman faith? Is it not the magisterium, is it not the faith confessed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Is it not canon law? Is it not the councils and decrees received by the Roman communion? Is that definition tautological?

      Someone, i.e. some person or persons has to define “Reformed.” That person or those persons are going to inhabit some ecclesiastical space, are they not? If not, then they are presumably pagans and why should we allow them to define “Reformed.”

      If someone, in some ecclesiastical relation, is gong to define “Reformed” should it not be those who confess the faith?

      It’s not a tautology. It’s a reciprocal relation.

      We’re not Romanists. We understand that we do not create the Word. We do not norm the Word. The Word norm us, but as we are not biblicists we understand that Word must be read and confessed by someone. We’re not individualist evangelicals allowing everyone everywhere his own definition.

      Given those options, who else should define the Reformed theology, piety, and practice? Why is this controversial? The Reformed faith has been what it is for hundreds of years.

      Why not read the book and see the argument worked out at greater length?

  2. Scott,

    The question “What is the definition of term x” , and “Who has the authority to determine or set the definition of term x”, are two distinct questions. (Though of course they are related.) Your reply gets into the second question. But my comment was about the rules regarding the first question; these rules are grounded in philosophy, not sacred theology, so the Catholic / Protestant divide is not relevant to them. Attempting to define a term by using that term, does not show what the term means. It just pushes back the question. So in this case, the question is simply pushed back to: “Which churches get to count as among the Reformed churches?” (So far as I know, the Catholic Church doesn’t define any term by using that same term.)

    The second question (i.e. Who has the authority to determine or set the definition of ‘Reformed’?) is very difficult to answer in a principled way without a principium unitatis grounded in sacramental magisterial authority (i.e. apostolic succession from someone given the keys of the Kingdom). The Catholic Church has that, but Protestantism per se does not. That is why this second question is a difficulty for Protestants, but not for Catholics. But I wasn’t addressing that second question, only the first.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. >The second question (i.e. Who has the authority to determine or set the definition of ‘Reformed’?) is very difficult to answer in a principled way without a principium unitatis grounded in sacramental magisterial authority (i.e. apostolic succession from someone given the keys of the Kingdom). The Catholic Church has that, but Protestantism per se does not. That is why this second question is a difficulty for Protestants, but not for Catholics.

    We have the Holy Spirit. In our hearts. That is apostolic succession. We also have discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit to discern the word of God and to discern time-vetted teachers and their writings and consensus documents like the confessions and catechisms. You have man, we have God.

  4. dt,

    Rick Philips once said something quite similar, and I responded here. A number of confessional Protestants agreed with me then that Philips was mistaken, and that Protestantism does not ultimately boil down to bosom-burning. If it all comes down to bosom-burning, then all talk about interpreting Scripture in and with the Church is a mere facade for the rule of private judgment and solo scriptura over sola scriptura. If it all comes down to bosom-burning, then ultimately anything goes, because there is no objective way to evaluate one bosom-burning over another, without appealing to still another bosom-burning, and so on ad infinitum. The bosom is then the buck-stopping point. (Spend a summer debating Mormons to experience this.) The Holy Spirit is then giving contradictory messages to lots of people. Of course you say that your bosom-burning is right and their’s is wrong, but that’s exactly what they say about yours, so it leaves us with a massive impasse of conflicting positions. The solution, in my opinion, is not to try to determine whose/which bosom-burning is the one to follow, but rather, not to resort to the bosom-burning-as-fundamental-guide methodology in the first place. It’s just Montanistic gnosticism all over again.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. Well, Brian, your characterization of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers kind of gives away that you are stung by the subject; I only know about regeneration by the Word and the Spirit and the discernment for truth the Holy Spirit gives (which isn’t a hall of mirrors to God’s elect).

  6. John Armstrong is a traitor to the Reformation. His is a mismash of revivalism, legalistic Puritanism, neonomism and so on. These are leads to Rome, as much as Pentecostalism and Charismaticism. The only antidote to all these heresies is justification by faith alone as understood by Luther and Calvin. What we want is not revivals and experientialism. What we want is confessional truth, and nothing else but confessional truth.

  7. Look, good works do not make a sanctified man. A sanctified man does good works. God does not need our good works; our neighbour does. We are not Romanists. Obedience, cooperation – these all do not exist in the Christian life coram Deo. We obey God for the sake of the neighbour, not our sanctification. Grace given is based on unconditional promise, not human cooperation. The life of the homo viator is not ‘suspended” between present justification and future judgment. NO! to the hell with Armstrong’s definition of faith, neither here nor there, i.e. it is Romanist in principle, and yet broadly speaking is neither Romanist nor Reformed. Same goes with the NPP, Wright, Shepherd, Auburn Avenue.

    The homo viator is the both the old and new man co-existing, sinful and righteous AT THE SAME TIME until he/she dies. Judgment and Justification co-exist simultaneously.

    This is why the definition of faith given by Shepherd is **********.

    • Jason,

      I understand your passion. I’ve been deeply involved in the struggle against the stuff that John is now advocating for about 9 years now.

      I agree that it is a dangerous mix of old errors in new, hip clothing but if we do not conduct ourselves even MORE graciously than they do, then our behavior and tone become the issue and not their errors.

      No, it’s not fair, but everyone of the many times I’ve lost my temper during this struggle, I’ve become the issue rather than the proper focus: the corruption of the gospel.

      That’s just the way it is.

      Second, we do believe in obedience and cooperation, but not unto justification. We do obey, but we do so in the Spirit and in a state of grace and in a state of justification and in union with Christ. Right?

  8. Oh, my…Huh, hmmm…where were we? Oh, yes the two Paptists were defending John Armstrong’s fulminations against those nasty Reformed types who constantly demand thatit is the Reformed Confessions that define the Reformed doctrine of justification . Contrary to Armstrong’s contentions, Scott is 100% correct and this post proves it .However,and, as many of us have come to sadly known, this is one more indication that John continues to drift away from the confessional Reformed theology he once embraced.

  9. Yes.Scott contributed to that volume on the Compromised Church. John Armstrong and I also worked together on that other book ,’The Coming Evangelical Crisis’ (Moody, 1996). John went through what he describes as a theological paradigm shift some years back and has actively distanced himself from his former associates and repudiated his earlier views, esp. on justification.

  10. whoa. If I may ask, why? and how?

    There shouldn’t be any disagreement among Protestants on this main hinge, the doctrine of Justification.

    • Q,

      John did not “come out” as a revisionist on justification etc until after the volume was done. He was involved with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and had been active in advocating the Reformation. He was leading Reformation and Revival conferences across the country.

      As it turns out, as he has testified, his views were in progress before we began that volume. The volume was a good collection of essays and remains useful. We’re not Donatists (the validity of ministry does not depend on the spiritual state of the minister — truth is truth) and I’m not saying that I would only contribute to books if I agreed with the editor(s) or all the contributors! I speak at conferences (academic and pastoral/popular) where there is a diversity of views.

  11. Yeah, to deny the imputation of Christ’s active obedience necessarily implies that we need to contribute something to our justification.

    Of course, it’s just a little tiny bit that we have to contribute. Just a little. We just have to do our best. God accepts it, just like a parent accepts their 5 year old’s pictures as art and proudly displays it on the refrigerator. God thinks our attempts at obedience are just like that: cute.

    Yeah, it’s just a little tiny bit we have to contribute, but if we don’t contribute it, we’ll be damned.

    Paul knew some people like that. He suggested that they should emasculate themselves.

    • E,

      That may be a consequence of the denial of IAO but it isn’t necessarily intended by all advocates of that view. I don’t think that Gattaker, Twisse, and Vines thought that we had to contribute to our own justification. They were wrong in their denial of IAO but it’s important here to distinguish between a view and an implication of a view. Those whom Paul rightly condemned thus we outright deniers of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as the sole ground of justification. They denied sola fide. They denied the sufficiency of Christ for justification and salvation.

  12. Brian Cross, I read your link you provided. You seem to have a thing for “burning bosoms” as you refer to them at the link as well. It’s interesting that Protestants are accused of being too intellectual in approach, but when it serves you throw “burning bosoms” at us as well.

    God didn’t make biblical doctrine a hall of mirrors, and we don’t judge Protestant doctrine by what TV preachers teach. We also don’t play a game of saying that since a few individuals over here thought differently then it’s all a mess of chaos. No, the five solas aren’t chaos, and as classical Protestant doctrine they hold the center and high ground.

    And, it should go without saying but I’ll say it: to walk in the Spirit and not after the flesh means to walk after the teaching of the word of God itself. That is where the Spirit is speaking.

    If you counter that truth can’t be found there you are not being honest because we all see how Roman Catholics refuse to argue on the ground of
    Scripture, having bad experiences having attempted it in the past.

    And your conscience knows where the truth resides.

    When atheists rage again God they don’t spend all their time raging against Hindus or Muslims. They rage against Christians. They rage against the Bible.

    It’s the same with Roman Catholics. The counter-Reformation was aimed at Protestants who held to biblical doctrine summed up in the five solas, not Unitarians of the day or Greek Orthodox or what have you. You know where the truth resides. And it’s not a hall of mirrors.

  13. Scott, I wasn’t aiming at you, if at all … as always any disagreements I have with you, maybe for example on revivals I do not pick a fight. I do not believe in the tertium usus legis, but that should not prevent me from arguing it out here. Most importantly, there is a common front against Christian Reconstruction. Just as I have shared good ole Gary, I support you and your ministry. I was only directing my critique at the revisionists, all of them. What irks me is that these people think that they’ve come out with a ecumenical formula which somehow makes them truly ‘catholics.’ That’s ********. They’re neither here nor there. I blasted those jokers at because the like Kevin D. Johnson with his hatred of confessional Reformed truth *and* men, Elder Hoss, were just plainly deluding themselves. It’s like a replay of the Tractarian movement in the Church of England all over again. Of course, in the LCMS itself, you’ve got the Society of St. Polycarp, which prays for reunion with Rome, and nothing on justification by faith alone as the dividing line. Imagine, the Church of Walther, Pieper and Preus. Evangelical catholics? My foot!

    • Jason,

      I understand. My caution is that, in your zeal, you don’t give the opponents of the gospel ammunition a stick with which to beat the orthodox.

      You can’t swear here. I don’t have time to edit all your posts, so please control yourself.

      My point is that the conduct of those who defend the gospel has to be above reproach, it has to be better than that of the moralists. It isn’t fair, but it’s the way it is.

      • Thank you for your responses.

        I wanted to reply to what was said concerning the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as well as how we should view those who do not hold to it.

        In the first place, I myself have been working through the doctrine of justification for years now, and I wanted to say that I do go back and forth on this issue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is not as though I switch from contributing to my justification to not contributing to my justification, rather I go from thinking that Jesus’ blood justifies us to Jesus’ blood and righteousness justified us. I have not planted myself yet on a position fully….I lean to the view of his active obedience imputed to us..but there are reservations…

        Secondly, I would argue that the doctrine of the life-obedience of Jesus (from birth to death- including every meal eaten, obedience to mary/joseph, openly preaching the gospel, etc, etc) is not clearly spelled out exegetically. Just about every passage concerning justification we read over and over again that Jesus’ sacrificial-death is gound and basis. Now, we must not seperate the righteous Jesus who hung on the cross, however the New Testament does not in so many words teach that Jesus’ righteousness (dikaiosune xristou) is imputed to the believer.

        The obedience of Jesus, in contrast to the disobedience of Adam, can hardly be explained any other way than His self-giving of Himself for the sins of God’s elect (Rom 5:9-11, 16). The contrast is between these two men (adam and Christ), and the one thing that either man has done to determine the legal status and future destiny of “all” the human beings that that represent. Adam’s sin in the place of all and Jesus’ one act of righteousness (his death for many) in the place of all, determines the outcome of their respective humanities. Most commentators will allude to Phil 2, where we read his obedience was one unto death….but we cannot miss that Paul in Phil 2 also pictures Jesus’ humbling of himself to become a man as an act of disobedience, and no where in the Law of Moses is it prescribed to become human. The obedience of Jesus is far ranging from His being God and becoming man to die for sinners…

        Thirdly, many who want to puch foward the view of Jesus living in the place of His chuch have an understanding of righteousness that is pictured in a number scale where there is a domain for negative- neutral – postitive.

        Negative ————————— Neutral ——————————Positive

        Jesus’ blood (by itself) only clears the negative side, brining sinners to a neutral positive, wherein they are neither guilty or righteous, neither going to hell or going to glory.

        However, it is hard to shove this king of logic into Paul’s understanding of righteousness. For Paul, the imputation of postitive righteousness can be interpreted by the negative non-imputation of sins (Rom 4:6-8). Paul can say (with no additions nearby) that we are justified in His blood (Rom 5:9). In Rom 3:21-26, the “blood” (v25) of “Messiah Jesus” (v24) makes for a ransom-payment which secures our liberation from the guilt and penalty of sin, which in turn forms the instrumental means for our “…being justified ” (v24). Jesus’ sin-bearing death is the case cause for our “becoming the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21).

        Now, do not get me wrong, righteousness is understhood by Paul to be conformity to the law of God. However, Paul never says that we need a substitute life in order to fulfill these requirements, but always attributes the death of Jesus as being meritorious to issue in the fulfillment of God’s law on our behalf.

        For example, it is understhood in the reformed camps that disobedience to the Law of God sanctions the curse of the Law. In the same way, obedience to the Law of God merits the blessing. However, when we read Paul in Galatians 3, he argues that Jesus’ curse-bearing death is the sole ground for our receiving the blessing of Abraham (imputed gift-righteousness). We should expect him to say here that Jesus became a curse of the Law and live for the blessing of the Law so that the blessings of Abraham can be given to the Gentiles. But for some reason, Paul only mentions the death of Christ.

        We do read that Jesus was born under the Law as a human being to redeem those who were under the Law, but again if we use 3:13 as a hermenutical guide, it is still his curse-bearing under the Law that is has emphasis.

        This is to say the doctrine is not as clear, it is not flowing out of the bible like some would want it.

        • Erick,
          It seems that you are under the impression that the death of Christ is categorized solely as “passive obedience” by advocates of the IAOC. As Dr. Clark himself wrote in CJPM,

          “Given their opposition in this discussion, the terms active and passive might tend to create the impression that the work of Christ is being distinguished chronologically, but this is not the intent at all. These terms might also be misunderstood to denote a distinction between something done by Christ and something done to him. Again, no such distinction is intended. In this context, active denotes Christ’s intentional and positive fulfillment of God’s law for his people at every moment of his life, and passive (from the Latin adjective derived from the verb patior, to suffer) speaks to the concept that, in the course of his obedience, “all the time he lived on earth, but especially at the end of his life, he bore, in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race” (HC 37 [Schaff 3.319]). Christ’s was, as Jurgen Moltman say, “no unwilling fortuitous suffering; it is a passio activa.” Both adjectives are meant to describe, from different aspects, the entirety of Christ’s work from the moment of his conception until his resurrection.” (CJPM, p. 230)

          Dr. Clark also helpfully wrote,

          “The case for the imputation of active obedience is further strengthened when one considers that Paul does not compartmentalize Jesus’s obedience chronologically or logically. He does not describe Christ’s obedience as if it began only at Golgotha or on the cross. Obedience characterizes Jesus’s entire existence, just as Adam’s entire life to that point is characterized by his disobedience.” (CJPM, p. 248)

          If you haven’t already, get Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry. Your questions are answered there. You think this blog is good… (I have not been paid to say this).

          I also think you would find Meredith Kline’s work on this matter very helpful. These selections on “Two Adams, Two Covenants of Works” may help you to understand how Paul could refer to both Christ’s active and passive obedience with reference to the cross:

  14. >In the first place, I myself have been working through the doctrine of justification for years now, and I wanted to say that I do go back and forth on this issue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is not as though I switch from contributing to my justification to not contributing to my justification, rather I go from thinking that Jesus’ blood justifies us to Jesus’ blood and righteousness justified us. I have not planted myself yet on a position fully….I lean to the view of his active obedience imputed to us..but there are reservations…

    It’s been said above, but it’s very simple and easy to see: Christ did two things, He paid the price of death for Adam’s sin, and he fulfilled the law (to a ‘t’) therefore accomplishing what Adam failed to accomplish. The reason some people (Federal Vision, quasi-Romanists, etc.) want to deny the imputation of the active obedience of Christ is because it takes away the main bondage of the system of the Beast which is the illusion/delusion of works righteousness.

    One always has to follow such a statement with this: why is such a thing practical? Because doctrine is the armor of God. It effects you internally. Just like the difference between being God centered vs. man-centered effects you internally. It’s not just words or ideas. If you are still under the illusion that you can save yourself, to any degree, with your works you are still in bondage to the devil’s kingdom. That is where – often unconsciously, I’ll say charitably – those who argue against the IAO of Christ want you. Others accept the false teaching because they simply don’t know what is at stake in giving it up.

    Federal Theology. The two Adams are the spine of Federal Theology. Deny the complete parallel between the first and Second Adam and you deny biblical doctrine for something man-made and worthless.

    • Thank you for your responses.

      And yes, I will research into these resources.

      I did want to make a few comments.

      Firstly, From my understanding anyway, no matter how much one wants to synchronize passive/active obedience of Jesus Christ to make it two aspects of ONE thing, they are still majorly seperated in logic and concept. In other words, suffering under the judgement of God is quite different than fulfilling the positive law of God. Therefore, since these are TWO DIFFERENT concepts, we must find scripture that supports BOTH concepts (even though it is one action). But the Scripture only speaks of messianic suffering. Now this may include the active obedience (as is taught), however there is no scripture which explicitly says this.

      Secondly, it is common to derive the following assertion from Rom 5:

      Since Adam’s disobedience brought death to all men, the reciprocal is obvisouly true, Adam’s obedience would have brought life to all men. Adam failed and Jesus suceeded.

      (A few questions)

      Why is it that none of Adam’s actions after his first sin were imputed to all human beings?

      Some may respond, because He failed His role as Adam (representing human beings in covenant). It would only take one sin to fail and thus render the situation unalterable.

      Ok…. When we say that Jesus was a successful Adam…. when did this happen?

      Some may respond, when He was crucified.

      So, Jesus’ death on the cross is the line drawn in time by which it can be said he succeedED (past tense)… where in Genesis do we read of a line drawn in time, to which Adam was heading to finish, upon which it could have been said…he succeedED? IT does not seem clear that the narrative of Genesis presents some kind of trial with parameters (beginning and end).

      Thirdly, could have Jesus come into the world and just live a perfect life and then immediately ascend into heaven (without dying).

      No, because then our sin would not be taken care of. We would still be guilty even though Jesus lived a righteous life in our place.

      Ok, so if He comes into the world to live a perfect life and die a perfect death….. is it then that we have both sin and perfect righteousness in our place?


      Well, if God is not going to forget the sins that we on our account (in the situation where Jesus simply lived and ascended), then will he forget the positive obligations to God’s Law that bear upon us that Jesus did not fulfill (Parenting [Deut 6], Marriage, etc,etc)? It would seem that these obligations in our lifetime must be met somehow? But how could it have been met if Jesus did not have the ability to even do these things?

      • My objections to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ is not in attempt to maintain a call to good works. I am entirely aware of Rom 5-6.

        You may think of it in these terms.

        Let’s say you have pepsi can and you want it to be flattened (the can being flattened is analogous to being justified) and it is calculated that you need 40lbs of pressure applied to the top. So, you apply 40 lbs of pressure and it completely flattens the pepsi can. But let’s say that you keep trying to apply more pressure after the can is flattened…. why would you do this?

        This is how I view the imputation of righteousness. Jesus’ death for our sins sets us in the right relation to God’s judgement and Law. Adding the life of Jesus to the equation is like trying to apply more pressure to a can that is already flattened….you can do it…but it is not doing anything more ..

        Sometimes this is how I understand it. But like I said, I would like to read covenant, justification, and pastoral ministry.

        • EW,
          “Justification” is a term that implies matching the condition of one thing to the standard of another thing.

          The blog-software automatically “left-justifies” all the lines of this post. I have yet to see anyone manage a first-line indent, even if he types four blank spaces.

          Your example shows “justification” of the coke-can to the “standard” of the table. But, I argue, that’s not sufficient to demonstrate justification with regard to the human condition.

          We have a two-fold issue. We were created at one place, and given positive obligations. Not meeting those obligations constitutes not only personal sin, but a deficit of unmet conditions, productions.

          But in sinning, we not only lost the ability to meet the future conditions, and our original condition, but we fell to an infinitely futile condition.

          Original and personal sin has made us liable for punishment. Consequent penalty is imposed over and above the original obligations. The death of Jesus–a clear undertaking for PENALTY–has answered to the debt imposed as sin’s penalty.

          Jesus’ “painful and shameful” death of the cross has justified us completely with regard to our penalty–his suffering fills our whole responsibility (an infinite responsibility) to suffer.

          An infinite debt left us no opportunity to DO according to our original obligation. But if we think that the removal of that penalty now situates us back into the original created position in order to DO what we were commanded, we make a double miscalculation of thinking that 1) our imperfect works meet the standard; and 2) we have forgotten to calculate for our inability to “make up for lost time”.

          RCCs address the first of those problems with the idea of congruent merit; the second with the idea of works of supererogation. Protestants should just look to Jesus’ perfect life.

          An illustration:
          If I was supposed to build a house, but instead blew the financier’s money in Vegas, I should be obliged to 1) go to jail, 2) pay the money back in restitution, and 3) still build the house. And then there’s the other houses that I’m supposed to be building while I’m sitting in jail…

          We need Jesus LIFE as much as his DEATH because we need something of value on the “assets” side of the ledger.

          • But what about the positive DO’s that we need to have fulfilled (such as parenting, raising children, etc, etc) that was not included in the life of Jesus? Does God simply forget about these positive do’s that parents and wifes and husbands have?

            We cannot go to the level of being specific with these “positive do’s” and fail to not account for these things..

            I do not believe that somehow you can seperate “not doing” and “doing” so neatly. In other words, there is a negative and positive aspect for not keeping the sabbath. It can be said that you have not kept the sabbath or you have broken the law.

            What about people who live beyond 30 years old (the age of Christ), what about the positive demands that are placed upon them? Does God simply forget they lived that long and simply cover him/her with the 30 years of Jesus’ life?

            This might get confusing, but I do not think that man has a two-fold problem. When Adam sinned, it can be worded that he failed to attain perfect righteousness or that he sinned. Both are not explaining two aspects but two ways of referring to the same exact thing. Sin is the only problem with human beings, and if sin is not imputed to us (Rom 4:6-8) we are accounted righteous in the eyes of God.

  15. On an exegetical ground,

    Righteousness is that status which a human being comes into possession of on condition of perfect conformity with the requirements of God’s Law. This is why the Jew sought righteousness by the works of the Law, because upon conformity or satisfaction of the Law’s demands, would issue in the status of righteuosness, and therefore acceptability and aquitall before the judgement of God.

    And the newness of the gospel revelation is this status (Rom 1:17; 3:21) is given by God to the believing human being out of free grace. Human beings stand in need of righteousness to present before God at His final judgement. And in the gospel, God is providing the very righteousness which sinners need to stand as just in His sight.

    There are two ways of attaining to this righteousness, by works or by faith (Rom 9:30-33). When a sinner believes in Jesus Christ, they are made right in the eyes of God (forensically=in the judgement books of God).

    However, when the question is pushed….on what basis does God supply this righteousness?

    On an exegetical ground, Paul can say with no hesitation that we are imputed righteousness in the blood of Jesus (Rom 5:9). However, Paul does narrow the source of God’s righteousness, as his epistle to the romans develops, to the in the obedience of one Man (Rom 5:19)

    At this juncture, it must be confessed that we attain to be righteous before God on the basis of Messiah’s obedience (Rom 5:19).

    And, if we want to push matters even farther, Messiah’s obedience is seen in parallel contrast to Adam’s disobedience. Therefore, we can say that since Adam’s disobedience makes many sinners by method of imputation (this is hotly debated but can be used for the sake of argument), then Messiah’s obedience makes many righteous by way of imputation as well.

    I can live with this.

    But, I build the parameters to this “obedience” of Messiah to focus mostly on His sacrifical-death (Rom 5:17). We can stretch it back to eternity past where the Son of God commits to be slain for the sins of God’s elect. But, when we get down to the mechanics, His death is the means by which many are made righteous. Adam sinned and therefore all were imputed with his sin…. Christ’s one righteous act was done in place of all (His substitutionary atonement) and therefore all were imputed with the accomplishment of this work.

  16. >This is how I view the imputation of righteousness. Jesus’ death for our sins sets us in the right relation to God’s judgement and Law.

    No more than the sacrifice of a four-legged animal (or for our own inevitable death for that matter). Jesus’ willing death on the cross paid the stated price on our behalf for Adam’s failure *only because* Jesus was the *only completely innocent human being.* He was this by his active obedience in following the law to the nth degree. Only God could do this.

    >Adding the life of Jesus to the equation is like trying to apply more pressure to a can that is already flattened….you can do it…but it is not doing anything more ..

    Just read a basic Reformed Systematic Theology. You will learn that you don’t separate the active and passive obedience of Christ as you are doing. And while you are doing this you are missing what the false teachers are trying to get past you. Once the false teachers have you thinking (to any degree) that your justification relies (to any degree) on your own works then *they have you* in bondage to the system of the world which is the devil’s kingdom.

    *You’ve got nothing* without Christ’s death and without Christ’s active obedience. *Nothing.* I’ll say it again: *nothing.*

    You bring nothing to the table, because you *have nothing to bring.*

    Justification by faith alone is the subject here, as it always is when you expose the real aim of the false teachers. It is the most attacked doctrine by false teachers, and it will continue to be until the return of the King.

    • >>>Just read a basic Reformed Systematic Theology. You will learn that you don’t separate the active and passive obedience of Christ as you are doing. And while you are doing this you are missing what the false teachers are trying to get past you. Once the false teachers have you thinking (to any degree) that your justification relies (to any degree) on your own works then *they have you* in bondage to the system of the world which is the devil’s kingdom>>>>

      I’ve already said in a post above that I understand (on a confessional level) that the obedience of CHrist has absolute unity, but is CONCEPTUALLY distinct in a passive/active way. Passive is the aspect of his unified obedience that takes upon Himself the penalty for the Law and the active is keeping what the Law demands.

      There is no way around this distinction. There are two aspects to Christ’s obedience in the reformed tradition.

      Therefore, since these two aspects are distinct, we cannot soimply go on teaching this if the scripture only contains support for one aspect. In other words, since active/passive obedience are distiguished in the doctrine of justification, then we should be able to find, within the new testament, two conceptually distinguished parts to justification. But the exegesis yeilds only for the view of Jesus’ death justifiying us (Rom 5:9, 16).

      The scripture says there is nothing else to be done for our justification other than to believe in Jesus CHrist, crucified and risen (Rom 10:6-9).

      • EW,
        Who is saying there is any more to be done for our justification? It’s already all done. We believe and are justified–in every respect.

        This is probably more “speaking into the air…”
        but I’ll make one, last brave attempt at pointing to an “exegetical answer” to your challenge.

        “The Four Gospels.”

        No, not just the latter chapters of them dealing with the atoning sacrifice, but the whole things.

        Who IS Jesus Christ, the Person?

        Does his “justifying work” consist of one 6-hour period during his life when he hung on a Roman cross?

        What was the rest of his life? A qualifying event and exercise for himself? A long drawn out aspect of his suffering for us? A moral example? Or was it a particular (and vital) aspect of his GIFT of salvation, something he was giving to us?

        Why didn’t Jesus just come to earth one fateful Friday, walk into a crowd of eager Passover attendees in Jerusalem, announce himself Messiah, and wait for the inevitable (and instantaneous) rejection that would have come just as certainly as it did at the end of three years of ministry and a 30-something lifetime? The whole work of atonement could have been effected in a few hours on a Roman cross… unless it couldn’t have. We know Jesus death was necessary. Wasn’t Jesus life? Why?

        To answer another one of your questions: if Jesus didn’t have to encounter digital identity theft in order to fully suffer for all sin’s effects or suffer for the perpetrator of computer fraud, then he also didn’t need to literally raise a godly family in order to “live a perfect life” in the place of sinners. He could have built a chair to the glory of God, which act is accepted by God in place of my failure to build the ideal family, indeed in place of EVERY father’s failures (who ever lived).

        Jesus–Obeying in my place. Dying in my place.

        IMO, the exegetical answer that you want is an exegesis of the meaning and purpose of the LIFE of Christ, prior to his death. Answer the question “what is the spiritual meaning and purpose for the rest of Christ’s life.”

        • Thank you for that response. It is worth thinking.

          IN my understanding, Jesus’ obedience really can’t be nailed down to a moment in time, but it is seen at the cross, because this is that for which He came into the world to do for sinners.

          There are many significances that Jesus’ life has other than a vicarious life. Just go through the gospels, the gospel writers themselves exegete the meaning of his life and that specifically was His messiahship.

          If Jesus came into the world (already 30 years old) and simply just died, we would have no gospel because He would not qualify as the true and long-awaited Messianic Son of David who would be born in bethlehem, etc, etc….

          His life validates His messiahship. And if one wants to stress His obedience, this can be mentioned as well, for His entire life was leading to His giving of Himself.

          • Erick,

            You seem to assume, with those who deny the IAO, that Jesus had to qualify himself to be a sacrifice.

            On what basis do you hold this assumption?

  17. Erick White, I recognize how you are speaking. You are speaking in the same manner that Federal Visionists, for instance, teach their false doctrine. Their sophistry is being mirrored in your own justifications for what you say you believe. “Nowhere in the forest is there a sign that says ‘tree.'” But they are all trees. “This is being asserted, but where is the forest’s warrant for calling anything ‘tree’?”

    These false teachers are low-rent secular academics that have imported all the low-rent secular academic sophistry one finds in secular universities. They used to use such sophistry to teach that Shakespeare was a homosexual proto-Nazi. At some point they decided to turn their multiple-decades old and honed rhetorical weapons on Reformed doctrine (they know where truth resides and always aim for it).

  18. Firstly, I do not believe in Federal Vision Theology.

    Rather, I am expounding a view that expands the sacrifical-death of Jesus Christ to procure more than what the traditional elements have allowed it.
    The main quam I have with the traditional understanding of the Active Obedience of Jesus is not that I don’t conceed to Jesus actively obeying the Father, but rather that this active obedience is calculated and summed up into a treasury wherein lies all the good things Jesus has done and follows an accounting of the WHOLE of Jesus’ life to the account of the church.

    I’ve heard in a sermon once that on the day of Judgement, the church will stand before the tribunal of God, and God the judge will simply open the life-record of Jesus and read off all the good things that Jesus did as if the church had done it.

    I don’t think exegesis of Paul yeilds to this kind of extremity. At the end of the day we must not go beyond what the Scripture teaches. The scripture no doubt teaches that one of the founding basis for our being imputed righteous (among others) is the obedience of Jesus Christ in parallel contrast to Adam’s disobedience. However, there is more than one option to construe the definition for this “obedience”.

    I will give you a perfect illustration from Scripture.

    Fundamental for reformed theology is the theology of Covenant. GOd has entered into a covenantal relationship wherein consists stipulations that covenant members must conform to. Within this framework, there is a structure that makes for blessing or cursing. If you obey the terms of the covenant (perfectly conform to the Law) then you will experience blessing. Now if you transgress (fail to conform to the Law) then you will experience cursing. The Jew (hypothetically) who was perfectly in-line with the requirements of the Law would stand under the blessing of God. The Jew (realistically) who broke the covenant would stand under the cursing of God.

    This above, as stated, is true and fundamnetal to the Holy Scriptures. Without understanding this, it is quite difficult to understand the cross, redemption, etc,etc..


    What the reformed position wants to posit then, is that by our trangression of the Law, we have TWO problem.

    1) We have not procured a righteousness to obtain the blessing
    2) We have trangressed and so fallen under the cursie

    IF we begin understanding the problem in this two-fold fashion, then we should expect the redemption of sinners to treat these TWO problems. And that is exactly what happens. In almost all reformed confessions, there will be consent to a passive AND active aspect of Jesus’ obedience which seeks to the deal treatment to both problems of humanity.

    Now, let’s bring this assumption to Galatians.

    “For all who rely on the works of the Law are under the curse; for it is written ‘Cursed be every one who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law; to do them”.

    It is clear that the Law demands perfect conformity. It cannot tolerate a fraction of unconformity. The Law demands perfectly doing what it requires. Since Paul works under the circumstance of all human beings sold under sin, it is impossible for human beings to meet the demand of the Law. Therefore, all who rely on the Law are under the curse of the law. For by trangression comes a curse.

    Hereafter, Paul will describe the redemption from the curse of the Law. If we keep the reformed covenant theology assumption that I descrbied above, then we should read that Jesus did the law AND became the curse of the Law for us, so that we can have the blessing of Abraham. But rather we read.

    “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law having become a curse for us; as it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who hands on a tree'” in order that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles…” (Gal 3:14).

    Why is it that Paul can work directly from the curse of the Law, to Jesus’ death, and then to our receiving the blessing of Abraham (imputed righteousness)? It would seem to me, that if Paul held the same affection and insistence on Jesus’ active obedience to procure the blessing for us, that he would mention it here. Rather we hear of our redemption from the curse by Jesus’ death in order to receive the blessing.

    It may be that we have to expand our view of the merit procured in the sacrifical-death of Jesus CHrist. I am not saying you have to do half the work and Christ does the other half. There is no crumb of work to be done on our part. Jesus’ death justified me before God freely.

  19. Erick, you continue to seem to not recognize that Jesus was the *spotless* Lamb. Jesus wasn’t just a man who died. He was an innocent man who was put to death. The only innocent man. His death on the cross is meaningless unless he is innocent on the cross. The first Adam sinned, the second Adam, Jesus, didn’t.

    As for imputation, see the word ‘federal’ in Federal Theology. You are either ‘in Adam’ or you are ‘in Christ.’ When you are in Adam you are condemned under the law. When you are in Christ you are free from the condemnation of the law, because your King, the second Adam, has fulfilled the law.

    And just like your false teachers (I don’t believe your protestations that you don’t think works can save you, everything you write goes against this) you speak out of both sides of your mouth.

    The blessing of Abraham is justification by faith. That faith is made effectual by Jesus’ death on the cross, and to separate that death from the Man’s innocence is, to be frank with you, high school level games. Deadly games.

    You know the truth and yet choose to play games.

    I smell N. T. Wright.

    • These are some strong statements. I’ve mentioned it more than once that i do not believe nor trust in any good works of my own. Since it cannot be kept in peace, I simply will not continue to speak here.

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