Calvin said that “the subject of justification…is the principle hinge by which religion is supported…for unless we first of all apprehend in what situation we stand with respect to God, an dwhat his judgment is concerning us, we have no foundation either for certainty of salvation, or for the exercise of piety towards God.”1
He defines justification this way: “Thus we simply explain justification to be an acceptance, by which God receives us into his favour, and esteems us as righteous persons; and we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.”2
Last week we took a look at Regeneration and defined it as: ”…secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us” (Systematic Theology, p. 699). It is helpful to make this distinction between justification and regeneration. “Regeneration is an act of God in us and justification is a judgment of God with respect to us” (John Murray as quoted in Grudem, Theology, p. 724). Regeneration is the particular work of God in making me new, I respond to him with repentance and faith (conversion) and in turn he declares me forgiven and righteous (justification). There are two parts of justification: the forgiveness of past sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Justification is a legal declaration. The word we use in Protestant theology to categorize justification is “forensic.”
There are two important words that need to be defined as we attempt to understand justification. The first one is imputation.
Imputation means that some benefit or harm is transferred to another person. Some more modern synonyms would be “attribution” or “ascription.” In Bible usage the most common term associated with imputation is “reckon” or “reckoned.” So, Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, or since “reckon” is a more archaic English term we are now using the word “credit”. There are three “imputations” in the Bible. Adam’s sin was imputed to the human race. The sins of the redeemed are imputed to Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the redeemed.
This idea of imputation with regard to justification is the major theological difference between Catholics and Protestants and was really the substance of the Reformation. A Roman Catholic would see the righteousness of Christ as not imputed but rather “infused” into the believer. It is a concept more akin to our idea of Sanctification. The Eastern Orthodox Church does not see Justification as a judicial or forensic concept here and more like the Roman Catholic view, they see righteousness as being actually imparted in justification. Here is where we would emphasize the “forensic” nature of justification. Paul’s argument in Romans 4 is hard to take any other way in that he goes to great lengths to state that Abraham was justified before he did any good works, before he was circumcised and before the law was given. This was a declaration of righteousness based on his faith.
The result of justification is peace with God (Romans 5:1). Here is an mp3 of Gordon Clark teaching on justification:
1 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XI
2 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XI
I think I am a Doctrine Nazi (kudos to Jerry Seinfeld)
I asked my wife tonight if it was inappropriate for me to call myself a “Trinity Nazi” on the blog because I freak out when people misrepresent important doctrines like the Trinity. She said: “Do you mean that you care about getting doctrine right? then yes you are and no it isn’t inappropriate.” So there you go, I am a Trinity Nazi, in that sense.
The Trinity is a foundational, primary doctrine of the church. It is an essential doctrine. It is a clear doctrine of which every Christian should be knowledgeable and conversant. It is clear in the sense that there is no controversy with regard to the statement of the doctrine of the Trinity and unlike many other doctrinal issues (eschatology or ecclesiology) there is no room for variance.
Here is a brief excerpt of the doctrine from the London Baptist Confession of 1689: In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided (See the bottom of this post for two other statements declaring our belief in the Trinity).
We generally talk about the unity of God using the terminology of “substance” or “essence.” God is one in substance or essence. We talk about the diversity of the trinity using the terms “person” or “subsistence.” There is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I find that many believers and pastors don’t even grasp the simplest expression of the Trinity and actually hold to substandard views of the Trinity and often find themselves in league with views that have clearly been defined as heretical. The following sound clip from a program (aired 1/5/2011) called “Pastor’s Perspective” with noted Calvary Chapel pastor Chuck Smith and co-host Don Stewart is an example of a discussion on the Trinity that is less than adequate. A caller asks the hosts a question about the Trinity since his Roman Catholic co-worker is having a discussion with him and he thinks he should disagree with him, listen then I will make some comments…
The response here is at best confusing. My initial response was “huh?” and then I was flabbergasted and shocked. Here are the confusing statements made that every pastor should be aware of and avoid:
First, the Catholic coworker is correct: The Father and Son are different persons. That was never affirmed, the hosts simply proceed to say he is wrong, then in parts of their answer affirm that he is correct (I am assuming in the conversation the Catholic co-worker was making a distinction between Father and Son and was misrepresented by the caller, I don’t think this caller was nuanced enough to recognize the problem with his mis-phrasing, that is why he is calling. He described the co-worker as saying Jesus and God were different persons then later said the coworker reference a passage that had the Son at the right hand of the Father (possibly Acts 7:56). Again this simply demonstrates a confusion of categories that if understood would be easily explained. But since no one made that simple initial correction, I am going to stand with my assumption. I will give my “response” to the caller after I deal with the mis-statements of the hosts.)
Second, Chuck Smith uses a phrase that should be avoided in an orthodox statement of the Trinity. He uses the phrase “there is one God manifested in Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, then later “one God yet three persons in which that one God has been manifested.” In the early controversies surrounding the Trinity the words which were used had paramount importance and it was the language of the Trinity that was hotly debated. The words used are important and specific, precisely because the doctrine of the Trinity is important and complex. “Manifestation” was a word that began to be associated with Sabellianism (modalism, and modern United Pentecostalism). When people use this word it raises a red flag as to whether they truly understand the issues surrounding the ancient and modern heresies. It causes concern when some words and phrases are used correctly (? apparently) then mixed in with this confusing and repeated reference.
Third, Don Stewart wasn’t clear and caused me to question his understanding of the Trinity when he distinguishes between the phrase: “distinct persons” and “different persons.” It appears he thinks that there is a distinction necessary between these two phrases, I think??? He says:
the persons are “centers of consciousness”
“they are distinct from one another, but they are the one God”
“the person doesn’t really know what the Roman Catholic church teaches on that if he says they are two different persons, no, they are distinct from one another but the one substance God and that is what the Scriptures teach…”
I don’t know if personhood is the equivalent to “centers of consciousness”, in fact let me restate, I would reject that definition as lacking the more traditional designation of persons as those who possess the attributes of mind, emotion and will. A center of consciousness would not demand those qualities of full personhood. This is one of the major discussions in keeping people from calling the Holy Spirit a force; He is not simply a force as He has mind, emotion and will.
The members of the Trinity are not merely distinct, they are different. The Father is not the Son; The Son is not the Father; The Son is not the Holy Spirit, etc. These are not simple distinctions, they are distinct differences. That needed to be emphasized, especially in response to how the question was phrased. The challenge the caller had was that his co-worker said that “Jesus and God” were different persons. Now, that is true on two levels and I will try to address them both because the question and the answer were very unclear.
The hosts were partially correct in their Trinity explanation and partially incorrect which may be worse than simply being wrong. It is confusing. I know that they don’t want to be associated with false doctrine and non-Trinitarian groups, but their comments could easily be stated by a modalist. I find this sloppy theologizing to be unbecoming of the minister of God. It is an unfortunate and common modern pastoral paradigm in which the Trinity question is addressed, and ultimately minimized. The correct phrases are used leading you to believe that the person is orthodox in their statement then as they continue to speak in an attempt to explain the basic statements they include language that is patently wrong and misleading and then end with the caveat: “no one can understand the mystery of God.” It makes me want to scream “No soup for you!”
God is beyond comprehension. The revealed and historically formulated and expressed doctrine of the Trinity is not!!!!! We can and should master the revealed and confessed expression of the Godhead. Anything short is shoddy pastoring, sloppy thinking and abhorrent to the lover of the mysteries of God and the Scripture.
Here is how I would have answered the question:
Thanks for the question Chris, before I answer your question let me clarify: did your Catholic friend say the Jesus and God were different persons or did he say that the Father and Son were different persons? (Since I don’t know what he would have said)…here is why it is important. First, Jesus is the name that we typically use when we refer to the Son in His incarnation. To say that Jesus and God were different persons would be to say that if Jesus were still divine then he would be a second god? Is that what your Catholic friend was affirming? If so he is mistaken. We probably would not use the name Jesus in the Trinity definition and we would not compare person to God, that would be a basic confusion of the categories used in the Trinity definition.
In the Trinity words and definitions are precise and important. We would never say “Jesus and God were different persons” in a Trinity discussion as that is a confusion of categories. The Trinity is a doctrine constructed from the Biblical evidence that shows us how Father, Son and Holy Spirit can all be God and yet still only have one God. So we have the category of essence or substance. God is one. There is only one God. In His essence He is One; The Father is God, The Son is God, The Holy Spirit is God yet there is still only one God. That is how we describe His unity.
So how do we avoid a contradiction? How can three be one? This is where it is important to talk about personhood. See in the one Godhead, the three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three different persons who have eternally existed, are completely equal. It is not a contradiction because we are not saying that they are three essences and one essence (that would be a contradiction) or three persons and yet one person (that would be a contradiction) we are saying that they are three persons and yet still only one essence (maybe difficult to grasp, but not a contradiction).
Both Roman Catholics and Protestants agree about the nature of the Trinity – this is not one of the many points of contention between us. So either or both of you misunderstand the Trinity.
Here are some historic creeds and their Trinity statements:
The Athanasian Creed states it this way:
1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God, Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.
The Westminster Confession states the doctrine of the Trinity in this way:
In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Thursday mornings are theology morning for me. I am walking through Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem with Tony, our hispanic pastor. He is the best. I am learning how to be a mature Christian from him, he is learning the ins and outs of theology from me. Good deal.
Today we were in chapter 34 on Regeneration. Just for your information, Regeneration comes before Faith and Repentance in Grudem’s book, both chronologically in chapter order and in the order of salvation (ordo salutis). I agree with Grudem. Here is how Grudem defines regeneration: “Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us” (Systematic Theology, p. 699).
To summarize his chapter he affirms that 1) Regeneration is totally a work of God. Since regeneration is totally a work of God we are passive with regard to it. This means that it is something that God performs upon us. It is the equivalent of being born again. Just as we had no part in our conception, we have no part in the initiation of our new birth. He cites the following verses: James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3; John 3:3-8. This is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit, see especially Titus 3:5.
2) The exact nature of Regeneration is Mysterious to us. This section is inserted to alleviate tension that exists between those who want to switch the order from Regeneration > Repentance > Faith to Repentance > Faith > Regeneration. So he compares it to the passage in John where the movement of the Spirit is compared to the wind (John 3:8). Grudem also wants to emphasize that regeneration and repentance/faith may happen so close together as to make the difference imperceptible.
3) In this sense of “Regeneration,” it comes before saving faith. “…we have defined regeneration to be the act of God awakening spiritual life within us, bringing us from spiritual death to spiritual life. On this definition, it is natural to understand that regeneration comes before saving faith. It is in fact this work of God that gives us teh spiritual ability to respond to God in faith” (Grudem p. 702).
4) Genuine regeneration must bring results in life. The results of regeneration will be the ceasing of sin (1 John 3:9) genuine Christlike love (1 John 4:7), overcoming the world (1 John 4:7), protection from Satan (1 John 5:18), and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
In other conversations today that I will expand on in future posts, maybe tonight: Chuck Smith and Don Stewart make disturbing comments in answer to a question about the Trinity. This was interesting in light of the passage I am working on for Sunday, John 1:1. Also had several conversations with regard to why we don’t do altar calls. Stay tuned.
I am always on the look out for good listening material and was pleased to find the “Please Convince Me” podcast. Read the text of my email that I sent in response to comments made on Podcast #162 entitled Does Jesus Possess the Nature of God. The host of the program is James Warner Wallace a homicide detective and church planter – nice combo.
Jim is a gracious and articulate host, I have only listened to a few of the podcasts and have enjoyed them. He is an evidentialist in his apologetic approach and although I don’t feel this is the strongest apologetic, it does have value and Jim seems to “apologize” well.
I challenged him on his comments in podcast 162 with regard to the nature of Christ and he read and responded to my email on podcast #165, so check it out. Here is the link to the podcast page.
For those of you interested in my previous posts on Kenosis theory follow these links:
Every Thursday morning I meet with our hispanic Pastor Tony to read and discuss Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. We are presently in chapter 23 covering “The Essential Nature of Man.” (Feel free to join us, Starbucks on Ethanac at 7:30 am).
What does the Scripture mean by “soul” and “spirit”? Are they the same thing?
Typically the discussion has centered on whether man is made up of one, two, or three parts (monism, dichotomy, trichotomy). The monists (man is made up of only one part) say that what we call the soul/spirit is simply a function of the body and that there is no existence outside of the body. This view is held by liberal theologians and materialists (agnostics and atheists). The other views (dichotomy and trichotomy) are views that are held and debated by believers.
The argument stems from the fact that the Scripture seems to speak of the soul and spirit as interchangeable and synonymous terms in some passages (John 12:27 & 13:21; Luke 1:46-47; Hebrews 12:23/1 Peter 3:19 compared with Revelation 6:9 & 20:4) and seems to distinguish them in other passages (1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 4:12).
I think the best way to view this issue is to use the broader terms “material” and “immaterial” to talk about “body” and “soul/spirit”. One of the challenges of Systematic Theology as a discipline is that the Bible was not written as a “systematic” theology. When we gather the different verses of Scripture to put them into a systematic expression of doctrine we find ourselves with different kinds of data. Some of the data is in the form of a prayer, a parable, a description, a commandment etc. Each piece of data has different value in the discussion and the data must be evaluated individually and then put into the hopper of evidence. When we take all the differing data and treat them as if they are contextually equal, we find an unnecessary tension.
But let’s start with the terms material and immaterial (I recognize that these are not in the Bible). The material part of us is easier to talk about, so let’s start there. The material part of man is generally referred to in the Scriptures as the “body”, but sometimes it is referred to as flesh (there is another discussion about a unique usage of flesh in Romans with regard to sin – sometimes flesh in the Bible can refer to the physical and Paul uses it to refer to the “sin” which resides in the flesh – and he has something more in mind than simply the body). The body is not part of this controversy; most theologians simply accept that the body is “one” part. But really it isn’t simply one part. My body is made up of several different parts. We can talk of the different organs, skin, arms, legs, brain, eyes, etc. We don’t feel the need to divide the body into multiple parts we simply view all the parts as contributing to the whole.
If we use that same kind of approach to the immaterial part of man it seems to me that the problem with the Scripture’s description is diminished. The immaterial part of man is sometimes described as soul, spirit, heart, mind, etc. It is not necessary to make the different parts (or ways of describing the whole) to mean that there are multiple immaterial parts.
The dichotomist understanding of the nature of man is the best explanation of man’s nature.
Some of the interesting discussions that come as a result of this doctrine are: Do animals have souls? Where do our souls come from? Is our soul a separate and unique act of creation in each instance of conception, that is does God create each soul and put that soul into a person at some point after conception (creationism) or is our soul simply passed on to us by our parents in conception as our other characteristics (traducianism). Some believe in the pre-existence of the soul (Mormons, Muslims, some evidence that some Jewish thought holds that all souls were created at the time of the creation of Adam,), but this has generally been rejected by Christian theologians.
One of the most important conclusions that should be held to by all Christians as a result of this discussion is that the nature of man is clearly intended to be body and soul and that is the nature of our resurrection existence. Although we may exist temporarily apart from the body, it is not the intention of God to have us remain without a body. The doctrine of the resurrection has to do with the body of man. It is our body that dies, it is our body that is resurrected. It is united with the immaterial part of us (spirit/soul) at resurrection. Many Christians fail to connect this dot and have a picture of eternity in heaven consisting of “spirits” existing forever. But we don’t believe in an eternal bodiless state, it violates this doctrine that man is composed of two parts, material and immaterial; body and soul.
In our men’s Bible Study we have been working on a definition fo the gospel that we can say comes purely from the book of Galatians.
Here is what we came up with:
The true gospel* is the fulfillment of Gods promise to Abraham to justify all nations** through faith in Jesus Christ*** and live by faith having received the Holy Spirit.****
* There is one true gospel ref. Gal. 1:6-12
** Gods promise to Abraham ref. Gal. 3:1-8
*** We are justified through faith in Jesus Christ ref. Gal. 2:15-21
**** We Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit into our hearts Gal 4:6,7
Thanks to Ryan for his editing work on the statement
Here are some important other emphases in Galatians with regard to the gospel:
Paul received the gospel as a result of a revelation of Jesus Christ, apart from human agency.
The gospel applies to the Jew and the Gentile (& excludes circumcision as a component of the gospel for both)
We are justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.
We live by faith in the the Son of God
The receiving of the Holy Spirit (beginning with the Holy Spirit) is by hearing with faith, not by works of the law
The promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ
The gospel has to do with making slaves into sons by redemption and adoption.
The gospel is based on Christ’s work, not mine. All boasting is in the cross.
Here is an interesting article in light of our study from Andreas Kostenburger entitled, “What is the Gospel? Five Observations”. The link will actually take you to the blog you will have to scroll down to the post from February 3, 2010. For some reason the link to the article itself doesn’t work.
In light of the upcoming Easter holiday here is some excellent resource material for your listening and reading enjoyment with regard to the resurrection of Jesus.
Christian apologist Gary Habermas who teaches at Liberty University is a lifelong student and author with regard to the resurrection. He has written 27+ books, most on the resurrection, some of which are offered in whole or part on his website as free downloads. Check him out here: GaryHabermas.com
I am currently walking through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology with our Hispanic Pastor. We meet every week to tackle a chapter. I picked Grudem because he is a little easier to consume than say Shedd or even Berkhof, but covers the bases. I generally like Grudem but have this critique after today’s reading.
We are currently reading about the Incommunicable Attributes of God. Grudem lists the following attributes as incommunicable: Independence, Unchangeableness, Omnipresence, Eternity, Unity. The traditional terms used for Independence and Unchangeable are Aseity and Immutability. Grudem changes them (although to his credit he at least references them) to more modern, understandable and common terms. Who says “aseity” or “immutable”?
I don’t have a problem with the change from aseity to independence. I have some trouble with the term “unchangeableness”.
First, it is a weird word. It is a word, it is just an odd word. Unchangeable, unchanging are normal words, adding “ness” to it seems like we just didn’t want to come up with the right word so just add something.
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1).
I appealed to 1 John 5:1 last week in my sermon to try and explain to people how we can know that the Holy Spirit is in us, if we are truly born from above. My emphasis was that a confession of Christ is the Biblical initial sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. My emphasis was that a confession of Christ was not possible without the presence of the Spirit, or to be more specific, being born again precedes the confession of believing in Christ. Believing does not precede birth, birth precedes believing. This classic reformed theological conclusion is rooted in an accurate understanding of the Bible.
The gist of this passage is that it is not possible to come to belief in Christ without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, so if you believe you can be assured you did not arrive at this conclusion apart from His work. The real testimony of the Spirit in the spirit of the believer is the confession of Christ. The testimony of the Spirit with our spirit is the confession of Christ as Lord (Romans 8:16; John 15:26). The Spirit leads us to Christ, the Bible doesn’t teach that I find Christ and then receive the Spirit; this is an impossible Biblical ordo salutis.
Check out the following video from James White as he explains the finer points of the Greek version of 1 John 5:1 in response to a less than Biblical explanation by Brian Broderson of Calvary Chapel and the radio show on KWVE called the “Pastor’s Perspective.” This is a great example of quality exegesis over and against a casual and flippant handling of the Bible, disguised as quality exegesis. James White is thorough and precise in his explanation of what 1 John 5:1 means. He is contextually consistent and handles the Greek text well. We need more of this kind of “Bible study” and less of the rambling, surface handling that many of today’s pastors and radio/internet “experts” demonstrate.
I have had my own concerns about answers to questions on the Pastor’s Perspective and have attempted to address them in private as well as I can (letters, email etc), most recently on the Kenosis issue and in particular Chuck Smith’s expression of the substandard Christian Doctrine. My attempts to engage the program have not been successful and as many of the people in the congregation I am responsible for listen to that program, I have begun to simply point out the errors publicly. I thank James White for his clear and precise handling of this issue.