Under the Law and Keeping the Law

Understanding how the Mosaic Law relates to the follower of Christ has elicited all sorts of responses over the years. More recently we have Tullian Tchividjian, who espouses a very Lutheran view of the Law. He reduces the majority of the Scriptures into “imperative” and “indicative.” Imperative being the command to people concerning what they must do: i.e. law; contrasted with the indicative, indicating what has been done by God (in Christ) for you; i.e. the gospel.

In the above schematic, the law was God’s command to us, telling us what we must do. The primary purpose (at least retrospectively) was to lead us to see our own needs and deficiencies. Then, God’s second word was the gospel. The news that all of God’s commands have been met by the Messiah of Israel.

Whatever value this scheme may have in terms of illustration, it is certainly not what Paul meant, or the rest of Scripture for that matter. Other spin offs of this view vary considerably, but are related. They include: 1. The view that God’s expectations for us to behave a certain way has been relativized by Jesus: “all you need to do is believe in Jesus” they say, “Jesus did the rest.” 2. The view that obedience is “automatic” when you believe the right things. 3. The view that the law was God’s first way of salvation and it didn’t work out. So God scrapped it and introduced the gospel. 4. The view that the Law was perfect, but mankind wasn’t, so it wasn’t a good match up. 

All of these views I think miss the mark; some worse than others. Fundamentally all of them misunderstand the law. These misunderstandings work themselves out in all sorts of ways. Beginning with a consideration of the law, I would like to examine some key correctives to some of these views.

Let us start with the fact that the Law contains provisions for sins. By that I mean, that the law does not demand sinless perfection as many mistake it to. The law makes all sorts of provisions for when an individual sins, or the nation of Israel as a whole. The Law was therefore full of Grace, full of God’s forgiveness offered mercifully to his covenant people. When we think of sacrificing a goat, we need to remember that God is mercifully removing the guilt of the person performing the sacrifice. The sacrifice of the animal isn’t a “work.” The sacrifice of the animal was a form of good news, of grace, of God’s provision of a means by which he would deal with sin without punishing the perpetrator with the full consequences of the sin.

This leads to the next point. People like David repeat, throughout the psalms, that he is a righteous and blameless man. Some find this very uncomfortable. How can David claim these things?  He has sinned a plenty. Well, when he sinned, he embraced God’s gracious provision of sacrificial means of propitiation; this provision was by means of the Mosaic Law. He therefore was a perfect man. When he sinned, he confessed his sin, repented, and sought to follow God.

This is one helpful tip that will help correct misunderstood positions regarding the law. There are several others that we will cover. For now, let us bullet a few points that we will expound on later.

  • the law does have a negative role to play within Israel.
  • Israel is called to be the means through which salvation would come to the world; this will not happen without the law
  • many times, disobedience is linked to unbelief in the Scriptures, so believing God properly, does lead to obedience, but certainly not “automatically,” sweat and human effort are still necessary
  • Being a disciple of Christ is a requirement to enter the new heavens and earth; this is not merely “believing.”
  • The law was never the means of Salvation. Abraham was “saved” by believing God 430 years before the law was given. The Law was given as a supplement to that; not to replace it.

My new Project: What does it mean to Know God?

When you pray to a God who is Spirit, how can you keep your mind attentive to a being who is shapeless, odorless, colorless, and transcendentally out of reach?

If you focus on a thought, like the one above, instead of actually talking to God, then, you are thinking… but not actually praying; at least it would seem. Some would suggest that you use things in creation like trees, flowers, music, and so forth as catalysts of praise and thanksgiving. How can a tree connect you to the odorless, colorless, formless entity that you are seeking communication with? 

Can it become a idol? People are guilty of making creation or things in creation an idol, so, why suggest focusing on creation in order to worship God, if creation is the very thing that we as humans are said to disobediently replace God with?

At any rate, it is not acceptable for mature believers to have a translucent golden watery fairy dust Spirit in our minds when we address our Father in Heaven. Nor is it adequate to have a big man with a big beard. What then?

Never mind images! How can we love this God, and talk to him, relate to him as a person, as our Father, without wandering around in our thoughts, or injecting strange images that distort who he actually is. How can we attain the deepest and most profound relationship imaginable for ourselves as God’s creatures; especially when it rarely feels like a relationship at all. Our relationship to God is supposed to be the consummate relationship. In a sort, it is to be like Tolkien’s Ring of Power, the one Relationship to rule them all. 

A regularly recurring painful experience in my life is prayer. I go to Him who I feel so unfamiliar with, but, ironically, the one around whom my entire life revolves. I have given him everything, and I want to know Him. When attention turns to Him, there is a awkward unfamiliarity that stifles conversation. What do I do? Ignore the unfamiliarity and ask for stuff. Pray for the lost, and for the Mission of God’s Kingdom. Pray for my family. Or just begin to give thanks to Him for all that He has given me. The fear remains, however, that my life is certainly revolving around something else than Him, if, every time I try to talk to Him, I can’t even figure out who He really is without abandoning the whole enterprise of prayer to think theology (biblical stories, Scriptures, and so forth). Trying to hold Packer’s attributes of God in my mind, and push them into a mental square while imagining what kind of a person a God with all these attributes is like; it is just difficult to sustain. Then to begin talking to this imaginary mental projection while wondering why it feels like I’m talking to a mere imaginary mental projection engenders frustration. No wonder I like reading more than praying.

So, what is the key to relating to God in the most complete, dynamic, biblically intended way? This is not a question that I intend to answer quickly. It is not a question that I can answer right now to my own satisfaction. I’m compiling some resources: James K.A. Smith, “Desiring the Kingdom,” Diverse writings from C.S. Lewis, and most importantly, Edwards’s “the End for Which God Created the World.” I am committing myself to this project, and as time and resources allow, I hope that in answering these questions (if I do) that I will have something that will help others who have similar struggles.   

M. Kline on Genesis 1 (Days 1 and 4)

Understandably dissatisfied with the contrived nature of these attempts to avoid acknowledging that the act of making the luminaries was a day four event, other opponents of the non-sequential view of the creation narrative have been driven to seek a solution in a reinterpretation of day one. They would account for the presence of light and the cycle of day and night in day one by positing for this point in time some light source other than the one whose origin they admit is assigned to day four and which (according to their commitment to the temporally sequential order of the narrative) did not, therefore, exist until three days (or ages) after day one.

Some speculate about a supernatural light source, a manifestation of divine glory in space. But that distorts the eschatological design of creation history, according to which the advent of God’s Glory as the source of illumination that does away with the need for the sun awaits the Consummation. 30 Indeed, the assumption of such a supernatural mode of ongoing providence during the creation week is contradicted by the assumptions that inform Gen. 2:5ff. 31

No more satisfactory is the suggestion that the hypothetical lighting system was some natural arrangement. That would raise questions about the wisdom of the divine procedure. Why would God create such a vast cosmic order only to discard it three days (or ages) later? Why create a replacement cosmos to perform the very same functions already being performed perfectly well by the original system?32 Like the gap theory of Gen. 1:2, this scenario, with
its mid-course cosmic upheaval and starting over, would introduce a jarring, discordant note into the simple, stately symphony of the cosmic house-building ” planned, performed, and perfected by the all wise master builder.

Any such approach that disconnects the luminaries of day four from the light of day one, denying the cause-effect relationship of the two, violates the overall thematic scheme of the creation narrative. As we have seen, the successive members of the first triad of days correspond to the successive days of the second triad, the relationship of each matching pair being that of creation kingdom (theme of the first triad) to creature king (theme of the second triad). The correspondence is especially close in the day one-day four pair. It is clearly the light phenomena (kingdom) of day one over which the luminaries (kings) of day four rule, producing and regulating it. Temporal recapitulation most certainly occurs at day four and hence there is no escaping the conclusion that the narrative sequence is not intended to be the chronological sequence.

Meredith G. Kline, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony” Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 48: 1 (Mar. 1996): 6-8.

Inter-Racial Marriage

My wife had some conversations recently surrounding the topic of Inter-Racial Marriage. After answering her questions I thought it would be beneficial to jot a few of my answers down for others to see; seeing as this is a common issue in the South.

Question 1: Is it wrong to marry people of another race?

Answer: According to the Bible, it is NOT wrong to marry people of another race. As is well known, Moses, A Jewish man married a black Cushite Woman. This angered Miriam, and she spoke out against Moses because she did not approve of this marriage. God curses Miriam with leprosy and defended Moses. “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman.” Numbers 12:1. For those who are interested: Cush was in the southern area of Egypt, which is well documented as a ethnically black area.

Question 2: Is it wrong for someone to marry a person who is not a Christian?

Answer: According to the Bible, Yes it is wrong. 2 Corinthians 6:14 advises against “yoking” oneself to an unbeliever; which is a reference to marrying an unbeliever and binding yourself to them in a lifelong covenant. The Old Testament also contains warnings about Jewish men marrying women who worship other gods.

Question 3: If God approved of inter-racial marriage, why did he not create bi-racial people to start with?

Answer: Well, God only created one man originally; Adam. So God did not directly create white, black, mexican, and brazilian either. Chances are, Adam had the appearance of a Middle Eastern man, since Eden was in the Middle East. Which brings up an interesting point. All people, black, white, and all the rest all come from one Man, Adam, who was created directly by God. So, indirectly, through Adam, God did create all races, including the bi-racial kind. The difference in color is simply a difference in concentration of melanin in the skin. There are obvious adaptations that come along with this like the eyes of Asian men and women, sickle cell traits, etc.

Question 4: What do you do with people who don’t care about what the Bible says?

Answer: Showing a person what the Bible says on an issue is about as far as you can go. Everyone has their own opinion; some people choose to believe what the Bible says, and others do not. The Bible is not an opinion, it is the authoritative truth. It tells us which opinions are right and which are wrong. If it says that interacial marriage was approved by God (in the case of Moses marrying a Cushite) then that is the absolute truth regardless of opinion, upbringing, newspapers, nations, cultures, likes, dislikes, etc. For a Christian, the Bible is the ultimate authority. If it says that marrying an unbeliever is wrong, then it is wrong. If the Bible says that inter-racial marriage is ok, then it is ok. Some cannot accept what the Bible teaches on the matter, however.

Is there a covenant of Works

God’s Covenant with Man From Age to Age

When God created man, he created man in covenant with himself. This can be seen clearly in Hosea 6:7 where it says that Adam transgressed the covenant. On the surface of Genesis chapter one, God gave Adam the mandate to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it by ruling over it. This was characteristic of the covenant between God and Adam. Adam was expressly given charge to “guard” the garden as seen in Gen. 2:15. G.K. Beale argues that “Adam was a primordial priest serving in a primeval temple.” It is also clear that the tree of knowledge represented the status and authority of judgement being given to man to rule in a judiciary sense. For scriptural support of this particular meaning of the phrase “knowledge of good and evil”: 1 Kings 3:9 and 28, 1 Sam. 14:17-20, Hebrews 5:13-14, and many others. To illustrate: “When Laban pursued Jacob God appeared to him and told him not to pass judgement on Jacob, ‘Take heed to yourself that you do not speak to Jacob either good or evil.’ (Gen. 31:24).” Laban was unfit to judge Jacob. This unfitness is put in terms of Laban not being fit to speak ‘good or evil’ about Jacob. Solomon was fit to be king and judge in this way because he requested the wisdom “to discern both good and evil.” The ability to adequately discern both good and evil carries judiciary resonances and responsibilities. Adam was not meant to attain to these until God deemed him ready.
We see then a role being given to Adam in which he will mature and develop into as a priest king, so that, as he matures and develops within the context of the gracious covenant between him and God, Adam will become more and more fit to rule and exercise this judiciary responsibility. This ability to rule and to discern good and evil was a role that was to be given by God, and not selfishly grasped at by Adam himself (contrast with Phil. 2:5-10). We can also contrast “David, who refused steadfastly to seize the crown from Saul, and who repented when he cut off a corner of Saul’s kingly robe; and with Jesus who refused any crown until the Father bestowed it upon him at his ascension.” This authority was to be graciously given in God’s own time when he deemed the recipient fit for such a role. In this, Adam was not called to earn anything from God, but rather, he was called to mature and develop through faithful obedience to God in preparation for what God would call him to next. Fesko, in arguing against Jordan, draws some quite embarrassing inferences. A classic straw man example can be given in two instances: First, Fesko, who has up to this point been interacting primarily with James Jordan, pulls an oblique reference from Ralph Smith who was writing on a totally different subject (that of the Trinity), and sets up a quote form him that says that Smith’s reasons for believing in his view of the economic Trinity are “theological rather than exegetical.” Then Fesko uses that to say that Jordan “denies the primary authority of Scripture in theology” because he is not using the Scriptures to ground all of his theological beliefs. In this, Fesko does not deal with the multitude of verses Jordan gives to ground his statements. Second, Jordan gives an analogy that illustrates the issue of maturity with regard to parenting. He gives an example of Tom, who as a 5 year old is given responsibilities to to keep. A good father would not reward a five year old with keys to a car because the child is not mature enough for this, even though the child was faithful to the commands of the Father. Tom, when he is sixteen, may be given keys as a reward for his faithfulness. Fesko takes this analogy and accuses Jordan of teaching that there was an “ontological deficiency in Adam.” Then he quotes Jordan, “infants, such as Adam and Eve were, do not have the wisdom to know good and evil in this judicial sense.” This judiciary sense is the mature role that Adam was meant to grow into as he matured in the garden within the context of faithful obedience to God. Fesko then asks, “What does this say regarding the creation of man in the imago Dei?” Jordan is simply saying that Adam lacked a judicial maturity that would fit him for the next stage of fulfilling God’s mandate. Jordan never suggests that Adam was ill equipped to fulfill God’s mandate of keeping and guarding the garden, being fruitful and multiplying, etc. This sort of polemical immaturity removes all credibility from Fesko, even though he raises some good points.
So, Adam’s responsibility to fulfill his mandate from God was a mandate that would entail gradual increases of maturity and responsibility, and these responsibilities were prematurely grasped by Adam. However, this did not absolve Adam’s (and man’s) responsibilities after the fall. This can be seen in these passages: Gen. 1:28, 9:1-7, 12:2-3, 17:2, 22:17, Lev. 26:9, Deut. 15:4, 30:16. These passages could be multiplied over and over again. What is clear is that God’s plan for Adam and his subsequent offspring continued after the Fall and was often repeated; unmistakably. This mandate was never meant to be a way of earning back God’s favor. As if God says to man, “if you do what I commanded Adam to do, then I will come and restore you to repay you for what you have earned.” Even Jesus clarifies this in Luke 17 where he says that after we have obeyed in everything, we should then say that we are unworthy servants; an attitude that Jesus himself emulated no doubt. This attitude is not compatible with the covenant of works and the paradigm which suggests that Adam was earning something. This mandate was to be carried out by God’s people, as a continuation of God’s covenant with Adam, because this was who God created man to become. Man would grow into this role, not by earning it, but by becoming more and more aware of his own lack of wisdom, and the need for God’s grace.
The quest of man to become the man that God intended him is a long story. The crucial character in this story, for some time, is Israel. Israel is given the mandate, and is said to be the ones through whom God’s plan for the world will come to fruition. This is the role that Israel failed at miserably. Paul alludes to this in Romans 3:2. N.T. Wright writes,
The key is then 3:2: Israel was entrusted with “the oracles of God.” This does not mean that Israel was given God’s oracles for its own possession; the strange word “oracles” may well reflect what Paul has already said at more length in 2:17-20, that the Torah was designed to enable Israel to be the light of the world. “Entrusted” means “given something in trust, to be used or passed on for someone else’s benefit.
God’s call of Abraham had the dual purpose of carrying forward God’s original mandate given to Adam, but with the twist of also dealing with the antagonist introduced by Adam via the Fall. This is where delineating the role of the Torah within the scope of the Abrahamic covenant is so incredibly vital.
God did not say to Israel in Egypt, “Here is my Torah; if you keep it perfectly for a year or two, then I will liberate you from your slavery,” but “I am liberating you now because I promised Abraham I would do so; when, and only when, I have done so, I will give you the way of life that you will need for when you come into your promised land.
When the story comes to Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, the one who would embody Israel and do all that God required of Israel, God is, to use N.T. Wright’s language, being faithful to the covenant that He made with Abraham. Abraham is to become the Father of many nations. Prior to this coming to fulfillment, God also prophesied of a time of slavery and exile through which God would create the ‘sperma’ of promise. This pattern of exile and deliverance was recapitulated time and again throughout Israel’s history.
Paul, in recounting Israel’s history, delineates several underlying issues that were at work. For starters, the one God of Israel has a plan for the world. This plan is to be enacted through Israel. Israel, like the world, has a problem that is not skin deep, but which penetrates into the very essence of who they are. Israel, like the world, is in Adam. To deal with this “in Adam” problem, God gives Israel the Torah. The Torah was not meant to be a latter by which Israel would climb up and therefore earn acceptance with God. Rather, it was a further expression of the covenantal relationship between Israel and God, that was given by God to move the covenant forward to its intended fulfillment. The Torah had a strange effect on Israel however. Rather than having the purifying effect that Israel expected, it actually exasperated the problem of sin. According to Romans 5:20-21, this was the purpose of the Torah. It was intended to have this sin intensifying effect. The force of the Adam-Christ contrast, as was recounted earlier in the exegesis of Romans 5, grows directly out of the long argument concerning Abraham, since God’s purpose in calling Abraham was to deal with the problem created through Adam.
In terms of Romans 7, Paul envisages the law in terms of a marriage. Wright points out that “the law is not the first husband, but the thing which binds ‘you’ to that first husband (Adam).” The Torah, then, was introduced into the Adam-Christ sequence in order to increase the trespass.
Now, at one of the most profound moments anywhere in his writing, Paul sketches what that purpose was. Israel was called in order to be the place where sin would grow to full height, so that it might at last be fully and properly condemned. If sin was to be defeated, this was how it had to happen.
This is to say, in effect, without the torah, Christ could not have accomplished his God given vocation. No Torah: No Messiah-Victory.
In terms of Roman 6-7, through Baptism, and the union shared with Christ, those in Christ die. Through the death that they share in the Messiah, they are freed from the marriage to Torah and Adam, so that they might live to another. All those who are in Christ make up this promised family (sperma), and are called to carry out the mandate originally given to Adam. We are still called to be fruitful, and multiply, and to fill the earth and subdue it. The power by which we, as Messiah-people are to accomplish this is in the power of the gospel. The good news that God has been faithful to his covenant promise to Abraham and his promised seed, through which he will renew the whole cosmos. Jesus has been shown to be the world’s true Lord through God’s vindication of him by raising him from the dead. The world has been given the summons to surrender to his kingship, and trust in his gospel.
It is within this context that the covenant is best understood; a covenant that extends all the way back to the first man. The gospel is the good news that God, in Christ, has come to set the world, and its image bearers in it, right with himself. There is a deep continuity here with the first and subsequent covenants that God made, to which the Covenant of works is insufficient to account for. In the Messiah, God has moved beyond the Torah and the Jewish temple (early stages of God’s covenant with man and specifically Israel), and into the promised new covenant in which Gentiles are rightful covenant members, conditioned upon faith in Israel’s Messiah. Within this membership, faithfulness to the Messiah is mandatory as a member of Christ’s corporate body, the church, the new covenant temple. It is here that the church is called to anticipate the coming kingdom and reign of Christ by living now, embodying in its thought patterns, attitudes and behavior, the life which will be exemplified in the coming age. We are called this: Living life under the lordship of Christ both because he is Lord, and in a prophetic and more complete sense, one day, he will be.

Review of the Economy of the Covenants (A Defense of the Covenant of Works)

Herman Witsius’s “Economy of the Covenants,” contains a lot of helpful information. It is a very thorough work that covers quite a bit of ground. The book as a whole is great. Theologically it covers the centrality of “covenant” in God’s dealing with man. This is one of the pillars upon which all covenant theology is built.
For now, however, the focus will be on Witsius’s first chapter titled “The Covenant of Works.” Having followed R.C. Sproul for some time and having listened to just about every lecture that he has done, this writer was in basic agreement with the doctrine of the covenant of works for some time. Also being a fan of John Piper, this writer ran into some interesting sermons/teaching series where Piper voiced some of his disagreements with the covenant of works; mentioning obviously his seminary professor Daniel Fuller. Later hearing Douglas Wilson on the subject really brought this writer to a place where he realized his utter ignorance of the doctrine, such that he could not determine who was right and why it mattered (Wilson not agreeing with the covenant of works either). There was also a rigorous exposure to the covenant of works in J.V. Fesko’s “Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine.” Rather than persuade this writer however, he was left thinking that Fesko, though making some good observations, drew conclusions that were not adequately supported by his biblical arguments. It felt like he was drawing five dollar conclusions from one dollar arguments. Coming to Witsius’s work, this writer mainly came with an interest to see how he dealt with the doctrine, and whether or not he could shed light on why it is so dogmatically held. The covenant of works is a fundamental doctrine that supports certain ways of understanding the doctrine of Justification, at least in the writer’s understanding. If such an important doctrine (justification) rests on the doctrine of the covenant of works, then surely the doctrine of the covenant of works should have some considerable support.
What the writer has found, even after reading Witsius, is that the covenant that God made with Adam is not clearly a “covenant of works.” That God was in a covenant with Adam is convincingly supported. The nature of that covenant however seems to be different in many ways that is let on by the advocates of the covenant of works.
One argument that the writer finds decisive in arguing against the covenant of works is with regard to Jesus. The argument could be framed thus: Did Jesus receive grace? Did Jesus live by Grace? Was Jesus dependent on Grace? In this context, were Jesus’s works meritorious? If it can be shown that Jesus received grace, and depended on grace, then it would follow that his works were the product of grace, and therefore not meritorious. If this can be demonstrated, then the covenant of works is consequently called into question. In Luke 2:40 it says that Jesus grew in wisdom and became strong. And the grace of God was upon him.
Now, if grace is seen as something that is exclusively reserved for recipients who have disqualified themselves from God’s favor, demerited if you will, then this verse would not make any sense. Grace assumes the propriety of God not giving favor, in many people’s estimation, because it implies that the recipient has done something to disqualify himself from it. This is not the case with Jesus.
If Jesus lived by the strength provided by God’s grace, then the nature of God’s covenant with him, and concomitantly the covenant he made with Adam, was of a different nature than is supposed by the covenant of works. If this is true then one of Witsius’s pillars is torn asunder.
Consider the position of Witsius with regard to God’s requirements. Dr. Macmahon summarizes Witsius:
1) A promise of eternal life. 2) Prescription of the conditions for obtaining the promise, and 3) the penal sanction against transgressors of the conditions of the Covenant. If Adam persevered, he would have received what we received by faith in Jesus Christ. The law itself was ordained to life (Gal. 3:21). Christ, the second Adam, earned eternal life for us through the law. He did what Adam did not do. Perfect obedience is (still) required by all men. This should help us to see that God does not change just because men fall. God still speaks to people in His Word as if they are not fallen (Do this and live.), for perfect obedience is necessary to obtain eternal life (Galatians 5:3).

Witsius’s argument, with regard to the law, was that the abrogation on the part of God was that man could no longer obtain eternal life by the keeping of the law. As can be seen above, it is not that God no longer requires such obedience, but that God has determined that such obedience will not be accomplished by the men themselves (but rather by their representative.) It is further argued that the law does not change because God does not change; a key to understanding the Covenant of Works. What is required of God does change, however. Unclean animals are declared clean. Circumcision is rescinded as requisite to be full members in the covenant family of God. Sacrifices no longer function the same way as they did under the old covenant. Someone may say, yes, that is true, but it is true because of what Jesus did, not because God has changed. To which the writer would respond, no one has suggested that God has changed. On the contrary, the law is no longer required by God because it has been fulfilled. There are two different ways to view this. First, one could see God having a list of requirements for someone to be accepted (the COW). The COG is where God comes in to do that list for his people, so that it is fulfilled and subsequently some things are no longer necessary. Second, it could be that God intends a threefold mission to be undertaken: 1. to deal with the sin inaugurated by Adam, and 2. to put the original vocation of man back on tract (the cultural mandate), and 3. To lead man to the state of glory that he was destined to ascend. Now, in the second paradigm, the Torah was necessary to deal with sin, and God gave it as an instrument through which he would deal with sin through Israel. The fact that he dealt with sin through the Torah, and therefore fulfilled its purpose, has to do with the historical fulfillment of the Torah, and not a “list” that must be checked off as it were. Here the writer senses that the paradigm for many reformed theologians for fitting the gospel in with the law here is assumed to be the covenant of works, when that is not a necessary assumption. There is not a good reason for supposing that Adam was not in a covenant of grace, and that all of God’s covenants have been essentially the same in nature, but gradually developing and finally climaxing in the new covenant, and thus launching God’s image bearers into a new era.
Granted, there is much to agree with in Witsius. His affirmation of the federal headship of Adam, and the fact that God made man in covenant with Himself. However, there are several things that again are assumed. He argues that Adam was naturally immortal, even though there was a tree of life that Adam was not permitted to eat (for serious reason one would suppose). Had Adam obeyed, Witsius infers that Adam would have been permitted to eat of the Tree of Life, and rightly so. However, to then draw the inference that such obedience is a work in which Adam earns eternal life through his obedience; this is not the only conclusion that one could draw. Within the covenant of Grace, there is a maturing process that Adam could have undergone. Followed by a reward for enduring to the end. In the context of the new covenant, Witsius would fight to defend the fact that any endurance maintained in the new covenant by a believing Christian is the product of Sovereign grace. Why, then, would we argue any differently for Adam’s own obedience, if we talk of the hypothetical world in which Adam obeys, then we should attribute his obedience to the Grace of God and his reward as the further gift of that grace.
Witsius goes on to discuss the sacraments of the Covenant of Works. The Sacrament of Paradise was the Garden itself. The Sacrament of the Tree of Life, and the Sacrament of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and it seems the sacrament of Sabbath. This is an issue that has resurfaced in the writer’s current generation concerning the nature of the sacraments and the fact that the sacraments do more than signify covenantal realities, but are themselves means by which the thing signified is administered to the covenant members. How much evidence there is to support the existence of these so called pre-fall sacraments is uncertain. It is an interesting observation. Certainly there was profound significance invested in these objects.
Witisus in speaking of the fall of Adam, rightly teaches that there is concurrence. He argues that God obviously predetermined that Adam would fall. God is the author of history and ordains whatsoever comes to pass as Ephesians 1:11 clearly teaches. Witsius, as quoted earlier, goes on to say that God continues to give commands to man as if he had not fallen by subsequently citing an example like “do this and live.” This, however, is misguided. When God says to Israel “do this and live,” he says that within the context of the covenant of Grace. What is implied is more consistent with a theology of maturity, than with a theology of merit.
In Conclusion, a different take on God’s covenant with Adam will be given shortly after an exegesis of Romans 5 is explored. Several themes will be drawn together with different considerations that should lead an honest inquirer to a different concept of covenant with the first man. For the most part, this way of understanding the covenant will show a great continuity with Witsius, but also demonstrate some key points of departure. Before jumping straight into an exegesis of Romans 5, a brief excursus of Edwards’s own take on this passage will be demonstrated, followed by a more contemporary analysis.

Believe in your heart

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that Jesus rose from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom. 10:9)

Many people misunderstand the meaning of “believe in your heart.” Biblically, the heart is not the organ that pumps blood to the body, but the thing that controls our thoughts, emotions, decisions, choices, hopes, aspirations, and fears. To believe in Jesus with your heart is to believe in Jesus in the place that controls all of your decisions, emotions, hopes, joys, and dreams; the place that controls the way you live your life.

Too many people assume that to believe in your heart is to believe in Jesus in the secret place that only God sees. The clear biblical witness is: what is in the heart is made evident by the way we live.

The interesting thing to consider here is that many people if asked the question: “are you a disciple of Christ?” would actually answer, “no, I do not follow him.”

Surprisingly, the same people if asked “will you go to heaven when you die?” will answer yes. The problem is, that Jesus taught that those who follow him, will follow him into death, and on to resurrection on the other side where we will reign with him; our lives embodying his authority in this world here and now.

Those who do not follow Jesus, will not follow him into resurrection. Those who do not follow Jesus, will in the end be condemned.

Following Jesus requires faithful membership in a church, a life characterized by learning from Jesus about what life is and how it is to be lived under his authority, and confession of sins and repentance. Without these three things, you cannot be a follower of Jesus (based on the writings of Jesus’s appointed apostles—The Bible)

As an atheist, earlier in my life, I embraced this fact. If Jesus is the real deal, then I will be condemned. I embraced this, and followed it up with, I am my own person, and I will do what I want, when I want. Screw Jesus, I will live my life however I see fit (I used a little more interesting language at the time). Strangely enough, I lived like all of the so called Christians, I merely added correlating words to my lifestyle.

I would encourage those who are clearly not a follower of Jesus to readily embrace the fact that they are not, and not cower away from the consequences of that decision. It is quite liberating to own up to rejecting Jesus, rather than pretending to love him in secret. Many times, this will become a watershed moment that leads to a significant moment where one wrestles with the gravity of life’s decisions.

For those who are not followers of Jesus, if you honestly think he is really the Son of God, embrace the fact that you will be condemned at the end of your life, and do your best to enjoy what is left of it. Without regrets (there will be plenty of time for that later—now is the time to enjoy). Perhaps, the weight of dealing with this reality will bring people back from their deep dream, and wake them like a whiff of ammonia to the reality that our decisions last much longer than today; not only in the lives of the ones we love, but also in the life to come.

Defense of Infant Baptism

With regard to New covenant baptism, Colossians chapter 2:11-13 makes it clear that baptism is the sacrament which corresponds to the new covenant, as circumcision corresponds to the Old covenant. There is a connection between the old covenant sacrament and the new covenant sacrament. Col. 2:11, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

It can be clearly seen, through an excursus of the old covenant that God viewed the children of his covenant children, differently than he viewed the non covenant children. If you look at the prototype of Abraham this can be clearly seen. He was commanded to administer the covenant seal (circumcision) to himself after he came to faith as a first generation believer. He was then commanded to administer this same seal to children who belonged to his household even before they were able to articulate “their faith.” (If faith is a trusting and receiving, then infants have faith in their parents; David even says that God “made him to Trust God at his mother’s breast,” Ps. 22:9) Protestants have wrongly exclusivised faith as an intellectual endeavor, when biblically, that is just not the case.)

This solidarity of households (as seen in Abraham’s family) can be seen throughout the old covenant. It establishes the way in which God set his expectations of his covenant people. The children of covenant children were themselves covenant children. They were to be raised as covenant children. They were not given the option of whether they would grow up to become covenant children, they were declared (by God), to be covenant children from the start. Outsiders are called to convert, covenant children are called to work out their salvation in faithfulness to God. This declaration was based, not on their ethnicity, or their bloodline, but on God’s will. His will was to include the children in the covenant to which he called their corresponding parents, as a reflection of who He is, of his nature and character.

Christ, the messiah of Israel, came in to fulfill this Abrahamic covenant. Abraham was to be the father of many nations, not just one nation. In Christ, this covenant was realized, as Gentiles were engrafted into this covenant, and so the single family of God was thus created (which is why when Paul speaks of Justification, he always speaks of Abraham). God, in Christ, was faithful to the original promises that he made to Abraham. Through Christ, God’s promise to Abraham was thus fulfilled.

We see here a significant continuity with the covenant God made with Abraham, and the covenant that now exists in Christ. We are even called the true offspring of Abraham. We are the true Israel. We are the single family which embodies God’s promise to Abraham.

If this is so, then, we have to see a break (a significant break!) in the way God deals with the children of covenant children, if we are to ascribe to the new covenant a different way of rearing and viewing covenant children. Up until the coming of the Messiah of Israel, God included the children of covenant believers in the covenant, and viewed them as covenant members. On what basis can we conclude that in the new covenant God has excluded them?

A look through church history shows that the church, historically, certainly from at least 250A.D., up until the mid 1500s AD, included children of covenant believers and considered them to be “in the covenant.” All of the churches greatest theologians, from Tertullian and Irenaues, to Augustine, and Athanasius, to Anselm, and Martin Luther, from Calvin to Zwingli, to Beza and Melancthon, from Owen to Edwards, all of these theologians spanning over a thousand years, dating back to the earliest part of the church (for which we have records) viewed the children of covenant believers in ways that were established by the Old covenant. This is due to the fact that in the New Testament, there are several texts that demonstrate a continuity of the children’s status in the new covenant, and even an intensification. In reality, we can actually go back to Abraham, and increase this timeline, and say that God has, through his people, established a particular orthodoxy in regards to covenant children and their status that ranges over three thousand five hundred years of covenant history.

What really determines the case, however, is the scriptures. First, let us set his discussion in the historical context:

What follows is the decisive example that should prove the propriety of infant baptism beyond all doubt.

A very strong case that can be made for covenantal reality of the new covenant from Acts 15 where the church deals with the dilemma of the status of Gentiles who are not keeping the Torah. The primary issue is with regard to the Gentiles, and whether or not they should circumcise their children. In Contrast to the Gentiles and circumcision, in Acts 21:17-26 however, Paul was accused falsely, of teaching the Jewish Christians to cease circumcising their infant sons. This is obviously a false accusation that Paul denies. Paul never told Jewish Christians not to circumcise their children; rather, he affirmed the practice. James therefore delivered a plan for Paul to demonstrate that he had not said this, and that he was “walking orderly,” by undertaking a Nazarite vow and doing sacrifices; to which Paul agreed and undertook. Many protestants are unaware of this event and its significance. This event in Acts 21 demonstrates that the Jewish practice of circumcising their infant sons continued as a regular practice of the Jewish Christian church. This is unquestionable. Jewish parents DID NOT begin waiting until their children made a profession of faith before circumcising them. However, circumcision, as a practice mandated for Gentile Christians was fiercely opposed according to Acts chapter 15. The Jews had to be persuaded to accept these Gentile Christians as members of the Abrahamic covenant, even though they were not circumcised. These Christians were accepted into this covenant on the grounds of their baptism, which signified their faith in the Messiah of Israel, in whom Abraham’s family had now been brought to fulfillment. Due to the acceptance of Gentiles and on this basis, there was no longer a distinction between ethnic Jews who trusted Christ and were circumcised, and believing Gentiles who were baptized.

In James chapter 2 James mentions giving out partial treatment within the synagogues. Later in 5:14 James identifies these synagogues as churches. This raises a poignant question. What was the relationship between circumcision and membership in the synagogue. Remember that a Jewish Christian synagogue, and a Gentile ekklesia were the same thing; namely, a local gathering of saints. Which brings us to a question, was the New Testament Jewish synagogues including the Jewish children as members of their ‘church?’ If we say “no,” then we are implying that the apostles should not have permitted the continuation of the circumcision of Jewish infants, seeing as this included them as members. Were the apostles correct in not only permitting, but endorsing such a practice within the new covenant? If we say “yes” then that leaves us with only one conclusion:

“If there was Christian circumcision in the church (and there was), and if there were Christian synagogues (and there were), and if the Christian who went to these synagogues were the same believers who circumcised their sons (and they were), then the necessary conclusion is that we know with certainty that some first century Christian churches had infant members.” (Wilson, 71, 1000 generations).

So believing Jews continued to practice circumcision, which placed their sons into membership in a visible assembly of Christian saints— the Christian synagogue. BUT the Jews were also to be baptized (eph. 4:5; Acts 2:38); and one could argue strongly that the Jews would need to be given explicit instructions to NOT ADMINISTER the new covenant seal to their children (seeing as salvation is of the Jews, and God has been working out his covenant with Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ, God would have to give a clear instruction for the Jews to stop treating their infants like covenant children). So the believing Gentiles had baptism, and the believing Jews had circumcision and baptism. We can therefore see clearly that baptism was intended for both Jew and Gentile. And, we can with certainty say that the first century church included at least some infant members— the circumcised sons of believing Jews. So the Gentiles were being included into fellowship with believing Jews, and we know that Jewish infants were not being excluded.

If we know that the Christian Jews were circumcising their children, and that baptism has the same theological import as circumcision had under the old covenant, we have to answer two questions “were the Jews also baptizing their children?”, and “if the Jews were including their children as members of the church (and they were), were the Gentiles also including their children?” Even if we let the first question lay untouched for a while, and assume the Jews were not baptizing their children there is still a serious dilemma that arises. We know that Gentiles were prohibited from administering circumcision to their children, not because they were children, but precisely because they were Gentiles. So, in the first century church, were the Jews permitted, and even expected to include their infants as members of the church, and the Gentiles expected to exclude their infants as members of the church (creating a dichotomy)? If the Gentiles were expected to wait to baptize their children until after they articulated their faith, then a situation would have immediately arisen where children of Jews would grow up as members of the church (because they had been circumcised), while the children of Gentiles were excluded (because they had not been baptized.) This would have had the opposite effect on the Gentiles and would have pressured them to circumcise their children to include them in the covenant, just as Paul expressly forbade them. Paul, rather emphasized the sign of their unity (baptism), and if Jewish children were included by circumcision (even without baptizing their children), then their children would have still been members of the covenant body, while Gentiles, who could not circumcise their children, would have had to, on that basis exclude their children. This view is untenable. It creates a dichotomy where the Jewish Christian Children are members of the new covenant body, while the Gentile Christian Children are not members of the new covenant body.

The Obvious issue and question in the first century church was NOT “do you mean to tell me that Gentiles were supposed to baptize their infants….where do you find that?” But the question was actually, “do you mean to tell me that the Gentile Christians ARE NOT to circumcise their children and thus include them in the covenant….where do you get that?” That is, it was assumed that something must be done with the infants; because in God’s covenant, something has always had to be done with infants. God’s covenant people have always understood this even from Abraham. This is why it is convincing to say that the Jews would have baptized their children. They would have to have been told not to baptize them; Paul and Peter would have had to explicitly tell them “hey guys, I know God used to include our children in the covenant, but that is not how this covenant works.” Seeing as the Jewish people were God’s chosen people, God established a way of relating to them that if this is to change, it must be instructed. The Jewish Christians, to give an example, continued to pray to the same God, even though they prayed in Jesus’s name to him. I say that to make it obvious, that they were INSTRUCTED BY GOD to treat their children in a particular way. This was not a matter of culture, or personal preference. When Christ comes and inaugurates the new covenant, which brings the Abrahamic covenant to its climax and fulfillment, the Jews would not have instinctively stopped including their children in the covenant. They would have continued to include them! And Paul and Peter would have had to correct them. Alas, Paul and Peter did not. And due to the historical context surrounding Acts 15 and 21, it is most reasonable to suppose that the Jewish people included their children in the covenant like they always have, and that they assumed the new covenant included their children just as the old covenant did (but marking the girls now too), and that they were to baptize their children. Gentile Christians, on the other hand, would not have been permitted to circumcise their children, and in order for there to be a unity in the early church with regard to the status of children born to covenant parents, they would have baptized their children.

We know that Jews included their children in the covenant, if at least by circumcision. The Gentiles would have also included their children; but they could not circumcise them.

Now we can move to more singular examples:

If we say that the new covenant children are not in the covenant, they are not covenant members, then we are saying that they share the same status as non-covenant children. For example, a Muslim parent who has a muslim child, has a child that shares the same covenant status as the new covenant parent’s child, whose parent is in union with Christ. According to Ephesians 2, this means that the new covenant child is a “child of wrath.” They are following the prince of the power of the air. They belong to Satan, and are born in bondage to him.

As a matter of consistency, someone who excludes their children from covenant membership, and declares that their children are not in the covenant, are therefore declaring them to be “under wrath,” and under the dominion of Satan. They are children of their father the devil (John 7).

This is received as repugnant to many new covenant members (and rightly so). However, the moment that they exclude their children from the covenant until a time of intellectual capacity where they become capable of articulating their faith, they are necessarily including their children in a corresponding status. [Calvin’s view of God’s Sovereignty was not at odds with viewing covenant children as covenant members, but was part and parcel of it. For Calvin, it was by God’s will alone that people become covenant members. And, it was by God’s will alone that he chose to include the children of covenant members in the covenant. Baptism, and covenant membership, is not something controlled or created by the church, but by God. If God determines to include the children of the covenant in the covenant, it is a Sovereign determination, that is based on sheer grace, and not anything inherent in the parent’s themselves, but inherent in the graciousness of God and his covenant. The same can be said of Luther. The Reformed heritage passed down to us through Calvin, is a heritage that includes a robust and biblical view of covenant children.]

On the other hand, if one views the solidarity of the covenant God made with Abraham, and the covenant God made in Christ, and that the children of the covenant believers share in covenant benefits with their parents, then the children are not seen as Satan’s children, and children of wrath. They are seen as children of promise, as graciously included int he covenant, and beneficiaries of God’s grace, as followers of Christ, as Spirit filled believers who have been taught by God to trust in Christ even at their mother’s breast (Psalm 22).

Being in the covenant is being in a relationship. As children, we do not say that our children are not yet in a relationship with their parents when they are born because they are not able to articulate that relationship. Parents do not wait for their children to reach a certain age before taking a responsibility for them. Infants have faith in their mother from day one, albeit not a ‘articulated’ faith, but a implicit faith that transcends intelligibility.

As a parent, in terms of child rearing, I teach my child to speak a language in a fascinating way. I talk to him. I talk to him as though he/she understands everything that I am saying. I do not say to my child, “Hayden, you cannot understand anything that I am saying to you, therefore I will not speak with you until you learn how to speak, and at that time I will begin talking to you.” I do not hesitate with the mentality that I will convey to my child that he or she knows how to speak when they in fact do not know how, because as children, treating them like they are capable of speaking is precisely the way in which they learn how.
In a covenant theology, parents are to rear their children by telling what is true about them in light of the new covenant blessings and promises. We are to tell them what Christ has done for them, and and who they are in light of that. We are teach them that their sins are forgiven, that they are in covenant with God, and are therefore responsible to live out their responsibility in faithfulness to this God. The difference being that they are God’s children, God’s covenant children, and they are to be reared in that light. They are not to be taught that they are children of wrath like the rest of mankind, or followers of Satan. They are not to receive God’s favor from the outside as unbelievers, but to continue in the very favor that has saved their parents. This is part and parcel of God’s dealings with his people from the very beginning. God has always given the covenant parents a mandate to train up their children in light of their children’s covenant status.

So do we find an affirmation and intensification of this in the new covenant, or a radical break and withdrawal on the part of God in this regard? There are significant old testament texts which hope for a time where God will renew his covenant with Abraham with a new covenant, in which the prophets said would include promises to the new covenant members and their children. For people who were reared under the old covenant, whose children often strayed and broke their covenant with God, this promise did not imply that God would remove his covenantal favor from the children of his covenant parents, but that he would intensify its reward, and bring gladness from it.

In the new covenant, what sort of attitude do the apostles hold out for the children of the covenant? In Acts 2, Peter preaches a sermon that alludes to the “last days” dawning upon the world. The last days obviously an allusion to the new covenant, and its corollary blessings. Peter then says, 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

The question that arises is, “what promise is to the children?” The text from Jeremiah 32 comes to mind: 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.”

If we bear in mind that Jews are hearing this, we can hear the allusions to the new covenant and its corresponding status given to the new covenant children.

We can go further than this however. Pay close attention to what is said and not said in this passage from Acts 16: 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Let me point out several key details: 1. The only one who is said to believe in this passage is the Jailer. 2. He and his household were baptized. 3. The Jailer brought them into his house, and the jailer rejoiced, along with his house that he had believed in God. 4. To repeat point number one, The only person that is said to have believed is the Jailer.

If we take into account that the jailer is the only person who is said to have believed in this passage, and the fact that his whole household was baptized, we have here a case which demonstrates a strong connection to the way in which households operated under the old covenant, and the fact that this household solidarity is not only present in the new covenant, but extended and intensified (including females in addition to the males).

Given the context of the covenant of Abraham, the covenant that christ came to fulfill, it is not hard to see the contextual evidence which supports the covenantal status which extends over the family to which the husband and father is head. See for example Acts 3:25 which says, 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’

It would be difficult, but Can we find even stronger allusions than this? Maybe we can. Consider 1 Corinthians 7: 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

What this text implies, is that the status of the child is affected by the fact that a spouse is a believer, a new covenant believer. And, that this status affects the standing of the child. The child is said to be “holy,” or “set apart,” due to the effect of the believing parent’s status.

What we should see from this is that the children of the covenant parent(s), is affected positively by the faith of the parent. This is not meritorious, or works based. It is sheer grace for God to extend this favor, and it is a reality established by his will alone.

These are the reasons why if we search the salvation history of God’s covenant people, there is virtually no debate as to the propriety of including infants as infants as members of the covenant family of God before 1522 a.d. (and all of the reformers answered with an affirmative “yes, baptism them.) If we set the question in its historical context, then we can see that this was simply the way God had always dealt with his people and their children. It is strange to consider how this rich and glorious aspect of God’s gracious provision has been lost in many of the protestant circles.

Temporarily Ashamed to Be Reformed: Justification

In my doctor of divinity in puritan studies course, I wrote a paper on Justification in which I explored the relationship of works with Justification.

During this study I had a very disappointing experience with my Reformed brethren. I asked someone to whom I had (and still have) great respect and appreciation.

My question went something like this: the meaning of Justification in the bible is not univocal. It is generally accepted that James and Paul are using the word “justify” to refer to different realities, or at least different aspects of those realities.

I went on to say that the reformers were in a position where they wanted to lay out a specific articulation of a biblical word with a much wider and variegated meaning in its biblical context. So, when they say that man is justified by faith alone:

Do they mean that men are justified (in Paul’s sense of the word) by faith alone?
Do they mean that men are justified (in James’s sense of the word) by faith alone?
Do they mean that men are justified (as a comprehensive meaning) by faith alone?

#2 is blatantly absurd, see James 2:24. This does not mean that the doctrine of JBFA is wrong, it simply means that James is referring to a different kind of Justification; i.e. not the meaning that the Reformers assumed. This also means that #3 too is false. The way in which the Reformers used the word justify and justification, in order to work, had to assume a Pauline exclusivity.

If the goal was to teach a doctrine of Justification that was more comprehensive, and aimed at capturing the significance of the primary senses of Justification in the primary biblical contexts, then the phrase “justified by faith alone” I suggested, was very unwise.

The bible uses the word justify in a context where it is explicitly stated that men are not only justified by faith, but justified by works also. When elders and leaders lay out parameters of the meaning of a biblical word, they should not define the word in ways that flatly contradicts the way in which the word is used in other contexts, even though the word is used in different contexts with a different meaning.

For example: Though there is a sense in which God is not one, he is three, it would still be immature and unwise to say “God is not one.” This due obviously to the Scripture that does say God is one. You would have to add on to the phrase “person;” God is not one person, but three persons.

In reverse, and in the same sense, the word “alone” should not be added to justification in such exclusive and absolute terms. “Justification,” biblically, is not by faith alone. Now, I wholeheartedly agree that there is a narrow sense in which Justification is by faith alone; but that narrow sense doesn’t account for the whole.

Which leads to two possibilities: 1. Instead of removing the word “alone,” replace the word justification with what the Reformers meant by Justification. They could have said, “a person is declared righteous and simultaneously initiated into a relationship with God by faith alone in Christ alone.” 2. Keep the word Justification, but do so with respect to the wide range of biblical meanings, and so drop problem some words like “alone,” that suggest that the word “justify” can only mean one of its more nuanced possibilities.

When asking the thoughts of professors, and people that the professors pointed me to: I was basically told a lot of things, none of which came close to approximating a thoughtful answer that honestly engaged with my question. I was even told to find a new professor, because my views were too errant. A Rare day for me; for the first time I felt ashamed to be Reformed.

Reformed I am nonetheless.

On the subject of James, i found a wonderful article that treats James in a very thoughtful and enlightening way:

Remember the verses before the justification passage in James says, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (NASB 2:12-13). This later phrase, katakauca◊tai e¶leoß kri÷sewß, “yet mercy triumphs over judgment” in the middle voice, is literally, “boasts against.”47 Perhaps a better sense is that “mercy prevails in judgment.” James calls believers to always temper judgments with mercy (v 13), not unlike Matthew 7.48 In effect,
James says mercy fulfills the law.49 Gathercole also agrees. “An eschatological perspective on the role of works might also clarify the position with regard to the soteriology of James 2 . . . Here the scene is eschatological judgment, as it frequently is in James (cf. Also 3:1, 6; 4:12; 5:17).”50

James is speaking of the eschatological judgment and salvation in the last day. Such themes are clear in the post-exillic prophecies cited above. Leon Morris observes in agreement with Douglas Moo that, “Paul uses justification of the initial step of becoming a Christian, James, like Matthew and others, uses it of final justification, the kind of justification we will see on Judgment Day.”52

James moves in his flow of thought from judgment to justification, just as does Paul (Rom. 2:13, then 3:20, etc.). James speaks of justification, not in some lesser sense than Paul. Justification is parallel to “saving” — “Can that faith save him?” (2:14). Surely James is emphatic that faith cannot be without obedience. He is just as emphatic that justification cannot be without works. But I hasten to add, this is “justification” not in the sense of initial, forensic declaration, but in the eschatological sense of “who is in” (cf Wright above). A living faith cannot exist without an expression of obedience to the royal law of love. Faith with “works” [sunerge,w James 2:22] is clear in the cases of Abraham/Rahab. But it is not self-righteousness or self-merit. Salvation is for prostitutes who trust God and for polytheistic pagans like the uncircumcised Abram. In both cases God is able to “justify the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). James reproves people who claim to believe, but are disobedient, precisely because James’ view of justification is “who is in” not “how one gets in” and it is in reference to the eschatological justification/judgment event. Would Paul have said anything different? No. James refers to the same event as does Paul. Paul writes “the doers [poihtai.] of the law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13). James writes, “But be doers
[poihtai.] of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
[Gregg Strawbridge]

Acts 19

In Acts 19, Paul comes in contact with people and he asks them if they have received the Spirit. They respond “No.” Then he asked, “3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, Into John’s baptism.”

What is crucial to understand is the organic period after the time of the crucifixion but before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. To clarify an important thing to keep in mind: Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. The same is true for Moses, he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, and so on to Joshua and all of the saved of the OT; they were saved in terms of an Old covenant salvaiton: their sins were forgiven, they had favor with God, they were accepted by God. Faith, however, is not stagnant or passive, it does not “do nothing.” It is active, and belief in God was expressed in submission to God’s Law, and obedience to it. When the law was broken, belief in God’s promises led to obedience to other aspects of the law such as sacrifices.

So that, when you get to Acts 2, or Acts 19, many of the people were saved, with an old covenant salvation. The coming of Christ however is ushering in a new era, a new covenant, and is therefore bringing to a close the old covenant. At this transitionary period, God has people who were truly his saved people, who were still living under the old covenant salvation. God must deliver them into the new covenant, before totally destroying the old. Jesus in Matt. 24, actually prophesies of the destruction of the temple, which was the epicenter of this covenant. In A.D. 70, God officially ends that covenant.

So, when Peter preaches the sermon in Acts 2, the people there come to believe in Jesus, and God speaks an unmistakable miraculous heavenly “AMEN” by confirming the preaching, and rightness of the new covenant inaugurated by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He does it by pouring out his Spirit in the manner that he promised he would during the last days. Contrary to Tim LaHaye and others, the last days began with Jesus according to Hebrews 1:1-2. The last days, when He would pour out his Spirit on all flesh; was officially initiated in Acts 2.

When we get to Acts 19, then, we have people who are Old covenant saved, but not new covenant saved. They too must be delivered from the Old covenant into the new era. Paul does this by laying on his hands, and God validates Paul’s message to authenticate the teachings of Paul as truly from God.

Now, people who read Acts 19 and wonder whether Salvation should transpire in every individual life, the way it did for these followers of John the Baptist, are missing something very important. When you read Acts’s account of the conversion for Paul for example, he went around killing Christians, and Christ met him on the road to Damacus, and there Paul was converted to Christianity. It would be wrong to assume, that if I go around killing Christians, that Christ too will meet me on a road similar to Damascus. Acts is more so telling us what happened at this crucial time in history, more than it is telling us what will continue to happen as a normative experience for future believers.

The miraculous events in Acts have more to do with the cataclysmic event of the coming of Jesus on the Old covenant than is usually recognized. The question is not about how individuals will experience salvaiton, but about the world changing events precipitated by the coming of Jesus. The coming of Jesus is a once for all, unrepeatable event than cannot take place again. So too the events in Acts, in many ways are unrepeatable events that are testifying to the inauguration of the new covenant. Never again will there be people who are Old covenant saved, who are later to become new covenant saved. This is a special time in history that will never be repeated. We must remember that God loved the law of Moses, and he instituted it himself. Now in Christ he is ushering in a new covenant that is to fulfill and thus remove that covenant. The people who were Old covenant saved, didn’t suddenly become unsaved by jesus’s coming and work on the cross; they were people that MUST transition into the New covenant. For that to happen, God validated the preaching of the apostles to insure that this happened; and he validated that message with His Spirit.

A significant point of the new covenant being that all believers in Christ would be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, including both Jews and Gentiles. You can see this clearly in Acts 10 where the spirit falls on gentile god-fearers in just the same way as it did on Jews (which perplexed Peter’s crew). The very thing that the new covenant was NOT saying was that there would be some who are in the new covenant who had the Spirit and others who didn’t have the Spirit; in fact the point of the new covenant is the very opposite. The point was that ALL believers would receive the Spirit.

Jesus said to some people that John the Baptist was the greatest man born of a woman under the Old covenant. Then he says these astounding words, that nevertheless, the least in the kingdom of God that he was inaugurating would be greater than John the Baptist. Why is this so? Because those of the kingdom of jesus were going to receive the Spirit of the resurrected Messiah. Jesus said that he must depart so that the Spirit would come. And come it did!

The same can be illustrated with Moses. He was judging all of Israel, and his father in law Jethro said to Moses, this is not good for you Moses you need to install some ‘helpers.’ Moses took the advice, and later the Spirit came upon 120(I think), and Joshua was jealous for Moses. Moses responded to Joshua, saying “I would that God poured out his Spirit on all of his people as he has with me.

Moses would have rejoiced to see the new covenant where God DID pour out his Spirit on all of his people. The problem was that many of God’s people at the time of Acts were still under the old covenant, and were therefore not enjoying what Christ came to inaugurate.

So, the event of Acts 19 has more to do with the engathering of all of the Old covenant believers into the new covenant, than it does with the way in which all believers in the new testament will receive the spirit. It has more to do with jesus, and his impact on the Law, and the world, than it does with the sequence of events that each believer will experience.

Edwards, Justification, and Theosis

Edwards on Justification

Edwards was aware that the topic of Justification by faith could easily be misunderstood, for he writes,
Here, if I may humbly express what seems evident to me, though faith be indeed the condition of justification so as nothing else is, yet this matter is not clearly and sufficiently explained by saying that faith is the condition of justification; and that because the word seems ambiguous, both in common use, and also as used in divinity. In one sense, Christ alone performs the condition of our justification and salvation; in another sense, faith is the condition of justification; in another sense, other qualifications and acts are conditions of salvation and justification too. There seems to be a great deal of ambiguity in such expressions as are commonly used…

To parse Edwards’s view of Justification by Faith with brevity we must clarify a few of Edwards’s unique features. Edwards held to an interesting view of theosis. His view is unique, and so theosis may not be the best word for his theological position. Perhaps we should call it “sharing in the divine nature,” or, “being taken into the triune life and love of God.” When reference to Edwards’s view is mentioned, think “sharing in the intra-trinitarian life and love of God.” C.S. Lewis captures this point with regard to repentance quite nicely:
Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen. Very well, then, we must go through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it. (Unable to Repent) Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them.

This aspect of God sharing his own nature is very significant for Edwards’s view of redemption and justification. In Edwards’s theology there is a key function of the Holy Spirit in the role of the believer’s redemption that is significantly different from that of Owen. In order to make this difference plain, a brief but very rewarding probe to the very heart of Edwarsean theology will now be undertaken.
First, Edwards’s had a unique and robust understanding of the Trinity. His discourse on the Trinity is the greatest document that has ever been written on the subject by many theologians’ estimation. Edwards taught that God’s personhood was established through perichoresis. That the divine essence subsisted in God’s own Understanding and Affections. Edwards on the Trinity writes,
In order to clear up this matter, let it be considered, that the whole divine essence is supposed truly and properly to subsist in each of these three – viz. God, and his understanding, and love – and that there is such a wonderful union between them that they are after an ineffable and inconceivable manner one in another; so that one hath another, and they have communion in one another, and are as it were predicable one of another … . And the Father understands because the Son, who is the divine understanding, is in him. The Father loves because the Holy Ghost is in him … . So the Holy Ghost, or the divine essence subsisting in divine love, understands because the Son, the divine idea, is in him… It may be thus expressed: the Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of himself; the Holy Ghost is the divine essence flowing out, or breathed forth, infinite love and delight. Or, which is the same, the Son is God’s idea of himself, and the Spirit is God’s love to and delight in himself.

Many are not aware of this, but Edwards’s view of the Trinity functioned as a heuristic key for his understanding the whole biblical and historical narrative of the world.
To put it simply: the second person of the Trinity is the Divine Idea and the complete and perfect Self-Understanding of God. While the third person of the Trinity is the Affections and perfect Love of God. For the purpose of this analysis, let it be known that Edwards posits that redemption is not about God merely imparting to us an understanding of himself, nor is it imparting to us holy affections. For Edwards, the understanding wherewith we come to know God in redemption is God’s own understanding of himself shared with us; namely, being united to the second person of the Trinity- the knowledge of God himself. Additionally, the way in which we come to love God, and trust him, is by having God’s own love and trust infused into our very being; being united to the third person of the Trinity and therefore in effect loving God with God’s own love for himself.
Edwards in “The End For Which God Created the World,” from now on “The End of Creation,” explores God’s motivation for all that he does. One question that he considers at length is the question “why did God create the world?” His Answer: the glory of God. Edwards explores the biblical basis for this in Section 3, but in Section 2 he explores it systematically. Here is a relevant quote from Kyle Strobel, probably the leading conservative theologian on Jonathan Edwards in the world today.
By making himself the end for which he created the world, God’s plan of redemption is from him, by him and ultimately in him. God, in other words, is not merely the type of all things valuable, leaving everything good, beautiful and true in the world as antitype. God is the only thing which is truly good, beautiful and true, and everything that is so participates, in some manner, in him. The answer for fallen humanity, as will be seen below, is conformity to God through participation in his knowledge and love – theosis. This is how Edwards answers the objection that God, if he were truly unchangeable, infinitely happy and sufficient, would not derive pleasure from the creature’s praise or happiness. God delights in the creature’s happiness and praise because it is an actual instance of his own happiness, glory and delight. It is also the case that God’s being for himself is his being for the creature. God knows that his own life is the greatest, happiest, most infinite goodness in existence, and therefore by making this his end, he wills the creature’s good, that they too might know this goodness. In other words, God cannot be selfish because his own life is the storehouse of goodness, excellency, love and virtue. Therefore, God’s original ultimate end is in view of himself diffused, or his fullness existing economically, and based on that, the consequential ultimate end is that creatures can receive that communication in knowledge and love (corresponding to Son and Spirit).

Now, it must be noted that both Edwards and Owen are robust Calvinists. Therefore, both recognize the need for regeneration as a prerequisite for saving faith and/or justification. It is here at this point where some of this will begin to come together. Justification is not an end in itself. It is a key part of God’s redemptive plan. The goal of that plan can be seen from different perspectives. At some level the goal must be to get us to God. Jesus died to “bring us to God.” This is known sometimes as the beatific vision. One writer describes Owen like this:
For Owen the content of the beatific vision is primarily Jesus Christ … acknowledged by faith now, apprehended in its fullness in eternity. Beholding the glory of God is beholding the glory of the person of Christ in the mystery of the union of the two natures.’ In other words, Christ is, and will always be, the visible image of the invisible God.
In the matter of Justification, referring to Christ as the proper object of saving faith, Owen writes,
I say, therefore, that the Lord Jesus Christ himself, as the ordinance of God, in his work of mediation for the recovery and salvation of lost sinners, and as unto that end proposed in the promise of the gospel, is the adequate, proper object of justifying faith, or of saving faith in its work and duty with respect unto our justification.

That is, for Owen, the proper object of saving faith is also the proper object of the beatific vision. But one must ask, how do human beings come to see Christ? Edwards adheres to Francis Turretin and Owen’s view, advancing the idea that God is invisible, and therefore, physical sight is not the decisive faculty of perception. However, contra Turretin, Edwards sides with Owen to say that God will be seen by our physical eyesight. Owen vehemently rejects anything that suggests that physical sight will not play a significant role in the beatific. “Edwards thus follows Owen’s insistence on the role of Christ, but he refuses to limit the beatific to that reality alone. Seeing God, for Edwards, is not having an apprehension by hearsay (testimony), by speculative reasoning, or even having an immediate apprehension of God that does not happify.”
What sort of apprehension is Edwards referring to. In “Religious Affections” Edwards writes,
This [new sense] is in its whole nature diverse from any former kinds of sensation of the mind, as tasting is diverse from any of the other five senses, and something is perceived by a true saint in the exercise of this new sense of mind, in spiritual and divine things, as entirely different from anything that is perceived in them by natural men, as the sweet taste of honey is diverse from the ideas men get of honey by looking on it or feeling of it.

Edwards elaborates on what enables this beatific vision with trinitarian language. ‘The central role the Spirit plays in regeneration is not unlike his role within the Trinity. … Edwards conceived the entire scope of redemption to be, in one sense, an “externalization” of the Trinity, the Trinity turned “inside-out.” This new sense is the Spirit Himself sharing his own affections for the Son of God with God’s adopted children by infusing and joining himself to the believer. This is what must take place if faith in Christ is to be genuine, according to Edwards.
So, a quick consideration of the different views and emphases of the two great theologians is in order. The work of the new faculty imparted by the Spirit at regeneration in Owen’s theology does the same work that Edwards’s pneumatology does, in terms of illumination and imparting a new nature. For Owen the Spirit’s infusing is basic, but very different form Edwards. For Edwards the Spirit does not impart a new nature, the Spirit infuses himself into the soul of the believer, where he then “functions as a new principle of life and holiness. Owen, furthermore, speaks of the Spirit’s creating the new saving light of illumination, whereas for Edwards, the Spirit is that light.” Take note of this, that for Owen the Spirit creates life, and imparts to us the necessary faculties to see and savor God. For Edwards, it is The Spirit Himself who is the light that infuses himself to the soul of the believer; so that is not impartation, but the actual participation in the intra-trinitarian life of God. The trust and love and surrender we posses is actually the Spirit’s own trust, love and surrender infused into us.
Edwards defines justification like this: “To be justified, is to be approved by God as a proper subject of pardon, with a right to eternal life.” What makes a person a ‘proper subject of pardon’? Edwards says faith, but he goes through painstaking troubles to say that it is a “tasting faith,” or a faith that ascertains the beauty and excellencies of Christ in the great truths of the gospel. That is, it is the faith that is the product of union with the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Ghost’s own love and adoration of the Son that erupts in the heart of the sinner. Particularly noteworthy, it is the virtue of faith specifically that renders a person as a proper subject of pardon. The Spirit’s union with the sinner produces many things. However, it is faith, as the single virtue, that expressly and sufficiently establishes the right to eternal life and to pardon. Why is this the case?
There are many answers to the question: Why is faith the perfect virtue for establishing a person’s right to pardon? One potential answer is that faith is contrasted with works, and faith points to the fact that salvation is something that God does, not something that we do. However, the relevant purpose here is that faith points to an insufficiency of the subject, and to a super sufficiency of the object. Coupled with the fact that the Spirit exists to exalt the sufficiency of the Son and the Father, he is especially concerned to bring about our redemption in ways that will highlight the all-sufficiency of Christ. Why then are saints deemed proper subjects of pardon? Answer: Because the Spirit’s uniting himself to them creates in them a ‘habitus’ or disposition that is intentionally positioned to exalt the all-sufficiency and glory of Christ in their redemption; the very thing the Spirit does by nature. This is in part what God’s universal purpose is in all of creation. “This communication [of God’s nature] does not emanate without purpose, and its purpose does not go unfulfilled [The Spirit and Son ensure this]; God’s flowing out in emanation finds its return in remanation through creaturely spiritual vision and affection [via the Holy Ghost’s union with sinners]. This is a trinitarian affair and was God’s very purpose in creating.” So, consider the huge portrait. God, in creation, diffuses his glory onto the canvas of creation, particularly in his image bearers. His image bearers fall, and thus God, embarks on a rescue mission in which he will, once again, significantly diffuse himself to them and thus restore in them an ability to once again receive God’s nature into themselves. This then was meant to exponentially increase existentially until God’s image bearers turned all of the Glory that God had diffused from himself, into white hot praise and adoration at which time the Glory of God that had been emanated from him returns to him through remanation. This remanation is accomplished by the Second and Third persons of the Trinity pulling humanity into themselves, thus externalizing the inner life of the Triune God and turning it inside out. Where then does believer’s works fit in with all of this?

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