The Need for Perfect Law-Keeping, Part 2

Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Atonement, Catholicism, Covenant Theology, Exegesis, Featured, Gospel, Holy Spirit, Imputation, Justification, Law, Presbyterianism, Protestantism, Reformed Theology, Romans, Sola Fide | 607 comments

The previous post took a brief look at the Reformed understanding of Justification and why the notion of “Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness” is both logically and exegetically problematic. This post will continue to focus on the exegetical problems, this time in Paul’s Epistles, particularly the first five chapters of Romans (which many Reformed consider to be the definitive passages on the doctrine of Justification).

Paul begins Romans by telling his audience that his Apostolic focus is proclaiming that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy, particularly in His Messianic lineage and in His Death and Resurrection (1:1-4). This conforms to one of the most famous summaries of the Gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, where Paul reminds the Corinthians of the two most important points of the Gospel message are that Christ died for our sins and was raised, each ‘according to the Scriptures’. Strikingly absent from these Apostolic interpretations of Old Testament prophecies is any mention of Christ keeping the Law in our place, despite the fact the Reformed teach it’s an essential component (along with forgiveness) for getting right with God.

The next thing Paul tells his audience is that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation… for in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (1:16-17). But what is this “righteousness of God”? In one the most definitive passages on Justification, Romans 3:21-26, Paul explains God’s righteousness is revealed through the Cross: “Being justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Of all places we should expect to see Christ’s perfect law keeping in our place, 3:21-26 should be the place. But the only component Paul mentions for God’s righteousness to be revealed, making God to be “just and justifier,” is the redemption achieved through the Cross.

This theme of God being “just and justifier” (3:26) is immediately carried over into another key text of the New Testament, where God is said to “justify the ungodly” in Romans 4:5-8. In this key text, Paul connects the dots for us even further: “Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven… blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’” Note that Paul is quoting Psalm 32:1-2 here, and says that David was speaking of ‘counting righteousness’ (i.e. Justification). And yet there is no mention in Psalm 32:1-2 of ‘counting righteousness’, only the forgiveness of sins. The only coherent explanation for this apparent ‘discrepancy’ of the Apostle telling us that David spoke of ‘crediting of righteousness’, when in fact David never used those words, is if Paul is saying the two concepts are equivalent: To be forgiven of sin is equivalent to being regarded as righteous. Realizing this, it’s impossible to interpret “reckoning righteousness” with the “Imputed Righteousness of Christ” (as Protectants typically identify it), because then you’d have to say forgiveness of sins refers to Christ’s keeping of the law in our place, which makes little sense. For Paul, forgiveness is sufficient, as has been shown over and over. Paul even concludes the chapter by reaffirming Christ’s work for us: “Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (4:25). Surely if Christ’s Righteousness was part of the equation, Paul would have mentioned it in Romans 4, rather than (yet again) only mentioning His death and resurrection for us.

It’s plain to see from the survey so far that this ‘justification by faith that brings us peace before God’ (5:1) is squarely because “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6), nothing more. In fact, Paul couldn’t have said we have been “justified by his blood” (5:9) if justification refers to keeping the law perfectly, because ‘blood’ is hardly a synonym for perfect law keeping. It simply refers to us being “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (5:10), which goes back to the original point of this series: Adam was originally in relationship with God, without having first perfectly kept the law, and reconciling is simply restoring to us that broken relationship.

With this reconciliation theme in mind, we can see why Paul transitions immediately into contrasting Adam to Jesus (the New Adam) in Romans 5:12ff. Paul beautifully encapsulates the work and effects of these “Adams” as follows: “By the one man’s disobedience [Adam] many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [Jesus] the many will be made righteous” (5:19). This ‘obedience’ of Christ was His Suffering and Death for us, as Paul has made it abundantly clear already. No mention of keeping the law perfectly in our place. In fact, using the principle of Scripture-interprets-Scripture (Cf Westminster Confession 1:9), when we look at the only two other times “obedience” is applied to Christ, Philippians 2:8 and Hebrews 5:7-9, we see they plainly refer only to His Suffering for us (no mention of His “Active Obedience”).

Though enough has been said thus far, it should be noted that one common text some Reformed appeal to in support of Christ’s Imputed Righteousness is Romans 8:3-4, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” The Reformed claim that the phrase “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us” means that Christ was sent both to die for us and to keep the law perfectly for us. But there are a couple of problems with this claim. First, it is only an assumption, with no other clearer texts ever saying Christ kept the law perfectly for us (Cf Westminster 1:9). Second, the logic of Paul’s argument isn’t saying that Jesus did two distinct things for us, but rather that the condemning of sin is what made way for the law to be fulfilled, as in a cause-effect relationship. Third, the Reformed interpretation doesn’t really follow the context and leaves the tail end of the verse hanging. The context is of Christians living their new life through the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, directing them to live as they should. Catholics read the tail end of 8:4 simply as Christians being the ones who fulfill the righteous requirements of the law, since they walk according to the Spirit. It makes little sense for Paul to be speaking of Christ keeping the law for us because Christians walk according to the Spirit. And again using the principle of Scripture-interprets-Scripture, other Pauline texts confirm the Catholic view, particularly Galatians 3:13-14. In that text, Paul says Jesus died to remove the curse of the law, which paved way for us to receive the Holy Spirit, since the Old Covenant being broken was a road block preventing this blessing and it needed to be atoned for first (Heb 9:15). Building on that, Paul is also very clear that Christians are called to “fulfill the law” in Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14, so it makes perfect sense to read Romans 8:4 as Christians fulfilling the law rather than Christ fulfilling because they couldn’t’. Lastly, the Reformed claim fails to realize that the Biblical term “fulfill” has nothing to do with perfect obedience and never sinning. The Biblical term “fulfill” simply means to bring about the full purpose of something not yet realized, typically referring to prophecy being fulfilled (as when Judas is said to have fulfilled the Scriptures by betraying Christ), and in this case refers to the Holy Spirit enabling us to love as we ought to.

The next and final post of this series, Part 3, will look at 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Philippians 3:9. As we now begin the discussion, I again ask that we stay on topic and not go on tangents (e.g. Mary, Papacy, Sola Scriptura).




  1. ERIC August 20, 2014 at 8:20 pm
    De Maria–

    NOBODY claimed that only his humanity obeyed.
    Where on earth do you come up with this stuff?

    Then you have changed your position and now agree that Jesus Christ, God the Son, obeyed Mary. Good.

  2. @Eric:
    By that zero-sum reasoning, Christ’s own actions would have no human component. That’s obviously false (it’s monoenergism), and so is the zero-sum model for divine and human cooperation.

    The patristic solution for this is elegant; it is that the human component is still there, but participatory. Thus, our part is only the human participation in the divine action, so although there is a real human component, it is not “of ourselves,” but completely out of participation with divine grace. That is different from cases of cooperation with other human beings, in which each person is “doing his part” as opposed to participating in the very work (energy) of another.

    The model and pattern is Christ’s own theandric action. Just as His actions were all the actions of both God and man, so the actions that bring us to salvation after His pattern are the united actions of God and man.

  3. From the Diary of St. Faustina (a must read for all Catholics);

    Our Lord on Obedience;

    “I have come to do my Father’s will.
    I obeyed my parents,
    I obeyed my tormentors
    and now I obey the priests.”

  4. Jonathan,

    By that zero-sum reasoning, Christ’s own actions would have no human component. That’s obviously false (it’s monoenergism), and so is the zero-sum model for divine and human cooperation.

    Ah, but as you have noted, Christ is not a human person. So HIs participation is fundamentally different than anything we can do. He is a divine person working in and through His human nature. With us, it is a divine person working in, with, and through a human person.

    The patristic solution for this is elegant; it is that the human component is still there, but participatory. Thus, our part is only the human participation in the divine action, so although there is a real human component, it is not “of ourselves,” but completely out of participation with divine grace. That is different from cases of cooperation with other human beings, in which each person is “doing his part” as opposed to participating in the very work (energy) of another.

    Well if this is so, then why so much of a problem with monergism?

    The model and pattern is Christ’s own theandric action. Just as His actions were all the actions of both God and man, so the actions that bring us to salvation after His pattern are the united actions of God and man.

    But see, this works out to us saving ourselves with God’s help, especially if monergism is not true. And our union with God is different than Christ’s. He is God united to a human nature. We are human persons united to a divine person. Once we start “participating” in salvation in the sense toward which RC thought seems to go, it isn’t God alone being the Savior.

  5. ERIC August 20, 2014 at 4:08 pm
    “De Maria–
    Your works are God working through you WITH YOUR COOPERATION. God and you…you and God, buddies, rolling up your sleeves and getting busy together. Quite the effective tandem you make!”

    Buddies is a term of contempt coming from you. It is a repetition of the hostility you hold toward those you disagree with. It really undermines your arguments.

    One might take a moment and remember that God is a Father, as in “Our Father Who art in heaven” kind of a Father. Father is a relationship.

    One might also take a moment and remember that Son is a relationship, and it describes Jesus’ relationship to us. Our older Brother.

    Then there is the Holy Spirit Who indwells in us when we are in a state of grace and Who is working to conform us to who we should be.

    It is a family affair.

    Calvin was a lawyer and it always seems that Calvinists reduce everything to legalism. Yet there is not a running strand of legalism in a family. There is a good father who wants his children to grow up properly. He starts by changing diapers and feeding little faces which cannot handle a spoon.

    In time that little being can respond by handling the spoon.

    Over time that child grows and can respond. Catholics believe in grace, grace offered and grace responded to. So DeMaria is right, we can cooperate with Him. We can respond to His grace and accomplish things. We can respond to the love of a Father, or an older Brother, or the Love of God Who indwells us. He made us that way and the fall did not completely undo what He created.

    Cooperate is a fine word for responding to grace.

  6. Eric,

    ““All of grace” means 100% grace and zero percent self effort”

    Again you equate non-monergism with Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. It isn’t.

    “You simply cannot have it both ways and are going to have to choose.”

    Yawn. Christ cannot be both human and divine. God cannot be one and three. We cannot cooperate without taking away glory from God. Christ’s human will was a passive instrument subordinated to the divine will. Spurgeon: “And you may depend upon this fact, that paradoxes are not strange things in Scripture, but are rather the rule than the exception.”

    “You also asked me to choose, but in my case, you’re comparing apples to oranges, and so I don’t have to.”

    Just because you say “Whether we cooperate or not in sanctification is totally irrelevant. We’re already justified by that time.”? Sorry, no dice. If you cooperate in sanctification (which results in growth in holiness and heavenly reward), then according to your standards, that must not be “all of grace”. If “zero percent self effort” is the litmus test – then I guess WCF didn’t get the memo:

    “And therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure”
    Duty and diligence? Sounds like effort.
    “God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the sate of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.”
    Humbling, confessing, begging, renewing? Sounds like effort. Looks like they’re earning the restoration of his countenance outside of grace.

    A.A. Hodge; “It must be remembered that while the subject is passive with respect to that divine act of grace whereby he is regenerated, after he is regenerated he cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the work of sanctification. The Holy Ghost gives the grace, and prompts and directs in its exercise, and the soul exercises it. Thus while sanctification is a grace, it is also a duty; and the soul is both bound and encouraged to use with diligence, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, all the means for its spiritual renovation, and to form those habits resisting evil and of right action in which sanctification so largely consists.”
    Grace and duty? Use with diligence? Form those habits? Sounds like effort.

    Jonathan Edwards: “In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, we act all. For that is what he produces, viz. [namely] our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors. We are in different respects, wholly passive and wholly active.”
    God does all and we do all? Why isn’t Edwards playing your zero-sum game?

    Richard Gaffin, By Faith Not by Sight: “Here is what may be fairly called a synergy but it is not a 50/50 undertaking (not even 99.9% God and 0.1% ourselves). Involved here is the ‘mysterious math’ of the creator and his image-bearing creature, whereby 100% plus 100% =100%. Sanctification is 100% the work of God, and for that reason, is to engage the full 100% activity of the believer.”
    Why didn’t Gaffin get the zero-sum memo?

    Oh, but maybe our effort is a result of grace and so is not self-effort? Well, hello and welcome to the conversation. So yeah, you are going to have to choose according to your own standards.

    “The declaration of justification does not make us (our whole selves) immediately righteous, but it does result immediately in a new creation which is itself sinless. It also immediately constitutes the whole self as righteous.”

    So I become sinless new creation, but not made immediately righteous, but constituted immediately righteous, but I can still stand before God’s judgment based on it. Clear as mud.

    “With Christ’s alien righteousness as a cover and with him himself as our sponsor, our guarantor, our own inherent righteousness is established and will be completed.”

    Bingo – so we’ve come full circle as predicted; Horton’s illustration was spot-on. And now you are saying “will be completed” – that is in glorification – which no one disputed. If it’s incomplete and inchoate, that doesn’t mean you can stand before God’s perfect standard of judgment based on impartation or that it is indistinguishable from imputation. And so you didn’t become actually ontologically fully righteous in the speech-act per your reply to Kenneth.

    “I don’t care if you want to emphasize imputation or impartation, as long as Christ gets all the credit, in the end it is all the same…as long as perseverance is not sacrificed in the meantime.
    …I don’t find your “plan of salvation” heretical so much as woefully inadequate for spiritual vitality, as well as pragmatically dangerous in that it leaves so many lives untouched by Christ.”

    If “in the end it is all the same” you need to show why RC/EO soteriology that focuses on impartation is “pragmatically dangerous” based on that. Because of perseverance? So I guess all non-Calvinist lives are being left untouched by Christ.

    “The reason you don’t understand the Calvin quote is that he is speaking of reformation to newness of life IN TERMS OF THE WHOLE PERSON. Taken as a whole, we are still demonstrably sinful and subject to judgment.”

    Yep, so Horton was spot-on. If the reformation is not “in terms of the whole person” then you can’t stand before God based on it according to your own standard – remember God has a perfect standard for judgment – something incomplete or inchoate can’t withstand it.

  7. James–

    All I can say is that you are giving your full energies to the effort NOT to understand what I wrote you…and grasping at straws to retain your own collapsing systemic infrastructure.

    Dialogues can’t be productive when one side is doing its earnest not to comprehend.

    You can do far better. Give it a whirl.

  8. James–

    In other words, you privilege your own argument with a “deus ex machina” solution of “paradox” and then immediately and mockingly deny my argument the same possibility.

    I am reminded of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35).

  9. Eric,

    If you criticize someone for not understanding something (indeed for willfully misunderstanding – quite charitable), in general you would then explain what/why they don’t understand instead of just saying “do better” and leaving it at that. I could just say the exact same thing to you – that wouldn’t improve or advance dialogue would it.

    The point of Nick’s series is to show the lack of Scriptural witness to extra nos imputation in justification. A person just can’t appeal to paradox anytime they want to justify their position – that would indeed be a deus ex machina. Do you want a Scriptural defense of cooperation with grace? It’s not difficult. So we know believers cooperate with grace without detracting from God’s glory (as even your own side’s theologians explicitly write above concerning sanctification) – there is no zero-sum game necessitated as you keep asserting.

    If we cooperate with grace, that does not make grace or God’s sovereignty superfluous.
    If Christ has a divine will, that does not make his human will superfluous.
    If God is one, that does not make the Trinity superfluous.
    (Concerning your proposed paradox):
    If we are/can be judged based on impartation, explain why that does not make imputation superfluous.

    Secondly, I am still waiting for you to explain why Horton’s illustration is not accurate. You seem to end up retreating to it essentially every few paragraphs. It’s not a big deal to just disagree with Kenneth’s statement instead of claiming you don’t and trying to create some ever-shifting imputation-impartation conflicting hybrid thing. I am still waiting for evidence that you actually do agree with Kenneth’s statement. If you really did, you wouldn’t also say to him at his blog that Trent anathemized the gospel (odd that Trent and Arminians have the same soteriology according to you, and yet Trent anathemized the gospel but Arminians haven’t or somehow get more slack).

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