Monday, April 26, 2010

The Whole Work of Christ Apprehended by Faith Is the Gospel

I fear that there is significant alteration and misunderstanding of the gospel being propagated in our day, from pulpits evangelical and non. The gospel is a simple, clear thing, and anyone who makes it complicated, denies it.

The complicating of the gospel centers upon what theologians call the imputed righteousness of Christ. One simply cannot deny the imputation of Christ's obedience and death and be saved. Do not be scared away from these words, because, if you are truly a Christian, you know precisely what they mean, though you might use different words. They simply mean this:

"God justifies the ungodly." (Romans 4:5)

And this:

Philippians 3:8-9 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith -

Notice: God does not save the righteous, or the godly, but the ungodly and the un-righteous.

In short, if I am to be saved, I need someone else's righteousness, a righteousness from outside myself. I do not need someone to make up for my shortcomings, I do not need someone who simply pays for my failures. If I would come to God, I must give up every pretense of my own goodness, and reach up to Christ with empty, sin-stained hands, and grab hold of him and his righteousness, for he alone has the perfect righteousness that is worthy of God's acceptance and approval.

Some are saying we will be saved by our faithfulness. Some are saying we are saved by our own righteousness. Some are saying we are saved the same way Adam was --by faithful obedience. Brothers and sisters, sin renders this an impossibility. At my best, I am only an unprofitable servant. God does not save me based on my fidelity to his covenant --as Turretin says it, I am saved by obedience and faith: by Christ's obedience and through my faith. And, it must be stressed, that faith does not in any way render me worth saving. It is nothing but the outstretched hand to God to save me --and that not of myself, it is a gift of God.

Do not let go of this. It is the gospel. Sinclair Ferguson says it like no other.


  1. Ken, as usual, an excellent post.

  2. Thanks, Ken. I am so thankful for this saving grace that I add NOTHING to but my need for it!

  3. Nothing in my hand I bring,
    Simply to the cross I cling;
    Naked, come to Thee for dress;
    Helpless look to Thee for grace;
    Foul, I to the fountain fly;
    Wash me, Savior, or I die.

  4. I think you have a wrong view of imputation:

    In my study on this topic of imputed righteousness, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular lexicon here is what it is defined as:

    QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

    The lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

    The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are some examples:
    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

    Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.

    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

    Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 4:4 the worker’s wages are ‘reckoned’ as a debt because the boss is in debt to the worker, not giving a gift to him. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

    To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 4:4 the boss gives payment to the worker as a gift rather than obligation/debt; (3) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (4) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
    This cannot be right.

    So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such. This is confirmed even more when one compares another similar passage, Hebrews 11:4, where by faith Abel was commended as righteous.

  5. Melanie,

    Exactly! As I have written elsewhere (, whether a person can gladly and honestly sings those words says a LOT about their understanding of the gospel.

  6. Nick,

    Let me say that I used to view things precisely the way you state. I studied with an ardent disciple of Dan Fuller, read a whole lot of Stendahl and Dunn, and wrote a lengthy thesis in college based upon the principle for which you argue above.

    It was not till later that I began to reflect that such a position, if followed logically, left really no room for Christ. Christ was put forth as exemplar and victor, the one who points the way to salvation, but not as savior himself.

    Theology exclusively by dictionary is a fairly slippery enterprise. Words have meaning, but their meaning is determined by context.

    If you argue that the righteousness of Christ cannot be imputed to a believer, because such is not "real" (which is tautological argument), then would that not also be true of the death of Christ? If we cannot be united to Christ in his righteousness, how can we be united to him in his death?

    I cannot help but think you don't quite understand the doctrine of imputation, because the word study you present, and even the way you present it, actually make the case for imputation as classically understood (I often get this feeling from Tom Wright, too).

    For instance, you cite Romans 6:11. The believer is to reckon himself dead to sin. But, yet (and I don't suppose you would contest this), the believer still sins. IN one sense, he is really reckoned dead to sin, in another sense, he still sins.

    This is true in his justification, as well. In one sense, the believer is righteous by declaration. And, this is not an arbitrary declaration of being "in the right," or a horizontal declaration of being numbered among the people of God, in the first place, but the declaration of a righteousness that is really his, by faith. It is his while he is still "ungodly." It is his while he is yet a sinner. It is his, really, though he continues to sin. It is possessed by him, though it is not inherent in him. It is Christ's righteousness, apprehended by faith alone.

    But, the faith itself cannot be the righteousness. Faith clings to something outside of itself --namely, Christ.

    That is made clear in Philippians 3 --a righteousness that is not of myself, but comes from God, and is by faith. I find it fascinating that Tom Wright almost pathologically refuses to deal with that verse. How one can write a response to Piper without so much as a mention of that verse to me belies the futility of his whole enterprise.

    What does Paul say was the problem with the Jews (Romans 10)? They "did not know the righteousness that comes from God." They sought to "establish their own..." In other words, the Jew's first problem was establishing his own righteousness --which, sad to say, is essentially the same sort of righteousness that NPP types say the Christian needs --a sort of faithful obedience.

    I can predict how you may respond: the problem with the Jews was not thir obedience as much as their pride in identity badges like circumcision. Nobody doubts this was part of the problem. But, Acts 15 and Galatians 5 make clear that circumcision obligates one to the whole law. The Judaizers understood this, and Paul did too. The "works of the law" were anything a human did to establish his own righteousness, not just identity badges. Besides, try reading Ephesians 2:8-10, replacing "works" with identity badges, and see if it makes sense --if you want to argue lexically.

    The truth is that the simple gospel teaches me that I contribute nothing to my salvation --not faith, not works, nothing. Jesus has done it all, and faith is nothing other than believing that --not trusting myself, but leaning upon him wholly.

    And that is what Saint Paul really said!

  7. Ken,

    You used to view things just the way I do now? Wow. I'm not sure how such a position (even in it's ultimate conclusions) necessitates "no room for Christ." If you think it only makes out Christ to be an 'example', then that's certainly not the Catholic position (quite the contrary, "Without me you can do nothing" Jn 15:1-10).

    I agree that theology via lexicon is not the ultimate basis for which to interpret, but that's not to say it is not valuable. In my study, going over every occurrence of 'reckoned' in the OT and NT, I see strong evidence pointing away from the Protestant notion:

    It is my argument that the "righteousness of Christ" is not imputed because the Greek term doesn't operate like that. We are certainly united to Christ's death and resurrection, but that's through a very real inner transformation (Rom 6), not imputing an alien status.

    I'm glad that you're willing to point out specifics for where you object, because many I've talked to wont go that far. I partially agree with your Romans 6:11 assertion, but the fact remains the believer is dead to sin in a very real inner sense. The Christian living a Christian life is not in bondage to sin, which is the point of Romans 6.

    I wouldn't see how this carries over to justification, because 'reckon' is being used here to mean 'transfer righteousness' (which isn't how the Bible or lexicon ever use the term), rather than examine whether there is something righteous about the individual. The term "reckon" means to make a mental calculation.

    The difficulty here is that you're reading all this presupposing Romans 4 is using 'impute' in the manner you think, where 'faith reckoned as righteousness' means 'faith transfers righteousness to an unrighteous person'. The Greek word isn't used like that.

    As for Philippians 3:9, one thing I've noticed is a trend of not reading Paul's full thought here, which continues into verses 10-11,

    "the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,"

    Here, reading the verse in context, Paul is speaking about a radical inner transformation.

    While you are partially correct in how I'd respond to the problem of the Jews, I think the NPP gets it wrong as far as 'ethnic markers' which really aren't so much about soteriology as they are about social cohesion. I believe the Jewish problem Paul condemned was a form of 'grace alone' in which they assumed being Abraham's lineage they were guaranteed blessings and promises and salvation. And I fully agree that circumcision obligates one to obey the full Law, because the problem was that the Jews thought salvation was attached to the Old Covenant, which is false.

    The truth is that the simple gospel teaches me that I contribute nothing to my salvation --not faith, not works, nothing. Jesus has done it all, and faith is nothing other than believing that --not trusting myself, but leaning upon him wholly.

  8. Nick,

    I guess I was reading between the lines, and assumed you were a NPP guy.

    But, suffice it to say, I have a hard time reconciling your last paragraph with all that comes before it.

    Is not the Catholic position that grace renders men saveable, through working an inherent righteousness, so that salvation truly comes at the end of the Christian life, not its beginning? Or, am I mistaken about that?

    If so, of course, I would take extreme exception. God justifies the ungodly --you haven't accounted for that statement yet.

    Not that internal transformation (and external obedience) does not take place --it is the necessary and inevitable consequence of justifying faith. But consequences are not conditions.

    In short, I would say that I still don't think you understand imputation, and it really does hinge on Romans 6. The reason we become dead to sin conditionally, is because we are dead to sin, positionally.

    Likewise, the way we become righteous in ourselves is because we are positionally fully righteous in Christ. We are not saved by becoming righteous in ourselves. And, whatever righteousness God works in us through our sanctification is not saving righteousness (it is still sin-stained), but God working in us to will and do his good pleasure.

  9. Ken,

    You are partly correct, but I think you're looking at this the wrong way.

    The problem is Protestants conflate 'initial salvation' with 'final salvation'. They think that "justified" means "is legally entitled to eternal life," which isn't true, Biblically (Paul doesn't use the phrase "eternal life" in places like Romans 4 or Gal 3, but he does in places like Romans 2:6-8 and Gal 6:7-9). The Bible does speak of salvation in the past tense, present, and future, but these cannot be confused/conflated.

    Initial salvation is akin to conversion, becoming adopted into God's family, while final salvation is akin to persevering in good standing in that family and receiving the inheritance in the end.

    From the Protestant perspective, where one becomes legally entitled to eternal life upon justification (based wholly upon Christ's finished work), it makes no sense and is in fact abominable to say future good works legally entitle one to eternal life. But Biblically, that's a conflating of two categories.

    As for the text "God justifies the ungodly," I think you're getting ahead of yourself. There are two good ways this can be taken:

    (1) Paul explains this justification is described in terms of 'forgiveness of sins' (Romans 4:6-8), so 'justify the ungodly' is firstly about forgiving the sins (which would mean they're no longer a sinner), Cf Acts 13:38-39; 15:9. Further, even in Protestantism, God doesn't 'declare righteous the unrighteous', which is blasphemy and defeats the whole point of imputing Christ's righteousness (so that God is justifying the righteous, even if that righteousness is alien).

    (2) The term used in Greek is "ungodly," not "unrighteous," which is a negated form of "worship", making it mean something akin to the 'non-worshiper' according to Jewish worship standards. Thus, Paul could be speaking of the Gentiles, saying "God justifies/forgives/saves the Gentile," which would be an abomination to Jewish ears (a serious issue which most readers today don't realize)!

    I'm not sure how the Romans 6:11 situation helps your claim, because we agree Paul is speaking of dead to sin in a real sense. Even if there was another sense in which we were not dead to sin, that wouldn't matter, for Paul wouldn't be talking about that.