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Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 11

See Part 1 for an explanation of this series. Last time we covered Redemption, Propitiation, and Reconciliation here.

This time we’ll cover three more big terms: Imputation, Justification, and Sanctification.

Basic meaning: to charge or credit an account (to lay, or to reckon it to someone’s account); it is a commercial transaction

It works in three directions;

1: Adam’s guilt was imputed to his descendants.

2: Our sins were charged against, or imputed to, Christ. Imputation explains how it is that Christ could be our substitute. Isaiah 53:4,5,11; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24

3: Christ’s righteousness was credited to us. Which raises the question: Was it his divine or human righteousness that was credited to us?

Active Obedience of Christ
Romans 2:5-11 is a favorite passage of Roman Catholic theologians because at first blush it seems like works salvation. How is it not teaching that? If you are the person that persists always in well doing, you don’t need to be saved. It’s not a description of someone who is saved by good works, it’s a description of a man who doesn’t need to be saved. How many men like that have ever lived? One. Jesus Christ. All others fall into category B: contentious, etc.

But suppose we got rid of your sins, category B person, would you now be qualified for eternal life? No. Now you’d just be zeroed out, and God isn’t in the business of admitting zeroes into Heaven. You’ve got to have something positive. Where are you going to get it? The answer is you get it from the only Man who ever did always and only what was good. This is why it’s important that Jesus actively obeyed His Father, so that His righteousness could be credited to your account. I am standing here dressed in the righteousness of Christ. The imputation of the active obedience of Christ is what saves you. And there’s no hope without it.

Paul goes on in verses 12-16 in this vein. Though we are not under the Law, there is an appropriate sense in which we can say that Christ kept the Law on our behalf, and it is His moral standing that is imputed to us. And you cannot argue that only Christ’s “passive” obedience on the cross is what saves us, because that act itself is the greatest example of the active obedience in history (Hebrews 5). And Heb. 5:8 isn’t just talking about His sufferings on the cross. I think that the Romans and Hebrews texts require us to view the righteousness imputed to us by Christ to be the righteousness He gained in His human nature. [Side note: The book of Hebrews is the book of Romans re-written to a different audience; it’s written by a rabbi. Who else could have written an entire NT book and not even bothered to sign his name?]

Justification is fundamental. It is foundational to all other benefits of salvation. Without it, you can’t have them. It’s not surprising then, that justification is the core of the book of Romans. Justification includes forgiveness, but it goes beyond forgiveness.

Definition: Not merely being cleared of wrongdoing, but hearing the judge say, “You did the right thing.” It is a declaration, a pronouncement. It is legal. It is forensic. It has to do with your standing, with your state.

As a righteous judge, God has to judge us guilty. He has to condemn us. When He justifies us, He’s declaring us to be righteous. How can God declare someone to be righteous who is a sinner? And here is where you have the defining difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic theology.

RCC: God can’t pronounce you righteous until you actually are righteous. Therefore, it’s all about getting you to a point where God can rightly declare you righteous. This starts with your baptism. But baptism can only take care of past sins. So as soon as you commit another sin, you’re in trouble. Grace, according to RCC theology, is God giving you the ability that you need to perform saving acts. He does not pronounce you righteous until you actually are righteous.

Gospel Theology: We acknowledge that God cannot just ignore sins, which would be a violation of His righteous character. And He cannot justify us on the basis of our own righteousness, which is actually something that condemns us, rather than commends us, according to Isaiah. The best things we do are all tainted by sin. So how can God declare us righteous? God’s pronouncement is based upon imputation. You can’t have justification before you have imputation. 2 Cor. 5:21 puts forward the two sides of imputation very clearly.

So how does justification work? See Romans 3:23-4:8.  We understand grace to mean “gift;” freely given. God sent Christ – not to make salvation possible so that we can earn it – God sent Christ to provide salvation for us. There is no cost to us, it has already been paid through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The only condition that God attaches to salvation is faith. Properly speaking, remember, faith is simply the occasion of our appropriation. We’re not doing anything, we’re simply receiving what God has done. We don’t trust in our faith to save us, we trust Christ to save us through faith. Faith is not a work. (Remember our compartments discussion). Any attempt to mix faith with works invalidates faith. In Eph. 2:8-9 the whole thing, all of salvation, is a gift. Even the faith is a gift. It’s not about works! God gets really upset when we try to add our works, because it is such an insult to Christ. It’s the most insulting thing we can do toward Him.

What’s the significance of justification?
It is the primary manward act of God in salvation. It’s the main thing that God does when He saves us. And it is foundational to all the other benefits of salvation. He couldn’t give us all the other benefits if He didn’t first declare us to be righteous in Christ. Also, justification includes forgiveness.

Forgiveness: God entirely remits the penalty for sin. God separates the sinner from the sin in His own mind. He takes the guilt of the sin away from the sinner so that He never again sees the sinner in connection with his sin. If you have been justified, God never sees your sin. The basis of forgiveness is the blood of Christ. God doesn’t merely overlook our sins, He couldn’t. But He has already judged our sins on the cross in the Person of Christ. How does God forgive? Ephesians 4:32 says He forgives for Christ’s sake. God forgave me freely and this is how I’m supposed to forgive others. He also forgives completely. He does not just forgive the sins we committed prior to Christ. Let’s look at Hebrews 10:

Verse 1: The Law isn’t the reality, the law is an image. The sacrifices were offered year after year after year, continually. But because they are only pictures and not reality, those sacrifices could never make the people who offered them perfect (the complete forgiveness of sins). And there’s a reason:

Verse 2: Suppose you’re going up to the tabernacle or temple one year and the priest offers your sacrifice and you discover that with this sacrifice all of my sins have been wiped out (past, present, future). Would you still need to offer a sacrifice next year? Of course not.

Verse 3: In fact, that never happened in the OT. It served as an object lesson that your sins hadn’t been taken away. I’m going to have to come back next year and sacrifice again. All of this was never intended to save, it was intended to remind you of your need for a savior.

Verse 4: It was impossible for animal blood to take away your sins.

Verse 5: On the one hand God didn’t desire more OT sacrifices. The function of Messiah coming into the world was not to perpetuate the sacrificial system of the OT. On the other hand, what God did want mandated special requirements for His Messiah. He had to add to His deity a full human nature.

Verses 6-9: In 9, he’s distinguishing a first and a second. The question is, what is the first and what is the second? The first is the burnt offering system. The second is God’s will. He takes away the first to establish the second.

Verse 10: The will of God was that we should be set apart through the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 11: Think of the Tabernacle. Imagine you’re coming in through the opening in the curtain at the end of the Tabernacle. You’re walking in, there’s rock and sand under your feet, and you come through the barrier. What do you meet first as you come in the Tabernacle? There’s a laver there. And then there’s a brazen altar. And then as you pass the altar, you’re going to come to the Holy Place. It’s closed off. If you could go through, what would you find there? On one side the table of the Bread of the Presence, on the other the menorah. In front of you is the altar of incense. And behind that, another curtain. And what’s in there? The Ark of the Covenant. And what does it look like? A box, covered in gold, with a cherub on each end. And what’s between the cherubs? The Shekinah. Suppose you lift the lid, what would you find inside? The tablets, the rod that budded, and a pot of manna.

Where are the chairs?

There aren’t any. Why? The priest’s work is never done. While the priest is there he’s not resting, he’s working. He’s not allowed to sit down because he’s actively engaged in the ministry that God’s appointed for him. So he goes in every day, and stands there, and offers sacrifices over and over and over and none of them could ever take away sin.

Verse 12: But, THIS MAN, the Messiah, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down. That’s one of the most important expressions anywhere in Scripture. He sat down. The work was complete. It was over. There was nothing else to do. That means that the sacrifice had been offered once for all. And if that’s what it is, then there’s no other sacrifice to be offered.

Verse 13-14: God’s will has occurred perfectly. We are made perfect forever. Nothing else needs to be added. Nothing else could ever possibly be added. Do we need a separate priesthood? Yes! What is our separate priesthood? It is Christ! If His sacrifice only remits sins up to a point, then I’m in trouble because there’s no other sacrifice that can be offered. That’s bad news. The good news is that there’s no other sacrifice that needs to be offered. It’s over. It’s done. It is finished!

(This would be a good place to pause and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God through Christ.)

Three senses:

1: There is an eternal aspect to sanctification (prospective).

2: There is also a sense in which, if I have been saved, I have been set apart from the penalty of sin. This looks a lot like justification. And in this sense, sanctification is a forensic act (positional sanctification). In the order of salvation it is subsequent to justification, and it builds upon sanctification. It describes my standing (position), not my state (practice).

3: Usually when we use the word sanctification, we are talking about a present ongoing work in which we are being set apart from sin in the power of holiness (progressive sanctification). Christ’s work is the basis for this as well, so it is grounded in the Gospel. It is not that we become sinless, but that we do sin less. The problem with this term is that there is no clear NT passage that uses the word sanctification in this sense. Interesting, isn’t it? John 17:17 is the closest thing we have to a possible description of progressive sanctification. The concept is there in the NT, it’s just never labeled sanctification when we see it talked about this way. It really is growth.

Perfect sanctification is future, when we will be delivered from the presence of sin. This is one aspect of our glorification.


Resources for Today: June 23, 2014

It has been too long since I last published a post! I spent the past week checking out Central Seminary, and taking their free intro course called Knowing and Loving God which was taught by Dr. Kevin Bauder. I can assure you, his sense of humor and amiable nature contrast sharply with his quite serious photograph, though I give him full marks for an excellent start to what could end up as an epic mustache.  If you don’t know of Central or Dr. Bauder yet, I recommend you get to know them. Dr. Bauder writes a weekly Friday blog called In the Nick of Time which I recommend. And Central is a small seminary committed to the glory of God and the good of His church. I heartily support them.

All of this to say, it’s been a while since I’ve had the time to sit down and write. However, I came across some great articles today thanks to Pastor Michael Riley, of Calvary Baptist Church in Wakefield, Michigan (You’ll have to forgive him, he’s a Tigers fan and occasionally uses his blog platform to discuss trivial matters like Major League Baseball. A more spiritual man would write about the Stanley Cup Playoffs or beef brisket). He sends out a weekly e-mail to his congregation with resources like these linked, and he’s been kind enough to add me to that e-mail list so that I can lift his material with greater ease. The first three below are from him.

Loving God for His Own Sake

Does the Christian Life Ever Get Any Easier?

Is It Ever Appropriate to Leave A Church?

Poor Interpretation = Poor Doctrine

Jonathan Edwards and the Effort of Sanctification

At some point recently a switch got flipped inside my head and I began consuming large amounts of church history – both through books and audio lectures. This has been tremendously enjoyable, and a worthy exercise for anyone who knows little about the Christian past. While I’ve done reading and listening on various people and periods, one of my favorites so far has been Jonathan Edwards.

I’m currently preparing a Sunday School lesson for this weekend at Calvary Baptist Church of Wakefield, MI on the subject of Edwards’ 70 Resolutions (no, I’m not covering them all). Even being slightly familiar with Edwards prior to my recent study, I’d never heard of the resolutions. They’re worth a read, and a helpful primer on the topic is Steven J. Lawson’s The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards. I am using this work extensively in my Sunday School lesson prep, and want to share a bit of it here.

As an introduction, it’s helpful to note that I am coming at this from the perspective that our sanctification requires effort on our part. If you’re familiar with the recent dust-up over this subject in evangelicalism, you’ll note that not everyone agrees with this. But I believe the Bible clearly favors a fervent pursuit of personal holiness by those who are Christians, and Edwards certainly did as well. (See 2 Cor. 5:17; Matt. 7:21-23; John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6; Heb. 12:14; Rom. 6:1, 12:1; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 3:10-15)

Edwards’ Pursuit of Holiness

  • Edwards wrote 70 purpose statements for his life during the years 1722-23.
  • At the time he started them, he was not yet 20 years old and had been saved for only about one year.
  • If Edwards were alive today, he would not be Mr. Popular with many professing Christians. He’d be called a “Pharisee” or a “legalist” by some. He’d be a punchline on facebook. He’d be skewered on blogs. He’d hear “You’re such a Puritan!” Of course, that one was actually true.

Edwards’ Legacy

  • Contemporary of George Whitefield, though they only met once; evidently, Whitefield preached in Edwards’ pulpit, and Edwards sat on the front row and wept throughout the sermon
  • Leader of the Great Awakening in America
  • Likely would have become David Brainerd’s father-in-law had Brainerd lived past 29
  • Grandfather of Aaron Burr (who later killed Alexander Hamilton….I forgive him for this)
  • Originally horrified by the Doctrine of Election, though later called it “exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet”
  • Eventually fired by his church of more than 20 years for tightening up communion requirements to a more biblical level
  • His humility is apparent in that he stayed on for nearly a year helping them fill the pulpit until his replacement could be found
  • His humility was further displayed in his next step in life: taking over a mission work to Indians in a remote frontier settlement and preaching the Gospel at a 5th grade level
  • An early 20th century study of Edwards’ descendants found that just 150 years after his death, Edwards had the following distinguished branches shooting forth from his family tree: 300 clergymen, missionaries, and theological professors; 120 college professors; 110 lawyers; over 60 physicians; over 60 authors; 30 judges; 14 university presidents; multiple giants of American industry; 80 holders of major public office; 3 mayors of large cities; 3 state governors; 3 U.S. senators; a U.S. Senate chaplain; a comptroller of the U.S. Treasury; a Vice-President of the United States (Aaron Burr); and that study was done over 100 years ago! That list has surely multiplied repeatedly since.

Edwards’ Resolutions

  • Centered around six categories that Lawson has helpfully defined: Pursuing the Glory of God; Forsaking Sin; Making Proper Use of God-Allotted Time; Living with All His Being for the Lord; Pursuing Humility and Love; Making Frequent Self Examination
  • 70 total resolutions, written over an approximately 15-month period, and regularly reviewed throughout his life as a matter of spiritual discipline


  • Excerpt from Resolution #1: “Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence….”
  • #4: “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.”
  • #6: “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.”
  • #7: “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.”
  • #10: “Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.”
  • #16: “Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.”
  • #25: “Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.”
  • #56: “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”

Edwards’ spiritual disciplines, and the aim of his life, were all pointed at the glory of God. Every thought. Every word. Every choice. Every undertaking. All must be for God’s glory. Let us beg God to give His Church a host of men and women who desire to be holy as He is holy; whose great love for God and passion for His glory results in a life consistent with the character and commands of God.


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