Gospel Truth: Justification as Imputation – D. J. Engelsma

gospel-truth-justification-DJE-2017In chapter eight of his most recent book, Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed, David J. Engelsma makes plain that the saving act of God in justification involves imputation. He explains:

Justification is imputation. It is the divine act of imputing, or reckoning, the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the guilty but elect sinner. To the account of the elect sinner, God imputes the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. This righteousness consists of Jesus’ lifelong obedience to the will of God and of his atoning suffering and death. The believing sinner experiences this imputation as the forgiveness of his sins – the lifting of sin’s guilt, which guilt exposes the sinner to God’s punishment of sins – and as the sinner’s standing before God the judge as one who has fully accomplished all that the law of God demands of him – the possession of perfect obedience to the ten commandments of the law of God.

But that is not all that the believer experiences through this gracious act of God:

Removed is all shame, the deep shame of being a sinner. Bestowed is honor, the genuine honor of being a righteous man or woman.

Gone is fear, the worst of all fears, namely, being an object of the wrath and curse of God and therefore facing the certain punishment of eternal damnation in hell. Present, by justification, is confidence, the all-important confidence of being the object of God’s favor, ending in eternal life and glory in body and soul in the day of Jesus Christ [pp.108-109].

Later in that chapter Engelsma warns about the danger of corrupting this central gospel truth of justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness:

Confusion of sanctification with justification, confusion of God’s work of imparting obedience with his act of imputing righteousness, is necessarily corruption of the gospel of grace. This confusion is not harmless. It prevents the publican from going down to his home justified. It is attempted robbery of the people of God of their joy and peace. It detracts from the obedience of Jesus Christ as the complete righteousness of the believing sinner, as though the obedience of the sinner must be added to the obedience of Jesus for the sinner’s righteousness with God [pp.112-13].

In the end this is the issue:

In the saving act of justification, it is all or nothing. Either Jesus’ obedient life and atoning death are all of the sinner’s righteousness with God (by justification), or if Jesus’ obedience must be complemented by so much as one small work of the sinner himself (as an infused righteousness), Jesus’ obedience is of no account for the sinner’s justification whatsoever [p.113].

What Are the Themes of the Psalter? R. Godfrey

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017In the fourth chapter of his new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017), author W. Robert Godfrey addresses the themes of the OT book of Psalms.

In “Recurring Themes in the Psalms” he points out that “a great aid to our study of the Psalms is recognizing the major themes that occur over and over again in the Psalter. Certain basic themes unite the Psalms and underscore essential truths about God and His care for His people” (p.16).

From there he seeks to answer the question, What is the great theme that dominates the Psalter? Here is his answer:

John Calvin in his five-volume commentary on the book of Psalms suggested that the great theme of the Psalter is the providence of God, specifically God’s preservation of His own. Hesitant as I am to try to improve on Calvin, I would expand on his thought by saying that the great theme of the Psalter is God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous. God is always good in ways completely compatible with His holiness. And in His goodness, He never fails in His love and care for those who belong to Him [p.16].

And what about the personal, subjective side to this grand theme? What about the response of these righteous ones who are so loved and cared for by the good God? This is what Godfrey adds:

As this truth of God’s goodness and love is celebrated throughout the Psalter, the regular response of God’s people is clear: they praise Him. When we really think about who God is and what He does for us, the only possible reaction is praise. Indeed, the book of Psalms derives its Hebrew name, the Book of Praises, from this principal reaction – praise – to the principal theme – God’s goodness and unfailing love for the righteous [pp.16-17].

Do you agree with the author? Is this the central message you find in the precious book of God’s Word? And if you do, do you and I also response with praise – personal and private, as well as corporate and public?

Today, in the house of our great and glorious, good and loving Father we have the opportunity again to see and hear this theme, and to respond in thankful praise. Shall we do this? Let us. For our God is worthy.

The Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]

“The Benefit of Christ” – The Most Influential Book You Have Never Read – S. Carr

In this year of noting and celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we may well judge that nothing significant came out of Italy for the Protestant cause. We might think that, with Italy being the bastion of Roman Catholicism, no Reformers arose and no reforming work was carried on. But this would be a mistake and would short-change the work of God’s mighty grace in His church, also in this Catholic stronghold. Shall we forget men such as Peter Martyr Vermigli and Bernardino Ochino?

As noted author (especially of children’s literature) Simonetta Carr points out in this brief article posted on the “Place for Truth” website (under “Cloud of Witnesses”), there was another influential Italian man – Benedetto da Mantova (1495-1556), “an obscure Benedictine monk,” who penned a very significant book for that time – perhaps “the most influential book you have never read,” or even heard of.

Listen to what Carr has to say about this man and his book:

It was 1543. North of the Alps, Protestant reformers were busy publishing books. In Rome, the papacy was busy banning them. Still, the publishers in Venice, a proudly independent republic with a reputation of opposition to the pope, were persistent. That year’s best-seller was an Italian essay by a characteristically long name: Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesù Cristo crocifisso verso i cristiani (Most useful treatise on the benefit of Jesus Christ crucified for Christians). It was called, for short, IlBeneficio di Cristo (The Benefit of Christ).

A Much Hated Best-Seller

According to the Italian theologian Pier Paolo Vergerio (1498-1565), the book sold 40,000 copies in six years in Venice alone – an impressive number at that time. It was an immediate success, especially among the group of Italian reformers – including high-ranking nobles and cardinals – who had been unsuccessfully trying to fight Rome’s corruption and promote a return to the original Scriptures (ad fontes). In this 70-page treatise, they found a concise explanation of important doctrines on which the church had not yet reached an official consensus, such as justification by faith alone.

Want to know more about Benedetto and his banned book? Read on at the link below. Or read The Benefit of Christ yourself at this link.

And marvel at and celebrate what God worked through this minor Italian reformer. Ah, the power of the pen – and the truth of the gospel!

Source: The Benefit of Christ – The Most Influential Book You Have Never Read – Place for Truth

Why the Reformation Matters: Because of Union with Christ

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016You can probably guess what critics of the Reformation said about all this [justification by faith and adoption by the Spirit, because of the believer’s union with Christ]. That this is a doctrine of comfort was precisely the problem, they said, for this message is simply too comforting. If our anxieties about our guilt and standing before God can be washed away so freely in Christ, what possible motivation are we left with to pursue lives of holiness? But, understanding that salvation is union with Christ, Calvin was not troubled for a moment, and replied as follows:

If he who has obtained justification possesses Christ, and at the same time, Christ never is where His Spirit is not, it is obvious that gratuitous righteousness is necessarily connected with regeneration. Therefore, if you would duly understand how inseparable faith and works are, look to Christ, who, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor.i.30) has been given to us for justification and for sanctification. Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life. On the contrary, where zeal for integrity and holiness is not in vigor, there neither is the Spirit of Christ nor Christ Himself; and wherever Christ is not, there is no righteousness, nay, there is no faith; for faith cannot apprehend Christ for righteousness without the Spirit of sanctification [quoted from A Reformation Debate, ed. John C. Olin, 1966].

Which leads the authors to comment further:

That is, we have not been united to Christ so we can get some other reward: heaven, righteousness, salvation, or whatever. We do not, as Calvin put it, seek ‘in Christ something else than Christ Himself.’ The great reward of union with Christ is Christ. Knowing and enjoying him is the eternal life for which we have been saved. It is why, in his earliest years as a young believer, Calvin began identifying himself as ‘a lover of Jesus Christ.’

Taken from Chapter 6, “Union with Christ” in Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), p.124-25.

*Nota bene: This book is still available for review if there are interested parties.

Blessed Pure in Heart, Blessed Peacemakers, Blessed Persecuted

As we noted before this month, the June Tabletalk is devoted to the Beatitudes our Lord spoke during His ministry on earth (cf. Matt.5).

Each of these beatitudes are given a brief explanation and application in the issue. Today I was able to read three more of these articles before our worship times.

On this Sunday night, I want to leave you with quotations from all three, so that you can also benefit from these edifying articles. I give you the links to each article so that you may also read the entire thing if you wish (they are all brief).

First is “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart” by Michael Allen:

…Our salvation involves nothing less than the gift of our Savior Himself. God is not merely the author of the gospel—God is the end of the gospel.

The “pure of heart” are those who see that we are made for and only satisfied ultimately by the sight of God. Other gifts are good; this prize alone is ultimately blessed. A crucial facet of growing in the kind of purity envisioned and given by Jesus is the insatiable sense that we would not delight in any other good or reward apart from His giving Himself to us. With David, the “pure in heart” can say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Ps. 16:2).

Second is “Blessed are the Peacemakers” (linked below) by Dirk Naves:

Rooted firmly in the peace made by Christ, today’s peacemakers must look to His life as a model. His peacemaking earned Him the hatred of religious leaders and the derision of His family. His peacemaking led Him to a garden, not for quiet repose, but for midnight wrestling; not for cool refreshment, but an overflowing cup of almighty wrath. His peacemaking led Him to a cross. It led Him to outer darkness.

It also led Him to a crown, a throne, and a people from every tribe and tongue and nation. This is the lot of peacemakers. Their bodies are scarred and they have been despised, but their harvest is full and their title is no cause for shame. They shall be called sons of God.

And finally, we quote from “Blessed Are Those Who are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake,” penned by Rev. Michael Glodo.

Finally, persecution testifies to our union with Christ. In Philippians 3:8–11, Paul relates how the persecutor became the persecuted and that even though he lost all that he once held dear, he gained Christ and the righteousness that comes through faith (v. 9). The purpose or goal of counting everything else as loss is knowing Christ and the power of Christ’s resurrection along with the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, for it is necessary to become like Christ in His death if we want to share in His life. Union with Christ means a share in all things that are Christ’s, including the rejection, reviling, and persecution that was His. For if we have a share in Him, ours truly is the kingdom of heaven. And with this knowledge, we will be able to persevere with joy in trials and answer our persecutors with a benediction (James 5:1; 1 Peter 3:9).

Source: Blessed Are the Peacemakers by Dirk Naves

Key Quotes From Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” | Monergism

As the heading above indicates, the referenced article from the website Monergism.com provides “key quotes” from Martin Luther’s classic work The Bondage of the Will.

That work is a response to the Dutch humanist and Roman Catholic priest Desiderius Erasmus, who, while critical of Roman Catholic teaching in some areas, strongly defended her views on salvation, free will, and grace.

Luther obliterated Erasmus’ arguments and posited in their place the truths of salvation by grace alone due to the total sovereignty of God and the utter inability of the sinner.

Monergism gives a short introduction before providing some of Luther’s powerful answers to the man from Rotterdam. Here is part of that introduction:

The following quotes hit the crux of the issue: whether Christ alone saves or whether salvation is synergistic cooperation of man and God. This is still extremely relevant for today’s Christian, for many of us carry the unbiblical assumption that Erasmus held, which wrongly concludes any command from God to believe or obey the gospel, must somewhow imply the moral ability to to do so. Large numbers of evangelicals today make this same jump in unaided logic and build a whole theology on it but as Dr. Luther said to Erasmus, “when you are finished with all your commands and exhortations … I’ll write Ro.3:20 over the top of it all” (“…through the law comes knowledge of sin.”). In other words, the commands exist to reveal not our ability but rather our inability, and this moral impotency does not take away our responsibility to obey.

And here are a few of the “key quotes”; to find more visit the link below.

And, let me add, in this year of commemorating the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation of the 16th century, it would be good for us to read (or re-read) this mighty classic of Protestantism.

“For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” Martin Luther BW pg. 149

“…’if thou art willing’ is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing…a conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively.” “if thou art willing”, “if thou hear”, “if thou do” declare, not man’s ability, but his duty. pg 157

“the commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded.” pg. 160

Speaking to Erasmus, “Throughout your treatment you forget that you said that ‘free-will’ can do nothing without grace, and you prove that ‘free-will’ can do all things without grace! Your inferences and analogies “For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” Martin Luther BW pg. 149

“Even grammarians and schoolboys on street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should be expressed by words in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done? pg 159

“The passages of Scripture you cite are imperative; and they prove and establish nothing about the ability of man, but only lay down what is and what not to be done.” pg 161

Source: Key Quotes From Luther’s Bondage of the Will | Monergism

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn – Matt Smethurst

As we noted before, this month’s Tabletalk is devoted to the Beatitudes our Lord spoke during His ministry on earth (cf. Matt.5).

Each of these beatitudes are given a brief explanation and application in the issue, and for today we quote from the article of Matt Smethurst on the second beatitude, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

Here is in part what he has to say:

Deep Dive

Imagine awaking on the Fourth of July to a text from a friend: “Meet me for fireworks at 11 a.m.” You’d think it was a typo. Why? Because fireworks aren’t impressive in the noonday sky. The darker the sky, in fact, the more stunning the display. In the same way, the brilliance of grace must be set against the blackness of sin. As the Puritan Thomas Watson said, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

For the world, grieving sin is regressive and constricting; for the Christian, it is the pathway to joy. Imagine the implications. If Matthew 5:4 is true—if Jesus really meets repentance with comfort, not condemnation—then no longer do you need to fear being exposed. No longer do you have to present an airbrushed version of yourself to fellow redeemed sinners. No longer do you need to fear studying your heart and plumbing the depths of your disease. If exploring sin brings you to the deep end of the pool, exploring mercy will take you to the Mariana Trench. And awaiting you at the bottom of the dive is not a black hole but a solid rock.

Scarred Savior

In the final analysis, the Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from its speaker. Jesus prayed many prayers during His incarnation, but never once did He pray a prayer of confession. He didn’t have to. He mourned over many sins, but never once did He mourn over His own. He didn’t have any.

Ultimately, our comfort is anchored in the reality that Jesus doesn’t just mourn sin; He conquers it.

Source: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn by Matt Smethurst

The Ultimate Purpose of Reading the Bible: the Praise of God’s Glorious Grace

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017Redemption begins in eternity past in the heart of God. He predestines a people ‘for adoption…through Jesus Christ.’ Paul tells us the deepest root and the highest goal of this predestination. He says it is rooted in ‘the praise of his will’ (Eph.1:5). And he says its ultimate goal is ‘the praise of his glorious grace’ (Eph.1:6).

How quickly do we pass over that last statement! Whose purpose is being expressed in the words ‘he predestined us for adoption…to the praise of his glorious grace’? It is God’s purpose. And what is that purpose? That we praise. That we praise what? His glory. The peculiar glory of his grace. So from all eternity, God’s plan was to have a family adopted ‘through Jesus Christ’ who would praise his glory to all eternity. There are few things more important to know than that. Few things will shape more of your life than that – if it penetrates to the center of your soul.

The plan from eternity past was praise for eternity future. The one who planned and the one to be praised are the same God. And the focus of the praise is his own peculiar glory – which shines most brightly as the glory of grace in the person and work of Jesus [pp.46-47].

Quotation by John Piper, taken from Chapter 1, “Reading the Bible toward God’s Ultimate Goal” in Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017).

As proof for the fact that the glory of God is what we should ultimately have in view as we read the Bible, Piper refers to the “six stages of redemption” as they are set forth in Scripture: predestination (the section quoted from above), creation, incarnation, propitiation, sanctification, and consummation.

The Courage to Be Reformed – Burk Parsons

The May 2017 issue of Tabletalk magazine is a special one, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. With the theme “Why We Are Reformed,” the magazine highlights some of its history and some of the core doctrines of the Reformed faith it seeks to broadcast.

As pointed out in a previous post this month, featured articles are on God’s sovereignty (Derek Thomas), biblical authority (Stephen Nichols), justification by faith alone (Robert Godfrey), salvation by grace alone (Steven Lawson), God’s covenant people (Sinclair Ferguson), and a closing one on the courage to be Reformed (Burk Parsons).

It is that final article that I reference today, as we consider some of the thoughts of the editor (Burk Parsons) on what it means to be courageously Reformed in our day. For one thing, it means being like the Reformers of the sixteenth century:

The Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century, along with their fifteenth-century forerunners and their seventeenth-century descendants, did not teach and defend their doctrine because it was cool or popular, but because it was biblical, and they put their lives on the line for it. They were not only willing to die for the theology of Scripture, they were willing to live for it, to suffer for it, and to be considered fools for it. Make no mistake: the Reformers were bold and courageous not on account of their self-confidence and self-reliance but on account of the fact that they had been humbled by the gospel. They were courageous because they had been indwelled by the Holy Spirit and equipped to proclaim the light of truth in a dark age of lies. The truth they preached was not new; it was ancient. It was the doctrine of the martyrs, the fathers, the Apostles, and the patriarchs—it was the doctrine of God set forth in sacred Scripture.

And so, Parsons calls us to be courageous – not as “closet Calvinists” – but as  truly confessional Calvinists, who love and live the Reformed faith in all of life – and not with the lip service of some in the Reformed and Presbyterian camp:

Reformed theology is also an all-encompassing theology. It changes not only what we know, it changes how we know what we know. It not only changes our understanding of God, it changes our understanding of ourselves. Indeed, it not only changes our view of salvation, it changes how we worship, how we evangelize, how we raise our children, how we treat the church, how we pray, how we study Scripture—it changes how we live, move, and have our being. Reformed theology is not a theology that we can hide, and it is not a theology to which we can merely pay lip service. For that has been the habit of heretics and theological progressives throughout history. They claim to adhere to their Reformed confessions, but they never actually confess them. They claim to be Reformed only when they are on the defensive—when their progressive (albeit popular) theology is called into question, and, if they are pastors, only when their jobs are on the line. While theological liberals might be in churches and denominations that identify as “Reformed,” they are ashamed of such an identity and have come to believe that being known as “Reformed” is a stumbling block to some and an offense to others.

That gives us good food for thought as we move into this new week as Reformed Christians. Are you and am I “TR” – truly Reformed – or is it just a hollow badge? And if we are truly Reformed in confession, does it show in all we say and do?

Source: The Courage to Be Reformed by Burk Parsons