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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Passive or Obedient Faith, Justification, Gospel Propositions and Baptism


It is quite popular in Reformed circles today to take a position on whether justifying faith is obedience or not. What I find possibly most amusing in this intramural debate is that so many who would affirm that infants can be justified through the seed of faith are quick to call faith obedience. Whereas those who do not allow for infants to have justifying faith often want to call faith passive!

Closely related to this discussion is the discussion over the logical order of sanctification and justification. One might think that among Reformed Christians it would be obvious that definitive sanctification precedes justification if for no other reason than regeneration precedes faith. After all, are there any who are regenerate who are not definitively sanctified by virtue of regeneration? Or is it man who generates justifying faith from an unsanctified / unregenerate posture? Moreover, those who think that faith must be exercised by embracing gospel propositions in order for there to be justifying faith (leaving infants no way to be justified by faith) should have little problem appreciating that the process of sanctification must precede justification. After all, given such a theology that does not allow infants to be justified through the seed of faith, not only would sanctification precede justification logically speaking, it would also precede justification in a temporal sense (since regenerate infants would have to wait until they comprehended the gospel) making the order of sanctification preceding justification even more pronounced.

With respect to justifying faith being an obedient response to the gospel call - it should first be observed that a sinner who tries to obey the command to flee the wrath to come does so either with a regenerate heart or out of enlightened self-interest. When the latter occurs, obviously no justifying faith is present, obedient or otherwise. When the former occurs, the one obeying is already justified by grace through faith, hence the action to obey with a believing heart with respect to the warning of death and promise of life. When one truly turns, it is because his heart is subdued and we must maintain that there is no temporal order in the application of redemption with respect to effectual call, regeneration, definitive sanctification, repentance and faith, and justification. Without a temporal order to these salvific gifts, we maintain that whoever is alive in Christ is justified through faith, even the seed of faith (see below). Accordingly, the fruit of obedience to the commands and / or warnings of Christ indeed must follow only in a temporal sense from the gift of life, which is always simultaneously accompanied by justifying faith. In a word, although it may appear as if men are obedient in their response to the call upon their lives, a faith that is imparted effectually by God does not obey at the logical moment it is granted anymore than Lazarus obeyed the Lord when coming forth from the grave.

Another strand of the discussion has to do with whether those who are incapable of comprehending gospel propositions can be justified at all let alone by faith. I’ve come to believe that justification has simply become a word in a theological puzzle as opposed to retaining its actual meaning. After all, when we keep the meaning of justification in the forefront of our minds, it is hard to imagine anyone thinking that one can be baptized into the finished work of Christ apart from receiving full pardon of sins. What is it, after all, to be united to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ? Does the Holy Spirit unite to the Savior in baptism anyone who does not also receive full remission of sins and Christ’s righteousness? Aren’t those who are baptized into Christ united to his very work on behalf of sinners? Doesn’t all that Christ have become the sinner’s own upon existential union?

We do well to remember that the grace promised in baptism is not merely offered and exhibited in the sacrament but also conferred by the Holy Ghost (to those whether of age or infants) according to the counsel of God’s own will, at his appointed time. Consequently, infants (and those incapable of ever coming to a literal understanding of the gospel) can receive what baptism signifies, even in infancy, should God so will. Accordingly, this would mean that such a one who has received the reality of being engrafted into Christ (one of the benefits of effectual baptism) would also receive the remission of sins. No place in Scripture or the Westminster Confession of Faith will one find a justification to put asunder all that is entailed in the reality of Spirit baptism. Regeneration is never separated out from remission of sins with respect to baptism into Christ; yet many Reformed Christians plainly deny this. As a defense, they often quote verses that when taken alone might imply that justifying faith always entails belief in propositions; yet this doesn’t relieve the tension. At best all it can do is introduce another one! The tension these Reformed brothers introduce is relieved by noting that in the case of those who can believe gospel propositions, faith is part-and-parcel with belief. Faith and the exercise of faith are inexorably tied to together in the case of those capable of embracing Christ as he is offered in the gospel. Accordingly, the call to repentance and faith, which is only given to those who can understand, should and must be couched in such a way as to elicit a response even though faith is first effectually granted, accomplishing justification, so that a response can be made.

Many rightly acknowledge that regenerate wrought faith can be present within those incapable of comprehending the gospel. Unfortunately, too many who correctly affirm the seed of faith can be present in infants deny that such can be justified through that seed of faith because they posit that faith must be exercised in gospel propositions for it to be the instrumental cause of justification. They forget that justification is by faith so that it might be by grace. Unwittingly, they make justification out to be not by faith alone but by exercised faith alone.

Now for those who would affirm that infants baptized into Christ are indeed justified but apart from the unexercised seed of faith or any faith seed at all, then what occurs upon the exercise of faith or the first time implantation of faith? Does one become re-justified? Or are only infants who die in infancy pardoned for their sins prior to exercising faith or apart from any faith at all, and all other regenerate infants are simply sanctified in Christ but not yet justified?
Does one have faith before it is exercised? Does one have faith when he is sleeping, after all? Must faith be in a perpetual state of work for one to remain in a state of "justified"? Must a baby exercise faith by believing gospel propositions in order for him to be justified by that faith?

Ron
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11 comments:

Bret L. McAtee said...

I've been reading Green Baggins as well. Some of the stuff that I am reading there by putatively smart Reformed people leaves me incredulous. I've seldom seen such contortions and ill thought out systems.

If this is the cream of the Reformed Churches we are in deep weeds.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Bret,

I feel your pain. One person did acknowledge that infants can be regenerate and have the gift of faith; he just wouldn't say that one is justified through such faith! In fact, in all his writings he wouldn't acknowledged that an infant can be justified unless he died in infancy but even then the justification would not be by faith because the faith would not have been exercised!

I wonder if such people appreciate that they are justified every moment of every day through the faith they have each and every moment of every day! Accordingly, we are justified through faith even when we're sleeping. Consequently, it's never the exercise of faith that justifies or keeps us justified but faith as an instruement. Otherwise, we'd have to be perpetually believing in gospel propositions to remain justified through faith!

As the Confession states regarding saving faith, "by this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word..." In other words, saving faith is that instrument by which we believe, which underscores the difference between the gift of faith and the use of faith (in believing).

The only reference to believing to the saving of one's soul in the chapter on saving faith is not talking about justification but perseverance! The proof-text is Hebrews 10:39: "But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul." Obviously the verese presupposes one who is old enough to believe and, consequently, cannot be used to argue that justifying faith presupposes belief in gospel propositions.

Then there was the issue of logical fallacies - ugh!

I know that I'm preaching to the choir writing this to you, but it feels good just the same!

Thanks,

Ron

Anonymous said...

Hey Ron,

There is a lot in this post that I don't understand. I just started studying Auburn Avenue Theology two days ago and am very unclear on it.

I've listened to some AAT/FV lectures from Covenant Media Foundation (The Federal Vision Examined) and I hear them say some stuff I agree with and other stuff I don't. I'm currently in the process of listening to Brian Schwertly's lectures on it and it seems to me that he is straw-manning them when he says they believe in justification by works...

It's a mess. Any advice?

John.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

John,

Yes, it's a mess. I would not spend even a moment on it. As I told one Auburnite recently, they were just few bad theologians who tried to hyjack the Reformed faith while trying to make a name for themselves. They failed miserably and all the interest in their position is now waning - kind of like Promise Keepers. The Auburn movement brought nothing new to the church(other than confusion at best). Had it, then one might think that their insights could have been articulated in an economy of words. We already knew that faith without works is dead. We already knew that those within the visible church are to be treated as the people of God. We already knew that many within the visible church do not come to Christ, so those insights were not knew. Yet Auburn seemed to miss a few things... such as the fact that those who went out from us were never really of us. Yet some within the movement would like us to believe that the very same sap of Christ ran through the veins of those who were not elect, and that these non-elect persons shared the very same union with Christ in baptism as those who are regenerate.

Frankly, in my estimation the men who pioneered the movement were not the cleverest of men, yet they thought more highly of their keen wit than they ought to have perhaps.

Ron

chris van allsburg said...

R.A.,

Thanks for your work on this blog.
You state that it is obvious that definitive sanctification precedes justification by virtue of regeneration. However, perhaps the temporal view is not as important as the logical view in the ordo.

Maybe the starting point should be union with Christ wroght by means of repentance and faith; the aforementioned things occuring because of the effectual call and the ministry of the Holy Spirit bringing into that union.

From what I've read, Norman Shepherd (not in agreement with FV en toto) wants to dispel the idea of being justified by a faith that is "alone," where "alone" means literally all alone as an abstraction and a mathematical point in time void of any repentance.

Thoughts?

Chris

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Thanks for your work on this blog.

Chris,

You’re welcome. It’s most pleasurable for me, as I’m sure you can well imagine.

You state that it is obvious that definitive sanctification precedes justification by virtue of regeneration. However, perhaps the temporal view is not as important as the logical view in the ordo.

So there’s no confusion, please know that I was speaking of logical order, not temporal.

Maybe the starting point should be union with Christ wroght by means of repentance and faith;

If something is “wrought by the means” of something else, then the means must precede that which follows. Consequently, why would the “starting point” be that which follows the “means”? Having said that, I don’t think that union with Christ follows repentance and faith in any logical (or temporal) sense. I think that one must be first resurrected in Christ, which is the immediate product of regeneration and presupposes union with Christ, in order to be declared righteous in Christ by the instrumentality of faith, the propensity to believe whatever the Bible teaches. Consequently, one must first be united to Christ in order to be declared righteous in him. Union must precede being constituted as righteous so that the declaration can occur.

Ron

Keith said...

Some questions:

they make justification out to be not by faith alone but by exercised faith alone.

So would you disagree that faith is knowledge, since infants can't have knowledge of the gospel propositions, being unable to understand them? What is knowledge, then?

We do well to remember that the grace promised in baptism

So you think that the act of baptism unites people with Christ? This would mean that baptized infants are saved...

Now for those who would affirm that infants baptized into Christ are indeed justified

Is this baptism you speak of different from the sacrament?

Thanks.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

So would you disagree that faith is knowledge, since infants can't have knowledge of the gospel propositions, being unable to understand them? What is knowledge, then?

When you are sleeping (and not thinking about gospel propositions), or if you were in a coma, would you still have faith? I would say yes. What you wouldn’t be in possession of at such moments is belief. So, one can be in possession of faith, which I would call the propensity to believe, apart from being in a perpetual state of believing; one can be in possession of faith apart from being in possession of belief even after having already believed in gospel propositions. With the case of infants who have not yet believed, they can have the seed of faith which in time will be exercised as they are confronted with truth. Accordingly, faith does not require knowledge. As for what I believe to be “knowledge”, don’t you know? :)

I said: “We do well to remember that the grace promised in baptism…

You replied: “So you think that the act of baptism unites people with Christ? This would mean that baptized infants are saved...

That's not what I believe. I believe I said that grace is promised in baptism. We may add that the promise is to the elect and that the visible church is to be regarded as the elect.

I said: “Now for those who would affirm that infants baptized into Christ are indeed justified

You replied: “Is this baptism you speak of different from the sacrament?

Yes, I was referring to our existential union.

Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Time for another visit to discuss being Presbyterian! :)

Keith said...

Accordingly, faith does not require knowledge. As for what I believe to be “knowledge”, don’t you know? :)

Oops, I meant to write, "what is faith, then?" I wouldn't call the "propensity to believe" faith, I would call it passive faith. What I see in scripture is what you call exercised/obedient faith. At least one must be present in the Christian, I guess you could say.

Reformed Apologist said...

Don,

I'm going to begin deleting your posts as they appear. You simply pontificate, but this is not a message board.