Posts Tagged With: justification

Response to Mark Hausam re: Catholics on Justification, part II

high-priest-turban

The high priest wore this plate on his forehead, reading “Holiness to the LORD”, for the atonement of the iniquity of the people’s holy things. Exodus 28:38. esvbible.org

Thanks for your thoughts on my article, Riley. As usual, your thoughts have a clarity that is too often lacking in these kinds of discussions and which makes for a much more productive conversation.

Thank you, Mark! I find your interaction to be intellectually stimulating and irenic.

Let me first reply very briefly to your brief points:
1 and 2. What the moral law of God requires is obedience. As all the moral law is summed up in “love God and love your neighbor,” obedience ultimately means “loving God supremely and one’s neighbor as oneself.” In terms of its essence, this does not admit of degrees. One either loves God supremely or one does not in any particular act of will.

You’re neglecting the complexity of motives and ends to the human will. By the standard you supply, every act of the human will since the fall is just plain sin. And I agree. No need to talk of degrees. We just sin. None of us has loved God supremely or loved our neighbor adequately, ever. We still sin much in everything.

Therefore, any act of will which is characterized by supreme love of God is pleasing to God and acceptable to him, warranting his favor.

That never happens.

It is true that the lives of the regenerate are not entirely free from sin in this life, but the presence of remaining sin does not negate the pleasure God takes in genuine acts of righteousness.

But we have none.

However, it does indeed remain true that we are not yet perfect. We have not yet seen in our own lives the final and full victory of the regenerate heart over all remaining sinful tendencies and actions, though in a truly regenerate heart righteousness has the dominion and the upper hand. Because we are not yet perfect, we are not yet fit for the full communion with God. The regenerate are in this life the true friends of God, pleasing to him, but not yet perfectly pleasing to him. This is why we must continue on the path of sanctification until, by God’s grace, perfection is reached. When that happens, we will be fully fit to dwell with God in the fullness of our salvation.

“True friends of God”, we are, only by Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, and received by faith alone. We will be perfect, by His grace, but we aren’t there yet. So we are saved by grace through faith alone.

3 and 4. Here, as well as in 1 and 2, we see a serious error Protestants are often drawn into by certain problematic tendencies in common Protestant formulations of justification. The error is in thinking that God cannot be pleased with a life in which there has ever been any sin. In your view, it seems that even after, by grace, we become morally perfect,

You will use this phrase, “morally perfect”, a lot. I find that it is unhelpfully ambiguous. Moral perfection, if possible in this life, would not erase the debt to the law previously incurred by sin. Absence of sin is not the only goal of God’s grace, though we’ll get there some day, when we die, should Christ tarry. But there is a debt to the law, requiring eternal condemnation, regardless of current or future works. The Judge of all the earth must do right, and every sin must be punished. He will “by no means clear the guilty.” Exodus 34:7

free of all sin and loving God with full and perfect hearts, having rejected and put to death and obtained final victory over all sin and temptation, because our record attests that we had even one sin sometime in our past, the whole of our life is deemed by God “a stench in his nostrils” and forever worthy only of God’s displeasure expressed in the judgment of hell and never of God’s favor expressed in his rewards.

That’s what guilt does. A judge wouldn’t let you off the hook in court simply because you had amended yourself. The victims would cry, “Unjust!” Every crime deserves its punishment, and every sin must be punished infinitely.

But this view of things is both unbiblical and morally absurd. It paints a picture of God as unconcerned with our actual moral condition, equating an eternally unregenerate God-hater with a person who, by grace, has turned to God and attained a state of perfect love to him, making these two morally equal in his sight when it is obvious that they are truly infinitely different.

“Morally equal” is ambiguous. They are equally guilty before God’s holy law court.

There is an infinite difference between a person who never repents and remains a God-hater for all eternity and a person who has been a sinner, but has turned from sin to repentance and has struggled through the process of sanctification to eventually arrive at a state of perfect and full and eternal love to God.

No, just a finite difference, really, since both are guilty creatures.

This latter person’s moral character could not but be pleasing to God, who cannot but love his own moral image reflected in it just as he cannot but hate the moral evil of those who continue in inveterate enmity against him.

God is not pleased with past guilt, ever. And He’s too holy to let it slide.

It is a fundamental moral fact that God must love love to himself and must hate hatred to himself, and it follows from this that a moral character full of hatred to God cannot be regarded by him as morally equal to a character full of love to him, but that rather these two characters must be seen by him as infinitely diverse.
It is one of the fundamental errors of the Protestant doctrine of justification (at least as it is often understood) that it presents God as unconcerned by our actual moral condition.

No. It’s the only way our morally guilty condition can be remedied.

It pictures the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, considered as distinct from our regeneration and sanctification, as making us fully morally acceptable to him, as if our regeneration and sanctification are of no moral import to him and we could be fully acceptable to him apart from any question of our inward moral state.
Regeneration is concurrent with the gift of faith, so there’s no faith without regeneration. But this isn’t enough to remedy our guilt. Christ, the object of faith, and His righteousness imputed to us are the only way our guilt may be erased and fulfilled.

It declares that our sanctification is morally worthless to God because of one sin in our past, as if the moral beauty of a perfectly sanctified being is without any real beauty in the sight of God and does not call from him attestations of favor.

That’s how the law works. One infraction incurs guilt, no matter what follows.

The Catholic view, on the other hand, articulated (I would argue) in the Bible and by St. Augustine and his followers, holds that God is concerned with our inward moral character, and so justifies us not merely by imputing righteousness to us but only by changing us within to conform our inward state to the standards of his moral law.

The inner change to conform us to the standards of His law is indespensible, but can’t happen unless we are first made whole with regard to the law and its claim over us—our guilt and debt to the law.

We are indeed justified by the righteousness of Christ alone, and this is a free gift to us, but this process necessarily involves the application of that righteousness to us inwardly as it is applied to us in our regeneration and sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit.
5. Trent did not adopt any Semipelagian viewpoint. The affirmations of Trent are fully consistent with the affirmations of the Second Council of Orange. Both Orange and Trent continue to represent authentic and official Church teaching. For more on this, see these articles…
I haven’t yet had the time to read your blog posts on it, but even Roman Catholic and secular sources agree with me that monergism lost and a synergistic doctrine prevailed at Trent because the Pope was convinced by the Jesuits that monergism was too close to the Protestant Reformers.

6. If “justification by faith alone” means “we are fully morally acceptable to God by means of imputed righteousness without any input from imparted righteousness,” then yes, the Catholic view rejects this idea.

Correct. That was my point. You reject Justification by Faith Alone.

However, if we mean simply that all our righteousness comes from God through the sacrifice of merits of Christ alone, so that it is all entirely a free gift and none of it comes from us originally, and so we must look to Christ alone to receive it and not try to produce it ourselves by our own works, then Catholics wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment as central to their own system.

That’s not sufficient. That’s not what the justification debate was about in the 16th century. Roman Catholics largely agreed on it until Trent.

7. An imputed righteousness considered as making us fully right with God without any reference to any internal change is indeed a legal fiction, because righteousness is not the sort of thing that exists as an external commodity but can be nothing else ultimately than an inward disposition. “Righteousness” simply means, ultimately, “supreme love to God.”

Honestly I don’t see that definition flowing from Scripture, etymology, or historical usage. It’s a forensic declaration of being right or just with regard to God’s law. That’s what the word indicates. It means we are not guilty of breaking it, and credited with keeping it fully. But this can only be by Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, for sinners such as we are.

Therefore, one cannot be said to be righteous unless one has supreme love to God, and anyone who does have this must be said to be righteous. To declare a person righteous without regard to internal moral character would be in essence to commit a legal fiction–unless we so distort moral reality as to imagine God to be morally unmoved by supreme love to himself or supreme hatred to himself in the heart of a creature. We would have to deny the very essence of what righteousness is to hold such a view.
Interestingly, you add that “what is external is made internal in time.” But in your view, the external is never made internal, because even when we are perfected our inward righteousness is of no moral value to God because of even one sin on our past record and because God is fully morally satisfied by mere imputation without respect for internal change.

Righteousness is made internal for those who are justified. But this internal righteousness is wholly imperfect until translation when we die or when Christ returns.

8. Your concept of sanctification as necessary to make us “fit” to dwell with God contradicts your overall doctrine of justification. How does sanctification make us “fit” to dwell with God? Surely it is because a character of enmity against God is morally abhorrent to him and deserves to be cast from his presence, while an inward character of supreme love to God cannot but be morally pleasing to him and so is justly fit to dwell in his presence. But admit this, and you deny your own doctrine of justification, for that doctrine depends on denying that God is morally concerned with our inward state.

No such thing was stated. Only that we are judicially accepted by God on account of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. It remains that “without holiness shall no man see the Lord.”

If a fully justified person with Christ’s imputed righteousness can be yet only fit to be cast from the presence of God on account of his inward moral imperfection being a “stench to God’s nostrils,” then surely such a person cannot be deemed to be fully morally right with God. He needs something other than imputation; he also needs inward sanctification, and without that sanctification his justification–that is, his being made fully right and morally acceptable to God–is incomplete.

His sanctification is incomplete. We must distinguish between two different things—justification and sanctification.

If, on the other hand, you affirm that he is fully right and acceptable to God solely by imputation without regard to his inward state–his justification being constituted solely by imputation–then you can no longer ascribe any moral unfitness to the unsanctified state per se or affirm that there would be any moral reason for an unsanctified person, per his unsanctification, to be cast from the presence of God. Either imputation, by itself, makes us fully morally acceptable to God, or it does not. If it does, then sanctification serves no moral purpose. If it doesn’t, then sanctification is a necessary part of the process of being made fully morally acceptable to God–in Augustinian language, it is part of the process of justification.

“Moral fitness”, is, again, an ambiguous term. There is guilt of sin, and continual actual sin. Both are our problem since the fall. Christ is the remedy to both, since both keep us from God.

Related to this, the Bible presents eternal life as a reward for our own love to God expressed in our good works. There is no way around this. The language of Scripture is clear. We are to be condemned or rewarded according to our works. We are to receive according to what we have done in the body. Etc. This language is incompatible with the idea that even the righteousness of the sanctified deserves nothing but hell. If that is so, then the final judgment is a sham, for we must picture God as deciding that in a truly just judgment the sanctified person deserves hell, but giving him heaven anyway in disregard to the actual merits of his moral condition or his own works. But how is this to render judgment “according to our works”? This is rather a rendering of judgment “in spite of our works”! In the Catholic view, there is no problem here, for by God’s gift the righteous become truly righteous, and God treats them according to what he has truly made them to be. Although we are all by nature sinners, and have all sinned in various ways, yet by grace the righteous have overcome sin and turned to God. Their record shows a life that contains sin, but also a life in which virtue eventually overcame sin and in which the person turned finally and fully eventually to God. As Ezekiel said, when a person who was a sinner turns to God, his former sin will not be remembered. Why? Because he has put it to death and become a different person through grace. When God judges our record, he judges the whole of it, including not just how we started but how we ended up.

It’s no sham or contradiction. Those who are justified by faith in Christ will have their good works accepted on that day, despite their taint of sin, through His mediation. They will truly be accepted, not of merit, but of grace. He forgives the iniquity of our holy things through Christ our High Priest. (Exodus 28:38) No sham or contradiction here.

In summary, you may confess that justification is by grace alone, but you do not confess that it is by faith alone. By trusting in your own merit, even done through the Holy Spirit, you build your house upon the sand, for in much we offend all. And, truthfully, in practice, it’s doubtful that people can truly rely on God’s grace alone, when they think to merit eternal life by their own works.

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Response to “Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?” by Mark Hausam

houseMark,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read and comment on your blog post, “Do Catholics Believe in Justification by Faith Alone?” Your post is thoughtful and engaging as is usual from you. At the risk of being overly succint, I offer a response in the form of the following points:

1. You mix sanctification and justification. It is vital that they be understood distictly, otherwise no ground is left for assurance of salvation, for “in much we offend all”, even as regenerate Christians. A justification in part based on our own righteous works, (albeit works the Holy Spirit is producing in us) is but a house built upon sand, because we are still sinners.

2. Our good works cannot be the forensic and juridicial basis for our right standing before God, and our full acquittal for having broken his holy law, because they are still quite tainted by sin. By that standard, we would perish, even by the works that the grace of God produces in us. It is not enough to obey somewhat in sin-tainted works. The law requires perfect obedience, not partial obedience.

3. Even if Christian perfection were something that could be attained in this life, as Wesley and some others have (erroneously) taught, this would be entirely insufficient as a basis for a standing of righteousness before God’s law-court.  Once one has offended, one doesn’t make up for it by doing good works–even sinless good works.  One offense is sufficient to bring condemnation.  Furthermore the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity imputes sin and its guilt to them, and this is alone sufficient to prevent anyone from being justified by the most sinless, perfect good works (if it were possible for us to do such works.)

4. God promises in Scripture to reward the good works of the saints, not because of some instrinsic worth in them inducing him to be pleased with them, for in every good work we yet have the taint of sin, which is naturally a stink to his nostrils. He has promised to reward them not of merit, but of grace, through the Mediatorial intercession of Jesus Christ, forgiving even the iniquity of our good works and accepting them for the sake of Christ’s own righteousness.

5. It may still be possible for a loyal Roman Catholic to hold to a monergistic soteriology as did the Jansenists, Augustinians and Dominican friars, but this is questionable since the Council of Trent, which adopted a Jesuitical semi-pelagian view that seemed to the then pope to contrast better with the Protestant Reformers.  But this is not justification.

6. In answer to your question, as you demonstrate in your post, the Roman Catholic view is justification, not by faith alone, but by faith, hope, and love.

7. An imputed alien righteousness is no more a “legal” fiction than citizenship status conferred to an adopted child, recognized by courts of law.  What is external is made internal in time, by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.  Justification is a declaratory and forensic declaration of righteousness by imputation.

8. While it’s true that “without holiness shall no man see the Lord”, this is not a part and parcel of justification, but its fruit. It’s not that the justified sinner lacks any legal or forensic right to be accepted in God’s presence–it’s just a matter of practical fitness, since God is holy, and there can be no sin in his presence. Furthermore, it is the goal of his grace to make us holy, so that we will on that day be fit to dwell in his presence. Eph 1:4

9. I recommend that you and others studying justification read carefully the OPC Report on Justification, which makes important distinctions in these topics we’re discussing in response to some new and romanizing teachings on justification in Reformed circles, namely the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi43_DVltPPAhUBVGMKHXerCwAQFggeMAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.opc.org%2FGA%2Fjustification.pdf&usg=AFQjCNFkx_ZgNbV-Lm0-J2cj5hffaxULjQ

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Meredith Kline’s Covenantal Dissonance

methodistfindinggod.blogspot.com

Although Kline wants to restrict the works principle to Israel’s inheritance of Canaan and associated temporal blessings, he considers these as typological of the blessings of the covenant of grace.  These blessings, received by us through grace, are founded on Christ’s meritorious obedience to the covenant of works as the second Adam.  Let us suppose for a moment that this was so. If this argument is correct, the archetypal blessings of salvation in Christ would be received by grace through faith, as Kline acknowledges, but Israel would receive the typological blessings, such as Canaan, by meritorious law-keeping according to the works principle.  These, Kline has stated, are two alternative, antithetical ways of inheritance.  But a type corresponds to the antitype.  If the one is a type of the other, we conclude either that the blessings of the covenant of grace are received by law-keeping on the part of the recipients – in which covenant were to be received by grace, which undermines Kline’s argument.  The only other possibilities are either that law and grace work together, in distinct ways, or that the typical relationship is untenable; in both cases the argument is undermined.

Robert Letham, “Not a Covenant of Works in Disguise”, Mid-America Journal of Theology, vol. 24, 2013.

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James & Paul on Justification

Understanding James on Justification

Some Christians have struggled with James’s use of the term, justification, particularly questioning whether there is a possible contradiction with the doctrine of justification as taught in the Pauline epistles.  One of Paul’s clearest statements of the doctrine of justification is found in the following verse:

Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Paul teaches that justification is by faith alone, and not by any works.

James uses the term justification in the following instances:

James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

It appears on first glance that Paul and James may have an apparent contradiction, considering that Paul teaches justification without works, and James teaches justification by works. How can they be reconciled?

First of all, let’s define justification. It means a declaration of righteousness. Now, there is the object of justification, he who is declared righteous, and there is the subject of justification, that is, the judge making the declaration of righteousness. These things must be considered from the context in which the word is used.  I’m convinced that Paul and James are treating different subjects of justification. Paul is treating justification before God’s tribunal, and James is treating justification before the court of man.  Why do I say this? They say as much:

Paul: Romans 3:28

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.  29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:

James: 2:18 shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

Note that in the above quotations, Paul is referencing God’s declaration of righteousness, and James is referring to showing “me” and “thee” my faith, i. e. another person, who will then make the declaration of righteousness based on the evidence of good works.

Paul and James then do not contradict on the doctrine of justification. They are simply looking at it from different angles. Paul treats God’s declaration based on the reality of justification. James treats man’s declaration based on the evidence of justification, which is good works.

In addition, Paul elsewhere teaches the same doctrine that James does, that good works are a necessary fruit of justification. Paul no more contradicts James on justification than he does himself when he writes,

Romans 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

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A gauge for doctrinal faithfulness in preaching

The Bible is our standard for faith and practice, and provides the doctrinal content for our preaching.  Because all human beings are essentially the same, if the doctrines of the Bible are accurately preached, the responses will be predictable.  In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul voices and answers some common objections to key doctrines.

On justification by imputed righteousness: Romans 6:1 NKJV What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 

If justification is accurately preached, you will commonly meet with the objection that this doctrine encourages licentiousness.  Of course it is not the case, as we see from Paul’s rebuttal in Romans 6.  Paul explains that being counted righteous in God’s sight comes with a change of orientation, so that the justified sinner desires to please God with a thankful heart in response to His free grace in Christ.  But one way to know if you are preaching justification correctly is to see whether it meets the same objection that Paul anticipates.  If your preaching on justification does not meet with this objection, that it may lead to more sinning, you might be teaching the error of works-righteousness.

On election: Romans 9:14 NKJV What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?  

The sinful nature would rather be in control of his own destiny.  Once he realizes that it is entirely up to God’s sovereign election, he begins to cry out, “That’s not fair of God!”, as if God did not have the right to have mercy on some and not others, according to His will.  If your teaching on God’s sovereign election is meeting this type of objection, you must be doing it right.  If you are not getting the objection, “that’s not fair”, you might be teaching decisionism.

On double predestination and God’s justice in judging sinners: Romans 9:19 NKJV Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?

On hearing that man dead in sin is unable to improve his situation, predestined to eternal destruction, and under God’s judgment for his sin, the natural man objects.  He thinks that it is not possible for man to both be responsible for his sin and unable not to sin, more than that, predetermined by God to continue in sin to destruction.  The apostle’s answer is simple.  God has a right to do as He pleases with His own creatures.  If your preaching on predestination and the judgment to come meets with this objection, it’s a good sign that you are accurately handling the doctrine of Scripture.  Otherwise, you may be engaging in theodicy, putting the Judge of Judges on trial in the court of man.

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Man Addicted to The Law, Shrinks It

The duty of the law is impossible.  The apostle tells us ‘what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the weakness of our flesh.’  It could not justify us before God, it could not furnish us with any answer to his demands, when he shall all us to an account.  Man is mightily addicted to the legal covenant, therefore it is one part of a gospel minister’s work to represent the impossibility of ever obtaining grace or life by that covenant.  Man would stick to the law as long as he can, and will patch up a sorry righteousness of his own, some few superficial things.  He makes a short exposition of the law, that he may cherish a large opinion of his own righteousness; and curtails the law of God, that the ell may be no longer than the cloth, and brings it down to a poor contemptible thing, requiring a few external superficial duties of men.

528px-Thomas_Manton_2

Thomas Manton, “Sermon on Psalm 32:1-2”, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol II, Homewood, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2008, 182.

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Dirty Clothes Get Changed: Zechariah devotional, part 5

In the third chapter of Zechariah the LORD gives a fifth vision speaking of deliverance and restoration.  It in it we see Satan, the accuser of the people of God, and the Angel of the LORD, a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son, standing with Joshua the high priest.

Flickr_-_DVIDSHUB_-_Tough_Mudder_(Image_5_of_8)

Zechariah 3:1-3 And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.  And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?  Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. 

The scene begins with a cast of three: The Angel of the LORD, Satan, and the high priest named Joshua.  The Angel of the LORD is God the Son prior to his having been conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary.  He is the LORD, (“LORD” in all caps stands for Jehovah or Yahweh in most English Bibles,) called by the covenant name of God.   Jesus the Son of God is God Himself, equal to the Father, and when He speaks, even Satan must listen.  “Satan”, meaning, “adversary” is the accuser of the people of God, their self-appointed prosecutor and accuser before the seat of God’s righteous judgment.  An angel fallen from heavenly glory after having rebelled against the Most High, he stands to “resist” God’s chosen people represented by the high priest named Joshua.  The high priest was one called and set apart to minister the commandments of God in the temple, make sacrifices, represent God to the people by preaching the word of God and performing the required ceremonies, and representing the people to God in prayer on their behalf.  The name, “Joshua” means in Hebrew, “The LORD saves”, commonly transliterated into Greek as “iesous” and is the same as the Latinized “Iesus” or “Jesus.”  This is the name of the high priest who was serving in the temple when Zechariah prophesied these words.  Even his name points to the Lord’s salvation through One named Jesus, who is our great High Priest forever.  When Satan accuses the people of God of sin, Christ Jesus, here termed “the angel of the LORD”, defends them based on the truth that He is on their side.  Of what can Satan accuse God’s elect?  (Romans 8:33)  He rebukes Satan for accusing Joshua, and in him God’s chosen people.  Joshua’s garments are filthy, stained with muck.  Despite his uncomely appearance, clearly visible in the light of a torch pulled out of the fire, Satan’s accusations don’t stick.  The devil’s accusations of God’s chosen people are just empty words.  No matter how darkly stained our garments, God will defend us and not condemn us.  But why?

4-5 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him.  And unto him he said, Behold, have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.  And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head.  So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments.  And the angel of the LORD stood by. 

The High Priest's Holy Garments --www.esvbible.org

The High Priest’s Holy Garments –www.esvbible.org

The Angel of the LORD is the one speaking here.  He is God the Son, who will clothe Joshua with new priestly garments.  Here is the answer to the question of how God’s chosen people are to be acquitted and justified by God rather than condemned as Satan would prefer.  It is through a change of clothing wrought by the Angel of the LORD.  He places a new garment and a tall priestly hat: a “mitre” upon Joshua.  Although the sins of God’s chosen people are many, yet He will place His own (Christ’s own) righteousness upon them as a new garment replaces the filthy one.  Our beauty and acceptability to God is not based on our own righteousness or good works, for even at our best we are just filthy rotten sinners; it is based on Christ’s own righteousness imputed to us as our covering, clothing our sinful nakedness with the splendid beauty of holiness which is pleasing to God, Christ’s works.  He stands by us His elect (v. 5) as our comfort and assurance that God has forgiven us our sins and accepted us for His (Christ’s) sake.  What assurance of salvation!  What comfort!  There is nothing in this universe which compares to the glory of God seen in the justification of sinners deserving only condemnation by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

6-10 And the angel of the LORD protested unto Joshua, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by.  Here now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH.  For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.  In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.   

Being forgiven of his sins, justified in God’s sight, and with the help of God’s Son standing by him, Joshua the high priest is obligated to devote himself genuinely and fully to the service of God out of thankfulness for the grace he’s received.  This applies to all those who have been saved by grace, to all citizens of chosen Israel.  Have you been forgiven of all your sins and counted righteous in God’s sight for the sake of Christ?  Then live accordingly by thankfully obeying all His commandments, trusting in His aiding grace to do His work in you as He stands by you.

“The BRANCH” is a reference to Jesus Christ, a branch grown from the family tree of David.  (Jeremiah 23:5)  He is the eternal God, knowing all things, symbolized in verse 9 as a stone with seven eyes representing Him who sees and knows all things perfectly.  (7 in the Bible is the number of perfection.)  The promise of forgiveness and justification is in Him, through Him, and to Him.  It is in reference to Christ the “BRANCH” that this vision promises such blessing.  Because of Him, a great period of blessing will come in, when neighbors will have fellowship together and enjoy the good things of the LORD represented as the fruit of the vines and fig trees.

God’s message in this prophetic oracle is that although Israel would be delivered of her enemies and restored fully from captivity to foreign nations (Babylon and Assyria), yet her sins would remain.  These would be taken away by replacing his filthy rags with new glorious garments.  Our salvation is not first and foremost about the healing of our physical bodies or restoration from earthly difficulties, but about the forgiveness of our sin and justification by God’s grace in imputing Christ’s righteousness to us.  Let us remind ourselves of these blessed truths of God’s word daily in order that we may be inspired to live for Him with thankful hearts overflowing with praise for what He has done.

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Machen on the Imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience

machen 2That covenant of works was a probation. If Adam kept the law of God for a certain period, he was to have eternal life. If he disobeyed he was to have death. Well, he disobeyed and the penalty of death was inflicted on him and his posterity. Then Christ by His death on the cross paid that penalty for those whom God had chosen.

Well and good. But if that were all that Christ did for us, do you not see that we should be back in just the situation in which Adam was before he sinned? The penalty of his sinning would have been removed from us because it had all been paid by Christ. But for the future the attainment of eternal life would have been dependent upon our perfect obedience to the law of God. We should simply have been back in the probation again.

Here we begin to understand why Jesus’ passive obedience is not enough – if divorced from his active obedience. The passive sufferings of Christ discharged the enormous debt we owe, due to our sins and the sin of Adam. In effect, Jesus’ passive obedience alone would bring our account from hopelessly overdrawn back to a zero balance – our debt would be retired. But having our debt retired and our sins forgiven does not get us into heaven; it simply returns us to the starting point. More must be done if we are to gain heaven. Righteousness must be completely fulfilled, either by us or by a representative acting on our behalf.

Moreover, we should have been back in that probation in a very much less hopeful way than that in which Adam was originally placed in it. Everything was in Adam’s favour when he was placed in the probation. He had been created in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. He had been created positively good. Yet despite all that, he fell. How much more likely would we be to fall – nay, how certain to fall – if all that Christ had done for us were merely to remove from us the guilt of past sin, leaving it then to our own efforts to win the reward which God has pronounced upon perfect obedience.

J. Gresham Machen, quoted from: http://oldlife.org/2013/09/seriously/

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Satan’s Prosecuting

Afghanistan prosecutionAll that enter actions against others, pretend that wrong is done, either against themselves or against the King. Now Satan will never enter an action against us in the court above, for that wrong by us has been done to himself; he must pretend, then, that he sues us, for that wrong has, by us, been done to our king. But, behold, ‘We have an advocate with the Father’, and he has made compensation for our offenses. He gave himself for our offences.

–John Bunyan, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, Works, Banner of Truth, vol. I. p. 162

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