18 June 2010

How Can God Justify the Ungodly?

by John MacArthur

This is part 3 and the last of a series begun here and continued here. At the end of Monday's entry, we were seeing that Scripture says the justification of a sinner is utterly impossible on purely legal grounds.

ow, then, can we be justified? How can God declare guilty sinners righteous without lowering or compromising His own righteous standard?

The answer lies in the work of Christ on our behalf. In Galatians 4:4, the apostle states that Jesus Christ was born "under the law." Obviously, this does not mean merely that Jesus was born Jewish. It means that He was under the law in the Pauline sense, obligated to fulfill the law perfectly as a means of justification.

In this same context, in the span of two verses, Paul twice employs the phrase "under the law." There is a clear logical connection between the last phrase in verse 4 and the first phrase in verse 5: Christ was "made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.

We've already said that the law cannot be a means of righteousness for sinners. But Christ was no sinner. He lived impeccably "under the law." Hebrews 4:15 tells us He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." He fulfilled the law perfectly, to the letter. First Peter 2:22 says He "did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." Hebrews 7:26 says He is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." Thus His flawless obedience to the law earned the perfect merit that is necessary to please God.

If Christ was perfectly sinless, then He did not deserve to die. As one "under the law," He would have been subject to the curse of the law if He had violated even one command, but of course He did not—He could not, because He is God. He fulfilled every aspect of the law to the letter—to the jot and tittle.

Yet He did die. More than that, He suffered the full wrath of God on the cross. Why? Scripture tells us the guilt of our sin was imputed to Him, and Christ paid the price for it. Consequently, the merit of His perfect obedience can be imputed to our account. That is the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:21: God "hath made [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

His death takes care of our guilt, and His perfect life supplies us with all the merit we need to be acceptable to God. That is how God overcame the two great obstacles to our justification. And as Paul says in Romans 3:26, that is how God can remain just, and justify those who believe in Jesus. Christ has personally paid the penalty for their sin, and He has personally obtained a perfect righteousness on their behalf. So He can justify the ungodly (Rom. 4:5).

Scripture teaches no other means of justification. This is at the core of all gospel truth. As early as Genesis 15:6, Scripture teaches that Abraham was justified by an imputed righteousness. Anytime any sinner is redeemed in Scripture, it is by an imputed righteousness, not a righteousness that is somehow earned or achieved by the sinner for his own redemption.

Romans 4:6-7 says David also knew the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works. In fact, this is the whole point Paul is making in Romans 4: Justification has always been by faith, not by works, and through a righteousness that is imputed to the believer. Abraham understood the doctrine of justification that way. David knew the same truth. So from the beginning of Scripture to the end, we are taught that the only merit God accepts is a merit that is imputed to our account. He never pronounces us righteous because of our own works of righteousness.

On the contrary, God says all our righteousnesses are fatally flawed. They are of no more value to God than filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). But that is how God sees our works—no matter how good they are by human standards. They are unacceptable, filthy, to God.

That is why our obedience can never be good enough. That is why those who hang their hope of heaven on their own good works only doom themselves.

How Deadly is Legalism?

All of this should make it very clear that the legalism Paul condemned as "another gospel" is a brand of legalism that seeks to ground our justification in personal obedience rather than the imputed righteousness of Christ. How deadly is such legalism? The apostle Paul suggested it was precisely what caused the majority of Israel to reject Christ: "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3). Turning aside from the perfect righteousness of Christ (which would have been imputed to them by faith), they opted instead for an imperfect righteousness of their own. They mistakenly assumed, like most people today, that the best they could do would be good enough for God.

Here is the good news of the gospel: for everyone who believes, Christ's blood counts as payment for all our sins, and His fulfillment of the law counts as all the merit we need. Romans 10:4 therefore says, "Christ is the end [Gk., telos, "the thing aimed at"] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Christ is the fulfillment of everything the law intended. In Christ, the ultimate goal of the law—a perfect righteousness—is made available to every believer. His righteousness is imputed to us by faith, and that is why God accepts us in Christ and for Christ's sake.

To the apostle Paul himself, this truth had deeply personal implications. He had labored his whole life as a legalistic Pharisee trying to establish his own righteousness by the law. He described his efforts in Philippians 3:4-8:

If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ . . .

What was so important to Paul about dumping all his own righteousness? Why did he count a whole lifetime of good works as mere rubbish? Because he knew it was flawed. And he knew that in Christ he would be the recipient of a perfect righteousness. Notice verse 9: " . . . and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."

Any righteousness other than the imputed righteousness of Christ is mere legalism. It is incapable of saving anyone. More than that, it is an affront to God—as if we were to offer him soiled rags and expect Him to applaud us for doing so. That kind of legalism is spiritually fatal.

How Is Christian Obedience Different from Legalism?

It has become fashionable in some circles to pin the label of legalism on any teaching that stresses obedience to Christ. At the beginning of this series I quoted someone who stated that "the whole difference between legalism and true Christianity" is sewn up in the issue of whether we view obedience as a duty.

Biblically, there is no basis for such thinking. The Christian is still obligated to obey God, even though we know our obedience in no sense provides grounds for our justification. That is precisely why our obedience should be motivated primarily by gratitude and love for the Lord. We are free from the threat of eternal condemnation (Rom. 8:1). We are free from the law of sin and death (v. 2), and empowered by God's grace both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). We have every reason to obey joyfully—and no true Christian will ever think of obedience as something optional.

We are not under law, but under grace. Far from being a manifesto for antinomianism or a authorization for licentious behavior, that important truth teaches us that both our justification and our obedience must properly be grounded in Christ and what He has done for us, rather than in ourselves and what we do for God.

The doctrine of justification by faith therefore provides the highest, purest incentive for Christian obedience. As Paul wrote to the Romans, the mercies God displays in our justification provide all the reason we need to yield ourselves to Him as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). Freed from the penalty of the law—loosed from the threat of condemnation for our disobedience—we are thus empowered by grace to surrender to God in a way we were powerless to do as unbelievers. And that is why the Christian life is continually portayed in Scripture as a life of obedience.

John MacArthur's signature


Anonymous said...

There is an idea that those who stand before the judgment seat of God, and are found to be in Christ Jesus, having been saved by grace through faith, will receive mercy instead of justice.

I have heard that Satan's objection to Christians going to Heaven will be along the lines of, "This man is not to be given justice, but rather mercy."

However, we must remember that, while the redeemed of God definitely receive mercy, there is nothing “unjust” in God, and therefore, His pardon of those who have been saved by Christ is not an instance of an unrighteous or unholy withholding of justice on the part of God. His character is just, and He is unchanging, so He must always be just, and must always administer justice.

I don’t like to “proof text,” but here are some texts that do prove that point:

“He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.” Proverbs 17:15

“That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25

“Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Psalm 85:10

When God welcomes born-again Christians into Heaven, He does not do so because He has ceased from justice. He does so because His justice was satisfied in the Cross of Christ. Satan’s frustration might actually be that, “This man is not to be given wrath, but rather the just mercy of the righteous Judge, which was wrought in the Perfect Sacrifice of the Judge’s perfect Son.”

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:” I Peter 3:18

Mike Riccardi said...

Deep End,

MacArthur makes your point in the 7th paragraph from the top:

His death takes care of our guilt, and His perfect life supplies us with all the merit we need to be acceptable to God. That is how God overcame the two great obstacles to our justification. And as Paul says in Romans 3:26, that is how God can remain just, and justify those who believe in Jesus. Christ has personally paid the penalty for their sin, and He has personally obtained a perfect righteousness on their behalf. So He can justify the ungodly (Rom. 4:5).

olan strickland said...

Amen! There is one way and only one way that a holy God can justify the ungodly and He remain just in the process. And not only that, God is the only one that can accomplish penal-substitution without it being a double injustice because of His power to raise men from the dead.

No court on earth could ever accomplish this because it would commit two injustices in the process by (1) putting to death an innocent man and (2) setting free a guilty capital offender.

It is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that makes penal-substitution moral and not immoral; just and not unjust. The One that willingly lived a sinless life and willingly died a sacrificial death experienced a supernatural resurrection for His vindication and our justification.

What a mighty God we serve!

donsands said...

Pastor MacArthur is a fine teacher. Excellent truth explained here. Thanks.

"..He could not, because He is God."

I agree, but there are many who don't, and say Christ could have sinned in his humanity, otherwise the tempting was not genuine temptation.

I beg to differ with that thinking.

bp said...

I remember reading a sermon (by A.W. Pink I believe), about the narrow road with a ditch on both sides. On one side is presumption (presuming that I am saved) and on the other side is despair (despairing that I'm not saved).

As one who leans towards despair (I not-too infrequently am afraid that I am not truly saved, and that I will find out after it’s too late that I wasn’t of the elect), I sometimes wonder if I am leaning towards (or smack dab in the middle of) having a legalistic mindset. I alluded to this before, but it wasn’t really addressed. Is it legalistic to examine yourself for "evidences of salvation" and be (often)afraid that you're not saved? Or is it only legalistic if you examine yourself to see if you're doing enough works "to be saved"?

one busy mom said...

bp: You said

"Is it legalistic to examine yourself for "evidences of salvation" and be (often)afraid that you're not saved? Or is it only legalistic if you examine yourself to see if you're doing enough works "to be saved"?

It is both prudent and scriptural for us to examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith ( 2Pet1:10-12, 2Cor13:5). Since we ourselves are poor judges of anything -let alone ourselves it's also prudent to cry out to God to judge our hearts (Ps 26:2) and to show us our sins so that we can repent of them. The "fruit" follows the salvation which God works in our hearts, and when we don't see the fruit it can be very alarming - as you've aluded to. Matt 7:21-23 is probably the scariest section of all scripture. I mean - what could be worse?!! And lack of fruit could mean lack of salvation..... but, it could also mean a temporary lack of abiding (aka John 15:5), or it could simply be fruit that God is still in the process of producing in our lives, or fruit that we simply haven't seen yet. But, even if we were to see lots of fruit, our confidence for our salvation is to be in Christ - not the fruit.

The thing that keeps us from despair is also our confidence in Christ:
1. That He is willing to save us
2. That He is able to save us
3. That no one who calls on Him will be turned away
4. That the work He starts in us He will finish (Phil 1:6).

As Christians, Godly sorrow is a good and healthy thing - it leads us to repentance. The more time we spend in the Word (& listening to sermons,& reading blogs like this...) the more we see our own sin, the more Godly sorrow we have, the more we repent and hence are molded into the image of Christ. Despair is different - it says we're so bad even God can't save us - which is totally wrong.

As to the 2nd part of your question, is it only legalistic if you're trying to see if you're doing enough works to be saved. Well, if you were to actually believe that those works could or would save you...then yes, it would be legalism.

Anonymous said...

"How Is Christian Obedience Different from Legalism?

It has become fashionable in some circles to pin the label of legalism on any teaching that stresses obedience to Christ. At the beginning of this series I quoted someone who stated that "the whole difference between legalism and true Christianity" is sewn up in the issue of whether we view obedience as a duty.

Biblically, there is no basis for such thinking. The Christian is still obligated to obey God, even though we know our obedience in no sense provides grounds for our justification. That is precisely why our obedience should be motivated primarily by gratitude and love for the Lord."

After much wrestling on this topic
this paragraph is like a restorative tonic. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

If these core truths of justification by faith alone, and the imputed righteousness of Christ by grace alone were taught more clearly and more frequently in our churches, we would see a wholesale transformation of Christians seeking to obey joyfully and serve fervently. Thanks for the refreshing reminder.

CR said...


You can't know that God loves you except in Jesus Christ. Here's a good practical test to know if you're truly saved. Can you answer the accusations of your own conscience? Because there are voices within us, not just in you, but all of us, that say, "this is impossible, look at me, look at my heart, how can it possibly be that God has forgiven me and He loves me?"

These accusations arise within us and from Satan. If you or any us can't answer them, bp, then we are not truly saved. If we look to and trust to our works, then we're not saved. The person who is saved can answer all the accusations of our conscience and Satan.

What can you tell your conscience, Bp? You can't tell it your a good person. You can't tell it about your past or even your present. What can we who have trusted in Christ tell it? Christ has died for me. But it's only the person who believes in the God that justifies the ungodly who can do that. If you try answering about your works, well, your conscience and Satan, can say, "Ha!, you are pathetic!" Satan and your conscience won't listen to you when you say that. Satan is more powerful than we are. But there is one answer that the conscience and Satan can't answer and that's this: the blood of Christ. Christ overcame all this. He had died. Satan will have to be silent. You're conscience will have to be silent. Satan will come back again and your conscience will come back to you but you can silence both of them.

CR said...

Bp, one last thing, if you're argument is when you're examining yourself and you're still finding yourself sinning and the fact that you continue to sin, that may be putting yourself outside of a relationship with God - here's what you're really saying when you say that: that when you were saved, you were saved because you did good. In other words, what you're saying is I continue to sin, so I've lost salvation, here's what you're saying on the other side: I was saved because I did good.

Terry Rayburn said...

The portions of this post on justification are scripturally right on.

The parts about obedience do not go all the way, however.

To really "get it" we have to go beyond the almost meaningless statement that "The Christian is still obligated to obey God..."

Of course it's RIGHT for Christians to obey God. Of course we SHOULD obey God. And those who think otherwise are true antinomians or lawless in their thinking.

But until we go all the way with Paul to "all things are lawful for me", and understand that ANY heinous sin of disobedience that a born-again Christian does is ALREADY forgiven, we have not fully grasped the gospel, nor justification by faith alone.

We fall into the neo-legalistic trap of the New Perspective folks who teach that we're not fully justified until the end of our lives when God will determine if we generally obeyed enough to "stay in the covenant", and then will be truly justified.

We MUST say that at the new birth and faith in Christ, we have been granted a full reprieve from not just past sins, but all future sins of disobedience, no matter how evil.

That's strong language, I know, but anything short of that is not the gospel.

If that truth makes you say, "Oh boy! I can sin all I want, and by God I'm going to! I'm already forgiven!", then it's almost sure that you are not a born-again Christian.

But if that truth makes you say, "Wow! What a gracious and wonderful Lord we have! I truly want to serve and obey Him, and when I fail, my intention is to confess my sins and walk in obedience with Him anew, all the days of my life!", then it's almost certain that you are a born-again Christian.

But to take the middle ground of "I'm justified, but I'm still obligated to obey or else!" just gives fuel and false confidence to the outwardly-obedient self-righteous -- and brings despair and doubt to the true believer who hasn't been instructed in the full extent of what the New Covenant has brought him.

And it focuses his thinking on himself and his "obedience", rather than on the One who said, "It is finished!"

Anonymous said...


J.M. didn't simply say..."The Christian is still obligated to obey God..."

He said..."The Christian is still obligated to obey God, even though we know our obedience in no sense provides grounds for our justification. That is precisely why our obedience should be motivated primarily by gratitude and love for the Lord."

which is no different than...
"Wow! What a gracious and wonderful Lord we have! I truly want to serve and obey Him, and when I fail, my intention is to confess my sins and walk in obedience with Him anew, all the days of my life!",

Perhaps you have a problem with the word "obligated" and yet what does it mean to be obliged? To be indebted or grateful. And so therefore it is a perfect word I think.

I do understand your point on constantly looking inward rather than up. I have noticed this over emphasis in some modern day teachers. But I did not see this in the above JM post - other than what the topic dictates.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Why wouldn't God just forgive without having to satisfy her /his need for some eternal scale of justice to be balanced. Seems tawdry to have a God act like this.

DJP said...

This is Phil's meta, so until he steps in:

ckr, since Biblically-faithful Christians have already answered that question countless times, perhaps you could review the answers we have already given, and point out how those answers seem to you to fall short.

Rachael Starke said...

I agree with Terry that this overview really addresses the issue of legalism vs. justification well, but that last paragraph really makes me uncomfortable. Tt seems to unwittingly or unintentionally leave room for a legalistic approach to sanctification. Incentive is important. Reason is important. But neither of those things have power. Macarthur seems to be saying that the power is inherent in ourselves, rather than granted through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36). That power is the same power that enabled Jesus' obedience. That's the power that enables us to obey. But it's not inherent, and not independent.

I think that's the source of a lot of legalistic pride and judgmental Nike JustDoIt teaching in the church. You're fixed now, so just stop sinning and be obedient.

Beyond that, also as Terry mentioned, it is our confidence in all of our sin - unknown sin, future sin, all of it - being covered, that can even give us the confidence to ask God to help us in our obedience (Hebrews 4:16), or to, like David, ask God to reveal our hidden sin. If it's not forgiven, if God somehow withdraws His love and favor from us in those moments, what hope do we have? Even our most holy moments are tainted by our flesh!

One other thought. I wonder if many others read the words about obedience and duty and immediately think of outward actions, especially those seen by others. Service, work, words. Especially in all those really popular categories - Bible study, cleaning up our language, wearing more modest clothing and not looking at bad things on the Internet. But, lately, the single verse that has been the "incentive" for my sanctification has been Philippians 4:4 - "Rejoice in the Lord always." I've had some circumstances lately that have tested my obedience to that verse. But the more I bring to mind I'll I've been learning about my standing as a child of God through my union with Christ, the more I both see how there is not one moment when I cannot, ought not, be truly joyful in the LORD. I see my lack of joy as something to repent of, I ask for the Holy Spirit's help to keep my salvation in the front of my mind and what do you know, even in some really trying circumstances, I love the Lord.

And that, BP, I would argue is as good a test as any for one's true spiritual state. Can you say with Job, though He slay me, yet I will trust Him, because I love Him? That's not a natural response. That's a response born of the Holy Spirit. Only those who belong to Him can say that and mean it.

Anonymous said...

djp...The forensic model has God as the Judge, the legislator, the prosecutor, the defendant(Jesus).
This should been seen in a metaphorical category, not in a literal one. It turns God into a cosmic baby who won't forgive until he can first punish. Yuck!

Anonymous said...

Look, I'm not here to pick a fight. I like this page. Some good stuff. But, I don't believe the whole company line. I just don't believe you have to see God as a cosmic bad ass. Too much for me to swallow.

Mike Riccardi said...

Terry and Rachael, really encouraging. Thanks guys.

Bruchim, corny catch phrase about why I'd avoid the term "indebted": Grace doesn't make debts, it pays debts. Christ never asks us to pay Him back. To even think that we can is to devalue the sufficiency of the atonement.

CKR, what would you think of a judge, who, at the end of a trial in which the defendant was found guilty of a capital offense -- serial rape and murder, for example -- decided that it would be more loving to just let the criminal go free? I wouldn't think him a very good or just judge at all. In fact, I'd think him a weak and sappy, yet monstrous, accomplice to murder.

bp said...

Thanks for your replies, guys. A lot of truth here that I just need to keep renewing my mind in. Just to clear a couple things up.

-I don’t ever think that I can lose my salvation, just that maybe I never had it.

-The fear/despair doesn’t ever say that I’m so bad that God can’t save me, but rather, my badness may possibly mean that I never was saved.

-Most of the time, I can say along w/Job, that though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him, because I love Him, but there are times my love for Him feels dry, and that’s when I have fears that my faith is not genuine.

It’s strange..I know that my works don’t save me, but sometimes I fall into this mind-set that if I’m showing a lot of evidences (I’m sharing my faith w/people, I have a strong desire to read the Word and spend time in prayer, etc.), then I feel assured that I’ve been saved, but when I'm not showing a lot of evidences (have a low desire to read the Bible and pray, am feeling spiritually lazy and am missing opportunities to share the gospel, etc.), then I feel less assured, and I sometimes get fearful that I may be surprised to find out that Matt 7:21 was all about me.

And I can't help but wonder if this sort of mind-set really IS relying on works instead of Christ..which would in-fact make me a poster-child for Matt 7:21. UGH! Probably being way too introspective, but it makes me tremble to even think of Jesus saying those words to me.

Anonymous said...

Mike R...If God was a judge as we understand judges than your view works..but language about God requires us to know God is more unlike a judge than like one. The divine signified surpasses all human signifiers. Language about God is partial and approximate. If we formalize our views of God than we create an idol not of wood and stone but of concepts and ideas.

Anonymous said...

I believe nothing of the sort. Ofcourse we cannot pay Christ back nor are we asked! His sacrifice
was all sufficient.

Is it corny to feel obliged and grateful? And with that sense of gratefulness to strive to be obedient in our own sanctification (in concert with the Spirit?)

Or would it be more acceptable to you if I use the word "joyful" along with "grateful?"

I will acknowledge that I am a bit corny. And you seem to demean those who do not use the same cookie cutter nuances.

Anonymous said...

I am beginning to understand that Mike, Terry, Rachael, and Bobby will not like that I used the word "strive."

Perhaps "try" is not a good word either. How does one frame obedience then? Is it naturally emitted like too much garlic through the pores? (Sorry, that was a bit sarcastic I suppose.)

Do you believe it comes through effort? Does obedience in sanctification come from us at all?
Or is sanctification all the Spirit's work within us?

CR said...


I didn't see in MacArthur's last paragraph any room for a legalistic approach to santification.

In terms of works of obedience I would say Col 3 would be a good start because it tells us what to do to put on the new self.

CR said...


I think it was mentioned a long time ago, that posts can't cover everything. I think MacArthur is primarily dealing with one topic - of how God can justify the godly - he's not dealing with santification. In this topic of justifying the ungodly, he is contrasting how legalism is different from Christian obedience.

Of course, MacArthur just doesn't say the Christian is obligated to obey he says that obedience must be motivated by love and gratitude.

I don't know, I thought this post was pretty good.

Terry Rayburn said...

To clarify my point about going all the way to Pauline theology on obedience, let me phrase it this way:

Q. MUST a true born-again Christian obey?
A. No, of course not. Their sin is already forgiven, will never incur the wrath of God, and will not deter Him from His height-breath-depth love for His child.

Even His chastisement is loving correction to restore close fellowship, which the saint desires in his heart of hearts.

Q. SHOULD a true born-again Christian obey?
A. Of course. A silly question, according to Paul, who phrased it this way: Should we sin so that grace abounds? God forbid.

Sidenote 1: A true born-again Christian WILL generally obey in his general life, since he has a new heart that loves Jesus and hates sin. The exception is when he "walks by the flesh" for a moment or a time, and as Paul said, "There is no good in me, that is, in my flesh."

Sidenote 2: When we walk by the Spirit (that is, the Holy Spirit who indwells us) we also walk by our own new spirit.

"But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him." - 1 Cor. 6:17

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification.
What you wrote is exactly what most of Christians believe. And what J.M. believes. I was confused as to what you specifically objected to in J.M.'s article and how you found the one statement to be meaningless.

I read a post you wrote on your blog about Spurgeon and his depression, and it gave me an insight into New Covenant theology and why you might object to the word "obligated" and I was trying to see how exactly you would frame obedience - what verbs or adjectives you would pair with obedience.

But from your above statement I see no difference at all. However, in your post on Spurgeon I see more clearly how you define yourself as opposed to John MacArthur.

Sometimes it seems as if we (myself included) squabble over terminology until the lines get fuzzy.

Anonymous said...

Oh hang on,
I didn't pay enough attention to your side notes.

So here are the distinctives...

1. Obedience is a general overall state which is like an umbrella over the true converts life.

As opposed to...

Obedience is not generalized , but a specific action at each juncture of a decision. obedience requires vigilance.

(I align my self with what you are opposed to.)

2. You believe we have a new spirit as well as a new heart? But
1Cor does not say that exactly.
So there is no longer an "old nature" hanging on, but it is compartamentalized in our flesh?

I will need time to think about that. Do we not have the same soul as we always have had, but cleansed and covered?

Anonymous said...

Happy Fathers Day, Terry,
I understand your wanting to spend Fathers day someplace else than on the boards.

this argument will be here tomorrow :)

Mike Riccardi said...

Bruchim, you misunderstood me. I was saying that what I was saying was corny, not what you said. The "Grace doesn't make debts but pays debts" is a corny catch phrase that I think helpfully illustrates what I was trying to say about why I wouldn't use the term "indebted" to describe those who have benefited from the Cross.

So relax.

Anonymous said...

Oops! My husband says I need to read more carefully in the daytime rather than late at night.

Sorry, Mike. I am officially relaxed and chastened with a proper blush. Disregard the cookie cutter thing, won't you?

What do you think of new covenant theology?

Mike Riccardi said...

Officially disregarded. :-)

As regards NCT, I'm in general agreement with this series of lectures.

Just so that's not a cop-out, here's my summary (obviously speaking in generalities):

I think NCT guys rightly reject the covenants of works, grace, and redemption as a paradigm for understanding Biblical history and interpretation, as they simply are not in the Bible. I also appreciate how they push back on CT folks in regards to the law in sanctification.

But as a system as a whole, they don't come far enough in the consistency of their hermeneutic. I don't buy reading the OT through the lens of the NT. While we recognize that the NT is in a sense superior to the OT because of progressive revelation and because we find fulfillment and anti-types in the NT, the OT is still Scripture and should be read on its own terms. Any hermeneutic that does violence to the original meaning of Scripture as the original author intended the original audience to understand it is a hermeneutic inconsistent with the doctrines of inerrancy and plenary verbal inspiration.

For example, Israel means Israel. A believing Israelite didn't read Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 20 and 36, Psalm 89, and Zechariah and think to himself, "Oh, he means the Church. Stinks for us." He looked forward to a future ingathering of his own people when they would look on Him whom they have pierced and be restored to their land to have their God dwell among them. NCT guys say that's not a legitimate interpretation because it's not viewing those OT texts in the light of the NT.

So... yeah, listen to the lectures. :-)

CR said...


I think part of what you say walks a fine line when you say a Christian must not obey. Can you imagine telling your wife that you should obey the commandment to not commit adultery, you need not, "must" obey.

I think we have to be careful because not only do we have legalists who read this post but also antinomians and if I were an antinomian and I were to read part of your statement I would say, "Amen."

It is true that the born-again Christian will never incur God's wrath. But there is a misunderstanding out there that the opposite of legalistic justification by works is to do nothing. (I know you don't believe this). The opposite of justification by works is not to do nothing but do everything just don't trust one iota in anything you do.

So, I wouldn't say that that the Christian doesn't have to obey (that's the antonym of must). Saying that he "should" obey is not strong enough. He must obey. If he didn't, there wouldn't be a need for confession. We not only "should" fear God or "should" walk in His ways, or "should" love Him or "should" serve Him and keep His commandment, we must do these things. (Deut 10:12-13)

CR said...

I think part of what you say walks a fine line when you say a Christian must not obey.

Meant to say walk a fine line when you say a Christian need not, "must" obey.

Anonymous said...

I have been listening to the lecture series and it has been extremely helpful.

This website has been something of a puzzle to me - trying to understand what motivates some of the posts.

Are you yourself a covenant theologian?
I identify you with John Piper. Is this correct? How is his approach labeled?

What movements are there currently within covenant theology?
Can you help me articulate the differences between MacArthur, Sproul, and Piper?

I am trying to find my place in all of this. I do not want to be swayed by every wind or spin of interpretation.

I suppose this isn't the proper place for the above questions, but if you could point me again to some free online resources I will never call you names again!

Mike Riccardi said...

Are you yourself a covenant theologian?

Nope. I'm what people would call a dispensationalist as regards ecclesiology, though I wouldn't espouse all the things that come to mind when you think of 'dispensationalism.' Basically, I think one ought to apply the same hermeneutical principles to all of Scripture consistently, and let that hermeneutic determine one's theology, and not vice versa. So, I believe the OT promises made to Israel will be fulfilled in Israel, and not in the Church.

How is [Piper's] approach labeled?

Piper doesn't line right up with dispensationalism, covenant theology, or new covenant theology. Bethlehem/DG folks try to explain his/their position here.

I identify you with John Piper. Is this correct?

I line up with Piper on a lot of things. I think his theology of sanctification / Christian living that he calls Christian Hedonism is utterly Biblical, and so I agree pretty consistently with what he presents in "The Essential Piper Trilogy."

That has to do with the relationship with law and Gospel, but not so much the ecclesiological and eschatalogical implications of these different systems. I've talked with folks at Bethlehem and DG about his/their position on ecclesiology and eschatology, Church/Israel stuff, and when we talk, the only difference I discern is that he's post-trib and I'm pre-trib. Otherwise, he's premil, sees a future for ethnic Israel as they believe in Messiah, and recognizes at least some discontinuity with Israel and the Church.

But, he doesn't have my rubber stamp (not like he'd want it anyway). There are also things that I don't line up with him on, like the continuation of the miraculous gifts. I also have been puzzled at some of the decisions he's made in regards to whom he's chosen to partner with in ministry. Anyway...

What movements are there currently within covenant theology?

That's a huge question. But basically the traditional Reformed position has been covenantalism. All the guys of history that we love would have espoused covenant theology: Luther, Calvin, Edwards, The Princeton Theologians, Spurgeon. Modern guys like Sproul, Horton, Ligon Duncan are also covenantalists.

Can you help me articulate the differences between MacArthur, Sproul, and Piper?

The thing is, Disp/CT/NCT is not just a Law and Gospel issue, it's also a how-to-frame-history issue, a hermeneutics issue, and an ecclesiological and eschatalogical issue.

To be brief, MacArthur is a dispensationalist (though he makes qualifications about the term), Sproul is a covenantalist, and Piper -- as that article above stated -- is probably somewhere in between.

I am trying to find my place in all of this. I do not want to be swayed by every wind or spin of interpretation.

I hear that, and can definitely tell you you're not alone. I'd advise you to just read your Bible from Genesis to Revelation in about a month, maybe two, while keeping these specific questions in mind, and see if you notice anything outstanding.

As far as I go, regarding the Law-Gospel issue, I line up with Piper (read that essential trilogy, Desiring God and Future Grace especially). Regarding the covenants, hermeneutics, ecclesiology, and eschatology, I line up with MacArthur.

Man, that was longer that it should have been. For any follow up, email me, just so we don't take up more of this thread. Address is in my profile.

Jim Pemberton said...

Legalism focuses on the outward behavior rather than the motives. If we have faith, we desire to be obedient. Therefore, we get to obey God. We are compelled therefore, not by a laborious begrudging of duty, but by our desire for God. Inasmuch as we still have vestiges of sinful patterns of behavior and conditioned drives to sin, we also have a transcendent desire to overcome these things. Because Christ's work on the cross and the balance of our time in this fallen world, we have been given the grace to mortify our sin to our greater pleasure. It's like the athlete who struggles in the gym to prevail in competition. It helps us to know the value of prevailing against sin. I understand that Wycliffe sells the Bibles they translate to the people for whom they have translated it for a nominal fee so they will understand the value of what has been done for them. So we joyfully struggle against sin so we understand better the value of what Christ did for us.