I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

By faith, not by sight

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I read and enjoyed Gaffin’s By Faith, Not by Sight recently. I think that he could have gone a little farther towards finding multi-perspectival resolutions, but I am generally very appreciative of the book. Some choice quotes:

Since the goal of redemption is union with the risen Lord, there seems little doubt that, if Paul has a center to his order of salvation, it is this doctrine. When other applied blessings, such as justification or sanctification, are made central, there are inevitably deleterious consequences for the Christian life, whereby incipient forms of antinomianism and legalism creep in. For example, a certain Lutheran view that justification precedes sanctification, so that it causes union with Christ and sanctification, ends up attributing to justification a renovative/transformative element. The notion that one applied benefit can cause another applied benefit has always perplexed me. But when union with Christ structures the whole of applied redemption, the aforementioned errors are dealt with better. This has to do with the fact that Christ’s person, not simply his work or his applied benefits, must have the preeminence. Indeed, the gift of Christ’s person is a greater gift to us than his benefits. As many of our finest divines have vigorously argued, there exists a priority of Christ’s person over his work. Union with Christ helps us to keep this salient fact in mind. We are not simply recipients of his benefits; we also belong to him. (Mark Jones, Foreword, p. x)

One important methodological consideration is that, with all due attention being given to his immediate historical context, including relevant extracanonical texts and materials, in interpreting [Paul’s] letters the context that is not only primary but privileged is the canonical context. (10)

All along I have been speaking of Paul’s “theology” and referring to him as a “theologian.” For many, that will not be a problem, but this way of speaking warrants some clarification, since for some it is questionable at best. The perceived danger here is that we will, as it could be put, “drag Paul down to our level.” . . . What offsets this leveling danger is appreciating Paul’s identity as an apostle, at least if we understand apostleship properly. . . . Regarding [his] authority, the apostle is as Christ himself.

Paul the theologian, then, is Paul the apostle. That points to the God-breathed origin and authority of his teaching, its character as the word of God. It highlights the radical, categorical difference there is between his theology and post-apostolic theology. His teaching, along with the teaching of the other biblical writers, is Spirit-borne, canonical, and foundational. (14-15)

Increasingly over the course of the last century, to fill out this brief historical sketch, a new consensus concerning Paul emerged across a broad front in biblical studies. This happened in tandem with a reassessment of the kingdom proclamation of Jesus. It is now widely maintained that the controlling focus of Paul’s theology, as for Jesus before him, is eschatology—or what is equivalent for some, redemptive history (historia salutis). Specifically, the center of his theology has been recognized to be the death and resurrection of Christ in their eschatological significance.

In my view, this basic conclusion is sound and, by now, well established. (29)

The center of Paul’s soteriology, then, at the center of his theology as a whole, is neither justification by faith nor sanctification, neither the imputation of Christ’s righteousness nor the renewing work of the Spirit. To draw that conclusion, however, is not to decenter justification (or sanctification), as if justification is somehow less important for Paul than it is for the Reformers. Justification is supremely important; it is absolutely crucial in Paul’s “gospel of salvation” (cf. Eph. 1:13). If his teaching on justification is denied or distorted, it ceased to be gospel; there is no longer saving “good news” for guilty sinners. But no matter how close justification is to the heart of Paul’s gospel, in our salvation there is an antecedent consideration, a reality that is deeper, more fundamental, more decisive, more crucial: Christ and our union with him, the crucified and resurrected, the exalted, Christ. Union with Christ by faith—that is the essence of Paul’s ordo salutis.

At the opening of Book 3 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion and controlling all that he has to say about “the way” of salvation—that is, its personal, individual appropriation, including what he will eventually say about justification—Calvin writes, “First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.” (49-50)

[Some have observed] that Paul’s exhortations to the church as a whole, his ethics of the Christian life in their entirety, can be summed up in the epigram, “Become what you are.” This is helpful, but by itself it carries a liability that can render it decidedly unhelpful (suggesting some form of personal autonomy), unless it is read with an all-encompassing Christological gloss, “Become what you are in Christ.” (80)

The point here is that “the path of good works runs not from man to God, says Paul, but from God to man.” [quoting Berkouwer] Ultimately, in the deepest sense, for Paul “our good works” are not ours, but God’s. They are his work, begun and continuing in us, his being “at work in us, both to will and to do what pleases him” (Phil. 2:13). That is why, without any tension, a faith that rests in God the Savior is a faith that is restless to do his will. (88)

On the coherence between [faith and works], it is hard to improve on what J. Gresham Machen writes aphoristically, “As the faith which James condemns is different than the faith that Paul commends, so also the works which James commends are different than the works which Paul condemns.” (118)

Written by Scott Moonen

November 28, 2020 at 1:22 pm

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