© Charles A. Clough 1996
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 3: Disruptive Truths of God’s Kingdom
Chapter 2: God’s Call to Abraham: The Disruptive Truth of Man’s Kingdom Rejected
Lesson 42 – Doctrine of Justification
12 December 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We are still on the call of Abraham; we are looking at that event in history just after the beginning of civilization, when all the nations had been formed, there had been separation of the nations into languages, families, etc. And we said that paganism had already come to replace the truth of the Noahic Bible, that all tribes, all continents, all places at one time had the revelation contained in those first 9 chapters of the Bible, but that by the time of the tower of Babel there was a powerful paganistic movement borne of the flesh and of Satan, to divert worship and attention from the God who had created and gave that revelation to man. We’ll go back to Genesis 11:4 because we can’t repeat enough times the contrasting spirit between that movement of civilization that culminated in the great tower of Babel and the new movement that God created by calling Abraham out of the world system. This is a hallmark verse that summarizes the spirit behind civilization at large when that civilization becomes autonomous, prideful and separated from listening to the authority of the Word of God. “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, whose tower whose top will reach unto heaven, and let us build for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered abroad.”
That last clause, “lest we be scattered abroad” is a direct contradiction to what God had told the human race to do in the Noahic Covenant. So it’s disobedience, and as all disobedience usually does, it creates a counterfeit because we are made in God’s image, and when we rebel against Him we become our own god. No man can remain neutral, no man ever is neutral, either we are god or God is God, but there’s no such thing as a person who’s neutral, Romans 1. Here we see it, because in those clauses in verse 4 it’s especially noticed in the middle one, “let us make for ourselves a name,” it means that meaning and truth originate with man, and we kind of have a little proverb to show this, is that in a pagan basis of thinking and living man invents truth. If we go to the Word of God and submit to the authority of the Creator and the fact that there’s structure, intelligence, and information embedded in the universe around us, then we do not invent truth, we discover it. There’s a world of difference between the verb to invent and the verb to discover. That shows some of the contrast that goes on here between the world system at large.
Then we come to Genesis 12, the call of Abraham, and when God called Abraham out, among many things He promised him the land, the seed and the worldwide blessing, but in Genesis 12:2 he directly conflicts with Genesis 11:4, whereas in Genesis 11:4 man was going to “make for himself” a name, now God says to Abraham “I will make your name,” I am the One who defines meaning. I am the authority. So now we have two programs at large in history, the program that is the apostate fallout from the early turning away from the Noahic revelation and the new theme introduced when Abraham is called out around the year 2000 BC. Out of that comes several doctrines or truths, and the truth we have been studying is the truth of election, tonight we’ll deal with justification, and next time faith. We have three topics of biblical truth that we want to look at and see in light of this event of the call of Abraham. These are truths that the New Testament insists are wrapped up with this event. So because the New Testament writers keep doing it, it’s a clue to us that we’d better use those events in linkage with that doctrine or that truth.
Last week we dealt with election, we said it’s a very hard doctrine. But in a nutshell what it simply says is God’s choosey. Not only is God choosey but God has a right to be choosey, He’s the Creator, and we said, in the notes we summarized election under some principles, I’ll just comment and review those. We said that this election cannot be handled, cannot be understood apart from Creation, the Creator/creature distinction. Abraham was called out of polytheism and pantheism, out of paganism at large, where God is part of the universe and all the pagan origin stories the universe is always considered to be an appendage of God, it always comes out of the bodies of the gods, you can’t distinguish between water, material water and the goddess of water, they both come together in paganism. But in the God in the Bible preexisted creation and He calls it into existence, not by procreation. In the pagan thing sexual propagation is a powerful force, it is always considered to be the heart of everything, and in modern paganism it’s still the same idea, that you have a transmutation of the species in this mysterious sexual propagation. But in the Scriptures the universe doesn’t come into existence at all by sexual propagation, it comes into existence by virtue of God speaking it into existence.
In modern terms what we have here is the giving of information, and this is a powerful concept. People have problems with how rapidly God created the universe, but if you can think of yourself trying to rebuild an engine in a car and you’re sitting out there and you haven’t got a clue and you’re holding everything from valves to pistons to distributors in your hand, you’ve got a mess all over the back yard and you’re trying to put that together as an engine, if you’re going to do that in a random way it’s going to take you some time. But if somebody else comes in, a couple of the guys in this church are just whizzes at it, if they come at it, how fast does it take them to build the engine? Not long. What’s different, the engine? The parts? The people, strength? The difference is the information available—the information available! So when you have a high information event, as is given in Scripture, when God speaks the universe into existence you have an infinite compression of information. He doesn’t have to take time; He doesn’t have to because the information is available, the information doesn’t have to be generated, it’s already in God’s mind.
So the doctrine of election falls back onto the doctrine of creation, you can’t have one without the other. The second thing is election also rests upon the fall, because there the fall is seen to have marred the pot, so it’s not that God is considering an unmarred pot, He’s considering the human race after the whole thing screwed up, after there was a falling away, then after that He steps in and manifests His election.
Then we said in the third point, following Hebrews 11, election reveals what’s on God’s mind, and before He reveals what’s on His mind we can’t predict that, it’s much like the physicists today talk about things that go on in the atom, sometimes they speak of a surprise event, meaning that there’s no predictable way of figuring it out, it happens, a certain state happens. We call that a surprise event. The election, when God acts in history it’s a surprise event, it can’t be forecast, you can’t sit down and have a magic book and predict that that person is going to believe and that person isn’t going to. There’s no way of doing that. We are told to preach the gospel to every creature and that’s it. And the gospel is the means that God calls the elect into historical existence. So on page 33, I forgot to put this in, but if you would write in, just after “would have enough?” write this sentence, I’d like to put this sentence in there so that people will have a clear thought about this: Gospel preaching is not an impotent superficial act; it is the powerful call of God that creates the elect in history. Of course in God’s mind they’re there, but in history they’re not there until God calls them, and the gospel preaching hardens hearts or it softens them, it’s not a trivial casual thing, this thing called the preaching of the gospel. You can’t treat it as something casual, you may witness to someone, you may preach to someone, and you just wonder, are they awake or not, and it goes on year after year, but that’s what we think is happening, we don’t know what’s going on in their heart, and because we don’t know what’s going on in their heart we keep on faithfully because God tells us to do that, and He’ll give the results. Our job is to be as clear as we possibly can in preaching the gospel.
The fourth point is that election is God’s basic eternal promise to you and me. If He has predicted that we will share the destiny of Jesus Christ, then He has also included in that statement that He will provide all things. He says to Abraham, I will make a seed for you. If you skimmed through Genesis you realize all those little stories in there were included in that promise, I’m going to give you a seed. And when Sarah almost gets wound up in Pharaoh’s harem, if she had done that, and that had been allowed to happen, we’d have a problem with the seed, because she was supposed to be the one that would bear it, through Abraham. All the stories you see in Genesis are woven around this theme of the Abrahamic Covenant. Is God’s promise, the land, the seed, and the blessing going to come to pass or aren’t they? The lesson we learn from Genesis 12 on through the end of the book is that God’s way of bringing about His promise involves cliff hanging. The lines get thin, the danger gets high, it’s an ongoing drama, and you almost think God’s going to get defeated, God never majestically moves and totally crushes the opposition, it’s like He’s a super chess player and for a while it looks like all of His pieces get wiped out, and yet He always comes out the winner at the end, and that’s the story of Genesis 12ff. So that’s what we mean when we say God’s election is God’s basic eternal promise to us.
Tonight we go to the second of these two ideas. I said that we want to spend some time in this truth because it is this truth that divided Europe, it caused revolutions in Europe, this truth. This is where Protestantism and Catholicism separated, and yet today you can go into the average evangelical church and I guarantee it, if you do a theological survey you will find over half the people are Roman Catholics at heart, because they don’t understand what the Protestant view of justification is. What did Martin Luther and John Calvin believe about this? You say is this some abstract theology. I hope after we go through this you’ll see this is not abstract. This is borne out of the personal experience of godly men who at that time were inside the Roman Catholic Church, doing their best and failing in their personal spiritual lives. They sought an answer to why they experienced failure in their Christian walk. And it was found, they were led to see that there was an aberration that had happened, the Word of God was not readily available, there were many, many village priests at that time that had no access to Scripture. So it’s not like everybody had their Bible and couldn’t read, it was that hardly anybody had the Bible, you had a lot of tradition going on uncontrolled by the Scripture, and the result was that you had the gospel very diluted and you had a lot of people kind of born again but barely so in this sort of environment.
We want to look at Genesis 15:6. When we were here before we said that the crucial thing to notice is this is the chapter when God makes His covenant with Abraham. We went through the covenant and we said that that covenant involved a deal between God and Abraham plus Abraham’s seed, and there were certain terms in that contract, that that contract was brought into existence through a sacrifice, blood sacrifice, as God’s covenants always are, pointing forward to the time of the cross. But this covenant, the terms of this covenant was a legal contract and that meant that God was pinned down in history to doing certain things. You want to notice this because it happened in the Noahic Covenant, it happened in the Abrahamic Covenant and it will happen in the other covenants. We said, just a parenthesis, here’s why we evangelicals are strong on the inerrancy of Scripture. It’s tied in with the fact that the Scriptures purport to represent the proper behavior of God in light of His promises, and by “proper behavior of God” we mean that He did this, He did that, He did this, He did that, in real history, so that the dates, the circumstances, and the events in this record, this is a legal testimony to God’s faithfulness, and if there are errors in this, as there would be, for example, in a courtroom hearing, the lawyer always attempts to show inconsistencies in the witness to get the jury to doubt it, and in this case if Satan can show there are inconsistencies here, he can appeal his case, that God indeed is not faithful, you can’t trust this, there are errors in it.
So the idea of an inerrant Bible springs out of the whole idea of having God in a covenant contractual agreement with people with a contract that can be opened and read of all men. We quoted Dr. Albright of Johns Hopkins, years ago Dean of American Archeology who made the stunning observation that the Hebrews are the only people in history to make a contract with their God, only one. You don’t find Buddhists making contracts, Buddha was an atheist. You don’t find Confucius making a contract with heaven, Confucius tells us he doesn’t really know what goes on in heaven. You don’t find Hindus entering into a contract with their God. This is the purview of Scripture, the God of the Bible enters into covenant, and hence He is known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that’s one of His titles.
In Genesis 15:6 before He enters into this sacred covenant with Abraham, there’s a statement and we want to look at that statement. The statement summarizes Abraham’s condition on the eve of that contract. It says, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He [the Lord] reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Some of your Bibles have “He imputed it to him for righteousness.” The condition is Abraham believes, and God credits, or imputes. That’s a word that occurs a lot in the New Testament, so we want to spend some time talking about the word “impute.”
On page 34, look at the first note under The Doctrine of Justification. The doctrine of justification rests, like the other doctrines, on the creation and the fall. See why last year we spent all year going through creation, fall, flood and covenant, gosh that was slow…it’s slow because every time you get into this, we go back to it again. That’s why we wanted to lay that foundation, solid. Now here is an example of why it’s so important to see that early passage of Scripture. This word, to “impute” means to price, if you have a good or a service or a service and you put a price tag on it, you’ve imputed value to it. Who imputes value? It used to be thought … for example in early American history, when the pilgrims first came and the Puritans formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony and did their culture thing, they at first in their economy tried to hold to what is called the doctrine of the fair price. And what they did was attempt to regulate how much you could charge for a good or service in Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was price regulation.
The idea was that there was such a thing as a fair and just price, and if you made furniture or if you made some product, or did some service, that you could not charge more than that fair price. To do anything more than that would be to rip off your customers, and it’d unfair competition, etc. So at that time they had what we call government price controls, wage and price controls. But thankfully, early on the Puritans realized that there was a flaw in that kind of thinking and they abandoned wage and price controls. This is where some political fallout happens in the Scripture. You say why did they do that? Because they realized several things, first, who is it that determines the fair and just wage, where do you determine that, where do you get that from? Big Brother? A group of a few people? So the argument is made that rather than have a board of people and authorities dictating what the fair and just price is, what do you let dictate price? In our country, generally, how a price is determined? By the market. We call it the free market economy. Why do we let the market determine the price? For example, pornography might be priced by the market greater than the Bible. What’s the Christian answer to this? Does it mean that the market always justly prices an item? Not so at all. But on the other hand, isn’t it safer to let the market place dictate the price, because in the market place, who consists of the market? Hundreds and thousands of people, they’re pricing, they’re functioning as individual human beings, and they’re determining the price by how much they’re willing to pay for the goods. So yes, a lot of them can be wrong, but the advantage is you don’t have an error imposed on everybody.
Rather than get too far into economics what I’m trying to get at here is that the human heart is made to evaluate the things it treats, its goods and services. The first picture in the Bible of pricing is given in the first six days of creation. What does God do after He gets through His handiwork? God is pictured as a blue-collar laborer, in His first picture in Scripture He’s a craftsman, He makes things. And what does He do at the end of the day? He sets His work aside and says “that’s good.” Adam isn’t saying that, God’s saying it. The craftsman is saying of His craft, “this is good.” He’s pricing it, He’s evaluating it. So this word “impute” in its raw, original, plain meaning was this word, “to price,” to put a price on something, to evaluate it.
It came to have another sense, which we’ll get into, but I want to go to Genesis 3 to see what happens at the fall. Originally Adam was to subdue the earth and bring forth the fruit thereof. In Genesis 3, after the curse we have a disturbance. Sin disturbs, not just psychologically but physically. We’ve shown this so many times, the difference between the Bible and everything else, in the Bible evil is bounded, there was a time when there was no evil and it started, and there was a time at the end of history when it will be dealt with. In all other religions, evil is considered to be normal, and that’s why intelligent people in the Orient for years have striven to go into a nirvana, or to basically a psychological form of suicide. Why do they do that? Because they don’t want to be reincarnated again and again in this foul, evil, death-filled world. Who wants to go around again, I want to get off the merry-go-round. How do I get off of it? Go into non-existence. And that’s your Oriental religion, that’s New Age, except most people in this country don’t think it through. If you really want to see where New Age leads, read Hinduism, that’s where you can really get an idea of where it’s going.
But in the Bible evil is bounded, and here in Genesis 3:18 something abnormal happens. Here Adam was to grow crops that could be sold, that were to have a price, that were to have a value. But God says when you go to work the ground, Genesis 3:17, the ground is cursed, and “in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life,” and it brings forth thorns and thistles. Verse 18, “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you.” In other words, it becomes inefficient. Two things happen here, work and labor become terribly inefficient, and this is an act of mercy, because if man could make his wealth easily he would pervert its use. This is why we struggle, all of us, to try to make ends meet. If it were too easy, we’re sinful beings, and all that wealth has shown the sin nature is that it makes it sin more efficiently, and in more grandiose ways.
The first thing that happens is that work and labor become tremendously inefficient and the second thing is their actually is a defamation in what is grown, there is negative value out there. Stuff is produced that’s bad, and that’s because of the fall. So the first point about justification is that man, who was destined to produce work that would be priced as good by God, now hardly can produce anything because of the disruption and what he does produce is terribly flawed and basically is evil. On God’s scale, God’s price scale, if we can draw a scale of numbers, I’ll use this several times tonight, –1 0 +1. On this scale man is in the negative territory, what he produces is not just worthless, but it’s dangerous, it’s negative. We know this, and this is why further up in the text, in Genesis 3:7, when they realized that they had sin, they tried to cover it up, “they knew that they were naked and they sowed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” Nobody told them to do that, but suddenly they were ashamed to be in the presence of God, as He had made them. Something had happened. They were now no longer acceptable in His presence, and they knew it. Hence the rise of guilt, real guilt. So the result of this is that the thorns and the thistles motif occurs various places, Proverbs 24, I give an illustration of where it’s used, Hebrews 6:7-8, there are also other passages in the Bible where you see this thorns and thistles thing. And it universally has as a metaphor it becomes the evil production of man.
So the first thing about justification is that it arises out of the idea of pricing things, and eventually it has a deeper idea, a man is priced by what he produces because what he produces shows his character, and his character is judged before God. That’s how this economic thing gets wrapped up into it.
The second thing: Justification Must be the First Step in Redemption. We want to turn to Romans 4 where Paul deals with justification in Abraham, and he makes a very important point in Romans 4:10, he asks the question, when was Abraham justified? He was justified … notice verse 9, “Is this blessing then upon the circumcised or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, FAITH WAS RECKONED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Some translations have it in caps; some will have it in quotes, where you see that Genesis 15:6 quote there in the text. Paul is just reciting the same text that we just got through looking at. Verse 10 is a comment on that Genesis text. So here the Apostle Paul is teaching us out of the Old Testament, and he says, “How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised,” i.e., after the covenant, “or uncircumcised?” before the covenant. “Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;  and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe,” and he’s making a pitch here, how was Abraham justified? As a Jew, or as a Gentile? He was justified as a Gentile. This is tremendously powerful, because who is the father of the Jewish race, it’s Abraham. So if you can show that the father of the Jewish race was saved as a Gentile, then what Paul has done in a very clever swoop, in one swoop he’s just wiped out the arrogance of saying there’s some special race and you’re saved only if you’re Jewish.
What we want to see for our application is that the verdict of Abraham’s righteousness was made before God entered into a covenant with him. Before God went into this treaty and made this contract, Abraham had to be declared righteous. But what is this righteousness [not sure of word, may be descendants]. We’ve introduced it as an economic term, now I want to move from the economics to the legal area. Turn to Deuteronomy 25:1 here’s an example of how the concept worked, the word “justification” in a legal sense. It’s talking about the court system, the Bible has a lot to say about lawyers, judges and courts (not well known today we might add). “If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked,” now who would be the righteous person? He is one who obeyed the law. Who is the unjust one? The one who disobeyed. Go to the diagram, –1 0 +1. Justification does not mean “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned, that would bring me back to zero. But 0 can’t exist right now because 0 was the state that existed only at one point in history, that probation period between the time when God created Adam and Eve and the time they fell. Now the probation period is over, we don’t go back to a probation period. We’re now, instead of three possibilities, the middle one is knocked out. That’s no longer a historical option. Either we disobey God or we obey Him. So the justified one is the one who at that particular point of the law that was bring brought up in the trial, that area he obeyed. The idea of justification isn’t “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned, but just as if I’d perfectly obeyed. That’s what justification is, it has a positive side as well as a negative. We want to dwell on that a moment, because that’s missing in a lot of our thinking. It’s not just forgiveness. There’s more to justification than forgiveness. Forgiveness takes you back to zero, it forgives the sin that we’ve done. Justification takes us further, and gives us positive righteousness. Here became the big problem in the Reformation.
Turn to Romans 4; we’ll be referring to some things in Romans 4. The idea of justification is that in this covenantal agreement, to start the covenant Abraham already had to have this positive righteousness, before the covenant went into effect. God doesn’t have fellowship with a sinner. If God is going to have fellowship and do something in this man He calls out from this world system, the man has got to be legally cleared. What we saw in Deuteronomy 25:1 is a verdict that happened at a point in time, a court reached a verdict and the verdict was that the person obeyed. What, therefore, Paul is saying is that Abraham, before the covenant, God had a trial, Abraham passed the verdict. So the verdict was passed that Abraham was righteous. So the second point of justification is that it’s the starting point of everything else that God does. A lot of people have the idea that you start at zero, you start at being forgiven and then you work from there. That’s not the idea of justification. The idea of justification is you start from perfect obedience. Herein is what ruptured Europe, because the Catholics and the Protestants went at it for centuries over this one. This may sound like a theoretical thing, but people got burned for saying this kind of stuff. This was heavy material.
We move to the third thing. The first one was that the concept of justification grows out of the creational economic idea that the creature has a value, he’s supposed to be valued, and people evaluate. You move from there to who evaluates ultimately, absolutely and clearly. I gave the illustration, pornography may cost more on a newsstand than a Bible, but the answer to that is if God were to walk into the store what would His price tag be? He’d refuse to buy it. What happens to a product that sits on the shelf? The price goes pfft. The point is that if you had a godly pricing mechanism, then you would have just and fair prices. The problem is, none of us are perfectly just, or wise in the way we price things. What we say in justification is God is the price-er, or the evaluator, He puts a price tag on us. That’s His prerogative as judge. The second point in justification is that He does this in the form of a verdict prior to entering into a relationship with us. So the third thing answers the question, where does this righteousness come from?
Romans 5:19, one of the clearest verses in the New Testament, where is the righteousness coming from that is credited to our account. It says “For as through the one man’s disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Now we come to this interesting truth in justification, that man has to be credited with a positive righteousness, but he doesn’t generate it. You no more generate positive righteousness than I do or any other person does, we don’t live perfectly, we can’t be priced, God can’t put a price tag on our character as perfectly righteous, we know that. So how do we get the price function, how does He price us? He prices us by beholding another righteousness that He credits to our account, and that righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. That’s why it’s not just the death of Christ. The death of Christ on the cross forgives, that takes us from minus one to zero, that’s the forgiveness of sin, but the obedience that Jesus Christ is a representative of the human race who was a genuine human being, who is the second Adam, who faced every trial we face, who learned obedience through the things which He suffered, He always made the right choices, His life was perfect before God. Now there’s a representative who has lived a perfect life in history, no longer a promise but actual righteousness, not something that was a speculation of gee, I wonder if somebody can ever do this right, Jesus did it right, and it’s tied to the cross, it’s not separated from the cross because the cross itself is an act of obedience, it’s the greatest act of obedience that any human being would ever face, the Garden of Gethsemane.
It’s still the cross, we haven’t gotten away from the cross, but it’s another side to the cross. The cross as an atonement gets us to zero, but as an act of obedience of a human being, Jesus Christ had true humanity as well as undiminished deity, and when He faced the trial in His life as the whole area of who Jesus is, Jesus never relied on His deity to get through the trials. He relied on the Holy Spirit in His humanity, just like we have to. So we can’t argue, well Jesus had it easier. No, He didn’t, in fact He had it harder, because He faced trials on a plain far above the temptation pressures we will ever face. That’s what the Gethsemane episode is in the Gospels. He had us personally in mind, had you personally in mind, had me personally in mind when He did that act of obedience; that’s how He got to the cross.
The cross in two ways is a blessing, it’s a blessing because it’s a source of atonement for our sin, and it’s a blessing because Jesus Christ obeyed perfectly and made, for the first time in history, perfect righteousness became available. So just as Adam’s perfect unrighteousness became available at disobedience and spread upon the human race, so all those who come into faith in Christ share Christ’s righteousness. So righteousness now has a positive thing. On page 36 of the notes, here’s one of the early Reformed creeds and how they struggled to phrase this.
[blank spot] “True justification recognizes the existence of positive righteousness as well as forgiveness. In 1563 Reformation thinker properly identified justification in the great Heidelberg Catechism: God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ rendered for me.” Now you see what I mean? … We don’t work for it … we don’t agonize … because all of those things … perfect righteousness. [Tape not understandable for a long time]
… and mix it up like a tossed salad, so what we want to do is separate this stuff. Now it’s true, they’re all connected, you don’t have one without the other, there are controls in here, but we want to see what happens when you do the salad bowl approach. Let’s look on the notes again on page 36, “The idea that justification is due to a righteousness from ‘outside’ of man, rather than from ‘inside’ him, has not always been welcomed within the Church. Such imputation of Christ’s obedience to the sinner seems to be a ‘legal fiction’ that ascribes to man something he really does not have. For a sinner to be credited with perfection he has not shown in his personal life is seen by many as a threat to godly living. Many times in Church history, therefore, teachers have tried to base justification upon the condition of the sinner’s heart. While acknowledging Christ as the source of it all, these teachers claim that His righteousness is actually transfused into the sinner’s heart first as a basis for subsequent justification. The work of regeneration and/or sanctification then becomes the precursor of the verdict of justification.” If you draw a time line, what they try to do to control things is to have the sinner here, the sinner believes and is regenerated at this point in time, the regeneration starts the seed of righteousness in the heart, then God looks down on that sheet of righteousness in the heart and says you’re justified, so that justification is a follow-on act to regeneration.
Continuing on the notes on page 36, “When Protestants like Luther and Calvin taught justification by faith alone without any such ‘precursor’ righteousness in the heart, Roman Catholicism fought back. The Council of Trent (1545–63) declared in opposition to Protestantism:” and this is the Catholic answer to the Protestant doctrine. “‘If they were not born again in Christ, they would never be justified, since in that new birth there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion the grace whereby they are made just,’ ” and I pause right here, it’s wrong to accuse Catholics of justification by works, they really don’t, they’ve tried very hard to make justification by grace, notice what they’re saying, the “new birth there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion the grace whereby they are made just,” so they’re insisting that in their view it is by grace, and Protestants that say Catholics believe in justification by works just don’t understand Catholicism. In one sense they are right when they say that, that’s not the point of the debate though.
Let’s continue, “ ‘… justification is not only the bare remission of sins, but also sanctification and renewal of the inner man….” Look at that sentence again, I’ll read it slowly, notice what they do. “Justification … is the sanctification and renewal of the inner man,” what have they done that’s different than importing righteousness from outside? They are making the righteousness come through the heart, so that it is actual righteousness possessed by me and by you, given from Christ, but nevertheless in our hearts. God looks at our hearts and says now we’re justified. The Protestants said that is not the order, the order is that when we believe Him and submit to His authority, He grants us righteousness not through our hearts, He makes us born again. Of course, we’re not denying regeneration, we’re just simply saying you can’t say regeneration precedes justification, they happen simultaneously. Justification is from Christ, it is Christ’s obedience that suddenly is credited to my account that allows God to enter into a relationship with me.
If, in fact, justification is looking here, what’s the trouble down here? What was Martin Luther’s trouble in that Catholic monastery? He looked in his heart and what did he see in his heart? Along with genuine fruit what else did he see? Sin. That’s why Luther struggled and struggled, how do I deal with this, how can God have a relationship with me when, yes the Holy Spirit is working in my heart but I’m not perfect before Him, how can I be justified before a holy God. How can I be on speaking terms with Him legally? How can He touch me? And the answer is He can’t, unless He sees you as in Christ. Then He can touch you, because now He sees Christ’s righteousness, and now we can begin the work of sanctification. So the Protestant argued that the Catholic doctrine actually prevented sanctification from ever getting started. It couldn’t get started because there was no basis for it to get started with.
What it did, it tended to focus, watch the difference here, if you genuinely believe that your righteousness before God comes from Christ vs. thinking your righteousness comes from God because of a work He might have done in your heart, where is the center of attention? One is on Christ; we’ll get into this when we deal with the next set of notes which is faith, what is saving faith. The emphasis in the Protestant gospel was that you look at Christ, always look at Christ because it’s His righteousness, and stop looking at your heart because all you’ll see in your heart is a bunch of glop. This is not loose living, because they talked about sanctification, confession of sins, etc. But they didn’t make the human heart the basis of my assurance of acceptance before God. It’s not my heart that makes me acceptable before God; it’s the imputed righteousness of Christ that makes me acceptable with God. This is tough stuff. That was the fight in Catholicism.
Still quoting Trent: “‘The ban is placed,” this is excommunication, the excommunication is placed “on any who teach that man is justified through imputation of the righteousness of Christ… exclusive of the grace and love which is infused into the heart through the Holy Spirit.’” They wanted to make justification smeared together with regeneration. It sounds a little technical and it sounds a little theological, but what I’m trying to say is that it was very practical because the Reformers ran into it, not by studying theology; these guys ran into it because of problems in the Christian life. What is the problem here, where have we been deceived and misled? Why don’t I have stability in my Christian life? Because I don’t feel acceptable before God, I’m still putting fig leaves on, I’m fleeing His presence. Why can I step boldly into His presence? Because He sees me with the righteousness of Christ. Then I can come into His presence and now He can begin to work in my heart. You can’t get the cart before the horse.
“In other words, ‘infused grace’ received into the heart—” according to Catholicism “regeneration and sanctification—is supposed to precede and be the cause of justification. When God justifies, according to Rome, He is looking at actual righteousness in the regenerated heart, rather than the perfect righteousness of Christ.” This is hard stuff, but all I’m trying to get through is there’s a major shift between Protestantism and Catholicism here, and it’s not well taught, and it’s not well sensed in our own time. Let me show you why. Following on page 37, “Within Protestantism similar ‘heart-centered’ justification teachings arose. One form is ‘perfectionism’, viz., the belief that the heart must be perfect before justification can occur. During Methodist 19th century revivals associates of Charles Finney taught ‘nothing short of present entire conformity to the divine law is accepted of God.’ ” Talk about putting someone under the law. “Another form is ‘conditional justification’ where in a certain degree of holiness (usually left up to the imagination of the individual) is necessary to keep justification after it has been granted. Thus Arminian theologian Robert Shank teaches: ‘There is nothing about Paul’s affirmation (Romans 8:29-30) which establishes that …all who experience calling and justification are necessarily elect and will inevitably preserve.’ According to Shank, justification is good only as long as one is in Christ. Failure to maintain holiness leads to rejection in this view because justification in the first place is grounded upon the spiritual condition of the heart.” In Protestantism you have the same thing arise in another way that had also arisen in Catholicism; it’s not just peculiarly a Catholic problem.
Continuing the text, “Another form of Protestant ‘heart-centered’ justification, although milder than the previous forms, occurs in certain ‘deeper life’ and Pentecostal groups. Such groups downplay justification in favor of internal sanctification experiences. Preoccupation with trying to find a heart-centered, satisfying experience often causes the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work to eclipse Christ’s righteousness in justification.” What happens here, it’s subtle, but in the doctrine of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I think most of us have read the New Testament enough to know when the Holy Spirit comes, who does He glorify? The Holy Spirit? What’s the assignment given to the Third Person of the Trinity? To glorify Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity. There’s a reason for that. Christ is to be the center of the revelation, not the Holy Spirit. We’re not denying the Holy Spirit does these things, not denying that we should be thankful to the Holy Spirit for illuminating our hearts, we prayed at the beginning and we asked Your Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts, to what Christ. So Christ, the Second Person is always to be the center, and when you get off in these things what you find happening in practical illustrations is we get concentrating on a certain type feeling in the heart, always looking… oh, I had that feeling once, and I’m just out of it until I can get that feeling back again. You may wake up with the flu and you don’t feel at all sanctified, does that mean you don’t have the righteousness of Christ? A virus has driven away the righteousness of Christ because your brain just doesn’t feel great today? What a stupid way to live the Christian life, up and down, up and down, an emotional roller coaster.
That’s why this whole issue of justification has got to be clear in our hearts, that God has passed a verdict, if we have believed in Jesus Christ, we have believed that God … like Abraham, what did Abraham believe? Let’s to back and make it really simple, tie this together. God said if you come out, I will give you three things, and God says in that Genesis 15 passage because Abraham believed Him, He counted Abraham righteousness. Was Abraham perfect? No, he wasn’t perfect, look at the text. Do you suppose Abraham had a feeling? I imagine Abraham went through all kinds of feeling, fear, love, confidence, lack of courage, then he had courage, then he had this feeling, then he had that feeling, then he did this, then he did that, but what was always true? He trusted God’s program, His Word, I trust You. And because he could say to God, I trust You, meaning I submit to Your authority, not perfectly, but I trust You, You told me this and I trust you, God said that’s it, verdict passed. Abraham didn’t know anything about Jesus, but somehow he knew that God had accepted him, perfectly accepted him. Not 80%, not 20%, not Abraham I’m going to accept you this much and then when you grow a little bit more I’ll accept you this much. If He had done that quid pro quo Abraham would never have grown. The only way he can grow to is be perfectly accepted from the start, then he can grow. It’s like having a child adopted in your family and you say well he’s not really my child until he gets to be a nice boy and then he’s my child. The kid’s a brat but does that make him less your child? No, unfortunately.
The point is the relationship is fixed, and that’s the whole issue of justification, the relationship is fixed, not because of great and wondrous things that I’ve done or you’ve done, because of great and wondrous things Christ has done. When you have that view you can’t get fatheaded about the Christian life because it wasn’t your righteousness carrying the boat, it’s not your righteousness, it’s not your wonderful obedience, it’s Christ, something else is carrying you along, and that’s Christ’s righteousness and His obedience.
Conclusion: “All forms of ‘heart-centered’ justification—whether Romanist or Protestant—contradict the emphasis in God’s call to Abraham. The primary concern in Genesis 12-50 is not some capacity inside Abraham or his seed but the plan in God’s mind in Heaven. Not subjective experiences of the heart,” and I’m not denying subjective experiences, don’t get me wrong, we’re not denying them, we’re saying those are the fruit of this, not the cause, don’t confuse cause and effect. The subjective experiences are wonderful treasures, but they don’t occur every day. If you’ve been a Christian for a number of years you can remember precious times you’ve had with the Lord, but those precious times, precious though they are, can’t be what’s holding you into relationship with Him. Those are the fruit, not the root. So it’s “not subjective experiences of the heart, but objective promises of God’s Word, form the focal point of the narrative. Abraham looked solely to the God Who ‘calleth those things which are not as though they were’ (Romans 4:17).” What was true [can’t understand words], he wasn’t perfectly righteousness, was he, but God called him righteousness. Abraham believed in God who called the ungodly. Notice Romans 5:8, maybe this makes a little more sense now, a familiar verse. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life,” this is the life of Christ in us, etc. this is the post-Pentecost life of Christ.
Tonight we’ve covered justification, another one of those great doctrines, shown in the life of Abraham. Next week we deal with the third and final area, we’ll deal with faith and what our focus wants to be next week is Abraham was a faithful one, he believed, and what we want to do is talk a little about what is biblical faith.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question here concerns the fact that in Romans 4 certain things are said about Abraham’s faith, and that of his wife, and we’ll deal with that, but there is an interesting passage also in Heb. 11 that says the same thing, I think it even uses the word “perfect,” and yet when you read the Old Testament text it looks like anything but perfect. And there are several ways of looking at, obviously Paul knew the text and was well read in the text, so it wasn’t the Apostle Paul sitting there fooling us about what the text says in the Old Testament, everybody in his audience that were Jewish knew the text. In fact, that’s what “Isaac” means, in Hebrew Isaac means laughter, it’s God’s joke, and it’s almost sarcasm because Abraham and his wife were laughing, she laughed when the angels were there visiting, and they heard her laugh, she thought they didn’t because she was in the back of the tent in the kitchen, unfortunately for her the angels were out in the front and they knew very well that she had laughed, and she that’s a good name for your child, call him ha-ha-ha, so everywhere Isaac went, Abraham had to, every time he used the word, be reminded of his unbelief.
It’s a very poignant feature in that story and I wish that this was a Bible class in Genesis so we could go through that story, but apparently the way the New Testament looks at things, it looks at how it all comes out, and looks primarily at the heart and what it’s saying there is that God accepted his faith as saving faith, and that saving faith, though imperfect in the flow of history, is counted as though it’s somehow perfect in principle. Why that happens we don’t know, other than the fact that it seems that… there’s a word in James, when James deals with it, Abraham justified by works, etc. there’s a little word there, “fulfilled,” “thus it was fulfilled that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.” And the act was Genesis, not Genesis 15, not Genesis 17, but Genesis 22 when he had to take “Little Laughter” up to slit his throat, and so at that very point, when he did that, that sacrifice, that was such a stunning act of obedience that apparently the New Testament, the way it looks at that is it looks at what it became under pressure.
Question asked: Clough replies: Yeah, and you see God assuring him, but Abraham is asking all along for assurances, and you see that throughout the story. Faith to Abraham did not come easily. In fact, if you look at the Romans 4 passage there’s a very interesting aspect to it, and it’s one of these neat things where the Scripture has 3 or 4 levels, it’s true on a straightforward physical level but it’s also true in a deeper sense. In Romans 4:19-20, this translation says “And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body,” it’s a little different in the King James, I think the King James says “he considered not his own body,” but actually in the Greek that’s not true, I don’t know why the King James translated it that way, but it means that he did contemplate his own body, precisely, he was very aware of his own body, he was very aware that he was infertile and this wife was infertile. “Since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb,” so there are two things both in verse 19, both he and his wife were infertile at that point. And yet “he did not waver in unbelief,” so it’s stronger when you think about the fact that he was aware of the body and yet he had periods when he did not believe, and the text reports that.
This is why I love the Old Testament, because the Old Testament, if you just read the New Testament you could get the impression, just from this, oh, this guy was cool, but then you read in the real narrative of what really went on and you say, oh yea, that’s familiar, and you begin to see him screwing up and not believing and doubting God, etc. and gee, I fit right in there. So it’s not that we get encouragement from sin so much as the fact that it just is real. The New Testament is quick to look at the principles.
Question asked: Clough replies: 25 years. Except the Bible does picture it as kind of an act of doubt, as a frustration, and it probably is part of that too. What you say is a good point, that he wants it now, but what is so interesting about this passage, I was going to say about these double meanings, is that if you think about it, what is a baby? A baby is a fruit, a fruit of procreation. Now isn’t it striking that the one person in all the Bible that’s pictured as a man of faith, the crisis of his faith is precisely the problem of bringing forth fruit, and it’s interesting, in Romans 6, where it’s talking about the old sin nature, and the flesh, etc. bringing forth fruit, he uses the word, and it’s interesting that that word is used in a fertility sense. I think that’s what remarkable about this story, it’s one of these cases, yes the story is literal, Abraham is literal, Sarah his literal wife, but we know medically that it’s a hopeless case, so whatever had to happen, God’s promises came to promise that which could not be naturally produced. What is that a picture of but the fruit in our own Christian life. Out of the body of death fruit can be produced.
I think it’s such a powerful illustration that in a normal, every day sense, everybody can understand this story, it’s so easy to understand, you don’t have to be a PhD in theology to see the story. But the neat power of the story is that somehow an infertile man and an infertile woman produced a child. So that tells you immediately, the signal goes up, that the seed that God promises to Abraham and his lineage is going to be a supernaturally produced seed, and of course it does, and it culminates in “The Seed,” who is virgin born. The whole idea of the seed thing in the Bible is it’s miraculous, it’s miraculous, it’s miraculous; the survival of Israel, it’s miraculous; the coming of the Messiah, it’s miraculous, and finally those who are born again in Christ and adopted into the Abraham family through Christ, it’s miraculous. The whole thing from start to finish is miraculous, unpredictable and miraculous. So it’s an amazing story, but you’re right, there’s a tension and we have to observe that, there’s a tension between this quick synopsis, this quick two-sentence observation in the New Testament and 20 chapters worth of story, which give you a lot more to think about than just a few sentences.
Question asked: Clough replies: I just wish that I had time to go through the text, but what was interesting, and this goes back to that 25 year test of Abraham, can you imagine this guy walking around, he’s a businessman, so he had to sign, and those people signed agreements in that day, they usually did it with soft clay, they made their business agreement in soft clay and they put it an oven and baked it, and it’s interesting in archeology, for every one find you find of a text you find thousands of these silly little deals that people have made, and they made [can’t understand word, sounds like sprigs] out of them in clay. Well, he had to press his name on that and his first name, Abraham, there’s the word for father, and “ram” is high or exalted, the exalted father. Now, this word is the word for nation, now it’s the father, and this word great can be attached this way, great father or father of a great nation. And the funny thing was, he was given that name before he had any kids, just on the basis of the fact of God’s promise. Can you imagine the personal ….
If you were a Script writer couldn’t you have fun with this? Can’t you imagine if you were a dramatist writing a script of having him do a business deal and he rolls this little thing out there on the soft clay, and the other guy looks at it and says, huh, father of a great nation? Where? Where’s your great nation? And here he’s this old guy that’s infertile, his wife’s infertile, and he’s walking around signing all the checks, Father of a Great Nation, Father of a Great Nation. So every time the poor guy went anywhere, he was reminded of this thing. This was not some random thing kept in the corner, this was a constant presence and probably very frustrating. If you had imagination as a dramatist you might even have him saying “I think I’ll change my name back, go down to the bureau and change my name back.” So it goes back primarily to the fact that the focus is not on Abraham’s experience, the focus on is God’s Word going to come to pass, that’s the focus.
Question asked: Clough replies: That was under the election, page 33, and the statement is “gospel preaching is not an impotent superficial act, it is the powerful call of God that creates the elect in history.” I’m trying to get away from this kind of hyper-Calvinism business, where everybody lays down and God’s plan comes to pass and I’m just sitting here. We’re participants, we bring it about. The best example I can give of that elective power in a perverted way is in the 20th century probably the people who grasped the power of election, the doctrine of election, is the communists. In the days when communism fired student’s hearts, like in Paris, France, the Viet Cong in Viet Nam, those people had a belief, it was wrong, but they believed that history ordained their victory, and that belief enabled them to sustain horrendous pain, horrendous losses. When B-52s used to bomb the Vietnamese, they dropped thousand-pound bombs; out at Aberdeen we blow up 100-lb. charge and it rattles you a little bit to be around it. When a thousand pounder goes off, I’m told that the shock off the bomb, just the shock wave off the bomb, will turn your insides to Jell-O, if you happen to be within a quarter mile of that bomb burst, you’re a dead person just from the shock. Out to a mile, a mile and a half it will blow your ear drums out.
A lot of Vietnamese today don’t have hearing; they lost their eardrums under our bombing raids. And the B-52s would just drop these thousand pounders, just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and the next B-52 would be flying maybe a thousand feet on one side and he’s just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom and that’s the way we did it. And these kids, 8, 9, and 20 would dig down in their fox holes, some of them deafened for life, but they’d keep on fighting, keep on coming back. I read a CIA report where they interviewed some of these Viet Cong after the war, or after they captured them, and they said what made you tick? And they found an amazing thing, these kids were not by memory repeating Marx, they had studied well enough and thought through the dogma that they could interpret news events, current events and everything else in the light of communist doctrine. And they believed it. Now that’s the power of a false belief in election.
Can you imagine the power down through history of a true belief in election? Why do you think the martyrs of the church kept going? Because they knew the gates of hell will not prevail, you can bury my body all you want to, you can destroy me from the face of the earth, and the church will go on, and you will not stop the church until Jesus Christ Himself calls it back home. So you can face me with nukes, you can put me in jail, you can torture me, burn me, shoot me, whatever, go ahead, but you’re not stopping the message of Jesus Christ. And it’s that arrogance, if you want to put it that way, sheer cocky arrogance in the certain victory of God, that’s the power of this election, this doctrine of election. That’s the intended power of it, it’s not to be something that we sit and theologically split hairs over. The practical point of it is this is powerful assurance that no matter what happens, God’s plan rolls on. You get casualties and people fall by the wayside, but the church goes on, and will never be stopped. That’s the plus side of it.
This justification doctrine that we covered tonight has enormous… if some of you have counseling experience in psychology, I think maybe from just the little we’ve said tonight you can imagine the powerful effects this has psychologically, and why when I asked a Christian counselor back many years ago, I said if you take all the Christians that come to you with severe problems in your office, tell me by percent, who are the Calvinists and who are the Arminians? By that I meant the ones who believe in loss of salvation, that you have to hold on to your justification, that sort of thing vs. a person who can be relaxed and realize that they’re accepted by God, they’re going to be disciplined, we’re family, God has a nice paddle that He very, very efficient at using. So it’s not like it’s a license to sin, there are many controls built in, but fear of justification is a wrong control, that is not the proper control on ungodly living. The guy told me, he said I would estimate that over 2/3rds to 80% of the people coming to my office come out of Christian backgrounds they believe in loss of salvation. That tells you, right there, there’s the behavior pattern, there’s the record. Bad ideas have bad consequences and the truth has a healing powerful, restful impact.