In this comment, Jason began a biblical exposition of his understanding of salvation. I want to interact with this on the level he’s been asking. So, here goes. Jason’s words are block-quoted, and my commentary follows.
My basic thesis would be something like this: The gospel is the teaching that, because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ and subsequent gift of the Spirit, the love of God is shed forth in sinners’ hearts, enabling them to love God and neighbor, thereby fulfilling the law and gaining eternal life.
I could actually agree with a fair bit of this summary. I just think it is incomplete at one part, and wrong at one part. It is incomplete when he says that “the love of God is shed forth in sinners’ hearts.” This is true, but God’s work in the gospel is not only shed forth in sinners’ hearts, but also shown outside of us on the cross itself. Now, Jason does say “because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ and subsequent gift of the Spirit.” However, the way it is worded there makes it seem as though those things are foundational to the Gospel, as opposed to being part of the Gospel itself. Most of the instances of the word “Gospel” that occur in the New Testament are not instances that define what the Gospel is. We must, of course, beware of the word-concept fallacy here. Definitions of the Gospel often occur without the word “Gospel” being present. But one of the most important instances of the word “Gospel” occurring in a context that also defines what that Gospel is is 1 Corinthians 15. Paul talks about the Gospel preached, in verse 1, which the Corinthians received, and by which they were saved. Then, verse 3 defines what that Gospel is: the propitiatory death of Christ (v. 3), His burial and resurrection (v. 4). Then all of Christ’s appearances post-Resurrection are listed next (verses 5-8) as still being part of that Gospel. His definition of the Gospel doesn’t really end until verse 11. Verse 12 starts the discussion about one particular aspect of the Gospel: Christ’s resurrection. So, the Gospel is not just stuff that occurs inside of us, but also stuff that occurs outside of us. I’m sure, at this point, that Jason would agree. Where we would disagree is in the “how” of the application. We would both agree, even, that there are definite internal aspects to salvation applied. God does change us internally by shedding forth His love inside of us. I would just argue that such is sanctification, not justification. More on that later. The part of his definition that is simply wrong is that the internal work of God inside of us is the basis for gaining eternal life. I would argue that it is the evidence of justification, and is therefore the necessary result of justification, not part of justification itself.
First, I would insist—contra some Reformed guys like VanDrunen—that in order to learn the gospel we need to start with Jesus and then look for his teaching echoed in the other NT writers (rather than saying that we should begin with Paul). So keep that in mind: Jesus gets the first and last word.
This is hermeneutically wrong, I’m afraid. Jesus does get the first and last word. But ALL the Bible is the Word of God, the communication of God, which He gave to us in Jesus Christ, Who is not only the subject of revelation, but also the object of that same revelation. Jesus spoke just as much through Paul’s words as He did through His own on earth (Hebrews 1 shows this conclusively, equating all of the “last days” revelation with the revelation of the Son). So, Jesus’ words in the Gospels are not somehow more (or less!) fundamental than the words of Paul. The reason that Reformed guys like VanDrunen argue for starting with Paul is simply that Paul is MUCH more full on the topic of justification than Jesus was. Paul has the most complete discussions of justification. So, wouldn’t it make sense to go to the most developed place where such doctrine is taught? When Jesus preaches about the Gospel, He primarily ties it to the Kingdom of God. And, in preaching to Israel, that makes a great deal of sense. He is telling them that what they were expecting has now broken into history. However, Jesus devotes much less time than Paul did to the discussion of how the gospel is applied to us.
On several occasions Jesus taught that love of God and neighbor fulfill the law and prophets (the golden rule in Matt. 7, his answer to the scribe in Matt. 22). In fact, in Mark’s account of the question about the greatest commandment, the scribe, after hearing Jesus’ answer, goes on and says that Jesus spoke truly, and that love for God and neighbor are more important than sacrifices and burnt offerings. Jesus then encourages him that he is “not far from the kingdom of God” (which leads me to believe that Jesus’ intent was not to use the dual command of love as a first-use, pedagogical tool that the scribe should have realized was impossible to keep. This love, I think, is the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” that Jesus spoke of in the sermon on the mount. In other words, that righteousness is not just more exact obedience than they offered already (as if), but a qualitatively different kind of obedience, one flowing from the heart, wrought by the NC gift of the Spirit.
No Reformed person I know of would disagree that love of God and neighbor fulfills the law and the prophets. We would merely qualify that by quoting Galatians 3:10, which quotes, in turn, Deuteronomy 27:26: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Incidentally, that verse certainly seems to see the law as a list of things to do or not do. Verses 11 and 12 of that same chapter (Galatians 3) contrast the two ways of justification: the hypothetical way of doing the law that no one can do (verse 11), and the way of faith (verse 12). The reason no one can do the first way is verse 10: no one can keep the entire law, and we are under a curse if we do not do all those things. But the essence of all those things IS love. The final kicker, and the essence of the Gospel as applied to us, is verse 13 of that chapter. The curse of verse 10 comes on Christ in verse 13 by a vicarious substitution (“having become a curse for us”). Now, having been justified (and I would argue, at the same time as justification, but not included in it), we also receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (verse 14). That the words of the law CANNOT be limited to boundary markers, or ceremonial works of the law (like the NPP and the RCC have affirmed) is proven from the all-inclusive nature of verse 10: “ALL things written in the book of the law.” Not merely some things, but all things. Of course, circumcision is included. But the works of the law are not limited to circumcision. In other words, to get back to the main point: no one can love God as they ought. Love for God and neighbor in this chapter of Galatians is equivalent to works of the law, which equals the way of justification that is not possible, because we are under the curse. In short, we cannot be justified by our love for God and neighbor. That the law does indeed have a pedagogical use in this chapter is confirmed by verses 23ff. To limit the law to boundary markers or ceremonial aspects of the law simply doesn’t work in verse 24. Love of God is only possible when we are sanctified, which means that justification must happen some other way. Faith in Christ, which is everywhere in Galatians 3 contrasted with works, is what justifies.
As to Mark’s account of the scribe, the passage proves too much. The scribe described the Roman Catholic position on love for God and neighbor (and Reformed, I might add!) fairly accurately. So why is he described as “not far from?” Why is he not described as “hitting the nail on the head?” If that is what is required for justification, then he has it right. The reason is that one element is missing in the scribe’s reasoning: how you get into the kingdom is not the same as how you live once you are in it. What the scribe described, then, is what life looks like in the kingdom of God. But how you get there is a different thing. So, it is not actually necessary for the Reformed view to look at this description of law as purely first-use pedagogical. The scribe is also describing what the Reformed would talk about as the third use of the law. It was the first use of the law that the scribe was missing, while he was describing the third use.
As to Christ’s statement in the SM about a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, I agree that it exceeds in kind what the Pharisees and the scribes tried to do, and I can even agree that such obedience is from the Holy Spirit imbuing us with that ability. I disagree that this is the way we are justified (which is hardly in the context). Jesus’ words have to do with what is necessary, not what is causative. This is especially true when He talks about entering the kingdom of heaven. Yes, we do not enter the kingdom of God without works. But we do NOT enter the kingdom of God BECAUSE OF our works, either. Turretin describes it well when he says that our good works are necessary for salvation not in a causative sense, but in a resultative sense. They necessarily follow. So, they are necessary. But they do not cause our salvation. Neither does our love for God or neighbor. Our good works are the result of God’s sanctifying work inside of us. And, to give a glimpse of where I’m going in the next few posts: the passages that connect good works to the final judgment are evidentiary in nature, not causative. The world will want to know whether our faith is genuine. At that point, God will trot out our works and show the world that our faith was genuine, and that the verdict already rendered in our lifetimes is a true verdict. That’s what our works will do on Judgment Day.