The Main Issue

Doug has responded here. I want to remind us of what the main issue that started this long series of back and forth (surely the longest in our blog debate). The issue is this: is there a distinction to be made between works of the law, on the one hand, and obedience on the other in justification? I see that as the context for the whole debate. Everything in this part of the debate should be read in light of that question. I have been seeking to show all along that with regard to justification, there is no distinction between evangelical obedience and the works of the law: all of it is excluded from justification, except, of course, what Christ has done. I can easily grant that saving faith is an evangelical obedience (as WCF 11.1 says), if I can qualify that by saying that its quality as an evangelical obedience has no relevance to justification itself, other than as an always accompanying aspect (like faith’s aliveness). Indeed, in WCF 11.1, the whole point of mentioning faith as an evangelical obedience is to deny its place in justification as any kind of ground for justification. Furthermore, faith is not imputed as the righteousness that we have before God. It is not as if faith itself is the substitute for all the obedience to the law that we owe. This is the heart of what I have been trying to say.

In my opinion, this whole issue is very parallel to the debate about faith’s aliveness. It is not the aliveness of faith that makes faith the instrument of justification. Rather, it is the fact that faith lays hold of faith’s object (Christ in all His righteousness) that makes faith justifying. Justifying faith is always alive. We are not justified by a dead faith. But neither is faith’s aliveness that aspect of faith that is instrumental. I believe that the debate about faith’s aliveness and the debate about faith as evangelical obedience are very similar in structure.

I still think that there are far better terms to describe faith than obedience, precisely because so many qualifications have to be laid on top of it that it becomes practically useless. And, the possibilities for misunderstanding all this in a deadly way abound. It is far better to harp on the gracious character of God’s faith-gift to us. 

The upshot of all this is that our obedience of all stripes plays no part in justification. Not “rebellious obedience,” which is a contradiction in terms, not evangelical, Spirit-filled works of righteousness, nothing. 

All this reminds me of my challenge, which I do not believe Doug has met: find one single passage where evangelical obedience and so-called rebellious works are contrasted with regard to justification. By what exegetical method does Doug exclude Spirit-filled works from the phrase “works of the law” in Romans 3:21-31, say?   

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