Agonizomai: Putting a Nick Knock on the Shelf

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Putting a Nick Knock on the Shelf

Putting a Nick Knock on the Shelf

This is my final response to Nick's assertion that Reformed theology is "almost heretical" and legalistic when it holds to both the active and passive obedience of Christ. There is no dispute about the historical Reformed position. And we both seem to be fairly set upon our views of the topic. So I don't see any profit in beating it to death with a stick. Nick expected a response to his last post in the comments section here. This is it. We'll have to agree to differ, I think.

Nick said

While you might not like it, I fail to see how two different Gospels don't result from the affirming or denying of active obedience.

And I fail to see how they do. How does this move the ball forward?

Nick said

It certainly cannot be optional, for it determines two different ways of salvation.

It’s not a question of whether it's “optional” but whether it's “essential”. There is only one true answer but does the answer either way fundamentally affect the gospel we all believed? I say “no” and you say “yes”.

You make people like me who hold to active and passive obedience to be in one place “almost heretics” and in another place propagators of the Galatian heresy. I’m not quite so hard on you and our Dispensationalist brothers. I don’t make you antinomian heretics; not even close.

Nick said

You get on the point of "standards" but the Sermon on the Mount is clear that Christ's New Standards surpass the Mosaic standards

Now this is where I think you go wrong. Christ’s standards in the Sermon on the Mount weren’t “new”; they were the same law properly explained and exegeted; they showed once for all the absolute impossibility of law keeping as a means of justification before God. The Sermon on the Mount is almost all pure law taken to the nth degree and explained by the giver and keeper of it.

Nick said

Mark 10:2-12 is especially enlightening, for it showed one could be righteous under the Law while divorcing their wife (which was allowed), yet for Christ divorce was unacceptable (and thus holds believers to a higher standard). So the Law, while still good, isn't even a perfect standard.

I believe it was “for their hardness of heart” that MOSES permitted divorce. God always did hate divorce and still does. It wasn’t the law that was at fault or that was “imperfect” in this illustration.

Nick said

But even that's not the 'problem' I envision, as you rightly point out my reasoning: If the Law was abolished, then keeping it as a standard to be met is implicitly denying it was abolished.

My whole point is that the law is abolished as a means of the self-justification of sinful men BECAUSE of Christ and all that He came and did. What He did was to keep the law on our behalf SO THAT when we sin we can come to God the Father through our advocate who DID keep the law for us as representative man.

But these are the same two snowballs being tossed back and forth all over. I hold to one view while allowing you the other. You hold to the other view while counting me and the Reformers to be legalistic Galatian heretics. I give you latitude to hold a different view. Seems like a fair exchange to me.

Nick said

You really should be saying the Law was not abolished, because sinners are in fact justified through a vicarious keeping of it.

Again – the law was abolished as a means of self-justification – all hope in it other than to show us the impossibility of us helping ourselves through compliance with it was demonstrably dispatched before us when Christ, having kept it on our behalf and having ultimately died to save us from our sins was declared to be Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead.

It was the vicarious keeping of the law (the impeccable life of Christ) which made it possible for the law to be abrogated as the means of justification in the minds of men of faith. It was the life and death of Christ which were offered up to God.

But this is repetition of things already stated here and previously. Our ships keep passing in the night.

Nick said

For example, when the Colonialists rebelled against British authority, the Colonialists were no longer under English law, they didn't have to keep English law as a standard of what made an 'upright English citizen.' For someone to vicariously keep the English law for the Colonialists is illogical.

The problem with analogies is that they all break down eventually. There is no correlation in this example between English law and the law of God, under which BOTH nations found themselves regardless of their geo-political condition. Unless they were reborn of the Spirit of God, citizens of both nations were still accountable to God under the law of God.

Nick said

You mention Adam and Romans 5:17, but the key here is that Adam was not under the Law, the Law didn't exist until 450 years after Abraham (Gal 3:15-18). Rom 5:13-14 says "before the law was given, sin was in the world." This again affirms the Law wasn't God's standard but rather a temporary appendage of God's salvation plan (for 5:20 says the Law was "added").

Since the definition of sin is “lawlessness” let’s take a look and see if Adam’s sin met the criteria. What precept was given to Adam? “Of all the trees in the garden you may eat freely (note the generosity) but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you may not eat – for in the day that you eat of it, dying you shall die (or you shall surely die). Is that law or not?

Is the disobedience lawlessness or not? Is it the deliberate rebellion against an ordinance of the Most High? Is it refusing to love God with all his heart and mind and strength? Is it preferring the idol of his wife over the One True God? Is it stealing? Is it covetousness? Is it the murder of countless others (by condemning all future humans to spiritual death for the sake of a momentary lust)? You get the point.

You might ask whether God had specifically commanded or forbidden these things beforehand and I would answer “no”. But the act of disobedience was still lawlessness in the face of a specific ordinance. Had God laid down no law to Adam then Adam could not have transgressed. But Adam’s transgression was far worse than any subsequent one by him or any of his children because it was done in a more perfect light and from a heart not tainted by original sin.

So there was most certainly law with Adam. Law is a commandment or precept or ordinance of God. And since death reigned from Adam to Moses regardless of the absence of the Mosiac law per se, yet every imagination of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually. Evil means sin and sin means lawlessness. Or would you plead non-culpability for pre-Mosaic Amorites and all those who died in the Noahic flood? (That’s rhetorical, of course.)

The Decalogue is not something pulled like a rabbit out of God’s hat on Sinai. It is the confirmation of what men’s consciences and the wonders of the natural world ought to have taught men had they not suppressed the truth in unrighteousness from their youth (Read Romans Chapter 1). In fact the law is even written on the hearts of people who did not receive the codified Mosaic precepts (see Romans 2).

The Decalogue refocused God’s chosen people upon something they had lost or suppressed by willful sin. It did not save. It could not save. But it could reawaken conscience and convict so that people would come to the end of all hope in themselves.

If the law is not God’s standard for all men in all ages, then by what means are men justly judged and condemned? Ignorantia juris neminem excusat; ignorance of the law is no excuse – because all men have a moral duty to keep the law whether they know it or not.

I’d like to end this response by referring again to Psalm 119. O how I love Thy law! I love it because in it I see the perfect life of Christ given for me. When I see the precept I see not only the precept giver but the precept keeper. To love Christ is to love God’s perfect law. To love Christ is also to have rested (in Him) from striving to justify ourselves by keeping the law which, strangely, frees us to want to do all Gods revealed will, in the power of His Spirit.

All this said, Nick, I’ll give you last kick at the cat in this meta. I won’t be responding publicly to your next post, if you make it, because I don’t see any progress being made in either direction. Maybe some lurkers might be getting something but we’ve no way of knowing that. Feel free to follow up by email directly after that if you want.

Blessings to you and yours,


Blogger Nick said...

I think the problem centers around something you said:

"So there was most certainly law with Adam. Law is a commandment or precept or ordinance of God"

The problem I see is an equivocation with the term "law," especially in light of Rom 5:13-14 (and Gal 3:15-18). Paul almost exclusively uses the term "law" in reference to Mosaic Law...but you seem to be reading Paul as if "law" means "God's timeless and universal standard." I don't see Paul speaking like that, at least not as far as Paul using the term "law" is concerned. When Paul says the Law was abolished, he means the Mosaic Law was abolished, Paul never was speaking of God's "universal standard".

Paul admits sin entered through Adam's disobedience, and that men were sinning long before the Mosaic Law was given, and this does indicate 'universal moral law' existed BUT that isn't Paul's main concern. Paul deals with the issue of 'sin in general' and 'salvation in general' in Romans 1:18-2:11. This is without reference to the Mosaic Law, as in "apart from [aside from] the [Mosaic] Law" (Rom 3:28).

The Mosaic Law's purpose was to (a) raise awareness of sin, and (b) usher in Jesus, the solution to sin. The Mosaic Law was temporary, starting with Moses and terminating with Christ, it's not to be confused with God's 'universal standards' nor the basis by which one is ultimately saved or damned (cf Heb 10:28f). The Judaizer heresy is the confusion of just that. And given this, preaching Active Obedience Imputed is a variation of the Judaizing.

Lastly, look how 1 Cor 9:20 speaks:
"To those under the law
I became as one under the law
(though not being myself under the law)
that I might win those under the law.
21To those outside the law
I became as one outside the law
(not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ)
that I might win those outside the law."

It is the "law of Christ" Christians are under and required to adhere to, the 'standards' Jesus set in the Gospels, not the "Mosaic Law."

5:30 pm  
Blogger agonizomai said...


I promised Nick the last kick at the cat on this topic in this meta. That is because, as stated, this is not a blog for prolonged debate. Clarification is OK, but lengthy wrangling is out.

So the post following is Nick's latest response, to which I will say nothing publicly.

I will, however post next week a lengthy excerpt from B.B. Warfield's "The Person and Work of Christ" explaining the full recognition of the doctrine of satisfaction for those who are interested on the orthodox Reformed teaching.


5:42 pm  

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