Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Romans 4:16-17 "For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist."
The above picture captures a baseball getting hit by a bat in extreme slow motion. Such an event is instantaneous from the standpoint of normal human perception. Today's post is going to consider another instantaneous event, a supernatural one, namely: the power of God experienced in the life changing moment of salvation. We will attempt to do this by a Biblical and doctrinal "frame-by-frame" view of Biblical salvation. Hopefully, we will discern a sequence of logical moments in an otherwise simultaneous, instantaneous event we call salvation.
Justification is God's declaration of a change in one's legal standing or position before Him
Commonly, discussions about justification by faith detail the positional standing that changes with respect to the sinner's standing before a Holy God. Prior to justification by faith, the sinner is a child of wrath, in darkness, spiritually dead and condemned (see John 3:36; 8:24; Romans 3:10-19; Ephesians 2:1-4, 12; 1 Peter 2:10).
Justification involves a changing about of the position of the person from primarily being identified as a sinner to having a new positional identity as a saint (see 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Peter 2:12). Elmer L. Towns in his volume: "Theology For Today" notes on page 457 an analogy of a foreigner becoming a legalized citizen of the United States to clarify this point:
"But as he becomes aware of his new legal standing, he may shout, cry, or break out into a grin. The emotional reaction has no organic connection to his changed legal status, but there surely is a cognitive awareness of his new advantages. In the same way, justification changes our legal papers in heaven; we become children of God. In response to this new relationship we may cry, rejoice or worship God in silent gratitude."
G.I Williamson in his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, page 105, matches Towns' observations in his comments on justification by faith:
"This means that at the instant we begin to trust in Christ we are then and there declared to be legally without sin, guilt, or future punishment. This declaration cannot depend upon anything done by the sinner. Faith which is not 'doing' but only dependence upon what Christ has done instantaneously results in complete and eternal justification, provided it be true faith."
Since justification by faith involves God declaring a change in our position, what then occurs right before and right after it?
So what takes place when God's declares a believing sinner righteous? An important doctrinal truth that sheds light on justification is what Bible teachers call "imputation". In short, imputation has to do with the crediting of Christ's life and work to the sinner's account in saving faith, since on the cross, the sinner's life and sin was "imputed", or "reckoned" or "credited" to Christ on the cross (see Romans 4:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This act of transfer by God means then that in justification, what saves the sinner is not so much their faith, but the righteousness of Christ credited to them through the reception of it in faith. All faith can do is receive into its otherwise empty hands all that Christ did. So what logically occurs before justification by faith and what follows logically from it? Below we will see that the Holy Spirit's preparatory work of regeneration operates before and His work of adoption follows upon the heels of the grand declaration of justification. For all practical intents and purposes, all three occur simultaneously and none of them than take place lest all three are operating. Still, a closer look can yield why it is Christian salvation is truly amazing!
Witnessing the redemption of a sinner in slow motion
I'm sure the reader has seen videos where they take an extremely high speed video and place it into "slow motion". It is important to recognize that Christian salvation involves a momentary act that is composed of distinctive moments that are logically prior to and following from justification. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes about our redemption:
"Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord."
In the first three chapters of Romans, we discover that mankind is faced with a three-fold crisis: a spiritual crisis, a moral crisis and a relational crisis. All three crises characterize sinful, fallen man. To address each of these crises, which are occurring simultaneously in the sinner on a practical, everyday level, God issues forth in the Gospel three distinctive "graces" that constitute the redemption or salvation of that person. Justification represents the second of these two and deals primarily with man's moral condition as a condemned and guilty sinner. There are two others which must be mentioned:
1. Regeneration. The Baptist Faith and Message places God's work of regeneration ahead of justification by faith in terms of logical sequence. It states:
"Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace."
The Baptist faith and Message then adds:
"Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour."
2. Adoption. Though not specifically mentioned in the Baptist Faith and Message, the grace of adoption follows logically from one's legally declared change of position in justification. G.I. Williamson notes on adoption in his commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith:
"Adoption, as the term clearly implies, is an act of transfer from an alien family into the family of God Himself. It means that those who were by nature children of wrath, children of darkness, even children of Satan (Eph. 2:3, Col. 3:6, John 8:44), are constituted the children of light and and of God."
How regeneration, justification and adoption operate in the salvation of the sinner
Regeneration takes care of the sinner's spiritual death in sins and trespasses. Justification by faith is God's declaration over the sinner due to their simultaneous response to the Spirit's work in their heart. Justification takes care of the sinner's legal or moral crisis. But what about the relational crisis? It is where we find the grace of adoption grant the rights of responsibilities of the new found relationship legally declared in justification.
We aimed today to consider how the power of God is experienced in salvation. We did a "frame-by-frame" view of Biblical salvation, noting a sequence of logical moments in an otherwise simultaneous, instantaneous event we call salvation. We noted that there are the graces of: regeneration, justification and adoption. We discovered that each of these address mankind's spiritually dead crisis, moral crisis and relational crisis before a Holy righteous God.