Final Justification on Account of Our Works? (Horton)

On the last day when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead, is there something like a final justification based on our works? Can we even talk about a present justification and a final justification, as if there are two justifications? Some would answer yes to the question. The historical Reformation answer is no. Here’s how Michael Horton put it:

Adherents of the Reformation interpretation hardly ‘shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works,’ as [N. T.] Wright suggests. It is clearly affirmed in the Lutheran and Reformed confessions (see, e.g., Westminster Confession, ch. 33). This is because Paul has no difficulty acknowledging a final judgment that includes believers. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil’ (2 Cor. 5:10). In Romans 14:12 Paul says that ‘everyone will give account of himself to God.” 

Those who follow the Reformation interpretation hardly shy away from such clear statements; they simply interpret them differently: judgment according to (κατα) works rather than through or on account of (δια or εκ) works is well-attested in classic Reformed treatments. We may call them justifying in the sense that James meant: not justifying us before God but justifying our profession in this life. The final judgment will not render a verdict that is different than the one that believers enjoy now; rather, it will confirm the elect as those who have been not only justified but sanctified by grace.

…As Calvin comments, ‘After he [God] has received us into his favor, he receives our works also by a gracious acceptance. It is on this that the reward hinges. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in saying that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously.’

Michael Horton, Justification (vol 2), p. 393.

(This is a re-post from May 2019)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Redemption and Revelation (Vos/Horton)

Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama As we grow in the Christian faith we learn more about God’s word (and vice-versa).  Sometimes we take huge steps in understanding Scripture and sometimes we take smaller steps. Either way, we’re growing in grace and knowledge.  For me, one major area of growth in understanding Scripture was when I began to learn about the relationship between progressive revelation and redemption.  Michael Horton does a nice job of summarizing Geerhardus Vos’ excellent teaching on these points. (Note: it’s worth reading a few times slowly!)

In defining biblical theology, Vos argues for this integration of word-revelation and act-revelation, both in subservience to redemption.  First, he says, it is ‘the historic progressiveness of the revelation process.  It has not completed itself in one exhaustive act, but unfolded itself in a long series of successive acts.”  Thus, “revelation does not stand alone by itself,” but is “inseparably attached to another activity of God, which we call Redemption.”

Here again we are reminded of the point emphasized by Bavinck and Berkouwer, that one cannot develop abstract theories of scripture or hermeneutics, but must always develop them from the content itself (viz., the unfolding plan of redemption).  Revelation is not gnosis, a way of salvation by discovering God’s hidden essence or will, nor is it in any way an end in itself.  Redemption cannot be reduced to revelation ([contra] neo-orthodoxy).  It is not an act of downloading eternal ideas or principles onto our noetic desktop or revealing that which has always been true.

Rather, says Vos (in line with the Reformed scholastics), “Revelation is the interpretation of redemption.” This is what interests us in terms of revelation.  So revelation unfolds in exact proportion to the unfolding of redemption, announcing and interpreting the acts of God in history.  In redemptive history, there are objective-central and subjective-individual events, the former referring to unrepeatable founding events such as the exodus and the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ.  There are no second or third crucifixions or Pentecosts, and yet every new believer is crucified and raised with Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and empowered as his witness by being baptized into these realities.  This is what Vos means by “subjective-individual” redemptive events.

Michael Horton, Covenant and Eschatology, p. 233.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Union, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification (Horton)

Justification: Two-Volume Set (New Studies in Dogmatics) Horton, Michael ; Michael Allen, Swain, Scott R. cover imageI appreciate the following selection from Michael Horton’s Justification (Vol 2).  It’s about union with Christ, justification, sanctification, and glorification:

Union is not a goal but the source of our life.  Chosen in him [Christ], redeemed by him, and crucified, buried, and raised with him, we share in Christ’s pioneering journey in an ‘already’ and ‘not-yet’ manner.  Justification is the fundamental turning point in the sinner’s status before God, while sanctification is the turning point in the sinner’s condition, and glorification will be the turning point in the whole existence of the saints.

Although we will be all that he is in his glorified humanity, we are not yet raised bodily.  Yet we have been raised from spiritual death, justified and definitively renewed. We are being conformed to the image of Christ daily, suffering in the joy of the prize that has already been won for us. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1).  Although we still struggle mightily against Satan, sin, and the realities of a fallen world, Christ has already subdued Satan.  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (Rom 16:20).

Union with Christ (or the ‘great exchange’) is the braoder intersection where rival perspectives demand a fork in the road – the false choices that we have met frequently along the way – but where, in a more integrated account, they meet without any contradiction. Covenantal and apocalyptic, personal and corporate, soteriology and ecclesiology, the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, forensic justification and transforming renewal, faith and works all find unity without conflating one with the other.

Michael Horton, Justification, Vol 2, p. 451.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Biblical Understanding of Sin (Horton)

Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology For Pilgrims on The Way When it comes to the topic of sin, we for sure want a biblical view of it. We want to understand sin in the way that the Bible defines and describes it. It is a big topic, of course, since the Bible talks about it very often. The following paragraph from Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith is a helpful brief summary of a bigger topic:

“The tendency of fundamentalism is to reduce sin to sinful acts and behaviors, while liberalism reduces sin to evil social structures that impede the realization of the ethical kingdom. In contrast to both forms of reductionism, the biblical understanding of sin is far deeper in its analysis. Sin is first of all a condition that is simultaneously judicial and moral, legal and relational. Accordingly, we sin because we are sinners rather than vice versa. Standing before God as transgressors in Adam, we exhibit our guilt and corruption in actual thoughts and actions. If we cut off one diseased branch, another one – pregnant with the fruit of unrighteousness – grows in its place.”

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, p. 427.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54105

Creation A Sacrament? (Horton)

Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God's Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life

The apostle Peter said that Christians have been born again by the word of God, which is the preaching of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:23, 25). The Holy Spirit gives life to dead hearts through the preaching of good news: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Spirit uses the words, sounds, speaking, and hearing the gospel to bring life. Preaching is a means of grace. Michael Horton comments well on this:

“This defense of the Spirit’s operations through creaturely means should not lead us to a general theory of the sacramentality of creation. In an effort to affirm the goodness of creation, it is often argued that everything is a medium of God’s saving revelation. The difficulty with this view lies not in its appropriate affirmation of created matter as capable of being taken up by God as a means of grace. After all, affirming this point is a major burden of this chapter [chapter 10] and, indeed, much of what I have said thus far.”

“Rather, the problem lies in failing to distinguish common grace and saving grace, general and special revelation. The world displays God’s invisible attributes and his law, but only the gospel reveals his way of salvation. The world is not intrinsically holy and revelatory of saving grace. Rather, God freely and deliberately sets apart certain elements of his creation in the act of binding us to himself. It is his use – that is, his word and promise – that makes them holy, and the Spirit’s agency that makes them effectual.”

“While creation announces God’s manifold wisdom and power, the gospel is a surprising announcement that God made after humans rebelled against God and his natural order. This gospel must be brought by a herald. God himself must tell us where to find him: in the manger, at the cross, and at church.”

“On the one hand, therefore, we should avoid assimilating the Spirit to the means of grace as if they were the efficient cause of saving blessings. On the other hand, we should not separate what God has joined together….”

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), p. 253-254.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015