Obedience and Works

Lane has come back from presbytery, apparently unscathed, and wants to resume our discussion. So here we go. He says:

“I was saying that you were rejecting any overlap between obedience and works, such that you could say that the CoW was based on grace, and that obedience was required, but works were not. I am challenging that assertion . . .”

It is fine to challenge this assertion, and it would be really good to have a good discussion of this in Reformed circles. But if all Reformed theologians agree that obedience was necessary in the Garden, and a lot of them (as Lane concedes) believe that the covenant of works there was actually a gracious covenant, it follows from this that the required obedience, had it been rendered by Adam, would have been a gracious gift from God. This means that obedience and grace do not exclude each other. When Paul talks about grace and works driving one another out, he is talking about grace on the one hand and autonomous works on the other. In the Pauline vocabulary, grace and works displace one another. But Paul doesn’t think the same way about grace and obedience. They don’t displace one another. Now in speaking this way, I acknowledge that there are places where Paul does use the word works in this obedience sense. But I am trying to capture a distinction that I believe he does make between, for example, “works of the law” in Romans and “good works” in Titus. Or the works we were created to in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10).

A bit later Lane asks,

“So, when Paul talks about justification being not by works of the law, is he excluding all works done by faith or without faith, or is he only excluding some works? Is he excluding obedience from that?”

I was talking about the unfallen Adam. If Adam had stood the test, it would have been through the instrumentality of faith-animated obedience, graciously given by God. We, however, are fallen, and God does not justify us on the basis of raw, autonomous works, and He does not justify us on the basis of Spirit-animated obedience. He justifies us through the instrumentality of Spirit-animated faith, a faith which continues, after the initial moment of justification, to be animated in obedience.

Lane also asked for my take on Romans 2:13, which says, “For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). “Is this a statement that says that people will actually be justified on the final day by works, or does it mean ‘do this and live,’ a hypothetical but realistically impossible schema”? Actually, I would take neither option. I see this as saying that only doers of the law are justified, but this does not mean that Paul is here giving the reason why they are justified. The ground of our justification is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, both active and passive, plus nothing. Least that’s what I hear from Mark “Charlie” T, and he is a touchstone of orthodoxy for some, as I hear it. The recipients of this justification are those who receive it through the instrumentality of faith, faith alone, meaning faith considered as being all by its lonesome. This faith that is considered-as-all-alone-for-purposes-of-justification turns out not to be alone, but in every instance does the law — not perfectly (which is what it would have to do for justification), but genuinely nonetheless. Faith without obedience is dead.

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