Obedience Unto Justification

Let me begin this round of my exchanges with Lane with straight up agreement on at least one point. Lane says:

“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.”

Not only is this similar in structure to the “aliveness” debate, it is the same debate. And the reason I am debating this is not because I want some human work, thought or deed to earn some credits toward justification, but rather because I want us to stop confusing categories. Notice what Lane says right in the middle there.

“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.”

Well, sure. God does not reward faith for the good work of being alive, and make that aliveness the ground of justification. The ground of our justification is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But let’s amplify what Lane is assuming here without knowing it. “It is not the aliveness of faith that makes faith the instrument of justification. Rather, it is the fact that faith, being alive as it is, lays hold of faith’s object (Christ in all His righteousness) that makes faith justifying. And of course, if faith were not alive, it couldn’t lay hold of anything, much less Christ.”

But Lane only acknowledges that this justifying faith happens to be alive, but he has told us here that the aliveness (or obedience, take your pick) plays no role in the justification that happens. Well, it certainly plays no role as credit or merit or attaboy. But does it really make sense to say that the “aliveness” of the eyeball does not make it see? I could go with the “aliveness” of the eyeball does not look at the aliveness of the eyeball, but for some reason I don’t want to say that “living” is optional for a seeing eye.

When I say that faith is alive, I am saying nothing more than that faith is really faith. When I say that faith is obedient, I am saying nothing more than that faith is true faith. If it were not alive, or not obedient, you would not have the same basic thing, only with some of the paint chipped off. You wouldn’t have faith at all. And if you don’t have faith at all, then you don’t have justifying faith, or faith that lays hold of Christ. Put another way, faith must be faith to be the instrument of justification.

To be perfectly clear, aliveness is not a good deed, or a meritorious work. The obedience of faith is not credited to us as righteousness. At the same time, life and obedience are essential characteristics of the instrumentality of faith, in just the same way that life is an essential characteristic of a seeing eye. But I do not see blue as a reward or payment for having a living eye. This does not make the life irrelevant to the seeing however.

So Lane has not yet answered my challenge. He says that he could come up with plenty of words other than obedience(“there are far better terms”) that describe faith responding to the command of God — but then he didn’t give us any examples. This is where good and necessary consequence draws a pretty tight circle. If obedience is what I am arguing for, then this means that when God commands us to “believe in Christ,” the action of believing and the action of obeying are the same action. It would not be the case that obedience is somehow on the premises, but a non-participant. To return to my earlier example, if I command someone to jump and they do, the jumping is the obeying. All this by good and necessary consequence.

Lane reminds me of a challenge of his that I have not met, which I shall now do — so as to set a good example.

“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?

The second question first. I don’t exclude Spirit-filled works from the Pauline principle stated in Romans 3:28. We are not justified through the instrumentality of dead works, wicked works, or Spirit-filled works . . . because we are not justified by works period. We are, however, justified by the instrumentality of Spirit-wrought faith, and the very nature of this Spirit-wroughtness includes life. So I exclude Spirit-filled “works” from justification because the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith, and not by works of the law. But I don’t exclude Spirit-filled faith from justification. Honestly, to hear these guys describe this, it comes across like saying, “surely, the faith that justifies is always wrought by the Spirit, but the Spirit-wroughtness has nothing whatever to do with why this faith justifies.” I just can’t make heads or tails of it.

On to the first part of Lane’s challenge. And I appeal to this passage without excluding the idea of subsequent sanctification.

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:16-18).

Paul here says that there are two kinds of servanthood, both characterized by obedience. The one you obey, you are that one’s servant (v. 16). The obedience to both masters is described as “yielding.” Obedience in one direction leads to death. Obedience in the other direction leads to rightousness, or, to put it more provocatively, obedience unto justification (hypakoes eis dikaiosynen). But thanks to God, though the Romans were once servants of the evil works unto death, they (at the point of transition from one form of servanthood to the other) obeyed the form of doctrine that was delivered to them (v. 17). This form of doctrine is clearly the gospel, because it was the message that brought about their deliverance from their former bondage and ushered them into their current liberty. This form of doctrine, this gospel, is what they had to believe (faith alone) in order to be ushered into this new servanthood of liberty. This is the message they heard and believed, or, put another way, this is the message they obeyed. Because we are talking about their conversion, their transition from death to life, we may contrast their previous life of sin (rebellious works) with the evangelical obedience (synonymous with faith) that escorted them into the liberty of their justification.

Please note that this is all of a piece, and so the life of subsequent sanctification is not detached from this at all. But because we are talking about the time when the Romans passed from one condition to the other, we cannot leave justification out of it — that, along with the fact that Paul mentions justification explicitly.

Final note. There will be some who maliciously twist the title of this post into evidence that I believe in justification by works. Let them. Their condemnation is just.

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