SBTS Panel Confronts N.T. Wright’s View of Justification

This morning I participated in a panel discussion of N. T. Wright’s views on justification. The panel met during the Thursday chapel hour at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky. Albert Mohler moderated the panel comprised of Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, Brian Vickers, and me. The audio is available at both the Boyce College website and at the Southern Seminary site, or you can listen to it below. Or you can see the video here.


A colleague here at SBTS has e-mailed some items that we didn’t get to address during the discussion. His questions are in bold below, and my answers follow.

What do we do with passages that seem (on first glance) to describe final judgment based on works – the parable of the sheep and the goats, for example? Here is where Wright must be answered exegetically and theologically. We cannot simply appeal to the traditional Protestant understanding.

I think the seminal text for Wright on the question of final justification is Romans 2:5-6, 13: “5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to every man according to his deeds . . . 13 for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” Wright argues in numerous places that this text leads us to seeing a final justification of sinners based on their works. For instance:

“The Spirit is the path by which Paul traces the route from justification by faith in the present to justification, by the complete life lived, in the future.” –Paul in Fresh Perspective, 148

“Paul has spoken in Romans 2 about the final justification of God’s people on the basis of their whole life.” –Paul in Fresh Perspective, 121

“Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly (according to [Rom.] 2:14-16 and 8:9-11) on the basis of the entire life.” –What Saint Paul Really Said, 129

I think this is a fundamental misreading of Romans 2, which does not talk about a final justification based on works. Romans 2:6 says that God will “render to every man according to his deeds” (emphasis mine). Wright wrongly equates “according to his deeds” with “on the basis of deeds,” but that is not how the text reads. The distinction here is critical because everyone in this debate agrees that Paul teaches a final judgment according to deeds. The question is how Paul says those deeds function in the final analysis. Those who “do good” will indeed inherit “eternal life” (Romans 2:7). But that does not mean that “doing good” is the basis of justification. Paul says in Romans 3 that the basis of justification is the redemptive work of Christ (Romans 3:24-25). This is where I think Wright has horribly misconstrued Paul.

Are there any nuances that careful biblical study can add to the Reformational understanding of justification?

Yes. But it seems to me that Wright has not refined the Reformation so much as he has gone outside of it. That being said, we could cite numerous examples in which exegesis of key texts have changed since the time of Luther’s great insight. For example, my view of “the righteousness of God” would probably differ somewhat from Luther’s. I would argue that “the righteousness of God” is a reference to God’s own righteousness which is the ground and motivation of his justifying work through Christ. I think this is a refinement of Luther’s original understanding of the phrase. Having said that, I think I end up pretty near Luther in terms of my overall view of justification. So there is exegetical refinement, but not a stepping outside the mainstream of the Reformation.


  • John Holmberg

    Of course not, because the Reformation serves as our infallible pope in current conservative Evangelicalism, and theologically they were right about everything so why try to “add” to it.

    A priori indeed.

    Can you please explain the difference between “on the basis of” and “according to”? The only thing you did was note the difference.

    You state that “everyone in this debate agrees that Paul teaches a final judgment according to deeds,” well, why have I never, ever heard that then?

  • David (NAS) Rogers

    Did this cover any new ground beyond what was shared in the April 16 Boyce Chapel?

    I haven’t listened to this yet, but I wonder if my critiques of the Boyce Chapel earlier (which see) would also apply here. Although, I would say that my critique would be tempered more since Masters level students should be more equipped to deal with the issue. Then again, having said that, since many seminary students have their first experience with theological academic discussion at the beginning of seminary and not at undergraduate levels, some of my comments might apply here. I do wonder whether the audience was prepared to objectively evaluate the discussion or whether this was like the previous one. Maybe they were prepared, having read Wright thoroughly before (perish the thought?).

    Release the hounds.

  • dan chen

    can you clarifying your distinction between “basis” and “accordance to”? if i added a modifier like “meriting” or “evidential” to the two words the meaning would change. what modifier would you add to your definition of “according to”? And how would Wright modify his use of “basis”. I don’t think just simply contrasting “basis” vs “accordance” is very helpful.

  • Denny Burk


    We covered a lot of the same ground, but I think this latter discussion is better. Put simply, Dr. Mohler is a better moderator than I am.

    For those of you listening to this out in cyber-space, the distinction between the event today and the one last spring may be lost. The event last Spring was much smaller, and it was sponsored by Boyce College (of which I am the Dean). The event today was a seminary-wide event held in the SBTS chapel-hour. There were hundreds of people who attended today’s meeting. The Boyce College meeting was attended mainly by undergraduates. The event today was populated mainly by graduate students (though no doubt undergraduates were in attendance as well).

  • Denny Burk

    In light of my remarks about N. T. Wright’s view of justification, several readers have asked me what the difference is between justification on the basis of works and justification according to works (Romans 2:5-6, 13). After the Reformation, Protestant theologians have used the word basis as a technical term to describe the material cause of justification.

    Theologians have long used Aristotelian categories to distinguish various kinds of causes: formal, final, material, efficient, and instrumental. An analogy will be helpful to explain and clarify these different types of causes. When a sculptor creates a work of art, there are various causes at work in the process.




    Material Cause

    That out of which something is made

    The stone out of which a statue is carved

    Formal Cause

    The design, idea, or blueprint followed in the process of making something

    A sketch made by the sculptor as a pattern for the sculpture

    Final Cause

    The purpose for which something is made

    To decorate a mansion

    Efficient Cause

    The chief agent causing something to be made

    The sculptor

    Instrumental Cause

    The means or instrument by which something is made

    The sculptor’s chisel

    In the analogy, we have a statue (formal cause) of marble (material cause) made by a sculptor (efficient cause) with a chisel (instrumental cause) for decoration (final cause). It is important to note that an instrumental cause cannot produce an effect in and of itself. It only produces an effect when it is employed by an agent.

    The following chart illustrates how Protestants have used the Aristotelian categories to describe the various causes of justification.




    Material Cause

    That out of which something is made

    Jesus Christ’s righteousness

    Formal Cause

    The design, idea, or blueprint followed in the process of making something

    The Divine Righteousness

    Final Cause

    The purpose for which something is made

    The justification of sinners

    Efficient Cause

    The chief agent causing something to be made


    Instrumental Cause

    The means or instrument by which something is made


    In Justification (final cause), God’s righteousness (formal cause) is reckoned to sinners on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone (material cause). This justifying act is by God’s grace alone (efficient cause) through faith alone (instrumental cause). At least this is how Reformed types usually frame it.

    When Wright says that justification is on the basis of works, he is taking a side on an old debate. Unfortunately, I think he comes out on the wrong side.

  • ex-preacher

    Is it significant that sincere, committed and highly intelligent followers who all read and follow the same book and are guided by a Holy Spirit cannot agree on the basic doctrines of Christianity?

  • David (NAS) Rogers


    Could you enhance your explication using the Greek word “kata” by explaining how Wright misunderstands the Greek word?

    I’m not sure that I quite understand your point using the example of Aristotlean analysis.

  • David (NAS) Rogers


    That is an interesting question, but I would suggest that the basis of commonality between followers of Jesus is based on much more than finding absolute agreements on explications of portions of the intellectual doctrine of salvation. The Christian good news about salvation is primarily focused not on how believers explicate their understanding of details of the doctrine of salvation but is centered in the WHO is depended upon for salvation. While, yes, there is disagreement among the Piperites and Wrightians (and others) with regards to fully explicating an understanding of a doctrine of salvation, it is nevertheless a salvation found in a person, Jesus Christ, and personal relationship with him.

    People may have different explications of why I love my wife, from biological to psychological to deterministic to free will choice, the most important thing is my relationship with her and its nature being one of faithful dedication.

  • John Holmberg


    Excellent job describing that and fantastic illustration. How come more pastors can’t be like you? What you say is always clear & intelligent

  • Ryan K.

    John how come so many of your comments are filled with negativity and quite condescending?

    I truly value the voices of those who disagree but not when the are constantly filled with ridicule.

    I would hope you could offer your critiques with a greater spirit of charity and unity.

  • Ryan Szrama

    *Hrm… if you can edit my comment to add the following or just post this one as well, I’d appreciate it…

    ^– I meant to say I found Burk’s comments with Mohler to be quite helpful… not just that I found them. : P

  • dan chen


    Thanks for your explanation. I believe Wright knows this Aristotelean categories but he just doesn’t believe Paul argues from this (i believe he makes a footnote stating this in his new book). For me these categories never made sense to me. Could you explain further how Christ imputing his righteousness to us is like “a stone of a statue”? I always thought “basis” meant that Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly for us so that by union with him we are declared “righteous”.

    For me, I think Wright is “Arminian” in his understanding of the final judgment that is he sees God judging our perseverance of faith in order to give us eternal life. This view seems similar to I Howard Marshall’s, Ben Witherington’s. Is this direct evaluation of our works for eternal life outside the bounds of evangelicalism?

  • ex-preacher


    So it really doesn’t matter which side is right about this? It’s just a little intellectual detail? It might be curious aberration if this was the only area where Christians disagreed, but I think you know that there are hundreds of points of disagreement many of them dealing with critical areas. These aren’t regarded by believers as minor details, but serious enough to have resulted in the splintering (or divorce, to play off your analogy) of Christianity into thousands of denominations.

  • David (NAS) Rogers

    The U. S. Constitution is the founding document of the United States of America. From day one of the ratification of it there has been disagreements on the interpretations of the details of the document. This disagreement has moved on even to this day. Different political parties have developed. What should we conclude from this disagreement? How should we act?

    Should the disagreements on interpretation of the Constitution therefore mean that the United States do not exist?

    Should the disagreements on interpretation lead each individual to therefore refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States since the founding document is variously interpreted?

    Should the disagreements on interpretation lead to a declaration that those who are of another political party are not truly American citizens?

    Should the disagreements on interpretation mean that there is absolutely no such thing as being a traitor to the country or acting in a seditious manner?

    Yes, indeed it is sad that there has been a splintering into denominations, but that splintering has also allowed individuals and groups of individuals to follow their own convictions regarding some matters without disrupting the fellowship of a local congregation.

    I may differ with the Presbyterians over the matter of infant baptism and thus we may not be able to regularly practice assembling together in the full teaching instruction of fellow disciples (since we disagree on this significant matter). But disagreement on that matter does not mean that I in my belief in Christ exclude them from truly believing that they can indeed be in the saving grace of salvation in Christ. Both ecclesiastical convictions can be held sincerely and separately in local congregations (ekklesiai) while we both can (and I think should) acknowledge that we are truly part of the one congregation of Christ in salvation. Just as both Democrats and Republicans and other political parties can all be U.S. citizens but still have sincere differences in interpretation of the Constitution, Christians of different ecclesiastical convictions can still be citizens of the Kingdom.

    We productively discuss and debate and still come to have the same brotherly and sisterly relationship with the same Lord.

    Of course, at this point, I think I’m right on some matters (I’m a non-Calvinist; some here just shuddered), just as others think I’m dead wrong with regard to those same matters. We debate one another and hopefully the iron to iron sharpens one another. I have grown to change my mind on many matters through the years and yet have remained adherent to the core of the Christian faith: dedication to the person of Jesus.

    Your questions are legitimate and while you may not be persuaded, at least my feeble attempts to respond are helpful to me in some ways even though you may consider them to be hooey. (The articulation of response to you helps me formulate and clarify my thinking.)

    I have found some of your responses well formulated and some not so much (even though I chose not to address them: e.g. the true Scotsman comment at another post, I found to be logically fallacious itself, but I chose not to address it there.)

    Some may respond to you with animosity. I hope to adress you with full respectful vigor. I think you are man or woman enough to take a firm discussion. (I make no assumptions about your sex.)

  • ex-preacher

    I appreciate your civil tone and I hope to respond in kind. In the interest of full disclosure, I am male and the son of missionaries. I hold a B.A. in Bible, and M.Div. and a D.Min. I was a minister for 12 years and an associate professor of Bible at a conservative, large Christian university for three years. I am now an atheist.

    Your analogy of Christianity with the U.S. fails on at least two major fronts. First, no one I know claims that the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired or that those who interpret it are doing so with divine aid.

    Second, whereas Christianity has splintered into 30,800 denominations (according to David Barrett’s Encyclopedia of World Christianity), the United States is one country – though we did endure a four year split known as the Civil War and were then reunited. Denominations split at the same time over slavery (see history of the SBC) and have still not reunited.

    Fortunately, the U.S. has a system of reconciling differences by means of elections,a Congress, President and the Supreme Court. We agree to remain united despite our differences of opinion.

    Many denominations are friendly with each other, but the U.S. is friendly with Canada. They are still separate countries. Of greater significance is that many denominations are not friendly with each other. I don’t mean they are actively trying to harm one another (at least not since the end of the religious wars) – but that their theologies are diametrically opposed.

    I grew up in a denomination that taught that people in other denominations were not saved. While you seem to have generously extended fellowship to the Presbyterians – this still does not resolve the serious difference over infant baptism. Surely, you realize that many of the doctrinal differences are over issues related to salvation.

    You say: “We productively discuss and debate and still come to have the same brotherly and sisterly relationship with the same Lord.” That’s fine to say that about Presbyterians, but what about Catholics? Are they saved? Are you sure? I know at least point, you will say – “well that’s up to God.” Fine, but are you saying that your interpretation of the Bible is so shaky that you can’t tell whether Catholics are doing/believing what it takes to be saved? Should Baptists be sending missionaries to convert Catholics if they’re already saved?

    What about 7th Day Adventists or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons? What about Quakers or Christian Scientists or (gasp) liberal Episcopalians? Where do you draw the line? Nowhere?

    What kind of God would design a system that would result in so much utter confusion and stark disagreement? Did he know that different interpretations of cloudy doctrines (like, say, the Trinity) would cause massive divisions in the church? Did he care?

  • Nick Mackison

    Denny, I thought it was a great discussion. Listened to it on the way to work this morning.

    A question I have is regarding the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Do you think it’s necessary to hold to this in order to remain a Protestant? (I know Mark Seifrid has a very nuanced view on the matter and accused the Westminster Divine’s articulation of the doctrine as bruising the nerve that runs between justification and sanctification.)

    Is it enough to merely say that justification is a full and final declaration of righteousness given to faith? I have in mind Gundry and Seifrid here.

  • John Holmberg

    See Michael Gorman’s scorching review of the panel by clicking the link below. It made me laugh and I believe he hits the nail on the head. Gorman has become one of the leading voices in Pauline studies in the last 5 years, so I’d say his opinion means just a little something in this matter.

  • David (NAS) Rogers


    I appreciate the honest response and information about your personal story. You say that you are an atheist. I’m not quite sure how one moves from being disturbed that there are divisions among believers in God to a disbelief in the existence of God. Or, is your profession of atheism more a statement of your experiential personal state of non-believing in God and not a full blown ontological statement on God’s existence. Do you disbelieve in any transcendence? The vast majority of humans hold to beliefs in transcendent realities? They may be all wrong in their descriptions and explanations of the transcendence, but they hold in common that there is a transcendence to disagree about. Why move to atheism, why not be in transition or declare an agnosticism? Maybe you are one religion away from confidence? Why not question that your past experiences may not be the ultimate trump card for necessitating a conclusion of disbelief but rather can serve as a red flag for hesitancy without absolutely ruling out possibilities?

    You said “Fortunately, the U.S. has a system of reconciling differences by means of elections, a Congress, President and the Supreme Court. We agree to remain united despite our differences of opinion.”

    These very things are the sources of division and there is little reconciliation of differences. Unity would be better accomplished with a dictator. But who wants that? Americans are divided in details but the higher ideal of a constituted unity (a unified Church among disagreeing churches) inspires a confidence to choose to continue in and pursue some condition of oneness without requiring an absolute agreement in all matters before one will declare that one “believes” in the unity of the United States (or a unity in Christ). The debates and disagreements are ongoing.

    My intent in using the U. S. Constitution and U.S.A. analogies was an attempt to claim that divisions of interpretation do not have to trump a commitment to unity at more basic levels. I cannot make other believers who are dedicated to harsh divisions and trend toward sectarian isolationism to grow toward more consideration of differing opinions on secondary matters. I can attempt to persuade some of them through conversation, but they will do as they will do. I am not willing to kill them over it. Hopefully I won’t get killed over it either.

    I fail to see how the failures of human beings are reasonable justification for thinking God messed up in some design of a system. Our failure to understand and to humbly explore what He has revealed is rooted more in our pride and laziness than in Him.

    I am called to communicate the message of Jesus Christ to all, whether fellow believer or non-believer. I do not evangelize or minister to a culture or an identity, I evangelize or minister to persons. Their inter-relationship with larger identity forces (whether Catholic, Communist, Capitalist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Baptist or Bahai) will be noted by me in attempting to understand them. Are Catholics saved? Are Baptists, for that matter? The question for me is, is the person before me someone who is dedicated to Christ or not? If yes, I hope they will grow in their dedication, along with myself. If not, I will make some kind of interaction that I hope will portray Christ in the best light. What God does with that is entirely up to Him.

    I do believe there are some centering beliefs to true Gospel faith, as well as, some movements away from that center. Just as one can be a traitor to the U. S. even with all our freedoms and with all our disagreements, one can be situated outside of dedication to Christ.

    This comment is moving further off topic from this particular subject. So I will pause at this moment in my statements.


    David H. Rogers

  • John Thomson

    I enjoyed the discussion and thought it highlighted well the issues between old and new perspectives, particularly re N T Wright.

    Two points engage me particularly. I do feel pastorally the difference between judged on the basis of works (wright)and works as evidence of life (reformed)is important. However, semantical the difference may sound it is significant. One it is important if we are to give the kind of insistance that Paul does that justification is by faith (even forgetting for a moment the ‘alone’). Two, pastorally it makes a huge difference between a mentally of grateful working from salvation to fearful working for salvation. I have expereinced this difference personally.

    Where I find myself regretably disagreeing with the panel, whom I esteem, is on imputation. Seifrid is right, Wright must be answered biblically. This has to my mind not yet happened. I fear it is not possible. The reason being Christ’s imputed life is a theological construct and not an evident biblical truth.

  • John Thomson


    It may interset you to know – if you don’t already – that Wright’s view (and Gundry’s) on imputation was very much J N Darby’s and W Kelly’s thinking 150+ years ago. I am Brethren but not dispensationalist. Here I believe Darby to be mistaken. However, he has much that is good. I consider him a much more nuanced interpreter of scripture than many of his generation. In fact, I find much of Wright’s Gospel exegesis similar.

    My basic sympathies today are reformed at least with a small ‘r'(I dislike labels). Carson, Piper, Seifrid etc help me a great deal and I find myself aligned in most things.

    However, I am dismayed by the pressure placed to put imputed righteousness of Christ’s life at the heart of the gospel and orthodoxy. As I understand it ‘imputed righteousness’ was a matter of debate among the reformers or at least their heirs causing it to be absent from some confessions. If this is it is another reason to avoid dogmatism. I am surprised that Seifrid aligns himself with such a strong stance (on imputation) since his book on Christ’s righteousness which I found extremely helpful seems to downplay its significance.

    It does seem incongruous that baptists should lay such weight on confessions that to a man teach paedo-baptism.

    I write as a lay-person who tries to keep up a bit with evangelical theology at least. I am genuinely open to being persuaded otherwise on imputation(probably prefer Gundry to Wright on issue)but have not yet heard arguments that convince. The dilemma, as I say above, is that imputation is a construct and it is a construct that faces the constant biblical testimony that justification is rooted in the death and resurrection of Christ with no mention of an imputed life when it would have been so easy to so state had it been the case, and had it been so critical and central to Paul’s gospel.

  • John Thomson

    Me again.

    In Romans surely the definition of ‘the righteousness of God’ must be found in ch 3

    Rom 3:24 …and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

    ‘The righteousness of God by faith’ in 1:17 is exegeted in theis passage.

    I do not say there is no more to God’s righteousness. Righteousness in 1:17 is limited to his saving righeousness in the gospel. I am not yet fully convinced in my own mind how to describe righteousness in general. My convictions at the momnent are largely based on 1 John 3:7 Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

    Righteousness in God and man seems to be acting ‘rightly’ in any situation/relationship of life.

    Any reflections gratefully received.

  • russware

    “However, I am dismayed by the pressure placed to put imputed righteousness of Christ’s life at the heart of the gospel and orthodoxy. As I understand it ‘imputed righteousness’ was a matter of debate among the reformers or at least their heirs causing it to be absent from some confessions.”

    It does seem incongruous that baptists should lay such weight on confessions that to a man teach paedo-baptism.


  • Andrew Cowan

    John Thompson,

    You wrote:

    “I do feel pastorally the difference between judged on the basis of works (wright)and works as evidence of life (reformed)is important.”

    Unfortunately, this portrayal of Wright’s position is not quite accurate. If you read him closely, Wright is actually quite close to the Reformed view on this particular aspect of the qeustion. He believes that works in the final judgment serve as evidence that you truly are a member of God’s covenant people. He refers to this with the phrase “justified by works” because he thinks that the trial to which “justification” is the verdict is a trial asking the question “Who are the true members of the covenant people of God?” rather than a question about the basis of one’s salvation. For Wright, justification is the declaration that you are saved, not a declaration that makes you saved. The caricature of his position in terms of the latter is pervasive, unfortunate, and extremely misleading.

    In terms of your question about imputation (which I hold), I would recommend Brian Vickers’s book Jesus Blood and Righteousness or D. A. Carson’s essay, “The Vindication of Imputation” in the book Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates. Those are both defenses with more sophisticated and nuanced arguments. I found them more satisfying than some of the other recent defenses of this notion.

  • John Thomson

    Hi Andrew

    I appreciate you responding. Your point is helpful. I have read Wright and missed the logic you point out. It makes good sense. It means ‘basis’ is effectively ‘evidence’. How does this then differ from the reformed view?

    I have read chunks of Vickers. I need to read it again and some others I have dipped into. Getting to the age in mid-life where I easily forget. However, at the time of reading I was not convinced.

    Carson concedes that imputation while not exegetically justifiable is systematically justifiable. This seems, to repeat an earlier comment, a dodgy basis on which to base a doctrine deemed fundamental as many do.

    Many thanks


  • dan chen


    I am not sure I agree with your analysis in regards to Wright’s view of justification. I think you are confusing Wright’s view on initial justification and final judgment. I think you are right that Wright stresses that initial justification is the declaration of “who is in the covenant family” but for final judgment he does believe that there is a direct consequence in our good works/perseverance and receiving eternal life. I don’t think he just see works as mere evidences that they are true members of God’s family.



  • dan chen

    dear all,

    does anyone know of any articles or books that support the idea that the mosaic law required perfection in order to be “righteous” instead of covenant faithfulness? I read Schreiner’s article of the subject but I remember it being not very convincing? For me, i think if this argument could be made I would be more convinced of Christ’s imputation.

  • John Thomson

    Don’t know an article but what about these texts?

    Gal 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

    Gal 5:3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

    Jas 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

    Failure to keep one law places one under a curse and accountable for the whole. Law is a covenant. In a covenant we cannot pick and choose what parts to keep. Nor can we say ,’well I kept most of it’. Covenant faithfulness by definition is keeping the whole law, that is, perfection.

  • John Thomson

    On Imputation

    I’m hesitant to open this topic but why must we have a merited or won righteousness? Can God not simply declare us righteous as a matter of pure grace? Why does he require a life lived to bestow upon us the gift of righteousness?

    Now don’t misunderstand. I see Christ’s perfect life as both infinitely honouring to God and vital to make him a ‘lamb without blemish or spot’. His death was totally vital that our old self/our adam-person be punished and finished. However, given this, surely God can gift us righteousness in Christ. He raises Jesus from the dead and in giving him life vindicates (justifies) him (declares him right). Christ’s justification is deserved ours is undeserved and a free gift.

    Feel free to shoot these comments down.

  • dan chen


    Gal.3:10 and James 2 doesn’t necessary imply perfection I take those to mean that you can’t be faithful to the covenant by disregarding certain commandments but you have to try to keep them all. So a person could transgress a particular commandment than repent and still be called “righteous” and thus be faithful to covenant (Ezekiel 18). I don’t think it means if you break one commandment you are cursed forever and you can’t be called “righteous” even if you repent.

    I also think it’s clear in the OT that the Law never required perfection in order for someone to be blessed and not cursed but commanded faithfulness and repentance (Ezekiel 18: 5-9, 21-30) therefore individuals could fulfill the law and be called “righteous” like King Josiah, he is described as loving God with ALL his heart, soul and strength and as obeying ALL of Moses’ law -2 King 23:25. (Also see Luke 1:6)

    Don Garlington has been real informative in my understanding of those issues. And I haven’t seen anyone really challenge his thoughts on the OT law not requiring perfection. I know Seifrid’s Righteousness book and Carson’s imputation chapter has tried to critique his views but i think Garlington has sufficiently answered them. But if you know any major flaws in Garlington’s view please point them to me.

  • Andrew Cowan


    I don’t have my books right now, but I’m pretty sure that Wright sees things in the way that I have described. Is there some place in his writings that gives you the impression that he understands works to be more than the evidence that one is truly a covenant member? I think that it is important to remember that he thinks that “righteousness” language flat out means “covenant membership” in Paul. The way that he constructs his argument about the meaning of present justification in his book What St. Paul Really Said is by arguing that Jews understood the final judgment in covenantal terms–it would be their vindication as the true covenant people of God. This and a host of other factors seem to point in the direction that I have indicated. When I get home on Tuesday I can check my books if this conversation is still going, but is there any particular passage in Wright that you think contradicts what I have said?


    I must confess that when I first read Vickers’s book, I was not persuaded, either. Over time, however, a few other factors have caused me to see more legitimacy in the case that he builds. I don’t have time to write it out right now, but I think that there is neglected support for the notion of imputed righteousness in the Synoptic Gospels and the way that the stories of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness and his final temptation in Gethsemane are framed. (Oddly enough, a Wright-esque focus on NT narratives pushed me toward affirming the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.)

    On Carson, I’m not sure that he said that imputation is not exegetically justifiable so much as he said that it is not exegetically explicit. I think that his argument runs that in order to affirm all that the NT says about justification, one needs to infer the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. It is the only presupposition that can really fit with the whole of the NT witness.

    Another work that I should probably mention (and the closest to my own position) is Michael Bird’s The Saving Righteousness of God. He has a chapter that is a reprint of his article, “Incorporated Righteousness,” which I think gets things about right on this issue.

    I have many more thoughts about the questions you are asking, and many sympathies to these questions, but it has gotten too late for me to trust that I will remain clear. Goodnight to all.

  • dan chen


    Thanks for your response. In my early reading of Wright, I had the same understanding you currently have based on the following quote:

    ” The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation. In this way, Romans 8.1–17 provides the real answer to Romans 2.1–16. Why is there now ‘no condemnation’? Because, on the one hand, God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (let no-one say, as some have done, that this theme is absent in my work; it was and remains central in my thinking and my spirituality); and, on the other hand, because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do – ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit.”[1]

    [1] From Wright’s talk entitled “New Perspectives on Paul”. See

    The quote above shows Wright does believe that the fruits of the Spirit is evidence that we are united to Christ, but in the latter part he states that Christians are not condemned because 1) Christ’s death 2) works by the Spirit. This got me thinking that Wright may believe that works pay a role that has a more direct consequence for eternal life.

    The quote below seems clear to me that Wright has good works as having a direct impact on eternal life. See especially point B.

    “As a Pharisee (Paul”s perspective), he believed that, once people came into God’s covenant by grace, they were to be marked out in the present time, ahead of the final judgment, by their possession of and their attempts to keep the Jewish law, the Torah. As a Christian, he believed that once people came into God’s covenant by grace, they were to marked out in the present time, ahead of the final judgment, by their belief that Jesus was Lord and that God had raised him from the dead. To characterize that Pharisaic view as “works-based salvation” is clearly a gross oversimplification and confusion. It is clear to me that (a) most Jews whose views we can track at the time-an important qualification-believed that God called them to be Jews, Israelites, through his covenant actions in the Exodus, etc., fulfilling the promises to Abraham and his seed, i.e. by grace, not by their own works (b) most Jews believed that there would be a final judgment at which their works in the present time would be an important part, if not the whole part, of what counted and that in this respect early Christians like Paul agreed with them; and (c) most Jews believed that you could tell in advance who would be vindicated at that final judgment because they possessed Torah and tried to keep. I say “tried to keep it” because they knew that, if they failed, there were sacrifices to cover such sins. What Second Temple Jews held (to overgeneralize to make a point) was a works-based present justification, and that is what Paul was attacking.” [1]

    [1] Criswell Theological Review (Spring 2005)

    Let me know if you think I am reading Wright wrong.



  • Andrew Cowan


    Thanks for the quotes from Wright. I do think that the conclusions you are drawing are an over-reading of what Wright says in point (b). I can see how what he says gives you the impression that it does, but saying that works “count” in the final judgment does not tell you what trial he thinks is being tried. I believe that he consistently portrays the final judgment as a judgment held in order to distinguish the true people of God from the others.

    Note how in the following quotation, he roots the denial of the charge that his doctrine is semi-Pelagian in how he has redefined righteousness:

    “Does this mean, after all, some kind of semi-Pelagianism in which God first infuses ‘righteousness’ into me and then declares that he likes what he sees? Have we abandoned the extra nos of the gospel? By no means. That is simply to take what I have said and filter it back through the old misunderstandings of the word ‘righteousness’ which I have been careful to rule out.” (“Paul in Different Perspectives”)

    The “old misunderstandings” to which he is referring are understanding the word “righteousness” to refer to one’s ultimate moral standing before God based on obedience rather than one’s standing with respect to the covenant. Wright thinks that his covenantal interpretation of “righteousness” language protects him from teaching a works-based salvation, and I think he is correct about that at the theological level, even though I don’t personally buy into all of his position. So, when he says that works “count” at the final judgment, and even that they are the “whole part” of what counts, I think that he means they are the whole part of what counts as evidence for one’s covenant membership. On that basis, one is proven to be a member of God’s people and then vindicated as such through being raised from the dead. If you look at his portraits of what the trial on the last day is meant to determine, I think that you will find that he consistently explains it as a trial determining who the true covenant people are.

    On your first quote and the two bases for “No condemnation,” I think that what Wright intends to say is that we receive God’s positive verdict because (1) Christ has done all that is necessary to bring us into the people of God, and (2) our transformed lives are the evidence that we have indeed truly joined his people. I think that this reading honors all of what he says, and the alternative takes certain statements and then ends up making less sense of other things that he says. The statement of the two-fold basis comes, after all, right after he says that the believer’s works show that one is in Christ (he could equally have said, “demonstrate that one is a true member of the covenant”). I think that the crucial step to keep in mind is that he understands the trial to which justification is the verdict in terms of the question, “Who are the true members of God’s covenant people?” I think that if you read him with that in mind, everything falls into place with a consistency that the other interpretations of his work cannot produce. I can see how you would come to the conclusions that you have, but I still think that it is more accurate to see things the other way.

  • John Thomson


    I agree with your assessment of Carson’s meaning. It is in part why I am concerned that we make imputation so central. To make an, at best, (possibly) logical inference a test of orthodoxy I find excessive and worrying (and I am by nature and conviction conservative, how much more others).

    I have read Bird’s book (and the article). I found them very helpful. They seemed to me to be a fair and assessment of both positions and a good synthesis. Bird, if I remember correctly, finally approves imputation pretty much accepting Carson’s view – not exegetically explicit but systematically justifiable. I am more chary of systematic conclusions than they. Especially when, as in this case, I feel the biblical picture of justification may run along different lines from the system advocated. Also when, as noted above, the systematic conclusion is elevated to the level of vital biblical doctrine.

    I hope shortly to read Westerholm’s Perspectives Old and New…

    I would appreciate you taking the time to respond to some of my other questions. A couple of further queries. Are we united to Christ from his birth on earth or is our union from his death and in his resurrected life? I am not convinced that the correct word to describe Adam as created is righteous, the Bible appears to use the word ‘upright’. I am not sure whether a man without ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ can be described as righteous, however, traditional reformed theology often uses the word righteous to decribe man as first created. If then God, in the first creation, created man with a righteous status, can he not do the same in the new creation?


    Surely, in Galatians, ‘abiding’ refers not only to accepting all laws but also keeping all laws.

    Gal 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

    Accepting the Covenant of Law means not only accepting all laws but doing all laws (wish I could use bold print). Here Paul and James speak with one voice.

    I take your point however about those who are ‘righteous’ under Law. The Psalms are full of such people. Yet whatever is meant here must be considered in the light of texts such as

    Gal 3:11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

    Gal 3:18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

    Gal 3:21 For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

    Gal 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

    Heb 7:19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

    I do not hold a covenant nomist position. I see the law as a quite distinct and different covenant having epochally a different purpose. It had various purposes (beyond scope of blog to discuss) but primarily to convince of sin, not produce righteousness.; ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin’.

    The more the people boasted in the Law the more likely it is that they had a legalistic mentality, for the Law, as a covenant, in my view, is essentially legalistic. Because folks like Sanders cannot see the Law as essentially legalistic they have difficulty seeing Second Temple Judaism as legalistic. Yet had, Israel been a people of true faith (and therefore justified) they would have accepted the Messiah. Their rejection of him shows that despite their boast of being sons of Abraham and a light to the nations (through Law) they were not sons of Abraham at all, for Abraham rejoiced to see Christ’s day. They had not Abraham’s faith but boast in a formal connection (we have Abraham as our father) and ‘boast in God and rely on the law’. They trusted ‘in themselves’ that they were righteous… and not as other men including this publican…

    The righteousness of the OT believer was thus never Law based but faith based.

    What of the OT texts you cite? I’m not sure. Will think more about them and await insight from others who may respond. However, surely we must see them through NT truth which may require us to relativise them somewhat. Josiah reintroduced the Law to the people but does the writer really mean us to believe he kept God’s Law flawlessly (like Christ)? Are we intended to see Josiah as giving all the allegiance a fallen human could to divine law (in contradistinction to his predecessors and successors)rather than reading such texts in the more absolute and principled terms of a book like Romans which declares there is none righteous.

    Be good to hear your comments.

  • dan chen


    Some final points:

    1)I think it’s important to remember that Wright believes that the final judgment is both ecclesiastical and soteriological.

    2) Wright’s quote in regards to the redefinition of the word “righteousness” is always in the context of his discussion of initial justification and not the final judgment (Correct me if I am wrong-But i remember that to be the case).

    3) I think he tries to protect himself from work-based righteousness in the final judgment based on the fact that the works are Spirit generated, I don’t recall Wright justifying his position based on his redefinition of “righteousness”.

    I think the Criswell Theological Review quote was quite clear. But here is another one. We may have to agree to disagree if i can’t convince you here. But thanks for the discussion:

    Trevin Wax: Some evangelicals within the Reformed tradition have taken issue with your division of present and future justification and your statement that on the Last Day, we will be justified “on the basis of the whole life lived.” Does this mean that our good works contribute to our salvation? Or is it that our good works prove our salvation?

    N.T. Wright: It’s interesting that you shift from justification to salvation there because, though those aren’t the same thing… we have to train ourselves to use words accurately. And there’s so much loose Christian talk, for which I’ve no doubt been as guilty as any. We just trip over our own feet on this.

    The word “salvation” denotes rescue. Rescue? What from? Well, of course, ultimately death. And since it is sin that colludes with the forces of evil and decay, sin leads to death. So we are rescued from sin and death.

    Now those may be the same event as the present and future justification. But the word “salvation” and the word “justification” are not interchangeable.

    It’s as though, supposing we have a class that starts at 9:00 in the morning and suppose that 9:00 in the morning also happens to the be the moment when the sun rises in the middle of winter. Now you can say “sunrise” or you can say “the beginning of class.” Those denote the same moment, but they connote something quite different. One is a statement about things that are going on in the wider world. Another is a statement about something very specific that’s happening this morning in my educational experience. They may be the same moment.

    In the same way, justification present and future correspond to salvation present and future, but they’re different language systems to talk about different sorts of events that happen to be taking place at the same time. That’s hugely important. And it happens when we’re reading Isaiah, as well as when we’re reading Paul actually. dsc00009.jpg

    People have often said, “Your idea…” (pointing to me) “…that future salvation will be based on the whole life led.” I say, Excuse me. I didn’t write Romans 2:1-16! Romans 2:1-16 is Romans 2:1-16. The evangelical tradition has screened out Romans 2 because it didn’t know what it was there for. Because the great evangelical tradition to which I’m hugely indebted tends to say, “We know a priori that Romans 1:18-3:20 basically says, ‘You’re all sinners and that’s it’ in order that then, 3:21 and following can say, ‘You’re all saved by grace through faith.’” And so they screen out the fine tuning of what 1:18-3:20 is actually about.

    And chapter 2 particularly has been very controversial, not only for evangelicals but actually for liberal scholars as well. Ed Sanders really doesn’t know, didn’t know when he wrote his two books on Paul what Romans 2:1-16 was all about. But it’s quite clear. It’s a typically Jewish statement of a future judgment day on which God will reward or punish according to the entire life led. And in case you should think that Paul is saying “This is an odd Jewish idea which I’m rejecting,” he anchors it with the fact that it is Jesus who is going to be the Judge on that last day.

    And so, I would say, please don’t think this is something I invented. Again, it’s not a flash in the pan. He says it again in 2 Corinthians 5 and again in Romans 14. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that we may each receive what was done in the body, whether good or bad.” Now, frankly, if people have a problem with correlating that with justification by faith, it’s Paul they have a problem with, not me.

    But I think it’s very easy to correlate it with justification by faith, because the whole point of justification by faith in Romans 3 is that that is something that happens in the present time and then in order to explain how it is that the present verdict issued over faith alone can be sure to correspond to the future verdict that will issue over the whole of life, Paul writes Romans 5-8 which ends up, “There is therefore now no condemnation” because of the Spirit, because, etc… with warnings attached. “If you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

    So things are much more complicated and happily much more interesting than the rather logic-chopping post-Reformational over-formulated systems would allow. Fortunately, Paul is much more interesting than most of his interpreters, myself included.

  • dan chen

    Sorry andrew,

    I meant to add the important thing to note is that Wright believes that Paul is in complete with Jewish statement that we will be reward or punish according to the way we live:

    It’s a typically Jewish statement of a future judgment day on which God will reward or punish according to the entire life led. And in case you should think that Paul is saying “This is an odd Jewish idea which I’m rejecting,” he anchors it with the fact that it is Jesus who is going to be the Judge on that last day

  • John Thomson


    You’re right it is too limited. I actually found Garlington’s papers just a few hours ago. Found your blog too and will drop in.

    I am only slowly getting to grips with the various currents in the States and who’s who within them. I guess Garlington is FV. Interestingly, while not keen on FV emphasis in some areas, I have found help in some areas. In fact just this evening (its Sunday 22.00 in Glasgow Scotland) I came across this quote from Rich Rusk which pretty well sums up my own view on imputation thus fat. If either you or Andrew or anyone else has a comment I would like to hear it.

    ‘This justification requires no transfer or imputation of anything. It does not force us to reify “righteousness” into something that can be shuffled around in heavenly accounting books. Rather, because I am in the Righteous One and the Vindicated One, I am righteous and vindicated. My in-Christ-ness makes imputation redundant. I do not need the moral content of his life of righteousness transferred to me; what I need is a share in the forensic verdict passed over him at the resurrection. Union with Christ is therefore the key.Note well, this does not downplay the significance of the active obedience. Without it, Jesus’ body would still be in the tomb. But to be precise, I am not justified by a legal transfer of his “obedience points” to my account. I am justified because the status he has as The Sinless One, and now as The Crucified and Vindicated One, has been bestowed upon me as well.

    Allow me to illustrate. Suppose a woman is in deep, deep debt and has no means at her disposal to pay it off. Along comes an ultra wealthy prince charming. Out of grace and love, he decides to marry her. He covers her debt. But then he has a choice to make about how he will care for his bride. After canceling out her debt, will he fill up her account with his money? That is to say, will he transfer or impute his own funds into an account that bears her name? Or will he simply make his own account a joint account so it belongs to both of them?

    In the former scenario, there is an imputation, a transfer. In the second scenario, the same final result is attained, but there is no imputation, strictly speaking. Rather, there is a real union, a marriage.

    I would suggest the first picture (the imputation picture) is not necessarily wrong, though it could leave adherents exposed to the infamous “legal fiction” charge since the man could transfer money into the woman’s account without ever marrying her or even caring for her. It could become, as Wright has said, “a cold piece of business.”

    The second picture (the union with Christ picture) seems more consistent with Paul’s language, and for that matter, with many of Calvin’s statements. It does not necessarily employ the “mechanism” of imputation to accomplish justification, but gets the same result. Just as one can get to four by adding three plus one or two plus two, or just as one can get home by traveling Route A or by Route B, so there may be more than one way to conceive of the doctrine of justification in a manner that preserves its fully gracious and forensic character.’

    This seems to me a much more biblical model.

  • John Thomson


    For your interest and information J N Darby says much the same.

    He writes,

    What I deny is the doctrine that, while the death of Christ cleanses us from sin, His keeping the law is our positive righteousness; and that His keeping the law is imputed to us as ourselves under it, and that law-keeping is positive righteousness. I believe that Christ perfectly glorified God by obedience even unto death, and that it is to our profit, in that, while His death has canceled all our sins, we are accepted according to His present acceptance in God’s sight,…being held to be risen with Him, our position before God is not legal righteousness, or measured by Christ’s keeping the law, but His present acceptance, as risen…, and we accounted righteous according to the value of His resurrection [J. N. Darby, Collected Writings, vol.14, (Kingston-on-Thames, GB: Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot, ND), p. 250].

    I know Darby holding such a view on imputaton is the kiss of death in many people’s eyes. Most will have read little or nothing by Darby. Clearly Wright’s view (and Gundry’s) is not a million miles from this.

  • prometheus

    I love how Mohler kept talking about “audacity”. I can imagine Pope Leo X saying the same thing about the audacious German monk, and his audacious 95 thesis.

  • Erick

    Thank you all for your comments,

    I just wanted to return to the distinction between “on the basis of” and “according to”.

    I need help in understanding how there is a distinction between these two.

    In scripture, God says He will judge both the wicked and the righteous according to their works. I think it it obvious that the wicked deeds of the wicked are the just grounds for their condemnation. And since “according to”, when in reference to the wicked, does indeed mean the ground for judgement, then it should not change it’s meaning within the very same verse.

    However, I hold tightly to a mainstream protestant understanding of justification. I believe that we receive right-standing with God and the total/complete forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ because of His substitutionary-sacrifice and resurrection. This right-standing with God is received at the moment of faith, can be looked back upon (rom 5:1), and secures our eternal inheritance of life (rom 5:9-10).

    However, all through the NT there is still (especially read Jesus in Revelation 1-3) an emphasis on God’s final retribution of salvation on the basis that there is perserverance in obedience.

    I am still quite confused on the issue and still trying to work things throught.

    Comments are welcomed

  • Andrew Cowan


    I am finally back home and have access to my books again, and I am still persuaded of my reading of Wright.

    First, in What St. Paul Really Said, Wright writes on p. 119, “Justification in the first century…was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people…it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology.” There, he seems to correlate the covenantal meaning of present justification with the meaning of final justification.

    He makes a parallel move when talking about the future justification mentioned in Romans 2:13 on p. 126:

    “The right way to understand this, I believe, is to see that Paul is talking about the final justification. Eschatology, the hope of Israel, dominates the horizon as ever. The point is: who will be vindicated, resurrected, shown to be the covenant people on the last day?” There, in his explanation of future justification, he claims that the question is “Who will be shown to be the covenant people?”

    In his summary at the end of the chapter on justification, he makes the same point again:

    “Justification is the covenant declaration, which will be issued on the last day, in which the true people of God will be vindicated and those who insist on worshipping false gods will be shown to be in the wrong…by acquitting someone, it confers on that person the status ‘righteous.’ This is the forensic dimension of the future covenantal vindication.” (p. 131)

    In Paul: In Fresh Perspective, he describes the Jewish understanding of “works of the law” on p. 112:

    “[They are] the works you have to perform to demonstrate that you are a member of God’s people.”

    On p. 113, he explains the definition of “righteousness” that Paul is working with in terms of “one’s status as a member of God’s people. It means ‘covenant status’ or ‘covenant membership.'”

    On p. 121 he explains the difference between justification by faith and final justification by works:

    “The point of justification by faith is that, as he insists in 3:26, it takes place in the present time as opposed to on the last day.”

    This seems to assume that the meaning of both verdicts is identical (i.e., righteous = covenant membership); the only difference he finds worth noting is the timing.

    In the new book, he correlates his redefinition of righteousness language in terms of covenant with the final judgment and final justification on pp. 78-79:

    “How then does this ‘covenantal’ framework dovetail with the ‘lawcourt’ framework of meaning? Answer: by understanding the ways in which the Jewish people…construed their history in terms of God’s ongoing purpose, and saw, in particular, cosmic history in terms of a great Assize, a coming moment when God would set all things right–including vindicating his people.”

    I thus think that Wright consistently holds that his redefinition of “righteousness” language in terms of covenant membership guards him from Pelagianism with respect to both present and future justification. Unfortunately, he did not explicitly contrast this aspect of his view with Piper’s charge in the new book, and so the point is lost on many.

    Also adding to the confusion, he has said in recent days that his view of justification is “both ecclesiological and soteriological” in contrast to his earlier statements, but if you look at the details of what he says in those contexts, he explains how the covenant membership that justification announces implies that one is saved. He does not drive soteriology back into the heart of his definition of justification, present or future. I think that the suggestion that he does is an over-reading of the link that he draws between resurrection and final justification.

    I might have more to say on imputation and whatnot a bit later, but I wanted to get this Wright material on the table first, if anyone is still checking on this discussion.

  • Andrew Cowan


    In my estimation, the distinction that Dr. Burk draws is intended to make the point that in the final judgment, our works are not our righteousness. Instead, our works serve to demonstrate the reality of our faith, thus proving that we really are connected to Christ and his righteousness, on the basis of which we will be saved.

    In Dr. Burk’s paradigm, a final judgment “on the basis of” works would refer to a judgment wherein our works themselves directly determine our standing before God. A final judgment “in accordance with” works, however, admits that works are taken into account in the final judgment (as the proper evidence of true faith), but guards against these works being understood as the obedience by which we are made right with God.

    As I have tried to explain above, imposing this distinction on Wright’s work proves ineffective because his conception of what is on trial is quite different, but I think that Dr. Burk’s position is consistent within itself, and, in fact, quite close to my own, even though I’m not sure that I’m persuaded of his rendering of Rom 2:13.

  • Erick

    I believe that the legal consequences of Adam’s transgression include the immediate sentence of eath upon all who are “in him” (some sort of unity with him), this being the entire human race.

    Adam’s sin expelled the human race from Eden/Paradise (the dwelling place of God) and broke humanity’s fellowship with God (which is the conduit which sustains human life). Because of what he did, all are locked into guilt and suffer the sentence of death.

    My personal view on imputation is that Christ’s sacrificial-death for our sins effects the positive imputation of righteousness (right-standing with God) and negatively the cancellation of our debt of sin. I do not see any of the biblical authors laboring as much as traditional scholars (on this point) to get the life-time active law-keeping of Christ. Rather, the death of Jesus brings humanity to possess righteousness or a justified status in God’s sight.

    However, I will admit that the traditional reformed view of imputation is a legitimate construct of the variegated parts of the new testament. But again, who wants a construct built off parts written by authors who didn’t make the construct themselves. This leaves me in a bit of hesitation at time.

    But anyhow, with regard to being judged “according to works”, it is clear that the wicked will be judged “according to their works” and this does not mean that the wicked works are the evidence or something of the sort. Their wicked works are the basis on which God judges them consigned to death. If God will judge believers “according to their works”, then it is difficult to differentiate the meaning of “according to works” when it means what I’ve said with reference to the wicked.

    But we must give equal force in our efforts to interpret what else Paul says, such as “..He saved (past tense) us not according to our works, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3). Works are not accounted in certain texts when speaking of salvation. However, in other texts, works do play a role. Not for justification (for goodness sake this is always a past issue in Paul) but for the vinidication of believers (2 Thes 1).

  • John Thomson

    I should perhaps clarify what I mean above. I don’t think I said it very well. Earlier, I said I think the ‘the difference between judged on the basis of works (wright)and works as evidence of life (reformed)is important.’ for assurance. I stand by that.

    As Denny and Andrew point out since we are justified by faith through the death of Christ we must remember that works function, at least from our perspective, as evidence of life or otherwise.

    Yet, if I may throw in another wobbly, works are not merely the evidence of life, they also determine reward, for ill or good.

    Luk 12:46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.’


    Luk 19:17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’

    Works in other words determine reward.

    Exegetically, Roms 2 is not dealing with how we achieve a heart for God. Nor, is it dealing with ‘works’ as an evidence of life. Paul is considering God’s judgement abstractly – God always renders to evey man according to his works and his privilege. God’s righteousness in his judgement is in view and nothing more.

    Later he will show that works which deserve life are produced by the Spirit but not now.

    Any criticisms welcomed.

  • Erick

    Thank you for those comments. I agree that our works as believers will be the basis of the good that we reap. Why else would Paul say “…if you sow to the flesh you will of the flesh reap everlasting corruption, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap everlasting life” (Gal 6). This flesh and Spirit contrast is something which must catch the keen attention of the believing Galatians. They must make efforts to avoid sowing their lives to the flesh (on the basis of the warning which Paul gives) and to actively sow to the Spirit (on the basis that this will provide the outcome of eternal life). AND YET, eternal life is an !immediate! gift given to all who simply believe in Jesus (John 6).

    In Rom 2, Paul is demonstrating the principle that God judges all by their deeds. Under this principle, only those who do good will receive eternal life and only those who do evil will receive eternal death. In the case of jews or gentiles, this “deeds” principle renders all to perish (Rom 2:10-13). This argument builds to Rom 3:21 where Paul speaks on the manifestation of God’s gift of righteousness (normally attained by deeds of righteousness) which is given to all people who do not work but rather have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucifed to liberate the guilty (Rom 3:24).

    Romans 6-8 teach us that the exact same salvific events which procure for us the free gift of righteousness (Rom 3-5, the death of Jesus) in addition provide the legal basis of our being set free from the empire of sin and death and our entrance into the slavery of righteousness. All that Christ experienced physically in Himself through His cross, burial, and resurrection are reckoned to our account so that (on legal papers) our identity is defined by these events. He prefigures what we are becoming and what we will finally be. Good works, then, are the natural evidence of this saving transition from being “in the flesh” to being “in the Spirit”. the goal of this transition is of course to deliver us from our inability to submit to God’s demands (Rom 8:5) and to enable us to live in righteousness (Rom 8:11).

  • John Thomson


    I would agree with much you say. We both agree Paul is simply reiterating a principle that runs through Scripture, God judges the heart and the deeds that flow from the heart and rewards accordingly. If he is just he cannot do otherwise. However, you then take the view that those ‘who do good’ are really theoretical since Paul will shortly conclude ‘there is none good’. This is Moo’s position and that of others and at one time I was attracted to it.

    However, I am now of the view (Wright’s and others before him) that those who ‘by patience in well-doing seek for glory…’ is a reference to believers. He has one eye to those who are slaves of righteousness’ in Ch 6 and ‘walk by the Spirit’ in ch 8. The main reason for thinking this is he is he contrasts this group with those who ‘do not obey the truth’. By implication the first group ‘obey the truth’.

    More the end of the chapter points in this direction.

    Rom 2:26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

    Here the uncircumcised who keeps the law is the gentile believer. It is not, as probably is the case in v14, gentile unbelievers, who show by a degree of morality God has given them a sense of what the law demanded intuitively, but gentile believers who are the ‘real Jews’ for their circumcision is inward and of the heart by the Spirit.

    Again Paul, as he does often in Romans, is setting up themes he will later develop in full.

    Re Christ’s death, I tend to believe that in his death was the end of our existence as Adam-people. The flesh (our identity in Adam) was condemned and finished at the cross. Yet we live? How and why do we live? Because we are united to the resurrection life of Christ. We have a new identity. We are no longer adam-people in the flesh but Christ-people in the Spirit. As we live in the Spirit we fulfil the requirement of the Law. We become the people about whom God can say one day ‘Your patience in well-doing’ will be rewarded with eternal life.

    He will not see any of the Adam-person. He will not see the disobedient heart that deserved judgement and wrath for that person died at the cross. There in jesus it experienced the wrath and judgement. Rather he will see the person I am now. The person who can say rather paradoxically but truly,

    Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

  • John Thomson

    Excuse the mistakes in the above. I wrote it hurriedly and didn’t take time to check. I’m off to bed as it is 23.30 over here.

  • erick

    I agree with what you are saying.
    We are now identified as the new humanity because our old identity has been destroyed in Christ’s cross, and a new identity (which is unified with Christ’s identity) merged together with Christ.

    We are justified “in Christ Jesus”, being united to Him in His death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and we stand just under the scrutiny of God’s judgement.

  • Erick

    I thought something to add to this would be helpful.

    Since Paul argues the free gift of justification is 1) an immediate gift to faith in Jesus Christ. 2) puts sinners in a complete righteous position before the judgement of God, 3) Can be looked back upon as a past completed event, 4) eternally secures the inheritance of eternal life, 5) and cannot be lost because of the golden chain of romans 8……


    the final desinty of those subjects who received justifisation in the above circumstance cannot change on the basis of their good or bad works. It is an unchangeable certainty.


    the good works of believers on the final day of judgement will serve to identify those who received the justification.

  • Andrew Cowan

    This conversation moves pretty fast, and it is a bit hard to jump back in after missing a few steps. Nevertheless, I have a few comments.

    On Rom 2 and the language of “judged according to,” perhaps what I would like to say is that this is vague language that doesn’t explicitly state the relationship between the action and the judgment and leaves that question open for further exposition within Paul’s letter. Thus, this same wording can be used for a judgment that correlates deeds and destiny directly (the judgment of the wicked) and for a judgment that correlates deeds and destiny only proximately (the judgment of God’s people). The precise nature of the “accordance” between one’s deeds and one’s destiny is explained elsewhere in the letter where he covers these issues in more detail.

    Thus, Erick, although I differ on exegetical details with you on Rom 2, I’m fairly happy with the statement of your final post.

    Continuing to work backwards through the discussion, the next issue that I see is works and rewards. John, the thing that I want to say is that this is a separable issue from the one we are discussing. Piper, obviously a big proponent of the “evidence” view, holds also that one’s deeds and rewards are linked, just as you claim. This is the default view that I hold as well (I’ve never really seen it effectively deconstructed), but I don’t think that this has anything to do with Paul’s language of justification or the particular texts with which we have been dealing. In a whole-Bible theology of Christian doctrine, however, it certainly has its place.

    Way, way back a long time ago, we were also talking about imputation. Here, what I would like to say is that I think there is somewhat of a misunderstanding in the work of those who pit union with Christ against imputation. They are taking the banking metaphor a little more literally than the proponents of imputation. Piper, at least, would be happy to say that we are counted righteous because we are in Christ. It is because of our union with Christ that we are credited with his righteousness. The language of “crediting” for proponents of imputation does not refer to some extra-union-with-Christ transfer. Rather, it is a way of referring to one aspect of the significance of our union with Christ: his righteousness is counted as ours. Thus, the claim that union with Christ makes imputation redundant will carry no force with those who hold to imputation because they already understand it as a divine reckoning of what is true of us in Christ. That’s simply what imputation means in the work of many of the most careful proponents.

    There is more to say, but, alas, work calls.

  • John Thomson


    Thanks for input. I’m off on holiday tomorrow and won’t be able to engage for ten days. I am finding the discussion helpul.

    I understand your desire to keep ‘reward’ as separate but can we really do so. Is Paul in Roms 2 simply referring to deeds and destiny or is he referring to deeds and God’s just action in the light of these, of which destiny is part, probably the main part in Roms 2 for he speaks of ‘eternal life’ and ‘wrath’, but not the whole.

    My point is that when Scripture speaks of God ‘rendering to every man according to his works’, the understanding is not simply destiny but also degrees of ill or good within this destiny. Can we really draw a line between Roms 2 and other Scriptures that speak of reward.

    Have to run. Will respond to rest later.

  • Andrew Cowan


    As I said regarding Rom 2, I think that passage is probably purposefully vague on Paul’s part, and the specifics are spelled out later in the letter, where soteriology rather than degrees of reward features prominently. I could be forgetting here, but I’m not aware of any place later in Romans discussing degrees of reward, and thus I think it unlikely that this is what Paul has in mind here while he is still setting up his subsequent discussion.

    I hope you have a great holiday.

  • John Thomson


    Vickers begins his introduction to his JBR with a quotation from Machen. Machen nearing death wrote to John Murray and said, ‘I am so thanful for the active obedience of Christ; no hope without it’. Machen clearly means Christ’s life imputed to us as our righteousness. Vickers clearly quotes approvingly.

    I find this dismaying. Machen is, at least here, locating his hope in a place Scripture does not, that is, the life rather than the death and resurrection of Christ. I know Machen and Vickers also base their hope on the death and resurrection of Christ, however, the quotation illustrates how a system can so easily skew Scripture and make what is, and here I am being genorous, a minor motif, the major.

    Above all, it is this skewing of a biblical emphasis I resist in imputation.

    While some do locate our righteousness in our union with Christ, nevertheless, they do so in a way that seems to me other by insisting our righteousness is the life of Christ on earth credited to us. Our righteousness is located in the active obedience of Christ counting good for us.

    Yet, I see the texts of Scripture locating righteousness firmly and consistently in his propitiatory death and resurrection (resurrection unto life, both Christ’s and ours in the last day being our vindication as just).

    It seems to me the biblical logic presents our righteousness as a gift of pure grace, not a legal earned righteousness, even earned by Christ, which seems a ‘covenant of works’ by the back door.

    It seems to me that it is the reformed ‘covenant of works’ that underpins this quest for a merited righteousness. Righteousness in some sense must be earned rather than simply gifted. Why must righteousness be earned for us? Why can it not be simply gifted?

    A broader, though related question, I may have already asked above, if in Christ’s death my debt is paid in full, then what is my legal standing? I am no longer a sinner, no longer guilty, so what am I? I hesitate to say it because it is so overwhelmingly rejected, but can the conclusion be resisted that I am righteous?

    Or to look at the issue from the perspective of regeneration as opposed to justification, if my unrighteous, debtor’s life has ended in judicial death, the penalty paid and I have now a new life, fresh and newly born, is not this new life, born of faith and the Spirit ‘righteous’? Does it need an ‘alien’ righteousness imputed?

    I see, by the way, the tension between gifted righteousness and the comments I have made about God’s judgement by works above.

    I also recognise these questions are unorthodox. I am in my fifties and have read reformed literature most of my adult life. I have been greatly helped by it and think it is largely correct. yet questions like these do arise. In the final anaylsis I can shelve them, however, it is good to get the insights of others.

    I am off on holiday tomorrow and will reread Vickers/Wright/Piper’s future righteousness and Carson’s essay – or as much of these as I can before headaches make me draw back. I’m hoping Westerholm’s Perspectives old and new will arrive from amazon before I leave. When I get back I hope the thread is still active.

  • Erick

    I found Piper’s book, Vickers’ book, and Carson’s essay to be extremely persuasive on the truth of the “imputation of righteousness”, but not persuasive on the imputation of “Christ’s” righteousness.

    Paul’s major point is that “righteousness” (understood basically to mean legal right-standing with Him and His law)is imputed as a free gift to human beings, to the goal that they are found justified in His judgement (rom 3:19-26, 5:9, 17).

    The source of this righteousness varies with the genetive. It is termed “righteousness of God” or “righteousness of faith”. The basic point is that this righteous-standing comes from the gracious hands of God when the human being believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is given the right to do such a thing because of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice (rom 3:24).

    To go beyond this to labor that point that this “righteousness” which is imputed consists of the life-time obedience of Jesus is to go beyond the circumference of the exegetical details of Paul.

    Some go far in explaining imputation so that all that Jesus did (obeyed parents, preaching the gospel, ate and drank to the glory of God, loved others, gave glory to God) is then counted to us so that it can be legally said WE DID IT.

    And the NT is not concerned with this. The Lord Jesus Christ obediently surrendered His life as a ransom-sacrifice to buy us freedom from the guilt and condemnation of sin (Rom 5:19; Gal 2:20-21).

    Westerholm’s book, in my opinion, is very thorough and well-thought. He still holds to some form of “christ’s righteousness” being imputed to believers. However, he argues well that “righteousness” when referring to the gift given to sinners is basically acquittal.

  • John Thomson


    Well put. You are expressing almost exacly my concerns.

    I have read respected reformed writers (I think Berkof but would need to check this) saying that Christ’s death took our sins. we then are left in a kind of neutral or undressed form requiring righteousness all in an effort to justify (excuse the pun) imputed righteousness.

    It seems bizarre.

  • Andrew Cowan


    I certainly hear your questions, and I sympathize with many of them. In fact, they are the very same questions that I wrestled with for some time while I had more doubts about imputation.

    I have never been comfortable speaking of a “covenant of works” as I read Genesis 1-3, and in the standard Reformed articulation of imputation, that is often a necessary plank on which the structure rests.

    Where I have been persuaded, however, is in looking at what the NT actually says. I think that the best synthesis of the various things said regarding justification is to include some notion of imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

    I will try to sketch briefly what brought me back to affirming imputation. Probably the biggest key text is Rom 5:12-21. There, the contrast is between Adam and Christ, and it is drawn in terms of obedience vs. disobedience. Now, what previously prevented me from affirming that this text teaches imputation is the fact that the text probably says, “one act of righteousness” rather than “the righteous act of one” in v. 18. Thus, I identified the “one act of righteousness” with Christ’s death via 5:9 (“justified by his blood”), and decided that this referred simply to Jesus’ death as an atonement for sins.

    I have since, however, been persuaded that the contrast with Adam probably entails the portrayal of Jesus’ death as the climactic act of obedience where Jesus succeeds in obeying fully in contrast to Adam’s failure to obey. This rendering appears to me to be a priori likely simply by virtue of the fact that the contrast with Adam is drawn in terms of obedience vs. disobedience, but it was probably reflection on the Gospels that persuaded me.

    Normally, within the Pauline corpus, proponents of imputation point to Phil 2:8 in order to demonstrate that Paul conceived of Jesus’ death as the climax of his perfect obedience, and thus his death serves as the “one act of obedience” that represents the obedience perfectly embodied throughout his life. I found this unconvincing because Paul starts the passage in v. 6 by pointing towards Christ’s incarnation, which could not be considered a part of his obedience fulfilling what Adam should have done. Nevertheless, against my objection, it is true that the “obedience” language is not brought into the picture until Paul is speaking about Jesus’ actual life.

    Probably the most interesting piece of evidence, however, is found in the Gospels. With the narrative of the baptism of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is proclaimed to be the “Son of God,” and then goes out into the wilderness and replays Israel’s history (40 days after baptism = 40 years after exodus through Red Sea), only Jesus succeeds in obeying where Israel had failed as the true Son of God (each response from Jesus is taken from Deuteronomy passages related to the wilderness experience of Israel). Between the baptism and the temptation, however, Luke includes the genealogy that traces from Jesus to Adam, and declares in the end that Adam was “the son of God.” Here, what I think Luke is showing is that Jesus has taken on himself the role initially given to Adam, and subsequently passed on to Israel, the role of the Son of God, only Jesus is obeying whereas Adam and Israel both failed in obedience. It seems that there is a real contrast between Jesus’ success in obedience and Adam’s failure and Israel’s failure. Furthermore, in Matthew and Mark, it becomes evident that this temptation and Jesus’ success in obedience become explicitly focused on his willingness to go to the cross. There again, there is a threefold repitition of Jesus’ temptation where he ultimately succeeds in submitting to the Father’s will (“not my will, but yours be done”). The parallel of three temptations seems designed to show us how Jesus’ obedience becomes focused on the event of the cross; he is obedient unto death in contrast to Adam and Israel, who failed to obey.

    Given that narrative way of making this point in the Gospels and Paul’s close association with Luke, I find it likely that Jesus’ one act of obedience does his refer to his death as the climax of his obedience in fulfillment of God’s intentions of having a perfectly obedient Son. Thus, I think that Romans 5 probably does invest Jesus’ death with soteriological significance not only in terms of a sacrifice, but also as obedience.

    To fill out the picture, it is because of this perfect, obedient sonship that Jesus was vindicated as the true, righteous Son of God by being raised from the dead, and it is that verdict in which believers come to share through union with Christ. I think that to divorce the vindication of Christ (which is explicitly tied to divine sonship by Paul in Rom 1:4) from his obedience unto death as obedience runs against the grain of this strand of biblical thought that appears in multiple NT corpora (cf. also Heb 5:7-10).

    At the end of the day, I still don’t like the language of a “covenant of works” with Adam, but I find it hard to make sense of a host of passages in the NT without affirming that Christ’s obedience is invested with soteriological significance as obedience that stands in place of Adam’s failure. Thus, despite the fact that I too still itch over the question of why we need obedience in order to have right standing with God rather than simply the forgiveness of sins, the NT evidence drives me to affirm that we do, regardless of whether I fully understand why at present or not.

  • Erick


    I symphathize much with the view that Berhof gives in his systematic theology. We need to recognize that when one heads into the New testament exegetically, the maximum information (in this regard) that we are given on the subject of imputation is that God imputes righteousness to humanity through faith apart from works done of our own, and this is warranted out of God’s gracious provision in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    However, depending on what system of theology one is coming from, it is a simple construction to footnote this truth so that the “righteousness” we receive is Christ’s righteousness. Especially when seeing the constrast between Adam and Christ in their disobedience/obedience.

    In this section, it is clear that the obedience of Jesus is the basis of many being appointed righteous (Rom 5:19). However this obedience is expressed in the single event of the cross (Rom 5:9, just prior to 5:12). But it is tempting to constuct the parallel that, just like Adam’s sin becomes imputed to us so that we die, so also Christ’s righteousness becomes imputed to us so that we live. It is logically constructive and makes sense, however the text does not give this explicitly.

    I do believe that one can view imputation both negatively and positively. Negatively, our sins are imputed to Christ. Positively, righteousness is then imputed to us. And the single event of Christ’s cross effects this for us.

    To determine whether something is positive or negative can be seen in the grammar. For instance, if I said I AM LEAVING THIS ROOM , or if I say I WILL NO LONGER BE INSIDE THIS ROOM… both statement refer to a single concept (leaving this room), however there is a negative or positive way of saying this. The first statement is not one distinct event that is complemented with the second statement. This is simply two ways of speaking of the same concept.

    In the same way, Christ’s cross for our sin issues in the blessing of the non-imputation of sin (negative) and the imputation of righteousness (positive).

  • Erick



    I found your comment insightful. I still have things to share on what you said. Right now I am at work and I am delayed at the moment. I would really want to talk about this more because I am in the same position that you were once in. (as the last post i made shows)

    Phone would be preferable. Let me know (

  • Andrew Cowan


    How do you understand Christ’s resurrection in this picture? What do you think Paul means when he says that Christ was “raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25)?

  • Erick


    Thank you for your email. I can’t promise today however.

    I have a few seconds here…

    Christ’s resurrection has some sort of relationship with our being justified, otherwise Paul would not have added this in Rom 4:25.

    The trick here is to identity how the resurrection of Christ relates to our justification. The text does not give us anything more than the following:

    He was delivered up (for or on account of) our offenses AND was raised (for or on account) our justification.

    Our offenses gave reason for His being “delivered up”, and then it would logically seem that our justification gave reason for Him to be “raised”.

    Therefore, I take the causal meaning. His resurrection occurred for the reason of our justification. Or He was raised in order to justify us. This is the boundary of exegesis.

    Now, interpreters are always wanting to me systematic or constructive. Meaning, there is always a desire to fit this into our already constructed engine of theological understanding. And so, some interpreters try to construct the sitation to be that Christ’s own resurrection is his own justification, or the placement where God declares Christ to be free from guilt, condemnation, and death (all of which was his throughout his death and burial)and so we being “in Christ” have this same resurrection-verdict pronounced upon us. This construct is quite tempting given the rest of what the NT teaches on the nature of Adam-Christ as the first man of their respective humanity’s. Adam’s sin introduced the humanity steming from him to guilt, condemnation, and death. Christ’s resurrection-righteousness introduces the new humanity to innocence, justification, and eternal life.

    Despite how comprehensive and harmonious this view is, it is impossible to get this from the text of Rom 4:25. The best path is to be certain that Christ’s resurrection causes our justification, now how this happens is another question. It probably means that the resurrrection marks the successful achievement/completion for His death (rom 5:9).

  • John Thomson


    Thankyou for a clear and thorough sketch. It is this ‘representative’ humanity that does mean I am hesitant to dismiss imputation. This and the parallel with Adam (that Erick points out). Adam’s one act makes us guilty. His personal sin is ‘imputed???’ to us. The Logic pushes in the direction that something in Christ’s one act of righteousness is imputed to us.

    I see clearly Christ as the new Adam and new Israel, succeeding where others failed. I ask myself what conclusions does Scripture draw from this? What Scripture seems to clearly deduce is that Jesus life glorifies God (and as a result God glorifies him). His human life that in all trials resisted sin and triumphed in faith qualifies him to be our High Priest. I shall need to reflect on the more tenuous connection to imputed righteousness.

    If it is then Christ’s obedience is more than simply Law keeping. A life that lays itself down in death seems to go beyond the requirements of the law. It wa a delight to keep the father’s will whatever that will may be.

    Any insights on the legal status of a person whose debts are paid would be appreciated.

  • Erick

    Ive thought of Adam and Christ as two individuals who stand apart from all others in that they are the first human being of a brand new humanity. But both are responsible for the life conditions of the respective humanities which follow them.

    Adam has a position which is distinct from all other human beings. If some man in the middle east rises up now and sins, it creates little effect on others (disregarding the immediate relationships around that man). However Adam’s sin (not even Eve’s) has effect all humanity according to rom 5:12. Therefore, Adam is responsible for the death of all human beings.

    I believe that we must understand Adam’s sin breaking the relationship between God and mankind and the expulsion from the paradise of God, wherein eternal life is sustained. Since the first two humans were expelled from the presence of God (and therefore life), humans now procreate in conditions where there is certain return to the dust (Gen 3). We should note the connections between God’s penalty of death, which was promised upon their transgression of his command, and the cursing of the creation (Gen 3:17). Prior to their sin, the creation was there for their well-being and it would produce food for them to live. However, once they transgressed God’s command, God’s cursing of the ground issues man to now fight the creation in order to survive, rather than the creation serving to sustain the life of man. And the end of this is the return to dust (physical death). Anyhow, certainly, Adam does this act in representation of all humanity, because they are all effected by his one single act.

    Christ Jesus also occupies a position wherein he represents mankind and by this single act, he effects all makind with the benefit of being imputed righteous (Rom 5:19). This can be interpreted to be His sacrificial-death (most likely) for He dies for all (2 Cor 5:14). But since the word used is “obedience” in contrast to “disobedience” from Adam, it can be taken as a reference to Christ’s submission to all the demands of God. But this latter conclusion is unlikely given the explicit reference to the “blood” elsewhere in Romans and Galatians.

  • John Thomson

    This is where the old ‘works’ paradigm seems to come into play, is it not? And where the covenant of works seems to have some validity.

    Disobedience/unrighteousness/sin always results in death. Obedience/righteousness always results in life. This is how God’s justice works. Therefore God’s verdict on Christ is that he must, if God is moral, be raised from the dead. His resurrection is a verdict on his life. It is in this sense God’s vindication of him (declared to be the son of God…Roms 1).

    Jesus seems to allude to this moral imperative when he says,

    Joh 17:4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

    I agree Erick that ‘for our justification’ is not explained. It seems to me justification and life must be held together. They are implicitly in Roms 1 3,4, with Abraham at the end of Roms 4, explicitly in Roms 5:19

    Rom 5:18 so then as it was by one offence towards all men to condemnation, so by one righteousness towards all men for justification of life. (Darby trans).

    In Roms 8 our revelation as sons of God in the resurrection of new creation is our vindication as righteous.

  • Erick

    with regard to the legal status of one whose debts are paid:

    I believe that humanity is in debt to pay for their guilt and sin. They normally would pay with God’s fixed penalty for sin which is eternal death.

    Since Christ’s death serves to buy humanity out of it’s debt to sin, this delivers us from being in the position which requires a payment for the consequences of sin to a position which does not.

    It is difficult to reasonbly (much more scripturally) call this position a neutral position.

    Notice the clean connections that Paul makes between justification the ransom-sacrifice of Jesus (rom 3:24). It literally reads “being justified through the redemption which is in Christ JesuS”. The redemption here is the propitiating death of Christ (v25) and this serves to buy human beings out of their bondage to guilt (rom 3:19-20)..and this effects our justification.

    Also notice the clean and logical connections between the cancellation of sin’s debt (forgiveness) and the imputation of righteousness in Rom 4:4. Paul can argue for the imputation of righteousness from Psalm 32, a text which has no explicit mention of what normal traditional exegetes want.

  • Erick

    Some scholars, such as Richard gaffin, would like to draw connections between the nice combo’s of righteousness, Spirit, resurrection, and life…all of which play a role in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

    However, I am not so sure I want to go too far with this because Paul is not seemingly trying to get this across so clearly.

    The close tie between the death of Jesus and our Justification in Paul seems for me to be lead more in the direction that Jesus’ death provides for us a right-standing with God. Of course if He did not raise this could never come to us..but it is to avoid saying the resurrection of Jesus becomes to the locus wherein we are also declared righteous.

  • John Thomson

    A couple of interesting texts linking righteousness/obedience and life.

    Joh 12:49 For I have not spoken from myself, but the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what I should say and what I should speak;
    Joh 12:50 and I know that his commandment is life eternal. What therefore I speak, as the Father has said to me, so I speak.

    Rom 6:22 But *now*, having got your freedom from sin, and having become bondmen to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life.

    Rom 7:10 And the commandment, which was for life, was found, as to me, itself to be unto death:

    Rom 8:10 but if Christ be in you, the body is dead on account of sin, but the Spirit life on account of righteousness.

    Life is a declaration of righteousness.

  • Erick

    This certainly true in principle. This is crucial for Paul as well. After all, it is the righteous who will “live” by faith in contrast to the law which says the man who does them shall “live” by them. In conjunction, Paul says “if life could have come by the law, then righteousness would have been by the law” (Gal 3:21). Righteousness is what God requires for human life to be possessed and sustained. And it is this quality (righteousness) which is given to us by faith in the gospel so that we might obtain eternal life.

    But the texts of Scripture which deal with our justification seem to stress the death of Christ Jesus as the placement where this righteousness is sourced.

  • John Thomson


    I am aware of Gaffin’s position though I have not read him. You guys seem to chew up the books.

    I, like you am reluctant to make logical leaps and the bigger the leap the less comfortable I am.

    Like you I think it is important to stress ‘justified through his death’. In fact it is impossible to avoid the relentless focus on Christ’s death in Scripture for all the major salvation words – reconciled, redeemed, ransomed, righteoused etc. Yet resurrection is also associated with justification.

    Is the traditional formula not reasonable – Christ’s death is the basis/rationale/source of our righteousness while his resurrection is the declaration/proof of our righteousness.

  • John Thomson

    Brothers, righteous only in Christ, I am going to bed now. You have stimulated, stretched,sated and strained my mind. God bless.

  • Erick

    Yes it is reasonable. But I am not yet sure that it is exegetically there for us to be sure about it.It certainly does put some things in place.

    It was nice talking to you
    God bless you !
    and Good night

  • Andrew Cowan

    Again, I am stunned by the speed of progress in this conversation.

    Where to begin…

    Well, I would like to say that I particularly like Gaffin’s construal of things. His way of interpreting Rom 4:25 seems the most feasible, in my estimation. The other interpretations don’t seem to link justification and Christ’s resurrection in a way that legitimates the phrase “raised for our justification.”

    However, if that were all of the evidence for the view, then I would still find it doubtful. It seems that such an important connection would need to be mentioned more than once by Paul, and there is perhaps evidence that it has been.

    In particular, I have in mind Gal 2:20. Carson suggests (in his essay, “The Vindication of Imputation”) that the phrase “Christ lives in me” refers not to Christ living within the believer through the medium of the Holy Spirit, but rather that “in me” should be translated as a dative of respect (similar to how the “in me” is understood at the end of Gal 1:24). Carson suggests a translation along the lines of “Christ lives with respect to me.” Unfortunately, Carson does not tease out the implications of this translation very far, but I would want to suggest that here Paul invests the resurrection-life of Christ with forensic significance with respect to the believer’s moral standing before God. It comes, after all, in the midst of his explanation of how he is “justified in Christ.”

    My wife says that it is time for dinner. Perhaps more will come later.

  • Erick White

    What you are saying is correct. Christ’s resurrection does function to provide us with our legal standing before God. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Christ’s present resurrection state is THE saving position whereby we are given right-standing with God.

    For starters, the author to the Hebrews belabors the point that Christ is the King-Priest who presently sits at God’s right-hand making intercession for us (atonement and fellowship). The high-priest in Israel functioned to go between God and the people, in order to provide the sacrifice by which atonement can be successfully made, and the relationship thus sustained. So also, Christ SITS as high priest having already provided the sacrifice one and for all that connects God and humanity.

    In a context which is heavily interested in the legal standing of the believer, Paul says:

    “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies, who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is risen, and who is even at the right hand of God, making intercession for us” (Rom 8)

    Paul is here clearly concerned with the believer’s justification, and the death of Jesus is not the only element mentioned to provide force to the argument. It is Christ’s death, resurrection, and present intercessory work in Heaven. Other places, Paul is not bothered by only mentioning Christ’s blood to ground the believers justification (rom 5:9), but in other places…it is grounded on Jesus’ obedience (Rom 5:19), and in this above cited text, it is the death, resurrection, and priestly intercession that grounds the sure justification of believers.

    How should we understand this? Well, we should read all these varigated texts and note what is certain of them and what they are communicating on the truth of our justification. In our concern, what is clear is that Jesus’ obedience, blood/death, resurrection, and priestly intercession all work together to both provide and eternally sustain our status as justified individuals.

    What the texts do not tell us is that Christ’s present moral righteousness is vicarious for the church so that the church is continuously being reckoned as doing what Christ does. Or that Christ’s resurrection righteousness (in the strict, specific, and narrow sense) is then reckoned to believers. This is a logical construct of the individual parts of scripture, but it is never supported as a straightfoward teaching of the biblical authors. Mind you, it does not make it incorrect, however.

    With regard to the gospel accounts of Jesus being the Son of God who is pleasing to the LORD and overcomes temptation where Adam and Israel failed. This is all too clear in my reading of the gospels. Jesus is taking up the role of Adam (the first human) and Israel. Jesus continues to please God by fulfilling His mission as the LORD’s servant, proclaiming light, sight, and freedom…instituting the new covenant, and finally laying His life down for the sins ofthe world. This is all obedience to God and of which provide Him the resurrection and eternal life. However, even if this is true, that Jesus is the successful new Adam and successful true Israel, who ushers in salvation for Israel and the nations, how does this construct tell us that all the obedient works that He did are reckoned to the account of the church, so that she is legally pronounced having done what He did? Of course, we reap of the benefits of His obedienct life and death, resurrection, etc….but I find it hard to affirm the exegetical clarity that all the specific good works that made up Jesus’ lifetime on earth are vicarious in the sense of imputation.

    This can be also fairly doubted since when Paul speaks of our union with Christ, it is usually in terms of His death, burial, resurrection, exaltation, sonship, etc,etc. It never speaks of our being unified with His incarnation and lifetime.

    These are the few thoughts that swirl in my mind, please provide comments.

  • Erick

    You are correct.

    Jesus’ resurrection status does bear for our status as justified.
    Paul makes references to the obedience of Jesus, the blood/death of Jesus, and then the death, ress, and present intercessory work as Priest.

    All work together for our justification

  • Erick

    But what this is not telling us for sure is that Jesus’ present resurrection righteousness is vicarious for the church so that she is reckoned doing all the good things Jesus does.

  • Andrew Cowan


    Thanks for the reply. I think that we’re about to that point where different persuasions about how to synthesize the biblical material comes into play.

    About the only thing that I have to add in addition to what I have stated above is that I think that the role given to Adam is not recapitulated only in Christ. The way I put things together, being the obedient Adam and the true Israelite are the same thing (being the obedient Son of God) because Adam’s role had been passed on to Israel, and even before that, it had been passed on to Noah, who also failed to obey. Here, I am in basic agreement with N. T. Wright’s essay in The Climax of the Covenant, where he traces the passing on the original commission/blessing given to Adam through Noah, the patriarchs, and Israel. Wright, however, ends up using this correspondence to reduce Paul’s Adam-Christology in Romans 5 to Israel-Christology, and thus the significance that he attaches to Christ’s obedience is the fulfillment of God’s plan to rescue the world through Israel rather than a more truly Adamic function. (Thus, I thought that one of the best moments in the panel was Vickers’s question, “Where is Adam?”) I think that Paul does link Jesus’ obedience (with his death standing as the representative of the whole because it is the climax) with a performing of what Adam should have done, and I think that his obedience functions representatively for us because it is the basis for God’s pronouncement of his verdict regarding Christ, within which we stand.

    I should add that I agree with the assessment above that this means that what makes Jesus’ obedience significant is not that it is “obedience to the law” because there is no requirement within the law for one to go to Jerusalem and die willingly. But, with respect to the substance of what proponents of imputation want to affirm (that Jesus’ life of perfect obedience stands as the basis for God viewing believers as righteous), I think that the biblical evidence as a whole points in that direction.

  • John Thomson


    back from holiday – good rest. Didn’t read as much as I would have liked but read more closely Vickers and Bird’s The saving Righteousness…’ Vickers works hard at being fair with the text. The trouble is he pretty well that none of the texts he examines teach the imputation of Christ’s life, however, he then goes on to argue, illogically in my view, that put together these texts lead to the conclusion that imputation of Christ’s life is legitimate. I also read Carson’s essay on imputation.

    Erick’s comment above is valuable. ‘I found Piper’s book, Vickers’ book, and Carson’s essay to be extremely persuasive on the truth of the “imputation of righteousness”, but not persuasive on the imputation of “Christ’s” righteousness.’

    Vickers makes heavy weather of the Roms 4:4 text which unambiguously sees justification in terms of sins not imputed.

    A point or two from last few posts. Erick White’s observation is one I think needs explored. ‘This can be also fairly doubted since when Paul speaks of our union with Christ, it is usually in terms of His death, burial, resurrection, exaltation, sonship, etc,etc. It never speaks of our being unified with His incarnation and lifetime.’

    This is a view I have frequently reflected on yet rarely hear mooted. If we think in terms of old and new creation then union can only be with death and resurrection. Before we could become a new creation, the old creation had to die. This could only happen at the cross where condemnation and death were meted on my Adamic-person. My Christ-person is spiritual. It is united not not to Christ, ‘after the flesh’ but to Christ in resurrection, Christ in resurrection and living in the Spirit.

    Our only possible union with Christ as a man in Adam is in his death. Our only possible union as a new creation is with a resurrected Christ. Our life is the eschatological life of new creation, life beyond death, an heavenly.

    The earthly life of Christ is viewed in Hebrews as Christ’s identifying with us but not our union with Christ. The title ‘Christ’ in ‘union with Christ’ suggests a union with a reigning King.

    Re the ‘probationary period’ of the representative head, I consider this as to some extent legitimate (Jesus is made perfect through suffering), however, it too raises questions. Since Christ was clearly righteous in his ‘probation’ (ooo..I don’t like that expression of our Lord) surely it is possible to view Adam as righteous prior to the fall?

    Incidently, I agrre with above comments about Christ’s obedience being beyond the obedience to Law. It is obedience to the Father’s will which goes beyond law-duty into sacrificial laying down of his life.

    I know thios thread has probably run its course. Thanks to those who commented, they have helped me considerably.

  • Erick White

    Hey Jon,

    I wanted to mention that, even though the NT strictly refers our union with Christ as being to His death, burial, resurrection, etc…and not to his incarnation or lifetime, does not exclude the possibility of Christ’s resurrection status as the righteous first man of the new race being incorporated to all who are united to him.

    In other words, even though we are not united with Christ as He ran the course of His life, we may still share in the status of righteousness which He has being the risen Lord.

    But this is just a thought.

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