Friday, October 12, 2012

Bavinck on Justification and Adoption and Perseverance and Assurance

Jason Stellman asks (118):

I am asking how you, John Bugay, would reconcile your insistence that Protestants can have assurance without having to “do anything” (unlike with Catholics) with the statements in the NT like “Unless you forgive others, your heavenly Father won’t forgive you,” etc.

Here is the great 19th century Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck on how justification and adoption and perseverance and assurance all work together:

Paul … speaks of (huitothesia, adoption) in a juridical sense. Just as on the basis of Christ’s righteousness believers receive the forgiveness of sins, so they are also adopted as children (huioi theou; not tekna theou). This adoption, which therefore rests on a declaration of God, has been procured by Christ (Gal 4:5) and becomes ours by faith (Rom 3:26). Those who have been pronounced free from the guilt and punishment of sin are thereby simultaneously adopted as children and counted as objects of God’s fatherly love. Believers are thereby put in the same position as Christ, who is the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29). He was the Son of God by nature (Rom 8:32) and so was designated at his resurrection (Rom 1:3); believers become the “children of God” by adoption. And just as at his resurrection Christ was declared to be Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness (Rom 1:3), and believers are justified in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11), so by the Spirit of adoption they are made the sons of God (Rom 8:14–16) and are subsequently assured of their sonship by the same Spirit (Gal 4:6). As children, then, they are also heirs according to promise (Gal 3:29, 4:7; Rom 8:17), and since this inheritance still awaits them in the future, also their adoption in its totality is still an object of hope (Rom 8:23).

Justification, which has its origin in eternity, is realized in the resurrection of Christ and the calling of believers, and is only fully completed when God in the last judgment repeats his sentence of acquittal in the hearing of the whole world and every tongue will have to confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. But though the “legal implications of adoption” are still awaiting them, believers have nevertheless already been adopted as children on earth. By the Spirit as pledge and guarantee, they are sealed for the day of their redemption (2 Cor 1:22, 55; Eph 1:13–14; 4:30) and kept for their heavenly inheritance as this is kept for them (1 Peter 1:4–5). By that Spirit, they are continually led (agontai as in Rom 8:14; not pherontai, as in 2 Peter 1:21), assured of the love that God has for them (Rom 5:5; cf. Rom 5:8) and of their adoption (Rom 8:15–16, Gal 4:6), and are now already the beneficiaries of peace (Rom 5:1; Phil 4:7, 4:9; 1 Thess 5:23), Joy (Rom 14:17, 15:13; 1 Thess 1:6), and eternal life (John 3:16).

Justification is able to produce all of these splendid fruits because along with active justification it includes passive justification, and by the testimony of the Holy Spirit gives believers the consciousness and assurance that their sins are personally forgiven them (fides specialis). Those who oppose justification by faith and make it dependent on works cannot accept this assurance. Even Augustine did not feel comfortable accepting this doctrine and wrote: “God, however, has judged it better to mingle some who will not persevere with the certain number of his saints, so that those for whom security in the temptations of this life is not helpful cannot be secure.” Rome, accordingly, established that no one can know with certainty that one has obtained God’s grace except by special revelation (Trent VI c. 9, can 13–15), and Catholic theologians therefore speak only of a “moral” or “conjectural” certainty. In this connection Möhler said that it “would be extremely uncomfortable for him to be in the presence of a person who was always certain of his salvation,” and that he could not resist the thought that “something diabolical was at work in such an attitude.” Also the Remonstrants and in a later period Lutherans opposed the assurance of faith, at least with respect to the future. But the Reformed confessed the truth of election and ascribed to faith a firm assurance of salvation that could be obtained, not indeed from inquisitive inquiries into the secret counsel of God, but by the testimony of the Holy Spirit from the nature and fruits of faith.

For faith, by its very nature, is opposed to all doubt. Certainty is not added to it later from without, but is from the beginning implicit in faith and in due time produced by it, for it s a gift of God, a working of the Holy Spirit. In it he bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God (Rom 8:16; Gal 4:6), prompts believers to glory in the fact that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ (Rom 8:38–39) and assures them of their future salvation (Rom 8:23; 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13–14; Eph 4:30). And this assurance of faith gives buoyancy and strength to the Christian life. This is a point that Ritschl has made very clear: Among Catholics, justification is a process of equipping people for a moral purpose; among Protestants, it is the restoration of the religious relationship with God. The latter has to come first before there can even be a truly Christian life. As long as we still stand before God as judge, seek life by conformity to law, and are obsessed with the fear of death, that live is not in us that is the fruit of faith, the fulfillment of the law, the bond of perfection, which casts out all fear. But if in justification we have been granted peace with God, sonship, free and certain access to the throne of grace, freedom from the law, and independence from the world, then from that faith will naturally flow a stream of good works. They do not serve to acquire eternal life but are the revelation, seal, and proof of the eternal life that every believer already possesses. Faith that includes the assurance that with God all things are possible, that he gives life to the dead, calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom 4:17), and always enables people to do great things. This faith says to a mountain: “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” and it will be done (Matt 21:21) (from Bavinck, “Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation”, pgs 226–229).

Elsewhere he says:

The Reformation attacked [the entire Roman system] at the roots when it took its position in the confession that sinners are justified by faith alone. Communion with God came about not by human exertion, but solely on the part of God, by a gift of his grace, so that religion was again given its place before morality. If human beings received the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, adoption as children, and eternal life through faith alone, by grace, on account of the merits of Christ, they did not need to exert themselves to earn all these benefits by good works. They already possessed them in advance as a gift they had accepted by faith. The gratitude and joy that filled their hearts upon receiving all these benefits drove them to do good works before the thought that they had to do them even crossed their mind. For the faith by which they accepted these benefits was a living faith, not a dead one, into a bare agreement with a historical truth, but a personal heartfelt trust in the grace of God in Jesus Christ …

Actually, therefore, it was not faith that justified and sanctified, but it was the one undivided and indivisible Christ who through faith gave himself to believers for righteousness and sanctification, who was imputed and imparted to us on the part of God, and whom we therefore from the beginning posses in that faith as Christ for us and in us. From its very beginning, faith was two things at once: a receptive organ and an active force; a hand that accepts the fit offered but also works outwardly in the service of the will; a bond to invisible things and a victory over the world; at once religious and ethical (242–243)


…the Reformed, and the Reformed alone, maintained this doctrine [of perseverance] and linked it with the assurance of faith.

Now the question with respect to this doctrine of perseverance is not whether those who have obtained a true saving faith could not, if left to themselves, lose it again by their own fault and sins; nor whether sometimes all the activity, boldness and comfort of faith actually ceases, and faith itself goes into hiding under the cares of life and the delights of the world. The question is whether God upholds, continues, and completes the work of grace he has begun, or whether he sometimes permits it to be totally ruined by the power of sin. Perseverance is not an activity of the human person but a gift from God. Augustine saw this very clearly….

It is a gift of God. He watches over it and sees to it that the work of grace is continued and completed. He does not, however, do this apart from believers but through them. In regeneration and faith, he grants a grace that as such bears an inadmissible character; he grants a life that is by nature eternal; he bestows the benefits of calling, justification, and glorification that are mutually and unbreakably interconnected. All of the above-mentioned admonitions and threats that Scripture addresses to believers [which he discusses at length], therefore, do not prove a thing against the doctrine of perseverance. They are rather the way in which God himself confirms his promise and gift through believers. They are the means by which perseverance in life is realized. After all, perseverance is not coercive but, as a gift of God, impacts humans in a spiritual manner. It is precisely God’s will, by admonition and warning, morally to lead believers to heavenly blessedness and by the grace of the Holy Spirit to prompt them willingly to persevere in faith and love. It is therefore completely mistaken to reason from the admonitions of Holy Scripture to the possibility of a total loss of grace. This conclusion is as illegitimate as when, in the case of Christ, people infer from his temptation and struggle that he was able to sin. The certainty of the outcome does not render the means superfluous but is inseparably connected with them in the decree of God (267–268).

All of this is rooted in God’s covenant of grace. This is why the concept of ad fontes [back to the sources] was so important at the time of the Reformation. Believers for the first time could read the Scriptures straight through, in the original Hebrew, continuing through the life of Christ and the New Testament, and gain the flavor of the blessings that the Jews [some of them] understood: that God is a God of promise and covenant:

The Old Testament already clearly states that the covenant of grace does not depend on the obedience of human beings. It does indeed carry with it the obligation to walk in the way of the covenant but that covenant itself rests solely on God’s compassion. If the Israelites nevertheless again and again become unfaithful and adulterous, the prophets do not conclude from this that God changes, that his covenant wavers and that his promises fail. On the contrary: God cannot and may not break his covenant. He has voluntarily—with a solemn oath—bound himself by it to Israel. His fame, his name, and his honor depend on it. He cannot abandon his people. His covenant is an everlasting covenant that cannot waver. He himself will give to his people a new heart and a new spirit, inscribe the law in their inmost self, and cause them to walk in his statutes. And later, when Paul confronts the same fact of Israel’s unfaithfulness, his heart filled with grief, he does not conclude from this that the word of God has failed, but continues to believe that God has compassion on whom he will, that his gifts and calling are irrevocable, and that not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel (Rom 9-11).

Similarly, John testifies of those who fell away: they were not of us or else they would have continued with us (1 John 2:19). Whatever apostasy occurs in Christianity, it may never prompt us to question the unchanging faithfulness of God, the certainty of his counsel, the enduring character of his covenant, or the trustworthiness of his promises (269).

Scriptures supporting these views (hover the cursor to see the text of verses):

Ephesians 1:4
Acts 13:48
Romans 8:29
Romans 9:11
Hebrews 6:17
2 Corinthians 1:20
John 17:6, 12
John 6:40, 17:2
John 6:39, 10:28
John 14:16
Ephesians 1:13; 4:30
Hebrews 6:16–18; 13:20
Ephesians 5:31–32
Hebrews 9:17
Hebrews 8:10, 10:14–15
1 Corinthians 10:13
1 Corinthians 1:9
Philippians 1:6
1 Thessalonians 5:23
2 Thessalonians 3:3
1 Peter 1:4–5
Luke 22:32
John 17:11, 20
1 John 2:1
John 17:24
Romans 11:29
Romans 8:30
Romans 8:17
Galatians 4:7
John 3:16
1 John 3:9
Hebrews 11:1
Hebrews 6:19
Romans 5:5
1 Corinthians 13:8

1 comment:

  1. Excellent. Nothing needs to be added. Very thorough and consistent with all scripture.

    My favorite, the nail that seals the coffin but which lack the proof a blinded scientific mind devoid of faith seeks is:

    That it is of the very nature of justification that with it God imparts a new nature that delights to obey His commands, His word, and do good deeds to glorify Him and of thankfulness.

    One who has never been converted, as most of the papist false prophets, would not know this experience and thus would naturally see the need to put people into bondage and fear to get them to behave to avoid hell.

    Whereas God has no need of this since He puts it in the hearts of His converted ones to delight in good works. The warnings in scripture go out to those who are hypocrites, and tares among the visible covenant people and a further motivation for strict avoidance of sin in the face of temptation to the imperfected but maturing saints.

    The RC doctrines are obviously devised by men devoid of saving faith and conversion experience as a truly converted person would see no need to add this legal burden on to the spiritually alive people.