“The right way to become a Christian is to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the observance of the law. Here we must stand, and not upon the wicked interpretation of those who say that faith justifies when love and good works are combined with it. That interpretation obscures this and similar sentences in Paul in which he clearly attributes justification solely to faith in Christ. When people hear that they should believe in Christ, yet faith only justifies if it is formed and accompanied by works of love, eventually they fall from faith and think along these lines: ‘If faith without love does not justify, then faith is empty and pointless, and only love in action justifies, for faith is nothing without love….’
“They say that faith in Christ does not make us free from sin, but only faith combined with love. this is to say that Christ leaves us in our sins and in the wrath of God and makes us guilty of eternal death, whereas if you keep the law, faith justifies you because it has works, without which faith is no help. Therefore, works justify, and not faith, they claim. What pernicious and cursed teaching is this!”
Martin Luther, Galatians, pp. 90, 93-94.
The Covenant of LifeJune 10, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Creeds, Federal Vision, King Jesus, Lord's Day, Marriage, Quotations, Sanctification
The Westminster Larger Catechism (modern version by the EPC):
Q. 20. What was God’s providence relating to the humans he created?
A. God providentially put Adam and Eve in paradise and assigned them the job of taking care of it. He gave them permission to eat everything that grew, put them in authority over all the creatures, and established marriage as a help for Adam. God allowed them to have fellowship with him, instituted the Sabbath, and made a covenant of life with them on the condition of their personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. The tree of life was a sign guaranteeing this covenant. Finally, God told them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or they would die.
The Edenic Covenant: Covenant of Works or Covenant of Grace?June 9, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Creeds, Federal Vision, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Old Testament, Quotations, Sacraments, Sanctification
“The Adamic covenant should not be considered in such narrow terms that it is seen only of the eating prohibition and its consequences. It is also improper to call this covenant a covenant of works. The implication then would be that other covenants are not covenants of works, or that this covenant, which obviously had its inception before the Fall, is not a covenant of grace. Then grace can only be evident in matters which have to do with redemption, which is a post-fall activity.
“Such distinctions should be abandoned. All covenants between God and man should be seen as covenants of grace. The metaphor of covenant portrays a relationship between a sovereign and a vassal. The sovereign is under no obligation to initiate this arrangement. That he does so is a matter of grace. But the vassal is going to benefit from such an arrangement.
“When we see the first biblical covenant in this light we will find that it frees us from the problems introduced by a covenant of works concept. First, it removes the idea that Adam could have worked for his salvation.
“Second, it puts the entire original creation into a different perspective. The creation, with Adam as its head, is seen to be under covenant obligation to the Creator-Sovereign.
“Third, there are implications, in an original Creator-creation covenant, for the concept of free will. Is a creation which is in covenant relationship free to do whatever it wants? When man and the rest of creation with him chose to disobey the creator this was an act of rebellion. It was willful breaking of the creation covenant.
“The covenant with Abraham, Aaron (Levi) and David are covenants of promise. God promises to do something for Abraham, Aaron or David and their descendants. But when we consider what happened to some of their descendants we find that God rejected them and God stated that they had broken his covenant. Implicit in every covenant is the obligation of obedience. Along with promise-covenants is the understanding that those to whom the promises come must obey the Lord. Failure to obey marks the one under promise-covenant oath a rebel.” John M. Zinkand, Covenants: God’s Claims (Sioux Center, IA: Dordt University Press, 1984), pp. 54-55.
“The disadvantage of the phrase covenant of works is that it has led to a controversy over the nature of the covenant agreement between God and Adam. Two problems especially have entered the discussion: (1) The terminology is reminiscent of a commercial exchange. This suggests that eternal life is a kind of commodity, and that if Adam pays the price, “perfect obedience,” “works,” or “merit,” God will turn that commodity over to Adam and his posterity. (2) The works are Adam’s works, not God’s, so one gets the impression that Adam is left entirely on his own. These two contentions are used to maintain a clear contrast between works and grace.
“Certainly the focus of the Edenic covenant is on what Adam does rather than on God’s action as the ground of Adam’s blessing or curse. And certainly whatever blessing Adam received would have been appropriate to his obedience: he would have deserved the blessing. But it would be wrong to claim as in issue 2 above that had Adam successfully resisted temptation, God would have had nothing to do with it. It was God who created Adam and all his surroundings. God made him in his image and made him his vassal king over the earth. God gave him abundant food and drink, a wife, and above all fellowship with himself. And indeed Adam’s decision was foreordained by God, as we will see. As for issue 1, Adam did not earn any of these things by his works. These were gifts of God’s unmerited favor. So if Adam had passed his test successfully, he would not have boasted as if he had done it all on his own. he would have praised God for his unmerited favor. The term covenant of works, therefore, may mislead us by suggesting that Adam possessed an autonomy that no other creature has ever possessed. Best to regard this covenant, like the others, as a sovereign blessing of God, calling Adam and Eve to respond in obedient faith.
“There is, however, nothing wrong with what the Westminster Standards actually say about the covenant of works. So we say nothing wrong when we use the phrase as did the Westminster divines. But when we choose extrabiblical language to describe biblical truths, we should take into account the impressions that this language would be likely to make on contemporary readers. And indeed there are some problems of possible misunderstandings and misuses of this language, such as issues 1 and 2 above. I do not, therefore, object to the phrase covenant of works as long as the use of that phrase is kept within the limits of the Westminster definitions, but I prefer to refer to the covenant under discussion as the Edenic covenant.” John Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 65.
A couple months ago I read Leonard Vander Zee’s book Christ, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. This was another helpful book explaining the biblical role of the sacraments for the life of the Church. Vander Zee does an excellent job identifying the true dividing line in sacramental theology: the true dividing line in different views of the sacraments is between those who view the sacraments fundamentally as a human declaration to God and those who view them primarily as God’s declaration to us. The Reformed position is the latter. In the sacraments it is primarily God who is speaking – speaking to us and about us, identifying who we are, the promises he has made to us, and the hopes we have for the future. I would recommend it. You can find it here.
I just finished reading Against the Church by my friend Doug Wilson. I found Doug’s book extremely helpful and think that all those concerned about the Federal Vision controversy will profit from it. Doug emphasizes repeatedly here the absolute necessity of individual regeneration, rebirth, effectual calling for those inside, outside, and beside the covenant. You must be born again. You must move from death to life, from slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness, from tares to wheat, from darkness to light not only objectively but personally. All these things Doug has said repeatedly before but some have insisted that he must not really be saying that because why would sacraments and liturgy still be important? Thom Notaro did us a great service years ago clarifying in his book Van Til and the Use of Evidence that Van Til’s critiques of the wrong use of evidence didn’t mean that Van Til was completely opposed to the use of evidences in the right way. Hopefully Doug’s book Against the Church will serve a similar function to dispel the myth that an emphasis on the objectivity of the covenant, an emphasis on the significance of baptism and the Supper, does not entail a repudiation of the necessity for personal rebirth, faith, and righteousness. Rather the two go are to go together. Pick it up here.