Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Musings on Merit

So, I've been sick, and yesterday I read Peter Leithart's post titled, What Does Christ Merit? in which he sounds a bit like Karl Barth, Dan Fuller, and others, who claimed that Roman Catholics and Protestants both whiffed it when it comes to the doctrine of merit. Since I have had some time on my hands, and since I couldn't sleep last night, here are a few of my musings on merit. Leithart finds a couple of texts that some people might misunderstand to say that Christ merited something for people, and then he explains why those texts don't say that at all. The problem, according to Leithart, is that both Protestants and Catholics think that sinners need merit to be accepted before God. I would humbly suggest that there's some misunderstanding afoot here, but it's not within historic theology. In the following post, I'll interact with Leithart, but I'll also briefly sketch the contours of biblical merit theology, since most of the confusion is apparently with that.

What is “merit?”

In the Bible's theology, the term “merit” simply means “what one justly deserves.” The Bible often talks about what people “deserve” for their just deeds or unjust deeds. For example, Deut 19:6 says, “the man did not deserve to die,” Deut 25:2 says, “the guilty man deserves to be beaten,” Jdgs 9:16 says you “have done to him as his deeds deserved,” Matt 10:10, “the laborer deserves his food,” and Lk 10:7, “the laborer deserves his wages.” In each of these instances, the person in question “justly deserves” or does “not justly deserve” something based on his works. That's merit.

To drill down a bit deeper, merit, or “just deserts,” is rooted in the biblical idea of “righteousness,” which simply means “justice” or “lawfulness.”  Righteousness or lawfulness is the basis or ground of merit, or "just deserts."  The unlawful (or unrighteous) “merit” or “deserve” the law's penalty. The lawful (or righteous) “merit” or “deserve” the law's reward. Sometimes the law's reward is simply freedom from the law's penalty. For example, if a citizen refrains from murder, then he is free from the penalty of death for murder, and thus deserves the reward of life. To understand “righteousness” in the Bible, it may be helpful to approach this from the perspective of three categories of God's "righteousness."

1. The Bible speaks of God's own “rectoral righteousness.” This is God's rectitude as a judge. He is an incorruptible judge who always upholds the law, never relaxes it, or bends it for personal reasons. The law is a necessary reflection of His own character; so, He would never want to violate the law. Psalm 99:3-4 says, “Holy is he! The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness.”

2. The Bible speaks of God's “retributive righteousness.” This means that God condemns and punishes the unlawful (or unrighteous) according to the law's penalty. “Retribution” means that one “deserves” or “merits” the law's penalty. At the end of a frightening description of human depravity in Romans 1, Paul declares, “those who practice such [unlawful] things deserve to die” (Rom 1:32). Those who break the law deserve, or merit, death.

3. The Bible speaks of God's “remunerative righteousness.” This means that God justifies and rewards the lawful (righteous) according to the law's reward. “Remuneration” means that one “deserves” or “merits” the law's rewards. Psalm 58:11 says, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.” And Isaiah 3:10, “Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.”  Now redeemed sinners cannot merit reward (Lk 17:10); rather, as Augustine said, the rewards God gives to the good works of His people are God "crowing His own graces." Their works and their rewards, however, were merited by Christ's perfect obedience to the law.  Christ kept the law and deserves, or merits, life.

So the concept of “merit” seems fairly evident and pervasive in Scripture. People who break the law deserve its penalty. People who keep the law deserve its reward. This isn't too complicated.

As an aside, the Medieval theologians debated about realism (typically joined with an intellectualist doctrine of the divine will), which said that good works are intrinsically meritorious, and nominalism (often connected with a voluntarist doctrine of the divine will), which said that good works are meritorious because God says they are, not because they have inherent value. Without landing that particular beach, I'll just say this. Human beings cannot possibly “merit” or “deserve” anything from God outside of a covenant relationship. But given the fact that God created human beings in His own image and made them for relationship with Him, it is only consistent with God's holy character that He condescended and created them in covenant with Himself. Thus, its right to see human beings as “deserving” of penalty or reward within the context of a divinely established covenant relationship.

Is “merit” necessary for acceptance before God?

The main point of Leithart's article seems to be that he opposes any notion that “merit” has to do with our acceptance before God. He says that the New Testament provides no evidence for that. But if we understand that "merit" means “just deserts,” then biblical evidence appears everywhere. Even in Leithart's own examples.

Leithart mentions Romans 5:18 (wrongly cited as Romans 5:21-21): “righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Leithart announces that Paul never connects Christ's obedience to worth (or merit). But it's clear from what we saw above that “righteousness” or “justification” (dikaiosune), is a law word. And people are declared “righteous” (or lawful) when they have kept the law, and if they have kept the law, then they deserve the law's reward. Thus, if we read the term “righteousness” biblically, we see that it contains within it the idea of legal worth, merit, or just deserts. It turns out that “merit talk” isn't so foreign to the Bible after all. Scripture is full of statements about righteousness, justice, and justification, which are about whether one deserves the law's penalty or reward.

Is Leithart right, then, to object to the Roman Catholic and Protestant insistence that “merit” has to do with a sinner's acceptance before God? I've never read anyone to say that “merit” alone is sufficient for a sinner's acceptance before God. Sinners need many other things for God's acceptance, including God's eternal decree, His creation of mankind as relational beings, His love and gracious purpose, and all of His covenantal dealings with them in Christ. But certainly, merit is one of the preconditions of a relationship with God. This is clear if we just imagine the opposite.

Does God “accept” lawbreakers who deserve condemnation and death? Would we dare say that God the Father would “accept” God the Son, if God the Son were not perfectly lawful? Surely we would not. That would be blasphemy. God accepts the Son because He is the Son, eternally generated by the Father, but the Father also accepts the Son because the Son is perfectly lawful. So, since God does not accept lawbreakers, but only accepts those who are free from lawbreaking, and are thus law-keepers, then it seems we must say that God only accepts those who deserve, or merit, the law's blessing. Of course, it would be wrong to say that merit alone secures or earns a relationship with God. We've already seen that many gifts are needed to have a relationship with God: the decree, creation, God's grace, and covenant. But merit is one of those things. God hates the wicked, and He is “of purer eyes than to see evil, and cannot look at wrong” (Heb 1:13). Merit is necessary (but not sufficient) for acceptance before God.

Why does Peter Leithart seem so opposed to the doctrine of “merit?” Opposing God's holy justice seems like a very strange thing for a theologian to do. Why would a theologian want to say that God isn't interested in immutably enforcing His own holy law, which is rooted in His holy character, by way of judicial actions that are consistent with His holiness? I can't say for sure, but I've thought of a few reasons.  

1. Such a theologian may simply be opposed to the idea that it's possible to “buy” a relationship with God. If that's what "merit theology" is, then I join him in opposing it. The discussion is over, and we can all go home. But such a characterization of “merit theology” would be a straw man. What classic Reformed theologian ever taught that anyone could “buy” a relationship with God? 

2. With Karl Barth, he may object to the idea that a creature could ever bind or obligate the Creator. Some say that as Creator, God has the right to do as He pleases, no matter what His creatures may do. On this objection, no creature could possibly “deserve” anything from its Creator or require Him to act. But this objection falls, when we observe that from His own character, God freely created Adam as a moral agent in covenant with Himself. As a moral agent, Adam had the natural ability to do good or evil. And because God covenanted with Adam, had Adam kept the law, he would have deserved to live on the terms of the covenant. But since Adam broke the law, he deserved to die on the terms of the covenant. The possibility of Adam's “merit” was grounded in God's original freely formed design. Adam's merit is based on two things. First, God created Adam as a moral agent in His image. Second, God created His image in covenant. Thus, the creature can't obligate the Creator, unless the Creator makes it possible for him to do so.

3. He may object to the doctrine of merit because he thinks of merit like “brownie points.” Some people think of merit as some sort of valuable “stuff” that accumulates over time. When you do good, you get a merit point, and when you have enough points, you get a prize. While the Roman Catholic idea of merit may have some affinities with this concept (though this is a crass characterization, even for them), that is not what Protestant theology ever taught. In biblical Protestant theology, merits cannot accumulate, and it is not a substance of any kind. One has either kept God's holy law and deserves its reward, or one has not, and so deserves its penalty.

4. He may object to the notion of merit because he's a determinist. That is to say, he might deny that merit is possible because God graciously gives good works to men. These graciously-given works, therefore, can't possibly be meritorious. They all come from God, which means people can't deserve anything for them. But this kind of thinking proves too much and too little. It proves too much because if it's true, then it applies equally to sin. God sovereignly determines that people sin (Lk 22:22; Rev 17:17, for example), yet surely we want to say with the Scriptures that those God determines to sin deserve, or merit, death (Rom 1:32). God's determination of moral actions in no way eliminates the moral agent's “just deserts.” It also proves too little because the Scriptures teach that God's sovereign determination is exactly what makes a person morally praiseworthy (deserving of reward) or blameworthy (deserving of penalty). This is called compatibilism. God's determination of human actions is compatible both with human freedom and human responsibility in meriting both penalties and rewards.

In good Reformed theology, determinism alone (the fact that God gives us, or works in us, the works we do) isn't the only reason our works aren't meritorious. Rather, the good works we do as believers aren't meritorious because Jesus has already satisfied the demands of the law by His life and death. Jesus has met the requirements of justice. That means justice cannot require good works from us to be satisfied, since justice is already satisfied.  So, since God's justice does not require our good works, there is no room for them at all in our justification (the declaration of our "justness"). That's why our good works are not meritorious – the law's requirements have been met, and justice is satisfied. God does, however, require good works from His children, but not as a Judge, and not in justification. God requires believers to do good works, and our good works please God as our Father. God graciously accepts our good works as the efforts of His beloved children to please Him. Of course, God's Fatherly acceptance of our works is only possible because Christ has already cleared up our legal problems and satisfied God as Judge. So, the believer's good works are not meritorious, but they are necessary, and they are pleasing to God.

One more note about good works. They are necessary for our final salvation (Mk 13:13). But it's very important to understand why they're necessary. They aren't necessary under the category of “justice.” That category has been satisfied. But they are necessary for two other reasons. First, they're necessary to “vindicate” us and to “acquit” us of all the charges of Satan, the adversary and accuser, in the sight of God and in the sight of men and the holy angels. So, our good works are necessary as legal evidence that Christ's righteousness has already been imputed. Our good works do not satisfy justice; they prove that justice has already been satisfied. Second, the believer's good works are necessary to make us naturally fitted for heaven. God's children must be holy, if they are to enjoy their relationship with their Father. This isn't a matter of justice; it's a matter of relational communion. Our minds, hearts, and behaviors have to be changed, if we're to enjoy our Father in this world, but also so that we can enjoy Him in heaven when we get there. Heaven would be a miserable place, if we were not holy. The Bible says to “pursue holiness without which none will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

I can't help but notice there are some reasons Leithart and others may find it helpful to deny the category of merit.

1. Denying merit makes justification by “gracious” works possible. If a theologian wanted to say that God's justice requires people to work for justification, but at the same time that theologian wanted to deny that people can merit their justification, then one option available is to deny the category of merit altogether. If we say (with a wave of the hand) “there is no merit,” then we can teach people to work for their justification non-meritoriously. If anyone objects, “But that's works salvation!,” then the theologian can simply reply, “But the works aren't meritorious” (these aren't the droids you're looking for).

2. Denying merit makes it possible to lose justification. If justification is “deserved” by Christ, and if His “deserving” obedience is imputed to His people, then it's not possible to lose justification (Rom 5:1-2, 21; 8:30). That's because God treats those who are justified like they deserve eternal life, not because they do, but because Christ does. And if God treats them like they deserve eternal life, then justice requires that He must do everything necessary to keep them alive in Christ, and take them all the way to heaven. If, however, Christ's obedience does not strictly deserve justification and eternal life, then God can justly treat those in Christ like they don't deserve eternal life either. In such a system, God determines that some who were justified will fall away from faith. God will justly revoke their justified status, because Christ did not deserve (merit) His justification and eternal life; so, justice doesn't require God to treat those in Christ like they deserve justification and eternal life either.

3. Denying merit makes it easier to have “corporate justification.” This is really not a different insight from the previous two.  Leithart wants to view the individual almost exclusively through the lens of the visible corporate body of the church. Corresponding to that, he has a program of corporatizing every aspect of soteriology, while virtually altogether neglecting the individual in my estimation. With merit (and so justice) out of the way, Leithart is free to think of justification as a corporate declaration of who is “in” the covenant. Those who keep the soft laws of the covenant stay justified by their faithfulness. Those who apostatize fall out of the covenant and lose their justification. Of course, the price of this theology is high. It throws God's holiness and justice under the bus, and it does so under the guise of opposing an antiquated “merit theology,” which needs to be scrapped.

Thus, contra Leithart, the Bible does seem to speak quite clearly to the question of merit, and in light of what Scripture teaches, it seems that the Protestants were right that merit has to do with the sinner's acceptance before God. Merit, if defined as “just deserts,” is related to God's glorious justice, which is the application of His holy character. Merit, so defined, is one of the pillars of a gracious justification in Christ, of certain assurance of final salvation, of grateful worship, and of strength to persevere to the end, even in the midst of terrible sufferings.

Jesus had to come because our sin merited/deserved death. His death merited/deserved His resurrection to eternal life. And all of the elect are united to Him on the ground of His life-merits, and in Him, they are treated like they deserve all that Christ deserves, which means that God treats them like they deserve eternal life, and so He makes certain, by the Spirit, that they get and keep every blessing of life, including regeneration (a living heart), faith and repentance (a living disposition), justification (the verdict of life), sanctification (a transformed life) and glorification (the fulness of eternal life). And so our song shall ever be. SDG

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Rich Lusk and Justification by Works, not Faith Alone

In my experience, proponents of the Federal Vision often say that their detractors have misunderstood their position, that they're intentionally misrepresenting their position, ignoring the Federal Vision's clear affirmations of orthodox doctrine, or accusing the Federal Vision of willful deception.  In my view, however, proponents of the Federal Vision are not being deceptive.  They have made themselves clear.  And my concern is not with what they haven't said, but with what they have said so plainly.  In the interest of honesty and clarity, I offer this post attempting to interact with an essay written by Rich Lusk, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Please read the following post, Future Justification to the Doers of the Law by Rich LuskThen, come back and read the following critique.

1. Lusk denies that the law requires "perfect" obedience.  Lusk writes, "Let’s start by unpacking what it means to keep the law. The law simply did not require perfect obedience."  James Buchanan, in his classic work on the doctrine of justification, states, "It may be safely affirmed that almost all the errors, which have prevailed on the subject of justification, may be traced ultimately to erroneous, or defective, views of the law and justice" (Doctrine of Justification 268).  Is it accurate to say that God's law did not require "no murder" at all?  Was murder not to be strictly avoided in the Old Covenant?  Could we really say that as long as someone murdered but offered sacrifices for their murder, that person did not break God's law?  

2. Lusk denies that "sin" breaks the law.  Lusk says, "If one sinned, one did not automatically become a 'law breaker' except in a highly technical sense."  The problem with this is that the New Testament appears to teach that the only way we know we're law-breakers is that we've actually broken the law.  Romans 3:20 says, "Through the law comes the knowledge of sin."  1 John 3:4 says, "Sin is lawlessness."  You know you're a murderer because you've murdered, a liar because you've lied, etc.  Moreover, how can something be called a "sin" (missing the mark) unless there is a clear law-standard by which that sin can be measured?  Lusk would say that such a standard is highly technical, abstract, and moralistic, and that sin does not break the law.

At this point, we need to reflect on what Lusk has already said in his essay.  He says the law of God is not absolute.  According to Lusk, the law does not require perfect obedience, and sins are not transgressions of the law of God.  The law is, therefore, on Lusk's view, "soft" and "flexible."  Law keeping, which is identical to covenant keeping on Lusk's model, is about a relationship of "loyalty to the Lawgiver."  The law is a law of grace (law is a law of gospel), about relationships, not laws.  This soft-law doctrine is the foundation of every historic heresy on justification.  It was taught by Richard Baxter along with many others who denied the orthodox doctrine of justification.  This position allows God to call imperfect (sinful) human obedience "righteous."  It also logically removes the need for the imputed righteousness of Jesus, both in its passive and active forms.  How can there be a need of a death penalty for law-breaking (passive obedience), if sin is not law-breaking?  And, how can there be any need of Christ's active obedience to satisfy divine justice, if the law doesn't require perfect obedience?   It also eliminates the Reformed doctrine of "sola fide," which teaches that "faith alone" justifies, not because the law requires faith to satisfy justice, but because faith is the grace that lays hold of Christ and His righteousness, which alone satisfies God's justice.  On the biblical and Reformed view, faith justifies, not because it is "just" but because it takes hold of Christ's "justness."

To support his doctrine of justification by imperfect works, Lusk cites David, Elizabeth, and Zecharias as biblical examples of people being called "righteous" on the basis of imperfect obedience (1 Kgs 15:5; Lk 1:6).  Reformed exegetes, however, teach that those individuals were called "righteous" not because their imperfect obedience measured up to God's law and standard of justice.  Rather, they were called "righteous" because their good works of covenant faithfulness gave evidence that they had already been united to Christ and His righteousness.  David spoke clearly of Christ's imputed righteousness (Rom 4:6-8; Ps 32:1-2) as the sole basis of his justification, and of every man's justification.  Covenant faithfulness is mere evidence of justification.  Covenant faithfulness is not what constituted David, Elizabeth, and Zecharias righteous before God.  This is the difference between Lusk and historic biblical Reformed orthodoxy.  

Lusk's denial of absolute law and strict justice lays the groundwork for justification (justice) that accepts soft and sinful human obedience.  Soft justice does not need the perfect and sinless righteous obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ to be satisfied.  It's a flexible and relational kind of justice that justifies imperfect obedience (calls evil good?), as long as it stays in a loyal relationship.

3. Lusk says that Romans 2:13 teaches justification by works.  Here Lusk correctly notes that John Calvin taught that Romans 2:13 is a hypothetical statement which says that justification by works is hypothetically possible, if one keeps the law of God perfectly.  Romans 2:13 reads, "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified."  Calvin interprets this to mean: "You can be justified by works, if you can keep the law perfectly."  

Romans 1-3 makes it clear that no one can keep the law perfectly.  Romans 3:10-12 says, "None is righteous [justified], no not one . . . no one does good, not even one."  Calvin's reading fits the most naturally with the structure of Romans 1-3, which is about the fact that all are sinners under the law and that none can be justified by the law.  Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  On Calvin's view, since no one can keep the law perfectly (Rom 1-3a), then we need to be justified by an alien and imputed righteousness (Rom 3b-4).  Romans 4:5-6 says, "And to the one who does not work, but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness . .. God counts righteousness apart from works." This guards Paul's doctrine of justification by faith alone on the ground of Christ's righteousness.  

Lusk, however, says that Romans 2:13 teaches that human beings are justified in God's sight and before the bar of God's soft justice by their personal works of faithful (imperfect, sinful) obedience.  This interpretation seems to make Romans 2:13 contradict Romans 3:20, which says, "For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight since through the law comes the knowledge of sin," and with Romans 3:28, "For we hold that one is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law."

4. Lusk teaches that our personal works of righteousness must be added to Christ's righteousness for justification.  In the section entitled "The White Robes of Righteousness," Lusk teaches that we are justified in the first moment of justification by faith alone. He writes, "This [first moment of justification] is the beginning of Joshua’s justification. But if Joshua is to remain justified — that is, if the garments he has received are not to become re-soiled with his iniquity — he must be faithful. Thus, initial justification is by faith alone; subsequent justifications include obedience" (emphasis is mine).

Thus, Christ's work alone is not sufficient to satisfy divine justice on Lusk's model.  Christ's work is unique and important, but God's justice also requires the works of believers to be satisfied.  This would seem to imply that Christ is not our substitute or federal head in justification, since His works do not substitute for our works in the economy of God's justice.  Rather, Christ's works and our works combine to satisfy God's justice together.  Thus, Christ does not appear to be a substitute, but a cooperative agent whose work is important, but not sufficient for justification.   

5. Lusk expressly rejects the classic distinction between "justification by faith alone" and "final vindication by works."  This is probably the most important paragraph of Lusk's essay because it expresses his error plainly.  I cite it here in full:

"In James 2, “justification” cannot be referring to a demonstration of justification, e.g., justification does and cannot mean something like 'show to be justified.' Rather, James has in view the same kind of justification as Paul — forensic, soteric justification. Good works justify persons in James 2, not faith or one’s status as a justified sinner. James is not telling his readers how to “justify their justification” or how to “give evidence of a true and lively faith” [2]. Instead he says their persons will not be justified by faith alone, but also by good works of obedience they have done. The use of the preposition “by” is important since it indicates a sort of dual instrumentality in justification. In other words, in some sense, James is speaking of a justification in which faith and works combine together to justify [3]. Future justification is according to one’s life pattern. No one dare claim these works to be meritorious, but they are necessary. There is congruence between the life we live and the destiny we will receive" (emphasis is mine).

Notice a couple of things about Lusk's paragraph.  

a. Orthodox Reformed exegetes have said that the context of James 2 requires an interpretation which distinguishes what James means by the word "justify" and what Paul means by "justify."  The GK word "justify" can mean "constitute righteous" or "demonstrate righteous" (John Murray). In both the OT and the Septuagint, the Hebrew word “justify” (צדק), and the LXX translation (δικαιοω), refer to “constituting righteous” (e.g., in Exodus 23:7).  The same Hebrew-Greek pair appears again in Jeremiah 3:11 and refers to “demonstrating righteous.” Similarly, Paul refers to being "constituted righteous" on the basis of Christ's righteousness (see Rom 3:26, 28; 4:4-8).  James refers to believers being "demonstrated righteous," or proven to be righteous, by means of good works (Jas 2:24).  This rendering of justification as "demonstrative righteousness" in James 2:24 is based on the fact that James uses "demonstrative" terms like "show me your faith;" "I will show you my faith" (2:18); "You see that faith was active along with works" (2:22), and "you see that a person is justified by works" (2:24).  In this context, works justify (or prove, or vindicate) a previous justification by faith on the ground of Christ's works alone.

b. Failing to recognize the distinction between "demonstrative" justification and "constitutive" justification leads Lusk to deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Contrary to the Reformed understanding of the heart of the gospel, it is logically consistent for Lusk to affirm that both faith and works are necessary for justification.  Faith and works together are needed to meet the requirements of God's justice.  He writes "the use of the preposition 'by' indicates a sort of dual instrumentality in justification."  He goes on to say, "James is speaking of a justification in which faith and works combine together to justify."  This is an express denial of justification by faith alone.  The Reformed WCF 11.2 says, "Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification," which is the plain teaching of many passages of Scripture (Rom 3:20, 28; Gal 2:15-16, 21, 3:21-25; 5:3-4; Phil 3:9, etc.).  Paul teaches that to deny justification by faith alone is something for which one is "accursed" (Gal 1:8-9; 2:15-16).  

6. Lusk expressly denies that God's "strict" justice will be applied at the last day.  This material is found under Lusk's heading, "A Gracious Justice."  If justice is "gracious" and not "strict" on the last day, then on what basis does God send sinners to hell? Is it a mere soft justice that condemns sinners (goats: Matt 25) on the last day?  Are there two standards of justice on judgment day, one for sheep (soft and gracious) and one for goats (strict)?  Lusk says, "God will use “fatherly justice” in the final judgment, not “absolute justice.” He will judge us the way parents evaluate their child’s art work, or the way a new husband assesses the dinner his beloved wife has made. The standard will be soft and generous because God is merciful."  

I submit that this is Lusk's most basic and serious error.  He does not affirm God's perfectly holy and strict justice and he denies that God rules and judges in accordance with it.  This denial of strict law and strict justice allows Lusk to say that God accepts imperfect works in justification, to deny the need for Christ's imputed active obedience, and thus to deny the need for justification by faith alone, which lays hold of the righteousness of another. The comfort offered in this system is not that Christ alone has satisfied God's justice.  Rather, the comfort is that God accepts and justifies sinful obedience as long as you remain loyal to Jesus.  "He will judge us the way parents evaluate their child's art. . . . the standard will be soft and generous."  We don't have to worry about our sins because they don't break the law.  God judges us softly.

7. Lusk weakly claims that he isn't teaching works-salvation.  He knows he has opened himself to the charges that I make above and so he provides three reasons that it is not so.  A careful reader will observe, however, that Lusk does not support his reasons, nor does he show how his reasons are consistent with the model he has offered.  Let's take a look at them one at a time.  

a. "First, the soteriology I have offered is still thoroughly monergistic" (Lusk).  But does an affirmation of monergism adequately remove the charge of teaching a meritorious salvation?  Isn't an affirmation of Christ's perfect justice-satisfying obedience also necessary?  If one's imperfect works can be said actually to satisfy God's (flexible) law and justice, then why aren't those works deserving of reward, since they actually conform to God's just standard?   Additionally, "monergism" and "compatibilism" go together in Augustinian systems.  That is, monergists teach that God's determination of human actions is compatible with those actions being either praise-worthy or blame-worthy.  Since Lusk is a thoroughgoing monergist, then he acknowledges that sinners monergistically sin, and their sin is worthy and deserving of (demeritorious of) condemnation.  How then does monergism keep Lusk from a system of works righteousness and personal merit when it comes to personal obedience?  Mongergism is compatible with, and is in fact the basis of, responsibility, blameworthiness, and praiseworthiness.  So, on Lusk's system, why doesn't God's monergistic determination of obedience in the elect (his gifts to them) for justification make them praise-worthy, deserving, meritorious of their justification? Classical Reformed orthodoxy never teaches that monergism alone eliminates the deserving character of good works.  Rather, justification is non-meritorious because Christ has wholly accomplished justice for the elect.  The good works of believers contribute nothing to God's justice because justice has already been "filled up" and completely satisfied by the obedience of Christ.  Therefore, God's justice requires no works from believers, which means the good works of believers do not deserve justification from God.

b. "Second, I would insist on the utter sufficiency and uniqueness of Christ’s self-offering on the cross" (Lusk).  But in what sense is Christ's death "sufficient?"  Lusk has taught that it's not sufficient for justification, but that our own works must be added.  How is it "unique?"  What did it actually do?   If the law doesn't require perfect obedience, then why did Christ need to die at all?  Lusk's system seems to remove the *need* of Christ's sin-offering, since the law does not require perfection.  The plain statements Lusk has already made about soft justice, flexible laws, and continuing in justification by imperfect (sinful) works seem to remove the need of the satisfaction of justice by Christ's death.  Therefore, it is difficult to see how Christ's death is sufficient in any sense and in what sense he means that it is unique.  

c. "Third, the “softer” standard simply seems to be the teaching of Scripture."  But I have argued that this is not the case. The Bible says "sin is lawlessness" (1 Jn 3:4; cf. Rom 3:10-20).  The Bible does not teach that the law is soft, mild, easy, and accepting of sinful actions.  Classic Reformed orthodoxy has recognized that our holy God is not a God of soft justice.  He requires perfect obedience to His law because God is Himself perfect. 

So, what do we make of all of this?  

Lusk's basic problem is that he denies God's strict "justice" on the last day.  On Lusk's model, God does not require perfect obedience to His law in order to say that someone is "just."  God accepts imperfect (sinful) obedience as meeting the standards of His justice.  To reiterate, one implication of this is that Christ's perfect satisfaction of the law is not a strict requirement of God's justice (sin does not make one a law-breaker).  Additionally, Christ's work cannot be said to be sufficient to satisfy God's justice, since imperfect human works of obedience must be added to Christ's work in order to remain in a state of justification.  This is Lusk's central and most serious theological error. He eliminates the strict necessity of Christ's death and He denies the sufficiency of Christ's death to satisfy God's justice.  Paul says, "If justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose" (Gal 2:21). 

One of the most practical effects of this teaching, it seems to me, is that we can't have any basis on which to trust Christ alone to completely satisfy God's justice, since Lusk teaches that our works must be added to Christ's works.  We should trust Christ's work, but we must also trust our works, since our works are required by God's soft standard of justice in order to be justified.  This has significant implications for assurance of salvation.  If our works must be added to Christ's works to meet the requirements of God's justice, then there is no basis on which to trust Christ and His work alone to meet the requirements of God's justice.  Our assurance cannot, therefore, be based on Christ alone.  Assurance must rest on Christ, but it must also *rest* on and *trust* our own obedience, since God requires continued obedience to fulfill His just requirements for justification and acceptance before Him.