Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Must the Civil Authority Rule According to the Word of God?

The following is a quotation from Sam Waldron (in his Exposition of the 1689), who includes a quotation from John Murray:

A serious objection to the separation of church and state is that civil authority must rule according to the Word of God. If it is so to rule, how can it permit religious freedom? For instance, the Second Commandment forbids idolatry. Is it not, then, the duty of the civil authority also to forbid idolatry?

Here a crucial distinction must be enunciated. It is certainly true that civil authority is subject to the Word of God, but this does not mean that it is the duty of the civil authority to enforce every part of God’s Word with its own authority. Several illustrations will make this clear.

Ephesians 6:4 asserts, “And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The civil magistrate ought not to take it upon himself to bring up children. Not because the Word is not his authority, but because he is not a father. The exhortations to pastors in 1 Peter 5:2 are not to be implemented by the civil magistrate for the same reason. A civil magistrate is not a pastor.

John Murray well says, 

“Since the civil magistrate is invested with this authority by God and is obligated by divine ordinance to discharge these functions, he is responsible to God, the one living and true God who alone has ordained him. The magistrate is, therefore, under obligation to discharge the office devolving upon him in accordance with the revealed will of God. The Bible is the supreme and infallible revelation of God’s will and it is, therefore, the supreme and infallible rule in all departments of life. The civil magistrate is under obligation to recognize it as the infallible rule for the exercise of civil magistracy.

It must be recognized, however, that it is only within his own restricted sphere of authority that the civil magistrate, in his capacity as civil magistrate, is to apply the revelation of God’s will as provided in Scripture. It is only to the extent to which the revelation of Scripture bears upon the functions discharged by the state and upon the performance of the office of the civil magistrate, that he, in the discharge of these functions, is bound to fulfill the demands of Scripture. If the civil magistrate should attempt, in his capacity as magistrate, to carry into effect the demands of Scripture which bear upon him in other capacities, or the demands of Scripture upon other institutions, he would be immediately guilty of violating his prerogatives and of contravening the requirements of Scripture.
The sphere of the church is distinct from that of the civil magistrate. . . . The church is not subordinate to the state, nor is the state subordinate to the church. They are both subordinate to God and to Christ in his mediatorial dominion as head over all things to his body the church. Both church and state are under obligation to recognize this subordination and corresponding co-ordination of their respective spheres of operation in the divine institution. Each must maintain and assert its autonomy in reference to the other and preserve its freedom from intrusion on the part of the other.”

Why is the civil magistrate not to enforce the first table of the law [the first half of the Ten Commandments]? Because he is somehow not subject to the Word of God? No! Because it is not his job!


…Besides what has already been said, three comments are appropriate. Firstly, some limitation of the term ‘evil’ must be assumed in Roma 13:3-4 since the civil ruler is obviously not to punish private evil or evil of the heart. Secondly, interestingly enough, when Paul goes on to speak of the law in Romans 13, he speaks only of the ‘second table’ of the law. Thirdly, the historical context of Romans 13 makes incredible the idea that civil rulers are to punish religious evil. Paul is not speaking ideally in Romans 13, but of the actual conduct of the Roman government as it ruled in his life. Without doubt, the Roman emperors were not a cause of fear for religious evil behavior (Rom 13:1, 3-4).

Friday, March 11, 2016

What Happens if You Deny Christ's Imputed Righteousness?

I recently received the following question from someone: "What's the biggest problem with saying that imputation is only the declared righteousness of Christ and not a transfer of (Christ's meritorious) righteousness?"

I answered as follows: 

Virtually everyone today agrees that God “declares” us righteous.  God says, “justified” to those the Holy Spirit brings into union with Christ.  But that doesn’t answer the question of *why* He declares us righteous in the first place.  It doesn’t give us the ground of the verdict. The ground of a verdict is the legal reason that a judge declares a person "just" and "not guilty."  The ground of all just legal verdicts is whether or not a person has conformed to the law.  

Some may say that God declares us righteous on the ground of our faith.  But our faith is imperfect, while the law of God requires perfect faith to be at the ground of justification.  Someone may say God declares us righteous because of our imperfect faithful obedience.  Again, the problem is that the law requires perfect obedience.  To suggest that God declares us righteous on the basis of anything other than actual perfect righteousness is to compromise the justice of God and thus God’s own holy character.  

Others say that God declares us righteous because we are united to Christ and to the legal verdict the Father gave to Him at His resurrection, but that we are not united to Christ’s meritorious righteousness (deserved righteousness). I define “merit” in its strict sense only to mean "just deserts."

All the above views that deny the imputation of Christ's righteousness make it possible for true believers to fall away from Christ.  Here’s the reason: If Christ’s righteousness is not credited to you, then God is not obligated by justice to treat you like you deserve to live forever.  If Christ did not deserve life in your place as a substitute, then God is not obligated by justice to give you life-preserving grace. Now some may deny imputed righteousness while affirming that God will preserve all believers anyway, but they must also deny that God is obligated by justice to do so.

Once the possibility of losing your salvation is affirmed, then there is no more doctrine of assurance of final salvation.  Denial of imputation, practically speaking, often leads to the loss of confidence that God will preserve you to the end and give you the fulness of eternal life.  

The loss of the doctrine of final assurance leads, in turn, to an inability to trust God to save you to the uttermost, since God has guaranteed no such thing.  That means you must trust your own faith, efforts, and works to stay in God’s graces, which is a sinful, self-trusting, manner of striving for holiness that does not produce holiness, is not sanctification, and does not glorify God.  

Therefore, the loss of the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness not only leads to a theological denial of the absolute justice and holiness of God (since God accepts imperfect works for justification that do not meet the standard of His own justice), but also leads to stunted personal holiness and to dimming the glory of God in His people (since there can be no assurance of final salvation and believers are thrown back on themselves to endure to the end).