Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of Discipleship

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Dr. C. John (Jack) Miller[T]he theological leadership of the conservative church has done a poor job in establishing the necessary link between justification by faith and discipleship.

For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).

Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.

Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you…

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Justification by Faith in the 20th Century: Nine Affirmations

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As I process research and writing for “Cheer Up! A Biographical Study of the Life and Ministry of C. John “Jack” Miller,” important documents (and audios) by Jack remain unpublished; documents that, in my estimation, are keenly insightful, prophetic, and could greatly bless and aid the church of Jesus Christ today.

Today, I’ve spent almost all day typing a 40 page essay by Jack Miller entitled “Justification by Faith in the 20th Century.”

This essay was written by Jack in December of 1978 at a turbulent time in our culture, in the church, and particularly at Westminster Theological Seminary, which was then immersed in a theological quagmire over justification by faith that had already lasted three years, continued until 1982, and arguably is alive and well (or not so well depending on your perspective) in the church today.

I’m not going to unload all 40 pages on you in this blogpost. With what I’ve gathered thus far in research and writing, I’m fairly convinced a study on Jack Miller and his treatment of “Justification by Faith in Union with Christ” is a research project/book that is waiting to happen.

For those of you who may be uninterested in an older theological debate, or presume you are a Christian because you walked the aisle of a church, were baptized, had a feeling, said some religious words of commitment, or have tried sincerely to be a good person and keep the commandments — this debate regarding justification by faith alone, which is as old as the Garden of Eden, is something, whether you realize it or not, you desperately need to hear about.

Trust me! For your well-being, joy and happiness now and eternally, you need to wrap your arms around, or better yet, by faith have Jesus Christ wrap His loving embrace around you with this glorious legal reality of justification by faith alone with respect to remission of sins and acceptance with God, and you will find it is bursting with relational relevancy.

And for those Christians who have left their justification by faith somewhere back there in the past, moved on to other salvation  benefits, and are grinding out this Christian life on your own with only a vague recollection of “Continuance in Justification,” and/or you have no idea what this heavenly declaration means to your life today, we do need to get together so we can talk about some of what Jack has been teaching me on this subject.

However, in this blogpost, I wanted to accomplish two things.

First, I want to wet your appetite by giving you just a taste of only some of what I’m finding from Jack Miller.

All that I’m finding couldn’t possibly make it into a biographical study without it being a 1000 pages. Nonetheless, it is essential that I at least draw attention to it in some introductory way.

This will help me and others gauge the future interest with respect to what further Jack Miller research and writing should follow next.

Second, because I’ve regularly heard what I know to be unfounded criticisms that Jack was “Lutheran-leaning” or more like “German Pietists,” basing this misguided assertion on the way he “over-emphasized justification” without awareness of the ongoing justification controversy at WTS, I thought it would be helpful for you and others to set before you what Jack himself has to say.

You won’t see much in this particular paper about sanctification (though other papers do address that topic) since the focus at the time was directed to justification. However, Jack will conclude this essay by talking about James 2 and Justification, as well as Justification and the Last Judgment.

You will notice, under “Affirmation 5, I’ve cut-and-pasted parts of what I’ve spent today typing from this unpublished working document Jack left for us to benefit from. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed curating it from research.

Nine Affirmations by Jack Miller concerning Justification by Faith

Affirmation 1: I wish to affirm that it is my conviction that justification by faith has as a foundational presupposition a consciousness of the majesty of God and the absolute demands of His justice. (Page 3)

Affirmation 2: I wish to affirm that the cure of our disease lies in a personal encounter with God’s law and the conviction of sin which arises from that encounter (Romans 7:9-11). (Page 4)

Affirmation 3: I affirm my conviction that the Scriptures clearly teach that before the new birth and saving faith all men are in a state of condemnation. (Page 8)

Affirmation 4: I wish to affirm the fundamental distinction between a legal promise and a gospel promise. The contrast is developed with fine clarity in Calvin’s treatment of justification in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. XVIII. (Page 9)

Affirmation 5: This gospel promise 0f Justification is received by faith alone.

Content of Affirmation 5: 

In the Reformed tradition, this “alone” has been called “the exceptive particle.” This faith alone is synonymous with the expression “without works” or “apart from works.” It means that we are not trusting in a legal promise for our salvation [see Affirmation 4]. Such faith abandons the works of the law in order to trust in Christ alone for acceptance with God.

When we meet the expression “without works of the law” (Ro. 3:28) we should understand that Paul is further protecting the Christ alone (3:20-22). Here the language “without the works of the law” is attached to faith in order that faith will not be construed in some way as a new work blurring the ground of our justification, which can only be Christ.

So what is being said here in Romans 3:28 is that faith alone, or faith without works, is simply the equivalent of Christ alone. Faith in its receiving character is not attempting to fulfill [the legal promise of] Leviticus 18:4-5; instead it is abandoning all claim to self-justification and laying hold of that which lies outside of the man, even Christ and His merits.

For this reason I believe that it is a serious mistake to say that works may have a part in declarative justification. This may be done with all sincerity on the plausible basis that works may have a place in justification provided that they are not understood as meritorious or as the ground of our pardon and acceptance with God.

Editorial Note: Jack has inserted a handwritten page entitled “Insert on p. 13” and directed where it is to be inserted in the essay.

In summary, I wish to say that I can admire the pietist zeal to check the presumption of easy-believism by stressing the necessity for sincere faith in salvation. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century godly pietists did this by placing weight on the right kind of faith. So far so good. But the danger is that this right kind of faith (sincere faith) will mean at least that you as a sinner are expected to work to prepare before you come to Christ (see Norman Petit, The Heart Prepared).

But when you do that, I fear you may have moved in the wrong direction of justification by faith plus works. James Denny put the issue in these challenging words:

“The German pietists, in opposition to a dead orthodoxy, in which faith had come to mean no more than a formal recognition of sound doctrine, spoke with emphasis of penitent faith, living faith, true faith, obedient faith, and so on. It is somewhat against qualifications like these that they are foreign to the New Testament. What they come down to in practice is this: Before the mercy of God in Christ in propitiation can be available for you, O sinful man, you must have a sufficient depth of penitence, a sufficiently earnest desire for reconciliation and holiness, a sufficient moral sincerity; otherwise grace would only minister to sin. But such qualifications do infringe upon the graciousness of the gospel . . .” (The Death of Christ, pp. 290-91).

End Editorial Note.

For this reason the Westminster standards do not speak of faith in its justifying function as “obedient faith” or “working faith.” To be sure, faith which justifies is going to be faith which works and obeys. But in the justification of the ungodly that is not its function.

Rather, its unique office in declarative justification is to abandon all human righteousness and to receive and rest on Christ alone as justifier.

Calvin says it like this: “when you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle.”

I see little reason to dispute over a term like “instrument” if a better one can be found. I personally prefer the word “means” or some more popular language like “the eye that looks to Christ” or “the empty hand that receives the gift of Christ.”

Yet whatever terminology is used, the main point must be upheld — which is that faith is the sole means by which we enter into union with Christ, the union which gives us our free justification as sinners. 

On the divine side, our regeneration brings us into union with Christ. But the human part in establishing this union is faith alone. 

There is nothing else. It is the sole doorway by which I enter into the house of salvation and receive Christ and all His glorious benefits, including justification. 

Therefore we may not say that faith and non-meritorious works both function as the means or instrument of justification. If we were to maintain this view, we would take away from the unique role that faith performs in our justification. That function is to receive Christ, something works can never do, no matter how you describe them.

Given these conclusions, all of us in the Reformed tradition ought to agree that teaching such a concept of faith and works (as instruments of justification) would constitute an offense against biblical doctrine.

As well, faith must always be seen as prior to justification in the order of the application or redemption. Temporally, faith and justification take place at the same time, but since faith functions as the unique means for bringing us into the state of justification it follows that faith has a priority. It is the priority of means.

There have been times when I have doubted the importance of this distinction. But I have seen that such a priority is inherent in the very idea of the open empty hand which takes hold of Christ, and faith is the way one lays hold of Him.

Therefore, I am persuaded that this is a matter of importance just because it protects the humble character of justifying faith. Our salvations begins not with our effort, but in our taking a free gift.

This is confirmed by Scripture. In Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 the prepositions translated “through” in relationship to faith imply that faith comes first as a means of our justification.

We conclude then that God from all eternity decreed to justify His elect, and Christ died for their sins on the cross and rose again for their justification, but it is still true that they are not justified until they first have believed in Jesus Christ and His righteousness imputed to them.

There is no such thing as an eternal justification nor is there any such thing as an “active justification” which precedes this declarative once-for-all justification. Justification does not come to sinners until they have entered into applied union with Christ through faith in Him.

I say this strongly by way of loving challenge. If I am wrong on this point, then I would like to see the Scriptures which shows that there is an “eternal” or an “active” justification prior to justification by faith described in Romans 3 and 4.

Affirmation 6: I wish to affirm the vital power of saving faith. So far, I have been focusing on its unique role in God’s act of justifying the ungodly. In such a discussion, I refuse to give any place to talk of love, works or obedience. It does not belong here. In this context the work of faith is that of a hungry mouth. (Page 15)

Affirmation 7: I affirm that it is my belief that Galatians and related passages in the New Testament draw a sharp distinction between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant. But I am of the opinion that in our time we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of “Reformed orthodoxy” which reads biblical history primarily in terms of “covenant continuity.” (Page 19)

Affirmation 8: I affirm my conviction that declarative justification as set forth in Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 is a definitive act of God’s grace on behalf of the ungodly. (Page 24)

Affirmation 9: I affirm that declarative justification properly understood does not cancel out discipleship but makes it a reality. (Page 29)

Taken from “Justification by Faith in the Twentieth Century” (unpublished), The CJM Manuscript Collection, The PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO. (40 pages), December, 1978.


Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of Discipleship

Dr. C. John (Jack) Miller[T]he theological leadership of the conservative church has done a poor job in establishing the necessary link between justification by faith and discipleship.

For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).

Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.

Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you than any other resource.

In the summer of 1970, I studied a number of the life-and-power promises of the Old Testament and began to see how they came to focus on our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Stimulated by these Christ-centered promises, I began to see the present age as a time of fulfillment and harvest (Lk. 10:1-2), an age of spiritual power associated with unceasing prayer and continued repentance (Zech. 12:10). This is the hour of crisis opportunity and the Spirit of Christ calling for the bold confrontation of the lost with the gospel (Acts 2:22-39).

From these same promises I began to grow in understanding of Christ as Sanctifier as well as Justifier. In particular, I began to see a splendid harmony between justification by faith and the call to discipleship in the gospels and the Epistle to James.

I had toned down the radical demands placed upon disciples by the Lord. I had almost said that justification by faith cancelled out the cost and necessity of discipleship. But suddenly it dawned upon me that these were the two sides of Christ’s great ongoing kingdom work.

By justification and the sanctification of discipleship [Christ] destroys all self-righteousness and all self-effort in order to give all glory to God.

In Justification by faith the sinner abandons his own righteousness and humbly submits in faith to the righteousness of God earned by the Lord Jesus Christ. And in becoming a disciple the sinner at the same time abandons his own self-control, his self-rule, and humbly submits in faith to the Sovereign lordship of the Redeemer.

Once this fundamental understanding came to me, once I grasped the work of discipling as a grand prophetic design set forth in the promises, my faith was quickened, my boldness increased, and it seemed most natural to see evangelism as an integral part of discipleship.

Evangelism is phase one in the process of God’s making disciples. He uses Christian men as instruments but the Holy Spirit acts as the primary means. For the Spirit is the promise; He is Christ’s chief executive on earth (Matt.28:20, Acts 2:33).

Left to ourselves, duties end obligations in a small group would overwhelm us. And how would we ever be able to disciple “the nations”? But if the key is that God is at work discipling through the Spirit of Christ, then everything takes on a different color.

Christ has come as the great Dawning. As the Son of righteousness, He has risen with healing in His wings and God’s people have joy like that of well-fed calves bursting forth from the stall (Mal. 4:2).

Discipling depends on the reality of Christ’s present existence and lordship. A disciple is a person committed to a living Lord, a learner ever submitting himself more completely to the will of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must view the cost of discipleship in this light. The disciple is called to renounce everything (Lk. 14:33), but by faith he also knows that he now owns all things in Christ (I Cor. 3:21-23).

Christ’s kingdom is the pearl of great price which is so valuable that the shrewd trader gives all in order to obtain it (Mt 13:45-46). The trader had not been rich and healthy before he met Christ.  No indeed, he was bankrupt both in respect to righteousness and in respect to spiritual strength and life. By faith he took hold of the only true riches found in Christ – forgiveness, acceptance with God, eternal life, joy, peace, and love.

In being a disciple and discipling others, the leader must be a wealthy man in Christ. He must be pre-eminently a man of faith seeming to rest his whole life on the promises of God. Faith then is the material from which disciples are built.

Jack Miller, How To Overcome Introversion In The Small Church, 44-45, in the context of Part VII, Leadership Through Small Groups, The Jack Miller Collection, PCA Historical Center at Covenant Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., n.d.


A Shrewd Manager (Greed) – Luke 16:1-14 – MP3

A Shrewd Manager (Greed) — Luke 16:1-14 — 2011-07-10

The Gospel IS THE POWER OF GOD for Worship, Missions and Renewal

Who is your master, money or God? How would you know? If you were about to lose everything that gave you comfort, significance and security, what would you do to maintain your lifestyle?


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