Living Out Life in Grace

Oh Lord, we ask that we would become wise in your counsel.
And if through folly we should consider ourselves wise and become fools,
then we ask that you send to us ministering spirits who speak of your majesty and teach us in humility,
for it is through their humility that we shall recognize that they are your servants.


The Arminian-Wesleyan-Anabaptist view is that faith is counted for righteousness. This righteousness isn't a personal righteousness or even the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness is imputed faith whose subject and object is the person of Christ and the completed sufficiency of his self-giving sacrificial atonement that is counted as righteousness by God. As we struggle against the old sinful, Adamic nature and by faith take on the new nature of Christ, we aren't cloaked in robes of Christ's righteousness, our robes are washed white by the atoning blood of the Lamb. Imputation then isn't a transfer of righteousness as though Christ's victorious atonement may be reckoned on an accounting ledger, imputation is of faith that is then counted as righteousness by God. God doesn't count us as righteous because we are in fact righteousness, He counts us as righteous because of the acceptable atonement of Christ His Son whose blood covers the mercy seat. In this regard, Christ’s priestly-sacrificial atonement was foreshadowed in the Old Testament by the Levitical priesthood. For there on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) during the fall feast (cf. Lev. 23:27-36) Israel would sacrifice for all Israel, for believers and unbelievers, for the faithful and unfaithful. This covering was efficient (to use Calvinist terms) only for the faithful but was given as a means of atonement for the unfaithful as well.

Last year Traveleh summed the OT picture of atonement well, writing,

The picture was of the high priest making an offering for all of Israel including those foreigners within her. The offering was made not just for the faithful but for all of Israel, faithful and unfaithful. That does not mean that the unfaithful were covered by the atonement. Lacking faith there is no covering. It simply means it is made available. In Christ's fulfillment of the OT type, the atonement is an appeasement for God and is made effective only through faith even though, as with the OT type, it was made available for all. This is consistent with Calvin's commentary on John 3 in which he confirms that the atonement or offering was universal rather than specific. Israel was a picture of the world, both Jew and Gentile, and the high priests offering was a picture within Israel of what Jesus would do for the benefit of the world made effective through faith just as was the case with Israel.

In Calvinism the distinctive of imputed righteousness of Christ cannot be lived out—for all still succumb to sinful temptations. And so the desire to sin is greater than God and grace and man is not a new creation but more of the same. Now look at the holiness verses and warning passages. The "imputed holiness" of Christ Calvinists claim is defeated by the world. Fact of it is that nothing of Christ seems to have been imputed for if his character was imputed then people wouldn't continue to sin. But people do continue to sin so something other than imputed righteousness must be at work here. But if it is claimed that the righteousness of Christ isn't effectually imputed until heaven, then there is no point to all the holiness and warning passages found throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Consider the Scriptures:

Rom. 4:3 "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness."
Rom. 4:5 "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
Rom. 4:9 “For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness."
Rom. 4:22 “And, therefore, it was imputed to him for righteousness."
Gal. 3:6 "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
James 2:23 "Abraham believed God. and it was imputed to him for righteousness."

As Russel R. Byrun noted in his Christian Theology (pp. 422-33), in these texts, faith is said to be reckoned for righteousness, counted for righteousness, accounted for righteousness, and imputed for righteousness. The sense is the same in a every case. The difference is only in the translation; the same Greek word, logizomai, is used in the original of all these texts. The simple sense is that faith was accepted or put to the credit, for, that is, in the place of righteousness. Which is to say that sanctification, like justification, is by faith and not by pseudo imputation that leaves the Christian as a defeatist in their doctrine of holiness longing for holiness, longing for a better relationship with Christ but defeated because they respect the power of sin too much and God's power of grace too little.

Consider now your joy in salvation. Repeatedly well-meaning, well-intentioned disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ justify their poor, worldly, unloving behavior displayed toward one another by appealing to the fact that they are sinners and by expressing their belief that they are obligated and must manifest their sinful behavior to the detriment of their relationship with our Lord and to the detriment of their relationship with their fellows. I'm grieved at the proliferation of such defeatist attitudes and I'm angered that such an attitude is taught as orthodoxy in seminaries and from the pulpit as though pericopes such as Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:3 and Romans 6:15-18 have been torn from the Bible from a lack of understanding. Brethren, are we not dead to sin and alive in Christ? I hear the claims that although justified we’re all helpless sinners but I never hear of the justified reckoning themselves dead to sin. If you don't know enough to grieve over this sad state of affairs then my heart cries out that what I'm about to say will be heard.

There is a criticism of the western theological tradition made from the eastern tradition that the west's view of satisfaction leads to an improper theological consideration when satisfaction theology is incorporated into individual western theological traditions. More disturbing to the eastern tradition is the application of satisfaction theology leads to improper views of sin that work to hinder the works of God to bring about personal sanctification (theosis* in the eastern tradition).

The eastern tradition believes that good works, as Paul indicated, spring from the love of God and the love of one's neighbors. Good works are the by-product of Christian faith and come about organically from righteous thought and conduct that is embodied in believers who cloak themselves with the character and nature of Christ.

The critique is that western judicial theology cultivates expressions of gloom in the general demeanor of its disciples particularly in public where outward signs of an individual's exemplary character are patronizingly and piously manifested.** Theologically the underlying eastern criticism is interesting and is premised on the idea that the original notion of sin as missing the mark has been changed in western juridical theology to consider all sin as constituting a grievous legal transgression for which a form of legal punishment is due. For the eastern tradition the seriousness of missing the mark (sin) is the lost relationship with God for the non-Christian or the interruption in communion with God for the sinning Christian. The seriousness is not that some type punitive punishment is necessary for atonement. For the eastern tradition the practical outcome of anybody practicing juridical theology is that sin involves a spiritual bankruptcy of a morass of guilt that results from the suspicion that any sin transgresses an undefined legal criterion of morality that is beyond a simply prayer of apology and a resolution to do better next time and an inability to recognize that God is continually providing by grace the means to do better if the grace he gives is picked up and acted upon in faith.

The hindrance to progressive sanctification in the western tradition is obvious if it is believed that sin cannot be overcome by grace and that ultimately sinful temptations must be acted upon. The resulting spiritual bankruptcy leads to a loss of the joy of salvation, an emphasis on self-effort that leads to repeated frustration and spiritual suffering in the belief that God will leave the sinner in his or her sin, and condemnation toward those expressing theosis or the attitude of improving one’s relationship with God and their fellows by embodying more and more grace and faithfully acting on it.

Influenced by the eastern tradition, Wesleyan theology embraces the call of progressive sanctification (theosis or perfection) viewing sanctification not in the abstract as personal holiness or self-righteousness that can never be realized that ultimately leaves the disciple with a defeatist outlook on living out life in terms of reckoning oneself dead to sin and alive to God but in relational terms wherein the disciple ever strengthens his or her relationship or communion with the Lord by continually embodying the grace God rains down and acting on the grace in faith. Hence John Wesley's primary contribution to western theology was the rediscovery and emphasis that like justification, sanctification is also by faith. The practical application of this doctrine begins when the disciple realizes that he or she doesn't need to act on the daily sinful temptations but by grace is able to finally and at last be made free from sin and become a servant of righteousness (cf. Rom. 6:18).

By the grace of God do we go,

Eric Landstrom

* In the eastern tradition theosis is the call to man to become holy and seek union with God beginning in this life and later consummated in the resurrection cf. 2 Peter 1:4.

** When I interned under the General Secretary of the Evangelical Free Church who was charge of ordinations and pastoral discipline, I learned the more rigorous the outward piety, the more likely a sense of shame was to conceal and fester sin rather than express personal confession and petitions for prayer and help. Rigorous pious church cultures were also less likely to actually help those who were steeped in sin in preference for standoffish condemnation.

Return to the Freed By Grace Index

Return to the Protestant Apologetics and Theology home page