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Me or We?

Post 3 in a series on the book "By Faith, Not By Sight"
The introduction to this series is here.
First post is here

How are we made right with God?  The Bible is clear that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. No one is righteous, not even one. We are dead in our trespasses and sin. What has to happen for sinners to be received by God? (The issue of being made right with God is captured in the the doctrine of Justification.) The Apostle Paul teaches us that sinners must be justified; their sin must be punished and the sinner must be found "not guilty", in order to be received by God.  So the next question should be; how is one justified?  

The background for the lectures Dr. Gaffin gave in 2004 was a somewhat fragmented and complex body of work regarding Paul's view of justification. This body of work is generally referred to as the New Perspective on Paul (NPP).  One of the claims that is made by some of the NPP proponents is that the Apostle Paul, after he was converted, didn't abandon "...a religion of individual salvation by works for one by grace."1  Before Paul was converted (and when he was still Saul), he testifies that he was a Jew among Jews and that he came from a background where he boasts of his works

What some of the NPP people will argue on the Philippians 3 passage (and others) is that the "God-received people" or group of people demonstrated their membership into the "God-received people Club" by what they do; their works. This is what Paul was talking about in Philippians 3. (N.T. Wright believes this is what Paul was really saying. See "What Paul Really Said" pgs 123-125.) They are justified in their membership because of the works they produce. Justification, then, has more to do with who is in and who is out and how you get in and stay in then how God, in Christ has transformed and then views sinners. And all of that is based on the "works" you do. This, they argue, is what Paul means when he writes about justification. This was his background as a Jew after all and also part and parcel of the world he lived in.

The Apostle Paul, Dr. Gaffin will demonstrate, believes that we are made right with God, individually and definitively by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus applied to the believer by the Holy Spirit. It in this way; by the perfect work of Jesus that is given to us, ("charged to our account" or imputed to us), that God receives us as sinless, righteous people. So justification is "...critically constitutive for the salvation of sinners." (Page 3), not simply a membership badge aligning you with a community of faith.

We are just skimming the surface and purposely leaving a lot of things unsaid. If the reader, (assuming there are any) hangs in there, this knotty issue will be loosened a bit in future posts.

In staying with my original claim, please know that this isn't just a debate that happens among theologians. 

Your position before God, how you understand God's reception of you rears its head in the deepest part of your heart. 
  • It is tangled up in the guilt you experience after you have lost the battle against a besetting sin. 
  • It becomes the main text of the sermon you preach to yourself when you are going on year number 7 of what you believe is unanswered prayer. 
  • Once you fill in the blank of the following sentence, "God has received me on the basis of___________",  that filled-in blank has everything to do with your own personal pursuit of holiness; your view of sanctification.  
  • It will give character to your repentance. 
  • Your answer will enable (or hinder) your prayer life. 
  • Your prayers will adopt a particular kind of language and your heart will respond anxiously, bitterly, joyfully, dependently, etc., etc., etc. 
  • The answer you give to the "how are you made right with God" question will weaponize you in a particular way in your battle against sin. 
To summarize, how you answer this question sets the trajectory of your Christian walk.
How are you made right with God?

1. As quoted on page 2 of BFNBS from Dunn's work, "The New Perspective on Paul".


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