Reckoning and Transformation--What Does This Mean?
Q: I asked this question to a beloved brother in our movement: "Is baptism, like circumcision, a sign of our righteousness, not the cause of it." I don't have it on my hard drive anymore, so I won't retype his whole response (although it was all good), I will though, retype what pertains to the point at hand--the doctrine of justification.
"So, although believers are justified--the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to their account--at faith, it is at baptism that the 'body of the sins of the flesh' is put off. At justification, a reckoning occurs; at baptism, an actual transformation takes place. What has previously been reckoned to be true has now actually transpired."
Perhaps you can clarify what the difference is between reckoning and transformation? Am I to believe that Abraham being our example of justification by faith, only experienced a reckoning of God's righteousness, and not an actual transformation of God's righteousness? Seems a little hard to believe-to say the least.
Second question. You said, "It might be said then, that we are declared to be right when we are justified, and made to be right in our spirit when we are born again". Was Abraham only declared to be right, and not made to be right? (I do for the record, understand that the new birth was obviously not available during this time).
A: Thank you for your email. I appreciate your questions and thoughts. Let me attempt to answer your questions.
The point our dear brother was making is that there is no essential change to one's nature when they are justified by faith. There is only a change in relationship. In baptism (I would include the new birth in general), however, there is a change in our nature and spirit. God considers us to be righteous when we put our faith in Him, His Word, and His atonement on behalf of our sins, just as Abraham was justified when he believed in God and His word to Abraham. When we put our faith in Christ, He not only acquits us of guilt, but He also makes us to be in a right relationship with Him, thus restoring the communication between us and Him that was lost in the Fall. This righteousness is imputed to us, however, not imparted. God does not make us righteous, He only declares us to be righteous. It is a change in our legal status, or standing with God, not a change in our nature.
Regeneration, which occurs in the new birth, does bring about a change in our spirit-man (Titus 3:5). To our existing sin-nature is added the holy nature of God. The dominating power of sin to rule over our lives is broken in baptism, but sin is not eradicated (Romans 6). The body of the sins of the flesh is put off (Colossians 2:12), but it does not altogether disappear. In the receiving of God's Spirit we receive the life of God, as His Spirit is joined with our spirit (I Corinthians 6:17). It is in regeneration that we are made partakers of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4), and made new creatures in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). So then, in justification we are declared to be in a right standing with God, but in regeneration our spirit is actually changed from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1-6). What was legally pronounced in justification, becomes a metaphysical reality in regeneration.
I do not believe that Abraham received the transforming work of God in His life as we receive in regeneration, because this work was not available before the New Covenant was inaugurated. This does not mean that Abraham did not have God working in his life, but that God did not do for Abraham what He does for us. In Romans 8:3-4 Paul spoke of the law as having a weakness. It was not inherently weak, but was deficient because of human frailty (flesh). It offered the right requirements, but did not offer the believer any help in meeting those righteous requirements. Paul explained the predicament of man when he said, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I do not find" (Romans 7:18). After demonstrating that a man whose only strength against sin is the law of the mind, and thus a man who is operating in the flesh, can never overcome sin (7:19-24), Paul went on to show that the Spirit of God dwelling in us allows us to live above the dominion of sin and obey God's laws (Romans 8:1-16). He specifically spoke of the righteousness of the law being fulfilled in those who do not walk after the flesh, "but after the Spirit" (v. 4). Paul defined what it means to walk in the Spirit in verse nine when he said, "But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Those who can fulfill the righteousness of the law are those who have been filled with the Spirit. According to Paul's usage of the word "us" (v. 4), it is the church, not the OT saints, who do this. The Apostle John made it abundantly clear that no one was ever filled with the Spirit (in the NT sense of the word) before the inauguration of the church (John 7:37-39). The point of all this is to say that since Abraham could not receive the NT experience of being regenerated by the new birth because it unique to the New Covenant, and thus not available to believers before the church-age, we must conclude that he was never regenerated.
That regeneration did not occur until the church age is even witnessed in the OT. Through Ezekiel, God prophesied that there was coming a day in which He would cleanse the Israelites from all their sins, and give them a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone. He would put His Spirit within them, and cause them to walk in His statutes and keep His judgments" (Ezekiel 36:25-27; See also 11:19-20 and Jeremiah 31:31-34). This was speaking of the New Covenant in which God would enable His people to keep His commandments by changing their inward nature; by empowering them with the ability to do that which they knew with their mind to be good, but could not do. Even the NT speaks of the fact that the OT saints lacked what the church now possesses (Hebrews 11:39-40; I Peter 1:9-12).
The OT saints did not receive the privilege of being regenerated (born-again), and thus could not be transformed in their inner-man. They did, however, enjoy a relationship with God on the basis of faith (justification). We would conclude that Abraham was given a right standing with God, but that he never experienced regeneration as does the church. His inner-man was not transformed as is ours. This does not mean that His righteousness (right standing) with God was some sort of legal fiction, for Abraham was truly right with God; however, Abraham was never transformed in his spirit in the way that we are in the NT, i.e. by receiving God's life grafted into his spirit.
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