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Eschatology in the Light of Justification by Faith Alone

We have seen how God completed His redemptive work in Jesus Christ by His resurrection from the dead. At Christ's second advent God will make a cosmic disclosure of what He has done.

We now live in the time between the Christ event and the eschaton (see diagram ).

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

The apostles refer to the period between the advents as the 'last days" or "the last time." Heb. 1:2; 1 John 2:18. The reason for calling the present age the "last days" has already been discussed. God has given us every blessing in Christ — redemption, salvation, justification, perfection, life and immortality, etc. — but we possess these things only by faith. This means that we do not possess these things as qualities within ourselves, but they stand outside of us in the person of Christ. Christ Himself is our redemption, salvation, righteousness and life. He is in heaven at the right hand of God, and that is where this inheritance is reserved for us (1 Peter 1:4).

For instance, it is only by faith that we may know we are redeemed. Our senses or our surroundings may seem to deny our redemption. It is a matter of faith to confess that our sins have been abolished and our old man crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6). We must believe this even when we see ourselves to be full of sin. Christ has abolished death. We know it only by faith, for Christians die as other men. It requires faith to confess that death has been destroyed when death still appears to triumph on every side.

And what of righteousness? It is here that the Reformation principle of sola fide reaches its high point. We are righteous before God only by faith. The righteousness that makes us acceptable before God is not a quality in us, but it is a quality outside of us—namely, Christ Himself. Through faith union with Him His life of holy obedience is counted as ours, so that in the midst of our human weakness and state of sinfulness we confess that our righteousness is in heaven and is counted ours in the merciful reckoning of God.

And what of security? How many look to their past experience of conversion for security! But security is not found in any experience, however genuine, that the Christian might have enjoyed. Says Reformed scholar John Murray:

It is one of the most perilous distortions of the doctrine of grace and one that has carried with it the saddest records of moral and spiritual disaster, to assume that past privileges, however high they may be, guarantee the security of men irrespective of perseverance in faith and holiness. — John Murray, Principles of Conduct (London: The Tyndale Press, 1957), p.199.

New Testament faith is not faith in our new birth experience but faith in Jesus. Our security is not in us but in Him.

And what of life and immortality? ". . . . Christ . . . is our life." Col. 3:4. Life and immortality have been brought to light in the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10), and it is therefore contrary to the gospel to speak of life being an inherent property in the nature of man. This is a hangover from Platonic philosophy, which has left such an imprint on the Christian church. If our redemption, perfection, righteousness and security are found in Christ alone, then we should confess that Christ alone is our life and immortality, and we possess this also by faith alone. Christ promises believers that they will never die, not because they have a death-proof substance in their nature, but because they are in fellowship with God. As Luther forcefully stated, he whom God wants to talk to, either in love or in anger, cannot cease to exist. That concept is a far cry from the Platonic concept of natural immortality.

When Christ shall come again, God's people will no longer possess these blessings by faith alone. They will have them by empirical reality. They will then be redeemed, saved, perfected, righteous, secure and immortal. But they will possess these blessings in a different way than they possess them now. Let us not confuse the "now" and the "not yet." God's people are righteous before God now, and they will be righteous before God then — but not in the same way. Now they are fully righteous by imputation. Then they will be fully righteous inherently. Now their perfection and glory is hidden. Then it will be disclosed (Rom. 8:18). Now it is by faith. Then it will be by sight. Meanwhile, "The just shall live by faith" — which is to say, they must live in the tension of having and not having, of believing they are righteous yet confessing themselves sinners, of possessing all things yet having nothing (2 Cor. 6:10).

The Holy Spirit in Present Existence

And what of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer? There are two points about the Spirit's work which need to be brought out here:

1. The Spirit is sent to teach believers about the glory of Jesus Christ (John 16:13,14) and to make them preoccupied with Him rather than the Spirit. In other words, "faith is the principal work of the Holy Spirit."—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), Bk. 3, chap. 1, sec. 4. Therefore, he who looks away from himself and trusts only in that righteousness outside of himself is a man who is "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." Acts 6:5.

It is an absolute contradiction to suppose that Spirit-filled men could make the new life of the believer the center of their attention. There are some who have contended that St. Paul's doctrine has two focal points — justification by Christ's righteousness and the new life of the Spirit. This cannot be. The apostle has one focal point — in Christ — and he bends all his energies that men's eyes may be enlightened to see the unsearchable riches of Christ. Says George Eldon Ladd, "Reformed theologians have made justification by faith the center of Paul's thought, while the modern tendency has been to place the emphasis upon Christ's indwelling the believer through the Holy Spirit." — Christianity Today, "Unity and Variety in New Testament Faith," Nov. 19, 1965. Catholic scholar Louis Bouyer rightly calls this modern trend "a rediscovery of Catholicism" within the Protestant movement (Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism [Cleveland: World Pub. Co., 1964], p.189).

2. In the present gift of the Holy Spirit, believers enjoy only the "firstfruits," or "down payment," of what will be consciously, inherently and visibly theirs at the return of Jesus Christ. Through His imparted presence and power believers here and now begin to be actually righteous, they press toward perfection, but hampered by the wretched body of this death (Rom. 7:24) and having tasted of the powers of the world to come, they long for the consummation at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Says the apostle:
 

    And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Rom. 8:23.