Christian Reconstruction and Its Blueprints For Dominion
by Greg Loren Durand
The Object and Cause of True Sanctification
The Difference Between Christ’s Obedience and the Christian’s
In his preface to the reprint edition of Edward Fisher’s classic, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Puritan divine Thomas Boston wrote:
The gospel method of sanctification... lies so far out of the ken of natural reason, that if all the rationalists in the world, philosophers and divines, had consulted together to lay down a plan for repairing the lost image of God in man, they had never hit upon that which the divine wisdom has pitched upon.... In all views which fallen man has towards the means of his own recovery, the natural bent is to the way of the covenant of works. This is evident in the case of the vast multitudes throughout the world, embracing Judaism, Paganism, Mahometanism, and Popery. All these agree in this one principle, that it is by doing men must live, though they hugely differ as to the things to be done for life.(1)
This list of perversions of the Gospel throughout history must now include Theonomy, for, as we have seen, its doctrine of “covenantal nomism” is merely a thinly-disguised legalism. Of course, the Theonomists themselves would certainly object to this conclusion, for their rejection of “merit theology” (the classic Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Works, and its typological republication at Sinai)(2) is believed to be sufficient to shield them from the charge of teaching salvation by works. According to Greg Bahnsen:
Theonomy is not a scheme for personal self-justification. God's grace, expressed in the accomplished and applied redemption of Jesus Christ, alone can save us. The Savior is not embraced but by faith; one's works cannot earn his salvation. However, all too often Christians leave matters at that point, failing to see that God not only forgives the sinner, but also develops his "new life" according to the (previously spurned) pattern of holiness. God remedies not only our legal guilt (justification) but also our moral pollution (sanctification).... Theonomy is the Christian's pattern of sanctification. The believer's life is comprised not only of repentance and faith, but also of continual growth into conformity with the stature of Christ.(3)
This statement appears orthodox on the surface, but the problem lies in the definitions. As we have seen, both Bahnsen and Rushdoony were clear in teaching that the Christian has been restored to the covenant which bound both Adam in the Garden and Israel in Canaan, with its judicial sanctions for either obedience or disobedience. The Covenant of Grace, which Reformed theologians have always viewed as one of unconditional promise and blessing is now to be reinterpreted as a “covenant of works” conditioned on the “faithfulness” of the believer. “Justifying faith” is seen not only as “resulting in the works of the law,” but as practically, if not actually, synomymous with obedience. “Sanctification” in the theonomic system is therefore a process in which the believer becomes “worthy of the kingdom,” and the “previously spurned pattern of holiness” by which this end is realized is none other than the Old Covenant, or the Mosaic law minus the ceremonies.
Bahnsen’s reasoning in this regard was thus: Christ “necessarily complied with the law’s every demand,” and so the Christian must “imitate the same obedient spirit” with his own “adherence to God’s law” (emphasis in original).(4) However, it must be noted that Christ came to merit justification by a perfect obedience which is impossible for even the regenerate to produce. Not only do we daily break God’s commandments in “thought, word, and deed,”(5) but even our repentance is impure and requires its own repentance. The obedience of Christ and that of the believer are therefore categorically different because the former was prior to and necessary to declared righteousness (legal obedience), whereas the latter follows as the proper response to declared righteousness (evangelical obedience). Unlike Christ, who was born “under the law” (Galatians 4:4) in order to fulfill its demands (Matthew 3:15, 5:17),(6) the Christian was reborn “under grace” (Romans 6:14) and is already “worthy of the kingdom” based solely on a righteousness outside of himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). Consequently, the law in its covenant form cannot be the pattern, means, or cause of sanctification. According to the Westminster Confession:
They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created within them, are further sanctified really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and then more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.(7)
The Shorter Catechism states it even more succinctly: "Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness."(8) In other words, sanctification is an ongoing work of God in which the believer lives decreasingly in accordance with his former state in Adam (sin) and increasingly in accordance with his present state in Christ (righteousness). In discussing sanctification, Paul viewed sin in light of the Christian legal standing before God, demonstrating that its indulgence in the life of the believer is wholly incompatible with his justification: “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? ...[R]eckon ye also yourselves dead indeed unto sin” (Romans 6:2, 11). While those in whom this process does not occur are evidently not true believers (Matthew 7:16-18),(9) Paul never conditions the Christian’s inheritance on the level of his sanctification because he is already positionally complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10):
Justification precedes and is basic to sanctification in the covenant of grace. In the covenant of works the order of righteousness and holiness was just the reverse. Adam was created with a holy disposition and inclination to serve God, but on the basis of this holiness he had to work out the righteousness that would entitle him to eternal life. Justification is the judicial basis for sanctification. God has the right to demand of us holiness of life, but because we cannot work out this holiness for ourselves, He freely works it within us through the Holy Spirit on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us in justification. The very fact that it is based on justification, in which the free grace of God stands out with the greatest prominence, excludes the idea that we can ever merit anything in sanctification.(10)
Paul’s Usage of the “Pedagogue” Metaphor
It must be kept in mind that the law of Moses was given to restrain a people who were as yet carnal and disobedient and it did this by threatening temporal punishments and promising temporal blessings, both of which were intended to point them to spiritual realites, and ultimately to Christ Himself. Paul wrote of the Hebrew experience under the Sinaitic covenant as follows: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.... But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:19, 23-25). The word translated “kept” (phroureo) literally means to be held under military guard,(11) or “kept as under the case of a sentinel,”(12) and the word translated “shut up” (sunkleio) means to be “shut in on every side,”(13) or imprisoned “as in a fortress.”(14) Furthermore, Paul likened the law to a pedagogue (paidagogos), or a strict disciplinarian which did not itself instruct in the faith,(15) but rather “conducted children to and from school, attended them out of school hours, formed their manners, superintended their moral conduct, and in various respects prepared them”(16) for the true Teacher, who is Christ. Thus, the imagery used in this passage to describe the law was that of bondage — one softened by mercy as displayed in the sacrificial system, but nevertheless a bondage “not desireable”(17) from which the elect within Israel longed to be redeemed (Luke 2:38; Hebrews 2:14-15). Any interpretation of the law which reverses the order of bondage to freedom, and has the true Teacher returning His pupils to the charge of the disciplinarian, is therefore unbiblical. The epistle to the Hebrews was written specifically with this error in mind, warning the Jewish believers that they could not place themselves back under the “military guard” of the law without trampling upon their new Master, renouncing the New Covenant, and insulting the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:29). Furthermore, it is impossible for any believer, whether he be Jew or Gentile, spiritually to ascend into the heavens (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1-3) while believing himself to be confined within the “prison”(18) of an earthly law:
The substance of the apostle’s assertion is that “the law was added because of transgressions till the Seed should come, in reference to whom the promise” of justification to the Gentiles by faith “was made;” that “before faith came,” before the gospel revelation was given, the Jewish church “were shut up under the law,” till the good news promised afore was announced; and that “the law was the tutor or pedagogue” of the infant church “till Christ.” The apostle now proceeds to show that the law, though an institution necessary in and suited to that imperfect and preparatory state, was utterly unnecessary and unsuited to that new and better state into which the church had been brought by the coming of the Savior, and to the full and clear revelation of the way of salvation, and therefore to perpetuate it was the height of criminal folly....
“We are no longer under a schoolmaster.” These words seem a statement not only of the fact, but of the reason of it. It is as if the apostle had said, “We are no longer, and we no longer need to be, under such a restrictive system as that of the law.” The necessary imperfection of the revelation of the method of salvation, till the Savior appeared and finished His work, and the corresponding limitation of the dispensation of divine influence, rendered such a restrictive system absolutely requisite; but the cause having been removed, the effect must cease. Till faith came, it was necessary that we should be under the tutelage of the law; but now that faith is come, we need our tutor no longer. When the child, in consequence of the development of his faculties, and the completion of his education, becomes a man, and capable of regulating his conduct by internal principles, the tutor is dismissed, and his pupil is freed from external restraints now understood to be superseded by the expanded, instructed, disciplined, rational and moral powers of his nature.(19)
Nearly all of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is devoted to a contrast between the bondage of the law and the freedom of life in the Spirit. In chapter 7:1-4, he likened this bondage to a marriage: in their former state, his Jewish readers were under the law’s dominion as a married woman to her husband. However, upon the husband’s death, she is free to “be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead” (verse 4). Notably, it is in this “re-marriage” to Christ that the believer is said to “bring forth fruit to God” and thus be sanctified, not in attempting to exhume the corpse of the former husband in order to resubmit to his authority:
...[W]hen we are taught “to serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, that so we may bring forth fruit unto God,” the meaning is, that we must endeavour to bring forth the fruits of holiness, not by virtue of the law, that killing letter to which the flesh is married, and by which the motions of sin are in us, but by virtue of the Spirit and His manifold riches, which we partake of in our new state, by a mystical marriage with Christ (Rom. vii. 4-6), and by virtue of such principles as belong to the new state declared in the gospel, whereby the Holy Spirit is ministered to us.(20)
In the next chapter, Paul wrote, “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14). Throughout this entire chapter, the dynamic of sanctification is the leading, witness-bearing, and intercession of the Holy Spirit and the focal point of obedience is identification with Christ and our adoption as “joint-heirs” (verse 17) and “sons of God” (verse 19). Such is the case in his epistles to the Philippians and the Colossians as well. Unlike the fleshly Israelites, covenantal blessing for the Christian therefore does not derive from obedience, but obedience derives from covenantal blessing: “The pattern of the Christian’s life is not one in which we are commanded to do and to be in order to become and to have. Rather the pattern of the Christian life is this: because of who you are and what you possess in Christ, be and do the things that are pleasing to Christ.”(21) This approach to sanctification may seem counterintuitive and will invariably be viewed by the Theonomist as antinomianism,(22) as it certainly was by Paul’s Judaizing critics (Romans 3:8; 6:1), but those in whom the Comforter truly abides and whose consciences are tender to His promptings and corrections, will understand what it means to walk in the “newness of spirit and not the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6).
Sanctification is By Faith Alone
One will search in vain through the New Testament for anything resembling the claim that “sanctification depends on our law-keeping in mind, word, and deed.” According to Ephesians 3:14-4:6, sanctification is rooted instead in the apprehension of Christ’s love for His people. Sanctification flows from the “inner man” to the outer behavior (Ephesians 3:16) because the Holy Spirit is “the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20b) to produce the fruit that glorifies God before men (Matthew 5:16). John Colquhoun wrote, “It is by means of the gospel that the Holy Spirit continues to apply Christ, with His righteousness and fullness, to the hearts of believers for increasing their sanctification and consolation. They are said in Scripture to be ‘sanctified through the truth’ (John 17:17-19), to be clean through the word which Christ has spoken to them (John 15:3), and to have their hearts purified by faith (Acts 15:9).”(23) There is no such power in an exterior legal or moral code to sanctify. While the law is indeed useful to the Christian, it is so in an entirely different sense than in the theonomic system. Since perfect fulfillment of the moral requirements of the law is impossible for mere man,(24) it serves as a mirror by illuminating indwelling sin: “In order to render them more humble and contrite, to cause them to renounce, in a higher degree, all confidence in their own wisdom, righteousness, and strength, and to trust constantly and only in the Lord Jesus for all their salvation, the law discovers to them the sin that dwells in them, and that cleaves to all their thoughts, words, and actions. It is of great use to teach them of the need that they have to be more humble, penitent, and holy.”(25) Such was what Reformers referred to as “the third use of the law.”(26) Because of regeneration, the believer has a new bent towards God and away from sin (Jeremiah 31:33-34), and his reaction to the sin thus revealed is therefore one of repentance followed by a reliance on the strength of the Holy Spirit to mortify it (Romans 8:13). Even these efforts at mortification will not be fully successful until the moment of death, and thus, by showing the believer what he is in himself apart from God’s grace, the law serves to daily renew his faith in Christ as his only hope. Only in this way is the Old Covenant “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17):
Wherefore whenever thou who believest in Jesus, dost hear the law in its thundering and lightning fits, as if it would burn up heaven and earth; then say thou, I am free from the law, these thunderings have nothing to do with my soul; nay even this law, while it thus thunders and roareth, it doth both allow and approve of my righteousness. I know that Hagar would sometimes be domineering and high, even in Sarah's house and against her; but this she is not to be suffered to do, nay though Sarah herself be barren; wherefore serve it also as Sarah served her, and expel her out of the house. My meaning is, when this law with its thunderings doth attempt to lay hold on thy conscience, shut it out with a promise of grace; cry, the inn is took up already, the Lord Jesus is here entertained, and here is no room for the law. Indeed if it will be content with being my informer, and so lovingly leave off to judge me; I will be content, it shall be in my sight, I will also delight therein; but otherwise, I being now made upright without it, and that too with that righteousness, which this law speaks well of and approveth; I may not, will not, cannot, dare not make it my saviour and judge, nor suffer it to set up its government in my conscience; for by so doing I fall from grace, and Christ Jesus doth profit me nothing.(27)
Abraham Kuyper was correct in pointing out that "keeping of the law and sanctification are two entirely different things. Let the sinner first be sanctified, and then he shall also fulfill the law. First sanctification, then fulfillment of the law” (emphases in original).(28) Believers fulfil the demands of the law by default when they rely on the Spirit to love God with their whole heart, soul, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:16). However, reversing this order and attempting to keep the law in order to be sanctified is not only expressly condemned in Scripture (Galatians 3:3), but will actually have the opposite effect:
The very reason why sin reigns in the sinner is because he is under the dominion of the law; which stands as a bar to prevent sanctifying influences from flowing into his heart. The law, especially in its condemning and irritating power, “is the strength of sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Every man, therefore, who is under the dominion of the law as a covenant is, and cannot but be, under the dominion and strength of sin (Romans 6:14). It is impossible for that man who continues alive to the law to be a holy or a godly man. He may have the form, but he cannot experience the power of godliness. He may take his encouragement from the law as a covenant, and delight in the works of it; but he cannot delight in the holiness and spirituality of the law as a rule. He may advance to a high degree of counterfeit virtue, but he remains an entire stranger to true holiness.(29)
In short, “true holiness is an infallible mark of one delivered from the law; and unholiness, of one that is yet hard and fast under it.”(30) Biblical sanctification is therefore a growth in grace, not law-keeping: "But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law" (Galatians 5:18). In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul contrasted the veiled glory of Moses' face under the Old Covenant with the unveiled "glory of the Lord" under the New Covenant and taught that by focusing on the latter, Christians are "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Christians are therefore never told to look to Moses in order to be sanctified, but to Christ alone. They are daily to turn from their sin and unto righteousness — the perfect righteousness of Christ that is theirs by faith. The starting point and daily object of sanctification is the imputed righteousness of Christ. Because Christ has perfectly kept the law in our behalf, we have been “accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6) and are therefore to strive earnestly to please God in every thought, word, and deed (John 14:15). Moral principles may indeed be extracted from the Old Testament and used to further the sanctification process, but it is Christ-believing, not law-keeping, that sanctifies us. According to Louis Berkhof, "[T]he degree of sanctification is commensurate with the strength of the Christian's faith and the persistence with which he apprehends Christ."(31) In Christ, the believer is already declared completely righteous, and therefore cannot add one iota of righteousness to his standing before God by any of his own alleged law-keeping. Sanctification is by grace through faith alone (Acts 26:18) and Christ alone is the object of faith: "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God" (Galatians 2:19-20). Walter Marshall sealed the lid on Theonomy's erroneous "sanctification by the law" doctrine with the following observations:
One great mystery is, that the holy frame and disposition, whereby our souls are furnished and enabled for immediate practice of the law, must be obtained “by receiving it out of Christ’s fulness,” as a thing already prepared and brought to an existence for us in Christ, and treasured up in Him; and that, as we are justified by a righteousness wrought out in Christ, and imputed to us, so we are sanctified by such an holy frame and qualifications as are first wrought out and completed in Christ for us, and them imparted to us. And as our natural corruption was produced originally in the first Adam, and propagated from him to us; so our new nature and holiness is first produced in Christ, and derived from Him to us, or, as it were, propagated. So that we are not at all to work together with Christ, in making or producing that holy frame in us, but only to take it to ourselves, and use it in our holy practice, as made ready to our hands. Thus we have fellowship with Christ, in receiving that holy frame of spirit that was originally in Him; for fellowship is, when several persons have the same things in common (1 John i.1-3). This mystery is so great, that notwithstanding all the light of the gospel, we commonly think that we must get an holy frame by producing it anew in ourselves, and by forming and working it out of our own hearts. Therefore many, that are seriously devout, take a great deal of pains to mortify their corrupted nature, and beget an holy frame of heart in themselves, by striving earnestly to master their sinful lust, and by pressing vehemently upon their hearts many motives to godliness, labouring importunately to squeeze good qualifications out of them, as oil out of a flint. They account, that though they be justified by a righteousness wrought out by Christ, yet they must be sanctified by a holiness wrought out by themselves. And though, out of humility they are willing to call it infused grace, yet they think they must get the infusion of it by the same manner of working, as if it were wholly acquired by their endeavours. On this account they acknowledge the entrance into a godly life to be harsh and unpleasing, because it costs so much struggling with their own hearts and affections to new-frame them. If they knew that this way of entrance is not only harsh and unpleasant, but altogether impossible; and that the true way of mortifying sin, and quickening themselves to holiness, is by receiving a new nature out of the fulness of Christ; and that we do no more to the production of a new nature, than of original sin, though we do more to the reception of it — if they knew this, they might save themselves many a bitter agony, and a great deal of misspent, burdensome labour, and employ their endeavours to enter in at the straith gate, in such a way as would be more pleasant and successful.(32)
1. Boston, preface to Fisher, Marrow of Modern Divinity, pages 9-10.
2. James Jordon, who wrote several theonomic books and essays in the late 1980s and early 1990s, remarked, “Bahnsen thought merit theology and the covenant of works were ridiculous” (comment posted on the Green Baggins blog on 1 August 2007).
3. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, pages 35-36.
4. Bahnsen, ibid., page 155.
5. Shorter Catechism, Question 82.
6. “To be under the law, signifies here, to come under the yoke of the law, on the condition that God will act toward you according to the covenant of the law, and that you, in return, bind yourself to keep the law” (Calvin, Commentaries on Galatians and Ephesians, page 134).
7. Westminster Confession, Chapter XII.
8. Shorter Catechism, Question 35.
9. “Sooner might fire be without heat, and a solid body be without weight, than a true faith of the gospel be without evangelical holiness.... None is in the way of heaven but he who, by a life of faith and the practice of those good works which are the fruits of faith, is advancing toward perfection of holiness” (Colquhoun, The Law and the Gospel, pages 195, 299).
10. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 536.
11. Vine, Expository Dictionary (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.), page 628.
12. Brown, Exposition of Galatians, page 172.
13. Vine, Expository Dictionary, page 593.
14. Brown, Exposition of Galatians, page 172.
15. Paidogogos is derived from pais (“child”) and ago (“to lead”). The common translation of this word as “schoolmaster” is incorrect and misleading, for if Paul meant to present the law itself as the instructor, he would have used the word didascalos instead (Vine, Expository Dictionary, page 1135).
16. S.T. Bloomfield, The Greek Testament With English Notes Critical, Philological, and Explanatory (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1845), Volume II, page 276. See also Vine, Expository Dictionary, page 605; Brown, Exposition of Galatians, pages 173-174. Paul used paidagogos in the same manner in 1 Corinthians 4:15, when he spoke contemptuously of the so-called “super apostles” who lorded over the Corinthians believers by keeping them “in the mere first rudiments, with the view of keeping them always in bonds under their authority” (John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1993], Volume I, page 169).
17. Brown, Exposition of Galatians, page 172.
18. Calvin, Commentaries on Galatians and Ephesians, page 106.
19. Brown, Exposition of Galatians, pages 175, 176.
20. Marshall, Gospel-Mystery of Sanctification, page 258. See also Calvin, Commentaries on Galatians and Ephesians, page 168.
21. Albert N. Martin, "Who We Are and What We Possess in Union With Christ," posted on www.sermonaudio.com on 5 June 2005.
22. Antinomianism was a sixteenth-century heresy which taught that the holiness of Christ was imputed to the believer, thereby relieving him of an obligation to strive for sanctification through the mortification of the flesh. As such, it confounded justification, or conformity to the law of God, and sanctification, or conformity to the character of God. The charge of “antinomianism” that is frequently made by theonomic writers against their Reformed dissenters is therefore historically and theologically inaccurate. Ironically, Theonomy itself may be labelled “latent antinomianism” because it not only blurs the distinction between justification and sanctification, but also relaxes God’s demand for perfect conformity to the moral law by teaching that personal "covenant-keeping," which is necessarily imperfect, is sufficient to secure one’s place in His Kingdom.
23. Colquhoun, The Law and the Gospel, page 122.
24. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 82.
25. Colquhoun, The Law and the Gospel, page 131.
26. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter VII:12.
27. John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), Volume II, page 388.
28. Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1900), page 437.
29. Colquhoun, The Law and the Gospel, page 252.
30. Boston, “A View of the Covenant of Works,” page 257.
31. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 537.
32. Marshall, Gospel-Mystery of Sanctification, pages 43-44.