Salvation from Without not Within: Grace Filled Salvation

If for no other reason than an essay I just edited (which I haven’t read or edited them all yet), you are going to want to read the next installation of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship’s theological journal, Participatio (of crosstreewhich I am serving as its copy editor, by God’s grace). I am really not going to say hardly anything about the essay; i.e. who the author is, what the primary material thrust is, at least by way of its characters and nuance. But let me, in general, just press the theme that this particularly sweet essay presses; and that is, that salvation is best understood as extra nos, something without us, and not coming from somewhere within us (like a latent quality waiting to be activated, like created or infused grace conjures).

The theme I am referring to above is one that John Calvin presses in hard upon, and in this particular essay, a Patristic recommended by Thomas F. Torrance is someone who also (and ecumenically) presses upon this theme; the theme beyond the formal idea of salvation coming from without us (instead of from within us), in Calvinian terms, has to do with ‘double-grace’ and ‘union with Christ’ theology—two themes, by the way that are central to what Myk Habets and myself have identified as centrums (central focuses) of the Evangelical Calvinist mood. In a nutshell, Jesus Christ is understood as personally, in His life for us, embodying both justification and sanctification. And so justification cannot be relegated to a forensic scheme and contract schema, and likewise, sanctification cannot be abstracted into the realm where each believing person cooperates with God in realizing (or even persevering in) their salvation. Instead, if union with Christ coupled with double grace theology is properly appreciated; what we end up with is a participationist and inclusivist understanding of salvation. That the source—and continually so by the indwelling Holy Spirit as the One who links our humanity from and with Christ’s—is the unified work and person of Jesus Christ for us.

We don’t then look anywhere else to think of our salvation; we don’t try to muster up enough faith each day to persevere, cooperate, and sanctificate in the salvation that Jesus paid for (so the forensic story goes) in the transaction of Justification (this is the usual Protestant understanding of salvation). Instead we rest and move from Jesus’ movement for us and with us and in us by the Holy Spirit. Thomas Torrance sums up how this kind of gracious understanding of salvation fleshes out:

To sum up: Grace in the New Testament is the basic and the most characteristic element of the Christian Gospel. It is the breaking into the world of the ineffable love of God in a deed of absolutely decisive significance which cuts across the whole of human life and sets it on a new basis. That is actualized in the person of Jesus Christ, with which grace is inseparably associated, and supremely exhibited on the Cross by which the believer is once and for all put in the right with God. This intervention of God in the world and its sin, out of sheer love, and His personal presence to men through Jesus Christ are held together in the one thought of grace. As such grace is the all-comprehensive and constant presupposition of faith, which, while giving rise to an intensely personal life in the Spirit, necessarily assumes a charismatic and eschatological character. Under the gracious impingement of Christ through the Spirit there is a glad spontaneity about the New Testament believer. He is not really concerned to ask questions about ethical practice. He acts before questions can be asked. He is caught up in the overwhelming love of Christ, and is concerned only about doing His will. There is no anxious concern about the past. It is Christ that died! There is no anxious striving toward an ideal. It is Christ that rose again! In Him all the Christian’s hopes are centred. His life is hid with Christ in God. In Him a new order of things has come into being, by which the old is set aside. Everything therefore is seen in Christ, in the light of the end, toward which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth waiting for redemption. The great act of salvation has already taken place in Christ, and has become an eternal indicative. The other side of faith is grace, the immediate act of God in Christ, and because He is the persistent Subject of all Christian life and thought, faith stands  necessarily on the threshold of the new world, with the intense consciousness of the advent of Christ. The charismatic and the eschatological aspects of faith are really one. In Christ the Eternal God has entered into this present evil world which shall in due course pass away before the full unveiling of the glory of God. That is the reason for the double consciousness of faith in the New Testament. By the Cross the believer has been put in the right with God once for all—Christ is his righteousness. He is already in Christ what he will be—to that no striving will add one iota. But faith is conscious of the essential imminence of that day, because of the intense nearness of Christ, when it shall know even as it is known, when it shall be what it already is. And so what fills the forward view is not some ideal yet to be attained, but the Christian’s position already attained in Christ and about to be revealed. The pressure of this imminence may be so great upon the mind as to turn the thin veil of sense and time into apocalyptic imagery behind which faith sees the consummation of all things. Throughout all this the predominating thought is grace, the presence of the amazing love of God in Christ, which has unaccountably overtaken the believer and set him in a completely new world which is also the eternal Kingdom of God. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 34-5.]

John Calvin, likewise, provides much fruitful understanding in this regard. The basic idea is that salvation is not something that you and I have done anything to achieve—not even in our sanctification. Jesus did it all, and is all; and as such, we ought to walk from His life in ours by the Spirit; we ought to live out of the good works that we were created for in and through Christ’s sustaining good works for us. Not so we can ‘prove’ that we are in participation with Christ (as Torrance highlights), but because we are; we look to Christ as the proof, not ourselves. And thus, we rest as we work in and through Him, out of hearts of gratitude, the gratitude that only comes from Christ’s heart for us first.

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. ~Ephesians 2:10

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14 thoughts on “Salvation from Without not Within: Grace Filled Salvation

  1. Hey bro, here’s my question: if all my good works are carried out in God, and are a result of his on-going grace in my life- how do I understand my own will and ability to make decisions in that context? Is my will apprehended by the Spirit or am I dependent on the Spirit and therefore credited for my decision to be dependent on the Spirit and not the flesh?

    So we can grieve the Spirit or allow him to continue to conform us to Christ’s image.
    Is it related to regeneration where-by it is possible to sin (grieve the Spirit), and it is possible not to sin (to allow the work of the Spirit through us). As opposed to the unregenerate position: not possible not to sin. Ie., in Christ we are given freedom by the Spirit to do good works because our will is being conformed to Christ’s

    Love your insights,

  2. Hi Josh,

    I will let Hunsinger on Barth provide an answer for you:

    [...] To say that Jesus Christ is the “pioneer of faith” (Heb. 12:2), Barth suggests, is not to say that his faith is merely the exemplar of ours, but that it is the vicarious ground and source of our faith. “There is vicarious faith,” writes Barth, “… only in the form of the faith which Jesus Christ established for us all as the archegos tes pisteos (Heb. 12:2), who empowers us for our own faith, and summons us to it, even as he stands there in our stead with his faith. Through his faith, we are not only moved but liberated to believe for ourselves” (IV/4, 186). Our faith may be said to exist “as a predicate” of his in the sense that whatever is real and true “in this Subject” is the foundation for whatever is correspondingly real and true in us (cf. II/2, 539). In short, our subjective apprehension of God does not exist independently, but only insofar as its source, mediation, and ground are found in the humanity of Jesus Christ. [George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, 96, Nook.]

    It is also good to keep in mind that even in a participationist soteriology that there is still a dominant theme of Creator/creature distinction funding it. So the relation the Son has with the Father by the Spirit is by nature, the relationship we have with the Father, in the Son’s humanity, by the Spirit is predicated and funded by grace. So the ‘outer’ space we inhabit as creatures finds its inner reality in the ingenerate life of Father, Son, and Spirit—the outer space we inhabit is given its space and reality by grace. It is in this sphere that we move and breathe. And it is grace that sets us up to be truly human, just as the Son is truly human by nature; and so we participate in the Son in this way, and thus are truly human in the most theological sense possible (sense the only way to be human, theologically).

    So you will see the asymmetry, but nevertheless, ontological union that is inherent in this relationship between us and Christ.

    And grace recognizes and provides for the space of rebellion; but at the same time grace also has ironically provided the space for rebellion to ultimately be reversed through the resurrection, ascension, and consummation of Jesus Christ.

  3. Thanks for that response.

    I grabbed this portion from another blog post of yours to further this discussion:

    “Thus election is grounded in a personal union with Christ through his “carnal union” with humanity in the Incarnation, and our “spiritual union” with him through his vicarious faith for us by the Holy Spirit.”

    So Christ is God’s elect man – and in him there is a corporate election (carnal union) of humanity – and then particular election (spiritual union) by means of Christ’s vicarious faith for us by the Spirit. *Would you still use the term irresistible grace in this context?

    *And I take it this same grace is the means by which we are sanctified: the means by which I’m drawn to prayer and good works etc?

    *When you talk of Calvin’s double grace, you mean: justification- Christ’s saving union with us by the Spirit, and sanctification- his holding us to himself in his vicarious life until the last day; ie., perseverance?

  4. Josh,

    I wouldn’t say a corporate election, but simply that Jesus Christ’s humanity is elect humanity. To me, to posit a corporate election ,after Christ’s humanity, is again to abstract humanity out of Christ’s, and thus engage in the kind of dualistic thinking that I want to avoid (along with Torrance). I see carnal and spiritual union realized fully, objectively and absolutely in Christ’s vicarious humanity for us. And so the particular election that I see (along with reprobation) all reposes on and in Christ’s humanity; in a sense then, my theo-logic is pretty universalist–but because of the inexplicable mystery of ongoing sin, people reject what is theirs to be realized in Christ. So I just think, still, *why* people reject what Christ has done for them, with Torrance again, is a surd.

    No I don’t like the idea of irresistable grace because it hinges upon medieval conceptions of grace that find their origins in substance metaphysics which then (Thomistically) thinks of grace as created and a quality instead of a person. So I repudiate that thinking of grace.

    Yes, indeed, justification and sanctification are both from the same fount which is Christ’s life (and the point of Calvin’s double grace thinking).

    Yeah, double grace is justification and sanctification embodied fully in Christ’s life–He is this in His life for us, and so are union with Him and participation in Him makes us benefactors of what is His for us in His vicarious humanity. Which is where the threefold office of Christ (triplex munus) is so cool (i.e. prophet, PRIEST, king).

    Josh, aren’t you Arminian?

  5. Hi Bobby,

    What took me by surprise is that our carnal ‘and’ spiritual union are both ‘objectively’ and absolutely realised in Christ’s life. I’ve always thought that our carnal union is based on the objective and irreversible incarnation of the Son – so that all that is Christ’s is also ours, but we are blind to this reality and require the Spirit to make us alive, to open our eyes to all that is already ours in Christ; ie., this spiritual union with Christ is a subsequent and subjective work.
    Maybe it is on this point where you and Myk differ?
    With a subsequent spiritual union, irresistible grace makes sense. Which Myk adhears to, right?
    But if both carnal and spiritual union are objective and complete in Christ’s life- then it seems that ‘all’ are elect (and reprobate) in Christ, yet many reject their election which is an absurdity, a mystery of sin. So Christ is both God’s yes and no.

    Bobby, what makes you think I’m an arminian? :)

  6. Josh,

    I guess I am confusing you with another one of Myk’s former students who has commented over at Roger Olson’s blog, and who claimed to be an Arminian; I guess that isn’t you.

    Myk, I believe, holds to a ‘double election’ in a certain way–as do I; here is what he and I both affirm in our theses for the edited book:

    Election is christologically conditioned.
    This follows on as a corollary from the thesis above. Christ’s work is
    perfect and requires no supplement, such as the faith of an individual.
    In forms of Classical Calvinism the subjective elements of salvation have
    tended to dominate its theology so that an experimental predestination
    (syllogismus practicus) developed and faith was separated from assurance
    in an unhealthy manner as Christ was separated from his work.
    The resultant crises of faith and assurance threw believers back onto
    themselves and their own works for assurance, rather than onto Christ
    our perfect mediator and redeemer. Christ has been sanctified, and in
    his sanctification he has sanctified the elect in him. Believers find their
    subjective sanctification in Christ’s objective work, and not the other
    way round. This reflects the duplex gratia Calvin made so much about
    and yet contemporary Reformed theology has tended to separate—through union with Christ flows the twin benefits of justification and
    sanctification.25

    Thomas F. Torrance is instructive as he comments on Scottish
    Calvinist, John Craig’s approach to articulating what a christologically
    conditioned doctrine of election looks like; with a carnal and spiritual
    union providing its orientation:

    Craig regarded election as bound up more with adoption into
    Christ, with union with him, and with the communion of the
    Spirit, than with an eternal decree. The union of people with
    Christ exists only within the communion of the redeemed and
    in the union they conjointly have with Christ the Head of the
    Church. . . . Union with Christ and faith are correlative, for it is
    through faith that we enter into union with Christ, and yet it is
    upon this corporate union with Christ that faith and our participation
    in the saving benefits or “graces” of Christ rest. John
    Craig held that there was a twofold union which he spoke of as
    a “carnal union” and a “spiritual union.” By “carnal union” he referred
    to Christ’s union with us and our union with Christ which
    took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life through
    which took place in his birth of the Spirit and in his human life
    through which he sanctifies us. The foundation of our union with
    Christ, then, is that which Christ has made with us when in his
    Incarnation he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh;
    but through the mighty power of the Spirit all who have faith in
    Christ are made flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. It is only
    through this union, through ingrafting into Christ by faith and
    through communion with him in his Body and Blood, that we
    may share in all Christ’s benefits—outside of this union and communion
    there is no salvation, for Christ himself is the ground of
    salvation. . . . 26 27

    Thus election is grounded in a personal union with Christ through his
    “carnal union” with humanity in the Incarnation, and our “spiritual
    union” with him through his vicarious faith for us by the Holy Spirit.
    Christ, in this framework, is known to be the one who elects our humanity
    for himself; by so doing he takes our reprobation, wherein the “Great
    Exchange” inheres: “by his poverty we are made rich.”

    When I assert that the objective reality of who Christ is and the subjective reality of what he has done as corollary with who He is absolute or objective; I am asserting that the person and work of Christ in God’s election in Him cannot be separated, and that the both the objective and subjective side of revelation and reconciliation are objectively accomplished in Christ’s life. If I see Christ’s humanity as THE archetypal humanity, which I do; then His humanity is “saved” first, for us (this is corollary with who He is objectively as God, so the homoousion). We are “saved” as we participate, by the Spirit, by adoption, with His and from His “saved” humanity (I don’t think Myk disagrees with this at all, just see his points on theosis and theopoieses in his book “Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance”). I also don’t think Myk would affirm irresistible grace, at least not in its classic substance metaphysic form; I know that Myk, as do I, affirm the onto-relational and personalist concept of grace put forward by Torrance–i.e. that Grace is conditioned and given by God’s subject-in-being relationship as the God-head in act (predestination/election).

  7. Thanks again,

    I did get slightly lost at the very end, but what I think you mean is that the grace of God is his becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, and therefore ontologically defining humanity relationally from within the God-head; ie., causing us to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) by which we have our being. Is that right?

    I think my question comes in this portion of the above text:

    “We are “saved” as we participate, by the Spirit, by adoption, with His and from His “saved” humanity…”

    We are saved at this point, where-by we participate in Christ’s objective person and work ‘by the Spirit, by adoption.’

    So HOW does that happen?

    Because not all people right now are in that boat, right? Some will die and go to hell because they do not have the Spirit of adoption crying Abba, Father, from within, joining them spiritually to Christ.

    So it is in that place that I think Myk has some view of irresistible grace ( although I’m not totally clear on the various nuances of it..) I had a conversation with him earlier this year and he said he likes irresistible grace, which is where he differs with Torrance, yet he think that Torrance actually adhered to IG all along anyway, with his hypostatic union analogy…
    This is why I’m trying to flesh out what the alternative is.

    To be clear in my mind, without irresistible grace, are you saying that all people are united to Christ in a “saving” way until it is clear (to God) at their death that they rejected the saving spiritual union to Christ that they had all along?

  8. Ps. You got me interested who the other guy is you were thinking of. Was it Rhett Snell, or Cameron Jones by any chance?

  9. Josh,

    I would simply be referring to the idea that grace predicates our being in relation to God, and nothing else (like a concept of pure nature might evoke).

    In re. to Myk and irresistible grace: I haven’t corresponded with Myk about IG for awhile, as I recall, I think you might be right about Myk holding to IG in a form–although not in a classic form. I’d prefer to just jettison such a concept, I am more Barthian on this than Torrancean. When I think of IG, I think of the theology that funds the “I” in TULIP, and to me that is totally unfruitful and a non-starter for a variety of reasons; not least of which is that a classic understanding of the “I” leads to a de facto hypothetical universalism and falls back into an Aristotelian conception of causation and indeed a Stoic determinism. If I believed in IG, in a classic way, I would have to believe that, like the classic, God has elected particular individuals to be elect (and maybe reprobate); and then I would then logically affirm a Limited Atonement (and use the Lombardian language in re. to the atonement being sufficient for all but only efficient for the elect). If I were to reify the classic “IG” conception in a purported Torrancean way, I might see his assumption of flesh (the Incarnation) as ‘irresistible’ in the sense that humanity had no choice in whether or not God chose to be for us in election and Incarnation; it was contingent upon God’s Self-determined freedom and love to be for us–and in this sense I could see how affirming something like IG could be plausible from an EC perspective. So once again, an affirmation of a thoroughly Christ conditioned understanding of IG instead of a dualistic conception of IG that is retained for only particular and elect individual people. I would imagine Myk affirms the Christ conditioned conception of IG (the kind that has to do with God’s “pre-destination” to be for us in Christ, instead of in reference to individual salvation appropriated by the elect. I could affirm this kind of CC “IG”, but I think using the language of IG is to cluttered with classic connotation in order to serve fruitful for the kind of EC venture that we are about.

    PS. I don’t know who that other student was from Carey; the names you mention don’t ring a bell. I would have to go back and scan the comments over at Roger Olson’s post on our EC book (that’s where this Kiwi made these comments).

  10. How can the answer to Josh’s question (So HOW does that happen?) not contain a discussion of faith – man must believe.

  11. Steve,

    Yeah, that seems so basic as not to have even crossed my mind. Plus, what we were talking about, I thought, was what stands even behind faith, and that is God’s grace in Christ. But maybe if this discussion had gone further faith would have been included in this discussion; alas now it has made that turn. We have a wonderful chapter on the vicarious faith of Christ for us by Jason Goroncy in our edited book.

    Here’s a post on the subject: http://growrag.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/galatians-2-20-vicarious-humanity-and-faith-and-interpretive-tradition-in-evangelical-exegesis/

    PS. Sorry I never responded to your email, Steve. I’d like to hook up still at some point–I think I lost your email somewhere.

  12. Great thanks that was a helpful comment. Although I am still a little confused.

    Is not the Spirit also distinct from Christ?

    You know, I’m thinking of John 3; the Spirit goes where it wills, causing people to be born of the Spirit, to then believe in God’s only Son whom the Father gave in love for us.

    But from what you’re saying I don’t understand how to distinguish the elect from the reprobate. It seems to me that there’s a question that is being skirted around.

    I thought the point of carnal union and spiritual union was to highlight the difference between objective union through the incarnation (and universal atonement included) from our saving union with Christ by the Spirit. However of course the Spirit is not absent from our carnal union because the Spirit is central to the hypostatic union.

    So what I’m looking for is for you to affirm this statement, because it’s how I’m understanding your position:

    “All people are in SAVING union with Christ because of his vicarious faith for us, yet many renounce the benefits they have in Christ and are damned.” (Which would make me wonder about the efficacy of Christ’s vicarious faith )

    So therefore there is no decisive point in ones life when they become saved.

    It’s such a paradigm shift from the classical understanding I’m finding it hard to see the full picture.

    Help me out- give me an EC ordo salutis or something :)

    Ps. Yep I’m pretty sure Rhett’s an arminian- although not dogmatically so I think.

  13. Josh,

    We don’t have an ordo salutis.

    Yes, I don’t see how what I have communicated would lead to a conclusion that the Spirit is not distinct from Christ.

    The point of a classic conception of carnal/spiritual union may have been how you conceive of it, but that is not how I understand in the Christ conditioned terms that I follow–and this goes back to my point about the objective/subjective being absolute or objective in Christ. He is both object and subject in His own life for us. His subjectivity is what we are united to by faith by the Holy Spirit’s recreative work; which is first accomplished in resurrection, in Christ’s vicarious humanity for us, as the ‘first fruits/the first born from the dead’, and then we by union with His humanity participate in His.

    The problem you are having with this, I think, is that you are still trying to think of this in a more classical sense. And it is the major hang up for most who encounter EC and try to really engage with it as you are. There is a punctiliar or ingressive point when someone is “saved” or united to Christ’s humanity by HIs Spirit inspired faith for us. I am not suggesting that all of humanity will be saved (so I am not advocating universalism). Instead I am thinking in terms of humanity’s telos or purpose from Christ’s as the standard or canon for thinking about what it means to be human in the first place. I am thinking from an objective perspective, that Christ’s humanity is the only “real humanity,” and that all of humanity has been ontologically oriented to that as the reality of their being; and so all of humanity has a real possibility to be saved by grace through faith (the faith of Christ), indeed, given the conditions that have already been realized in Christ, all humanity should be saved. And so the positive reality is that all of humanity, in Christ, is saved; the negative and asymmetrical reality is that for some inexplicable reason (people love the darkness rather than the light), many people will reject the good news proclaimed and realized for them in Christ. In reality, the way I think should lead to Christian universalism; but Scripture and its dominical (Jesus’) teaching will not let that happen (and so this is a dialectical way to think instead of a classical analytical way). PS. In fact I would say that all real humanity is saved, and that those who reject Christ are operating in the realm of sub-human.

    I am unconcerned with trying to engage in a mathematical equation that quantifies how much of blood Jesus shed and thus how efficacious that work is. In other words, my view of salvation is not contingent upon a conception of God’s brute sovereignty, as if if some reject what he has done in Christ, his sovereignty has been diminished. If I start with the idea that God is a love (triunely so), then the category of brute creator who relates through impersonal decrees and scholastic conceptions of the atonement, is a non-starting concern for me.

    What has Myk said to you when you’ve asked him such things?

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