In one of his chapters in The Federal Vision, Rich Lusk notes how Calvin was accused by Westphal, a Lutheran, of teaching that one can gain assurance of salvation through the doctrine of election. This was a misunderstanding on Westphal’s part (and of very many since) of the real emphasis of Calvin’s teaching. But, Lusk notes,
For Calvin, Christ is the mirror of election (p.91)
This was one of these statements that made me smile (this is the real test of the pithiness of a statement!) because it captures something very important. Let me explain.
Christians want assurance. They look at themselves in the hunt for evidence that they really are in the faith. So they look at their lives and actions to see if they are really doing the right Christian stuff. But then they are rightly wary of a kind of works righteousness. So they look inwardly at the heart to see whether there is encouragement from their own faith, their own love towards Christ. But our hearts are not a source of comfort. There is much sin there still. Only the most arrogant and willfully blind people can gain any comfort from this exercise.
What Lusk does here in commenting on Calvin is to identify the right direction in which to look. It is not towards self but away from self, to Christ. This is where the metaphor of the mirror kicks in, because it is there, in him, as we look towards him that we see ourselves as we truly are, raised up, alive, seated with him. Then we gain assurance of election to eternal life. This made me smile.
Now, lest this bee seen as approval of Lusk’s chapter, I should note that the next lines in his paragraph go like this,
… and of course Christ is clearly seen in his ordinances… Calvin would have us start with the covenantal administration of baptism and work back to the decree.
To me, this seems to spoil the earlier statement quoted above. The natural corollary would be “and of course Christ is clearly seen in his word“. Now, Lusk does mention the word later in his essay, but it is a backdrop to the main act – baptism. I don’t understand why the word is absent from his view here.
10 thoughts on “Where Do We See Christ?”
I really don’t understand the simplistic Baptism/Word dichotomy that you seem to be operating in terms of here. Baptism is an encounter with God’s Word. Baptism is constituted as Baptism by God’s Word.
The Word must always be primary, but we must not confuse the Word with the preached Word. Preaching is merely one way in which we come into contact with the Word. It is not the only way. If preaching (or Baptism, for that matter) were all that we had, we would have an incomplete salvation.
One of the most significant things about Baptism is that it actually affects our status in a manner that the preached Word does not. There are certain things that the preached Word cannot accomplish. The preached Word cannot effect an objective relationship between the hearer of preaching and Christ of the type that is formed by Baptism (this is one reason why Paul was glad that he did not baptize many in Corinth; Baptism effects a far more powerful relation than the preached Word can).
Paul could preach to people as much as he wanted to, but you can’t preach people into Christ. You can only baptize people into Christ. Preaching can bring people to faith, but it cannot do what Baptism does.
Baptism is a ‘divine speech-act’ by means of which God incorporates people into the Church, which is the body of Christ.
The question that we must address is that of where Christ is to be found. Christ has not promised to be present in a special way to everyone, just to His people. The Word is only a means of grace within the Church. Outside of the Church it can be a means by which God confuses His enemies (witness the cults and Christ’s use of parables).
God’s Word is not addressed to the world in general, but is God’s covenant Word, addressed primarily to His people. His people then have the task of proclaiming the Gospel to all nations.
If I want to know that God is graciously disposed towards me, the Word is not the primary place to look. Baptism is. In Baptism I encounter Christ, not as a disembodied head, but as the One who is present in and with His Body, the Church.
In Baptism I am adopted into God’s family, made a part of His people and all of God’s promises are signed over to me. As the Word of God presents us with promises addressed to a particular group of people (one can be an alien from the covenants of promise; outside of Christ the promises of God are not ‘yea and amen!’) the first question that needs to be addressed is whether I am a recipient of God’s promises. This is the question that Baptism answers. It is a question that the preached Word cannot answer.
God certainly holds out the Gospel offer to all people, but when I am looking for assurance I am looking for more than the general Gospel offer. I want to know that I can address God as my Father, that I truly am a member of His family. The preached Word by itself does not answer this question. It must be accompanied by Baptism.
Is Steve really confusing the Word with the preached word? The point must also be made that there is some degree of relativism in baptism. When does baptism cease to become baptism. I know that Calvin would say any baptism in the triune name is valid regardless of the medium. The written word must be seen as more important than baptism in that without the Scripture there would be no baptism.
I think it would be simpler to conclude (and shorter…) to say that Lusk is reductivistic although we can take his basic premise and use it as a catalyst. I think that Steve makes a good point.
I still think that Lusk’s point stands. Baptism says something about my status in God’s presence that the Word by itself does not. It alone answers the questions raised by the person who is doubting his election.
Alastair: What do you mean by “incomplete salvation?” Do you mean that one’s sanctification is incomplete? Or that one is not yet justified?
You seem to be saying that one may be effectually called by the Word, and even believe, but one is not in Christ, and presumably not justified until and at the moment one is baptized.
Thanks for your comments. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Weekends are not good for blogging. If you don’t understand, then that make two of us that lack understanding. (Make of that what you will!)
I understand that “baptism is constituted by God’s word”. It gets its authority from God’s revelation in scripture. Is that what you mean?
I also understand that baptism is more than simply a sign of faith, or obedience, as some believe. It is a both a “sign” of covenant blessings, but also a “seal” of them. But of course, the the act of being baptised in itself means nothing without the word. One cannot simply look at the act without calling to mind the promises of the word. What I am complaining about in Lusk’s statement is his apparent detachment of baptism from the word, and that merely looking at baptism itself guarantees assurance. This cannot be true. Now, I am willing to believe that he would be horrified at the gloss I am putting on his words, and that I need to read more, but it is the impression left with me.
I agree that baptism is the point of entry into the visible church. A person professing faith yet declining or delaying baptism cannot be said to be a true Christian with certainty. Baptism is therefore necessary for assurance but, given what I have said above, it is not sufficient.
I do not believe this means “incomplete salvation”. Like Patrick, I do not know what you mean by this.
You say The Word is only a means of grace within the Church. and God’s Word is not addressed to the world in general. Sorry, I don’t understand this. What did the apostles think they were doing, then, going out into the world and preaching? Are we using different definitions of terms (e.g. “word”) in this discussion?
I understand ‘salvation’ in strongly eschatological categories. One can be a believer and not yet be justified. One can be a believer and not yet be in Christ. Abraham lived as a believer for many years before his justification. Jesus waited until the resurrection for His justification.
All OT believers were in some sense not yet justified and not yet in Christ. This does not mean that they would not be finally saved, just that salvation was essentially a future hope, rather than a reality that they enjoyed to the extent that we do in the present.
Justification is an event in which God declares in our favour — righteous! This event changes our status and delievers us from a state of condemnation. Prior to justification we are under judgment awaiting God’s ruling in our favour. We are oppressed by our enemies and their accusations and awaiting God’s deliverance.
Abraham was apparently under judgment (homeless and seedless) before God declared him righteous and made a covenant with him. God’s declaration that Abraham was righteous assured Abraham of his status before God. God’s justification of Abraham also took the form of covenant-making (just as God’s imputing righteousness to Phineas involved covenant-making). Abraham was granted a new status.
Our justification is found as we are incorporated into the family of Abraham and the body of Christ. The family is entered through Baptism by faith.
There are unbaptized people who are believers and will undoubtedly be saved on the last day. However, they are not justified. In the biblical sense of the term.
Justification takes place in Baptism. Prior to Baptism we are awaiting God’s verdict in our favour. Those who believe can be assured that God will in fact rule in their favour, but Baptism is God’s verdict come into the present. In Baptism God confers a new status and delivers us from the realm of condemnation into the realm of His Son.
This does not mean that every baptized person will be finally saved. Nor does it mean that every unbaptized person will be lost.
Baptism justifies by uniting us with Christ. We are die with Christ to the realm of Sin and we are buried with Christ, after Baptism to live in newness of life. Baptism brings us into the ‘already’ of redemptive and covenant history.
Israel was awaiting the ‘Remission of Sins’ and its great justification by God. In Jesus Christ this hope became a reality. Prior to the resurrection the Accuser stood unanswered and the people of God unvindicated against their enemies. All of this took place in Christ’s death (as He died for the sins of Israel, and by extension the world) and in His resurrection and ascension. The decisive victory was won in God’s legal battle with Satan and God’s people were declared ‘righteous’ in a sense that they never could have been beforehand.
I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of the eschatological and redemptive historical character of justification. Many Reformed treatments fail to see justification as something that happened at a point in redemptive history and that, prior to this point, there was not justification in the same sense, merely the anticipation of it. God passed over sins before Christ, but they were only decisively dealt with in Christ.
One is not ‘in Christ’ until Baptism. Believers throughout the centuries awaited Christ, but they were not truly ‘in’ Him. To be ‘in Christ’ is something new in covenant and redemptive history.
We come to be in Christ through God’s gift of Baptism (as ever, it cannot be stressed strongly enough that Baptism is primarily God’s adoption of us, rather than our expression of our personal faith), received in faith.
I believe that it is only fear of what this may imply that prevents evangelicals from seeing this written clearly on the pages of Scripture. Repeatedly we are told that we are baptized ‘into’ Christ (just as the children of Israel were baptized ‘into Moses’). There are passages like Acts 22:16, Romans 6, Colossians 2:11-12, 1 Peter 3:21 and Galatians 3:27, passages that talk about being baptized for the remission of sins and the like.
The problem is that most evangelicals have ruled out the possibility that physical, water Baptism may be in view. It must be some ‘spiritual’ Baptism. However, even on the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter connects the reception of the Spirit with water Baptism (Acts 2:38). It makes me uncomfortable seeing the exegetical gymnastics that evangelicals indulge in to seek to escape the rather straightforward sense of the text on this issue.
I believe that the concerns that evangelicals have are understandable, but ungrounded.
I agree with you that Baptism means nothing apart from the preached Word. Baptism would be meaningless if it was detached from the preached Word. However, just as Baptism is insufficient apart from the preached Word, so the preached Word is insufficient apart from Baptism.
In Lusk’s understanding there is ‘a kind of equal ultimacy’ between the preached Word and the Sacraments. They are mutually dependent and neither the preached Word or the Sacraments can truly stand on their own.
Lusk is very clear — far clearer than almost any Reformed theologian that I have come across — that the sacraments are not to be detached from each other. What he wants to protect against is the exalting of the preached Word over everything else and treating the sacraments as mere appendages to the preached Word.
Understood in its proper relationship to the preached Word, Baptism does something that the preached Word cannot. Baptism addresses us directly and personally and signs over all of God’s covenant blessings and promises to us. It answers the questions that the person who doubts his election is asking.
By claiming that the Word is only a means of grace within the Church and is not addressed to the world in general, I was not rejecting the universal nature of the gospel offer (as the last paragraph of my initial comments should have made clear). What I was trying to highlight is that God’s Word is primarily a Word of grace and promise addressed to His people. God’s promises and comfort are not addressed to humanity in general, but to His Bride. The preached Word is primarily addressed to the baptized. I cannot go to the unbeliever and say that all the promises that God makes in His Word belong to him. I can say that to the baptized Christian.
The question that torments many Christians is ‘how can I know that God’s promises are for me?’ Baptism answers this question. Baptism enables us to encounter the Word in a new way — as a Word of promise addressed to us.
The general Gospel invitation is far more limited. It is a dinner invitation, an invitation to the Wedding Feast. However, the fullness of the words of the Bridegroom are only addressed to those who are at the Feast. The Gospel invitation is essentially an invitation to the Great Lord’s Supper and all of its anticipations. The invitation also makes provision for proper attire. In Baptism the baptizand in giving new clean garments.
Justifying faith is not faith in general but faith in God’s promise of salvation. So I am not quite sure what you mean that Abraham had faith before God made a covenant with him. What kind of faith are you talking about?
Also you say that OT saints were not in one sense justified, and then you speak of Abraham being justified. Well, Abraham is an OT saint. So if OT saints were awaiting God’s verdict, which would become a reality in Christ and conferred in baptism, how is it that Abraham was justified, and given a new status in the present?
How do you comport John 5:24 with your view of baptism? Jesus says that he who believes and at the moment he believes, he has passed from death to life. His status is changed in the present.
As I see it, justification is not something that is connected with faith in the sense that as soon as someone believes they are instantly justified. Rather, justification is God’s vindication of His faithful people. In certain cases there may be a considerable gap in time between the birth of faith and the event of justification. This, however, is not the normal character of events.
Abraham’s justification in Genesis 15 occurred well into a life of faithfulness. Christ’s justification occurred after over 30 years of faithfulness.
Justification is a declaration of God concerning a person. It is not to be confused with the faith that awaits, occasions, receives and abides in that verdict.
The verdict that Abraham received was one that declared him to be righteous and gave him and his seed a new status. The verdict that Christ received declared Him and His people to be righteous.
The OT Israelite believer participated in the justification of Abraham, by being part of his seed and living according to his faith (just as the new covenant believer participates in the verdict cast on Christ). However, they waited for a greater justification which was to come. This justification was the great ‘Remission of Sins’ which would deal with the sins of Israel once and for all and confer a new resurrection status upon them.
The justifying verdict received by the new covenant believer is not primarily occasioned by the believer’s own individual faith, but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, which he participates in. The same was the case with the OT believer: he participated in the verdict cast over the faith of Abraham.
This is why Abraham is so central in NT discussions of justification by faith. Not because he is just a detached example of JBFA, but because he is the one in whom the righteous people of God are accounted.
The justification received by Abraham and OT believers in him (and in Moses for that matter) was a pre-eschatological justification, which still anticipated a greater justification to come. In Christ we see eschatological justification taking place.
John 5:24? In John 5:24 Jesus is not making a general statement about faith. He is making a statement about what is taking place at that remarkable moment in history. The new age life is being given by Christ.
I believe that this can be answered in a number of ways. Somehow or other it must be harmonized with passages that speak of Baptism as the passing from death to life. We cannot just choose one over the other.
I believe that the preached Word and the washing Word are both necessary and complementary means by which we pass from death to life. We don’t have one without the other.
The entrance into the new creation is slightly more complex than a simple act of faith in a detached promise. Rather faith receives that which is given in preaching, the font and at the Table, receiving the promise in and through these means of grace and thus enters into the new creation. We receive Christ’s Word in all of these things and not just in preaching alone.
Thanks for the further explanations. I believe I understand what you are saying.
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