I mentioned the doctrine of eternal justification yesterday, and got some questions about just what this is all about, so I thought I’d expand on this some. There are a few different proponents of this in various forms, but the form with which I’m interacting here is most ably represented by the Predestinarian Network.
Eternal justification is of itself an easy doctrine to understand. It is the idea that we are justified from eternity- that is to say, the elect of God are never under God’s wrath in any sense at all. This doctrine is usually predicated on the idea of God’s eternity- He is timeless and therefore His will toward us is timeless. God’s will to do something is the same as Him doing it- therefore if He wills to justify the elect from eternity, then they are justified.
Of itself it might not sound like a big deal, kind of an idle speculation. It was not a subject I’d ever heard in all my years in Reformed circles, in seminary or in reading any of my commentaries, until I was asked about it a few years back. And my initial response was, “I don’t think that’s right, but really, what’s the big deal?” My first response was to quote Ephesians 2:3 which states that we were children of wrath before our conversion, or at one point in our lives, “even as the others.”
I want to try to draw out some of the implications of this doctrine, however, and then try to identify what I think the main problem is that leads to this kind of thinking.
First, consider- if we have always been justified, then Adam never fell from grace. This doctrine denies the fall. And indeed, looking at the profile page of “Darth Gill” AKA Brandan Kraft, with whom I was interacting yesterday, we see this-
“When Adam and Eve sinned, what really happened?
-It was revealed to Adam that he was a sinner and needed the righteousness of Christ which demonstrated the eventual regeneration of every elect individual.”
He denies that Adam changed in any real way except for his understanding. He came to understand what he already was. So God created him, had perfect fellowship with him, and in that state of perfect fellowship, Adam was a sinner. Noodle that for a minute.
Now, combined with their belief then that our own regeneration is a similar experience- not a change in nature, but simply becoming aware of something that was already true, and we see the seeds of a particularly virulent form of antinomianism taking shape. Frankly, though I can’t find a quote to substantiate this, it seems logical that they would then believe that even in heaven itself we would be exactly as we are now. If we were sinners before the fall, and our nature doesn’t change, then why does it need to change even after we go to heaven?
And indeed, going right along with this kind of thinking, Brandan Kraft reacts very poorly (see the comments on that post) to the idea that Christ’s righteousness is infused into us, ever. Even making clear that infused righteousness is not the basis of our justification but only of our sanctification, he still reacts by denying that I know the gospel and am heaping law-works on people. So do they deny progressive sanctification?
Now the topic of progressive sanctification is a whole other conversation. But their denial of it is a natural companion with their denial of justification by faith alone and assertion of justification from eternity. There is a good deal of doublespeak in their discussion of progressive sanctification- at one time they appear mostly to be concerned with the proper use of the word “sanctification”, saying that it refers to our position in Christ (often, but not always true). But their concern is clearly more than just semantic, since they call legalism any time that someone says that a Christian ought to strive to do good works.
And incidentally- what about James? What about “faith without works is dead”? Well, there’s a very simple solution to that- deny that it’s really the in Bible. Their view is that each believer individually judges what is and is not inspired Scripture, and if James (or anything else) doesn’t fit with their understanding of Jesus, then it’s not inspired. So they have direct revelation from the Spirit regarding the gospel, and they then select the “core canon” that fits with their understanding of that gospel. This will conveniently dispose of not only James, but anything else they find troubling.
There are so many other areas to explore- like the fact that they then deny that the elect ever has any commonality with the reprobate- they deny that the reprobate are ever under the headship of Adam, but only of Satan. This goes along with a denial of common grace, because God has nothing but wrath and hatred toward the reprobate. There is therefore no offer of the gospel at all to the reprobate. This also entails a denial of the visible church, since every visible church includes people who are not believers, and they deny any possibility of fellowship, even temporary fellowship, with the reprobate, as well as denying that God gives any good gift at all to the reprobate. The church, to them, therefore consists only of the interactions of actual elect people, in whatever form that happens.
Like I said, I’ve only scratched the surface. Hopefully this gives us enough information to avoid this poisonous doctrine. But next, I want to talk about a couple of Scripture passages that directly address this error.