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J. I. Packer:

Paul teaches that the gift of justification (i.e., present acceptance by God as the world’s Judge) brings with it the status of sonship by adoption (i.e., permanent intimacy with God as one’s heavenly Father, Gal. 3:26; 4:4-7). In Paul’s world, adoption was ordinarily of young adult males of good character to become heirs and maintain the family name of the childless rich. Paul, however, proclaims God’s gracious adoption of persons of bad character to become “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

Justification is the basic blessing, on which adoption is founded; adoption is the crowning blessing, to which justification clears the way. Adopted status belongs to all who receive Christ (John 1:12). The adopted status of believers means that in and through Christ God loves them as he loves his only-begotten Son and will share with them all the glory that is Christ’s now (Rom. 8:17, 38-39). Here and now, believers are under God’s fatherly care and discipline (Matt. 6:26; Heb. 12:5-11) and are directed, especially by Jesus, to live their whole lives in light of the knowledge that God is their Father in heaven. They are to pray to him as such (Matt. 6:5-13), imitate him as such (Matt. 5:44-48; 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35; Eph. 4:32-5:2), and trust him as such (Matt. 6:25-34), thus expressing the filial instinct that the Holy Spirit has implanted in them (Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:6).

Adoption and regeneration accompany each other as two aspects of the salvation that Christ brings (John 1:12-13), but they are to be distinguished. Adoption is the bestowal of a relationship, while regeneration is the transformation of our moral nature. Yet the link is evident; God wants his children, whom he loves, to bear his character, and takes action accordingly.

—J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 167-168.

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54 thoughts on “Why Adoption Is a Higher Blessing than Justification”

  1. Ted Bigelow says:


    No sooner can you divide your soul from your spirit, or sift out the water from the sea, than call adoption higher than justification.

    You can’t have one without the other.

    1. Justin Taylor says:


      I agree you can’t have one without the other, but I don’t think it follows that one can’t follow Packer in calling one blessing the “base” and the other the “crown.”

      1. Ted Bigelow says:

        The gospel is not “become a part of God’s family,” but “be washed from your sins.” The gospel can be preached without ever describing anything to do with adoption, but the gospel can never be preached without anything to do with justification. Paul determined to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, not Jesus Christ and Him adopting.

        We don’t preach the “crown” of adoption to sinners because family isn’t their greatest need. Forgiveness, the kind that comes by justification, is.

        So again, to make adoption “higher than” justification is to render a ranking that isn’t biblically or pastorally valid.

        Important, yes. But not higher than justification.

      2. Bruce Russell says:

        Different facet same jewel.

        Acts 13:33 makes clear that adoption is fulfilled in the resurrection. In this sense it is already, but not yet.

        Justification provides the legal foundation for the removal of curse and forgiveness of sins.

        If you believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and the worthiness of the the Eternal Reward, the decree of righteousness is conferred upon you, as well adoption into God’s family.

        They can be distinguished, but not separated, because in reality, there is no righteousness for humanity apart from sonship.

        This is true because the essence of human obedience to God is more than moral, it is covenantal.


        1. MarieP says:

          In Knowing God, Packer writes, “Justification is the truly dramatic transition from the status of a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance.”

          I’ve heard it said on more than one occasion that, at our justification, the Father says the same thing to us that He said to Jesus at His baptism, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

          1. Bruce Russell says:


            I like the way Packer states that transition.

            That very reality of seeing and believing the Gospel Promise is very precious to God because it exalts two things: Christ’s obedience on the Cross, and our prospective future covenant obedience which God will require of us on the Last Day (a necessary obedience that is Spirit born from first to last).


            1. MarieP says:

              Bruce, yes! I’d include not only Christ’s cross-work in our justification but His life, resurrection, and heavenly intercession as well. (Thomas Goodwin pointed this out in his sermon on Rom. 8:34, “Christ Set Forth”)

              As for the necessity of Spirit-wrought obedience, JC Ryle wrote in his book Holiness:

              Both [justification and sanctification]are alike necessary to salvation. No one ever reached heaven without a renewed heart as well as forgiveness, without the Spirit’s grace as well as the blood of Christ, without a meetness for eternal glory as well as a title. The one is just as necessary as the other.

  2. Kenton says:

    I think this is where we need to go back to the source. From the Scriptural consensus, there seems to be two ways of understanding justification. One is simply pertaining to earthly standing before God (“that man went home justified rather than the other”), while the other seems to be covenantal (“he was raised for our justification”).In the former case, justification is simply the right standing with God that results from the forgiveness of sins, and was enjoyed by David, etc., who in repentance found restored standing with God. Paul seems to use this in Romans 5, when he states that we were justified by his blood, and that his death leads to justification.

    However, the latter goes far beyond that simple definition, and is the sort of justification that Paul speaks most often of (the sort that makes Torah-keeping null). This justification, spoken of most often in his letters, is always connected to eternal life. So in Romans 4:25, he states that Christ was raised for our justification. In Romans 5, he states that Christ’s death leads t both justification and life. In Galatians, Paul denies Torah-based righteousness because there is no Torah-based life.

    This tangent is just to show that there are two aspects to justification itself, one merely legal, while the other is covenantal. What does this have to do with adoption? In Hebrews 2, the author states that God’s intent in Christ’s death was to bring many sons to glory. In Galatians 3, Paul states that those who are justified by faith are sons of God in Christ, offspring of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise. Connect this to Paul’s statements that Christ was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection in Romans 1, and his statement in Ephesians 2 that we have been raised with Christ and seated with Christ in the heavenly places (having been made alive, which Paul identifies as salvation by grace).

    Taking Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians into account, the latter justification is adoption. But it is adoption not as earthly sons in earthly covenant with God (identified merely with godly discipline and care), but adoption as heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. In Ephesians, Paul unifies justification, regeneration, and adoption by describing our standing and nearness to God as those who have been raised and exalted and seated at his right hand. So our righteousness is as those who sit at his right hand; our regeneration is as those who have been raised to heavenly, eternal life with God; and our adoption is as those who reign as heirs of God. All three of these are found in Christ: he who died for our sins was raised to eternal life, exalted to heaven, seated at God’s right hand, and declared to be the Son of God in power. All this by his resurrection from the dead, of which we become partakers by joining ourselves to him through faith (or rather, his joining of us to himself). So Christ is our righteousness, in legal justification and in heavenly adoption. But the righteousness which is even greater than that of legal justification is that of being heirs, which is through adoption. This righteousness is found in the resurrected and reigning Christ. And this righteousness is what secures our entrance into the kingdom of God, a seal of which is the Holy Spirit.

    As Peter says in his first letter, “[You] through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that you faith and hope are in God.” The righteousness Christ enjoys is as the Son of God at his right hand, and we, being justified with this righteousness by faith, have obtained access to God’s right hand, this being the grace in which we stand with joyful hope of his glory. So yes, adoption is much higher than justification, if we take our primary justification to be legal absolution. But justification is more than just the forgiveness of sins; it is the imputing of righteousness (which cannot merely be a righteousness of the law, even if attained by Christ on our behalf), a righteousness that brings us to the very throne of God as his sons.

    1. Ted Bigelow says:

      Nicely put, kenton.

      Just keep in mind that “adoption as sons” is a metaphor, as is “legal declaration” – good metaphors drawn from life on earth to teach us what happened on the cross and in the resurrection.

      Justification, as the imputation of righteousness, can not be trumped by adoption without denying less than the imputation of Christ’s 100% righteousness.

      For God to accept someone legally is not less than him loving someone covenantally. Even in earthly life family and law go together. How would we ever understand inheritance apart from both realities? Thus a single justification covers both God’s reception of the believing sinner and his promised glorification later.

      It just doesn’t get any higher than that ;).

      Press adoption to be higher than justification and we will all soon have to believe in a double justification.

      1. Kenton says:

        I agree, however, I do think there is some merit to Romans 4:25. That Paul distinguishes the effects of Christ’s death and that of his resurrection seem to indicate to me that there is a difference between forgiveness of sins and justification. And because Paul roots justification in Christ’s resurrection (which is always connected to his ascension, exaltation, and receiving of glory at God’s right hand, as in Hebrews 1 and 2 and 1 Peter 1:21), the justification that matters is not legal pardon but identification as God’s sons.

        My argument(just my humble opinion, hopefully based in Scripture) is that adoption IS justification, and that what occurs is not a forgiveness of sins matched with the imputation of a legal record (with a subsequent inclusion into covenant), but a legal pardon matched with a justification as sons. That is what I view to be the exchange: On the cross, Christ takes our place as condemned, wicked sinners, and in his resurrection, we can take his place (with him) as raised, righteous sons. So there is no two-step from justification to adoption. Rather, justification and adoption are the same thing (if adoption is understood not just as additional grace and blessing but as itself the imputation of righteousness).

        So, adoption is the imputation of 100% of Christ’s righteousness, because he is 100% the Son of God who is at his right hand. It’s a positional righteousness that comes about through union with Christ (which Galatians 3 seems to indicate is the effect of faith in Christ). His status as the exalted Son of God is conferred on us – not that we become equal to God, but that we become heirs of God. Hence, because faith in Christ leads to union with, belonging to, and baptism in Christ (which are all the same thing in Galatians 3), Paul can say that if Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we have no hope. And he can say in Ephesians 2 that the grace we were shown was that:

        1) we were made alive with Christ
        2) we were raised up (to God’s presence) with Christ
        3) we were seated in the heavenly places (at God’s right hand) with Christ

        And he doesn’t even mention legal pardon, which he does mention in chapter 1 as the redemption in his blood. I count justification as different than forgiveness of sins, though two sides of the same coin, because of this and Galatians 3:24-25, in which Paul states, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that [justification by] faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.”

        He states the primary effect of justification to be adoption, and not as a secondary benefit. To be justified by faith is to become a son of God in Christ through faith. And he goes on to say that to have faith in Christ is to be baptized into Christ (likely a reference to actual baptism, the response of faith), which is to put on Christ, which is to belong to Christ, which is to become the offspring of Abraham, and therefore heirs of God. Of course, Paul here describes it mostly as a work of our faith, but in Ephesians, he describes this as God’s work in reviving, raising, and seating us with Christ.

        I think the main thing, ignoring the rambling, is that Paul doesn’t give the impression that we are given Christ’s record and then, having gotten that out the way, God can now adopt us and give us every spiritual blessing in Christ. Rather, it’s that God has united us with Christ, and therefore in one step he has made us alive with Christ and raised us up with Christ and seated us with Christ, and the way in which we describe this is that God has clothed us with Christ’s righteousness. He has justified us. He has adopted us. And so as John Murray stated, “Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.”

        As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30, “And because of [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” So they are the same thing, because for God to make us sons of God in Christ is for him to cloth us in Christ as his righteous heirs seated at his right hand.

        1. Bruce Russell says:


          I Corinthians 1:30 is a profound truth, especially when you consider that it is meant to be contrasted with the Old Covenant reality where justification required that you be in Israel. Now justification requires that you be in Christ.

          New Covenant perfection is obeying the covenant prescriptions for purification from sin.

          1. Ted Bigelow says:

            “New Covenant perfection is obeying the covenant prescriptions for purification from sin.”

            Whew. Sure glad Someone did that for me.

            1. Kenton says:

              If the New Covenant was about required perfection of action, we’d all fail again. But the truth is that Christ is our righteousness, and he is our life. We can’t merit righteousness. Righteousness isn’t merited at all. Rather, there was absolutely no way we could reclaim our former position. Instead, it had to be given to us. So Christ, not meriting righteousness, as the Son of God died on our behalf for our sins, and rose again, being exalted by God to the highest place, and by faith in Christ himself (not just his work), we are united with him and counted in him as righteous, and we too are raised up with him and seated with him, for by faith we belong to him. This is the New Covenant, which is all about union with Christ, not moral perfection. And God gives the Holy Spirit as a seal for us, to bind our hearts to him by pouring out his love in our hearts, so that we mature in Christlikeness, being conformed to his image.

  3. Dan Glover says:

    You took the passage right out of my keyboard, Kenton. Galatians 3 & 4 are crucial to his discussion, especially Gal. 3:23-29 & 4:4-7. It seems pretty clear to me in Paul’s argument here that justification by faith in Christ is the means by which God brings about his eternal and predestined purpose of adoption. Christ’s justifying work is not an end in itself, but rather serves the higher purpose of “bringing many sons to glory”.

    We have to be careful, Ted, when we start saying what is and is not the gospel and what preaching the gospel entails. Like Paul speaking to the Ephesian elders in Acts, I want to be innocent of the blood of all men and therefore I want to declare the whole counsel of God, which includes adoption by the Father & union with Christ. In fact, the New Testament talks more often of union with Christ and being a child of God than it does of justification, which is one of the reasons J.I. Packer, John Murray, Richard Gaffin and many others (someone no less than Calvin) emphasize it as more central to redemption in Christ than justification. We can distinguish between these aspects of salvation, but we cannot separate them. However if forced to judge the relative importance of these two facets of salvation, on the amount of page space each gets in the New Testament, one would have to say that union with Christ is the more central idea. This is in no way to belittle justification as without it there can be no adoption as sons or union with Christ (as his bride considered corporately, or as co-heirs considered individually). However, saying that justification is in some way more important than adoption in our salvation or in the preaching of the gospel is a bit like saying that the cross is more important than the empty tomb. The cross would be pointless without the resurrection, and justification would be pointless without adoption.

    The salvation drama was never meant to climax in the Judge’s courtroom declaration of the sinner’s righteousness in Christ. The drama continues with the Judge taking the redeemed sinner home to live with him, as a son. The declaration in the courtroom had to happen in order for the Judge to become Father to the one whom he had chosen from before the foundations of the world to be his son and co-heir with Christ.

    1. Kenton says:

      I don’t know if it is biblical to speak of a courtroom declaration separate from a covenantal and filial declaration. Such a courtroom justification would mean absolutely nothing if we are still outside the household of God. The declaration that is spoken is not “Not guilty” followed by a later “My son”, but simply “My son”, which contains within it the sentence of innocence and conferred sonship status, which is its own righteous status (God when declaring the OT saints righteous, merely identified them as his people – “My servant”, “My friend”, “My anointed”, etc.). So our belonging to God through Christ is itself the conferring of righteousness, which is imputed to us by our obtained sonship, which we obtain by belonging to the righteous Son of God. Christ himself is our righteousness.

      1. Kenton says:

        I do want to clarify, for I know that C.J. Mahaney and pretty much all Reformed pastors make clear distinction between justification and adoption. I don’t make the distinction between the two because I don’t see it in the New Testament. In Justin’s now five year old article on the relation between the two, he cites C.J. as saying, “To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater”.

        While I appreciate the statement, I think we need to remember that man was never just a subject of God, placed here to obey. In fact, God created Adam and Eve as his son and daughter. So man first related to God as his children. It is only with the fall, with separation, that God becomes our Judge. So justification by faith, if it only entails the canceling of debts between Judge and criminal, ends a negative relationship, but doesn’t restore any positive relationship. What positive relationship exists between the Judge and the innocent? None. However, God as Creator occupies both spheres of King and Father, and as such, the canceling of debts between Creator and creation results not only in an annulled negative relationship, but it recreates a positive relationship, that between God and his sons. So this is why I say that justification and adoption are the same thing, not two distinguishable aspects of salvation. After all, looking to Jesus’ earthly ministry, what could be more a declaration of his righteousness than God proclaiming, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”? And it is this that God declares in place of our guilt. So the declaration of justification is also one of adoption.

        1. Ted Bigelow says:

          CJ Mahaney isn’t reformed. Calvinist, yes, but not reformed. Far from it ;)

          “To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater”

          But to be right with God is to be loved and cared for.

          “we need to remember that man was never just a subject of God, placed here to obey.”

          Adam was – Gen. 2:16. I am – Mat. 22:35-37.

          “What positive relationship exists between the Judge and the innocent? None.”

          Who said we were made innocent? Believers are made the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:20-24).

          “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”? And it is this that God declares in place of our guilt. So the declaration of justification is also one of adoption.”

          Where in Scripture does God say this of you or me, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”?

          Or did men teach you this?

          1. Kenton says:

            The gospels record God saying about Jesus, “This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The word is eudokeo.

            Paul states of Christians, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The word is eudokia.

            Jesus states of himself, “The Father who dwells in me, he does his works.”

            To say that God says of us, “You are my beloved sons; with you I am well pleased [on account of My Son]” is little different than God saying, “You are my beloved servants; with you I am well pleased [on account of My Son’s record]”, except that it actually indicates a restored relationship, and it does not root righteousness in works but in the righteous standing (position) of the crucified and risen Son of God.

            Adam was never merely just a subject. He was a son of God, created in his image. Luke identifies Adam as a son of God, and Paul identifies Jesus’ sonship with his being the image of God (something that stands out clearly in Colossians is Paul positioning Jesus against Adam in describing him as the firstborn over all creation, the head over all authority and the possessor of all that is needed for life and godliness).

            The standing that Adam lost was as God’s son and heir, considering the blessing with which God blessed Adam and Eve, a blessing which Jesus fulfills in his superior place as God’s heir, as Hebrews identifies him. As Paul states, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” implying that our standing before God must be greater than that of angels, who are merely servants of God, “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” as the author of Hebrews states in chapter 1. Yet we are heirs of God’s inheritance, joint-heirs with Christ of God’s glory (which necessitates that we stand with him, under him, in him, in the position he occupies at God’s right hand as his heir). Why else do the angels desire to look into the depths of the gospel? That we who were made lower than angels, and fell even lower, would not only be pardoned of our sins but given a sonship and inheritance with Christ the Son of God? It’s inconceivable outside of the mind of God.

            1. Ted Bigelow says:

              weird how these threads work….

              “Adam was never merely just a subject. He was a son of God, created in his image.”

              you can’t separate the two. Christ was a subject of God (the word “ebed” is better “slave”) in his incarnation (Isa. 52:13-15), and the title is no dishonor or slight.

              I love the privilege and title of being God’s slave. I wish I could do better at it. Sonship is great too. But I’m both.

              1. Kenton says:

                which is why I said, “Adam was never MERELY JUST a subject.” I’m not separating the two. Which is why I’m also not separating legal absolution from the restoration of sonship. What Adam lost was sonship. Not a perfect judicial record. So what God restores through Christ’s death is sonship.

                It is this sort of righteous standing that is restored and declared by God. The title isn’t a dishonor, but as Jesus states in John 8, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.”
                Or as the author of Hebrews says about Moses and Jesus in chapter 3, “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

                So the sons remain in the house forever. It is the sons who are heirs. And as Paul states in Galatians 3, the gospel is about the blessing and promise made to Abraham. And the promise made to Abraham is about sonship and inheritance. So the gospel is about sonship and inheritance.

                This seems pretty clear to me.

      2. Ted Bigelow says:

        “So our belonging to God through Christ is itself the conferring of righteousness, which is imputed to us by our obtained sonship, which we obtain by belonging to the righteous Son of God.”

        Now adoption is logically prior to justification? We are sons before we are clean? I can see why you believe it is higher than it.

        I am familiar with the Paul of the NT who writes of righteousness being reckoned to the believer’s account in the dikao word group. I’m not familiar with any NT writers speaking of adoption (uiothesia) being imputed, but I am of certain NPP theologians.

        Is Canterbury calling?

        1. Kenton says:

          Justification is not cleansing. It’s a declaration. Cleansing comes through the regeneration that God gives through the Spirit, which is given to us as God’s sons. I don’t think you can give an order to it. As Paul says, when we believed we were sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee and seal of our inheritance. Sons receive an inheritance. As Paul states in Romans 8, God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts that we might cry out “Abba, Father!”. And those who have the Spirit, and are led by the Spirit, belong to Christ and are sons of God. Those who belong to Christ do so by faith, for it is on account of faith that we are joined to Christ and are counted as being in him. And it is in Christ that Paul states that righteousness is found in Philippians 3. In Christ God made us alive and raised us up and seated us in the heavenly places.

          So I have said that justification and adoption are the same. The declaration that justifies is the declaration that adopts. They aren’t separate. The righteousness we have is as God’s sons.

          1. Ted Bigelow says:

            As i said, I’m unaware of any NT writers who say adoption is reckoned to the one who has faith. But righteousness is.

            So logically speaking the believing sinner is granted Christ’s righteousness first, in which is the forgiveness of sin, cleansing second (from regeneration) and adoption 3rd. The foundation is imputation, not adoption.

            Temporally speaking, it all occurs simultaneously. Which is why its silly to call adoption higher than justification.

            1. Kenton says:

              I am unaware of any place in the Bible where it says that Christ worked on our behalf, and that we are imputed a righteousness of Christ’s works. Neither do I recall any place where it says that our justification is separate from our inclusion into the household of God. I don’t even find a place where it is indistinguishable from our inclusion into the house of God. The clearest six verses on this are Romans 4:22-25 and Romans 5:1-2, which state: “That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

              So justification is a result of the resurrection (which instantly connects justification with what Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-7

              But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

              Notice what Paul describes as the salvation which is by grace. What Paul describes as being in Christ is of course premised on the fact that it is Christ who was first made alive and raised up and seated in the heavenly places. And so how is it that justification occurs as a result of the resurrection, but not the crucifixion (which is connected to the removal of our transgressions, as in Ephesians 1)?

              Justification is what Paul describes in Ephesians 2:4-7. Going back to Romans 5, however, the key here is, what is this peace that we have with God, that is primary to justification by faith? Ephesians 2 answers this question too.

              v. 13-19 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

              Do you see it? The peace we have with God is not legal absolution, but inclusion in the household of God. This is the peace that is reconciliation with God. This is the peace that Christ preaches: we have access to God as members of his household (that is, as his sons).

              1. Ted Bigelow says:

                “I am unaware of any place in the Bible where it says that Christ worked on our behalf, and that we are imputed a righteousness of Christ’s works.”

                Romans 5:18-19

    2. Ted Bigelow says:

      Hi Dan,

      “We have to be careful, Ted, when we start saying what is and is not the gospel and what preaching the gospel entails.”

      Just “careful?” ;)

      But i am confident about what theological accomplishments of Christ’s cross must be believed to be saved, and which others, while true (union with Christ), are not. Sorry, adoption is not included in the apostolic preaching of the gospel to those who are the enemies of God, but full forgiveness of sins is.

    3. MarieP says:

      Dan said, “like saying that the cross is more important than the empty tomb”

      I think many evangelicals would say the cross is more important. I was going to say, “you hit the nail on the head” but no pun intended. You’ve certainly “raised” a great point!

  4. Kenton says:

    Romans 5:18-19 merely states that Christ’s one act results in justification and life for all who believe in him. It doesn’t say that Christ’s one act (his crucifixion) is imputed to believers. We are not counted to have suffered on behalf of sinners. These verses are used to say that Christ’s life of perfect obedience is imputed to us as a legal record of works, but the passage in fact states that there was only one act of obedience: Christ’s death on the cross. Paul doesn’t mention anything at all about Christ meriting a righteousness of perfect works on our behalf. Instead, the life of Christ that he focuses on is his resurrected life, the life that leads us also to die to sins and live to God as slaves of righteousness.

    So just as we aren’t counted to have eaten the forbidden fruit, we aren’t counted to have died for the sins of the world. But what is this righteousness? Reconciliation with God! And what is this reconciliation? As sons! And it is this righteousness that leads to eternal life as heirs of the promise who are made alive and raised up and seated with Christ, who is our life hidden with God. And when he appears, we also will appear with him in glory.

  5. Ted Bigelow says:


    I now see why you liked Justin’s post so much, but i can’t join you in what you say. By all means – live the adopted life of a son, but do this too: go out and obey God as a slave.

    Christ’s one act of obedience simply can’t be separated from all He did before, for once that is believed His one act of obedience – the cross – loses all power of efficacy and sympathy to sinners. Every Scriptural statement about Christ fulfilling the law become vacuous.

    He learned obedience in the things He suffered in order that His cross’ accomplishments might be fully possessed by the believing sinner. If God had only wanted a cross of atonement but not a life of law-keeping He could have sent Jesus as a Gentile, fully mature, to die on a cross. But Jesus had to keep the Law-keeping Jew and a slave of God, in order to make us slaves of God. I am an adopted son, yes, but also purchased as a slave. i call Him Lord.

    In addition to Romans 5:18-19 teaching the perfect merits/works of Jesus Christ on the sinner’s behalf, we have 2 Cor 5:21, Gal. 3:13, Rom. 8:3-4, and Hebrews 10:9-10.

    We appear before God, then, not with works our own, but those of Christ, even His whole life. So increasingly sensitive was He to sin and God’s holiness He was baptized even to fulfill all righteousness. When God spoke from heaven about how pleased He was in His Son, it was because of His moral perfection – a necessity for what came after.

    1. Kenton says:

      I don’t want to go down the road of proof-texting or nitpicking, but let’s just look at these texts briefly to see if they do posit Christ meriting a perfect record of works-righteousness on our behalf. Then we can look at what it means for Christ to fulfill the law, then we can look at Paul’s very simple ordo salutis.

      But let me first say that this has little to do with whether or not we are slaves and bondservants of God through Christ. I’m not disputing that. I’m only disputing whether this is our primary relationship to God. I’m arguing that it isn’t. Sons also obey their fathers, and receive discipline for the purpose of maturity and completeness. Yes, we are to subject ourselves to Christ as unto a master, because of the corruption and deceit of the world and the enticement of the flesh. But when we finally stand before our God, it will not be as slaves, but as sons. Now onto the Scriptures you provided.

      I won’t quote them, for that would take far too much space. I’ll address them and perhaps provide one verse (from the passage, not necessarily the specific verses you provided) for reference.

      2 Corinthians 5:14 — “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;” This passage says nothing of Christ meriting anything, or crediting to our account any merit. It speaks only of his death, and by his death and resurrection and commissioning of the apostles he is reconciling the world to himself on the basis of his substitutionary act on the cross.

      Galatians 3:18,21 “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise, but God gave it to Abraham by a promise… For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” Paul’s argument here is that there is no law, whether divine or human, that can give life. Because of this alone, there is no such thing as works-righteousness or merited righteousness. It does not exist and cannot exist. Therefore Christ could not have merited righteousness for us by his obedience to the Law. But what Paul does say about Christ is very specific: the only thing he did that fulfilled the Law was becoming a curse for us by his crucifixion and taking our sin. That’s all Paul says here. Not that he perfectly obeyed the Law. And while we’re on it, let’s go back to verses 23-29. Paul does say that we are no longer under the Torah. But what’s his reasoning? Not that Christ obeyed it for us (that would be in line with the view that he merited a righteousness for us that he then gave to us as our righteous record). Rather, Paul says that the reason why we are no longer under the Law is that we are sons of God in Christ through faith. What does this mean then? What Christ accomplishes for us in his death and resurrection is that we become sons of God. So the righteousness that he gives is that of sonship.

      Romans 8:3 — “For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh…” What Paul says Christ did here is singular: he condemned sin. Now if the main thing that frees us from sin is something that the Law could not do, then what occurred was apart from the Law (as Paul says in chapter 3). Now how does it make any sense for Christ to use the Law to do what the Law could not do? He doesn’t say, “For God did what we could not do”, but “what the Law… could not do.” And that was condemn sin by taking it to judgment through the cross.

      Hebrews 10:10,14 — “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… For by a single offering he has perfect for all time those who are being sanctified.” The will of God that Christ did was to die on the cross for our sins. Not a life of meriting righteousness by a perfect obedience to the Law. Much of the Law pertains to those who break it (all the sacrifices and rituals and washings are for those who sin; Christ, being perfect, never had to offer any of those). The author of Hebrews agrees with Paul that it was the one act of dying for sins that was Christ’s effectual obedience. You can claim that these passages teach a merited righteousness through perfect obedience to the Law, but they simply do not. The righteousness of God comes apart from the Torah. The only thing is that Christ became a curse on our behalf, as the Torah testified. But it was not the Torah that produced the righteousness that Christ gives to us. Righteousness and salvation are not according to works, so that not a single human being, whether ourselves or the God-man, may boast. Righteousness is given by decree from God alone. It is never merited.

      To address your points about the necessity of Christ earning righteousness for us:

      Hebrews 5:8-10 states that Christ learned obedience as a son through suffering, and was made perfect through suffering. But this wasn’t in order to make the cross effective. This was so that as our high priest, he might be acquainted with our own suffering, and so be the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, for he gives them help and access to God’s throne of grace. Read chapters 4 and 5. That’s the context.

      There is no verse that says that Christ 1) perfectly obeyed the Law, or 2) Did so in order to make us slaves of God. We are his servants and slaves; he is our master. That would have been true whether or not Christ died. Moses was called the servant of God. That’s not why Christ lived and died. Yes, Christ perfectly did his Father’s will, but that will was, as John explains, in preaching the gospel and revealing God through his words and works, things said and done apart from the rituals and offerings of the Law. That’s what he did for three years! He preached the gospel, he taught about God, he trained his disciples. He was not walking about saying, “We must keep the Law, we must keep the Law, we must keep the Law.” Christ’s perfect obedience was a testament to his righteousness, not the other way around. He was righteous from the moment of his birth. Notice what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 7:29, and ask whether this was true of Adam: “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”

      Man was created righteous. He was not created to merit a righteousness. What Adam lost he could not regain through any amount of law-keeping (a Law that came many centuries after his death). So Christ did not come to earn a merited righteousness of perfect works on our behalf. He came to give us his own unmerited righteousness, a righteousness that came by decree of God, not by human effort.

      Now back to the original topic at hand, while I do like Justin’s article, I don’t agree with it because I don’t think justification and adoption are distinguishable. In fact, as I said above, what I believe is that the declaration that God gives to repentant, redeemed sinners is that they are sons, which is a far more definite decree of our restored, right standing relationship with God than a “we are made right with the judge.” God only becomes Judge when Adam and Eve sin. His identity as our Judge exists only in the breaking of our relationship with God. The mended relationship must therefore restore us to before that Judge-accused courtroom relationship. The Father-son relationship is the relationship that existed between Adam and Eve and God, and justification mends that relationship. This is the same way in which God describes his eventual redemption of Israel:

      And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” (Hosea 1:10)

      Notice the two decrees. The first, “You are not my people”, is the condemnation that creates the relationship between the Judge and the guilty. The second, “Children of the living God”, recreates the initial relationship, but is itself the justification. This is what I mean when I say that justification and adoption are the same thing. It is not true justification to say, “You are not my people, but I will no longer condemn you.” The “not my people” IS the condemnation that leads to destruction. That must be changed. That’s what Christ does in his substitution. He takes the place of those who “are” sin against God, so that those who are sin against God might take his place, for he “is” the righteousness of God.

      1. Kenton says:

        So finally, the ordo salutis that Paul himself gives in Romans 8:

        God predestined, then he called, then he justified, then he glorified

        Why this simple, basic order? After all that he has said, the point is that justification includes everything that pertains to the Christian life. They are justified as God’s children, and receive the blessings and discipline and requirements befitting such a status. Before this, they were predestined by the counsel and purpose of God. Then they were called according to the will of him who chooses vessels of mercy for his own glory. Then they were justified as his own children and heirs. Then they are finally glorified, saved to sin no more, revealed as the sons of God without blemish, receiving with Christ the promised inheritance of God’s glory.

        Paul doesn’t need to include regeneration and adoption and sanctification, because justification (God bringing estranged rebels back into his household as his sons) is itself the redemption and adoption that lead directly into sanctification and godly discipline. To be justified is to be brought back into covenant with God. But this covenant is not based on the Torah, but on union with the risen and exalted and seated Son of God, who conforms us into his image that we might appear before God pure and without blemish as mature sons and collectively as a chaste bride.

        As to your original statement that the gospel can be preached without reference to adoption, that’s blatantly false, as Paul proves in Galatians 3.

        1. Bruce Russell says:


          I think you are on to the fact that theologians often use “Justification” as technical terms much removed from the context of Scripture. There is an idea abroad that Christ worked to obey that “moral law” perfectly, and then assigned the accumulated merit to the account of believers as the price of their “Justification”. Actually Christ bore the curses of the broken Adamic Covenant and its broken reenactment. As such both covenants are happily resolved, and believers can now obey the New Covenant in confidence and joy: their resurrection assured in Christ. The New Covenant is not about merit, it is about filial obedience.


          1. Kenton says:

            I do think there is much significance in that the terms used to describe Christ’s perfection in context of his sacrifice are “sinless, blameless, without guile, pure, without blemish, obedient” and not “law-keeping, devout”. They aren’t terms of merit (something earned), but of purity (something that can’t be earned), and that’s an important distinction. One is the absence of the stain of sin. The other posits that righteousness is something that must be added. Christ was already righteous. So righteousness is the absence of sin that is marked by obedience to the will of God (generally, not in this deed and that deed). As Paul cites in Romans 4, the blessedness of what David describes is not that righteousness is imputed, but that sin is not imputed. That’s forgiveness. God no longer counting man’s trespasses against him, but showing forbearance and forgiveness. Justification is something else, the application and restoration of righteousness. And I say restoration because Adam prior to the Fall was righteous, but not according to merited works but because he was God’s own possession, evident in his obedience. Adam didn’t earn a righteousness prior to the Fall. The righteousness that God applies is the restoration of our status as God’s children, based on Christ’s own status as God’s Son. Not only that, but because Christ is risen and seated at God’s right hand, our status is as risen and seated sons of God, which is the basis for our hope of receiving the inheritance and sharing in God’s glory in Christ.

            1. Bruce Russell says:


              Where do you go to church?


              1. Kenton says:

                I actually go to a Southern Baptist Church in DC. Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I do have significant differences of belief with regard to the above, but as a whole, I agree with the doctrines. The primary difference I have is in the nature of the righteousness that is given to us.

      2. Ted Bigelow says:

        “He [Christ] came to give us his own unmerited righteousness, a righteousness that came by decree of God, not by human effort.”

        No, my friend. You are deeply mistaken. He had to be born under the Law in order to redeem us out from under the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13, 4:4-6). If righteousness is a matter of decree and not of works, then we are not redeemed out from under the Law. But Christ’s righteousness redeems and sympathizes with those under the law.

        To illustrate: I am by nature a man who sins the sin of unbelief. But Christ’s righteousness (of always believing the word of God) atones for my unbelief (2 Peter 1:1).

        Again, I am a lewd man by nature. But Christ’s great purity atones for my lewdness (Hebrews 4:15).

        And thus at every point in which i break God’s holy Law, my Surety has perfectly kept it (Gal. 3:10, 13), and that perfect keeping is a righteousness witnessed to by the Law and prophets (Rom. 3:21) in distinction to us who have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Thus the righteousness is not decretal, but earned.

        As for the status of son/slave – both are true, but the sonship triumphs the slavery for sure: “when you pray, say, “Our Father…” Not, “My Master!” But what kind of son is he who doesn’t want to be a slave to great a Father? Even Jesus wanted this status with every fiber of His earthly being (Heb. 10:7). He came to manifest a perfect righteousness not by decree, but in real flesh and blood (Romans 8:3).

        To reject His perfect righteousness as the Law-keeper is and replace it with a decretal righteousness is, I’m afraid, to miss His human glory. And to miss His human glory, is, I’m afraid, to call into question who you are putting your trust in – the Jesus Christ of the NT who has two natures and two wills – human and divine, or the Jesus of the Eutychians. That was the Jesus who only had a divine nature, and can’t save anyone. He is a made-up Jesus.

        Why? Because as Gregory of Nazianzus put it so well, “all that He has assumed He has atoned.” Jesus had to live under the Law to uphold the Law – something the Law could not do – weak as it was through human flesh. But since just living under the Law can’t atone anyone – one must also keep it perfectly – not just the deeds of the law, but the faith behind the deeds.

        If Jesus slipped even in one point of the law (Gal. 3:10) he would have been cursed by the Law (like you and I). Instead He became the curse for us by receiving the penalty of the Law in our stead (Gal. 3:13). It makes a mockery of God to say Jesus is cursed on the tree due to His own failure and then claim He redeems us by a righteousness of divine decree. The decree would then necessarily be unrighteousness in that it would overlook Jesus’ sin and make a mockery of the righteousness in the Law.

        But bless God, Jesus atoned for flesh and blood sins with a flesh and blood righteousness. And this is why any believing sinner can put their trust in Him for salvation –. Both justification and adoption, and all other benefits of the cross – and yes, the resurrection!

        1. Kenton says:

          1) Yes, Jesus was born under the Law, subject to the Law, to redeem those Jews from up under the Law and to bring Gentiles to himself apart from the Law. Why did Jesus have to be born under the Law? It is the Law that says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” It is the Law that testifies to sin, and holds the entire world accountable to God. That does not mean that what Christ had to do was come and keep every facet of the Law in order to merit it to us. My point here is not that Christ didn’t keep the Law perfectly — he most certainly was perfect in all things pertaining to righteousness. My point is that this was not what Christ came to do. He came to reveal God. Hence why he spent his time preaching the gospel and gathering disciples. Righteousness is a matter of decree, for Paul and Jesus SAY THAT IT IS and the way in which every New Testament (and OT) writer says that Jesus redeems us is not by perfect works but by his singular death on the cross.

          2) That is not how OT sacrifices work. Atonement is not based on each individual sin committed. The sacrifice does not atone for sins by making up for wrong sins. That is blatantly unbiblical and an assertion that sin can be covered with good deeds. The sacrifice atones for the singular punishment of sins (death) by dying itself. The same with Jesus. As the author of Hebrews states, the problem with animal sacrifices is that they are not true substitutes for sin. Furthermore, they are offered by sinful, mortal priests, making the offering impure and finite. Jesus’s sacrifice is effectual not because of an imputed perfect record, but because he as a pure and eternal high priest was a true substitute, who not only died but rose again and entered into heaven to present his offering to God as an eternal sacrifice. Read Hebrews chapter 9. No mention of works-righteousness or the necessity thereof.

          3) I just wanna go again through the verses you cite and see what they say.

          2 Peter 1:1 — “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ”. What is this verse actually saying? We have obtained a faith of equal standing by the righteousness of Christ. Not that Christ has atoned for our unbelief. Just look at Peter’s first letter. We were ransomed by the blood of Christ, as with the blood of a perfect lamb. The perfection of Christ’s life qualifies him to be a perfect sacrifice, but it doesn’t necessarily transfer over to believers. What redeems is Christ’s death, not his works. Not a single mention is made of the transfer of Christ’s works.

          Hebrews 4:15 — Christ was tempted as we were. Therefore he can sympathize with us. But where and when does he sympathize with us? As the resurrected high priest, not as the Man taking our sins upon the cross! Again, there is no inkling here that Christ atones for our individual sins by his own perfect success against temptation.

          Galatians 3:10, 13 — This absolutely does not say that Christ atones for us by keeping all that we broke. It says quite clearly and specifically that all who rely of works of the law are under a curse. And Christ atones for that not in his keeping of the Law, but fulfilling what it says about the curse on our behalf. He redeems us not by his perfect adherence, but by becoming a curse for us. He fulfills the Law not by keeping it, but by bearing its punishment for those who break it. As Paul says in Romans 7, the one who dies is free from sin and from the Law that condemns the sinner to death. The one who dies under the judgment has received the punishment of his condemnation. No more condemnation is laid up for him. So for him, the Law has been fulfilled. It’s sentence given. It no longer holds him. So in this way, Christ fulfills the Law for us. But if you look at Romans 8, it says the righteous requirement is fulfilled in us who walk after the Spirit. That isn’t talking about Christ’s sinlessness and death. It’s talking about our active obedience through the Spirit that is a fulfillment of what the Law requires of us. So we obey God by the Spirit, not by the Law. Two different things in view.

          4)Romans 3:21 — when Paul says that a righteousness of God is manifested apart from the Law, he means it doesn’t come through obedience to the Law. When he says the Law and Prophets bear witness to it, he means they prophesy about it. What is this righteousness? The righteousness that God confers upon all who believe in the crucified and risen Christ. This righteousness comes not by merit-works of the Law (for it’s apart from the Law), but by decree of God who counts everyone who believes as his own son through Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for sins, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures (for they bear witness to it).

          5)see Romans 8:3 above. Different type of fulfillment, different aspect of the Law.

          6) Hebrews 10:7 — Yes, Jesus says, “I have come to do your will, O God.” But doesn’t he say the same thing numerous times in John, but in the context of his sonship? “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” This is what it means to be a son! Why are you making such a distinction between sonship and obedience? Jesus identifies exclusively as God’s son. The OT identifies him as God’s righteous servant and chosen one. We identify as God’s sons and as Christ’s servants.

          So the distinction is a false one. This coincidence of obedience as sons and servants doesn’t undermine my position that biblical justification and adoption are the same, but it strengthens my position. For God reconciles us to himself as obedient sons. Look at what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:13-20 — “As obedient children… be holy in all your conduct… And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear.” How are we to obey and be holy? As children who call on God as Father. That is the justification into which we have been brought. And the basis for this “filial obedience” is the “grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” So it is the grace of salvation that prompts our obedience as children. Why? Because the grace of salvation causes us to be children of God, and no longer sinners under the judgment of a hidden, inaccessible God.

          Look at his further statements in chapter 2: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” These things were all spoken of Israel, God’s original covenant people, but here, Peter uses them to speak of the Gentiles who believe in Christ. The mercy that is shown is that of becoming sons, of becoming God’s own people. And as in Hosea, the decree is that those who were once estranged and under wrath are now the children of the living God.

          Or go back to Paul in Romans 8. The basis of our glorification is our justification. The basis of our justification is our calling. The basis of our calling is our predestining. The basis of our predestining is our foreknowledge. All this is from God. Glorification, to which Peter says we have been called in 1 Peter 5:10, is connected by Paul to our revelation as the sons of God, which he calls the glory which shall be revealed in us. Since in every place our calling is said to be to God’s glory, and the inheritance which he has given to Christ, our calling pertains also to sonship. In Ephesians 1 and Romans 8, Paul says we were predestined to sonship. So if in Paul and Peter’s ordo salutis, predestination, calling, and glorification are about receiving and sharing in God’s glory as his sons, what do you think foreknowledge and justification are about? Or have you not read Ephesians 1 and 1 John 3, which are all about our sonship? “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

          1. Ted Bigelow says:

            “The perfection of Christ’s life qualifies him to be a perfect sacrifice, but it doesn’t necessarily transfer over to believers.”

            Again, Kenton, I wonder in whom is your faith, the Jesus Christ of the NT, or a Christ of your own imagination? Christ’s obedience is most wonderfully given to even the weakest believing sinner, and if His obedience be not accomplished in His works and imputed to us then we are lost.

            You posit a Christ who rescues by decree but not by atonement. You ignored the righteousness of Christ spoken of in 2 Peter 1:1. You are, I’m afraid, losing your grip on His blood, i.e., His righteous life poured out for His people so they my live in justified union with Him. Your union with God sees the cross as incidental to the real issue – resurrection. Was it even necessary for your Christ to die the cursed death of the tree in fulfillment of the Law? Couldn’t your Christ just have died a natural death, been resurrected, given a decretal justification to His elect, and accomplished adoption all the same?

            You would have us call ourselves His sons by racing to the resurrection while minimizing the cross – which is the very culmination of His hypostatic glory attached to His incarnation. You would lift high the adoption as sons but lessen our obligation as slaves to Him by the cross.

            You wrote, “My point is that this was not what Christ came to do. He came to reveal God. Hence why he spent his time preaching the gospel and gathering disciples.”

            Then why live about 30 years prior? He came for that too, b/c by the time of His ministry He was tested and proven to be righteous according to the Law. You want to posit a righteousness apart from the Law that your Christ is conformed to: “That does not mean that what Christ had to do was come and keep every facet of the Law in order to merit it to us.”

            But the righteousness of the Law and the prophets is the righteousness of God.

            1. Kenton says:

              Ted, three very basic things here.

              1) You keep saying that I’m putting forward a Christ of my own imagination, but I have relentlessly relied on Scripture. And despite the verses you have given, not a single one states that Christ imputes his record of obedience to the believing sinner.

              2) I really don’t think you understand what atonement actually is. Atonement is not the transfer of a righteous record. Atonement alone isn’t even the declaration of righteousness. It is the covering of sins by the sacrifice of another life. The Hebrew words that mean atonement (purging, covering over) and the words associated with them (mercy, removal, cleansing, reconciliation) all have to do with the removal of sins and the forgiveness of transgressions, not with the accounting of righteousness. This lines up with both the OT and with the NT consensus on the redemption accomplished through Christ’s death. As Paul says in Romans 4:25, he was delivered up for our transgressions. Even in Romans 3:25, the very word Paul uses that we translate propitiation, the author of Hebrews uses to refer to the mercy seat. The mercy seat was the place where the glory of God rested in the tabernacle (so the place where God met with man). And when Aaron’s sons sinned by offering unsanctioned sacrifices, God required Aaron to sprinkle blood of the sacrifice upon the mercy seat (this is Leviticus 6).

              Why? ““Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleanness.” So by making atonement for the Holy Place upon the mercy seat, Aaron makes atonement (the word used means to cover over or purge) for all the sins of all of Israel. This is exactly what Paul means in Romans 3:25. This has nothing to do with the crediting of a righteous life to the people of Israel, but only the covering of their sins by the sacrifice of another life.

              3) When speaking of credited righteousness, we have to keep in mind a few things. One, in Paul’s Romans 4 analogy, it was Abraham’s own faith that was credited as righteousness. Obviously this righteousness is not Christ’s own righteousness in this instance, or else Paul would say that Christ’s faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. Second, you cannot disconnect the righteousness that God gives (and the redemption that Christ brings) from re-entrance into the covenant out of exile. I know this sounds way too much like NPP to you, but all of the OT prophecies are about redemption out of exile, and Paul’s words to the Ephesian Gentiles about their former state (as well as Peter’s words in his first letter) rely upon the language of exile. Even Paul’s words in Romans 9-11 characterize Israel as still being in exile.

              So you can’t ignore that when Paul speaks about righteousness returning (God giving his righteousness to those who believe), he is drawing upon the prophecies which talk about God restoring Israel’s righteousness. None of these are divorced from the re-entrance into the covenant (ie. the New Covenant which Christ says is “in his blood”). Look at Luke’s account of the Last Supper, and it is deliberately framed as a new Passover and a new Exodus that ushers in a new covenant (the “blood of the covenant” reference is from Exodus 24). All this to say that the righteousness that God gives brings repentant sinners into the New Covenant. The New Covenant, as Hosea indicates, is about God redeeming sinners as his people, as children of the living God.

              Now on what basis does God declare us to be children of God? Well, it’s obviously on the basis of Christ’s substitution, but isn’t it also on the basis of Christ’s resurrection? After all, and not to beat a dead horse, Ephesians 1 and 2 talk about our adoption as sons resulting from redemption and leading to inheritance, and our being made alive, raised up, and seated with Christ. If our being included as sons, and subsequent inheritance, are not based on Christ’s own sonship and his installment as the heir of all things, then we have no Scriptural basis. It is union with Christ, according to John 17, that affords us the privilege of beholding the glory of God in Christ, the glory which Paul and Peter say are the inheritance to which we have been called, and in which we have joyful hope. And it is union with Christ that not only counts us as being dead to sin and alive to God, but also as being seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

              Now as for your definition of what makes the blood of Christ worthy, I hope you aren’t saying that it’s Christ’s works of righteousness that make his blood precious. Otherwise, aren’t you promoting works-righteousness? I have not minimized the cross. The cross is necessary for the remission of our transgressions. Without Christ’s death, that cannot happen. And if our sins aren’t removed, then we have no redemption, and we are still under wrath. Also, there is a reason why the NT emphasizes not only Christ’s death but his suffering. Christ could not have died a natural death. That wouldn’t have sufficed. His death had to be a suffering death, bearing the sins of the world, in order to be redemptive. As for our obligation as slaves, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Paul connect our obligation to God to both Christ’s dying to sin AND his now being alive to God? And doesn’t he say, “Count yourselves as being dead to sin, and alive to God”? And “how can we who died to sin live anymore in it?” And doesn’t he also say, “Yield yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to life”? Christ’s death alone doesn’t obligate us. His risen life also obligates us. No one is bound to a dead man. But to a man who died and rose, purchasing men and women for God? Absolutely. There are no dead lords. There is one risen Lord to whom we must give account.

              You also say that I discount the necessity of Christ living for 30 years prior to his earthly ministry. The one thing I ask of you is to find just ONE clear, concrete, definitive reference that says that the reason why Christ’s ministry occurred at age 30 was so that he would be proven and tested by the Law. Just ONE verse that says it clearly, and I will concede the point. But just keep in mind that even if such a verse exists, that is a long ways from proving that the purpose of such testing would be to impute it to those who repent. As I said above, the difference in the way the NT authors and most Reformed authors describe Christ’s righteousness is that the NT authors use terms of purity, while Reformed authors use terms of merit. Purity is not earned. Merit is. Merit can be earned and lost. Purity can only be lost. The point about Christ’s righteousness is that he remained righteous and pure, not that he earned it. And his remaining righteous and pure qualified him to be our true substitute, and the perfect offering for sins, and makes his sacrifice (his blood) effective in cleansing us from all unrighteousness (notice how when John uses this language, it has nothing to do with the transfer of a record of righteousness, but the removal of sins).

              And let me just point out one more time, that Paul SAYS that the righteousness that is from God is manifested apart from the Law. I believe that Paul means what he says. It IS a righteousness that is given apart from the Torah. It’s a righteousness that comes from God and given on the basis of faith in Christ himself. That’s not to say that Christ didn’t perfect obey the will of God and at the same time walked in accordance with the Torah (which is holy, just, and good, yet unable to truly condemn sin). But it does mean that such obedience is not transferrable as righteousness, for righteousness does not come through the Law, but through faith. Romans 4 and Galatians 3: any legal righteousness is incompatible with the promise (with the gospel) because it must come by faith in God’s truly free, gracious will. Furthermore, any legal righteousness is in reality self-righteousness, because there is no law that can give life. Again, this is Paul’s very clear argument against using the law as a means of attaining righteousness.

              So you might say that the righteousness of the Law and the prophets is the righteousness of God, but even in the OT, there is a difference between the righteousness that is righteous deeds and the righteousness that is the covenant status of those who are counted as God’s own people. And it is the latter that is by faith apart from works of the Torah, according to the promise made to Abraham and according to the death and resurrection of Christ.

              1. Bruce Russell says:

                That the Torah is simply the moral law is a deeply rooted error.

              2. Ted Bigelow says:

                Kenton, you wrote: Atonement “has nothing to do with the crediting of a righteous life to the people of Israel, but only the covering of their sins by the sacrifice of another life”

                Thank you for your continued interaction. I’d love for you to move beyond the “atonement only covers” theology. It’s not too well regarded anymore.

                The major Hebrew root for atonement is “kapar” and its meaning is long-debated. Shedd (Dogmatic Theology, 2:497) stressed that the concept of “kapar” is expiatory, “‘to cover over’ so as not to be seen.” This is the position you take. He acknowledged a conflict in his interpretation though since the LXX renders “kapar” with words belonging to a substitutionary theme, such as “aphiemi,” I put away, (Leviticus 16:10) and “exilaskomai,” I propitiate, (Leviticus 16:24) rather than a merely expiatory one. Others have seen it better to render “kapar” in the singular as ‘ransom’ and in the plural as ‘atonement’ since there is “very little evidence” for the notion of covering in this stem in redemptive passages. For example, it was used of the ransom every Israelite gave to the service of the sanctuary (Exo. 30:12), and hence means “to atone by offering a substitute. The great majority of the usages concern the priestly ritual of the sprinkling of sacrificial blood thus ‘making an atonement.’” Hence the NASB is justified in translating the verb “kapar” “to make an atonement” or “make atonement” 44 times in Leviticus alone. Thus Hill (Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, 35) rightly concludes, in distinction from Shedd and others, that “kapar” does indeed convey ideas of propitiation to the LXX translators.

                A finality, or sense of accomplishment, seems implicit in “kapar”. Israel’s worship and sacrificial system was the only revealed manner by which sinful men might be reconciled to the Holy God from the period of its inception to its passing away (Hebrews 9:1-9a). Under the first covenant, forgiveness could be actually possessed by the worshipper since blood had been shed on his behalf in a manner according to God’s revelation (Leviticus 16:34; Hebrews 9:22). As a result of “kapar” on the Day of Atonement, God promised the worshippers, “you shall be clean from all your sins before the LORD” (Leviticus 16:30). Such cleansing could only come about by forgiveness. Ten times in Leviticus and twice in Numbers is given a two part phrase, “he (the priest) shall make atonement” (“kapar”) and “he (the worshipper) shall be forgiven” (salah, “forgive”). Some instances apply the atonement to the congregation (Num. 15:25), and other times it is applied to an individual (Num. 15:28). For the worshipper(s) to have received less would have been less than what God promised. “The addition ‘he will be forgiven’ (clean) is significant. Mere performance of the rite by the priest is inadequate. God is the one who grants forgiveness” (Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, 27).

                In other words, Kenton, atonement didn’t just leave men “covered,” or as you say, “this has nothing to do with the crediting of a righteous life to the people of Israel,” but rather God did give men something quite positive – forgiveness. Now in your schema, one can be forgiven but not considered righteous in some sense. That’s simply not forgiveness. God didn’t return the believing Israelite to a place of innocence, nor to the place of “OK, now try not to mess up” but real and actual forgiveness. And of course this was truly accomplished in the atonement of Jesus Christ.

                You wrote: “I know this sounds way too much like NPP to you, but all of the OT prophecies are about redemption out of exile.” Um, yeah! The only way to do that is to drop some interpretative framework over the words of the OT prophets to make them say what you want.

                You wrote: “I hope you aren’t saying that it’s Christ’s works of righteousness that make his blood precious. Otherwise, aren’t you promoting works-righteousness?”

                Oh yes, I am. But all righteousness in Christ’s works. His righteousness is earned, mine by imputation of His. Remember, He was born under the Law. If that doesn’t imply the doing of works I don’t know what is.

                And this is why I say that in your schema your Jesus didn’t need to die on a cross. Any old kind of suffering would have done. Your Jesus didn’t need to be natural born Jewish – he could have been a Gentile convert into the covenant people. He could have died a natural death at age 8 or age 80 (with suffering), been raised, and accomplished the same things you claim. In establishing for yourself “a distinct righteousness as a covenant people” apart from the righteousness witnessed to by the Law, you have a righteousness that minimizes Christ’s earthly glory in order to exult in your present church membership. Hooray, we’re all members of a church – we’re on our way to heaven!

                You write: “The one thing I ask of you is to find just ONE clear, concrete, definitive reference that says that the reason why Christ’s ministry occurred at age 30 was so that he would be proven and tested by the Law.”

                I already answered this but will expand: “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mat 3:15). If that righteousness isn’t connected to the Law and to God’s purpose for Israel (Luke 7:30) then you are left to contrive a righteousness apart from the Law. Couple that with the Spirit’s descent and abiding, and with the Father’s testimony “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Mat 3:17) and no other explanation handles the details. The Father is well-pleased in Jesus’ righteousness and the son is ready for a Spirit empowered ministry without limit (John 3:34).

                You write: “The point about Christ’s righteousness is that he remained righteous and pure, not that he earned it”

                I would encourage you to meditate on “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation (Heb 5:8-9).”

                I’ll have to bow out. Please feel free to downloads sermons at if you wish further torture ;). Love,

  6. pduggie says:

    If its really true that justification ‘clears the way for adoption’ then it isn’t really so “gracious” as the people who are adopted are no longer regarded by God as actually having ‘bad characters’ (God is for us, who can be against us. Sins are forgiven, a perfect record of righteousness is ours)

    It would be unjust, not ungracious for God to refuse to adopt with that said about justification.

    Sinclair Ferguson’s book that covers adoption actually unifies Justification and Adoption in a way when it notes that in Roman adoption, debts owed by the adopted son are cancelled. If we posit that that had to happen separatly, then adoption isn’t really fitting Paul’s use of the roman background (and everyone seems to agree he is)

    I almost think this difficulty in separating the two points to the utility of the view that there are many-valenced metaphors for our salvation, and that one or an other doesn’t “really” have priority.

    One of the funny things is trying to see someone tease out how “new birth” (which makes you a son of God) is distinguishable and theologically distinct in a systematic way from “adoption” (which makes you a son of God). Like really, what does one give you that the other does not? Imagine telling someone “don’t confuse adoption and new birth or your theology will get messed up”

    REALLY? When they have the same significance, really?

  7. Kenton says:


    I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible. When I say that atonement (an invented word itself drawn from the Hebrew) refers only to the covering (or as I included, the purging) of sins, I was saying that atonement is NOT the crediting of a righteous record. So too, forgiveness is not positive but negative: it is the removal of guilt. The reason why even in Strong’s lexicon the meaning of “to cover” remains is that the original term refers to coating and covering. Remember that in the levitical system, atonement is accomplished by the priest; forgiveness, the removal of sins, is accomplished by God. So I stand by the definition of kaphar as to cover over (with the blood of a pure sacrifice), which includes, as the texts you cited affirm, the cleansing and purging of sins and impurity.

    In my “schema”, the righteousness that God gives is not merely the removal of sins, but the restoration of the right standing with God that was at least present before the Fall. Yes, there is a righteousness which is not only the abstaining from sin but the testament of a sinless life (which cannot be distinguished), but as I have said, and I have made every effort to back up what I say with a multitude of scriptures (so as not to fall guilty of proof-texting), it is not the works of this sinless life that are given to believers. There is no evidence of this in the New Testament at all, not even in Jesus’ words to John about his own baptism fulfilling all righteousness. The only thing said about Jesus’ righteous life is that he is as a lamb without blemish, in whose mouth was no guile. When you go back to the OT, this was the prerequisite for an acceptable sacrifice. But it wasn’t about merit. It was about consecration from sin. And this doesn’t make his perfection an understatement. There is no man that has ever been sinless, that has ever not sinned. That’s huge. No other man could have died for the sins of the world.

    A merit-based righteousness is not a requirement for the necessity of the cross. Far from it. It is according to the Law, obviously, that Christ dies for sins as a sacrifice, for he does what the Law itself (with its animal sacrifices) could not do. It is according to the Law that the offering had to be spotless, and that its blood had to be shed and it bear the sins of the people outside the camp (again Lev. 16, where Aaron sanctifies the Holy Place and all the people and then sends the goat into the wilderness, referenced in Hebrews). But this is where we make distinction. The righteousness that God reveals apart from the Law is not Christ’s death on the cross. That is the means by which God reveals his righteousness, but the atonement is not his righteousness. There is a reason, I believe, why Paul connects justification with the resurrection and eternal life, rather than with the cross, and I don’t think this can be understood if we view forgiveness and justification as the same thing (two sides of the same coin, yes — more so than with adoption — but not the same). One is negative, accomplished through death. The other is positive, accomplished through life. And when the sinner believes in repentance (or repents in faith), both come to him, the one being the basis of the other. The centrality of the cross remains (Christ dying for our sins and purchasing us by his blood). It’s a whole other discussion to delve into just what it means that we were purchased and redeemed by the blood of Christ. I don’t discount the substitution. Christ redeems us from the *curse* of the Law by becoming a *curse* for us; it doesn’t say he redeems us from the Law by becoming a law-keeper for us (as though the Law’s only purpose was to condemn the imperfect lawkeeper). I tend to stand by what Scripture clearly and unmistakably teaches. And this is what it actually says. You may think this leads to other doctrine. But I don’t see that.

    As for Hebrews 5:8-9, as with the other references, I strongly believe this is referring to the suffering of his death (the obedience being that which Paul describes in Romans 5 and Phil 2, referring specifically to his willing death on the cross). And so being made perfect (complete through not only his death but resurrection), he does become the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him (for having obeyed unto death, all who obey him receive by his high priestly aid and from him as Lord the same eternal salvation by which he was made perfect — the perfection being the finality of a resurrected life.)

    So I’ll leave it at that. I certainly don’t believe in a Christ without necessity of cross or being born into the line of Judah. In fact, I believe that the covenant nature of his righteousness requires it, as with the promises. Your position about lawkeeping doesn’t require that he be a natural born Jew, only that he keeps the Law perfectly. Also, the general Reformed position that our relationship with God is at its foundation a courtroom relationship doesn’t actually require Jesus to actually be a Jew (outside of the promises made to Israel), because all that is really required is an abstract righteous life lived by God incarnate and a means of bearing God’s wrath. But it is the Law, given within the covenant, that provides Paul’s rationale for viewing the cross as Christ’s means of bearing the curse. It is also within the covenant that Christ must have come in order to actually redeem those who were a part of the covenant, under the Law. Having done that, it could be applied to all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile (hence, “to the Jew first, but also to the Greek”).

    I’ve gone on too long as it is. This was originally about justification and adoption, the cross and the resurrection. My original point was that God justifies us as sons, not to diminish our service to God. But as Peter says, we obey as children, and we call upon God as the Father who judges. If we consider that God is King, then there is no imbalance between God as Father and Judge and Master. For we are subject to his rule as any servant, liable to his justice as any citizen, and entitled to his careful discipline and hopeful inheritance as any son.

    1. Bruce Russell says:



      “Christ redeems us from the *curse* of the Law by becoming a *curse* for us; it doesn’t say he redeems us from the Law by becoming a law-keeper for us (as though the Law’s only purpose was to condemn the imperfect lawkeeper).”

      If people understood Romans 2, this would be a lot easier.

      1. Kenton says:

        1) I believe that when Paul says “Law” he means the Torah given by God through Moses on Sinai to the covenant people, then defined solely within the confines of national Israel.

        2) Drawing from Galatians and Romans, Paul states that the Law serves one purpose: to safeguard the fulfillment of the promise by instructing Israel in God’s ways and providing means of atonement via animal sacrifices. What the Law does, however, is condemning not only Israel, but all people for their sins; it’s purpose was to lead the covenant people to life, through which all people would be blessed. However, because of human enslavement to sin through the corrupt flesh, the Law condemned all to death, placing all under a curse. So Christ does what the Law could not: he brings to pass the fulfillment of the promise by first taking the condemnation prescribed by the Law, becoming a curse for all who were cursed, and he himself receives the promise through his resurrection and installment at God’s right hand, in order to bestow it upon all who join themselves to him through faith. And as the one who is righteous, possessing no sin of his own and not subject to the Law (though he was made subject to it so that he might bear its curse), he becomes the perfect model of righteousness and godliness to all who are set free from the Law’s guardianship and condemnation. For by him we are made perfect and ready for God’s presence.

        1. Bruce Russell says:


          I find comfort in the fact that Jesus absorbed the curse upon Adam for his disobedience, and upon the nation of Israel for its unfaithfulness, His resurrection establishes the beginning of physical recreation, wherein the entire universe will eventually be transformed to host the Kingdom of Christ whith the saints joining with Him in His reward.

          Here’s the thing, covenants specify terms and rewards, and the terms for reception of New Covenant reward of Eternal Life is the obedience of faith. The believer pursues the final judgment with the certain hope of vindication because he pursues faithfulness and purification in Christ. The dreaded Final Judgment is no longer before the believer, it is behind him at the Cross.

          I find that most Evangelicals perform this abstraction of reading “Law” as “moral law” instead of Torah this greatly confuses the Gospel and produces a shallow and brittle piety (imho).


          1. Kenton says:

            What I think gets confusing is when evangelicals talk of preaching “Law and Gospel” or “law and grace” in evangelism, as though all the Law ever says is “You are a sinner before the holy Judge.” Sure, Jesus’ sermon on the Mount was a clarification and expansion of the Law, but to say that he preached it would be false. It’s quite striking that not one of Acts’ sermons has any sort of extended “pre-gospel” section on how sinful humanity is and how the Torah tells them that they are sinful. Instead, what you find is an almost exclusive focus on 1) the God who created everything, and 2) the Messiah through whom God accomplishes his plans. Then, and only then, do you get the call to repent. By our standards, the apostles were rather poor in their presentations. But why this way? The gospel is about the sovereign God and his crucified and exalted Son Jesus the Messiah. Acts establishes this, and it is on this basis that the audience knows 1) I am accountable to God, and 2) I have lived in ignorance and defiance of him.

            Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going into detail about how we have sinned against God, and how holy and righteous he is. However, we tend to emphasize God’s holiness in contrast to our imperfection of works (based on the view that God gave the Law to Adam). What the apostles emphasized was that humans lived without regard for God’s sovereign authority or existence (which result is the multiplication of sins).

            I don’t think any of the above is necessarily wrong, but I do think we front load our evangelism with things that we only ever see the apostles talk about in the context of the church. Such as God’s holiness and requirements for our lives. The apostles don’t include that in their own preaching of the gospel to nonbelievers. Instead of focusing on actions, they focus on God’s sovereignty, Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection, and authority, and Man’s lifestyle. This I think is a better way to address the depravity and cause for judgment. Rather than focusing on these specific sins –“Have you ever lied? Because God is perfect, those who lie and do other sins deserve an eternity of punishment in hell.” — by addressing the general lifestyle, we not only get at why God judges the world, but why the good deeds we do don’t matter at all. And, through the proclamation of Jesus who died and rose again to redeem a people for God, we get at what the proper response to the gospel is, which is repentance and faith in the one whom God has established as the ruler and judge of the world (who also died for our sins, allowing forgiveness, and reconciles us to God).

            1. Kenton says:

              Also, to say that we should preach “Law and Gospel” is to misunderstand that the gospel itself convicts of sin, while offering the crucified and risen Savior. Or else Paul can’t say that men will be judged by the gospel in Romans 2.

              1. Bruce Russell says:


                Please send me an email: bjr1958 on gmail.



  8. Kenton says:

    But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4, 5 ESV)

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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