Monday, February 26, 2007

No Merit In the Bible

I was reading someone else’s blog the other day and noticed something about the Federal Vision Theology debate that I hadn’t known before. When FV guys say they affirm the imputation of the passive and active righteousness of Christ and deny that merit has anything to do with justification the anti-FVers’ go nuts. I couldn’t figure it out until I realized that somehow they link the two together.

When I say that Christ’s passive and active obedience work together to make my salvation sure, I am not talking about his earning (or meriting) my salvation. This is baptistic language, not covenantal language. When I was a Baptist I would use the analogy of a courtroom where the judge has just condemned me to death for my crimes. Then Jesus steps up to the bench and says something like, “I know he is a worm and not worthy of saving, but I died so that he wouldn’t have to. My holy life earned me the privilege of dying in Mike’s place and my death will cover his sins.” I noticed the injustice of this arrangement, but I never noticed that it was merit kind of system.

Jesus’ death on my behalf was unjust because I deserved my death, not Jesus. He did nothing wrong and to put him to death for my sins, while ding in my place was a noble act on his part, to kill Jesus was an unjust act on God’s part. It is unjust to kill one man in the place of another man. And it is doubly unjust to kill a righteous man in the place of a criminal.

What I was saying, as a Baptist, was that Jesus, by living a perfect life and dying an acceptable death, earned my salvation. His merit was credited to my account and thus I was saved. What I was also saying was that somehow Jesus was able to do more than what was expected of him so that his perfect life not only covered, or protected, his own life, but also accrued merit sufficient for my sins.

However, the Bible does not talk this way about salvation at all. The only time the Bible talks about wages or earning anything is when it says that our sin earns us death (Rom. 6:23). We earn death, not life. No one earns life, not even Jesus. The reasons Jesus could not have earned life was: first, because he already had life. It takes sin to earn death and apart from when God laid our sins on Christ and he became sin for us (Isa. 53:6) he didn’t earn death in the first place. Second, the whole talk about earning, life or death, assumes that good deeds have some sort of weight. But while evil deeds earn death, good deeds because they are normal, or expected, have no weight at all. Since they have no weight, they cannot earn anyone anything. No one, even Jesus, does anything more than what is expected and thus no one earns anything more than what they have already received (“We are only unworthy servants.” Lk. 17:10). Jesus did exactly what the Father asked him to do. He did it perfectly, but perfection still doesn’t go above what is asked, it only does what is expected. It is normal. It has no merit. Jesus did not earn anything by being perfect, not his own salvation, and certainly not ours.

I don’t see merit in the Bible at all except for the fact that sin merits death. We earn death by our sinfulness. The answer is in covenant, not merit. More on this next time.

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