alien righteousness

From Horton’s Covenant and Salvation: Union With Christ

Horton here is responding to the New Perspective on Paul.

This is taken directly from Michael Horton’s work titled, Covenant and Salvation: Union With Christ in his chapter “Paul’s Polemic against “Works of the Law” that run from pages 53-79.  This excerpt from the book  is from pages 57-60.

“The wealthy young man, who by his own account was steeped in Second Temple Judaism (“All, this I have done since my youth”), nevertheless asked the question about personal salvation: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” ([Matthew] 19:16).   Jesus presses him on what “good deed” means and shows him why he has not kept the law from his youth, as he had claimed.  In one sense, of course, he had probably kept the law–at least, according to the NPP (New Perspective on Paul) definition (and, I argue, according to the Mosaic code as the regulation for the nation).  As a pious leader, he had been circumcised and offered an annual sacrifice, in addition to observing the ritual days, washings, dietary laws, and other ethnic markers.  On what basis then could Jesus drive this inquirer to despair of entering the kingdom simple because he was unwilling to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor (vv. 17-22)? Does the law prescribe such radical demands?

To answer this question, we must recognize that Jesus is not just another lawgiver or prophet, but is inaugurating the kingdom in his very person.  Just as the law that God gave Adam in paradise had an eschatological aim, so too the goal of Sinai law is “a kingdom of priests,” in which each person in one’s relationships with God and neighbor fulfills not simple the letter but also the spirit of the law from the heart.

Jesus was not simply engaging in hyperbole in order to point up the young man’s hypocrisy; he was also revealing the eschatological kingdom in its deeper character.  Contrary to the popular perception, Moses cannot be distinguished from Jesus in terms of law versus love.  However different this new era of redemptive history (viz, suspension of the theocracy and its holy wars against the enemies of Yahweh in the law) and however different from rabbinic interpretation it may be.  Jesus’ famous summary of the law as love is simply a repetition of Deuteronomy 6:5 (cf. 10: 12; 30: 6).  It is with the prophets and with Jesus, not Paul, that we are introduced to this recurring theme that righteousness consists not simple of outward actions but also purity of heart.  Law defines love, and love is the animating soul of the law.  Just as one may be outwardly circumcised in heart and a child of promise in truth, one could be designated a “keeper of the law” in terms of obvious violations yet completely fail to love GOd with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength and one’s neighbor as oneself.  Yet, Jesus says, the whole law rests on this (Matt. 22: 40).

Therefore, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges the rabbinic interpretation of the law: hatred toward a neighbor is tantamount to murder, and entertaining lustful thoughts to adultery (5: 21-30).  Divorce, except on the grounds of adultery, is out of the question (vv. 31-33), love must be extended to enemies and not just to friends (vv. 38-47).  The demand is, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).  With such rigorous definitions of covenant faithfulness in mind, the Westminster Confession defines sin as “any transgression of the law of God or any lack of conformity thereto,” and the Book of Common Prayer offers the confession of sin not only as “what I have done,” but also as “what I have left undone.”  It is one thing to refrain outwardly from violation and quite another to postively fulfill the law’s intention.

Returning to the story of the wealthy young man, we not that Jesus takes the opportunity to warn the disciples of the difficulty of wealthy people being saved.  Yet the climax of Jesus’ point comes in 19: 25-26: “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said. ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possibly.'” It is not only difficult for rich people to be saved, but impossible; in fact, it is impossible for anyone to be saved–at least according to the law.

Jesus presses the argument not to absurdity but to the point of crisis: his interlocutor was not faulted for asking how he might be saved.  Rather, his problem was that he though that he obeyed the law yet needed merely to supplement his lifelong fidelity with one work that he might have left undone.  Yet he is undone not even the disciples–“but with God all things are possible.”  “Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.  When then will we have?” (v. 27).  This is hardly the first or last time that Peter has missed Jesus’ point.  While Jesus promises Peter and the disciples blessing in the kingdom, he cautions, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (v. 30).

When one focuses on the potential of human beings for righteousness and salvation, the situation is precarious, even impossible.  The kingdom upsets the way things are usually done, and to the extent that Jesus preaches the kingdom, he heightens the sense of personal emergency in his hearers.  Jesus speaks of only a few being saved, for example (Luke 13: 23-24).  There is also his famous parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, which Jesus told “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded other with contempt” (18:9). Clearly, it is self-righteousness–the presumption of self-justification, and not an ethnic superiority, at issue in this description of the Pharisee.  Interestingly, the Pharisee’s prayer, enumerating his exemplary moral character, includes a pretentious thanksgiving to God for his righteousness, which the NPP might cite as an example of grace in Second Temple Judaism.  By contrast, the tax collector, “standing far off, would not even look up to heave, but was beating his breast saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!'”  Jesus’ verdict is clear. “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted” (vv. 13-14).

Even in John’s ministry, the insiders were on the verge of becoming outsiders, and in his Olivet discourse (Matt. 25), Jesus uses the most dramatic language to speak of a separation of sheep and goats, with the angels collecting the elect at the end of the age.  The ‘goats’ are not only unbelieving Gentiles, but also those who claim to have done great works in his name.  All of this eschatological, apocalyptic talk, far from being antithetical to the question of individual salvation, provokes it.  It is not wonder, then, that the goal of Jesus’ work and winess is “so that you may be saved” (John 5:34).

The sermons in Acts integrate the cosmic and the individual dimensions.  There we find examples of the question “How can I be saved?” (for example, 2:37-41).  In this report to the Jerusalem church, Peter explains, “God gave them (the Gentiles) the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (11:17).

By recapitulating the narrative of redemption (historia salutis), Paul also brought the question of salvation to the point of the individuals (ordo salutis) to whom he was preaching in the synagogue, proclaiming the forgiveness for sins that could not be forgiven under the law (13:38-39).  On the next Sabbath “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord,” and many Gentiles “were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers” (vv. 44, 48).  When the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” (16:30), they were not met with a blank stare, as if this could only be a Gentile (or perhaps a Protestant) question.  “They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will b e saved, you and your household'” (v. 31).

Throughout Acts are abundant examples of individuals responding in faith and being saved even as they are incorporated visibly in Christ’s body through baptism.  In both the preaching and the responses, the redemptive-historical horizon and personal salvation, communal identity and individual faith–all are woven into a single bolt of fabric.  The Epistles exhibit this complementary concern as well (Rom. 5:9; 8:24; 9:27; 11:26; 1 Cor. 1:18; 7:16; 9:22; 1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5; Heb 7:25; James 5:20; 1 Pet. 3:20; Jude 23), even to the point of summarizing an earlier creedal formula: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Tim. 1:15).  Paul can even speak, in what is incontrovertibly an autobiographical, first-person narrative, about his having deid to the law and been crucified with Christ, so that he, now raised with Christ, lives to God. “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing” (Gal. 2:18-21).  (Footnote: This passage may lend further credibility to the classic interpretation of Rom. 7 as Paul’s own personal experience in the Christian life.)”  (57-60)

Rich Young Ruler and the law of God here.

3 Responses to “From Horton’s Covenant and Salvation: Union With Christ”

  1. inwoolee

    You gotta appreciate Horton’s line on this, ““The wealthy young man, who by his own account was steeped in Second Temple Judaism (“All, this I have done since my youth”),”



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