Matthew Bates: When Justification Meets Allegiance

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 11.34.33 AMI took a break from Matthew Bates’ exceptional new book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, because I wanted to follow some other discussions. But I want to post today about his last chapter: Justification and Allegiance Alone.

First, Bates anchors justification in union with Christ.

For many justification brings us into union with Christ but he shows that union with Christ is prior. He’s right.

I take it as axiomatic that we cannot treat justification as an abstract, isolated transaction carried out between God and the individual by virtue of the Christ’s sacrifice, for an individual’s justification is entirely bound up with the union of the church to Jesus the king (166-167).

Notice this then:

In this chapter, the heart of what I want to say about how union relates to an individual person’s justification is this: properly speaking, at the present time Jesus the king is the only person who has already been directly judged by God (the Father), found to be in the right (justified), and vindicated. His resurrection from the dead is proof of his innocence—that he truly has been justified. Resurrection constitutes Jesus’s deliverance and total vindication. Currently no other person has been directly justified and declared righteous apart from him. All other cases are reserved for the final judgment. And here apart from him does not mean in the absence of Jesus as merely an abstract atoning sacrifice that covers over sin; it means apart from him as the church’s kingly representative, the one to whom we are united (as a head is united to the members of its body) by the Holy Spirit (168).

Second, he sees the so-called “ordo salutis” in corporate terms and not in terms of individual salvation.

To give a popular outline rooted in the Reformed tradition, one might speak of personal salvation as a process that begins with God’s unfathomable eternal decree to save certain humans and continues with those humans sinning but then progressing onward to effectual calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, union with Jesus, and finally glorification.168

Bates thinks this is missing too many pieces of the puzzle.

In fact, there is not a single statement in the Bible that unambiguously indicates that God preselects specific individuals before they are born (apart from the Son) for eternal salvation—and the same can be said for eternal separation Nor does the Bible stress an individual-first sequence of salvation, but a community-first sequence. The Bible is not really interested in telling a story about God’s predestining election of individuals, even if such a view is compatible with the biblical witness. So if the Bible is reticent to articulate an election-based individual theology of salvation, then might it not be wise for us to follow suit? 171

In short, it is crucial that we recognize the primacy of God’s choice of the Son as Messiah, and the church in the Son, as central to biblical theology. We must also recognize that God graciously takes the initiative in stimulating personal salvation for individuals (John 6:44; 15:16), so even the ability to render allegiance to Jesus the king is a gift (Eph. 2:8; Acts 18:27). But God’s prior choosing of specific individuals for eternal life or reprobation remains at best on the outer fringes of the story our biblical authors want to tell about salvation. 172

Paul, when he gives his famous “order of salvation,” is not speaking about a sequential progression that an individual must be moved through, but rather about God’s actions, holistically considered, as events that have been accomplished on behalf of the collective people of God (172). [Romans 8:29-30]

Third, he sketches how he understands “righteousness of God” and disagrees with N.T. Wright.

If we synthesize our observations about the “righteousness of God,” the following seven statements emerge as key. The righteousness of God is
1. something that the people of God (“we”) become in the Messiah;
2. nearly always associated with pistis—whether with the Messiah’s allegiance to God or our allegiance to Jesus as the Messiah, or both;
3. tightly linked with atonement and exchange;
4. associated with God’s judgment—both his wrathful judgment of sin and his saving judgment unto new resurrection life;
5. frequently connected with union or participation with the Messiah;
6. attested in the Old Testament but cannot be obtained through performing the commandments of Moses either on the individual or corporate level;
7. revealed in the gospel but was not available prior to the Christ event.

This discussion leads to a final summary:

For Paul, then, the righteousness of God is God’s resurrection-effecting verdict that Jesus the wrath-bearing, sin-atoning, allegiant king is alone righteous—a verdict that all who are united to Jesus the representative king share. 181 (most in italics)

Fourth, instead of “imputed” or “imparted” righteousness, carrying on both his union with Christ and the centrality of Christ as king, he thinks “incorporated” righteousness is better.

For maximal clarity, subsequent ecumenical work should add that Jesus as our atoning, representative Messiah-king is our declared, realized, and effective righteousness, and that we genuinely share in the king’s liberating righteousness by pistis alone as we are declared righteous in him by God upon our own confession of allegiance and come to share in the Holy Spirit (ordinarily at baptism). 187

In answer, rather than imputed or infused righteousness, it is better to speak of in-the-Messiah righteousness or incorporated righteousness. In-theMessiah or incorporated righteousness can be defined as the saving perfect righteousness of Jesus the Christ that is counted entirely ours when we join the Spirit-filled body that is already united to the righteous one, Christ the kingly head. 190

Now a summary evaluation of this book by Bates:

1. Bates knows what he’s talking about in these topics.
2. Bates roots his theory of “allegiance” in a proper, not soterian, theory of the gospel: it’s about Jesus.
3. Bates give that christological center freedom to roam into other topics, most noticeably justification. Jesus is the just one and we are just in him.
4. Bates needs to be read by all seminary students and by all pastors.

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