Synod condemns the error of those . . .
IV. Who teach that what is involved in the new covenant of grace which God the Father made with men through the intervening of Christ's death is not that we are justified before God and saved through faith, insofar as it accepts Christ's merit, but rather that God, having withdrawn his demand for perfect obedience to the law, counts faith itself, and the imperfect obedience of faith, as perfect obedience to the law, and graciously looks upon this as worthy of the reward of eternal life.
For they contradict Scripture: They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ, whom God presented as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:24-25). And along with the ungodly Socinus, they introduce a new and foreign justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole church.
Although it is easy to overlook, one thing we must be clear about is the fact that the Arminian view of the justice of God and the nature of the atonement, inevitably distort the Reformed and biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone.
The Arminian does so by defining justification in such as way that the biblical ground of the doctrine (the imputed righteousness of Christ) is transformed into a doctrine of human merit. This can be a difficult point to prove, because Arminians use the biblical language of forgiveness, imputation, and “faith alone.” But all of these terms are redefined in a manner which does not comport with the biblical usage of these words, nor with the doctrine of the Reformers.
According to the Arminian system, justification must be understood as follows. All men and women have a universal tendency toward sinfulness. But the death of Christ secures a prevenient grace for all men and women, which enables all men and women to use their free-will to seek after God and righteousness, and then come to Christ in faith. Since God has arbitrarily decided that he will regard the blood of a sacrificial victim as a sufficient demonstration of his love and justice (thereby allowing him to remit sin), he has also determined that when someone exercises faith in Christ, he will arbitrarily regard the exercise of faith as though it (i.e., a person’s faith) were righteousness.
In the Arminian scheme, God regards the faith of the sinner as though it were “imputed righteousness.” This enables the Arminian to say that we are saved by “grace alone” (since prevenient grace supposedly enables all to use their free-will and believe) and by “faith alone” and not by good works (since God has determined to regard the exercise of faith as righteousness).
From the Reformed perspective, the Arminian scheme completely undercuts “grace alone” (since grace is non-specific, non-effectual, and simply enables people to exercise their free-will) as well as justification by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone (since faith as instrument does not receive the saving benefits of Christ secured by his active and passive obedience, but is instead the one work that we must do, and when we perform that work, God regards it as righteousness).
To put it yet another way, faith is not the means through which God reckons to us the righteousness of another (in this case, the righteousness of Christ). Instead, God regards the act of faith (or the presence of faith) as though it were righteousness. This amounts to a denial of what the Reformers taught, as well as a denial of the teaching that we are justified by the righteousness of another, namely Christ’s righteousness earned through his active obedience.
The Arminian can do this, and still use biblical language since Arminianism has always been quite successful in redefining the biblical terms, and because the whole Arminian scheme is not based upon the necessity of the satisfaction of God’s retributive justice, but upon God’s arbitrary decision to display his love and justice in the cross. For the Arminian, if God can arbitrarily determine that the death of Christ satisfies God’s need for justice and displays his love, God can also arbitrarily determine that he will regard our exercise of faith as though it were righteousness.
For the Reformed Christian, the death of Christ is a necessity if any are to be saved, because God’s justice must be satisfied and our debt to him must be paid in full. If we are to be regarded as righteous before him, we must have the guilt of our sin removed, and we must have a perfect righteousness imputed to us, so that when God acquits us, he does so because his justice is satisfied, and because the sinner can be truly called righteous because he or she possesses the righteousness of none other than Christ himself!
The Arminian system has no real need for an active obedience of Christ in fulfilling all righteousness during his earthly ministry. This is why living the Christian life is popularly described in terms of using our free-will to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, and in “doing what Jesus would do.” This view does not see the Christian life as a life lived in obedience to the law as a rule of gratitude, but Christians must do as Jesus did so as to continue on in the righteousness we have earned in order not to be lost eternally.
In crasser forms of the Arminian scheme, the life of Christ is primarily an example for us follow, and is not seen as the Reformed have understood it, namely as the mediator of the covenant of works, come to earth to fulfill all righteousness in his own perfect obedience to the Law, which is then reckoned to the sinner. This also means that the Arminian has no real necessity of the passive obedience of Christ, wherein Jesus willingly offers himself up for our sins. For the Arminian, the atonement is not effectual, but only provisory, and therefore not necessary, but arbitrary. We really are talking about two distinct religious systems here, and these two can mix as little as fire and water.
When evangelicals talk about being a “four-point” Calvinist, or even worse, when they identify themselves as “Calminian,” it is clear that they have never thought about these matters in a systematic, or comprehensive way. The Reformed starting point (today depravity) leads to a system in which it is sovereign grace which necessarily saves from beginning to end. If your fundamental assumption is that you must begin with human freedom–as it is in Arminianism–synergism is the necessary outcome.
The Reformed are quite correct to remind the Arminian that this teaching does indeed “contradict Scripture.” For the bible declares that men and women “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ, whom God presented as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:24-25). And along with the ungodly Socinus, they introduce a new and foreign justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole church.”