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By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

Reviewed by: John W. Mahaffy

Date posted: 09/09/2007

"By Faith, Not by Sight": Paul and the Order of Salvation, by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Published by Paternoster Press, 2006. Paperback, 114 pages, list price $16.99. Reviewed by OP pastor John W. Mahaffy.

Dr. Richard B. Gaffin's most recent book, "By Faith, Not by Sight," is refreshing, like a breeze flowing in off the ocean. As it wrestles with issues of substance, it models how believers can and should communicate with and about one another.

As he deals with Romans 16:7 (pp. 37-38), Gaffin asks, "What effects this transition from wrath to grace, from the wrath of being 'outside' Christ to the salvation from that wrath of being 'in Christ'?" He answers: "Union with the exalted Christ by Spirit-created faith. That is the nub, the essence, of the way or order of salvation for Paul." Lest we think that diminishes justification, he adds: "Deny or distort his teaching on justification and that gospel ceases to be gospel; there is no longer saving 'good news' for guilty sinners. But no matter how close justification is to the heart of Paul's gospel, in our salvation, as he sees it, there is an antecedent consideration, a reality, that is deeper, more fundamental, more decisive, more crucial: Christ and our union with him, the crucified and resurrected, the exalted, Christ" (p. 43).

Is there a future aspect to our justification? Gaffin denies that there are two justifications: a present one, by faith, and a future one, by works. Rather, our justification, just like the other benefits that manifest our union with Christ, has a not-yet aspect.

He understands this emphasis, not as something that developed with the New Perspective on Paul, but as reflected in the catechisms, which speak of believers being "openly acquitted" in the day of judgment. Justifying righteousness is not God's renovating work in the believer, but rather "Christ's righteousness as distinct from theirs" (p. 87). The believer is not only partially justified, leaving him uncertain about the outcome.

Particularly helpful is his drawing out the implication that believers, appearing bodily in the final resurrection, "will appear there as already openly justified." "Everything at stake here, including their assurance, depends on Christ, ... his finished righteousness imputed to them and received by faith alone. At the same time, Paul's teaching on the final judgment and the role it will have for believers does put in ultimate perspective the integral, unbreakable bond he sees between justification and sanctification, and on the truth that faith as 'the alone instrument of justification … is ... not alone in the person justified' (Westminster Confession of Faith 11:2)" (pp. 99-100).

The primary disappointment of this book is its short length. Gaffin admittedly has contented himself at a number of places with "having to assert rather than argue, with affirming instead of developing" (p. vii). A Scripture index would have made the book even more useful.

The target readers are "pastors and other teachers in the church, and more generally, interested students of the Bible." This reviewer strongly recommends the book for any of those and as an excellent addition to church libraries. Borrow or purchase a copy, but open it, feel the fresh breeze as you read, and breathe deeply.

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