A Rebuttal to George M. Ella’s “John Gill and Justification from Eternity”

Making hash

It is certainly true, as Dr. Ella points out from Calvin’s Institutes, that faith is not the cause of our justification. Faith is the instrument by which we receive justification. But if we are justified before we use this instrument to receive it, how then are we justified? How do we receive justification? Justification from eternity makes a hash of the logical sequence of the means God uses in our salvation. It also does away with faith, without which we might as well be brain dead and remain so after our salvation and through eternity. Ella has cooked up a justification by decree only; one that we may have without even being aware of it.

Ella addresses the argument that the unconverted elect are under condemnation and, therefore, cannot be justified; we cannot be condemned and justified at the same time; we cannot be under guilt and under grace at the same time. Ella, attributing his answer to Gill, responds to these objections by saying that the solution is that “we are all in Adam, and in Adam we are all condemned.” “We Christians,” he continues, “are not merely in Adam. We are in Christ, and we are new creatures in Him. And, for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation. And so, we can actually be condemned on the one hand as being sinners in Adam, and we can be justified because of our standing in Christ. Christ justifies condemned sinners. And the wages of sin are upon us physically speaking until we die, and not until death overtakes us by God’s grace will the old man of sin, who is condemned be entirely taken away from us. And then we shall stand in our new nature completely, physically and spiritually, before Christ, as fully innocent of any sin because Christ has put away sin for us.” What we have here is Dr. Ella saying that justification from eternity means no real justification at all until after death! In his efforts to somehow explain how we can be justified from eternity while also being under God’s wrath during our lifetimes, Dr. Ella has so contradicted the Bible that I hardly know where to begin.

Dr. Ella’s response in the above paragraph is, at best, a muddle of contradictions. Essentially, what Dr. Ella is saying is that for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation; yet, being in Adam, they continue condemned and under God’s wrath. Those in Christ are new creatures in Him, but remain old creatures in Adam. This is true for the elect both before faith and after faith; there is no real difference. The elect are not only justified from eternity, they are also under condemnation all of their mortal lives.

Earlier in his talk, Ella accused those who believe in justification by faith alone as believing in a justification that is not real. But here Ella has let slip the truth that it is the believers in justification from eternity who are the believers in an unreal justification. When Ella says Christ justifies condemned sinners, he means they stay condemned even though they are “justified.” This line of reasoning is unbiblical, illogical, absurd, contradictory nonsense. I might as well say that my white wall is black.

But what does the Bible say? As Ella alluded, Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Surely, no condemnation means no condemnation. Read verses 33-34 of the same chapter: “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Unmistakably, this says that those who are justified cannot have a charge laid against them. Because Christ has died, risen again, and makes intercession for us, no one can condemn us.

Dr. Ella says that our old man lives on until we are physically dead. But the apostle Paul says otherwise: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). We are already dead because we died with Christ, and we are, therefore, freed from sin. Notice verses 11-23:

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Notice also Ephesians 4:22: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” We are to put off, concerning our old way of life, the old man. This says nothing of retaining him until we are physically dead. Another pertinent Scripture is Colossians 3:9: “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” This says nothing of the old man living on. The Greek, in fact, is even clearer. The word for “seeing that ye have put off” is one word, apekdusamenoi. This means more than just “have put off.” It means “having completely put off” or “having wholly put off” or, as A. T. Robertson puts it in his comments on this verse in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, “having stripped clean off.” Robertson goes on to say, “The old man (ton palaion anthrōpon). Here Paul brings in another metaphor (mixes his metaphors as he often does), that of the old life of sin regarded as ‘the ancient man’ of sin already crucified (Rom_6:6) and dropped now once and for all as a mode of life (aorist tense).”

The apostle John has much to say about this. He says that we sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10). But he never says that we, the children of God, are under condemnation. In fact, looking at it from that point of view, he says that we cannot sin, meaning that sin is not our way of life and our sins do not count against us to condemn us: “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him…. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:5-6, 9). And 1 John 5:18 is similar: “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” In other words, it is impossible for God’s justified elect to be under condemnation. As Jesus Himself said in John 3:18, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” What does He say distinguishes those not condemned from those condemned? Belief (or faith).

But what does the Bible say about the elect before they are justified by faith? In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul explains, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Before justification, the elect were “dead in trespasses and sins” and “the children of wrath, even as others.” Again, in Colossians 2:13, he writes, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” Those who are now justified were previously dead in their sins. In summary, Dr. Ella says that the elect are justified from eternity, yet under condemnation and God’s wrath until their physical death. The Bible says that the elect are under condemnation and God’s wrath until they are justified by faith, after which they are not, and never again can be, condemned and under God’s wrath.

Here is a list of some of the Scriptures that tell us that we are justified by faith: Romans 1:17; 3:22-24, 26, 28, 30; 4:5, 24-25; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:8, 11, 24; Hebrews 10:38. How many Scriptures tell us we are justified from eternity? Zero.

Copyright © 2009 Peter Ditzel