Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

22 Dec 2023

Analysis and Critique of the Federal Vision Teaching of Justification (Part 4)

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Read Part 1 in this series here. Read Part 2 here. Read Part 3 here.

Teaching Directly Related to Justification (cont.)

The previous post in this series examined what FV has said about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the role of works in justification. This final post will examine what FV has taught regarding two more issues directly related to justification—final justification and apostasy.

Final Justification in Federal Vision

Another defense FV uses against being labeled works salvation is that they do not deny faith alone for initial salvation. When they say that good works are a condition for justification, they are referring to final justification.[1] A clear picture is provided in Zechariah 3 when Joshua’s filthy garments are removed, and he is given a clean white garment.

The initial clothing in white is received by faith alone. This is the beginning of Joshua’s justification. But if Joshua is to remain justified — that is, if the garments he has received are not to become re-soiled with his iniquity — he must be faithful. Thus, initial justification is by faith alone; subsequent justifications include obedience.[2]

James 2:14-26 is used to support this teaching. James is not using justification in the demonstrative sense (i.e., to show to be just) but in the same sense Paul uses: forensic and soteric.[3] James refers to a person being justified when he stands before God in the future and clearly shows that works are included in this justification.

In other words, in some sense, James is speaking of a justification in which faith and works combine together to justify. Future justification is according to one’s life pattern. No one dare claim these works to be meritorious, but they are necessary. There is congruence between the life we live and the destiny we will receive.[4]

FV proponents argue that Paul states the same thing in Romans 2:13—the way of justification is not simply hearing but doing the law.[5] It is possible to do the law because the law does not demand perfect obedience. Also, the works of believers can be used for future justification because God will not apply a strict standard of judgment but will judge graciously, as a father would the artwork of his child.[6]

Critique of Final Justification in Federal Vision

 Two important problems must be noted. The first is the concept of a final justification. Reformed teachers have often argued that the teaching of Rome erred by positing two different justifications. Rome confused sanctification with justification.[7] It appears that Lusk has committed this same mistake. Lusk quickly dismisses the possibility of a demonstrative sense in James 2 by stating that the faith is said to justify persons, yet ignores what James says about those persons in arguing for final justification. If James is referring to works being involved in final justification, when believers will stand before the throne of God, why does he point to instances in the lives of the people he mentions? He does not claim that Abraham was justified at the last day but when he offered Isaac. Rahab was justified by works when she received and sent out the spies during her life, not at the end of her life. The demonstrative sense should not be so readily dismissed. The issue James seems to be dealing with throughout the section is how faith can be shown or demonstrated.[8] The final judgment before God is not justification in the theological sense that it is usually used since there will not be a forgiveness of sins.[9] “Final justification” would be better called “open acknowledgement and acquittal.”[10]

Second, the denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is what creates the need for personal obedience in FV teaching.[11] The concept of final justification is only necessary if initial justification is insufficient.[12] A consideration of Hebrews 12:14 will illustrate this point. Although this verse is used at times to argue that personal holiness is necessary for salvation, it is actually referring to the holiness of Christ that is required to stand before God. Believers are told to strive after the standard of Christ’s holiness for their sanctification, not their justification.[13] The perfect obedience of Christ makes the personal obedience of the believer completely unnecessary for justification. This truly is good news!

The gospel is not just that we are forgiven, but that believers are reckoned as law keepers for the sake of Christ’s law keeping credited to them (Rom 4:3; 2 Cor 5:19–21; Gal 3:6). Whoever trusts in Jesus and rests in his finished work alone is righteous before God. It is as if the Christian has performed all that the law requires.[14]

Apostasy in Federal Vision

Since, in FV teaching, every baptized person is in union with Christ, yet not every baptized member perseveres and goes to heaven, apostasy is a real possibility. Those who apostatize were really and truly united to Christ and experienced all the salvific blessings associated with union with Christ, including justification. They were a branch on the tree just as much as those that continue to bear fruit.[15] However, they lose these blessings that they possessed, including justification, by not being faithful.[16] How can one tell if he is really a Christian then? He does not need to look to see if he really believed or if his heart is new. One can know he is a Christian because he is a baptized member of the body of Christ, the church. Wilson employs the analogy of a husband to clarify his point. If a man is married to a woman but cheats on her, he is still objectively a husband even though he is not being faithful to his vows. People do not argue that he is not a husband because he is not being faithful to his vows. Yet, that is exactly what Christians often do. They say that a person is not a Christian because he is not faithful, even though he has the ring (baptism). If the husband gets divorced because of his unfaithfulness, people call him an ex-husband, not a never-was a husband.[17]

Critique of Apostasy in Federal Vision

FV displays a logical inconsistency in this area. If all baptized members are truly in Christ and experience all spiritual blessings, those blessings include perseverance and glorification.[18] Yet FV proponents do not believe that all baptized infants will go to heaven.

[FV] simply cannot, without embracing contradictions, have it both ways: either all who are baptized are in covenant and all who are in covenant have all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, and therefore all who are baptized have all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ—and so will persevere to the end and go to heaven—or some who are baptized will apostatize and wind up in hell and therefore do not have all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, and, consequently, either being baptized does not necessarily place one in covenant with God or being in covenant with God does not entail having all spiritual blessings in Christ—or both. One simply cannot deny the conclusion of a valid argument without denying at least one of the premises—unless one wishes to reject logic.[19]

This view of apostasy is also tied to the concept of final justification, which makes initial justification no real ground of assurance, which makes it no justification at all.


Clearly, FV misrepresents the biblical understanding of justification. At best, it is an overzealous and, at times, careless attempt to avoid antinomianism. At worst, it leans towards works salvation.[20] By fighting against a cheap grace, FV has attempted to avoid the accusation that the gospel naturally brings. When justification by faith alone is properly understood, it brings the charge that grace encourages sin (Romans 6:1). It may well be that an indication of whether or not one has faithfully articulated the true gospel is whether or not someone brings the accusation of antinomianism against himself.[21] Has FV ever been charged with over-emphasizing grace as Paul was?

[1] Rich Lusk, “A Response to ‘The Biblical Plan of Salvation,’” in The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons, ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 146.

[2] Rich Lusk, “Future Justification to the Doers of the Law” (2003), par. 10 [online], accessed 12 December 2007, available from

[3] Ibid., par. 16.

[4] Ibid., par. 16. (emphasis original.)

[5] Ibid., par. 6.

[6] Ibid., par. 20.

[7] Hywel R. Jones, “Justification by Faith Alone” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, ed. R. Scott Clark (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2007), 293–94.

[8] Ibid, 295.

[9] O. Palmer Robertson with W. Stanford Reid, “Justification at Westminster Theological Seminary: The History of a Modern Controversy,” (1981): 10.

[10] Jones, “Justification by Faith Alone,” 295.

[11] Guy Prentiss Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2006), 89–90.

[12] Philip E. Hughes, “Some Reasons for Dissenting from the Majority Report of 21 April 1978 on the Subject of JUSTIFICATION Submitted by the Faculty to the Board of Westminster Theological Seminary,” (paper submitted to the Board of Westminster Theological Seminary, 21 April 1978),  2. Any justification must rest solely on the righteousness of Christ. Personal obedience has replaced Christ’s obedience in FV.

[13] Ibid., 3.

[14] R. Scott Clark, “Do This and Live” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, ed. R. Scott Clark (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2007), 265. (emphasis original)

[15] Douglas Wilson, “Response to ‘Covenant and Apostasy,’” in The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons, ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 229.

[16] Steve Wilkins, “Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation,” in The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons, ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 261–63.

[17] Wilson, “Response to ‘Covenant and Apostasy,’” 231.

[18] E. Calvin Beisner, “Concluding Comments on the Federal Vision,” in The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons, ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 308.

[19] Ibid, 310.

[20] It may be that FV proponents have simply used poor wording and incorrect terminology to communicate the concept that faith produces works. Certainly, charity moves one to proffer this judgment. However, the continued stance on this teaching in opposition to strong criticism makes this conclusion less and less likely.

[21] W. Robert Godfrey, “Faith Formed by Love or Faith Alone,” in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, ed. R. Scott Clark (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2007), 280. 

2 Responses

  1. Ryan Livingston

    Well said. I began studying this topic in 1999 when I went to a college that used the KJV… while I prefer the Ecclesiastical text to the Critical or Alexandrian text families … I have never understood the error of KJV onlyism of double inspiration. Especially, since no one uses a 1611 and the other translations (english, German, Greek, etc) were diligently used and compared.