Giving with one hand and taking away with the other seems to me to characterize Federal Vision theology and practice. The Federal Vision gives with one hand sacraments that mean something and do something. Sacraments unite us with Christ and with all the blessings of the salvation he accomplished. You are not waiting to receive grace. You received it when you were baptized. The Federal Vision assures us that we were justified at the time of and by means of our baptisms, whatever justification means. (The Federal Vision is allied with the New Perspective on Paul which tells us that justification is not really about forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God, but about being vindicated as belonging to God's people. Somehow being vindicated as a member of the people of God without certain ceremonial makers does not scratch my itch. It does not address the realities of objective and subjective guilt and longing to be right with God.)
The Federal Vision does say you got all the saving graces when you were baptized, but then the Federal Vision takes it away when it says that these saving graces are bestowed only conditionally. These blessings you have now may be taken away or forfeited, if you are not faithful to the covenant you have with God. I have trouble on this point distinguishing the theology of salvation taught by the Federal Vision and that of Roman Catholicism.
But it seems to me that a similar giving with one hand and taking away with the other happens with the pastoral use of the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith. Reformed theology, whether you find it in the 39 Articles, or the Belgic Confession, or the Westminster Confession, or any other of the Reformation era declarations, gets justification by faith right. Would that nothing more needs to be said.
In the PCA both the "grace boys" and the "obedience boys" confess justification by faith alone. However, they diverge with pastoral use they make of the doctrine. With regard to the tensions between the "grace boys" and the "obedience boys", much as I would like to, I cannot bring myself to embrace fully the "grace" view, as I understand what it teaches. I have the same criticism of the "grace boys" that I have of their cousins, the "sonship boys." They both tend to look at the whole Bible and all of theology through the lens of adoption of sinners as sons and daughters of God on the one hand and the radical acceptance sinners by grace on the other. They both are Johnny one-notes in my view. You need a larger grid than either provides to interpret the Bible on its own terms and construct a balanced theology.
But there are problems too with the "obedience boys" and their take on "justification by faith alone in Christ alone." Justification by faith is good news to guilty sinners who know they can never clean themselves up enough to merit forgiveness and who know they never had, do not have, and never will have within or about themselves a sufficient holiness and righteousness to get them God's acceptance. The penalty for sin that satisfies God's justice is suffered wholly by Christ for us. The goodness that meets with God's approval is found only in Christ and not at all in us. Forgiveness obtained by Christ's sufferings and righteousness accomplished in Christ's life are received wholly by faith, not at all by our character, efforts, works, or accomplishments.
But the rub comes with the "faith part" of justification by faith. Let me put this a couple of ways.
(1) Saving Faith. What is the faith that saves? This is often presented along the lines of "the faith that saves transforms." Saving faith is altogether different from "easy believism" that allows you to walk the aisle or pray the prayer and go on your merry sinful way assured you are saved. If your faith is of the saving variety, it will produce definitive effects in your life. You will find in and about yourself evidences that saving faith is at work changing you. You must examine yourself to see if your faith is transforming, and if you cannot find clear evidence of transformation then your faith may not be of the saving sort. It may be "nothing in my hand I bring" at the beginning, but some things better show up in your hand pretty soon. It may be "just as I am I come" but you better not be what "I am" long or you didn't really come.
(2) Regeneration. Faith is impossible apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Regenerating grace or the new birth precedes faith. But what does regeneration do? Does it awaken the sinner to his true peril and then enable him to trust in Christ, or does it involve a total moral renovation? If it involves moral renovation, then you must look not only for faith that rests in and on Christ, but moral differences of nature, character, and behavior. You must look at your sanctification which is evidence of your regeneration apart from which you cannot believe. Are you born again into a whole new relationship with God in Christ or are you born again into a whole new moral quality of life? Are you a new creation by virtue or what you are in Christ or are you a new creation by virtue of moral renvovation?
3) Repentance. Faith and repentance go together. In teaching, I have illustrated it as I have turned from facing one wall to facing the other. Faith and repentance are two ways of describing the same event. You turn around - which means turning both from something and to something - from sin to Christ. You cannot turn from sin without turning to Christ. You cannot turn to Christ without turning from sin. But what is this repentance that goes with faith? Is it a change that means you no longer resist God, rely on yourself, and reject Christ? Or is it more? Is it being sorry for your sin, seeking mercy, and longing for the happy day when you will be free of it? Or is it more? We are back to issue of moral transformation and renovation. How much transformation and renovation must there be if you truly repent? How much ceasing from sin is involved in the repentance that is faith's Siamese twin?
4) Lordship. You receive the whole Christ by faith. Christ is both Savior and Lord. You cannot exercise just the "Savior option" and reject the "Lord option." You cannot hold Christ's Lordship in abeyance while you are a "carnal Christian" and later become a "spiritual Christian" when you put Christ on the throne and rise to a new level of faith, the faith of submission as distinct from the faith of assent. But what does receiving Christ as Lord mean? It is bowing to him as your only hope - putting yourself in his hands and saying, "Lord, I cannot save myself; you must save me"? Or is it a submission that issues in a consistent pattern of obedience? Are you in a new realm where the devil is no longer king but Christ is? Or, are you now so dead to the devil's rule and so alive to Christ's that, as a citizen of His kingdom, there is some but not a whole lot of remaining corruption. Does faith in Christ as Savior and Lord mean that Christ has so conquered sin in your life that you and others see that sin no longer has dominion over you? You cannot really imagine having to say about yourself, "But I am carnal, sold under sin." And, if you hear someone else say it, you tend to conclude, "Carnal you are because you do not know Christ as Lord."
It seems to me that these issues about the "faith part" of justification by faith are a very big ones, though seldom if ever acknowledged. The problems are not so much with the doctrine itself as with the pastoral treatment of it. What is given in justification by faith alone can be taken away by so defining faith that the comfort and hope of justification is removed.
What is the faith that saves? What is the regeneration that enables faith? What is the repentance that accompanies faith? What the reception of Christ's Lordship? It can come down to the question, "How righteous do I have be as a result of faith in order to know I am righteous by faith?"
I think the unfortunate thing about the current tensions between the "grace boys" and "obedience boys" is that instead of listening to, learning from and being challenged by one another, each "side" reacts against the other. Meanwhile ordinary believers can feel themselves caught between the devil and deep blue sea.