Archive for March, 2012


What Can God Do With Stones?

I am intrigued by the statements Jesus and the biblical writers made about stones, and what God is able to do with them. I just read again this morning John the Baptist’s statement in Matthew 3:9 “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” He followed that statement by telling them that even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees and that every tree that did not bear fruit would be cut down. It seems clear he is telling these Jews, the special natural seed of Abraham, there was more to being the true people of God than physical descent. Later, Jesus tells a group of Abraham’s descendants that if they were truly the descendants of Abraham in the spiritual sense, they would believe in him as their professed father had done, and thus done the works of their “father.” What John was telling these arrogant Jews was that God was not limited to their nation as a source of a seed to serve him. If he willed to do so, he could raise up such seed from the stones.

In the next chapter, immediately following his baptism, Jesus is led into the desert to be tempted by the devil. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Matthew saw a connection between John’s statement and the Devil’s demand. There is clearly a connection between the occurrences surrounding Jesus’s baptism and the devil’s hissing insinuations. God the Father had borne witness to Jesus’ deity in a rather spectacular way in sending the Spirit to rest on him and in declaring from heaven, “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” It does not seem strange, then, that the first words from the tempter’s mouth are “If you are the Son of God. . . .” These words sound eerily similar to “Did God actually say. . . ?” (Genesis 3:1). Could there not also be a connection between John’s declaration about what God can do with stones, and the devils suggestion that if Jesus is the Son of God, he should be able to turn the stones in to bread (see-Matt. 4:3). There is no indication in the passage that Jesus could not have performed such a miracle, had it been the Father’s will for him to do so. The point of the passage is that, to use Jesus’ words from the preceding chapter, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’ mission as the last Adam was to obey in all the points in which the first Adam had disobeyed. Here, he shows his absolute love for and submission to the Father by humble obedience to his law.

Later, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, riding on a donkey [apart from a fulfillment of prophetic Scripture, one would have expected better for a conquering prince], in keeping the stage of his incarnate existence called his “humiliation,” his disciples begin to cry out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the LORD. . . . (Luke 19:38). When the Pharisees insisted he silence these disciples, Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). He will be praised. If men with stony hearts will not praise him, God is able to cause the creation itself to sing hymns to his majesty.

It seems more than passing strange that the Old Covenant God cut with the nation of Israel was inscribed on tables of stone. Why tables of stone? The answer some have given is not only less than satisfying but is in direct contradiction to plain Scriptural statements. Their answer is that God inscribed this covenant on tables of stone to indicate the permanency of the Ten Commandments. This, we are told, is the eternal, universal, moral law of God. Not only do the Scriptures never describe these tables of stone in this way, they clearly state that the covenant written on tables of stone was one that God intended to be eclipsed by a new and better covenant. In 2 Corinthians 3:5-11, the apostle Paul wrote,

5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,
6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,
8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.
10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.
11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

The apostle clearly tells us “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone. . . was being brought to an end.” He contrasts that covenant with the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit referring to it as “what is permanent.”

There must be another reason why God carved his covenant in letters on stone. I believe it was to point to the adamant nature of sinners in an unregenerate condition. What is God able to do with stones? In his promise of the New Covenant, Jehovah says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezek 36:26-27).

This is a part of what makes the gospel “good news.” God knows how to deal with stones. There is no sinner so hardened in his rebellion that God cannot break his stony and recalcitrant heart and incline him toward loving obedience to his revealed will. He can raise up from stony hearted rebels, children unto Abraham who not only believe as did their father, Abraham, but also sing his praises and exclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”


Which “gospel” are we to believe?

One would have thought that after all these centuries Christians would have come to agree on the nature of faith. This does not seem to be the case, even among so-called evangelicals.

I recently read an interesting definition of faith. The writer expressed his concept of faith this way, “The condition of the Mosaic covenant was faith; but this faith was understood in holistic terms, and primarily expressed using the language of hearing and doing, i.e., covenant obedience.” In other words, “faith” is really obedience to the covenant.

Further he wrote,

The new covenant, therefore, like the old covenant, is a conditional covenant of grace; but the new covenant will succeed where the old covenant failed precisely because Christ will work through the power of the Holy Spirit to ensure that the new covenant community (as a whole) will fulfill the covenant condition of holistic faith. [He has already defined faith as “covenant obedience”] Those individuals who exhibit the right response of faith under the new covenant experience the grace of justification in the present, and will (on condition on perseverance in faith) be justified by God on the day of judgment, and thereby qualified to live eternally in God’s holy presence, experiencing the fullness of salvation and covenant blessing forever more.

I don’t see how one can escape the conclusion that he is saying one must continue in “covenant obedience” as a condition of being justified by God on the day of judgment.

Additionally, it seems clear he is saying the New Covenant community will be enabled to fulfill the covenant condition of holistic faith, i.e., obedience to the covenant. In plain language, the heirs of the New Covenant will be enabled to earn eternal life because the Spirit causes them to obey the conditions of the covenant. If they persevere in this “holistic faith” i.e., “covenant obedience,” they will be justified in the last day.

To put this in plain language, he is saying we are justified by our perseverance in works of obedience that we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to perform.

This is in sharp contrast to the words of the apostle Paul who wrote, “but unto him who does not work, [i.e., perform any works of obedience to whatever covenant arrangement he may find himself under as the ground of his acceptance before God], but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Romans 4:5). Also consider Galatians 3:12, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.'” Here, faith is set over against the “doing of the law.” If faith were “holistic,” i.e., “covenant obedience,” then the “doing of the law” would be faith. The “doing of them” cannot be “faith” and “not faith” at the same time.

Though true faith will always produce obedience, faith is not obedience. If it were, salvation would be by works, not by the unmerited favor of God toward those who have merited his wrath. The truth that God’s people will persevere in faith and in the obedience that accompanies it belongs to the realm of sanctification and has nothing to do with the basis of justification before God.

If these words had been written by a Roman Catholic, we would not be surprised at them. This is fairly consistent with Papal doctrine. It is not their teaching that sinners are declared righteous before God by their own works of righteousness, unaided by the grace [by which they mean enablement, not unmerited favor] of God infused to them and flowing to them as a benefit of Christ’s death. A good Roman Catholic can say, “I could never be declared righteous before God apart from Jesus’ death on the cross, but in making such a statement, he does not mean the same thing as would a good Baptist making the same statement. The Roman Catholic Catechism #1821 speaks of “obtain[ing] the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ.”

What is shocking is that these words were written by a man who, it would appear, would claim to be within the Reformed tradition, though leaning toward New Covenant Theology, whatever that may have morphed into in our day.

It seems we are left with a choice between two “gospels.” One is a false gospel that falls under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9. The other is the good news that God declares sinners righteous apart from any merit they have attained or obedience they have performed, solely on the basis of Christ obedience and death in full satisfaction of God’s righteous demands. One makes our continued “faith” defined as “perseverance in covenant obedience” the ground of our justification; the other sees Jesus’ perseverance in covenant obedience as the ground of our justification. One says, “Jesus hit the ball [maybe even hit it out of the park], but the whole issue depends on how I run the bases.”

The other says,

“Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain–
He washed it white as snow.”


Why no “sanctification” in God’s golden chain?

There has been a bit of discussion in recent days about Paul’s omission of the term “sanctification” in Romans 8:30. Some have suggested that the way one explains that omission is an indication of whether or not he is a New Calvinist. At the risk of being dubbed a “heretic” once again, I thought I might attempt an explanation of this verse that describes what has been called “the golden chain of redemption.” This chain stretches from eternity past to eternity future and explains the absolute certainty of the believer’s glorification.

The chain begins in eternity with God, the Father’s, predetermination to conform all his foreknown people [i.e., all those on whom he had set his love] to the image of his incarnate Son. Since God works all things according to counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11), since his counsel stands and he does all his pleasure, and if he purposed it, he will also perform it (see–Isa. 46:10-11), the believer’s purposed glorification is an absolute certainty.

In accordance with his eternal purpose, [Paul states in Romans 8:28 that we are the called ones according to his purpose. see also 2 Tim. 1:9], God effectually calls believers into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9). In other words, he calls us into union with Christ. It should be clear that “called” in this verse cannot refer to a mere invitation since every one who is thus called is also declared righteous in God’s sight. If “called” means no more than invited, then all who have every been invited by the gospel are also justified.

Now, what is the result of the believer’s union with Christ? It is that all Christ’s accomplishments and all his merits are imputed to the believer. Since, based on his perfect conformity to God’s Law and his death under the penalty of that Law, he has been declared righteous before the Law, all in him are also justified. The resurrection clearly declared that he had abundantly dealt with all the demands of the law on him as one who was born under the Law (Galatians 4:4). Additionally, since, at his resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand, he entered into his glory, we are now “glorified” in him.

This understanding of the verse involves us in another “already/not yet” category. It is clear we are not yet glorified in our experience. That will occur when we see him at his return, but in union with him, we are already glorified.

The question remains, Why does Paul omit sanctification from the chain? There may be several reasons. Perhaps it is because sanctification, though a work of God’s free grace, involves the believer’s obedience. Since that obedience is as yet imperfect [It will only be perfected when Jesus returns in glory] its inclusion in the chain would weaken it significantly. Though we are assured by God’s promises that we will ultimately be made completely holy, our current condition in sanctification would more than likely detract from the assurance the apostle is seeking to instill in believers.

A second reason for omitting sanctification from the chain may have been that Paul merely assumed, in keeping with his argument in Chapter 6, that the road from justification to glorification necessarily passes through sanctification. All whom Christ died to justify, also died in him and with him to the reigning power of sin. Sin will not have dominion over true believers. Glorification is really but the grand climax and culmination of what God has been doing in the work of sanctification. Of course, added to that work he will climax in believers will be the cosmic effects he will affect at the same time. Notice how the apostle connects the sanctifying work that is now occurring with the climax of that work at Christ’s return–” Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

A third reason for the omission is that the verse follows Paul’s argument from Rom. 5 to Rom. 8. That argument passes directly from justification to glorification. “Therefore, having been justified by faith. . . we rejoice in hope [confident assurance] of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2). Even though in chapter six he deals with the issue of sanctification indirectly in answering a supposed objection to his teaching, that doctrine is not a part of his main argument. That argument is interrupted by a lengthy parenthesis that begins at the first verse of chapter six, and continues all the way through chapter seven.

The believer’s ultimate experiential glorification does not depend on what is happening right now in his sanctification. If it did, his confidence would be up and down like a yo-yo. Instead, it depends on the accomplished work of Christ in justifying him freely by his grace.

The work of redemption from first to last is the work of our sovereign God. It is ordered in all things and sure.


A God Centered Gospel–An Excerpt from Packer’s Introduction.

It has been over fifty years now since J.I. Packer wrote his introduction to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. The following is an excerpt from that introduction. The church should have listened.

There is no doubt that evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and or equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. Why?

We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man — to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction — and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’, too — more so, indeed, than is the new — but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach people to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.


Can you trust God for sanctification?

There seems to be an overwhelming fear among those who deny the idea of “gospel sanctification” that we will encourage licentiousness if we are too free in our expressions of Christ’s sufficiency in the whole of salvation. Often these days we hear the charge of “Antinomianism” being bandied about, and those who teach that Jesus accomplished every aspect of our salvation up to and including our glorification are regarded as heretics. In reality, being open to this charge is perhaps the best evidence that the message we proclaim is indeed God’s gospel. Dr. Lloyd-Jones wrote.

The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge [antinomianism] being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel(Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 1973,8).

Jesus died not only to guarantee his people’s justification but also to secure our sanctification and ultimate glorification. Though we are responsible to obey him in the process of sanctification, the work is his, not ours.

Over 100 years ago, Bishop J. C, Ryle wrote,

He who supposes that Jesus Christ only lived and died and rose again in order to provide justification and forgiveness of sins for His people, has yet much to learn. Whether he knows it or not, he is dishonoring our blessed Lord, and making Him only a half Savior. The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by his atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them but also to sanctify them. He is, thus, not only their “righteousness” but their “sanctification.” (I Cor. 1:30). ( J. C. Ryle, Holiness. (Available online at pp. 27-28).

Octavious Winslow also wrote about our completeness in Christ,

From every tongue in glory, and through the high arches of heaven, the anthem shall peal, “Worthy is the Lamb!” Believer in Christ! pants not your soul to join that song? and exults not your spirit in the truth that salvation, from first to last, is of God? Oh, how precious is the truth in the consciousness of our many failures and defects! Our salvation is all in Christ–our righteousness is all in Christ–our merit is all in Christ–our completeness is all in Christ–in Christ our Covenant Head, our Surety and Mediator; and no flaw in our obedience, no defect in our love, no failure in our service, should so cast us down as to shut our eye to our acceptance in the Beloved. Imperfections we would not overlook, sin we would not allow, disobedience we would not indulge, temptation we would not encourage; nevertheless, we would ever remember, for our encouragement, that, in default of perfection in the most perfect of our doings, we are fully and eternally, complete in Jesus.

Octavius Winslow, The Sympathy of Christ With Man, (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1863) pp. 83-84.

One wonders how a person can claim to trust God to justify sinners based on his promises of salvation to all who believe and mistrust him in the matter of promised sanctification. We should note that though believers are commanded to obey and thus become involved in the matter of sanctification, this work, like the act of justification, is a work of God’s free grace and is accomplished by the redemptive work of Christ. It becomes clear that sanctification is God’s work when we consider that he has promised to complete this work in every true believer. In his first Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

The apostle Peter wrote, “. . . .the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

In Romans 6, Paul sums up his answer to the charge that preaching unconditional pardon will lead to licentious living with these words in verse fourteen, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

These are not just nice little memory verses; they are God’s promises. “He who promised is faithful. . .” (Heb. 10:23).

Here is the point. If you are concerned about true believers turning the grace of God into licentiousness and sensuality [lasciviousness if you are a KJV advocate] because they enjoy a sense of full and free forgiveness in Christ, you can relax. God has it all under control. If he has justified us, he has also promised to sanctify us through the same redemptive work of Christ that declared us righteous. In fact, not only has he guaranteed our perseverance in believing attachment to Christ; he has assured our final conformity to the image of Christ as well. It is his work. Trust him to accomplish it.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).


Twenty Questions

I am posting the following questions as an attempt to clarify various issues regarding justification and sanctification. I will be posting my answers to these questions in an effort to provoke discussion of these issues. I think the answers should be fairly straightforward, but if you disagree with me, let’s discuss it.

True or False?

1. God’s work in us, as an application of Christ’s work, is as important in forming the basis of the believer’s justification as is Christ’s objective work of redemption.

2. The believer’s performance in the process of sanctification has no effect on his standing in justification.

3. The basis of justification before God is the believer’s faith.

4. In justification, God makes believers righteous in their moral character.

5. Through the righteousness of Christ infused to believers we are able to attain justification.

6. Justification is through faith in Christ alone but sanctification is the work of the believer.

7. Justification is based on faith in Christ and the faithfulness of believers to Christ.

8. Even thought God has declared believers righteous in his sight, they must wait until the final judgment to see if they have been sufficiently faithful to the commands of Christ to be finally declared righteous in his sight.

9. If we teach that Jesus has fulfilled all the conditions of the covenant so that no conditions remain for the believer, believers will continue in sin and dishonor God’s name.

10. Because of the believer’s union with Christ, it is impossible for them to continue to practice sin since they died to the reign of sin when his death was applied to them.

11. Sanctification, like justification is a work of God’s free grace.

12. It is not necessary for believers to be obedient to the Scriptures since nothing can change their righteous standing before God.

13. In sanctification like justification, the believer has no involvement whatsoever.

14. When we say sinners must receive Christ as Lord, we mean sinner’s must change their lives before Jesus will receive them.

15. Ever true believer will persevere in faith and the obedience it produces as long as they live.

Multiple Choice

16. Justification is based on:

a. Faith in Christ

b. Faith in Christ and the faithfulness of believers

c. The obedience of Christ

d. The faithfulness of Christ and the faithfulness of believers to Christ’s commands.

e. The believer’s obedience to God’s commandments enabled by the grace of Christ that flows from his death.

17. Justification is:

a. God’s declaration that sinners are righteous in his sight, is based completely on the objective accomplishments of Christ.

b. a work in which God makes sinners righteous

c. a declaration that those who have faith have, through the enablement God has given them by virtue of Christ’s work, done enough to merit his approval.

18. Sanctification occurs because:

a. God has regenerated believers and this enables them to obey his commands apart from any additional prompting of his Spirit.

b. In union with Christ, believers have died with Christ to the reigning power of sin.

c. The indwelling Spirit works in believers to give them the desire and the ability to do what pleases God.

d. Out of gratitude and the sheer determination of his will, the believer obeys Christ’s commands.

e. The believer experiences a second work of grace in which he receives the Holy Spirit.

f. Two of the above. Which two?

19. Since God has declared believers righteousness in his sight, so that we can never be found guilty in his presence:

a. It doesn’t matter how much we sin

b. We can never displease him as our Father

c. We are motivated to live our lives for him who gave his life for us.

d. No sin we can commit can nullify his declaration.

e. Two of the above. Which two?

20. Sanctification is produced:

a. simply by the determination of the believer to obey the Ten Commandments.

b. by the indwelling Holy Spirit who, as a blessing of the New Covenant, inclines us toward obedience.

c. by realizing that if we are not faithful to the covenant, God will divorce us as his spouse.


Answer key for Twenty Questions

True or False?

1. F The basis of our justification is totally outside of us in Christ.
2. T
3. F The imputed righteousness of Christ is the basis of justification. Faith is the hand that receives it.
4. F Justification is totally outside of us. In itself, it doesn’t change our character.
5. F Christ’s righteousness is not infused but imputed for justification.
6. F Both justification and sanctification are a work of faith, and both are a work of God’s grace.
7. F justification is based on Christ’s imputed righteousness.
8. F Through faith, God has already declared believers righteous in his sight. see Rom. 5:1
9. F Romans 6:1ff
10. T
11. T
12. F
13. F See Phil. 2:12-13
14. F Repentance is a purpose of heart to bring our sins to Jesus that he might save us from them. It is an acknowledgment of our helplessness. Faith is an acknowledgment of his ability.
15. T See Hebrews 3:6

Multiple Choice

16. C
17. A
18. B & C
19. C &. D
20. B