27
Mar
12

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.”

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3 Responses to “Which “gospel” are we to believe?”


  1. 1 Ariel D. Moya Sequeira
    March 27, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    For some reason, I was reading Galatians on my way to an exam today. From the moment I read the quoted statement, I realized “This man is absolutely wrong… Haven’t he read even the first few chapters of Galatians?”. Then I read your quote of Gal. 3:12.

    Personally, I’d say there are no multiple gospels, but only one, in the same way many people say “there are many gods” or “no god at all” but there is only One. Such “variants of the truth” are degenerate, narrow philosophies in the end.

    Which gospel are we to believe? *The* gospel. However, it requires people dedicated to learn and teach the Scriptures to other people. A big problem nowadays is that most human beings look for easy-going preachers (and musicians) and follow them blindly, instead of thinking whether what they’re being told is solidly backed up by Scripture rather than cheap talk.

    Besides,

    “[…] who exhibit the right response of faith under the new covenant experience the grace of justification in the present […]”

    What would be, then, *the* right response of faith to be exhibited, according to the unnamed writer?

  2. March 28, 2012 at 1:42 am

    Ariel,

    Thanks for your comment. You are exactly right. There is only one gospel. Everything else is under God’s curse.

    Unfortunately, preachers have not been faithful in teaching God’s truth. The result is, people’s senses have been dulled to God’s truth. I believe the remedy is systematic, expository teaching of Scripture

  3. April 2, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    The two most important questions that I ask of a church or of a professing Christian are:

    1. To a church: “What Gospel do you preach?”

    2. To a Christian: “What gospel did you believe?”


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