Archive for December, 2012


Sanctification: Monergistic or Synergistic?

The issue of the believer’s sanctification has recently become quite a contentious one. The controversy seems principally to center around two questions. The first concerns whether sanctification is through faith [sometimes the phrase “faith alone” is thrown in to confuse matters further], or through “learning and doing.” The second concerns whether sanctification is monergistic [the work of God alone] or synergistic [a cooperative effort between God and the believer]. I believe the first question can and should be answered only in light of the answer we give to the second question.
As in most controversies, the answers to these questions depends, at least to some degree, on the way we define the terms we use. If by “monergistic” we mean believers need not obey God’s clearly revealed commandments in his Word, but need only “let go and let God,” then we must biblically argue that sanctification is synergistic. Certainly, believers cannot be passive in this process any more than we can be passive in our response to the gospel. The gospel calls on sinners to respond actively in faith and repentance, yet we believe the work of regeneration itself is monergistic. We do not cooperate with God in giving ourselves life. My question is whether or not the same can be said of sanctification. It seems the New Testament Scriptures clearly characterize the work of sanctification as God’s work. To argue as a proof of synergism, that Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “this is God’s will, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication” really proves nothing. Could it be that keeping God’s commandments is not sanctification itself but the result of it? If we took the term “conversion” in its broadest sense, it would include God’s work of regeneration and the sinner’s response to it in faith and repentance. In fact, it could even include the lifelong work of sanctification. Generally, however, the terms regeneration and conversion are differentiated; regeneration referring to God’s work and conversion referring to the sinner’s response to that work. If we understand “sanctification” to include both God’s work and our obedience that results from that work, it is obviously a synergistic work. On the other hand, if we view our obedience to God’s commands and our consistent working out of Jesus’ redemptive accomplishments, as our proper response to God’s sanctifying work in us, it is clearly a monergistic work.

Paul, in Philippians 2:12-13, sets forth both our responsibility and our absolute dependence on God in the matter of fulfilling this responsibility. He wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” To some extent, then, this discussion comes down to a definition of terms and a delineation of roles in the matter of sanctification. There are several facts, however, on which all should agree:

1. The believer’s obedience is not optional. We are responsible to obey all God has revealed. If we do not obey we are guilty of sinning against God.
2. Though we are unable either to desire to obey or to act in obedience to God and thus please him apart from his work in us, we are, nonetheless, responsible to obey. This statement confirms our belief that regeneration in and of itself does not provide sufficient enablement for our obedience. Apart from a continual, internal sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, believers will never produce an obedience that pleases God. I am not suggesting that regeneration is unimportant or unnecessary to the believer’s life of righteousness. It is because we have been born of God that we cannot go on sinning as a habit of life as we did before regeneration. The principal benefit of being born of God is that he unites us to Christ. It is in our union with Christ that God deals a death blow to sin’s dominion. What I am suggesting is that though regeneration is essential to our life of holiness, it is not sufficient in and of itself to produce righteousness.
3. It is not merely that God does his part, and we do our part, but that we do our part because he does his part. His working does not depend on our working. At times his work goes on not only while we are idle, but while we are acting contrary to his revealed will. He does not wait on us to act obediently before he begins his work. At times, he even uses our disobedience to teach us the emptiness of all those ways that are contrary to God’s way.
4. A true believer does not exist in whom God is not working in this way and who does not desire to please God by obedience to his Word.
5. The ultimate success of the process of sanctification does not depend on the believer’s obedience, but on God’s internal work.
6. The believer must not wait until he senses that the Spirit is working within him before he begins to obey the clear commandments of God’s Word.
7. Whether we consider the believer’s obedience as part of the sanctification process or as a response to God’s work of sanctification, it should be clear in the matter of the believer’s growth in grace, both he and the Spirit are active.
Let’s return now to the first question–Is sanctification by faith or by “learning and doing?” To state the matter differently, is the outworking of the believer’s sanctification the result of his diligence in learning what to do and doing it, or does it result from his God-given faith? Please note that my question is not whether the Christian life demands diligence. The Word of God never sets a life of faith and a life of diligence over against one another. The question is whether a person can be successful in pursuing a life of diligent obedience to God apart from faith.
In light of what we have said, I think the only answer we can give is that any progress we can make in the life of obedience must be made through faith. Such obedience manifests itself as we live out what God has accomplished in Christ’s redeeming work and what he is doing in us by his Spirit.
One gets the impression from some that they believe Jesus accomplished our justification, but we must attain our sanctification by our own efforts. To seek sanctification by passively resting in the work of Christ living his life all over again in us is quietism. To seek sanctification by our own efforts, severed from faith, is legalism and moralism. That we are not sanctified by faith alone, as in justification, does not mean we are not sanctified by faith at all.
There is no question there are times when obedience is difficult. It is not an easy matter to pluck out one’s right eye or cut off one’s right hand [please understand this metaphorically as Jesus intended it]. Walking by faith has never been easy. The reality is, such acts of mortification would not merely be difficult, they would be impossible apart from the Spirit’s enabling. If he did not grant us the desire and the ability to please God, we would fail miserably. Apart from faith in the promises of God, we would be overwhelmed by an earthbound sense of the here and now.
In reality, sanctification must be by faith since its goal is to please God. Hebrews 11: 6 informs us that, “without faith, it is impossible to please Him [God]. . . .” In fact, the entire chapter that has come to be known as “the faith chapter” deals with the obedience of Old Testament believers who, subsequent to believing God for justification, acted in obedience to God through faith.
How is it that believers are to account themselves truly dead to sin and alive to God if not by faith (Rom. 6:11)? How is it that believers are to feast on Christ, the true bread that came down from heaven, if not by faith (John 6:53-58)? Here, Jesus uses the present tense that indicates continuing action. The believer in Christ doesn’t eat once and then move on to his own efforts. He continues to feast on Christ as long as he lives. How are we to behold the Lord’s glory as in a mirror if not by faith (2 Cor. 3:18)? How are we to rest on God’s promises and, as a result, perfect holiness in the fear of God, if not by faith (2 Cor. 7:1)? How are we to walk by the Spirit, if not by faith (Gal. 5:16)? Paul wrote, “For we walk [live our lives habitually] by faith not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). How are we to take up and put on the whole armor of God if not by faith (Eph. 6:11)? How can a person “joyfully accept the plundering of his goods, knowing that he has a better and enduring possession for himself in heaven,” if not by faith (Heb. 10:34)?
To couch this issue in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh (Gal. 3:3)? Of course, someone will object that the Apostle was talking in these words about justification, not about sanctification. Our answer is that these two are inextricably joined. By that, I do not mean that these two works of God are fused so that somehow we are justified through sanctification. What I mean is that both these works of God result from the same work of Christ, so that a person who is united to Christ will invariably experience both justification and sanctification. If a person seeks to be sanctified by the flesh, the overwhelming evidence is that he has never been justified. Faith is not a one-time decision, but an ongoing experience. If a person stops believing and reverts to works, his faith was not genuine in the first place. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). Whatever else this verse may teach, it should be clear that if we began by trusting God’s Anointed one, we must continue to live habitually in the same manner.
In Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; [that is, because of my union with him, I died when he died ] it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
He tells us he lives the life he now lives by faith in the Son of God [or if we take the genitive as a subjective genitive–by the faithfulness of Christ]. Either way, he indicates his life in the sanctification process is dependent on Christ, who loved him and gave himself for him. It seems not to matter to the apostle how long he has walked in grace, he never ventures far from the cross.
The view that Galatians 2:20 is only speaking of justification and not about sanctification is based on several faulty assumptions. . First, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could think “the life I now live in the flesh” could be a reference to a past declaration. It is true, the genuine believer does not lose his believing attachment to Christ and his confidence that he is right in God’s sight through the one who has given up his life for him. True believers never get over their justification. Still, what is now occurring in the believer’s life is not justification but sanctification. Second, though the immediate context concerns the doctrine of justification, that is not its exclusive concern. In the immediately preceding verse, Paul wrote, “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” Though others have taken a different view of this verse, I believe Paul is saying that since the penalty of the law was visited on his substitute in whose death he died to the law, he is now free to live to God. Whatever view we may take of the verse, it is clear that the result regards Paul’s post conversion life, namely, his sanctification.

John Brown wrote,

By the law having had its full course so as to be glorified in the obedience to death of Him in whom I am, I am completely delivered from the law. The law has no more to do with me, and I have no more to do with it in the matter of justification. And this freedom from the law is at once necessary and effectual to my living a truly holy life—a life devoted to God,’ (Italics mine). What follows is explanatory of this thought, which was ever present to the mind of the apostle—`I consider myself as identified with the Lord Jesus Christ.’ “I am crucified with Christ.” I view myself as so connected with Christ, as that when he was crucified I was, as it were, crucified; and I am as much interested in the effects of that crucifixion as if I had undergone it myself. He, in being crucified, endured the curse, and I in Him endured it; so that I am redeemed from the law and its curse, He having become a curse for me.

Brown, Galatians, pp. 37-8

The third faulty assumption is that the theme of the Epistle is “justification by faith alone.” In reality, the theme of the Epistle is the identity of the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant. The Judaizers had argued the true evidence that one was an heir of that covenant was submission to circumcision and, thus, to the conditional covenant of Moses. Paul’s argument is that since Christ is the promised Seed, all those who are united to him by faith are “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (3:29). “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (3:7). The New Covenant not only produces an unfailing faith in Christ but also a continual reliance on the Spirit to lead us in the way of righteousness. Paul assures us that if we habitually live by means of the Spirit, we will by no means fulfill the desires of the flesh. He has clearly stated in 2:19, that the purpose of his death to the law was “so that he might live to God.” Just as it is by faith a person is initially united to Christ, so it is by a divinely inspired faith that he continues united to him. A return to the Law covenant as an evidence of being justified (the law being in that case the standard for sanctification) would indicate a failure of faith in Christ alone. It does not seem they were teaching that a person could be justified by being circumcised in place of reliance on Christ. Instead, it seems they were teaching that the true evidence of justifying faith in Christ was adherence to the Old Covenant. In other words, they thought the evidence that a person has faith in Christ is that he has been circumcised. Instead, the evidence that I have faith in Christ is that I walk by means of and in line with the Spirit. Such a walk, of course, involves obedience to the Scriptures inspired by the Spirit.
It seems one of Paul’s greatest problems with such a return to the Law is that “the Law is not of faith.” The question, then, is not by what am I justified, but what is the evidence that I have been justified. Is it that I live by the Law, or that I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me so that I continue to habitually live by means of the Spirit?
The possibility exists that some who have professed faith in Christ alone for justification may again retreat to their legalistic strongholds in which they persist in going about to establish their own righteousness. If there are any left on the planet who remember some of the older hymns, they will remember a line in one of them that reads, :”I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” There have been many who, though professing faith in Christ alone, have lived on their frames of mind, at times feeling accepted because of how they felt toward God and at times feeling rejected. What they needed was to get a firm grasp on how God feels toward them in Christ since that is in the final analysis what truly matters.
Spiritually, we human beings tend to be “do-it-yourself-ers.” It seems to be our nature to gravitate toward self-help programs—“learn and do”. I believe it is for that reason even those who have professed faith in Christ need to be cautioned against the danger of trusting in the evidences of faith rather than the object of faith. This is not to say that the truly justified need to “maintain their justification.” If we have been justified, nothing can alter that divine declaration. Instead, it is that those who have once trusted in Christ alone for justification will go on trusting him alone for justification.
In the process of sanctification, the Scriptures call on us to strive, obey, mortify our sins, etc., but these acts of obedience are never to be thought of as works we can perform apart from faith or as forming any part of the basis of our right standing before God. Nor should we imagine we can perform those acts of obedience apart from the Spirit’s continual application of Christ’s redeeming work to us. If we begin to think of them in that way, we are guilty of becoming legalistic in our thinking and are in danger of condemnation. It was in this vein that Paul, the apostle, wrote to professing Christians, “if you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.” Paul did not intend them to understand there was anything inherently wrong with being circumcised in and of itself. His meaning was that if they should begin to trust in anything other than Christ, they would give evidence that they had never truly begun to believe.
It is for these reasons we must be sanctified by faith. Any so-called obedience that occurs apart faith is not true obedience at all; it is mere legalism. We must daily remind ourselves that God does not continue to smile on us judicially because we are so good; he does so because Christ is so good.


Ignorance on fire.

I recently read the following excerpt from a book written by a man who claims to be a “former Calvinist.” My experience has been that those who claim to be “former Calvinists” never understood our doctrinal position in the first place. This is what he wrote:

Realize that a Calvinist and Non-Calvinist do not share the same meaning of words. This is true even though probably neither one of them realizes they do not share meaning. Remember, Calvinism is merely the invoking of associative meaning, not real meaning. By “not real” I mean that the meaning is destroyed in the overall thought of the clause or sentence. For, of course, at one level the Calvinist understands the general meaning of words. But when he strings them together in such a way that it forms an idea that is false, then at another level he overthrows the meaning of such words.* For example, when a Calvinist uses the term ‘God’ in defending the absolute sovereignty of God, he is making nonsense statements. This is what I used to do as a Calvinist. I liken these non-sense statements, or propositions, to the riding of a rocking horse. As a Calvinist rider, I would throw my weight forward toward my belief in the absolute sovereignty of God until I could go no further, whereupon I would recoil backwards toward my belief in human freedom. Thus I would go back and forth in seesaw motion, lest on the one hand I find myself accusing God of insufficient sovereignty, or on the other hand find myself accusing God of authoring sin. All the while, there remained an illusion of movement towards truth, when in fact there was no real movement at all. At length I would allow the springs of dialectical tension to rest the rocking horse in the center, and then I would declare as harmonious propositions which, in fact, were totally contradictory to each other. Calvinist riders still ride out this scenario.

He is quite right in his assertion that, often at least, Calvinists and Non-Calvinists do not share the same meanings of words. This is why I insist on a definition of terms before engaging in debate over some point of theology. It is an absolute waste of time to engage in debate when the two parties in the debate are using terms differently. The point at which I disagree with him is when he accuses Calvinists of stringing words together to form a false idea. Have you ever noticed these guys never provide citations from those with whom they disagree? One would think they would at least make an effort at substantiating their scurrilous lies. Of course, then everyone would know their charges are baseless.

I found his rocking horse analogy interesting. Can you imagine a theologian sitting astride a rocking horse, vacillating between the doctrine of Christ true and full humanity and his full and true deity, then deciding he must reject one or the other of these revealed truths because he could not logically reconcile them in his partially sanctified and finite mind? What a recipe for heresy. Imagine what would happen if we rejected everything in Scripture that we could not fully understand.

The truth is, a real Calvinist would have understood that God, in his absolute sovereignty, does not need to cause to occur everything he has decreed. For example, God clearly decreed Jesus’ crucifixion, but he did not cause any of the parties in that heinous act to perform as they did. They all acted freely, volitionally and culpably. The truths of divine sovereignty and human freedom [please note I did not say “free will” since that is another issue altogether] are often found side by side in the same verse of Scripture. E.g, ” this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). One need not rock back and forth trying to decide which of these truths he will embrace. He must embrace them both since they are both revealed in God´s Word.

This man, in his ignorance, can now boldly state he no longer believes what he never understood in the first place. It is a crying shame ignorance isn´t painful.


Dr. Joel Beeke on Justification By Faith Alone

There is a great message on Justification by Faith at the following address.

The Speaker is Joel Beeke, whom Paul Dohse calls a “hardcore Reformed mystic.” He accuses Beeke of teaching “Progressive justification.” All I can say is, God give us more mystics.

One of the quotes I particularly appreciated was from the last words of David Dickson. He said, [Paraphrased] “I have placed all my bad deeds on a heap. Then, I have placed all my good deeds on the same heap and run from the entire heap into the arms of Christ; therefore, I can die in peace.”


Review of an Addendum to Paul Dohse Sr.’s New Book–False Reformation

In an addendum to his new book, False Reformation, Paul Dohse Sr. provides a small, representative sample of the mindless ramblings found in the rest of his book. I have read much of Paul’s latest book prior to publication. His argumentation is equally as deplorable there as it is in the following quote:


John MacArthur began to follow authentic (radical) Reformed doctrine in circa 1994. Sometime afterward, he wrote an article entitled “Justification by Faith.” The article follows the authentic
Reformed doctrinal line to a “T,” complete with all of the familiar truisms, ambiguity, nuance, doublespeak, cognitive dissonance, and historical arguments. The article is also very reminisce of what the Australian Forum used to write. In the article, MacArthur states, “If sanctification is included in justification, then justification is a process, not an event. That makes justification progressive, not complete.”* But yet, the very doctrine he now holds to is referred to by many of his associates as a “golden chain” (pp. 28-33). Clearly then, sanctification must be “included” in justification is some way. MacArthur explains it this way in the same article: “Those two must be
distinguished but can never be separated.” This cognitive dissonance speaks doubly for itself. It can’t be included, but neither can it be separate?

Moreover, while saying sanctification cannot be “included” in justification because that would make “justification progressive,” that’s exactly what John Calvin calls his own doctrine by entitling his fourteenth chapter of book three in the Institutes, “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive.” Calvin then goes on to explain in the same chapter that the atoning death of Christ is “perpetual.” There is simply no wiggle room in regard to this blatant theological contradiction.

Paul should enjoy my remarks here, since he seems to like being “persecuted” for his almost unique penetrating understanding of truth. He clearly suffers from the Elijah syndrome–“I alone am left, and they seek my life.” He likes to accuse anyone who tries to explain clear biblical truth of “doublespeak” and “cognitive dissonance,” a term he recently learned but probably doesn’t have the intelligence to completely understand. I have difficulty thinking about Paul D. without thinking about the apostle’s word to the Philippians, “There are many of whom I have told you often and now I tell you even weeping, that are enemies of the cross of Christ. . .” (3:18). Paul Dohse is clearly an enemy of the gospel. If you have money to waste, buy his new book now available on Amazon, but don’t expect to find any truth in it.

One of Paul’s problems is that he was disciplined by a church in Ohio for which he continues to carry a vendetta. I don’t know the issues involved since I was not present at the time. What I do know is that Paul has ignored a clearly articulated injunction from the Word of God. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15). If he wishes to talk about “kingdom living,” he needs to spend a bit more time concentrating on the laws of the kingdom. It is difficult to discern whether Paul is mentally challenged, theologically inept, blinded by his bitterness or a combination of all the above. What is abundantly clear is that he has no business trying to interpret “Reformed doctrine” for anyone.

My concern is not for those who have theological understanding; they will be able to see through Paul’s erroneous reasoning right away. My concern is for those who have so little biblical and theological instruction as to be able to discern the errors in Mr. Dohse’s arguments. I am aware that he will react negatively to that statement since he claims to believe God’s people don’t need teachers and theological instruction. He claims this in spite of his recent efforts to start a church in his home in which he is the teacher. Perhaps he should consider making the least theologically and biblically astute person in the group the teacher. Why would these people need him to teach them? Additionally, he must believe people need his penetrating insight into Reformation doctrine since he recently published the above mentioned book. He criticizes other Christian leaders for publishing “pricy books.” One wonders why it is OK for him. Perhaps what he means is that he is the only teacher people need.

Consider with me the illogic of Paul’s obtuse argument.

1. One of his main contentions is that the Reformed believe in “progressive justification.”

2. He tells us that John MacArthur “began to follow authentic (radical) Reformed doctrine in circa 1994.” One would conclude from this that if MacArthur is radically Reformed, he must believe in “progressive justification.”

3. Then he cites a statement from MacArthur in which he clearly and categorically denies the idea that justification is progressive. He wrote, “If sanctification is included in justification, then justification is a process, not an event. That makes justification progressive, not complete.”

4. This is where it gets weird. In Paul’s world, people don’t believe what they say they believe. Sure MacArthur wrote that, but that isn’t what he really believes. How do we know? Because Paul said so. No one believes what he says he believes. He must believe what Paul says he believes.

5. Here is Paul’s argument–He can’t believe what he wrote because some of his associates refer to the “golden chain” of redemption. There is a real smoking gun if I have ever seen one. Because some of Mac’s associates refer to the Golden Chain, “sanctification must be involved in justification in some way.” Iron clad logic! How can anyone take this guy seriously? In reality, the “golden chain of redemption” has been referred to for centuries. The reference is to the execution of God’s redemptive purpose in the salvation of his people. The point of it is that since every link of the chain represents God’s work, not the sinner’s work, the glorification of God’s elect is absolutely certain. It has nothing to do with sanctification being involved in justification in some way. Paul even has the unmitigated gall to suggest that Calvinist believe we must maintain our own salvation since if we don’t we will lose it. This is ignorance gone to seed.

6. He then argues that MacArthur’s views are characterized by “cognitive dissonance,” because he states, “Those two [justification and sanctification] must be distinguished but can never be separated.”

It hasn’t been too many months since Paul told me he was well acquainted with Holiness by J. C. Ryle. At that time he was quoting him frequently and favorably. Ryle was firmly within the Reformed tradition since he was an Anglican Bishop. In his classic book on sanctification just prior to a section in which he distinguished between justification and sanctification, he wrote,

Both are to be found in the same persons. Those who are justified are always sanctified, and those who are sanctified are always justified. God has joined them together, and they cannot be put asunder.

The distinctions that follow make it clear that Ryle did not confuse these two works of God at all. Was he guilty of “cognitive dissonance?” Of course not. What both he and MacArthur were saying is that these two works of God are concerned with different issues. Justification concerns our guiltiness before God; sanctification concerns the sinful pollution of our souls. Yet, God never justifies a person without also sanctifying him.

7. Finally, Paul offers as proof that MacArthur could not truly believe what he clearly stated, a title from a section in Calvin’s Institutes. He doesn’t seem particularly interested in knowing what Calvin meant by the title. It is enough for him that Calvin used the title and since he used the title, MacArthur could not truly believe what he wrote. This, of course, presupposes that MacArthur could not depart from Calvin at any point and still be considered “Reformed,” at least not “radically” Reformed. This is what Paul wrote–“Moreover, while saying sanctification cannot be “included” in justification because that would make “justification progressive,” that’s exactly what John Calvin calls his own doctrine by entitling his fourteenth chapter of book three in the Institutes, “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive.” Calvin then goes on to explain in the same chapter that the atoning death of Christ is “perpetual.” There is simply no wiggle room in regard to this blatant theological contradiction.

This is what Calvin really wrote, “Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be perpetual in the Church (2 Cor. 5:18, 19). Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death—viz. ablution, satisfaction, expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of grace, but ‘by grace are ye saved,’ ‘not of works, lest any man should boast,'(Eph. 2:8, 9)” (Institutes Book III, Chap. 14, Section 11). His point is that we are not justified by grace through faith at one point but then must then be declared righteous by our works in obedience to the Law.

There is a vast difference between stating as Paul does that Calvin believed “The atoning death of Christ is perpetual,” and what Calvin actually wrote, “. . .there is a perpetual efficacy in his death. . . .” This is a truth that anyone with an understanding of God’s method of saving sinners should understand. Jesus, as our Great Priest, is able to save completely those who come to God by him since he ever lives to make intercession for them (see Heb. 7:25). This does not mean he continues to offer himself as a sacrifice, dying again and again. It means he continues to present his once for all and efficacious sacrifice in the presence of his Father in the heavenly holy place. As our high priest, “he appears now in the presence of God for us.” Because his death has perpetual efficacy, we have a standing in grace that never changes. The apostle wrote, “Through him [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). The Westminster Shorter Catechism clearly stated the Reformed position as follows, “Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.”

Notice they did not say “Christ’s atoning death is perpetual.” It is his ONCE OFFERING HIMSELF as a sacrifice that is finished. On the basis of that once for all sacrifice, he, in his intercessory work, presents the perpetual efficacy of that once for all accomplishment before the Father’s throne. The truth Calvin was stating was echoed in William Cowper’s great hymn, “There is a Fountain.” He wrote,

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood,
Shall never lose its power,
‘Til all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more.

No truly Reformed person believes justification is progressive or that believers can in any way add to it by our obedience in sanctification. Nor do any of us believe that once a person is truly justified before God, that standing can be lost by anything we may do or fail to do.

I have practically begged Paul to produce quotations from Calvin or any Reformed work that state unequivocally what he has claimed in the sense in which he is claiming it. To date, he has failed to do so. The reason he has not produced such quotes is that no such quotes exist. Don’t just take his word for it; demand that he support his claims with real quotes from real people.

*The following is a fuller citation of the ariticle MacArthur wrote about justification. In case you can’t tell, he is arguing against “progressive justification.”

The Council of Trent, Rome’s response to the Reformation, pronounced anathema on anyone who says “that the [sinner] is justified by faith alone–if this means that nothing else is required by way of cooperation in the acquisition of the grace of justification.” The Catholic council ruled “Justification … is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just.” So Catholic theology confuses the concepts of justification and sanctification and substitutes the righteousness of the believer for the righteousness of Christ.

What’s the Big Deal?

The difference between Rome and the Reformers is no example of theological hair-splitting. The corruption of the doctrine of justification results in several other grievous theological errors.

If sanctification is included in justification, the justification is a process, not an event. That makes justification progressive, not complete. Our standing before God is then based on subjective experience, not secured by an objective declaration. Justification can therefore be experienced and then lost. Assurance of salvation in this life becomes practically impossible because security can’t be guaranteed. The ground of justification ultimately is the sinner’s own continuing present virtue, not Christ’s perfect righteousness and His atoning work.


Believers, Not Sin Free

I have been having an email discussion with Paul Dohse of Paul’s Passing Thoughts. The discussion is in regard to a statement Pastor Tullian Tchividjian made in regard to the total depravity of believers. Pastor Tchividjian has asserted that believers continue to be totally depraved. By this he means there is no part of the believer that does not continue to be affected by sin. Though I agree that there is no part of the believer that does not continue to be affected by sin, I believe this is an ill-advised use of this terminology. I did my best to discuss the issue with Mr. Dohse in an effort to ascertain his position on this issue. My best efforts failed to illicit an acceptable answer from Mr. Dohse. All he could do is spew his typical blather that had nothing to do with the questions I asked him.

It seems to me, the following is a balanced biblical approach to the issue at hand. As stated, I believe Pastor Tchividjian is correct in his observation that there is no part of the believer that does not continue to be affected by sin. Believers are not free from sin (in terms of committing acts of sin) in any facet of their being. We are, however, unlike the unregenerate who are totally depraved, free from the control or dominion of sin. We cannot and will not go on living in sin as a lifestyle. When we sin, we act out of character with ourselves and with our profession.

The totally depraved are not free not to sin. Believers, though not free from sin, are free not to sin. Since we are led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, it is possible that if we should fulfill the biblical injunction to walk in or by means of the Spirit, we would not fulfill the desires of the flesh. Our task then, is to walk in line with the Spirit, which, of course, involves walking in line with the Scriptures.

Adam, before the fall, was able to sin. After the fall, he was not able not to sin. In Christ, we are able not to sin. In eternity, we will not be able to sin.


What We Believe About Regeneration.

What do the New Testament Scriptures teach about God’s work of regeneration? Let me begin by stating that few terms employed in Systematic Theology have the precise meanings in all their biblical uses that they have in Systematic Theology. In Systematic Theology, the term “regeneration” has been defined to mean the implantation of a new, holy, governing principle in the soul of the sinner. It is unlikely the term ever has this precise meaning in either of its two occurrences in the New Testament Scriptures. The word translated, “regeneration” is Paliggenesía, occurs with the article in Matthew 19:28, i.e., the regeneration, referring to the coming age. This age is the long promised “times of the restitution of all things.” Is the “times of refreshing from the Spirit of the Lord.” It refers to “the New Creation” into which all New Covenant believers have been translated. When this “regeneration” that has already been inaugurated is finally consummated, it will bring within its scope the renovation of the cosmic universe itself. Paul wrote, “the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage that is characterized by corruption into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:21). He argues that the reason we can be confident that this age of fulfillment has begun and that we will certainly enjoy our full inheritance is that we now have the “first fruits,” namely, the Spirit. The “first fruits” are the first part of the entire harvest that are considered the assurance that their recipients will enjoy the entire harvest. God’s people live in the already/not yet. Though we have the assurance that we already live in the new creation or “the regeneration” we do not yet enjoy the entire inheritance that we will experience when Jesus returns in glory to redeem the purchased possession, namely, our bodies. There is a sense in which believers have already inherited the fulness of the promised blessings since we are united to him who has received the full inheritance, but in our experience we must still live in a world that is characterized by weakness, sickness, and trouble.

The other verse in which the term “regeneration” occurs is Titus 3:5. This verse describes two of the principal blessings conferred on those who belong to this new age, this regeneration. It is difficult to escape the conclusion Paul is referring to the blessings promised in Ezekiel 36:25-27.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 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.

Though the text does not specifically identify these blessings as belonging to the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, it seems clear they belong to it. It also seems clear Jesus had these verses in mind when he told Nicodemus a man must be born of water and Spirit. The clear meaning is that God’s spiritual and eternal blessings are not conferred through physical birth, but through spiritual birth. The two blessings promised include washing from past sins and renewing for future service and obedience.

There are a number of metaphors for this work of God in the New Testament Scriptures. They include baptism, circumcision, birth, creation, deliverance from the prison house, and restoration sight to the blind. It is significant that in all these operations, the recipient is passive. Additionally, it is significant that all these metaphors seem to express one aspect or another of Ezekiel’s promise.

Over at Paul’s Passing Thoughts, Paul Dohse, the purveyor of putrescence, continues to charge that Reformed people do not believe in regeneration. He bases this charge on statements by Reformed pastors and theologians indicating that the basis of justification is wholly a righteousness that is outside the believer. For this reason, he concludes the Reformed believe God does nothing in the believer, producing a holy and obedient life. Don’t try to understand this logically. Paul D. has no ability to understand theology or logic. I am not saying that to be unkind. The alternative is that he is simply a huge liar. For now, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he is just theologically inept.

Apart from what we call regeneration, no one would ever come to faith in Christ. Apart from God’s work, internally cleansing and renewing us, we would continue to live in bondage to sin. To say that justification is not based on an internal righteousness is not the same as saying we have no internal righteousness.

What we don’t believe is that regeneration so equips us for righteous living that we can live a sanctified life apart from the continual ministry of the Holy Spirit. It should not escape our notice that the Ezekiel passage cited above not only speaks about God removing the sinner’s stony heart of rebellion and replacing it with a heart of flesh, it also promises the indwelling presence of the Spirit who will cause us to obey. We must not think of regeneration as a work that gives us a bag of tools that enables us to obey independently. Nor should we think the Spirit simply comes to help us once we have picked up the bag of tools. Notice, the promise is that the Spirit will cause us to obey. Apart from his prompting, believers who have neither the desire nor the ability to please God.


What We Believe About Justification.

We believe the following about justification before God:

1. We believe justification is a judicial or a declarative act of God, the supreme judge.

2. We believe God justifies people who are ungodly.

3. We believe he justifies sinners based on strict justice. God, himself, can only remain righteous and at the same time declare sinners righteous because he has satisfied his own righteous demands in the redemptive work of Christ.

4. Since sinners need more than mere forgiveness of sins [The law demands a positive righteousness], the righteousness of Christ, demonstrated in his perfect obedience to his Father’s revealed will is imputed to believers. We are made “the righteousness of God in him.”

5. Since this is an alien righteousness that is put to our account, it will never be increased or diminished. It cannot progress. The most sanctified child of God will never become any more righteous in God’s sight than he was the second he first believed. Our progress or lack of progress in sanctification has no effect whatsoever on our righteous standing before God.

6. Even the most holy works of believers in Christ would fail to merit this positive judicial declaration.

7. This declaration is by grace alone, through faith alone i.e., through resting on God’s promises in Scripture alone, in Christ alone and all to the God’s everlasting glory.

8. Though justification is not progressive, it is perpetual. We believers have a standing in grace in the presence of God. We stand perpetually justified in his presence
(See Rom. 5:1-2) because the sacrifice of Christ offered once for all has perpetual efficacy. In his perpetual intercessory work, our great high priest continues to present his finished work before God’s throne. “He now appears in the presence of God for us.”

9. Although no true believer can ever lose this righteous standing before God, it is possible for some who have professed faith in Christ to fall away, cast away their confidence in Christ and be condemned. True faith is enduring faith. Any “faith” that looks for any other basis of justification other than the perfect redemptive work of Christ is not justifying faith. If a person begins to look to and depend on what God is doing in him instead of what Jesus has done for sinners in his redeeming work, it should be clear he is not trusting in Christ alone and his faith is not a justifying faith. This does not mean what God is doing in him is not important. It simply means that internal work cannot form any part of the basis of justification.

The Epistles of Hebrews and Galatians give us an insight into how such “believers” are to be addressed. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I am afraid I may have labored in vain over you” (Gal. 4:11). This and other comments make it clear that though they had professed faith in Christ alone, they were in danger of being lost because they were beginning to trust in works other than those of Christ. For this reason it is necessary from time to time to exhort professed believers to rest in nothing other than the perfect righteousness of Christ. Our best works, on our best day will fail to present us faultless in God’s presence.

10. Though justification and sanctification will always be found in the same persons since both result from the believer’s union with Christ, we must never confuse these two works. One is a judicial declaration about us; the other is God’s ongoing work in us. One imputes a righteousness which is not ours; the other imparts a holiness that becomes ours. One stands perpetually perfect; the other may increase or diminish and will never be complete or perfect in this earthly life. One results from the imputation of a righteousness that is not ours in any sense; the other results from the infusion of God’s enabling grace, by the Spirit and based on the believer’s death with Christ.