Archive for March, 2013



No Access Under the Old Covenant

The writer understood that Jehovah intended the old covenant to emphasize His absolute holiness and unbending righteousness (2:2;10:27-31;12:18-21,29). While the first tabernacle stood and the old covenant remained in force, the way into the holy presence of God remained hidden, “. . .the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” (9:8). Only the High Priest could enter the holy of holies. Even he could enter only once a year. Then, he dared not enter God’s presence without the blood of the sacrificial animal, which he offered first for his own sins and after that for the sins of the people.

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance (9:7).

The old covenant priests had to repeat this ritual year after year, signifying that God had not yet forgiven the sins for which they offered sacrifices. The day of atonement was a solemn reminder that guilty, covenant-breaking sinners could not approach a holy God.

10:1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered for the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The best the old covenant sacrifices could do was to provide ceremonial cleansing for sins that were committed unintentionally (9:7-10). They could formally restore the relationships that had been broken between a man and his God and a man and his neighbor, but they could not take away those sins that had caused the breach. F.F. Bruce writes, “Our author does not deny that such ritual cleansing was real and effective so far as it went. What he does deny is that cleansing of this kind could be of any use for the removal of inward and spiritual defilement” (Bruce , Commentary on Hebrews, p. 218).

One of the major points in which the old covenant was “weak and unprofitable” was its inability to quiet the nagging conscience. Under the old covenant, this was even true of the believer’s conscience. The word translated “conscience” or “consciousness” (syneidesis) occurs 32 times in the NT (5 times in this epistle). In general, it has reference to the awareness that a man possesses concerning the moral character of his actions. A person’s conscience tells him whether he is guilty or innocent. His thoughts accuse or perhaps defend him (Rom 2:15). The conscience, acting apart from Scripture, is not a safe guide since it may have been wrongly instructed. Yet, it is never safe for a person to disobey his conscience. If he should do so, he would be acting contrary to what he believed to be right or wrong.

The function of the old covenant was to awaken the sinner’s conscience to bear witness concerning his guiltiness before the Holy One of Israel. The tables of stone testified that the righteousness God requires is, to a sinner, merely an external code, not an internal, governing life principle. By instructing the Israelite’s conscience, the intricacies of the Mosaic code intensified his awareness both of the infinite holiness of God and the heinousness of his transgressions. It produced in him what our author calls “an evil conscience.” The heart of the sinner in Israel whose conscience God had awakened by the covenant of Sinai was so overwhelmed by a sense of unpardoned guilt that “drawing near to God” was inconceivable. The law could not produce acceptable worship or acceptable worshippers (10:1). John Brown has rightly understood this relationship between the sinner’s guilty conscience and his inability to draw near to God. He wrote,

“An evil conscience” is a conscience burdened and polluted with a sense of unpardoned guilt. A man who has offended God, and knows this, and who has no solid ground of hope of pardon, is totally unfit for affectionate fellowship with God. His mind is a stranger to confidence and love–It is full of jealousy, and fear, and dislike. The man must get rid of this “evil conscience” in order to his coming to God. (Brown, Hebrews, P. 461).
The old covenant believer could not enter God’s presence because sacrifices that could not satisfy God’s holy wrath for sin could not satisfy his conscience. God never intended for the Israelites to believe that they could appease His righteous anger by offering the blood of dumb and unwilling beasts. Until the thinking Israelite could see a correspondence between the sacrifice appointed and the awful predicament that existed because of his transgressions, his conscience could not be silenced. He had good reason to rejoice that God was pleased to continue to dwell in the camp of Israel and to receive the sacrifices that He had sovereignly appointed. Still, he knew that the sacrifice appointed did not have sufficient value to take away his sins. Consider F.F. Bruce’s excellent comment concerning the effect of the old covenant sacrificial system.

It was inevitable that the earlier law should be abrogated sooner or later; for all the impressive solemnity of the sacrificial ritual and the sacerdotal ministry, no real peace of conscience was procured thereby, no immediate access to God. That is not to say that faithful men and women in the Old Testament times did not enjoy peace of conscience and a sense of nearness to God; the Psalter provides evidence enough that they did. . . .But these experiences had nothing to do with the Levitical ritual or the Aaronic priesthood. The whole apparatus of worship associated with that ritual and priesthood was calculated rather to keep men at a distance from God than to bring them near (Bruce , Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 148 ff).

If the Levitical system could have met the needs of sinning Israelites, then it would have been the substance, not the shadow. There would have been no need for another priest as our author argues in 7:11. “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the Law was given to the people) why was there still need for another priest to come . . .?” The effect of the Levitical ceremonial system should have been to cause dissatisfied Israel to look for a sacrifice that could silence the nagging conscience by cancelling guilt completely. Instead, some to whom our author addressed this epistle had become infatuated with the “shadows” when they should have been enthralled by the “substance.”

We Draw Near to God
The Basis of Our Access

Christ, in the new covenant, brings a better hope “by which we draw near to God” (7:19). The entrance of our representative, our great priest, into the heavenly sanctuary assures believers in the new covenant era of access into God’s holy presence. It is the truth that believers have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens into God’s presence that forms the basis of our confidence and hope as we approach His holy throne (4:14-16;10:19-22). We may now enter God’s presence with confidence since our great priest has entered, now to appear in God’s presence for us (9:12;24).
One of the more important contrasts between Christ and the priests of the old covenant concerns this entrance into the Most Holy Place. There are at least four areas of contrast between them. There is a difference in the place that they entered. There is a difference in the means by which they entered it. There is a difference in the duration of their ministry in the Most Holy Place. There is a difference in the frequency of entrance. Consider these contrasts one by one.

The place that Christ entered is far superior to the place entered by the old covenant high priest. “They [the old covenant priests] serve in a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven” (8:5). But, in contrast to them, Christ entered and ministers in “the true tent set up by the Lord, not by man” (8:1).

9:11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation . . .24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

The sanctuary in the wilderness was only a shadow and symbol of the heavenly holy place. Accordingly, the restoration effected by the blood of sacrifices offered in that sanctuary was only ceremonial and typical. In the divinely prescribed ceremonies of the old covenant, a typical priest offered a typical sacrifice in a typical sanctuary for those who as a nation were the typical people of God.
The means by which Christ entered the presence of God is better than the means by which the old covenant priests entered. Since He has entered the true, rather than the typical presence of God, it is necessary that He offer a sacrifice that truly cleanses. Ceremonial purification will not suffice. It is for this reason that Christ offers His own blood in the presence of God. Our author writes,

11When Christ came as high priest . . .12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God (9:11-14).

The sacrifice that the old covenant demanded, but was unable to provide, has come. Christ is that sacrifice! He has accomplished a true rather than a merely typical cleansing. No other sacrifice could satisfy the guilty conscience. Justice would frown and continue to pronounce the sacrifices of the old covenant insufficient to forgive sins and wash away the stain. But, as John Newton wrote, now that Christ has offered Himself as an all-sufficient sacrifice, “. . .justice smiles and asks no more.” In the same vein, Isaac Watts wrote,

Jesus, my great High Priest,
Offered his blood and died;
My guilty conscience seeks
No sacrifice beside.

In addition, there is a contrast between the duration of Christ’s ministry in the Most Holy Place and that of the old covenant priests. The Levitical priests had no resting place in the Most Holy Place in the wilderness tabernacle. They never finished their work. Once those priests had presented the blood of the sacrifice before the typical presence of God, it was necessary for them to leave. Once Jesus, our Great High Priest, entered the heavenly sanctuary, there was no need for Him to leave to offer another sacrifice. He sat down because He had finished His sacrificial work. We must be careful to distinguish, as does the writer of this epistle, between Christ’s work of oblation and His work of intercession. In His intercessory work, He continually displays the results of His finished work on behalf of believers. This does not mean that His work of sacrifice continues. He has completely accomplished His work of sacrifice.

. . .he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. When he appears again, it will not be to offer sacrifice for sins, but to bring (eschatological) salvation to His people (9:24-28).

Finally, notice the contrast between the frequency with which those priests entered, and Christ’s entrance once for all. Those priests were required to enter the Most Holy Place repeatedly to offer the same kind of ineffectual sacrifice they had offered the previous year. The repetition of these sacrifices speaks eloquently concerning their inferiority and insufficiency. If they had met the worshipper’s needs, they would have stopped being offered (10:1-4). Christ offered only one sacrifice because one was all that was needed to do the job. He does not need to enter again with the blood of a new sacrifice. He has done enough already. Therefore, He has entered once for all.

The Boldness of Our Access

The theme of “boldness” in the presence of God seems almost to have disappeared among those who love the truth of sovereign grace. Yet, if anyone has reason to approach God with confidence, it is we who understand these precious truths. Perhaps we have lost this confidence through an overreaction to the “easy believism” that has characterized evangelical Christianity for so long. We have seen so much false assurance and outright presumption on the part of many who give no evidence of saving faith that we have gone to the other extreme. Often, the focus of attention is no longer on Christ and His gracious dealings with believers but on the believer’s conformity to ten commandments, namely, the old covenant. Many give the impression that to be truly “spiritual,” a Christian must be a doleful doubter. Nothing could be further from the teaching of the New Testament Scriptures. We, as God’s people who love the grace of God, walk in character with our profession only when we boldly rejoice in the standing that we enjoy in Christ.
Our author not only writes about entering God’s holy presence; he encourages his readers to do so with boldness. The word translated “boldness” or “confidence” (parresia) occurs four times in this epistle (3:6;4:16;10:19,35). It has reference to the confidence with which believers may now approach the throne. Many older hymn-writers wrote about this theme. For example, Augustus Toplady wrote,

From whence this fear and unbelief?
Hast thou, O Father, put to grief
Thy spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin
Which, Lord, was charged on thee?

Complete atonement thou hast made,
And to the utmost farthing paid
Whate’er thy people owed;
How then can wrath on me take place,
If sheltered in thy righteousness,
And sprinkled with thy blood?

[If thou hast my discharge procured,
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine,
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.]

Turn then my soul into thy rest;
The merits of thy great High Priest
Speak peace and liberty;
Trust in his efficacious blood,
Nor fear thy banishment from God,
Since Jesus died for thee.

Charles Wesley has, in several of his hymns, written even more explicitly on the subject of the believer’s boldness. In his hymn, “And Can it Be,” he wrote,

No condemnation now I dread.
Jesus and all in him is mine.
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine.
Bold, I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own.

In another of his hymns, “Arise My Soul Arise,” he wrote, “. . .With confidence, I now draw nigh. . .and Father, Abba, Father cry.”

It is just this kind of confidence and assurance that our author intended the message of this epistle to produce in the hearts of those who had “fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them.” This is also the intention of the other NT writers. Such confidence can never be the result of examining one’s heart in the light of the stone tables of the old covenant. God’s Spirit can only produce this sort of assurance as we continue to fix our thoughts on the apostle and high priest whom we confess (3:1). Any message that destroys the confidence of God’s people and removes the focus of our attention from Christ is at cross-purposes with the New Testament message. This is true even if those who preach it do so from the pure motives, seeking to bring the lives of God’s people into line with biblical truth.

Concerning the so-called “law/grace controversy,” many give the impression that the only ones who care about holiness are those who preach the Ten Commandments as the sole standard of sanctification. The truth is that there is no disagreement concerning whether believers should live godly lives. We all agree on the bottom line. “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). The issue is how God produces such righteous behavior in His peoples” lives. By what method do we arrive at the bottom line? We contend that God will never produce such holiness through the thunders of Mt. Sinai. He will only produce it when we focus on Mt. Calvary. It is not the law, but the grace of God that has appeared to discipline us and instruct us in godliness (Titus 2: 11). True worship of God never springs from a spirit of bondage, fear, and dread. In contrast to the obligations of old covenant believers, the exhortation that the writer gives us is to “. . . be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. . . . (12:28)” True worship will always be the result of gratitude as we meditate on the redemptive accomplishments of Christ. As we contemplate Calvary, we will marvel at God’s wisdom in designing this plan by which He can lavish His love, mercy, and grace on sinners without compromising the integrity of His absolute justice. Such worship will never occur while we gaze at ourselves. This is true even if we are focusing on what God is doing in us. It will only take place when we gaze on Christ and what God has done in Him.

Should we, then, avoid self-examination? Of course not! We should simply keep it in its proper place. God never intended self-scrutiny to be the believer’s continual occupation. In fact, the writers of the New Testament Scriptures never give a general exhortation for believers to examine themselves as a part of their daily discipline. None but those who are in danger of personal apostasy (because of the presence of false teachers who have led others away) or those who are walking contrary to the revealed truth of God are counseled to examine themselves. Search the context of such passages as 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5; 2 Pet 1:10; and 1 John 5:13 to see for yourself if this is true. The object of our continual meditation must be the glory of Christ revealed in the Scriptures. It is as we gaze on His glory that it will please the Spirit to transform us into His image (see 2 Cor 3:18). On occasion we must take personal inventory to be certain that we are on track. Then, we must turn again to gaze on our beloved.


In These Last Days–Part Two:The Soteriology of Hebrews

It is not difficult to discern that the writer of this epistle viewed salvation as a work of God for men, and not vice versa. It is God who has revealed Himself and His redemptive purposes to us (1:1-2). It is He who is mindful of fallen sinners and cares for them by granting them grace and assistance (2:6). Unaided by human works or will, He, by whom are all things and for whom are all things, brings many sons to glory (2:10). He, and He alone, has devised the plan according to which He saves sinners (6:17). Jesus sanctified His people according to the Father’s will (10:10). To give His people strong consolation concerning the fulfillment of His promises, He has confirmed them with an oath (6:17-19). He is the one who equips His people with everything good for doing His will and works in them what is pleasing to Him so that to Him is the glory forever and ever (13:20-21).

For the execution of His purpose, He has ordained Christ as a priest who acts as a mediator between God and His people (5:5-6,10). The basis of the believer’s salvation is the priestly work of Christ (complete sacrifice and continual intercession). It is by the once for all sacrifice of Christ that He takes away the sins of believers (10:4-12). The believer’s eschatological salvation will occur when Christ, our great Priest, appears the second time “not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (9:28).The work is God’s from start to finish (12:2).

The issue we need to examine here is the nature of God’s saving work. What does this writer mean when he refers to this “so great salvation?” Since the days of the Protestant Reformation, there has been a tendency among Protestants and Baptists to think of God’s work in the sinner’s salvation in forensic terms. It often seems that justification by faith is the ultimate end of Christ’s redeeming work. Though, this is not a wrong emphasis, neither is it broad enough to encompass God’s multifaceted, salvific activity. The concepts of justification by faith, the words “justification”, “justify”, and “justified”, do not occur in the Epistle to the Hebrews. (8:12; 10:17;11:7) and an inward change of heart (8:10;10:16), either radical or progressive’s sanctification in this epistle has reference, not to moral cleansing but to consecration or dedication to God., are not foreign to the writer of this epistle. His primary soteriological emphasis, however, lies in a different direction. He understands salvation in terms of the following four categories: 1. Access into the presence of God, 2. Inheritance, 3. Perfection, and 4. Fulfillment of covenant promises. In the pages that follow, we shall consider each of these ideas in detail. As we do so, we shall notice that, concerning each of these ideas, the emphasis in this epistle is on the discontinuity between the old and new covenants. Further, we shall see that the continuity that does exist between them is that of type to antitype. It is God who gave the typical foreshadowing. It is God who has accomplished the fulfillment.


Straw Man Arguments of A Major Southern Baptist Pastor

I just finished reading a sermon about “Reformed Theology” by a “great Southern Baptist Preacher.” I must confess I was amazed to see how theologically ignorant one of the most revered pastors in the Convention could be. I have omitted the name of this pastor because this is not an issue of personalities but of doctrine.

I read this message because the President of Louisiana College, (a Southern Baptist college) Dr. Joe Aguillard, cited it as representing his position on these issues. Apparently, LC is axing Calvinistic professors because “they are teaching contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message.” Now, I want to confess up front that I have heard none of these professors teach. Perhaps they are teaching that we should not preach the gospel freely to all sinners, but only to awakened sinners. Maybe they are teaching we do not need to proclaim the gospel at all. If this is their teaching, it is not an issue of Calvinism contra Arminianism, but of hyper-Calvinism or fatalism contra Calvinism. Please be clear. Five point Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism. The original Calvinists formulated five points. To be a hyper [above] Calvinist, one would have to go above or beyond a belief in five points. The sad thing would be if these people are being dismissed based on a complete misrepresentation of Calvinists’ beliefs.

There are two observations I would like to make about this situation. The first is it is obvious some of these people are too theologically inept to understand their own confession. The second is, it is time for those who believe the historic “Doctrines of Grace” to abandon the acrostic, TULIP.

First, I want to examine the issue of the “Baptist Faith and Message.” Is the BFM a document that, if properly understood, Calvinists cannot sign or a document so called “Traditionalists” cannot sign? Admittedly, the BFM is a rather watered down document that is deliberately ambiguous so as to include everyone in the big tent. If you don’t want to be offensive to anyone, it is a good idea to mumble a great deal. If no one understands what you are saying, how could anyone possibly be offended? The BFM is to some extent a “mumbling” document.

There are at least four statements in the BFM that so called Traditionalists could not sign if they understood the theological underpinning of those statements. Let me list them and comment on them briefly.

Under the heading IV. Salvation, the BFM states,

“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.”

A “non-Calvinist” could not agree to that statement because non-Calvinists do not believe Jesus “by his own blood” OBTAINED eternal redemption for anyone. In their view, Jesus died equally and in the same way for every sinner. Only Calvinists believe Jesus obtained eternal redemption for sinners who will believe.

If Jesus died equally and in the same way for every sinner and some of those for whom he died perish in their sins, then he could not have, by his blood, “obtained” the salvation of anyone. Conversely, if, based on their presupposition, he “by his blood” OBTAINED the salvation of anyone, then he obtained the salvation of everyone.

I want to expand on this thought a bit in regard to the other issue I raised and the letter “L” in TULIP. My point here is merely that there is nothing in this statement to which the Calvinists cannot agree. If properly understood, it is a statement to which the non-Calvinists cannot agree.

The second statement, under the same heading is this:

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

The so-called Traditionalists are loud in their protest against the idea of “regeneration before faith, but consider what the statement says. The key word in the statement is the word “responds.” The question in this issue is who responds to whom? Does God respond to the sinner’s faith and repentance by regenerating him, or does the sinner respond to God’s work of regeneration by believing and repenting? The statement is quite clear on this point. “It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, TO WHICH THE SINNER RESPONDS in repentance toward God and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ.” If a person responds to a stimulus, which occurred first, the response or the stimulus? If a person responds [in faith] to regeneration, which came first, the response or the regeneration?

The third statement occurs under the heading V. God’s Purpose of Grace–It simply says, “Election is God’s gracious purpose. . . .”

The key word here is “gracious.” Everyone who believes the Bible believes in election. The issue is not whether God has elected some and passed over others, but the basis on which he made that choice. Was that choice made based on faith or some other foreseen action performed by the sinner, or was it a “gracious” choice? The Scriptures make it clear that God’s electing purpose was a “gracious” purpose in the sense that it was not only unmerited but contrary to merit. In Romans 11:5-6, the apostle Paul speaks of the “election of grace.” By this he clearly meant that God’s choice of some sinners from the fallen mass of humanity was not based on some positive virtue in them moving him to act in that way. His purpose was a gracious purpose.

The final statement concerns the “perseverance of the saints” under the same heading: The BFM simply, but profoundly states, “All true believers endure to the end.” This is a Calvinistic doctrine. How often have I heard non-Calvinists refer to those who have fallen by the wayside so that they no longer claim to believe the gospel, as “carnal
Christians.” This is not the Calvinistic doctrine.

Now to the second issue. I believe it is time for those who believe the historic “Doctrines of Grace” to distance ourselves from the acrostic, TULIP. In the sermon I mentioned above, the well-known pastor, a man who during his lifetime rose to iconic status in the SBC told why he did not believe in TULIP which he equated with hyper-Calvinism. As I read the message, I concluded that one of three things [perhaps all three] must have been true of this man: 1. He deliberately set out to distort the position he claimed to be arguing against in order to deceive his audience, 2. He was guilty of a failure to exercise “due diligence” in researching the subject he was addressing. In other words, he was to lazy to study the subject before he began to bloviate about it. Proverbs 18:13 tells us that it is a folly and a shame to answer a matter before one hears it. I believe that clearly applies to answering a person’s theological arguments and commenting on another’s theological views. I should be able to state a theological opponent’s position to his satisfaction before attempting to comment on it. This pastor clearly failed in that regard. 3. He was so theologically inept that he was unaware that most of what he said was absolute nonsense.

Now, the reason I have suggested that we distance ourselves from TULIP is not that we do not believe the truths represented by those five letters, but because the words associated with them are so easily misunderstood and misrepresented. I could write pages upon pages critiquing and correcting, but anyone except for the most biblically illiterate should be able to recognize the fallaciousness of his argumentation. Instead, I want to consider three examples of how the TULIP can be and has been misinterpreted.

I have answered most of his other arguments in a series of articles entitled “Arminian Presuppositions Refuted.” I would invite you to read and interact with those articles at

For now, I want to consider his statements about Total Depravity, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace. I am not suggesting that by changing the way we package our doctrine we will cause people to like it any more [or perhaps I should say hate it any less]. What I am suggesting is that perhaps we could at least begin addressing the real issues instead of the “straw man” arguments.

T–the following is what he said about Total Depravity: “T stands for “total depravity.” That means we are just about as bad as we can get. TOTAL DEPRAVITY (to be depraved means to be evil).” I have cut and pasted this from his sermon to be sure not to misrepresent him in any way.

In this dear man’s defense, would that not be the impression this term would leave apart from any kind of investigation of what is truly meant by the term? Leaving aside the obvious fact that he really did no investigation, if depraved means evil and that evil is “total” one might conclude that “total depravity” means “we are just about as bad as we can get.” But, is that what Calvinists mean by the doctrine? It is true we believe that all sinners are equally sinful at heart. Left to ourselves we could all act as badly or even worse than the vilest sinners who have ever lived. I found it interesting that before this preacher began to deny total depravity, he stated something pretty close to what we believe about it. This is what he said, “. I believe a man is a sinner. I believe he’s a sinner by birth…a sinner by choice…a sinner by nature…a sinner under condemnation…a sinner deserving hell – totally depraved.” The problem is, he soon began to deny what he had just affirmed. He spent a great deal of time supposedly arguing with Calvinists about whether sinners who are dead in sins are so dead they cannot see or hear. The reality is, no one argues that sinners, dead in sins, cannot see or hear physically. Of course they can. He cited Romans one as his proof-text to show that sinners universally have seen that which God has made known of himself. What he failed to point out in the context is that Paul has described these sinners as those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness ” (v.18). Their culpability lies in their rejection of all God’s self-revelation. Sinners, in a state of sinful nature, reject everything they see and hear of God. Their inability lies in the spiritual realm. They cannot hear and see spiritually because they do not want to see or hear. When Paul tells us we were all “dead” in trespasses and sins, he means we were spiritually separated from the life of God, that we were insensitive to our condition in sin, and we were unable, because unwilling, to do anything to deliver ourselves or to be delivered from such a state. He did not mean we were passive. Though we were dead toward God, we were very much alive toward sin.

I couldn’t help thinking about one of my favorite Spurgeon quotes as I was reading his message. Spurgeon said, “What a wonderful deed has been done by some men in burning figures of their own stuffing. . . .How earnestly do they set themselves to confute what no one defends.”

When we use the term “total depravity” what we are saying is that the crookedness and perversity that has resulted from Adam’s fall has extended to every facet of the sinner’s being. The will has not escaped the corruption of sinful nature. Though sinners act freely, we are not free from our natures. We are free to choose anything we wish, but we are not free to choose that for which we have absolutely no desire and to which we are completely averse. John stated it this way, “. . . .men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil, and every one that does evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed.” It is not that sinners cannot see the light or hear and understand the gospel. It is that sinners invariably turn from the light and refuse to welcome the gospel. Could any and every sinner embrace Jesus by faith if he wanted to? Of course! It is the “if he wanted to,” that is the issue.

L–L stands for “Limited Atonement.” He states, “this is the idea that Jesus died only for some people.” He employs the usual proof-texts to disprove the doctrine as he understands it. Any person who has not studied the issue would, based on the term “limited atonement,” arrive at the same conclusion. But, is that really the issue? The reality is that everyone but the universalist must admit that there is a limitation in the work of Christ. This preacher used the text in 1 John 2:2 as evidence that Jesus is the propitiation for the whole world. What we must acknowledge is that something must be limited in this verse. Our concept of “whole world” must be limited to sinners from every nation who actually come to faith in Christ, or we must admit a limitation in the nature of propitiation. Neither in this passage nor in any other NT passage do we ever find the accomplishments of Christ’s death described as a mere provision. It is always presented as an accomplishment. The text does not say, “he is the potential propitiation. . . .” If his death actually satisfied the wrath of God, did it do so for every sinner whether he will believe or not, or did it do so for the most vile and guilt sinner who will actually come to faith? The real issue is not “for how many sinners did Jesus die?” The issue is what was the nature of that death. What did he do for those for whom he died?

The Calvinist believes the redemptive work of Christ was two-thirds unlimited and one third limited. It was unlimited in its sufficiency, unlimited in its offer, but limited in its design. Jesus left no doubt about the reason for his mission. He said, ” For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Whether we believe election was unconditional or based on foreseen faith, it should be clear that God the Father did not intend to save anyone but those he had chosen. Jesus made it crystal clear that his mission was not contrary to the will of the Father and that it was the Father’s will that he should lose none of those the Father had given him.

No sinner will ever perish because Jesus didn’t die for him. The worst non-elect sinner who ever lived would be saved by the work of Christ if he believed. Every saint in glory will enjoy eternal bliss because Jesus sealed his pardon on the cross not because he decided to make that work effectual by believing. Perhaps it would be helpful to quote the original formulation of the so-called doctrine of “Limited Atonement.” I will cite three statements from the Canons of Dort–one concerning the sufficiency of Christ death, one concerning the free offer of Christ’s death and the third concerning the design and accomplishment for his death.


SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 4. This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man, and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.


SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 7. But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.


SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 8. For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.

Perhaps it would be better to call “Limited Atonement” “Effectual Redemption.”

I–I stands for “Irresistible Grace.” This is what he said about irresistible grace.

And then the I stands for “irresistible grace.” If God is going to save you, there’s nothing you can do about it. His Holy Spirit is going to zap you and you’re a goner, because that is irresistible. There’s no way that you could resist the Holy Spirit of God. So, if you’re one of the elect, you’re going to be saved and there’s nothing you can do about it. And if you’re not one of the elect, there’s nothing you can do about that either….you’re going to get saved, no matter what…God’s gonna catch you…God’s gonna zap you, and you’re going to be saved. You cannot resist the Holy Spirit of God.

The reality is, Calvinists believe sinners, ALWAYS resist the Holy Spirit. That is not a statement of the sinner’s ability but of the sinners depravity and rebellion. The issue is how God overcomes this resistance and rebellion. Calvinists do not believe “you are going to get saved, no matter what.” We believe sinners are going to be declared righteous in God’s sight only if they believe the gospel. We do not believe “what will be, will be.” We believe what God has willed will be, that he will bring to pass whatsoever he has willed, but he does not drag unwilling sinners into the kingdom kicking and screaming. He makes us willing by the operation of his grace in our hearts.

The term “irresistible grace” leaves the impression that God forces sinners to be saved against their wills. This is not our doctrine at all, so why continue to use the term? There are going to be thousands who are going to neglect their “due diligence” and merely take someone else’s word for what Calvinists teach. Why should we continue to use terms that make it easy for them to misrepresent us?

I have written this in an effort to bring unity among those who currently disagree on these issues. It will be sufficiently difficult to have unity when we begin to discuss real issues. It will be impossible to have unity as long as people harbor their “straw man” arguments. True unity exists only on the basis of truth. I once heard a wise man say, “You can tie together the tails of a cat and a dog who don’t like each other very much. The result will be union but not unity.” It is not mere union we need but unity based on careful, contextual, exegesis of pertinent biblical passages.


The Calvinists’ Doctrine of Perseverance

The modern church is reaping a harvest produced by the seeds evangelicals have sown for the past hundred years or so. The law of sowing and reaping is clearly stated in Scripture. Paul wrote, “Whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap.” Though I understand this law, I still find myself astonished when I read and hear what many evangelicals are preaching and teaching. Yet, it is still true that if we water down, hide, distort, or deny the seed of God’s Word and substitute for it a corrupted seed, we should never be surprised if we reap more weeds than wheat. J.I. Packer wrote words to this effect, “The substitute gospel does not produce what the authentic gospel produces because that is not what it aims at producing.” If we preach a message that is intended to give people a sense of satisfaction with their life condition, or that is intended to give them a peaceful feeling in their hearts, or that is concerned merely to give them a free ticket to heaven and deliverance from everlasting fire, we should not be surprised if the concept people have formed of the gospel differs radically from the biblical gospel.

One way in which this harvest of false teaching has manifested itself is in the perverted ideas people have and teach about the biblical doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It is important to understand that this doctrine is integrally related to every other soteriological doctrine in the Bible. If we fail to understand those doctrines properly, it will be impossible to understand the biblical doctrine of perseverance properly. Conversely, what we believe about this doctrine will be a good indication of what we believe about these other doctrines.

Fifty years ago, the argument over this issue was principally confined to whether believers were secure once they believed or only secure if they “held out faithful to the end.” It never seemed to occur to those who held these two views that their opponents might have an element of truth that needed to be considered. Each side had its proof texts that it could easily use to dispatch those who disagreed, and simply refused to consider passages that seemed to contradict their position.

It is unlikely those who believed “once saved, always saved” would ever entertain using the term “perseverance.” Once a person was “saved,” he was saved for eternity “no matter what he did.” Of course, many who believed this doctrine also equated walking the aisle and making a profession of faith with “being saved.” Since faith was a decision, the idea of perseverance was unnecessary. This view led to doctrines such as “the carnal Christian theory” which stated that the only difference between the natural man and the “carnal Christian” is that one has received Christ and the other has not.

It is also unlikely those who believed in the necessity of perseverance would ever speak of the believer’s security in Christ. For them, though perseverance was necessary, it was anything but certain. Their teaching led to “perfectionism,” “second work of grace theology” and other such doctrines.

In the late fifties and early sixties, enterprises such as The Banner of Truth Trust, and Sovereign Grace Publishers began publishing and reprinting Puritan and Reformed literature. When pastors and theologians began to read and study these works, the debate began to change. No longer was the issue the necessity or the certainty of perseverance. Now, the issue was only certainty or uncertainty since both the Reformed and the Arminians believed that perseverance is necessary. We do not need to choose between whether believers must persevere or will persevere since both are true. Of course, there continue to be those who deny the necessity of obedience of any sort subsequent to a profession of faith. In their view, if only we can get people to come to “a moment of genuine faith”, then nothing they do subsequently matters. It is my view that this broaches one of the pivotal issues in this debate, namely, the nature of faith. In my view, if we can speak of “a moment of genuine faith,” we simply do not understand the nature of faith. The ideas of “momentary” and “genuine” faith are mutually exclusive. Only lasting faith is genuine faith.

Statements such as the following have not been helpful in this debate since they misrepresent the Calvinists’ doctrine and incidentally the modern Baptists’ doctrine as well.

The Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is often confused with the Baptist doctrine of eternal security (once genuinely saved, always saved), but the two are very different. In fact, the doctrine of perseverance of the saints has much in common with the Arminian doctrine of a losable salvation. Both perseverance and losable salvation portray apostasy as a real and ongoing danger, overcome only by the efforts of the believer in concert with the grace of God. In other words, in the perseverance doctrine, God keep[s] His own by ensuring that their works are sufficient to keep them from falling away; while in the eternal security doctrine, those who genuinely believe in Christ are forever secure based on the works of Christ alone—there is no danger of apostasy.

The above statement was written by a Southern Baptist who seems to be a Calvinist of sorts and who should know better. Consider the following:

1. Modern Baptists seldom refer to “genuine” salvation in the mantra “once saved, always saved.” Most modern Baptists believe that any profession of faith is genuine unless proven otherwise. I should note that “the Baptist Faith And Message” clearly articulates the Calvinistic doctrine of perseverance under the heading “V. God’s Purpose of Grace” the BF&M states, “All true believers endure to the end.”

2. No Calvinist would disagree that once a person is “genuinely” saved he is always saved. It is the meaning of “genuinely saved” that is the issue. Only those who persevere in faith have been “genuinely saved.” Consider the following statement from the New Hampshire Confession of Faith: “We believe that such only are real believers as endure unto the end: that their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark which distinguishes them from superficial professors; that a special providence watches over their welfare, and that they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” This is the Calvinistic doctrine. The historic Baptists’ doctrine and the Calvinists’ doctrine are not even slightly different, much less “very different.”

3. Though it is true that apostasy is a real and ongoing danger [It would have been foolish for the biblical writers to warn of a danger that was not “real and ongoing.”], there is nothing the Calvinistic doctrine has in common with the Arminian doctrine of “losable” salvation. No Calvinist believes “genuine salvation” is “losable.”

4. No Calvinist believes God keeps his own “by ensuring their works are sufficient to keep them from falling away.” The believer’s works have nothing to do with “keeping him from falling away” or that the danger of apostasy is “overcome by the efforts of the believer in concert with the grace of God.” We are “kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation. . . .”

5. The following contrast is illegitimate: “In other words, in the perseverance doctrine, God keeps His own by ensuring that their works are sufficient to keep them from falling away; while in the eternal security doctrine, those who genuinely believe in Christ are forever secure based on the works of Christ alone—there is no danger of apostasy.” The impression it gives is that in the Calvinists’ doctrine, there is the danger that genuine believers may fall away and be lost. Additionally, it gives the impression that Calvinists trust in something other than the “works of Christ alone” to make them forever secure.

In reading this statement, I hope it has occurred to you that the issue we are discussing concerns the nature of saving faith and the nature of true conversion. It is not that the believer must make an effort to produce sufficient works to keep him from falling away. Just a little thought should cause anyone to understand this cannot be the case. We are considering the doctrine of “perseverance.” To persevere means to continue to pursue a course of action in spite of the obstacles that may present themselves. If the issue were persevering in producing sufficient works to keep a person from falling away, the assumption would have to be that the beginning was concerned with producing sufficient works to save him. He must persevere in that which occurred in the beginning. In reality, concern with producing sufficient works to keep one from falling away would itself be apostasy. Genuine faith seeks to produce nothing. Genuine faith acknowledges the person who possesses it has nothing to offer. A person who perseveres is a person who continues to acknowledge he has nothing of merit to offer and must cling to the merit of Christ alone.

Perhaps it would be helpful to state this issue negatively before attempting to explicate what we mean by “the perseverance of the saints.”

1. We do not mean the believer may or must do anything to maintain his/her right standing before God.

2. We do not mean a believer must persevere in perfect obedience to God’s revealed will. Remember, we did not begin with perfect obedience to God’s revealed will, therefore, we cannot persevere in such obedience. We can only persevere in that course in which we began. Too many have fallen into the trap of believing they cannot enjoy assurance of salvation unless they produce perfect evidences of conversion. Often, Matt. 7:21 has been quoted to show that some who profess faith in Christ will be rejected because they have not produced sufficient evidences of saving faith, i.e., “doing the will of the Father in Heaven.” In reality, the problem in view is not that they had not done enough, but they had not trusted enough. The true believer’s hope is not in what he has done. True believers do not say “have we not. . . .” The true believer does not focus on what he has done, but on what Christ has done.

3. When advocates for the perseverance doctrine speak of persevering in faith and holiness, we do not mean faith and perfect obedience. The believer’s fruit-bearing [holiness] is the by-product of his union with Christ by faith. Jesus said bearing much fruit is the result of remaining in him (See John 15:5). By this we do not mean believers have no responsibility to walk in holiness. There are clear commands in the Scriptures we are expected to obey. What we are saying is that it is impossible to obey those commands unless we remain united to Christ by faith. If we persevere in our union with Christ by faith, the by-product will be a life of fruit-bearing or holiness.

4. We do not mean that genuine believers can lose their salvation if they fail to persevere. We mean that genuine believers will not fail to persevere. Apostasy should be considered a real and ongoing danger for all who have professed faith in Christ, but it is no danger at all to those who are truly united to Christ by faith. The issue is how we can know whether we are truly united to Christ by faith or are merely those who have professed to know him. The answer is, true believers are distinguished from false professors by the true believer’s perseverance in faith. If a person appears to be drawing back from God instead of drawing near to God, he needs to be warned that his “faith” may not be genuine at all. True faith does not draw back.

5. We do not mean believers cannot fall into open sin and continue in a state of impenitence for a time. Consider the words of the Philadelphia Confession of Faith on this point.

And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.

6. In stating that faith is not a one time decision but is an ongoing response to the perpetual operation of God’s grace in the believer’s life, we are not saying a person needs to come to Christ to be saved again and again. Once a believer has been declared righteous in God’s sight, he will never be more righteous in God’s sight than he was the moment he first believed. It is simply that once God brings a person to rest on Christ, that person will never stop resting on Christ alone. He never gets over the intense consciousness that Jesus’ blood and righteousness imputed to him through faith are his only hope of seeing God’s face in peace.

There are two questions we need to address if we are to have an accurate understanding of the Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The first question we need to answer is whether the New Testament teaches that a believer’s safe arrival in glory is contingent on his persevering attachment to Christ. A careful examination of Scripture seems to leave no doubt that the answer is, Yes! Consider the following:
1. Many were called “believers” in the New Testament Scriptures who later “went back” and, as far as we know, were lost.

2. John usually described historical faith using the past tense, but used the present tense (the tense of continuing action) to describe genuine, saving faith.

3. Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are really my disciples.” There is no biblical distinction between “disciples” and true believers. Every true believer is a disciple of Jesus.

4. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, . . .by which you are saved, if you hold fast the word I preached to you—unless you have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

5. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “. . .we are his [Christ’s] house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (3:6), and “we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (3:14).

6. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their soul” (Heb. 10:39). Here he demonstrates the nature of genuine faith both negatively and positively. Faith does not shrink back but presses forward. True faith is enduring faith.

The overwhelming sense of these verses, along with other verses that teach the same truth, is that any person who shrinks back and stops believing the gospel he once professed to believe has no reason to think he is a child of the living God. If you do not continue to believe, you have never experienced genuine faith at all.
The second question is whether this contingency will keep any genuine believer from arriving safely at his eternal destination. Will any of those whom God has declared righteous fall short of perfect conformity to Christ’s image in glory? The answer of Scripture is a resounding, NO! God does not promise to keep us and glorify us no matter what we do. Instead, he promises to keep us by his power, through faith. Additionally, he who initially enabled us to bow to Christ in saving faith continues to support our faith so that we continue to look to him and rest in him alone for salvation. Let me mention just a few of the factors that guarantee our perseverance. All the following occur in the Epistle to the Romans. There are others throughout the New Testament Scriptures. I offer these only as a sample of the wealth of material on this subject.

Our Death with Christ

In Romans six, the apostle answers an objection to his free proclamation of justification through faith in Christ alone. He had boldly proclaimed that where sin overflowed, that is, under the covenant of Law, grace [in the redemptive work of Christ under that covenant] had more than overflowed, so that grace, not law and sin, now reigns in righteousness through Christ. Whether the objection is real or anticipated, the apostle states an objection to his statement—“What shall we say then, shall we continue in sin so that grace might abound?” Then he answers, “May it never be!” The question he asked next speaks to the issue we are discussing—“How shall we who died to sin, go on living any longer in it?” Of course, the answer is, such a thing is impossible. If Jesus died for us, then we died with him. No one has a reason to believe Jesus died for him unless he has evidence that he died with Christ to the rule and reign of sin. The point here is not that we OUGHT not go on living in sin. The point is that if we are truly united to Christ, we CANNOT go on living in sin.

Our Freedom from the Law

At the end of this section in Romans six, Paul states another promise to the true believer—“For sin shall not have dominion over you, because you are not under Law, but under grace” (6:14). The true believer will not be dominated by sin. The reign of grace guarantees his victory. Again, please notice, he does not write, “sin should not have dominion over you,” but “sin shall not have dominion over you.” The reason he gives seems very curious at first glance. To the minds of many theologians it is counter intuitive. Many would have written, “You are perfectly safe because you have the Law to guide you.” Instead, Paul told them they were free from sin’s dominion because of the power of grace. Grace enables believers to do what the Law could only require but never produce. Law is not God’s solution for sin. Grace is God’s answer for sin. Since he has come under the reign of grace, the true believer cannot fail to persevere. He has been set free from sin and has become a bond slave to God (Rom. 6:22).

The Spirit’s Indwelling and Leading.

Having demonstrated, in Romans seven, the inability of the Law to produce fruit [sanctification] to the glory of God [such fruit only comes when we are dead to the Law and married to Christ], the apostle begins to describe the ministry of the Spirit in chapter eight. The Spirit is the down payment on our full inheritance in Christ. It is his ministry that characterizes the new covenant era in contrast to the Law. The Spirit produces what the Law demanded but “could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” This Spirit who now dwells in us, guarantees that we will not fall away. Paul wrote, that because of his ministry in us, “. . .we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. . . .” (8:12). If you are led by the Spirit to put to death sinful deeds, then you are a son of God. If the Spirit indwells you, you have God’s guarantee that the full inheritance is yours. Think of the terms “first-fruits,” “seal,” and “pledge.”

The Predestined Purpose of God

There was a time when Romans 8:28 was stored in the memory bank of every serious believer. Though I fear that verse was more widely quoted than it was understood, at least people were able to quote it. This is what Paul wrote, “and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called ones according to his purpose.” There is enough theological truth in that verse for a hundred sermons. Among the things that text does not teach is the idea that everything is going to somehow work out for the temporal good of everyone who reads the verse and claims the “promise.” The basic teaching of the verse is that, based on God’s promises, we know that if we love God because he has, pursuant to the fulfillment of his eternal purpose, called us effectually, enabling us to believe the gospel, he is certain to accomplish his predestined goal for us. The “good” Paul speaks of in this verse refers to our full and final conformity to the image of Christ. His teaching here is that even those events and experiences that seem to be moving us in the wrong direction are included in God’s plan for us. He has determined that nothing will occur in our lives that will not contribute positively to our final glorification. God will realize his purpose in the life of every genuine believer.

Christ’s Intercessory Work

Just as Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith not fail (Luke 22:32), he, as our Great Priest, is able to save completely those who come to God by him, because he lives forever to make intercession for us. Far from accusing and condemning us, he appears for our defense in the presence of God. It is because he lives, that we are certain to live also.


We can only conclude that the perseverance of the saints is both necessary and certain. Any faith that does not continue is not saving faith. A person who truly trusts in Christ as his only hope will go on trusting in him alone for the rest of his earthly life.

The final salvation of God’s professing people is contingent on their lifelong persevering attachment to Christ. Those who shrink back, never belonged to him.

The other side of the coin is that those whom God brings to faith are certain to persevere in their saving attachment to Christ. He who began the work will complete it. The end of salvation is as much his work as was the beginning of it. “We are more than conquerors,” but it is “through him that loved us.” If our final glorification depended on the tenacity of our resolve, we would be in deep trouble. The good news is that if God gave us the greatest gift possible, the sacrifice of his own Son, he will not refuse us any other blessing, including our glorification.

One of my favorite hymn-writers expressed the glory of this hope in the following hymn,

A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear with Thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which his goodness began,
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, not things that are now,
Not all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from his love.

My name from the palms of his hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heaven.
Augustus M. Toplady


Another Conversation With Paul Dohse

I asked people at Paul’s Passing Thoughts to provide me just one proof that Calvin, a Puritan, or any Calvinist believed or believes in “progressive justification” in the sense that believers become progressively more righteous in God’s sight than we were the first moment we believed. I am still waiting for one of them to respond. In reality, they can’t respond since that is not our teaching. Of course, that doesn’t keep them from making the claim since telling the truth doesn’t seem very important to any of them. Slander is their favorite hobby.

Paul, of course, evaded the question by engaging me in a converstation about whether the Bible teaches that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers through faith. After about an hour of asking him to define “righteousness,” [I didn’t want to define it because I knew he would reject my definition] he answered that righteousness is conformity to God’s law.

After I left the discussion, and, of course, after calling me a heretic, he wrote the following eight statements. I have included my answers to those statements.

1. We were declared righteous and justified before Christ became a man and went to the cross (Romans 8:29, 30). Therefore, there was no need for His perfect life to be imputed to our justification. His obedience to the cross and His resurrection was all that was needed.

Then you believe we are justified apart from faith, since we were justified before we even had being. You are confusing the purpose of God with the accomplishment and application of that purpose. If you believe in “eternal justification” you are in a very very small minority.

If you are correct that we don’t need his perfect life imputed to us for justification, how is it that we are credited with “righteousness” which you and I have agreed is defined as obedience to God’s law. Where does that righteousness come from if not from Christ. The Law demanded perfect, continual and internal obedience. We have no such obedience to present before God as the ground of our justification. How is that demand met if not by Christ?

2. We are justified APART FROM THE LAW.

We are not justified apart from the Law. God’s righteousness [the phrase Paul uses to describe God’s method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] is REVEALED apart from the Law. It is true we are justified apart from our personal obedience to the Law, but we could never be declared righteous if the Law did not declare us righteous. That is God’s standard for justification. “the doers of the Law will be justified.”

3. We are presently righteous because God’s seed is in us and we have righteous/good desires.

If you think this statement concerns justification in any way, you are conflating justification and sanctification. We are presently becoming more and more righteous as a result of God’s works in us, but this concerns our sanctification, not our justification.

4. We are not perfect because our body is not yet redeemed, but that doesn’t exclude the fact that we are righteous.

This statement taken on its face would indicate you believe sin resides in our bodies. If you believe that, you subscribe to Gnostic Dualism in which spirit is good and matter is evil. Please keep in mind that we are discussing justification. In terms of justifying righteousness, we will never be righteous in this earthly life. If you want to discuss sanctification, that is another matter altogether. Justifying righteousness is perfect. Our righteousness in sanctification is ever growing but never perfect in this earthly life.

5. The part of us that isn’t righteous is not under the law but under grace.

If we are believers, all of us is under grace, not just part of us. No part of us would be righteous apart from grace.

6. Christ’s obedience IS NOT imputed to our sanctification.

No one said, and no one believes Christ’s obedience is imputed to our sanctification. However, his enabling grace is imparted to us for sanctification.

7. NO one is justified by the works of the law. I would assume that would mean Christ didn’t have to keep the law for our justification. Why would he if we are not justified by the law to begin with?

See my answer above.
8. Our sin was imputed to Christ, and God’s righteousness was imputed to us. We were justified by Christ’s one act of obedience to the cross, not the obedience of His life. That one act resulted in the righteousness of God being put to our account.

But, we agreed that “righteousness” in the context of justification is defined as obedience to God’s Law. God as pure Spirit did not obey his Law. Since we are human beings, he requires of us a human obedience to his Law. God’s righteousness is whatever he does within the bounds of his holiness. It is not that which is put to our account.

Christ’s one act of obedience encompasses his entire life culminating in his crucifixion. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “. . . .he became obedient unto death, even death by crucifixion.” His entire life was a life of obedience. The writer to the Hebrews tells us “He was made perfect [a complete Priest/Savior] by the things he experienced/suffered [the word can be translated either way]. These words occur in a context that describes his perfect obedience/submission to his Father’s will.

Justification is not simply a declaration of “not guilty.” For that a payment of the penalty would have been sufficient. Justification is also a declaration of positive righteousness. That positive righteousness is defined as perfect, continual and internal obedience to God’s law. God the Father did not obey the law. He was never under it. We have not obeyed the law perfectly, continually or internally. If God imputes such a righteousness to our account, where else is such a righteousness to be found if not in Christ.

It is the “In Christ” relationship that is the key to this issue. Either we are “In Adam,” or “In Christ.” If we are “In Adam,” we die as a result of his unrighteousness, i.e., his breaking of the expression of God’s law that was given to him in the garden. If we are “in Christ,” we are co-heirs with him. All that can be ascribed to him as a perfect human being, now belongs to us in union with him. We are loved because we are “in him.” We are justified because we are “in him.” We are heirs because he is the heir, and we are “in him.” We are glorified because we are “in him” who is glorified.

If righteousness is defined as conformity to God’s law, there is no righteousness apart from Christ since he alone in all the universe has been fully conformed to God’s law.