Archive for January, 2014


Context–A Case Study

Truth Unchanging

There is probably no factor more important for understanding any life situation or any body of literature than context. Taken out of context, a situation or a statement can be made to mean anything a person wishes it to mean.

This morning, Paul Dohse reposted a post from last year about the difference between John Calvin’s and J.C. Ryle’s views of justification and sanctification. By this post he demonstrated that if he can do nothing else well, he is a master of deceit. To his credit, he did cite the source of his quotations, but I suspect he thought no one would check out the original source. His contention is that Calvin conflated justification and sanctification so that he believed in “progressive justification.” In case you are unfamiliar with that term, it refers to the Roman Catholic doctrine that God infuses grace to the faithful, enabling them to obey more…

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Email to Paul Dohse about Sanctification Through Faith

The following is an email I sent to Paul Dohse in response to his contention that justification is a “done deal” so that we no longer need to live our lives as believers by faith alone in Christ alone. His statements at least make it appear that he believes that we believed once for justification, and we live the life of what he calls sanctification by merely learning and obeying. Apparently, in his view, faith is not necessary for obedience. It seems strange, doesn’t it, that all the obedience mentioned in Hebrews 11 was prompted by faith?


I would be interested in knowing if you believe in sanctification apart from faith. It seems to me the clear teaching of the NT Scriptures is that we cannot please God apart from faith. The problem with the Hebrews was not a failure to adhere to the works of the law, but a tendency to succumb to an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.

If you are right, Paul could not have been writing about justification in Galatians 2:20, since he writes about “the life that he NOW lives in the flesh.” If, for him, justification was a “done deal,” [and in the sense that a believer is never more righteous in God’s sight than he was the first moment he believed, it is a finished work], how could he be referring to anything other than his current life in sanctification? The only way he could have been talking about his current faith in reference to justification is with the biblical understanding that once a genuine believer begins to trust in Christ alone for justification, he never stops trusting in him alone. It is not that we must be re-justified. The declaration of justification has been fully and finally accomplished for the true believer. It is simply that the genuine believer will persevere in trusting Christ alone. On his best day, his best obedience is not sufficient to form the basis for his justification. On his worst day, his most grievous sin is not sufficient to overwhelm the grace of God [“where sin overflowed, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom. 5:20)] and separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.



“If God is For US” Romans 8:31-32

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave himself up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things (Romans 8:31-32).

In Romans 8:31 the apostle begins the conclusion to the argument he began to pursue in chapter five of this epistle. Note the words, “What then [or therefore] shall we say. . .?” That argument is that everyone God has justified, he will certainly glorify. He wrote,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him 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. 5:1-2).

It is important to note that Paul did not write, “We have a conditional peace with God based on our repentance and confession every time we sin.” We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have obtained an access by faith in to this grace in which WE STAND, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God,”

Believers have been introduced into a standing in grace in which we continue to stand. The reason this standing does not change is that it does not depend on the believer’s faithfulness but on the faithfulness of Christ. It is grace that now governs the relationship of the believer to his God. Grace now reigns for all who are in Christ. The believer no longer rests on his record but on Christ’s record.

When Paul writes that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God, he refers to a confident assurance that the believer will be fully conformed to Christ’s image. We rejoice in the reality that our glorification with Christ is absolutely certain. If our rejoicing in hope of the glory of God depended on our faithfulness, there would be no ground of rejoicing whatsoever. On our very best day, we continue to fall short of the glory of God. God’s holiest people are not yet completely conformed to Christ’s image.

The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before God’s throne,
But faith can answer his demands
By pleading what my Lord has done.

The level of righteousness to which we have arrived in the process of sanctification is never intended to form the basis of our rejoicing regarding glorification. Though we should be encouraged to believe our faith is genuine when we observe the righteousness and obedience the sanctifying Spirit has produced in us, that righteousness can never form the basis of our acceptance before God or the ground of our certainty of glorification. Instead, it is because we have been granted an introduction into the reign of grace that we are able to exult in the confident assurance that we will certainly be conformed to the image of God’s glory in Christ. It is when we are assured that God has arrested us in our sinful course and that we are now under his control and under the reign of his sovereign grace that we will begin to have confidence that our glorification is certain.

Our concern as believers is to be certain we are found on the rock that cannot be moved. It is to ascertain whether God is for us or against us. Once we are convinced that we have been united to Christ by faith, we have every reason to believe God is for us and that our final perseverance in faith as well as our full conformity to Christ’s image is an absolute certainty.

There is no promise in the God’s Word that all who profess faith in Christ will infallibly be glorified. We must remind ourselves that not every blossom brings forth fruit. The focus of the Christian life is not on the inception but on the finish. It is the character of true faith that it endures. In Romans 8:37, having posed the question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” and having suggested a number of trying circumstances that might provoke such a separation, the apostle boldly asserted that none of these things could prevail to separate us from the great lover of our souls. This is a love that will not let us go. We are firmly in his loving grip. As a result, he wrote “ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” By his grace, God enables every true believer to be more than an over comer. It is not merely that he preserves us, but that because he keeps us and continues to perform his sanctifying work in us, we over come every trial and persevere in believing.

Once the Spirit of God assures us that God is for us, we are flooded with the abundant consolation of the gospel.

Before we consider the text itself, it is important that we examine its component parts and clear our minds of any faulty ideas that might cloud our minds and obscure its true teaching.

1. When Paul begins to draw his conclusion based on “these things” the blessings mentioned are not limited to the immediate context but extend to those blessings mentioned in the entire context beginning in chapter five.

2. The conditional clause “if God is for us, . . .” does not express any doubt. It is a condition of the first class in which the condition is assumed to be a reality. It is as if Paul is saying, in the light of everything we have been asserting, if we are genuine believers we must assume for the sake of argument that God is for us. If that assumption is true, who can prevail against us?

3. We must not derive from the words, “who can be against us?” a false notion that if God is for us we will never have enemies or face opposition. In reality, the exact opposite is true. Jesus made it clear the world is going to hate us if we follow him. Satan himself is our adversary. Paul’s teaching is that no one will be able to prevail against us if God is for us.

4. We must not think that the “us” in the phrase, “if God is for us” or the words “us all” in the phrase “gave himself up for us all” refer to all the members of the human family. The context clearly limits the referents of those terms to believers. To understand this we need only consider to whom these words were addressed. Consider the apostle’s salutation and greeting in chapter of this epistle. He addressed his words “ To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom. 1:7-8). Suppose one day while walking down the street I found a letter addressed to Frank Smith. Then out of overwhelming curiosity I opened the letter and read the message. It read as follows,

Dear Frank,

It seems like years since I was in your arms. You have no idea how much I miss you and how excited I am about being with you again. I can hardly wait to be in your arms again and to smother you with tender kisses. I am excited about seeing you soon. Incidently, since I saw you last, it have come into a sizable inheritance. It will be yours to share with me as soon as we are married. I am counting the days until I see you again.

Love and kisses,


The question is, What meaning would that letter have for me? Of course, the answer is Absolutely none since it was not addressed to me. The Epistles of the New Testament were not addressed to mankind at large, but to believers in Christ. When Paul speaks of “us” and “us all,” he refers to all of us believers in Christ.

5. When Paul wrote, “how shall he not with him also freely give us all things” he is not referring to physical, material, and temporal blessings. God does not promise us health and material prosperity. He has not promised to give us everything our greedy little hearts may desire. I am not warranted by this verse to “believe God” for a jet airplane or for a vacation home in the Bahamas. I can only “believe God” for what God has promised. The words “all things” in this verse refer in context to all things that belong to our salvation, more specifically speaking, they refer to our glorification with Christ.

Consider the blessings Paul refers to as “these things” that should induce us to understand that God is for us.

1. He has declared us righteous in his sight and given us an entrance into a standing of grace (5:1- 2).

2. He has given his Son to die for us when we were still his enemies (5:6-10).

3. He has freed us from slavery to sin (6:6).

4. He has freed us from condemnation (8:1).

5. He has made us his heirs in union with Christ(8:16).

6. Before we were even born he determined to conform us to the image of his Son and in accordance with his purpose, he called us into union with Christ in whom believers are justified and glorified (8:28-30).

What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Paul’s argument is that our glorification is certain because the only being in the entire universe who has a right to be against us has shown himself to be for us.

Further he argues that if God has given us the greatest gift imaginable, the delivering up of his Son to death for his people, he will not withhold any lesser gift but will graciously give us everything that belongs to our salvation. He has too much invested in us to cast us off now.


Effectual Calling–Romans 8:28-30

There is no question but that there is a general and universal call of the gospel. It is a sincere and bona fide offer of salvation in Christ, and all who respond positively to this call in faith and repentance will assuredly be saved. It is this call Jesus spoke of in Matt. 22:14 when he said, “. . . .for many are called, but few are chosen.” The problem is, this call is always ineffectual unless it is accompanied by God’s internal and effectual call. We refer to this internal call as “effectual” because it effectively brings sinners into partnership (union) with Christ. Paul wrote, “God is faithful, by whom you were called in to the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”(1 Cor. 1:9). This is clearly not true of everyone who is invited by the gospel. In keeping with this, he wrote in verse thirty of the same chapter, “Because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus. . . .” In other words, the fact that we are in Christ is the result of God’s activity and not ours (see–1 Cor. 1:30).

“Drawing” in John’s Gospel

It seems likely “calling” in Pauline literature refers to the same work of God as “drawing” does in John’s gospel. In both calling and drawing, it is clear it is God, the Father who calls/draws. In both, the result is faith in Christ. Apart from calling or drawing, sinners cannot or will not come to Christ. Jesus said, “No one can (is able to) come to me unless the Father who has sent me should draw him, and I will raise him up again at the last day.” In this same context (v. 37), Jesus has told his hearers that all the Father is giving him (he uses the present tense to indicate action that is going on) will come to him and that he will never by any means reject those who come. This should be distinguished from what he teaches in verse thirty-nine where he speaks of those the Father has given him with the continuing result that he still has them. This was an action completed in the past. The latter donation speaks of God’s decree before the world was. In accordance with that decree, the Father is, by drawing them to Jesus, giving them to him. Jesus tells us that all he “draws” in this way will come to him. “Every person therefore having heard and having learned of the Father comes to me” (45b). In other words, this drawing is an effectual drawing. This teaching clearly accords with what the apostle Paul wrote about “calling.”

“Calling” in the New Testament Epistles

A careful examination of the New Testament Epistles will reveal there is not a single occurrence of the words, “called,” “call,” or “calling” in which it refers to the universal call of the gospel. The New Testament writers consistently used it to refer to that effectual call by which God the Father unites his chosen people to Christ. So much is this the case that at times they refer to believers as “the called ones,” for example, see Rom. 1:6 and 8:28. I would like you to consider two passages in which it is clear that “calling” cannot refer to the external call or invitation of the gospel. They are Romans 8:30 and 1 Cor. 1: 22-24.

Romans 8:30

In the first of these we encounter what some of the old writers referred as “God’s golden chain of redemption.” This chain began to be forged by God in eternity past and stretches into eternity future. It should be clear that every link of this chain has reference to the same people. Those who are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ are the same as those who are glorified. The first link of this “golden chain” is God’s predetermination of the elects’ full conformity to the image of his Son. He determined to restore his image in his redeemed people even before that image was lost in the early days of human existence. Then, Paul informs us that those, only those, but all of those he thus predestined, he also called. It is important that we understand the identification of the ones called with those he predestined. If God’s predestinating activity means anything, it assures us that all he has planned will certainly occur. Every one of those God predestined will be glorified or conformed to Christ’s image. Each link of this chain concerns the same group of people. He does not write, “Some of those he predestined, he also called” or “some of those he called, he also justified,” or “some of those he justified, he also glorified.” The entire purpose of this argument, which he began to pursue in chapter five, is that those whom God has justified, may “rejoice in hope [the confident and settled assurance] of the glory of God [again becoming reflectors of his glory by bearing his image, i.e., glorification]. His specific argument in this immediate context is that God’s eternal purpose guarantees the believer’s glorification. Since this is true, it is impossible that “calling” in this verse refers to the universal call, i.e., invitation, of the gospel. If that were the case, everyone invited by the gospel would be included in those God predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son–“whom he predestined THEM he also called.” Additionally, we would have to argue that everyone who has been invited by the gospel is also justified–“whom he called, THEM he also justified.” This clearly cannot be the case. We must conclude that “called” in this verse refers to God’s activity that effects faith in those who are outwardly invited by the gospel. Otherwise, apart from faith, they could not be justified.

1 Cor. 1: 22-24

In 1 Cor. 1: 22-24, Paul describes the prevailing attitude and recalcitrant rebellion of those to whom he preaches the gospel. He informs us that the Jews to whom he preaches go on requiring a sign and the Greeks to whom he preaches go on seeking wisdom or philosophy. Instead of tickling their ears or trying to produce signs to authenticate his message, he goes on proclaiming to them the naked, unvarnished truth that God’s anointed one has been crucified on a Roman cross and now stands as the crucified one. Then he describes the reaction of both Jews and Greeks to this message. As far as the Jews are concerned this is an offensive message. The idea that their expected Messiah would die as a vile criminal by crucifixion was more than they could tolerate. Left to themselves, they routinely rejected this message. To the Greeks, this message was moronic. They, too, roundly rejected it. When we read these words, one of our assumptions in the case of both Jews and Greeks must be that they had heard the gospel. They could not regard it as an offense and foolishness if they had not heard it, could they? To state the matter differently, both the Jews and Greeks to whom Paul proclaimed the message of Christ had been CALLED, i.e., invited by the outward call of the gospel. But, in contrast to those who persistently rejected this outward call Paul wrote, “BUT TO THOSE WHO ARE CALLED, BOTH JEWS AND GREEKS, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. What effected such a change? How is it that Christ and the message of his crucifixion which before was offensive and foolish is now power and wisdom? The answer can only be God’s internal and effectual call. If we insist that the call must refer to the external invitation of the gospel, we would have to believe the passage teaches something like the following: Both Jews and Greeks persistently reject the gospel invitation every time they hear it, but to those who are invited by the gospel, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is now God’s power and wisdom. That is pure nonsense.