Archive for the 'Doctrines of Grace Forum' Category

08
Feb
19

SALVATION APART FROM WORKS?

Why the Question?

It is not uncommon to hear or read comments from those who adhere to the “free grace” view to the effect that “Lordship” teachers advocate salvation based on human works. To them, it is clear that those who believe some level of obedience to Christ is certain to follow genuine conversion simply add the necessity of good works for salvation to the back end of the Christian experience.

The question this raises is whether it is biblically accurate to state that salvation is apart from works. Do those who insist that Christ must be received in all his offices as God’s Anointed One believe that salvation is based, even in part, on the believer’s works of obedience to him? As we have seen, the answer is an unqualified No! That should be clear to anyone who makes the effort to investigate their views carefully. Yet, to anyone who understands the issues, such a declaration does not answer the question posed here. The issue is not whether a person’s works either before or after conversion form any part of the foundation for his justification before God but whether the faith and repentance God produces in his chosen people are sterile so that they produce no fruit for sanctification? The Scriptures are unequivocal in their answer to this question. Though justification before God is altogether apart from works, God’s overall work of salvation is not apart from works at all. Justification by faith alone is only one facet of God’s overall salvific work.

One must be careful when talking about God’s saving work to be precise about the aspect of that work to which he is referring. It has become all too common, even among people who have been trained in evangelical institutions, to refer to salvation in such a way as to confuse one work of God with another. Many give little effort to an examination of biblical contexts to discover in which sense a writer is using the word “salvation.” It is exceedingly important to distinguish between justification and sanctification in discussions such as this one. Justification does not involve a sinner’s good works at all; sanctification does.

One of the errors of “free-grace” advocates is to apply what the New Testament Scriptures teach about justification to sanctification. Perhaps it will be helpful to the reader if we reproduce the comments of J. C. Ryle about the differences between justification and sanctification. He wrote,

(a) Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.

(b) The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteousness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made our own by faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, inherent, and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.

(c) In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful. In sanctification our own works are of vast importance and God bids us fight, and watch, and pray, and strive, and take pains, and labour.

(d) Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.

(e) Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work, and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives.

(f) Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures, and the moral renewal of our hearts.

(g) Justification gives us our title to heaven, and boldness to enter in. Sanctification gives us our meetness [fitness] for heaven, and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.

(h) Justification is the act of God about us, and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us, and cannot be hid in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men (Ryle, 1952).

Is salvation apart from works? It should be clear that the answer depends on whether one is talking about justification or sanctification. Does justification before God require any works of obedience on the part of repenting sinners? Not at all. In fact, any attempt to offer God any obedience at all as the ground of our acceptance before him amounts to an act of unbelief and rebellion against him.

Does sanctification, of necessity, involve the believer’s works of obedience to Christ? Absolutely, since that is the very nature of sanctification itself. The Scriptures everywhere forbid us to trust ourselves, but they never forbid us to exert ourselves in the pursuit of holiness. Paul was clearly speaking accurately when he told King Agrippa that he preached to sinners “that they should repent and turn to God and do [practice] works that are commensurate [the word Greek word means to be worthy or to weigh the same thing] with repentance” (see Acts 26:20). Was he adding works to faith as the basis of justification? Of course, not! He could not be clearer in his teaching about justification by grace alone and through faith alone. Still, it should be clear that he expected those who had professed repentance to act in accordance with that profession by practicing works of obedience to God. Though these works of obedience can have nothing to do with meriting a righteous standing before God, they are nonetheless a necessary evidence of the reality of conversion. Salvation would not be salvation without them. A presumed salvation that produces no change in a person’s life is not the salvation about which the apostles preached.

Works of obedience to Christ have no merit for justification but their evidentiary value in demonstrating the reality of God’s work in a person’s heart should not be disputed. As Spurgeon quaintly stated the issue, “What is down in the well is going to come up in the bucket.”

A Pivotal Passage

It is likely that there is no more important passage in the New Testament Scriptures dealing with this issue than James two, verses fourteen and following. Some have even imagined that some discord existed between Paul and James since Paul clearly taught that justification before God is through faith alone, yet James asked, “Can faith save him?”

How can one reasonably reconcile these two teachings? The answer is Paul and James are answering two different questions. We would not expect the same answer to the question, “What are the effects of water?” as we would to the question, “What is the chemical composition of water?” Both are about water but the answers would be decidedly different because the questions are different. Paul was answering one question, and James was answering another question altogether. The question Paul was answering concerned the manner in which God declares sinner’s righteous in his sight. Does God declared sinners righteous in his sight based on their works of obedience to the Law or through faith alone, in Christ alone?  His answer was unequivocal. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified through faith and apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28).

The question James was answering concerned the nature of genuine faith. It concerned what kind of faith is effectual in uniting sinners to Christ. Pay attention to his introductory question. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him” (James 2:14)? In the original text, the word “faith” is preceded by the definite article and refers to the kind of faith he has just mentioned, i.e., a faith that is not accompanied by works.  His question is not, “Can faith saved him?” but “Can that [kind of] faith [a faith that does not produce works] save him?” His answer is an unequivocal “no!”

When he later writes about Abraham being justified by his works in his offering of his son (see verse 21), he is writing about an event that occurred years after God had declared him righteous in his sight through faith in his promise. James was not speaking about that initial event but about Abraham’s faith being vindicated by his obedience. It is the nature of genuine faith to vindicate itself by producing obedience.

Concerning James’ teaching in these verses, Thomas Manton has written the following helpful comment,

 

In this whole discourse the apostle shows not what justifies but who is justified; not what faith does, but what faith is. The context does not show that faith without works does not justify, but that assent without works is not faith.

 

James vs. Paul?

 

The only question that remains is whether James and Paul were actually in disagreement on this issue. Although I could appeal to several passages that show their complete agreement on the issue, I will confine myself to one verse in Galatians five where Paul was writing about what now has value before God. In verse six he wrote, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” The faith he describes is a working faith. The word translated “working” refers to active, energetic and effective accomplishment. It should be clear that he knew nothing of a mere profession that produced no loving obedience to God. Genuine faith is active, energetic and effective in producing its effects in believers.

 

Conclusion

 

After a careful examination of these issues, it seems it would be impossible to conclude that salvation in the broad view is apart from works. Though we must stridently assert that God declares sinners righteous in his sight apart from a scintilla of obedience on the part of the sinner, we must nonetheless assert with equal stridency that a mere mental assent to propositional truth that produces no loving obedience to God is not the faith through which God declares sinners righteous in his sight.

 

02
Jan
19

An Examination of the Carnal Christian Doctrine

A question that often arises in response to the biblical teaching that God is sanctifying everyone he has justified is “What about the carnal Christian?” The implication is that what we are saying about sanctification invariably following justification cannot be true because we all know Christians whose lifestyle is no different from that of unbelievers. It never seems to occur to those who make this argument that such people may not be believers at all. Though this a not a direct quotation since I no longer have access to Lewis. S. Chafer’s book, He that is Spiritual, he wrote. “A “carnal” Christian is a person whose “walk” is on the same plane as that of the “natural” man” (Chafer, 1919,12). He is one who has confessed faith in Christ but whose life is no different from the life of an unconverted person. Notice that he is not merely claiming that there are times when believers act in a fleshly manner. He is describing a separate “class” of individuals that he calls “carnal” Christians. Being a “spiritual” Christian is the ideal, but it is only an option for the true believer. What Mr. Chafer failed to understand is that “spiritual” is simply the biblical designation for those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

You have no doubt seen the three circles representing the natural man, the carnal Christian and the spiritual Christian. In that drawing, the only difference between the natural [unconverted] man and the “carnal Christian” is that in the case of the “carnal Christian” the cross is on the inside of the circle instead of the outside. Ego is still on the throne, Christ is dethroned and every aspect of the person’s life is in a complete state of disorder just as it is in the case of the unconverted person.

By contrast, in the circle representing the “spiritual Christian,” ego is dethroned, Christ is enthroned, and every aspect of the person’s life is represented as in perfect order. Perhaps your circle of experience has been broader than mine, but I have never known a person whose life could be represented in that way.

This doctrine has been widely accepted by the evangelical church to the extent that anyone who dares to question its validity is considered a false teacher. It has become so pervasive that in most quarters it makes no difference how immoral and ungodly a person’s lifestyle may be, he or she will be considered a true believer since at some point they have made a profession of faith in Christ.

Unless someone is willing to assert that Paul was identifying himself as a “carnal Christian” in Romans 7:14 [I do not consider this passage as autobiographical at all but as a redemptive-historical description of the contrast between the inability of the Law and the efficacy of grace (see Rom. 7:5-6)], there is one lone passage on which one might base the carnal Christian doctrine. That passage is 1 Cor. 3:1-16. The popular view of this passage is that Paul was teaching that there are believers in Christ whose lifestyle cannot be distinguished from that of an unbeliever.

At the risk of being branded a heretic, I would like to offer what I believe is a view that is more consistent with the teaching of the rest of the New Testament Scriptures. Before I make several hermeneutical and exegetical observations, I would like you to consider a list of propositions that I either affirm or deny. I hope these will help to clarify the view I am proposing.

Affirmations and Denials

I affirm that:

1. Believing sinners are as fully justified the first moment they believe the gospel as they will ever be. The level of their sanctification can neither augment or diminish the perfection of their righteous standing before God.
2. There are areas in every believer’s life in which he or she acts in the same way an unconverted person would act. Every believer is “carnal” in some area or areas.
3. Some believers have advanced in their spiritual growth beyond others. Some continue to be more carnal and others are more in tune with the Spirit.
4. It is possible for a believer to lose ground in the conflict that we call progressive sanctification even after having made advancements in a particular area.
5. Not every believer struggles in the same areas in conflict with sin.
6. There is a difference between a believer in conflict with sin and an [unregenerate] professed believer complacent to sin [see John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. p. 145].

I deny that:

1. The sanctification of believers is automatic and does not require exhortations to obey or effort on the part of believers.
2. There are true believers who never experience God’s sanctifying work.
3. There are true believers whose lives are completely characterized by fleshliness and act in every way like unconverted people.
4. There are true believers who continue under the dominion of sin.
5. There is a difference between becoming a believer and becoming a disciple/

Hermeneutical and Exegetical Considerations

There are several hermeneutical and exegetical considerations that we must consider if we are going to interpret correctly the lone passage from which the carnal Christian doctrine is drawn. It is clear that these have been ignored by the proponents of this doctrine. In this section, we will consider some of these principles and see how they apply to the interpretation of this passage.

An Important Principle of Interpretation

There is an important hermeneutical principle that is often ignored by would be interpreters of Scripture. I say “would be interpreters” since one has only “interpreted” a passage when he has rightly understood what the Holy Spirit and the human writer had in mind when they wrote the text. If we ignore certain principles of interpretation, we will never arrive at a correct understanding of a text.

Though there are many such principles that one must consider in seeking to interpret passages such as the one we are considering, the particular principle to which I am referring is this—Theological doctrine is to be derived from didactic passages where a doctrine is being expounded and not from hortatory [tending or aiming to exhort] or narrative passages. The passage we are considering is clearly a hortatory passage.

Context

What is the context in which this passage occurs? To answer that question, one needs to go back to the first chapter where Paul began to deal with one of the problems that existed in the church at Corinth. There, he expressed his desire that they all speak as with one voice and that there be no divisions among them. He desired that they be perfectly joined in the same mind and in the same judgment (see 1:10).

It is important we understand that the issue was not theological in nature. The problem was that people in that church had divided into sects based on personalities. Some were Paul enthusiasts, other were devoted to Peter, others to Apollos etc. It was not that these men were teaching different doctrines. Paul made it clear here and in other passages that they were united in their understanding and message. Ultimately, the problem was that the Corinthians were giving glory to men, either to themselves or to their favorites teacher, and not to God alone. As one reads this Epistle, it becomes that the one sin that characterized this church, the sin from which all their other problems resulted, was the sin of pride. Paul often wrote to them, “and you are puffed up.”

Though Paul expounds a great deal of solid theological truth in dealing with this problem, this section is not in itself a theological exposition of a particular doctrine. That is to say that it was not Paul’s intention in this context to expound the doctrine of sanctification. If one wishes to develop a doctrine of sanctification, he must do so from other passages where the apostles have intended to deal with the doctrine of sanctification specifically.

A Specific Problem

Based on this one passage, the advocates of the carnal Christian doctrine have asserted that it is possible for a person to be a true believer and yet live in every respect in the same manner as an unconverted person. The question one must ask is whether there is anything in this passage that suggests that these people were failing to be obedient in every area of their lives. Is there anything here that suggests that every member of the church was continuing to live in fornication, drunkenness, idolatry, thievery, homosexuality and the like? Of course, not! In fact, in chapter six Paul makes it clear that those to whom he was writing had been delivered from such sins and stated that those who have not been delivered from such sins will not inherit the kingdom of God. He wrote,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, not thieves, nor covetous, not drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

It should be clear that he was writing about personal righteousness and not imputed righteousness since these words follow an exhortation not to do wrong and cheat one’s brother (see v. 8).

Notice Paul’s words in our passage. He wrote, “for you are still carnal, FOR there are among you envy, strife and divisions” (v. 3). It is like saying to a group of people after a Baptist business meeting, “You acted like a bunch of unconverted people.” Such meetings seem to bring out the baser qualities in people. If you have ever attended such a meeting, you will understand what I mean. That doesn’t mean that the people who acted this way pursue a sinful lifestyle in every area of their lives. It simply means this is one of the areas in their lives in which they need to make progress in sanctification.

A Particular Time

Another issue that seems to have eluded the attention of “carnal Christian” advocates is that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, is addressing a situation that existed at a particular time in the life of the Corinthian church. There is not a word in the text that gives the slightest indication that the attitudes or actions he was describing would persist for a lifetime. We might think of this chapter as a snapshot or still photo of a situation that Paul was addressing. If we viewed a video recording of the lives of these people, we would see a completely different view. In fact, in his second Epistle he wrote the following words to them,

For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.  Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

Although it is likely Paul was speaking specifically about another issue he had addressed in his first Epistle, it is clear that God had used his exhortations to effect a genuine life change in his readers.

I suspect that if we could take a still photo of any believer’s life at a given point we could catch them acting out of character with their Christian confession. We could say to them as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to fleshly. It is also possible that a person could continue in such a state of arrested development for a time. In Chapter 17 of the Philadelphia Confession [essentially the same as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of 1689] “Of the Perseverance of the Saints,” paragraph 3, we read,

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.

Conclusion

There can be no question that at the point when Paul penned this letter to the Corinthians, they were in an arrested state of spiritual development and needed to be exhorted to grow up. That is not the issue. Every believer, due to remaining sin, will continue have areas of carnality their lives. No one argues that believers are not carnal in some areas of their lives. No one argues, at least no one who argues based on biblical texts considered contextually, that growth in grace is automatic and requires no conscious effort on the believer’s part. Immediately before assuring the Philippians that their sanctification would be a certain reality because it was God who was working [the word means effectively and energetically accomplish] in them both to will and to do for his good pleasure, the apostle Paul exhorted them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (see Phil. 2:12-13).

No one should argue that exhortations to obedience are unnecessary because the believer’s sanctification is certain to occur. God uses such exhortations to effect obedience in the lives of his people

The issue is whether true believers will continue in such a state throughout their entire lifetime so that there is no difference between them and their unconverted neighbors. Is there any evidence in this passage to support the carnal Christian doctrine as taught by C. I. Scofield and L.S. Chafer and others? As we have shown, the answer is an unequivocal, no! All Christians are carnal in the sense that we still have areas of fleshliness in our lives and we all continue to struggle with certain sins, but there are no carnal Christians in the sense that a true believer can be perpetually indistinguishable from an unconverted person.

“Saved Yet So as By Fire”

If our analysis of Paul’s teaching in this passage is accurate, what was his meaning when he spoke of every man’s work being tried by fire and some, having produced nothing but wood, hay and stubble, being saved like a man escaping a burning building with nothing but the clothes on his back? Does it not appear that he is teaching that a person may be a believer and never produce any evidence of having been converted?

That would be an easy conclusion for us to draw if we failed to consider the context in which these words were written and the issue with which Paul was dealing. Additionally, it is essential that we pay special attention to the words he employed and the metaphors he used.

The Context

Let me remind you that, in this passage, Paul was continuing to speak to a problem that he had introduced in chapter one of this Epistle. The problem was that the Corinthians had divided into splinter groups based on allegiance to their favorite preacher. His remedy for this problem has been to show that the success of his ministry or anyone else’s ministry depends not on the persuasiveness of his arguments or the eloquence of his speech but on the demonstration of God’s power in the application of redemption. At the end of chapter three he concluded that no one should glory in men. Earlier he had shown that no one should boast in their ability to unite themselves, since it is of God’s doing that believers are in Christ Jesus (see 1 Cor. 1:30-31). In this chapter he has shown that since it is God alone who can cause the planted seed to grow, Paul and Apollos are nothing but servants, instruments in God’s hand by whom they had believed (see chapter 3:5-8).

What is important for us to understand is that it was not Paul’s purpose in this chapter to talk about a believer’s works or lack of works in the process of sanctification. Instead, he was continuing to address the issue that he had begun to address in chapter one. He was writing about the ministry God had given him [his work] and the ministry God had given others. His exhortation was to those who are engaged in the work of the gospel. Each one must be careful how he builds on the foundation Paul had laid (see verse 10).

The Metaphors

Paul used two metaphors for the work of the ministry; one was agricultural the other architectural. In verse eight he had written “He who plants and he who waters are one: and everyone shall receive his reward according to his own labor.” It should be clear that he is making reference not only to himself and Apollos, but to all those who are involved in the gospel ministry.

Now in verse nine he mentions two metaphors for the gospel ministry. Ministers of the gospel are like farmers in a cultivated field and construction workers erecting a building. He wrote, “For we are laborers together with God; you are God’s cultivated field, you are God’s building.”

We and You (One Must Know the Difference)

Notice that Paul is not discussing the works of the cultivated field or of the building. He is discussing the work; the ministry God has given. Charles Hodge wrote of this passage, “Paul is here speaking of ministers and of their doctrines, and not of believers in general” (Hodge, 78, 1997). To arrive at this conclusion, one must merely know the difference between “We” and “You.” “We are laborers. . .You are God’s building” (verse 9).
When he wrote, “Let every man take heed how he builds on the foundation” his reference was not every person without exception, or even every believer, but everyone who is engaged in the gospel ministry, i.e., everyone who is involved in cultivating the field or erecting the building.
Since this is clear from a careful reading of the chapter, it should be obvious that Paul’s reference was not to the works of believers being judged (v. 13) but to the work, i.e., ministry of those who are building on the foundation Paul had laid (see verses 14-15).

Conclusion

One can only conclude that Paul did not intend to teach in this passage that there will be believers who will stand before God in judgement with nothing but wood, hay and stubble to offer as evidence that their faith was genuine. There will be no believers who stand before God who are saved by the skin of their teeth. Instead, it was his purpose to admonish those who are cultivating the field and building the building to take care how they carry on the work God has given them.

Summary

The issue in this discussion is not whether true believers continue to have unsanctified areas in their lives. No one who understands the clear teaching of Scripture would deny that they do. This issue is whether there are true believers who continue throughout their entire life-times in a state that is indistinguishable from their unconverted neighbors.

As we have seen, there is absolutely no evidence in this lone passage that forms the basis for the carnal Christian teaching that these Corinthian believers were characterized by fleshliness in every area of their lives or that they continued in a state of carnality throughout the duration of their lives. In fact, we have the word of the apostle Paul writing under divine inspiration that when confronted with their sins, they were sorrowful and repented of these sins. Upon careful examination, any honest observer will have to conclude that this passage simply does not support the “carnal Christian” view.

09
Aug
18

Not Willing That Any Should Perish–2 Peter 3:9

It seems that every time a person mentions the concept of divine election, a non-Calvinist will feel compelled to “quote” a portion of 2 Peter 3:9 in support of the idea that it is God’s intention for everyone to be saved. There are several questions I would like to propose to such people:

1. Do you believe that God knew before he ever created Adam and placed him in the garden that great multitudes of people would perish if he proceeded with his purpose to create? If he was not willing that anyone perish, why did he create them knowing perfectly that they would perish? Your only recourse here would seem to be to embrace open Theism.

2. Given the indisputable fact that Peter was explaining why God’s promise of Christ’s coming and the impending, accompanying judgment had not yet been realized, how does your understanding of 3:9 make any sense at all in that context?

It seems to be without dispute that in any given generation there are fewer people saved than lost. If that is so, is it not true that with every passing generation, the aggregate number of those who perish will grow? At the end of this generation, the sum of those lost will be greater than the sum of those lost at the end of the last generation. If Jesus had returned at the end of the first century fewer people would have perished than will have perished when he returns. Since God knows this perfectly, a delay in judgment would make no sense at all. If God truly intended for more people to be saved than lost, would not hastening the judgment make more sense than delaying it?–

29
Jul
18

Love’s Condescension

When Jesus knew the hour had come
That he should make his way back home,
He took a towel and left his seat
To wash his people’s filthy feet.

‘twas greater condescension still,
Though being in the form of God,
He stooped to do his Father’s will
And bore his people’s sinful load.

He laid aside his glory above,
And poured himself into our frame,
Humbled himself and came in love,
And in his bosom bore our blame.

He girt himself with love’s strong bands,
And in our guilty place he stood;
Took squalid souls in holy hands
And washed them spotless in his blood.

And when his work on earth was done
He donned his glorious robes again,
Sat down upon his heavenly throne
In splendid majesty to reign.

His name, above all names sublime,
Our lips shall praise, our souls esteem,
And every knee shall bow to him
Whose love shall be our constant theme.

Randy Seiver

Based on John 13:1-12; Phil. 2:5-11.

12
Jul
18

BATTLEGROUND PASSAGES

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“Battleground Passages,” An Exposition of Pivotal Passages in the Monergist-Synergist Debate, by Randy Seiver is now available at Amazon Kindle.
This book offers a contextual and exegetical consideration of major passages over which Calvinists and non-Calvinists have disagreed. The author offers a fresh perspective on passages that have often been misused by those on both sides of the issue. If you truly wish to understand the issues in this controversy over the nature of God’s saving work, you cannot afford to neglect this book.

28
May
18

For We are His Handiwork–Ephesians 2:10

If there is any question in anyone’s mind about Paul’s meaning in verses eight and nine, what he has written in verse ten makes it abundantly clear. First, notice that the purpose clause “in order that no one should boast” and the words “we are his handiwork/created work” are connected by “for, or because [γὰρ].” Paul is citing the reason that no one should boast and he places “of Him [αὐτοῦ]” in the emphatic position—“of him, we are the created work” to underscore the fact that our union with Christ in the new creation is his doing and not ours. This clearly accords with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 1:29-31 where he wrote, “In order that no human being should boast in his presence, but it is of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus. . .in order that just as it is written, ‘he that boasts, let him boast in the Lord.’”

If the synergistic view were correct, none of what is written in these passages would be true. According to synergism, God’s choice of sinners has been determined, not by his sovereign good pleasure but by his foresight of their free will decision. The Son has not secured the eternal redemption of any sinner in particular but has merely given sinners the potential for salvation if they will let Jesus save them. Jesus “draws” every sinner and the Father enables them to believe by giving all of them prevenient grace. He does absolutely nothing to distinguish between one sinner and another. If any sinner is saved, it is solely because he [or she] has cooperated with God’s best efforts and has thus distinguished himself from other sinners who have had equal opportunities but did not improve on them.

It is inconceivable, on the supposition that this view of soteriology is correct, that Paul could have written, “But it is of him that you are in Christ Jesus” since it would be of the sinner’s doing that is in Christ and not of his doing. If in all his best efforts to bring sinners to himself, efforts exerted toward all sinners equally, many will perish for eternity, one cannot accurately state that his most noble exertions have been effective in uniting any sinner to Christ. If there is no distinction in God’s efforts to save sinners, the factor or factors that distinguish one sinner from another must be in the sinner.

If God has done all he has intended to do to effect the sinner’s salvation once he has granted universal but ineffectual “grace” and has left the outcome to the sinner’s free will decision, the best one could say is that God has responded to the sinner’s decision and has united him to Christ in response to his faith, but in that case the reason for our union with him would be of our doing and not of him.

Paul is clear. We should not boast since it is God who has made us what we are spiritually. In creating us spiritually, he has performed a supernatural work that we could never have performed. Again, we should notice that the focus is entirely on God’s activity and not on ours.

28
May
18

If God is For Us

 

In Romans 8:31, Paul asks his readers to begin to draw encouraging conclusions and he does so by asking a series of rhetorical questions intended to lead them to rejoice in the absolute certainty of their final glorification. It should not escape our attention that he does so, not by asking them to focus on a decision they have made but on the salvific work of the Triune God.

In that verse, Paul asks his readers to begin to draw encouraging conclusions and he does so by asking a series of rhetorical questions intended to lead them to rejoice in the absolute certainty of their final glorification.

It is to the first series of questions that I would like to draw your attention and then leave you with a question. Paul asks, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Then, as evidence that God is for believers, he writes concerning this God, “He that did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all [In the context he is clearly referring to all those who have been foreknown, predestined, called according to his purpose and justified by his grace through faith in Christ.]” then asks, “How shall he not along with him [the greatest gift he could give] freely give us all things [all the lesser gifts that belong to salvation including glorification].” His point is that if God is for us and if Jesus gave his life for the purpose of securing our redemption, our glorification is certain. In whatever sense God “gave Him up for us all,” He also “gives (the same people) all things.” After all, the “will he not also along with him freely give us all things?” is clearly rhetorical and expects an emphatic “Yes,” not an “I will…If you decide.”

I am amazed at the number of professing Christian people who will quite unabashedly state that Jesus did not save anyone by his death. Additionally, they will be quick to add that it was their faith that saved them. If one should ask them about the origin of that faith, they never seem to even question the idea that God has given a measure of faith to everyone without exception, then it is up to us to decide for or against Jesus. Apparently, the idea of God giving a measure of faith to every person is taken from a gross misrepresentation of Romans 12:3 that speaks of God granting to each believer a measure of faith for the exercise of the gift God has given them. There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that has granted to sinners universally the ability to believe.

It is difficult to blame these people because they are merely parroting what they have been told from “Evangelical” pulpits. In fact, I think they are rather astute in drawing the conclusion from what they have heard that Jesus did not save anyone by his death. If he accomplished no more for those who would believe than for those who will perish for eternity, his death, in itself, did not save anyone. If his death did not save everyone it was intended to redeem, it could not have, in itself, saved anyone it was intended to redeem.

We often hear the analogy of a ship being dispatched for the rescue of shipwreck victims who are in danger of drowning. To effect this rescue, the captain of the ship instructs his crew to throw a life ring into the water. He must not do anything more because if he did, he might violate the free will of the perishing. Apparently, since he has not determined to save any of these victims but merely to give them the potential for salvation by tossing the life ring, it is conceivable they will all perish because he clearly cares more about the preservation of their free will than about their rescue. If any are rescued, it will be solely because they made the right decision and grabbed the life ring. The life ring is nothing but the means of rescue. The true savior is the victim who is willing to use the means provided to get himself to safety.

This is far different from the image the Bible paints for us. In the biblical picture, the victims are murderous and pillaging pirates who have attacked the very ship that is being sent for their rescue. They are hostile toward the captain and his crew and would rather perish than dine at his table. At his own peril, the captain’s son dives into the frigid water, overcomes their hostility and brings them to safety. Had they been left to the ability of their wills, their doom would have been certain.

The question I would like you to ponder is this. Assuming for the sake of argument that synergists are correct in their views, would one not have to assume that God is for every person without exception and that he gave his Son to make salvation possible for every sinner without exception? Would we not have to conclude that God gave up his Son in that sense for every sinner? And if that is the case, how can one escape the conclusion that God has pledged himself to grant “all things” that belong to salvation including glorification to every sinner without exception?