Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism vs. Arminianism

25
Aug
17

Issues in Romans Nine

It is common for Arminians and other Synergists to accuse Calvinists of taking verses in Romans 9 out of context and using them to prove a doctrine they were never intended to support. This is quite common among Dispensationalists who imagine that God is pursuing two separate programs for two separate peoples. For this reason, they imagine that because Paul is addressing an issue that concerns ethnic Israelites, the doctrine he sets forth must have no application to the Church and to spiritual salvation at all.

Now, it is true that Israel is not the church and the church is not Israel in the sense that Israel as a nation was a body of believers washed in the blood of the Lamb. One does not enter the community of New Covenant in the same way that people became a part of the Old Covenant community. What we must understand is that because the nation of Israel stood as type or prefiguration of the Church, the same principles that applied to that nation in a typical sense are now applicable to the Church in a spiritual sense. None of the blessings the members of Christ’s body now receive were granted to the Israelites, as mere natural descendants of Abraham, in the same sense as they are now granted to believers in Christ. They were chosen, redeemed, called, adopted, granted inheritance etc., but none of those blessings are spiritual or eternal in nature.I

My approach to this passage will necessarily depart from both the classic Reformed view and from the classic Dispensationalist understanding of Israel and the Church. The Reformed view is that the Church is the visible Kingdom of God that is, by design, comprised of believers and unbelievers [i.e., believers and their infant children] in the same way that Israel was the visible Church in the Old Testament. The Dispensational view, as already mentioned, is that God is pursuing two perpetually distinct purposes for two perpetually and perhaps eternally distinct peoples. But we must understand that God has not planted a separate olive tree called “the Church” that is separate and distinct from the good olive tree that is rooted in covenant promises. Instead, he has grafted Gentile believers into “the Righteous Branch” of the good olive tree through faith in Christ, so that they have become heirs of the spiritual promises made to Abraham. According to the Dispensational view, Romans chapters nine through eleven can have little if any significance for anyone other than natural Israelites.

My view is that natural Israel stood as a type or prefiguration of the true people of God [I am using the word “true” here in the same way John and Jesus used the it, i.e., to denote the fulfillment as opposed to the type and shadow. Consider as an example, “I am the TRUE bread.” Jesus did not mean that the manna in the desert was not REAL bread, but that he was the fulfillment of the type]. It helps to understand that the study of typology is simply a matter of recognizing that there are repeated patterns in God’s dealings with his creation.

Some time ago I posted an article titled “Thoughts on Romans 9-11” which I intend to repost at the end of this article since I believe it is important to understand the issues involved in the entire context. What I would like to do here is simply consider this important chapter in its context in an attempt to discern whether Calvinists are truly guilty of misusing it to illegitimately support their doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the matter of the sinner’s salvation.

Romans Nine Is About Spiritual Salvation

My first observation is that the entirety of Romans nine though eleven concerns spiritual salvation. There is not a single word in the entire passage, if properly understood, that concerns the reestablishment of Israel as a political entity, the restoration of the land to that nation, etc. It should be clear to any thinking person that Paul would not be willing to be accursed from Christ for such mundane reasons. It was for the spiritual and eternal salvation of his people that he was concerned. We must remember that after types or prefigurations are fulfilled, they cease to exist. Paul understood that “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.” The issue here was salvation through union with Christ. This becomes clear as we near the end of the chapter and move into chapter ten. In verse twenty-three Paul wrote about the “vessels of mercy which he [God] had prepared beforehand for glory.” Since this is set over against “destruction,” it must be a reference to spiritual salvation. In verse twenty-seven he wrote, “the remnant will be SAVED.” In verses thirty-thirty-two he wrote specifically about the attainment of righteousness through faith, another clear reference to spiritual deliverance. If any question remains about the subject of this pericope, it should be laid to rest once for all by Paul’s opening statement in chapter ten, “Brethren, my prayer to God and heart’s desire for Israel is that they may be saved.” Finally, Paul closes his argument with the conclusion, “and thus, all Israel shall be SAVED.”

The Apostle’s Argument in This Chapter

We must first understand that this entire section is intended to answer a single issue. That issue concerns the promises God made to Israel during the Old Covenant period. It seems that Paul has anticipated an objection about what he had written in the foregoing chapters. This was the objection. When we consider what has happened to Israel, “his own people” to whom he came, does it not appear that the promises of God have fallen to the ground without fulfillment? His initial answer to that objection was, “but it is not that the Word of God has taken no effect.”

The remainder of chapter nine is concerned to address two issues relative to that objection:

  1. The first issue is the identity of the ultimate recipients of God’s promises to Israel.
  2. The second issue is whether those who were the recipients of these promises were to receive the blessings promised as a matter of right or by sovereign disposition.

These two issues are related in that, due to their physical ancestry, the Jewish people of the first century had developed a sense of entitlement. One can see this attitude reflected in such statements as we find in John 8:33 “We are Abraham’s descendants and were never in bondage to any man.” Paul’s argument in this passage is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to him for baptism–“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matt. 3:7-9). Paul’ s two-fold argument is that his brethren according to the flesh are entitled to no spiritual blessing by virtue of their physical lineage. The inheritance is not of bloods [bloodline], and the reception of spiritual blessing is a matter of sovereign disposition.

The Identity of “Israel”

Paul began to speak to the first of these issues in verse six of this chapter, “. . .for they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” This understanding must control our thinking concerning everything else Paul wrote in this entire passage. When he speaks of “Israel” he is not referring to all the physical seed. Toward the end of the chapter, Paul introduces a theme that recurs throughout the passage, i.e.,  it is not to the nation as a whole that the promises are made but to the elect remnant (see 11:5) within the nation. The physical promises [e.g. the promise that they would be blessed in the land as a result of their obedience to the covenant] that God made to members of the nation, based on covenant fulfillment, [promises of living and being blessed in the land of promise] find their fulfillment in Christ, the consummate Israelite, and in those united to him by faith (cf. Exo. 19:5-6, 1 Pet. 2:9-10). True believers in Christ have entered into the inheritance of which the land was a type. God did not promise eternal, spiritual blessings to any of Abraham’s natural offspring except Christ.

There can be no question that the supernatural character of Isaac’s birth stood as a type of the believer’s supernatural birth. The true seed, the true heirs are children of promise as was Isaac (see Gal. 4:28). The point Paul was making is that God’s promises to Israel have not fallen to the ground without fulfillment at all since those promises belong to those who are born supernaturally as was Isaac. Surely, this is what Jesus had in mind when he told Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above. Though one could enter the material kingdom of Israel by physical birth, one can only enter Christ’s kingdom by supernatural, spiritual birth. That which is born of flesh belongs to the realm of flesh and has no ability to function in the spiritual realm.

In the same way, Paul intended the recounting of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau to illustrate that God’s promises to Abraham were not intended for all the physical seed but for those sovereignly chosen by God and blessed contrary to the natural order. The fact that the reference to Jacob and Esau in Malachi extends to their descendants does nothing to diminish Paul’s argument in this passage. The principle remains the same; God’s blessings are granted according to promise and not according to physical descent and are determined by God’s elective purpose. This does not in any way suggest that every descendant of Jacob was an heir of God’s spiritual blessings. That is simply not the case. What it does suggest is that just as God’s love for Jacob and the physical and material blessings he granted to the nation of Israel were determined by God’s electing love, so the spiritual blessings that flow to the antitypical Israel are determined by the sovereign will of God. Additionally, Paul showed that God’s choice is not only made apart from merit but contrary to merit. Jacob was not the most likely candidate to father a holy nation. It is quite true that in this context these principles have primary application to Paul’s brethren according to the flesh, but, as he stated in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, they are no less applicable to those God calls from among the Gentiles.

The Basis of Blessing

The second of these issues rises out of Paul’s explication of the first. Paul wants his natural brothers to understand that they have no rightful claim to God’s blessings since those blessings are sovereignly granted and not a matter of right. If they are blessed it will be due to God’s sovereign mercy granted contrary to merit, and not because they are entitled to his blessing.

This truth could not have been elucidated more clearly than Paul has expressed it in verses eleven through thirteen of this chapter. He wrote, “(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘the elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.’” At the very least, one would have to conclude from the Malachi passage from which Paul has quoted that God did not love Jacob and Esau equally and it the same way.

It should be clear to any reader that Paul’s intention was to show that the salvation of his brethren according to the flesh has been determined by the same sovereign principle as that enunciated in these verses. It they are saved, it will not be because they deserve God’s favor but because he has sovereignly decreed to show them mercy.

Some, e.g., Norman Geisler, have had the temerity to suggest that God foresaw the actions of the nations that came from these two individuals and chose them on that basis. There are two basic and, one would think, obvious objections to that view. The first is that it absolutely contradicts Paul’s clear statement in verse eleven, “before the children were born, and had not done any good or evil, THAT the purpose of God according to election might stand. . .”. The second reason his assumption cannot stand is that it would obviate the need for Paul’s entire argument in the following verses.

Two Common Objections to Sovereign Election

There are two objections that are commonly brought against the doctrine of divine sovereignty in the salvation of sinners. Paul introduces both these questions in Roman’s chapter nine. It is impossible to say whether these are objections that had been introduced by real detractors or if he introduced them for the sake of making a point. One is that if sovereign election is true, it would make God unfair–“What shall we say then, is there unrighteousness with God?”. The other is that if the bestowal of mercy is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God’s who shows mercy, and if God grants mercy to whomsoever he will show mercy and hardens whomsoever he wills, how can he hold his creatures responsible? –“Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted his will?” The will about which the apostle has written must be God’s will of decree since we have all resisted his revealed will from time to time.  If all that occurs has been decreed by God, how can he hold people responsible for our actions?

Both these question could have been answered very simply with one statement.  All Paul needed to explain is that God has left the issue of our salvation to libertarian free will.  If only he had explained that God’s choice of certain sinners was based on the faith and perseverance that he foresaw in them, neither of these questions would have arisen. Their very presence is the evidence that God’s foresight of certain sinners’ faith could not have been the basis for his choice. What better place could there have been for Paul to give such an explanation? Yet, there is not the slightest hint that God’s choice was determined by the sinner’s free will choice. Instead, he doubled down on his insistence that salvation depended on the will of the sovereign potter.  There are two important truths he offers to help his readers understand the true doctrine of God’s saving activity.  One concerned the proper relationship between God and his creatures. He asked, “Who are you, the creature, to question the Creator?”  As you consider this issue, you need to remember that there is only one true God and that God isn’t you. You aren’t in control, God is. The second answer to these questions concerns the nature of that “lump” out of which God forms one vessel for honor and another for dishonor.  Notice that he refers to the vessels of honor as “vessels of mercy.” That tells us that these vessels did not deserve God’s favor any more than did the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.  God being righteous [fair] would have condemned the entire sinful lump.  How can God hold sinners responsible for our sins when we are simply fulfilling his decree? Because when we sin we are doing what we desire most. We are acting according to the sinful nature that we share with the rest of mankind.

The Nature of Salvation Itself

One reason people wish to argue that Roman’s nine is not about the sinner’s salvation but about some future work God intends to perform in restoring Israel as a nation grows out of their inadequate view of salvation itself. If we persist in defining salvation in terms of heaven and hell, we will not only continue to misinterpret passages such as Romans nine but will miss the entire biblical teaching about the nature of salvation itself. I am willing to concede, and I am sure others are as well, that Paul does not speak a word in Romans nine about some sinners being chosen to go to heaven when they die and others being left to perish in hell. That is clearly not the issue. But that does not mean this passage does not concern the sinner’s salvation or the teaching that salvation is granted to sinners by the sovereign good pleasure of God alone.

Not once in the entire inspired record of first century gospel preaching do we have an example of any preacher asking sinners if they wanted to escape hell and be assured that they will go to heaven when they died. The reason we find no such example is that such was never the issue in the salvation of sinners. Jesus framed the issue succinctly when in his intercessory prayer recorded in John seventeen he said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). He immediately follows these words with “I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do” (v.4) from which one could argue that eternal life is principally concerned with the manifestation of God’s glory [the sum of his glorious attributes].

It is my belief that much of the controversy that persists between Monergists and Synergists exists because the latter view salvation in such a superficial manner. Often they speak of salvation as “simply reaching out and accepting the free gift,” or to put it in the terms they like to use, “taking the life ring that has been thrown to the sinner [indeed, to all sinners equally].” Among the many biblical issues that this simplistic approach completely ignores is the universal hostility of sinners to the rescuer. If being on the lifeboat requires being in the presence of the lifeguard, they would prefer to drown.  Additionally, this view reduces Jesus to a mere means to an end. All the focus is on the sinner. Once the rescue is accomplished, the life ring can be hung out of view and ignored. All the life ring represents is the possibility of salvation, not salvation itself. We would agree that unregenerate sinners are able to walk down a church aisle, sign a card, repeat a prayer, and submit to “baptism.” What we do not believe is that such actions constitute genuine salvation from sin.

The assumption of some seems to be that since Paul does not speak of heaven or hell in Romans nine, the passage must not concern the salvation of sinners, but this simply reflects a faulty understanding of the nature of salvation itself. The primary purpose of God’s salvific activity is not to establish the eternal destiny of sinners, but to restore in sinners the ability to reflect his glory. Please understand that I am not denying that there are two distinct and different destinations for the saved and the lost. I am simply denying that establishing that destiny is the primary consideration in the salvation of sinners. I would challenge you to examine those biblical passages that state the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work to either verify or falsify my contention here. Let me simply suggest three verses for your consideration—Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24-25. As you consider these verses, note well the purpose clauses introduced by the words “that” or “in order that.”

The modern church has become so absorbed with the idea that Jesus died to forgive our sins so we can go to heaven when we die, that we have forgotten that salvation is not principally about the forgiveness of sins. Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on the promises of Scripture alone is certainly a key doctrine that we must not surrender for a moment, but being declared right with God is not the ultimate end of his salvific purposes. In reality, it is a means to an end. Before we can approach God with any kind of confidence, we need to know that he has cancelled our guilt and that he has declared us righteous in his sight. Justification is necessary because people burdened with a sense of unpardoned guilt do not love, glorify and enjoy God.

We must remember that God’s redemptive plan is concerned not only with saving sinners from his wrath but also with purifying them so that they will be able to glorify him. Remember Paul’s words, “That we should be to the praise of his glory. . .” God is concerned not only with our guilt but also with our sinful hearts that are hostile toward him in a state of nature.

Unlike his remedy for our guilt that is wholly outside of us, his remedy for our spiritual blindness, hostility, pollution in sin, and deadness toward him must be internal. To use one of Paul’s metaphors, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor.4:6).

Paul has framed salvation in terms of glory just as Jesus did. When he was praying to the Father about finishing the work he had given him to do his words were, “I have glorified you on the earth. . .I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:5-6). One of the primary differences between soteriological synergists and monergists is in their view of God’s purpose in saving a people for himself. It should not escape our notice that in its statement on the decree of God concerning the salvation of his people, the Westminster Confession of Faith begin with these words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory. . .” The Scripture reveals no higher motive for God’s creative, providential and salvific activity than this. This must be our starting point in all our thinking about His purpose in the world.

God’s Sovereign Bestowal of Mercy

It is as Paul begins to answer the first objection to his doctrine that his argument begins to turn from an articulation of general principles regarding God’s sovereign disposition of his favors to an application of those principles in the sovereign bestowal of saving mercy.

As we have seen, Paul does not even hint that God maintains the integrity of His righteous kingdom by merely rubber stamping decisions he foresaw his creatures would make. He has tersely dismissed the idea that God could be unrighteous in anything that he has done with the words, “Certainly not!” or “God forbid!”  Literally he wrote, “May it never be!”(μη γένοιτο). Then, he proceeded to show that God is himself the standard of righteousness who has the absolute right to dispense his mercy to whomsoever he will. He owes mercy to none. If it were a debt, it would cease to be mercy. So then, he concludes, it [the showing of mercy and compassion] is not of him who wills [it is not based on human decision] or of him who runs [it is not by human exertion] but it is of God who shows mercy (see verse sixteen).

In the verses that follow, Paul illustrated this truth from the life of two men.  One was the Pharaoh of Egypt; the other was the leader of God’s people, Israel. God treated these two men very differently but showed no injustice to either of them. In hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, God made him no more evil or rebellious at heart than he was by nature. He simply removed his gracious restraints and permitted him to be himself. He did nothing to him that he did not deserve.

In treating Moses as he did, he gave him nothing that he did deserve. The verse that Paul quoted in Romans nine, fifteen is found in the context of Moses’ request to see Yahweh’s glory (see Exo. 33:19). Remember here what we have written about the nature of God’s saving activity. Salvation is ultimately a matter of God’s self-disclosure. It is a manifestation of his glory. When John summed up his and his companions’ experience with the eternal Word, in what words does he express that experience? He wrote, “and the Word became flesh and tabernacled [pitched his tent] among us, and we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [compare “full of grace and truth” with “abounding in goodness [lovingkindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness]” in Exodus 34:6.

What is it that Paul tells us the unconverted are unable to see when the gospel is preached to them because the god of this world has blinded their minds? He answers, it is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (see 2 Cor. 4:4). I believe we think of salvation rightly only when we think of it in terms of the manifestation of God’s glory as it now stands revealed to us in Christ.

Paul clenched the case we are making when he wrote in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, “and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles.” We must understand the word “called” here not in the sense of a mere invitation but in the sense in which Paul has used it in chapter eight, verse thirty where he wrote, “. . .those he called, he also justified.” He is referring to that divine activity by which believers are called into union with Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:9),

It should be clear to any but those who have deliberately closed their eyes to God’s truth that Paul was writing about God’s saving mercy in revealing his glory to Moses. The point that he would have his readers take away from what he has written is that the bestowal of his favor was altogether of sovereign mercy. It is not that the Pharaoh deserved condemnation and Moses deserved a manifestation of God’s glory. No, Paul writes, “It is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who show mercy.”

We should not forget that in the case of both the Pharaoh and Moses there was a manifestation of God’s glory. In the case of the one, it was a manifestation of his glorious justice but also of his power. God showed his power in the case of the Pharaoh not only in his destruction but also in his patient endurance of Pharaoh’s recalcitrant rebellion. Time after time God gave him opportunity to repent and let his people go, but Pharaoh hardened his heart. God demonstrated his longsuffering in giving him space to repent. In the case of Moses, God made known his glorious attributes and all by his sovereign mercy.

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Thoughts on Romans 9-11

  1. One should understand everything in the entire section in terms of the issue Paul is addressing and not import other issues that are not mentioned.

The issue is the spiritual salvation of Israelites and whether God’s promises to them have fallen to the ground without fulfillment. Paul begins the section by expressing that his prayer to God and his heart’s desire is that Israel might be “saved.” There is no justification for the assumption that the Israelites for whom he expresses concern are on a separate and different trajectory from Gentile believers. There is nothing in the entire context about Israel being restored as a nation, the establishment of an earthly, Jewish kingdom, the nation’s restoration to the land etc.

  1. One should understand “Israel” in the entire passage according to Paul’s definition caveat in 9:6-7, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” There is an “Israel” that is not Israel and Paul refers to this group of unbelievers in this section, but it is to the true Israel God’s ultimate spiritual promises were made, not to the natural offspring of Jacob.
  2. The entire issue hinges on God’s sovereign decree. God will have mercy on those he will save not because of debt but because of grace (9:10-25). Not even all who are of the promised seed, Isaac, are heirs of the promise.
  3. Paul further narrows the focus of God’s saving grace to that remnant within Jacob’s (Israel’s) offspring who are called. Here we must understand “called” not as an invitation but as an effectual divine action that unites the called ones to Christ (9:23-29). Those “called” are the vessels which he “prepared beforehand for glory.” This agrees with Paul’s previous statement in chapter eight that “those he predestined for future glory [being conformed to the image of Christ or glorified], he also called. (8: 29-30).”
  4. Paul lays the burden of responsibility directly at the feet of Jacob’s offspring who had rejected “God’s righteousness” [I understand the term “God’s righteousness” in Romans to refer to his method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] and insisted on going about to establish their own method of self-justification (9:30-10:21). God presents himself as an ever willing and able Savior for all who will call on his name.
  5. When Paul answers the question “Has God cast away his people?” (11:1), his answer is conditioned and delineated by the definition he has already given of “his people.” There is no question he refers to those who are the physical descendants of Abraham, but the reality is God has cast many of them away. The burden of his question at this point seems to be whether God has completely abandoned all Abraham’s physical descendants because of the unbelief of the majority of them. Paul’s answer is that though God has cast away unbelieving Israel, he has not cast away those whom he “foreknew” (according to the law of first mention, “foreknew” should be interpreted in light of Romans 8:29). Paul himself is an ethnic Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin yet he has not been cast off. Even now there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (See 11:5-7).
  6. The blessings God will grant restored Israelites are the same as those now enjoyed by believing Gentiles. Paul’s concern is to “save some of them,” not to see a Davidic dynasty established under Christ’s Messianic rule and a fulfillment of land promises (see–10:1, 13; 11:14, 26-27, 30-32). Note: the mercy now granted to the Gentiles is parallel to the mercy God may show to believing Israelites. The mercy he has shown us is the forgiveness of our sins and in parallel must refer to the same kind of mercy granted to believing Israelites.
  7. The blessings Gentile believers now enjoy result from Israel’s unbelief. The inclusion of the Gentiles was to have the effect of making the Israelites jealous so that some of them might be saved. Verses 11 through 15 of chapter eleven give us important insight into the way the New Testament writers used the word translated “world.” It should be obvious that “world” in these verses does not refer to every person without exception since every unbelieving ethnic Israelite is excluded from it. Their exclusion has resulted in the reconciliation of the “world,” i.e., believing Jews and Gentiles.
  8. It seems clear the root of the “good olive tree” refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham. The good olive tree grows out of that root. It is important that we remember there were natural branches of that tree that should have produced good fruit but did not. Ishmael and his descendants were branches of the tree as were Isaac and his descendants. Isaac was the heir produced by faith, the child of promise; Ishmael was the child of the flesh, a child of unbelief. Still, both benefited physically and materially from their paternal relationship with Abraham.

The family tree on Isaac’s side of the family continued to branch until the ultimate offspring to whom the promises were made was born. He was the true offspring who was the ultimate heir of the Abrahamic promise. All the promises of God find their fulfillment in him. None of the branches of the olive tree were fruitful as the mere natural offspring of Abraham. Abraham was “the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4: 12). What Paul was saying is that physical descent from Abraham is of no value at all in terms of the spiritual inheritance. To be a son of Abraham in the spiritual sense, one must walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.

Natural birth is no advantage in the spiritual realm. The reason the natural branches were broken off was unbelief–rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. They thought they could receive the inheritance apart from the heir, merely because they were Abraham’s natural offspring. Gentile believers have become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), because, through faith, we have been united to the Christ, the seed of Abraham. Assuming God intends to graft believing Israelites back into the good olive tree, it will be a grafting into Christ, a natural branch of the tree, by faith. It is in him that God has made believing Israelites and believing Gentiles one. He has made us one with the true Israel by grafting us into Jesus who is the true Israel. Jesus and those united to him by faith are the true seed of Abraham. We are not a replacement for Israel; we are the fulfillment of Israel and the promises made to them.

  1. This passage does not necessarily teach a future salvation of ethnic Israelites, though I would lean toward that position. It is possible Paul is stating that the full number of the elect remnant within ethnic Israel will come to faith before the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. “In this way, all Israel will be saved” (11:26). There are several considerations that might lead one to this conclusion:
  2. Throughout the entire section, Paul has focused on passages that speak of the salvation of a “remnant.”
  3. He speaks about God grafting them in again more as a possibility than as a certainty, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (v. 23).
  4. He writes, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). It is possible he means this hardness will never come to an end. In 1 Sam 15:35 we read, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” This does not mean that Samuel came to see Saul on the day of his death, but that he never came to see him again. In the same way, Paul could be saying that this partial blindness will never come to an end until the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles have been saved and the full number of the remnant of ethnic Israel and the full number of elect Gentiles will occur at the same time.
  5. The focus of verses 26-27 is on the redeemer coming to or out of Zion to establish the new covenant by his redemptive work, not on the redeemer coming out of heaven to apply that accomplishment. That is, he is speaking about the basis on which this salvation about which he speaks has been accomplished, not about the time at which it will be applied. It is the certainty that all of these who have been redeemed from sin will be saved that is in view, not the occasion on which it will be accomplished.

I have mentioned these issues not to argue for them but to show that in such areas as this, dogmatism is probably unwarranted. What is clear is that there is not a word in the entire text about restoring Israel as a nation. One must read this idea into the passage since the passage says absolutely nothing about it.

  1. The part of the olive tree into which members of ethnic Israel will be grafted is not merely a natural branch but also the spiritual branch, namely, Christ. Paul’s concern is not with those promises that granted the natural seed of Abraham physical, material, and nationalistic blessings, but with spiritual and eternal blessings. They will not be grafted into Jacob; they will be grafted into Christ and thus become the “true Israel.”
    12. In 11:28-32, Paul’s focus is on God granting mercy to sinners, not on God granting nationhood to Israel. In other words, Paul clearly saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in their spiritual salvation “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed, for. . .” (9:6) “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
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17
Jun
17

THE MIGHTY SAVIOR!

Have you ever noticed that when Synergists [Apparently, these people are ashamed to be called Arminians, and who could blame them?] try to illustrate God’s method of salvation with their lame “life-guard/life boat” analogy, they always talk about the rescuer “throwing a rope to the perishing.” God forbid that the “savior” should become too involved with the rescue. It seems to be beyond their conceptual ability to visualize a Savior who has actually dived into the water, taken the perishing in hand, and rescued them in spite of all their resistance and rebellion. But that is precisely the way the Scriptures represent Christ’s redeeming work. “Because the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also took part of the same that, through death, he might destroy him who had the power of death. . ., AND DELIVER THEM who though fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Our rescuer actually came to the place where we were perishing, took us in hand and effectually brought us to safety.

Jesus is not a potential savior who makes salvation a mere possibility for sinners who will persist in their rebellion and perish in their sins. Instead, he is the one who speaks in righteousness, MIGHTY TO SAVE.

12
Oct
16

The Gospel–A Manifestation of God’s Glory.

 

Having lost its grip on the biblical gospel, the church has bartered that priceless treasure for a pot of fool’s gold. We have all but eliminated any idea that salvation involves a thorough turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and we have reduced faith to a “decision” and a rather superficial and vacuous decision at that. In our concern to maintain the freeness of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we have forgotten that salvation is about more than pardon. It involves the deliverance of the whole man, indeed in the ultimate sense the entire cosmos, from the corruption of sin into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. It is God’s unswerving purpose to “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). Augustus Toplady was clearly on target when he wrote about Christ’s redeeming work being a “double cure.” It not only saves us from wrath but it is also intended to make us pure.

Biblical writers and preachers spoke much differently than we about this magnificent message of all-sufficient grace. For them, salvation involved nothing less than a revelation of the resplendent glory of God. It is significant that in Stephen’s vindicatory sermon he began with the words “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. . . .” (Acts 7:2). It is God’s manifestation of himself as the “God of glory” that turns sinners from darkness to light. When the Scriptures speak of God’s glory they are simply describing the sum of his glorious attributes. It was not without reason that the theologians who framed the Westminster Confession of Faith began their statement regarding God’s decree concerning salvation with the words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory. . .” When Jesus described his earthly mission and, indeed, the nature of eternal life itself, it was in terms of knowing God in all the majesty of his glorious being. He said, “I have finished the work you gave me to do. . .I have manifested your name [“name” was more than a mere appellation; it was a description of a person’s character] to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:4-6).

When Isaiah began to proclaim his message of comfort based on the work of the coming Anointed One, these were the words he used—“The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). The splendor of the New Covenant is that it reveals the glory of God in a way the Old Covenant never could. Paul indicated that the glory of the Old Covenant had been so eclipsed by the glory of the gospel covenant that, by comparison, the old had no glory at all (see 2 Cor. 3:8-11). When John described the apostles’ experience with Jesus, he wrote, “. . .we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the uniquely begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It should be obvious that he was asking us to recall what should be a well-known event in the history of redemption. In Exodus thirty-three, we read the account of Moses’ request to see God’s glory. Jehovah had responded to him that he would allow him to see his back but not his face, since no one could see his face and live. It should not escape our attention that even this inferior revelation was a blessing that was granted by sovereign mercy (33:19). When Jehovah caused all his goodness to pass before Moses and when he proclaimed his name [his character] before him, part of what he declared is that he is “abundant in goodness [loving-kindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness].” This was the near equivalent to John’s words in John 1:14 “full of grace and truth.” What the law revealed in type and shadow, has now been fully revealed in Christ. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth [fulfillment as opposed to type] came by Jesus Christ” (v. 17).

We must always remember that the biblical gospel does not proclaim Christ in his state of humiliation but in his state of exaltation. The gospel not only “concerns his Son who, according to the flesh was made of the seed of David” but also “who was declared [determined] to be the Son of God with power [the powerful Son of God] according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead” (See Romans 1:3-4). We must never, in our minds, separate “Lifted up was he to die” from “Now in heaven exalted high.” It is not Jesus dying on a cross who saves, but the Jesus who died on the cross who saves. It is the one “who was dead, but is alive.” It is “Christ HAVING BEEN CRUCIFIED.” The Savior we proclaim is one who, as the result of his victorious redemptive work, is now enthroned in majesty and glory as the embodiment of the redemptive work he has accomplished once for all. He is enthroned as the crucified one. He is “the Lamb in the center of the throne.”

The issue of whether coming to faith in Christ is the result of human decision or of divine intervention should be a simple one for anyone who understands what conversion truly is. If conversion is simply “letting Jesus come into my heart so I can go to heaven when I die” it is conceivable that a sinner in a state of corruption could make such a “decision.” After all, who wants to suffer in the lake of fire for eternity? As long as I can continue to be the master of my life, why wouldn’t I go for the goodies? The message of the modern “church” is so far removed from the biblical gospel that it bears almost no resemblance to it whatsoever. Look how the apostle Paul described conversion. He wrote, “If our gospel stands veiled, it stands veiled to those who are perishing, in whom the god of this age [He is “the god of this age” in the sense that the children of this age have chosen to follow him and worship him as their god] has blinded the minds [It is the minds that are veiled by darkness, not the gospel] of those who do not believe with the result that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God does not shine [the word means dawn] upon them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). He then describes conversion in terms of a creative act of God for the purpose of making his glory known in the face of Jesus Christ, He wrote, “For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness who has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Conversion involves nothing less than God’s creative power by which he manifests his glory in the face of Jesus Christ and only God can manifest himself in this way. We must never forget that the merciful decision to manifest his glory “. . .is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16).

04
Oct
16

Burning Straw Dummies

Watch Burning Straw Dummies on Youtube

12
Mar
16

Calvinistic Evangelism–Conclusion

The broad conclusion we can draw from this study is that one’s doctrine matters. We act as we do because we believe as we do. The modern church has bought the lie that doctrine is unimportant, and this capitulation has rendered devastating effects. It seems many evangelicals are content if the message they hear from the pulpit bears a faint resemblance to biblical truth. As far as most are concerned, as long as the “praise songs” say some nice things about Jesus, it really does not matter whether they are theologically accurate.

 

We often hear that it does not matter whether we take a monergistic or a synergistic view of God’s saving work, since we all preach the same gospel. As I believe I have shown, this is simply not the case. Only one message conforms to the apostolic gospel; the other is a cheap and tawdry counterfeit.

 

The Synergists (Arminians) have been quite successful in conforming their message and methods to their doctrinal beliefs, and we commend them for their consistency. If we believe the issue of salvation ultimately rests in the hands of sinners, we are remiss if we do not use every trick in the book to bring them to a point of decision. If the outcome is now in the sinner’s hands alone, we should use mood music, emotional stories, psychological manipulation, high pressure sales techniques, long “invitations,” and whatever other clever innovation that pops into our heads to induce them to “decide for Christ.” All of that is consistent with the Synergist’s doctrine.

 

From the Arminian viewpoint, the best God can do is wish sinners well since he has already done everything he can to secure their willing compliance to his plan of salvation. In their view, if his attempts to save them were to go beyond moral persuasion [a gentle nudge] their compliance with it [love, faith, obedience] would not be meaningful. Their entire view stems from a philosophical view that is based on a handful of proof-texts that are ripped from their context. If God wants everyone to be saved, he cannot have decreed to save some and pass over others. For this reason, it is necessary for them to reinterpret the mountain of biblical texts that talk about God’s sovereign purpose in the sinner’s salvation. They must view God as a well-meaning but ineffectual deity who truly wants the best for every member of the human family but has done nothing to secure the eternal good of anyone in particular. In their view, he has sovereignly determined to leave the matter of salvation to the sinner’s free will. They are quick to resort to “mystery” when asked where the Bible mentions their brand of prevenient [preceding] grace. The only mystery is why, even after sinners have heard the gospel and been reproved by the Holy Spirit, they continue to regard the gospel message as foolishness and remain “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.” It does not matter to the Arminian that the Bible nowhere hints that God performs such a work in which he neutralizes the effects of sinful corruption and grants every sinner the ability to respond favorably to the gospel. In their view, it must be true because it fits their philosophical view of God.

 

In keeping with their erroneous presuppositions they have developed a system of evangelism that bears little resemblance to the New Testament pattern. It is impossible to find in the biblical record the jargon to which Evangelicals have become so accustomed. Neither their message nor their methods conform to the biblical paradigm.

 

In closing, I would invite you to consider just a few of the differences between the authentic gospel and its counterfeit:

 

  • The authentic gospel calls on sinners to leave their sinful ways and return to the Lord; the counterfeit gospel calls on sinners to leave their seats and come to the front of the building to be saved.
  • The authentic gospel calls on sinners to bow before God’s throne in adoration and worship; the counterfeit gospel invites them to kneel at an “altar.”
  • The authentic gospel addresses sinners who are helplessly and hopelessly lost and who must be carried to the fold or they will wander aimlessly forever; the counterfeit gospel addresses sinners who are a bit disoriented and need a nudge in the right direction so they can find their way back to the fold.
  • The authentic gospel emphasizes the sinner’s impotence; the counterfeit gospel emphasizes his ability. In fact, according to it, the sinner alone has the ability to make the final decision.
  • The authentic gospel represents sinners as stubborn rebels against God whose stony hearts must be replaced with hearts of flesh; the counterfeit gospel represents sinners [if people are represented as sinners at all] as those who are badly affected by sin and who need to make a decision to let Jesus give them a new direction.
  • The authentic gospel represents Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior whose redeeming work has secured the everlasting salvation of an innumerable multitude; the counterfeit gospel represents Jesus as one who has made it possible for people to be saved if only they will effectuate his redeeming work by their free will decision. According to the counterfeit gospel Jesus’ death did not in itself procure the salvation of any.
  • The authentic gospel is concerned with the sinner’s deliverance from the cruel reign of sin and death. It focuses on Jesus’ work of bringing many sons to glory and bringing them into conformity to the redeemer; the counterfeit gospel is solely concerned about sinners going to heaven when they die.
  • The authentic gospel is focused on the manifestation of God’s glory through the grand Trinitarian work of redemption; the counterfeit gospel is centered on the sinner’s happiness and perceived well-being.
  • The authentic gospel presents faith merely as the empty hand that receives God’s bounty; the counterfeit gospel presents faith as the stimulus that provokes God to action. It is the sinner’s contribution to the process without which God can do nothing more than he has done.
  • The authentic gospel presents Christ as the actual Savior of the guiltiest sinner who will believe; the counterfeit gospel presents Christ as the potential Savior of all sinners without exception.
  • The authentic gospel presents Jesus as a Savior who, on account of his redeeming work, has been enthroned in glory and is the embodiment of the salvation he has accomplished once for all in his redeeming work; the counterfeit gospel presents him as a forlorn stranger who stands helplessly at the door of the sinner’s heart with no power to save apart from the sinner’s free will choice to open the door.
  • The authentic gospel calls sinners to leave their wicked and God dishonoring way and promises that if they repent God will abundantly pardon them; the counterfeit gospel often assures them that God will grant them pardon even if they continue in their hostile rebellion.
  • The authentic gospel promises salvation from sin’s cruel bondage; the counterfeit gospel often promises deliverance from the meaninglessness of life. It aims at giving people purpose and contentment.
  • The purpose of the authentic gospel is to transform rebels against God into worshippers; the aim of the counterfeit gospel is to make people feel better about themselves and their relationship with God.

 

It seems the contrasts between these two messages could not be clearer. These differences are not merely a matter of different emphases. Instead, they represent a radial difference in our understanding of salvation itself, and a fundamental dissimilarity in our conceptions of the salvific work of the Trinity. If we understand these issues at all, one matter should be clear; the differences between these two messages and approaches to evangelism are not insignificant or inconsequential. It is not the same gospel we proclaim at all.

In the body of this work, I have presented the major evangelistic passages in the New Testament Scriptures, and I have expounded the major doctrines that form the foundation for a biblical and meaningful proclamation of the gospel. Now, I want to leave you with a simple question. After carefully examining the pertinent passages, and these foundational doctrines, which of these messages do you find to be more in line with the biblical record? Which is authentic evangelism and which is the counterfeit?

12
Mar
16

Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter 18–The Nature of Repentance and Faith.

The Nature of Repentance and Faith

The Issues in This Discussion

Saved from What?

Since our evangelistic message calls sinners to repent and believe, it is essential that we understand the nature of repentance and faith. As a background for the subject matter I will cover here, I would suggest that you review the chapter on the nature and purpose of salvation. If we imagine that the purpose of God’s great work of redemption is simply to take people to heaven when they die, we are going to think of the gospel offer in a completely different way than we do when we understand that God’s purpose in saving sinners is to conform us to the image of his Son. God does not save us because we promise to get rid of our sins and follow Jesus. God saves us when we bring our sins to Jesus and confess that we are helpless to break the fetters that have bound us. If he does not break our chains, we are doomed to a life of bondage in sin. No one who rightly comes to Jesus for salvation would say, “I want to be forgiven, but I love my sins too much to leave them.” The issue in salvation is not heaven or hell; the issue in salvation is sin and righteousness. The purpose of Jesus’ death was not merely to take us to heaven when we die. His purpose was to restore God’s holy image in us. J.C. Ryle wrote,

He who supposes that Jesus Christ only lived and died and rose again in order to provide justification and forgiveness of sins for His people, has yet much to learn. Whether he knows it or not, he is dishonoring our blessed Lord, and making Him only a half Savior. The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by his atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them but also to sanctify them. He is, thus, not only their “righteousness but their “sanctification.” (I Cor. 1:30). (Ryle, 1952, 31).

If salvation involves no more than God’s pardon so that a person can go to heaven when he dies, then repentance is clearly unnecessary. The prodigal may remain in the pig pen and merely write a letter to the father asking his forgiveness. If we took that view of “salvation,” it would be necessary to define repentance and faith very differently than we do when we understand salvation to involve a radical transformation of God’s redeemed ones. The differences I am discussing in this chapter concern not only the nature of faith and repentance but the very nature of salvation itself. Salvation is not about being forgiven while in the pig pen; it is about returning to the Father’s house and being freely pardoned. William Bates wrote,

The most universal hinderance of men’s complying with the conditions of pardon by Christ, is, the predominant love of some lust. Although men would entertain him as a Saviour to redeem them from hell, yet they reject him as their Lord. Those in the parable, who said, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” expressed the inward sense and silent thoughts of all carnal men. Many would depend on his sacrifice, yet will not submit to his sceptre; they would have Christ to pacify their consciences and the world to please their affections. . .they would have Christ to die for them but not to live in them. . .they lean on his cross to support them from falling into hell, but crucify not one lust on it” (Bates, 1832, 217).

This is Not a Discussion about Justification

I want to make it clear that this is not a discussion about the nature of justification before God. Those on both sides of this debate state that justification before God is through faith alone and is based on the work of Christ alone. One of the chief proponents of “Lordship Salvation” has made the following statement about justification.

Because Christians are justified by faith alone, their standing before God is not in any way related to personal merit. Good works and practical holiness do not provide the grounds for acceptance with God. God receives as righteous those who believe, not because of any good thing He sees in them — not even because of His own sanctifying work in their lives — but solely on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, which is reckoned to their account. ‘To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness’ (Romans 4:5). That is justification (John MacArthur on justification by faith).

I do not believe it would be possible to give a clearer statement on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and based on Christ’s righteousness alone. One may only conclude that anyone who argues that “Lordship preachers” are adding good works to the gospel is simply presenting a straw man argument.

The Relationship between Regeneration and Obedience

If we believe that sinners who have been granted “prevenient grace” determine, by their free will decision, whether they will be saved or not, it should be clear that we believe regeneration is unnecessary. If we have the ability to obey one of God’s commands, the command to believe the gospel, we should be able to obey any other command. Incredibly, many who would take the “autonomous will” position do not even think believers need to be obedient to Christ at all. Once they have come to a moment of clarity that enables them to give intellectual assent to the historical facts of the gospel, nothing that occurs subsequent to that “decision” is of any importance. According to the OSAS [once saved always saved] Arminians who like to call themselves “free grace” believers, though a person has made “a decision for Christ,” he may have no love for God or desire to follow Christ and may even stop believing the gospel. In their view, as long as a person has been “once saved,” he is eternally secure no matter what.

Those who hold this view must give a different definition to the biblical words “repent,” “repentance,” and “faith” than those who believe repentance and faith are the result of God’s sovereign, regenerating work in sinners’ hearts. In their view, faith is nothing more than a momentary decision and repentance is simply a change of mind about Christ. Although they are correct in their assertion that a sinner’s justification before God is received through faith alone and apart from the works of the law, their message goes astray because they misunderstand the nature of faith and repentance and, ultimately, they misunderstand salvation itself. The often discussed passage in James chapter two, had nothing to do with the basis of justification before God. The question James was addressing was not whether that basis was faith or works. Instead, the question concerned the nature of that faith that justifies. Paul’s message was identical to that of James. He wrote, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). The NIV translates this verse as follows, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Genuine faith is working faith. Regeneration produces a faith that produces obedience. We should remember the words that characterized the Protestant Reformers’ thinking on this issue— “Justification before God is by faith alone, but never by a faith that is alone.”

Would any reasonable person think that steam coming from a tea kettle was either producing the heat under the kettle or was the direct product of the kettle itself? Of course not!  Yet, some allege that if we tell people genuine faith, produced by the free grace of God, will generate evidence of itself in works of obedience to God, we are telling them they must produce good works that will cause God to save them.  This is not the case. What we believe is that when the fire of God’s regenerating grace is applied to kettle of our souls in the production of genuine faith, the result will be the steam of heart-felt obedience.

 

Repentance and Faith—The Results of Free Will or Free Grace?

If the OSAS Arminians were correct in their view that faith and repentance are the result of the sinner’s “free will” decision, they would be correct in their assertion [read accusation] that those who believe and proclaim that repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of life are preaching a “works salvation.” But, as we have seen, there is no obedience, including the obedience of faith, that grows in the soil of corrupt nature. The performance of every act of obedience the gospel demands results from God’s work. When we preach that sinners must believe and repent, we are not calling on them to do something that will prompt God to act on their behalf. Instead, we are calling on them to perform acts they cannot perform unless those acts are effected by the sovereign grace of God. Apart from the implantation of a new governing principle of life in a person’s inner man, there will neither be faith nor obedience. This order becomes abundantly clear in God’s promise of regenerating grace in Ezekiel 36:25-27. God said,

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit [disposition] in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

It seems clear that Paul was thinking of this passage when he wrote to Titus about “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (See Titus 3:5-6). It should not escape our notice that these passages are not about pardon alone or even primarily, but about cleansing and renewing.

One issue we need to examine is the idea that the believer is constituted of two “men” or two natures, neither of which is capable of change. Florida Bible College has been one of the chief purveyors of the “free grace” teaching. The following is taken from its statement of faith:

We believe a true child of God has two births: one of the flesh and the other of the Spirit. The flesh nature is neither good nor righteous. The Spiritual nature does not commit sin. This results in warfare between the Spirit and the flesh, which continues until physical death, or the return of the Lord. (The new birth cannot change in any way the flesh nature of man, but the flesh nature can be controlled and kept subdued by the new man.) (https://www.floridabiblecollege.us/what-we-believe.html).

 

Such a view would make repentance not only unnecessary but also impossible. It would involve no removal of the “stony heart” at all. The stony heart remains along with the addition of a heart of flesh. Additionally, it would make growth in grace unnecessary and impossible. The “flesh nature” cannot and will not change, and the “Spiritual nature” does not need to change. One would think the “Spiritual nature” would not even need exhortation since that nature is perfect and cannot sin. Since it is perfect, could the “Spiritual nature” desire to subdue the “flesh nature” any more than it does? The “flesh nature” cannot repent or believe; the “Spiritual nature” has done nothing for which it needs to repent. Furthermore, those who espouse the “free grace” view believe that sanctification (becoming a disciple) is a separate and optional act of the believer. In their view, every believer should become an obedient disciple but not all will. One wonders what changes within the believer when he becomes a disciple. Does the “flesh nature” improve in some way? According to their doctrine, that nature “cannot change in any way.” In their view, it is incapable of improvement. The “spirit nature” certainly cannot improve because it is perfect and sinless already.

If we perceive of faith as being in any way pleasing to God, and the Bible seems clearly to state that it is, one has to question how a being that is “neither good nor righteous,” could produce faith. Paul stated, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” How can a being that is “neither good nor righteous” ever desire that which is both good and righteous? It would seem that faith would be impossible unless some previous change had occurred in that nature. Hear C.H Spurgeon’s words, “Do not sit down and try to pump up repentance from the dry well of corrupt nature. It is contrary to the laws of mind to suppose that you can force your soul into that gracious state.”

In contrast to this view, Paul described the work of conversion as nothing less than the crucifixion of the old man. He wrote, “We know that our old self [man] has been crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). When Paul wrote about the “old man,” he referred not to a part of what we are as believers, but to everything that we were prior to conversion in union with Adam. Our pre-conversion life has been crucified with Christ. This is true not only in terms of the divine reckoning in the believer’s forensic union with Christ. That is, this is not only true in the accomplishment of redemption but also in terms of the application of Christ’s death in the believer’s conversion. The purpose of this crucifixion is stated clearly. It was “. . .in order that the body of sin might be rendered inoperative, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” For this reason, he has stated that we who have died to sin, can no longer go on living in it. We should not think that Paul was drawing a contrast between the body as evil and the spirit as good. Such a dualistic idea is nowhere to be found in his theology. Instead, he was speaking of the body [and its members] as the instrument that is often employed by sin as its weapon.

Paul was not describing an action a believer must perform, but an action that God has performed that will inevitably and invariably affect the believer’s actions. Conversion is God’s work. There is not a single command in the first ten verses of this chapter. Instead, Paul was describing the work God has accomplished in uniting the believer with Christ. There is no “ought to” in these verse. God has liberated the believer from the reign of sin and death, transferred him into a new realm and placed him under a new reign. He does not say, “We who have died to sin ought not to continue in sin.” Instead, he asks quite emphatically, “How shall we who have died to sin, go on living any longer in it” (v. 2)? If believers commit sin, it is not because we are being held captive to it. We will only commit acts of sin if we willingly yield our members to the temptation to do so. In verses eleven through thirteen, Paul did not exhort believers to stop being slaves. Instead, his exhortation is clear. We should stop acting like slaves since we have been emancipated from sin’s bondage. There is a tendency for those who have been set free from slavery to continue to act like slaves. Paul’s exhortation “Therefore, do not allow sin to reign in your mortal bodies,” was simply the exhortation necessary for the implementation of their freedom from sin’s bondage. He followed this exhortation with the assurance that if we are true believers “Sin will not have dominion over us, because we are not under law but under grace” (v.14).

What is Repentance?

It might be helpful at the outset to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism answer to this question.  In answer to the question, “What is repentance unto life?” the Catechism answers, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.” A thorough understanding of the component parts of this definition will go a long way in enabling us to understand what the biblical writers meant when they used the word “repentance.” Consider the following four aspects of this definition. It teaches that repentance is 1. a saving grace which results from an understanding that we have strayed from God’s way (“out of a true sense of his sin. . ., with grief and hatred of his sin”). 2. It is encouraged by an understanding of God’s promise to pardon those who return (“an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ”). 3. It involves a return to God (“turn from it to God”). 4. It involves a heart-felt desire and purpose of heart to obey God’s commandments in the future (“with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience”).

It is important to understand that nothing in this definition speaks of the sinner doing anything to merit God’s favor. Like the lost son in the pig-pen, he feels no sense of worthiness. His only hope is his “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.”

It is impossible to say whether faith is prior to repentance or visa versa. John Murray has suggested that not only is this question impossible to answer but it is unnecessary that we answer it since “the faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance” (Murray, 1955, 113). The interplay between faith and repentance is intriguing. Embedded in this definition is a clear statement about the mercy of God in Christ.  The sinner does not turn back to God’s way primarily because he fears God will damn him if he does not, but because he becomes convinced that God’s promise of pardon is reliable.  Consider the words of C. H. Spurgeon,

While I regarded God as a tyrant, I thought sin a trifle. But when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought that God was hard, I found it easy to sin. But when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could have rebelled against One who loved me so and sought my good (C. H. Spurgeon, # 2419).

Misconceptions about Repentance

There are many misconceptions about the nature of repentance. There are also many faulty ideas about what “Lordship preachers” teach about it. For this reason, I would like to consider a few of the ideas we must exclude when we teach the biblical command to repent.

 

  1. Repentance is not, in itself, sorrow for sin. When people hear the term “repentance” they often think about feeling sorrow for some sin they have committed, but repentance is not, in itself, sorrow for sin. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul mentioned two different kinds of sorrow. He wrote, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” There is little doubt that Judas regretted his decision to betray Jesus into the hands of sinners, but there is no evidence of true repentance. There is no doubt a connection between the sorrow for sin that God effects in the sinner’s heart and his resolve to return to the Father’s house, but repentance goes beyond sorrow.

 

  1. Repentance is not a promise to stop sinning in exchange for which God will grant a person eternal life. Repentance does not involve striking a bargain or contract with God in which the sinner promises to stop sinning if God will grant him eternal life. God would never enter such a contract since he knows full well that a sinner does not exist who could fulfill the terms of such a contact. Additionally, sinners who have been taught by God’s Spirit the depths of their own guilt and sinful corruption understand that they are unable to “rid their souls of one dark blot.”

 

  1. Repentance is not penance. The gospel summons to repentance is not a call to self-flagellation or a call to make reparations for our misdeeds. We must never give sinners the idea that they must clean up their lives before they can return to the Father’s house. The is no reason to believe the prodigal bathed and changed his clothes before he returned home. There was no thought of making himself worthy of the father’s acceptance. Repentance is not leaving our sins behind so God will accept us; it is bringing our sin to him so that he might break its chains and set us free. William Bates wrote, “The saints who now reign in glory, were not men who lived in the perfection of holiness here below; but repenting, believing sinners, who are washed white in the blood of the Lamb” (Bates, 1832, 216).

 

  1. Repentance is not a work that merits God’s favor. Repentance is no more meritorious than is faith. Just as the Bible never tells us that sinners are justified before God on account of our faith, so it never tells us we will be forgiven because we have produced enough evidence of leaving our sins that we merit pardon. In answer to the question raised by the title of his book, How Shall I Go to God? Horatius Bonar wrote, “It is with our sins that we go to God—for we have nothing else to go with that we can call our own” (Bonar, 1977, 1). There is no merit the sinner can plead apart from the merit of Jesus Christ.

 

  1. Repentance is not a work a sinner must perform before he can return to God; it is a change of mind that produces a return to God. Isaiah wrote, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts and let him return unto the Lord. . . (Isaiah 55:7).” As Paul stood before King Agrippa, he made it clear the commission Jesus had given him involved more than the proffer of pardon. Consider his words— “[I] declared . . . that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20). I want to consider the entire context of this verse later in the chapter, but for now it should be clear that repentance produces a change in one’s behavior.

When we engage in evangelism, it is essential to remember that we are not approaching people who are inclined toward God or even neutral toward him. Instead, we are presenting his terms of peace to obdurate and recalcitrant rebels who are hostile toward him and prefer to continue in their own sinful life-styles. The Scripture describes such rebels as “those who are out of the way [misled, deceived, astray]” (Heb. 5:2), “. . .turned to his own way. . .” (Isa. 53:6), “sheep going astray” (1 Pet. 2:25). In describing the salvation of such rebels, Peter wrote, “But [he used a strong adversative] you have been returned to the shepherd. . .” Any message that proclaims a supposed “salvation” that pardons rebels and straying sheep without returning them to the Shepherd is a counterfeit gospel.

 

New Testament Words for Repentance

New Testament writers used two words that are translated “repent” or “repentance” in our English versions. The first is μετανοέω (verb) repent μετἀνοια (noun) repentance. It simply means a change of mind or heart.

The second is μεταμέλομαι. It is used for a feeling of regret that one feels after and act has been performed. It can mean to be sorry for a deed or attitude. Judas regretted his betrayal of Jesus after the deed had been done.

The issue between so-called Free Grace teachers and so-called Lordship teachers relative to the meaning of repentance does not revolve around the lexical meaning of the word. Both agree that the word μετἀνοια (metanoia) means a change of mind or heart. The issue concerns the arbitrary limitation of its meaning to a change of mind about Christ. Such a limitation would make repentance synonymous with faith. Yet, there seems to be no effort on the part of those who hold to the “free grace” position to justify that arbitrary limitation. They simply assume it to be valid. Even if the word metanoia had never occurred in the Scripture, it would be clear that God’s gospel purpose is to turn sinners from their own ungodly way back into his way.

A Universal Change of Mind

God’s work of regeneration causes a universal change of mind or heart. When a person repents, there are at least six matters about which he changes him mind. Repentance is a change of mind about God, about oneself, about sin, about merit, about Christ and about obedience to God. “Conversion turns the balance of the judgment, so that God and His glory outweigh all carnal and worldly interests” (Alleine, 1989, 13).

A Change of Mind about God

Sinful rebels will never trust God’s promise of pardon and restoration as long as they continue to have wrong thoughts about him. It is for this reason the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. . .” (Isa. 55:7). Sinners may harbor any number of wrong thoughts about God that will keep them from returning to his way. Perhaps they think that he is a tottering old grandfather in the sky who wishes them well no matter what they do. Maybe they think he is a wicked tyrant whose design is to spoil all their fun. It could be they think he can be no more merciful and compassionate in forgiving them than they are in forgiving their enemies. As long as sinners harbor wrong thoughts about God, they will, like Adam and Eve, seek to hide their sinful nakedness with the fig leaves of human ingenuity.

No wonder Paul described the purpose of his ministry as he did. Consider his description of the life long process that begins with initial repentance. His aim was to cast down imaginations and every high thing [pretension] that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (see-2 Cor. 10:5).

A Change of Mind about Oneself

When God makes himself known as he does in the gospel and when he causes the light of his glory to shine into the hearts of dead sinners, they will inevitably begin to think differently about themselves.  Consider Job’s words. He said to the Lord, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen of you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5). When Isaiah beheld the beatific vision of Jehovah in his glory, his response was “Woe to me! I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5).

 

Consider this matter specifically as it relates to God’s work of regeneration. In Ezekiel 36:25-27, Jehovah makes the well-known promise to cleanse and renew his elect people by removing hearts of stone, replacing them with hearts of flesh, putting a new spirit [disposition] in them, and putting his Spirit in them. One of the results of that divine work is self loathing because of sin. “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations” (Ezek.36:31).

If the message we have heard causes us to feel good about ourselves and what we can do instead of making us feel good about the Savior and what he has done and is doing, it is a substitute product that will have no saving effect. “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” will be the cry of every repentant sinner.

A Change of Mind about Sin

Peter told the Jews to whom he was preaching “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26). God’s salvation is salvation from sin. There can be no turning to light without turning from darkness. There can be no turning to God without turning from the power of Satan. Consider Paul’s words as he stood before King Agrippa.

And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance (Acts 26: 15-20).

There can be no turning to God without turning from idols (see-1 Thess. 1:9), and there can be no outward turning from sin without a radical change of mind and purpose. Joseph Alleine wrote the following about the change in the sinner’s mind that occurs in conversion.

Before conversion he had light thoughts of sin.  He cherished it in his bosom, as Uriah his lamb; he nourished it up, and it grew up together with him; it did eat, as it were, of his own plate, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him as a sweet daughter. But when God opens his eyes by conversion, he throws it away with abhorrence, as a man would a loathsome toad, which in the dark he had hugged fast in his bosom, and thought it had been some pretty and harmless bird. When a man is savingly changed, he is deeply convinced not only of the danger but the defilement of sin; and O, how earnest is he with God to be purified!  He loathes himself for his sins. He runs to Christ, and casts himself into the fountain set open for him and for uncleanness. If he falls into sin, what a stir is there to get all clean again!  He has no rest until he flees to the Word, and washes and rubs and rinses in the infinite fountain, laboring to cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit. The sound convert is heartily engaged against sin.  He struggles with it, he wars against it; he is too often foiled—but he will never yield the cause, nor lay down the weapons, while he has breath in his body. He will make no peace; he will give no quarter. He can forgive his other enemies, he can pity them and pray for them; but here he is implacable, here he is set upon their extermination. He hunts as it were for the precious life; his eye shall not pity, his hand shall not spare, though it be a right hand or a right eye. Be it a gainful sin,  most delightful  to  his nature or  the support of  his esteem  with  worldly friends—yet he will  rather  throw  his gain down  into  the gutter, see his credit fail, or  the  flower  of  his pleasure  wither  in his hand—than he will  allow  himself  in  any known way of  sin.  He will grant no indulgence, he will give  no  toleration.  He draws upon sin wherever he meets it, and frowns upon it with this unwelcome salute, ’Have I  found you,  O  my enemy!’ (Alleine, 1989, 18-19)

A Change of Mind about Merit

Perhaps the classic New Testament passage that deals with merit before God is Philippians, chapter three. In the first few verses of that chapter, Paul warns his readers of a group know as Judaizers. These folks claimed to have recognized Jesus as the Messiah but insisted that circumcision and adherence to Mosaic Law were necessary to justify sinners [in this case, especially Gentiles] before God. Paul refers to these people as dogs of the street and as members of the mutilation party. He basically challenged them to a boasting contest and states that if anyone had a reason to boast about what sinful humanity is able to accomplish, he had more reason than they. He then followed that assertion with a list of virtues in which he had trusted to merit God’s smile. John Blanchard, in his book Right with God, suggested that Paul had trusted in four factors to make him right with God. He had received the right ritual— “Circumcised the eighth day.”  He was a member of the right race— “Of the people of Israel, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” He was respectableOf the tribe of Benjamin. He was religious— “regarding the law, a Pharisee.” To these four, I would add that he was rigorous— “concerning zeal, persecuting the church, and he was righteous as far as external obedience to the law was concerned— “As for legalistic righteousness, blameless.”

Prior to his conversion, Paul had trusted in these qualities to merit God’s favor. He had regarded them as a “gain” in that regard. “But those things I considered to be a gain. . .” After God’s grace became operative in his heart, his attitude toward these assets was completely and continuously different. Not only did he come to consider these matters as a complete loss in terms of his standing before God, but went on counting them as loss, even to the extent that he considered them as refuse. He wrote, “. . . I have considered [those assets] to be one big loss and I go on considering them as a loss. . .and I consider them as rubbish. . .”

A Change of Mind about Christ

Before God produces repentance in a sinner’s heart, there is, for him, no form nor comeliness, no beauty in Christ that he should desire him. He despises and rejects him as an imposter. To him, the gospel is foolishness and he does not wish to come to him that he might have life (see Isa. 53:2-3; 1 Cor. 1:18; John 5:39-40). But, when God moves on his heart by the power of renewing grace his entire view of Christ is altered. Christ to him is now altogether lovely, the most handsome of the sons of men; he stands head and should among ten thousand others (see Song of Solomon 5: 10,16; Psa. 45:2). There is sufficient beauty in him to render him the desire of every nation (see Haggai 2:7). The believer wishes to say to everyone he meets, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psa. 34:8).

A Change of Mind about Obedience to God

Prior to conversion, the sinner’s hostility toward God was manifested in his obstinate refusal to subject himself to God’s law (see Rom. 8:7). He was led captive by the cruel prince to whom he had willingly yielded himself and all his members. He lived consistently according to the course of this dark world (see Eph. 2:2). He delighted in the darkness of his dungeon, and embraced sin’s shackles that held him captive as if they were diamond studded jewelry. His voice could be heard among the servants that cried out “We will not have this man to reign over us” (see Luke 19:14).

Once converted, there is one goal to which he presses. It is now his all-consuming desire to lay hold of that for which God has laid hold of him. He presses toward to mark and will not be satisfied until the victor’s laurel crowns his brow (see Phil. 3:12-14). I quote again from Joseph Alleine’s classic work on conversion. He wrote concerning the genuine convert,

He takes not holiness as the stomach does the loathed medicine, which a man will take rather than die—but as the hungry man does his beloved food. No time passes so sweetly with him, when he is himself, as that which he spends in the exercises of holiness. These are both his nutriment and element, the desire of his eyes and the joy of his heart (Alleine, 1989, 14).

This is not to suggest that any believer walks in perfect obedience to Christ, or that his halting obedience forms any part of the foundation of his righteous standing before God. It simply means that the object of his delight has changed. Whereas prior to conversion sin was his primary pursuit, now God’s glory is his chief pursuit and obedience to his revealed will is the jewel that he highly treasures. He can say with John Newton,

In evil long I took delight,

Unawed by shame or fear,

Till a new object struck my sight,

And stopped my wild career.

Such is the nature of true repentance. God’s basic terms of reconciliation and peace have not changed since Isaiah wrote, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6-7). I have provided a fuller list of verses dealing with repentance in chapter four of this work.

What is Faith?

In addition to the words translated “faith,” “believe,” “trust,” and “confidence,” Jesus used several different terms to express the idea of faith in him. The following are some of them: 1. Come to me, 2. Eat my flesh and drink my blood, 3. Come to me and drink, 4. Hear my voice, 5. Follow me, 6. Know me. Paul also speaks of “calling on the Lord’s name” as an act of faith.

The New Testament writers also used the following words to express faith, confidence or persuasion. Πίστις–pistis (noun) faith, confidence, πιστέυω pisteuo (verb) believe, trust, have confidence, πείθω peitho to pursuade, obey–Paul used the word in the perfect tense in the sense of pursuaded or confident. John used the word in the negative form (ἀπειθέω—disobeying, not confiding in) in John 3:36 in contrast to believing.

When we think of the biblical command to believe the gospel, whatever terms may be used for that faith, we must never think in terms of a decision we make that is our contribution to the work of salvation or that in any way completes God’s saving work. The Bible does not teach that sinners are justified before God “by faith” or “on account of faith.” It teaches that we are justified through faith. In truth, it is not accurate to say sinners are justified by faith or even by faith in Christ. It is not faith that justifies but Christ who justifies through faith.

The Nature of Faith

Faith is more than a decision. It is more than a knowledge of and an assent to certain biblical propositions. I am not suggesting that such propositions are not essential to faith but that intellectual assent is not, in itself, what the biblical writers meant when they wrote about faith. All genuine faith involves three elements. There must be comprehension of truth, conviction that it is true and that its provisions correspond to our deepest needs, and there must be confidence in the one whose truth it is.

Comprehension

Though faith involves more than comprehension of biblical truth, it cannot exist where there is no biblical understanding. How can I trust someone of whom I know nothing? Why would I trust a person to deliver me from a predicament of which I am unaware? The gospel apprises us of such information before it calls on us to believe. I must first believe that certain matters are true before I can believe in or into Christ. Though it is not necessary to know everything the Bible teaches in order to become a believer, a person must comprehend certain basic facts about the nature of God, the nature of sin, the nature of salvation, and the nature of Christ’s person, work, and his session at the Father’s right hand as the embodiment of the saving merit he has accomplished once and for all.

Conviction

Not only must one understand certain biblical truth proposition, but he must be convicted and convinced that they are true. Additionally, having been convinced of their truthfulness he must embrace them as truth. The more an unregenerate man knows of biblical truth, the more intensely he will hate it. The more sinners understand of God’s sovereign reign, the more they will gnash their teeth in defiance of him. An unconverted man may give mental assent to the idea that God’s Word declares him to be a sinner and that he can be forgiven by grace, but such is not the faith required by the gospel.

Faith also requires a conviction that God’s grand work of redeeming sinners directly corresponds to our deep needs as mendicant rebels against God. John states in his Gospel that his purpose in writing is that his readers might believe [or go on believing] that Jesus is God’s Anointed One. Throughout that Gospel he has recorded several of Jesus’ statements about who he is and what he is in his capacity as the Messianic redeemer. Faith’s proper response should be clear and in clear correspondence to that revelation and others like it. In terms of his spiritual needs the awakened sinner says the following:

  • I am a spiritually thirsty vagabond wandering in an arid and parched desert, but Jesus gives abundant and ever-flowing water (see John 4:10-14; 7:37-39).
  • I am a starving man surrounded by beggars, but Jesus is the bread of life, the true bread that came down God out of heaven (see John 6:31-32).
  • I am groping in spiritual darkness, but Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12).
  • I am a blind beggar sitting in the shadow of death, but Jesus can give me sight (John 9:6-8).
  • I am a wandering sheep, but Jesus is the good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11-14).
  • I am alienated from God, but Jesus is the door (John 10:7).
  • I am dead in trespasses and sins, but Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25; 14:6).
  • I am lost, but Jesus is the way (John 14:6).
  • I am ignorant, but Jesus is the truth (14:6).
  • I am a barren and withered branch that cannot bring forth fruit to the glory of God, but Jesus is the true vine; united to him I can produce abundant fruit to God’s glory (John 15:1).

In short, faith sees in Jesus God’s abundant provision to meet the sinner’s deepest needs.

Confidence

Finally, faith is confidence in Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient Savior and confidence in God that he will be faithful to pardon us for Jesus’ sake. Faith is clearly the belief that all the gospel’s pronouncements are true, but it is more than that. It is faith in, on and into Christ. It is through faith that sinners are united to Christ in whom they are blessed with every spiritual blessing. In this way, all the virtue of his saving work becomes ours.

It is in union with him that God pours his unsearchable riches into the empty hand of faith. John Murray wrote,

. . .the essence of saving faith is to bring the sinner lost and dead in trespasses and sins into direct personal contact with the Saviour himself, contact which is nothing less than that of self-commitment to him in all the glory of his person and perfection of his work as he is freely and fully offered in the gospel (Murray, 1955, 112).

Faith is the transference of the sinner’s confidence in himself and in his best efforts to Christ in all his fullness as the all-sufficient Savior. It would be difficult to find a clearer expression of this truth than we find in A. Toplady’s well known hymn, “Rock of Ages.” He wrote,

Nothing in my hand I bring;

Simply to thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to thee for dress;

Helpless, look to thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die.

 

Characteristics of Faith

I would like to mention and briefly comment on the characteristics of genuine faith as the biblical writers present them to us. Jesus clearly distinguished between a mere historical faith that was prompted by what people saw and the faith of God’s elect (see–John 2:23-25). Though we do not know what is in people’s hearts as he did, we can examine our own hearts to discern whether our faith matches the biblical criteria. If, for example, our faith does not resemble the faith of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and that of those believers about whom we read in the Scriptures, we have no reason to believe it is the sort of faith that unites sinners to Christ.

  • Faith rests on the naked promises of God in the face of circumstances that appear impossible and hopeless. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope [confident assurance] believed, and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him. . . (Rom. 4:18; see also v. 17 “as it is written,” v. 20,”the promise of God,” v. 21 “what he had promised” as well as similar expressions throughout Hebrews, chapter eleven). To expect faith to be begotten in the stony hearts of sinful rebels is as “contrary to hope” as the conception of an heir in the barren womb of Sarah.  Jesus said, “with men, it [salvation] is impossible” (Matt. 19:26).
  • Faith faces head on the reality of the impossible. “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was a good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Rom. 4:19).
  • Faith is strengthened in giving glory to God. “He was strengthened in his faith as he gave glory to God” Rom. 4:20). To give glory to God is not to in any way augment his glorious character; it is to ascribe to him the glorious attributes he has revealed to us in his Word. As we worship him in this way, our faith in him and in his promises is strengthened.
  • Faith is the persuasion that God is faithful and able to do what he has promised. “. . . being fully persuades that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:21).
  • Faith looks away from itself; it has no merit of its own. Abraham’s faith did not rest on any ability he possessed or on his faith in God’s ability. Instead, it rested on God’s faithfulness and ability to accomplish what he had promised. Faith is never faith in faith. Any “faith” that rejoices in itself is not the faith that unites sinners to Christ.
  • Faith excludes boasting in ourselves, in our obedience, or in our “decision.” “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded [it has been shut out once and for all]. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith” (Rom. 3:27).
  • Faith promotes glorying/boasting in the Lord. “He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31; see also Rom. 5:2, 11; 15:17; 1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 6:14).
  • Faith is always empty handed, but looks to the fullness of Christ. “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ. . . (Phil. 3:9). Donald Macleod has written, “Our faith needs a solid rock. It cannot itself be that rock. . .Faith cannot look to faith or to repentance, or love or obedience. Scarcely conscious of itself, it can look only to the Lord our Righteousness, and to his one great all-accomplishing and all-securing sacrifice (Gibson, 2013, 433).
  • Faith perseveres. It is striking to read in Hebrews chapter eleven, “These all died in faith” (Heb. 11:13). That is to say, “All of these were still living by faith when they died.” When we consider that the writer’s purpose in this chapter was to illustrate and explicate the nature of faith, this statement becomes very significant. He had ended the previous chapter by stating that we [true believers] are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed but of those who go on believing to the saving of the soul (10:39). This has been his emphasis throughout this book. Consider his words in chapter three, verse fourteen where he wrote, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had a first.” There is no suggestion here that those who have been truly justified in union with Christ are able to lose their right standing before God and be lost. This is simply a warning that we should never imagine that we have been united to Christ by faith if the confidence we had at the beginning does not continue. This does not mean that believers must struggle to maintain their initial level of faith. We did not struggle to obtain this confidence and we do not need to struggle to maintain it. Though the responsibility is ours to continue believing, it is the indwelling Spirit who maintains genuine faith.

 

It should not escape our attention that when Jesus described faith as “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” (see John 6:54), not only did he use the present tense [signifying continuing action] as was his custom in describing genuine faith, but he used a word [τρώγω] that was used of munching, nibbling, grazing and in the present tense indicates a continuing appropriation. The idea of a faith that was a mere temporary assent to propositional truth was foreign to the apostolic mind.

  • Faith provokes the believer to action. As one reads the so called faith chapter (Hebrews 11) it becomes clear that the writer has a much to say about works/obedience as he does about faith. For example, “By faith Noah . . .built an ark” (v. 7). “By faith Abraham. . .obeyed” (v. 8). Such is always the case with genuine faith. A faith that does not act is not biblical faith.

 

The apostle Paul made it very clear that “Faith works by love” (Gal. 5:6). Since, in this life, our faith will never be perfect, the obedience that is prompted by it will never be perfect, but any “faith” that leaves a person indifferent to the commandments of Christ, is not the faith that flows from having been born again.

The Warrant of Faith

One issue that has direct bearing on our presentation of the gospel concerns the warrant of faith. What must sinners know before they rest on Christ for salvation? How can they be assured that God is willing to pardon them and that if they embrace God’s good news, he will receive them? Perhaps it is best to consider this issue negatively before we answer it positively. There are points of truth with which sinners do not need to concern themselves in order to be assured that God will receive them. Though we have considered this issue in chapter five of this work in regard to the free offer of the gospel, I would like to make a few additional comments in reference to the warrant of faith.

We do not proclaim the gospel to sinners as elect sinners, or effectually called sinners or to sinners for whom Christ died. None of this information is necessary as the warrant of faith. As we have seen, there is no evidence in the inspired record of early evangelism that any preacher assured unrepentant sinners indiscriminately that Jesus died for them. That is information that rebels do not need to be concerned about. No New Testament evangelist ever suggested that if sinners could show evidence of their divine call to salvation they would be warranted to embrace Christ in faith. We do not limit the gospel invitation to those who can give evidence that God has chosen them for salvation. Our message is directed to guilty rebels who have persisted in pursuing their own sinful delights contrary to the revealed will of their Creator.

In Peter’s second Epistle, he exhorted his readers to make sure for themselves of their calling and election (See 2 Pet. 1:10). His use of the middle voice indicates that he was not instructing them to make these acts of God any more certain than they are. Instead, he was telling them to make sure for themselves that they are among those whom God has called and chosen. It was not without reason that he phrased this exhortation to his readers as he did. One might have expected “election and calling” since election is logically and chronologically prior to calling, but he had something else in mind. He was concerned with the order in which a person can discover and make sure for himself whether he is among those God has chosen. Such knowledge is not directly available to sinners. I cannot know that God has chosen me and that Jesus has redeemed me in accordance with that divine plan (See John 6:38) without first knowing that he has called me according to his electing purpose. I cannot know that he has effectually called me unless I have a credible faith in Christ. To rest on Christ as he is offered in the gospel, sinners do not need to know anything about these secret things that belong to the Lord.

There are two important and clearly revealed truths that should give believing sinners confidence that God will pardon and receive them. The first is God’s universal proffer of mercy; the second is the fitness and fullness of Christ the exalted Savior.

God’s universal proffer of mercy

Sinners need nothing other than God’s universal proffer of mercy in Christ to assure them that he will receive them if they return and receive his offer. Paul wrote, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . .” (1 Tim. 1:15). The invitation is to everyone who wishes to come (See Rev. 22:17). The offer is to people of every nation. It is to people of every condition. It is to the immoral as well as to the moral. It is to the poor as well as to the rich. It is to the uninfluential as well as to the powerful. There is but one stipulation. One must come as an empty handed sinner.

 

The fitness and fullness of Christ

Sinners should never think of faith in Christ as a decision that enables Jesus to be our Savior. He is no pandering politician who must stand in helpless silence while the electorate “decides for [or against] him.” He sits in sovereign majesty on an unshakable throne as the quintessence of saving virtue and power. Not only is he a willing Savior, he is also an able Savior. The gospel presents him in all his regal majesty and in the fullness of his saving power. He is the one who is enthroned as both Lord and Christ. Sinners will either bow before his holy throne and “kiss the Son,” or they will perish in their sinful way (see Psalm 2:12).

The gospel authorizes sinners to approach him in our emptiness, helplessness, and brokenness to receive of his fullness and fitness as our all-sufficient Savior. Additionally, it promises that all who come to him in this way will receive of his fullness. John wrote, “. . .out of his fullness we have all received and grace on top of grace” (John 1:16). Emptiness is the only requirement for coming to him. All the fitness and fullness is his. John Murray wrote,

The sufficiency of his saviorhood rest upon the work he accomplished once for all when he died upon the cross and rose again in triumphant power. But it resides in the efficacy and perfection of his continued activity at the right hand of God (italics mine). . .When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Saviour he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is presented to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect (Murray, 1955, 109).

Conclusion

Repentance and faith are more than a change of mind about Christ and a temporary, mental assent to a list of biblical propositions.  If we believe our “faith” grows out of a corrupt nature that is hostile toward God and aided by some sort of prevenient but ineffectual grace, it may be consistent to entertain such a superficial view of faith and repentance, but we cannot do so if we understand that both faith and repentance result from God’s renewing work. This is true not only of the initial acts of faith and repentance but also of their ongoing activity. Our continued obedient responses to God’s commands result from God’s ongoing work in our hearts.

Repentance is a purpose of heart to leave behind both our course of sinful rebellion against God and the very best acts of  obedience we might have offered him as the ground of our acceptance. Faith is an empty handed reception of Christ as the personification of all the goodness, righteousness and merit that poor sinners need.

 

 

03
Feb
16

CALVINISTIC EVANGELISM–CHAPTER FOURTEEN–VICTORIOUS REDEMPTION (PART TWO)

Exegetical Evidence Continued

Propitiation Vindicates God’s Righteousness (Romans 3:24-26)

 

In the first two and a half chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, Paul has labored to demonstrate the universal need for justification before God. His argument has emphasized the vast gulf that exists between God’s unsullied holiness and unbending righteousness and the sinner’s rebellious depravity and aggravated guilt. He has distilled this argument succinctly in chapter one, verse eighteen. He wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold [hold down or suppress] the truth in unrighteousness.” This verse reveals to us not only the sinner’s failure to live in conformity to God’s law but also his rebellious suppression of God’s truth wherever and in whatever way that truth is revealed (See chapter three and seventeen of this book for a fuller treatment of this passage). He has concluded the entire section by quoting or alluding to a number of Old Testament passages that assert that there is not even one member of Adam’s fallen race that is righteous in God’s holy sight.  All, both Jews and Gentiles are under sin (3:9), “. . .all sinned and are falling short of God’s glory” (3:23). Yet, Paul boldly states that believers have been justified freely by grace (3:24). The logical question that should leap to everyone’s mind, at this point, concerns the essential character of God himself. Does God’s absolute sovereignty over his creation allow him simply to overlook his creatures’ persistent violations of his righteous standard, or must even God act in keeping with his standard of righteousness? What are we to make of texts like Exodus 34:6 and Nahum 1:3 that tell us that God will by no means clear the guilty? Is that not precisely what he has done in justifying the ungodly (Rom. 4:5)? How could God have declared Abraham, David, and a multitude of other believers during the Old Testament period righteous in his sight when they were clearly guilty of grievous violations of his holy law? This was the great question that plagued C. H. Spurgeon while he was in the conversion process. He wrote, “I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly. But then there came the question, “How could God be just, and yet justify me who had been so guilty” (Spurgeon, n.d., 16-17)?  It is just at this point that the gospel preacher must pour the healing balm of the gospel into those gaping and festering wounds that have been left by the ravages of sin. It is significant that Paul did not broach this issue until he had identified his readers as those who had been “justified freely by his grace.” It is at this point, and not before, that he begins to explain what God was accomplishing in setting forth his Son [publicly placarding him] as a satisfaction of his wrath [propitiation] in his blood, through faith. God intended Christ’s redemptive work not merely to form the basis for the sinner’s justification, but to publicly vindicate his own righteousness in declaring sinners to be righteous. Paul’s argument was that God had pardoned [had passed over without punishing them with the full penalty they deserved] the sins of many who lived during the Old Testament period without any visible basis for doing so righteously. The good news Paul preached was that God has thoroughly satisfied his own rigorous demands of strict justice, so that he might be both just and justifier. It would be unrighteous of God and unsatisfying to the awakened sinner’s conscience for him to justify sinners without his demands having been satisfied.  In commenting on the peaceful relationship the justified enjoy with God, Charles Hodge wrote,

 

Peace is not the result of mere gratuitous forgiveness, but of justification, of a reconciliation founded upon atonement. The enlightened conscience is never satisfied until it sees that God can be just in justifying the ungodly; that sin has been punished, the justice of God satisfied, his law honored and vindicated. It is when he thus sees justice and mercy embracing each other, that the believer has that peace which passes all understanding; that sweet quiet of the soul in which deep humility, in view of personal unworthiness, is mingled with the warmest gratitude to that Savior by whose blood God’s justice has been satisfied, and conscience appeased (Hodge, 1953, 206).

 

I have offered a brief explanation of this passage primarily to show the timing of the gospel proclamation, “Christ died for you/us.” This message is not intended for those who prefer their sin over righteousness, but for those who have been brought, by grace, to embrace Christ in the free offer of the gospel.

 

In addition to this, there are several other observations I would like to make before leaving this passage. I do not intend to elaborate on these points, but simply state them in the form of questions/propositions and leave it to you to draw conclusions. Consider the following:

 

  1. The phrase “sins that are past” does not refer to pre-conversion sins, but to sins committed prior to the dawning of the New Covenant era.
  2. Christ’s work of propitiation mentioned here related not to those who were yet to be born and to whom this work would either be appropriated by libertarian free will or applied by effectual calling, rendering it effectual for those to whom it was applied or not applied at all if they continued in unbelief. For those about whom Paul speaks in this passage, justification [or non-imputation of sins] had already occurred before Jesus completed the work of propitiation. In this case, the work could not be considered “potential” since the application [or non-application] had occurred before the propitiation was made.
  3. If God’s righteous requirements needed to be met in the work of propitiation in order for him to be just in justifying sinners, what would be required for him to be righteous in condemning sinners for whom Jesus had fully satisfied God’s righteous wrath toward them? For the Arminian/Amyraldian, this question can only be answered by supplying the word “potential” before the word propitiation, but unfortunately for them, the phrase “potential propitiation” never occurs in Scripture.
  4. It should be clear that the propitiation in view was offered for a particular purpose in reference to “the sins God passed over” without the full punishment they deserved. There is nothing mentioned in this passage about any work of satisfying God’s wrath on behalf of those whose sins he had not passed over. Are we to believe God intended Jesus’ work of propitiation to satisfy his wrath on behalf of those who had already perished in pagan darkness and unbelief when he died? Sound reason would dictate that God did not intend the propitiatory work of Christ to satisfy his wrath for those who had already died and were facing condemnation in judgment.

 

Objective Reconciliation While We Were Enemies (Romans 5:1-12)

 

In the entire context of Romans five through eight, Paul is driving home a single point. That point is that God will certainly bring all his justified people to glory.  If God has justified us, he will certainly glorify us. Paul has set forth this theme by saying “we rejoice in hope [confident assurance] of the glory of God” (5:2). Consider the broad outline of this passage. We are certain to be glorified because:

I.We have a new relationship with God (5:1-11).

II.We have a new representative before God (5:12-19).

III.We are under a new reign (5:20-21).

Parenthesis in which Paul considers four objections answered by “May it never be!” (μἠ γἐνοιτο) (6:1-7:25)
A.  Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound 6:1-14)?

B.  Shall we continue in sin because we are not under law but under grace (6:15-7:6)?

C.  What shall we say? Is the Law Sin (7:7-12)?

D.  Did that which is good [the Law] become death to me (7:13-25).?

 

IV. We are under a new rule and ruler—the ministry of the Spirit (8:1-17).

V.  Paul describes the glory that shall be and assures his readers that it is certain because we have the “first-fruits,” namely, the Holy Spirit who now helps our weaknesses (8:18-27).

VI.  We are the objects of divine resolve (8:28-30).

  • Conclusion: What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can prevail against us (8:31-39).
  1. He has delivered up his Son for us, he will certainly grant us every other gift of his grace that belongs to our salvation, including glorification (8:32).
  2. God has justified his elect ones. Who is going to successfully accuse us before the supreme court of the universe (8:33).
  3. Christ is the one who died for us, rose for us, sits at God’s right hand for us, and intercedes for us. Who will successfully condemn us (8:34).
  4. Nothing whatsoever shall separate us from Christ’s love. Through him who loves us, we are more than conquerors (8:35-39).

 

It is important that we understand to whom Romans 5:1-11 was addressed. Since we considered that issue in Chapter Two of this book, I will refer you to that chapter. Suffice it to say that when Paul made reference to “us” in this passage, he was not referring to “us human beings” but to “us believers.” His argument in these verses is that since we have a new relationship with God through Christ’s work of reconciliation, it is certain that we will be saved by his life. The entire passage speaks to us of a new relationship that God has established between himself and believers. When he wrote, “Therefore, being justified through faith, we have peace with God. . .,” he was not referring to a feeling of tranquility that results from having been forgiven. Instead, he was referring to the fact that we have now been introduced to a new standing with God, in which his holy enmity against us has come to a decisive end. His argument throughout this section of the Epistle rests on the establishment of this new relationship that God has accomplished through the death of his Son.

 

Christ’s work of reconciling sinners to God is closely related to his work of propitiation. His work of propitiation focuses our attention on the problem of God’s wrath and his gracious provision in the sacrifice of his Son to satisfy his righteous demands and quell his holy wrath. His work of reconciliation focuses our attention on the sinner’s estrangement from God and his redemptive activity in restoring sinners to a state of amity. Because of Christ work of reconciliation, believers have now become God’s friends. Paul’s argument is that if God loved us and gave his Son to reconcile us to himself when we were his enemies, he will certainly not cast us away now that we are his friends.

 

It is important that we observe several important factors in this passage before we arrive at a conclusion concerning the objects of redemptive design:

 

  1. It is into the hearts of believers alone that the Holy Spirit has abundantly poured out God’s love (v.5).
  2. The Spirit demonstrates that love in his ministry of “glorifying Christ by taking the things of Christ and showing them unto his people” (see John 16:14) by pointing us to his victorious redemptive work. The word “For” (γάρ) links verses five and six. Nothing demonstrates God’s love for his people so effectively as the fact that he has given the best that heaven could offer to die for the vilest and most recalcitrant rebel who will repent.
  3. When Paul writes about Christ dying for the ungodly, he is not concerned with the identity of those for whom he died but the nature of those for whom he died. He died not for godly people but for helpless sinners. It was while we still sinners that Christ died for us [the same people into whose hearts the Holy Spirit has poured out his love] (v.8).
  4. Justification by Christ’s blood (v. 9) is parallel to “being reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” while we were enemies. This objective work of reconciliation did not occur at the point of application, but at the point of accomplishment. At the point of application, believers were no longer at enmity against God and his holy hostility was no longer engaged against us.
  5. Reconciliation in verse ten does not refer to our putting away our unholy hostility toward God but to God putting away his holy enmity toward us. Like justification, reconciliation is an objective work of God, i.e., a work that occurs outside of us.
  6. Paul distinguishes between the objective work God has accomplished in Christ’s death (v. 10) and the subjective reception of that reconciliation “. . .through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (v.11). Those who receive the reconciliation are those and only those for whom God has objectively accomplished this work in the death of his Son.
  7. The “much more then” statements in verses nine and ten introduce an a fortiori Paul’s argument is that if God has granted us a greater gift, he will not withhold a lesser gift. If he has given his Son to die for us while we were still his enemies, he will certainly save us [in the ultimate sense of that word] from wrath through him.

 

Paul is not speaking here of a potential reconciliation but of an objective reconciliation that God accomplished in the death of his Son. His argument is not that if we have “now received the reconciliation” so that God has not only put away his holy enmity toward us but we have cast away the weapons of our rebellion against him, we are certain to be saved from wrath through him. Instead, he argues that if God loved us when we were still his enemies, he will certainly save us [glorify us] in connection with his resurrection life.

 

Based on Paul’s argument in this passage, if we insist that Jesus died for every sinner equally and in the same way, we must conclude that God will ultimately save every sinner from wrath through him. Alternately, we could conclude, as many have done, that the work of Christ did not secure the final salvation of any for whom he died. If Jesus’ death did not secure the salvation of everyone for whom he died, it did not secure the salvation of anyone for whom he died. That would be “limited atonement” indeed.

 

Paul returns to this argument in chapter eight of this Epistle where he asks, “If God is for us, who can be [prevail] against us?” He answers the question using the same greater to lesser argument.  He writes, “He that did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not, along with him [the greater gift], also graciously give us all things [the lesser gifts].” (Rom. 8:32).  The “all things” about which he writes are all things that belong to salvation, including glorification. There is not the slightest hint of potentiality here. His argument is that if God has given his Son to die for us, our final glorification has been secured. The “for us all” in this context cannot refer to all sinners without exception but to the foreknown [fore-loved], to those whom God has predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, to the called according to his purpose, to the justified etc. If we understand “us all” to refer to the entire human family, we must conclude that God has promised the enjoyment of every spiritual blessing to every person without exception.

 

Christ Our Representative Head (Romans 5:12-19)

 

Since I expounded on this passage in relation to the imputation of Adam’s sin in the chapter on “The Nature and Extent of the Sinner’s Fallen Condition,” I will simply ask you to refer to that chapter for a review of its structure and general argument. Suffice it to say that the apostle was expounding on the typical relationship that exists between Adam and Christ. Understanding that relationship is essential to understanding the absolute certainty of the believer’s glorification. The essential point of theological correspondence between Adam and Christ is that they are both divinely appointed representatives of those who are united to them by divine decree. Paul’s point in this passage was not simply to introduce the doctrine of original sin as an interesting theological exercise without any particular connection to his overall argument, but to advance his argument concerning the firm ground of the believer’s justification and the consequent certainty of his glorification. That argument is quite simple. The believer’s justification is absolutely secure and his glorification certain because neither his justification nor his glorification depends on the perfection of his obedience or the tenacity of his faith, but on the obedience to death of his representative.

 

Paul is not here setting forth the possibility of justification and ultimate glorification for all without exception but the certainty of these blessings for all represented by Christ in his obedience and death. Just as the death and destruction that have occurred as a result of Adam’s transgression are not potential in nature, so the life and blessings that have resulted from Christ’s obedience are not a mere offer of grace but grace itself. For this reason, the “all” in the first half and the “all” in the last half of verse eighteen cannot be co-extensive. The first refers to the “all” represented by Adam and the second refers to the “all” represented by Christ. Paul’s argument in these verses is that just as Adam’s transgression guaranteed the condemnation of all those he represented, so Christ’s obedience has guaranteed the justification and ultimate glorification of all those he represented. Just as it was in the act of Adam’s transgression that we (by divine decree) were condemned, so it was in the act of redemption that we were (by divine decree) objectively justified.

 

All for Whom Christ Died Will Die with Him to the Reigning Power of Sin (Rom.6:1-10)

 

In Romans six, one, Paul begins to deal with an objection to his teaching about the freeness of justification before God. He had stated that sin and guilt can never be so great that grace cannot super abound in forgiving the guilt of that sin (see Rom. 5:21). In verse one of chapter six he introduces an objection (whether real or anticipated) to this teaching. It is as follows, “What shall we say, then? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may overflow [increase]? His answer is powerful. He writes, “May it never be, for how shall we who have died to sin, go on living in it?” His teaching is this: If Christ has died for us, then we have died with him to the reign of sin over us. He does not say “If Christ has died for us, we OUGHT TO DIE with him,” but “we have died with him.”

 

Paul expressed this idea in 2 Cor. 5:14-15.  He was explaining why he lives to please Christ and does not continue to please himself. He answered, “Because the love of Christ [probably Christ’s love for him] controls us. The word translated “controls” has the idea of confining and restricting.  Christ’s love did not allow Paul to go on living for himself.  Then he wrote, “. . . we have come to this decision because if one died for all, then all died. . .” The A.V. has translated this verse differently but without any textual justification. In that version, the text reads “if one died for all then were all dead,” but the verb “died” is in the same tense in both parts of the verse. In both cases, it should be translated “died.”

 

If we insist that Jesus died for everyone without exception, then we must conclude that everyone without exception has died [or will die] with him to the reigning power of sin. This clearly is not the case.

 

 

Christ’s Work of Sacrifice and His Work of Intercession Are Inseparably Linked (Romans 8:34)

 

In Romans eight, verse thirty-four, Paul asked, “Who is he that condemns? Then answered, “It is Christ that died, who is also risen, who is even at God’s right hand, who also makes intercession for us.” It should not escape our attention that he had, in the previous verse, made reference to the absolute judicial invulnerability of God’s elect to condemnation. He wrote, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” He did not intend to deny that there are many who will rise to accuse us. Instead, he denied that anyone could be successful in an attempt secure a guilty verdict from the Supreme Ruler of the universe.

 

Sound reason would lead one to understand that the reference to “us” in verse thirty-four refers to none other than “the elect” who are the acquitted ones of verse thirty-three. In fact, the references to “us” and “we” throughout the entire passage designate believers/elect ones. Additionally, verse thirty-four states four reason why God’s elect cannot be successfully prosecuted. It is not God’s love for his elect that forms the basis for our justification before him. Instead, it was his love that moved him to accomplish the redemptive work that formed the righteous basis for our full pardon. Thus, there is a clear link between the acquittal of the “elect” in verse thirty-three and the redemptive work of Christ in verse thirty-four. If the result of Christ’s redemptive work is the justification of the elect, that consequence must have been by divine design and intention.

 

Additionally, as in other passages of the New Testament, there is here a clear link between Christ’s sacrificial death and his work of intercession. His work as our advocate involves the perpetual presentation of his redemptive work before the Father’s throne. We must never imagine that he advocates for anyone other than those for whom his propitiatory sacrifice was offered and visa versa. The writer to the Hebrews teaches the same truth but couches it in a different theological motif. He writes, not of an advocate before a court, but of a high priest before the ark of the Covenant. The blood the high priest sprinkled on the mercy seat was sprinkled for none but those for whom the sacrifice had been offered in the outer court of the Tabernacle. The work of sacrifice and the work of intercession are co-extensive. If we insist that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to redeem all without exception, we will not be able to escape the conclusion that he is also interceding for all without exception.

 

One of the favorite proof-texts of those who insist on the potential universality of Jesus’ redeeming work is 1 John two, verse two. Yet, one would think few would argue that Jesus is actually acting as an advocate for unbelievers who will finally perish in their sins. If such is the nature of his advocacy, believers need better advocate. The ground of our confidence is that “If anyone should sin, we have an Advocate with Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one, and he is the propitiation for our sins. . .” If even one of those whose case he pleads is finally lost, then all for whom he acts as advocate may be lost. And if such should prove to be the case, then all the ground of the believer’s blessed consolation has crumbled.

 

Jesus’ advocacy and his propitiatory sacrifice are inseparably linked. If we understand the phrase “whole world” to refer to every individual without exception, we cannot escape the conclusion that his advocacy will prove in the end to have been a miserable failure and can grant the believer no present solace. If Jesus is the propitiation for those who will finally perish, he will have also been their ineffectual advocate, and if they can be lost notwithstanding his best efforts on their behalf, believers have no security or ground of confidence.

 

When a person stridently contends that we must tell every sinner, “Jesus died for you,” he is insisting that we proclaim to the unconverted a message they do not need to hear. The only message they need to hear is that God has commanded them to repent and that he promises that if they do so, he will freely and abundantly pardon them. An unintended consequence will be that in proclaiming that Jesus accomplished no more for believers than for those perishing in their sins, we rob believers of the ground of their joy and consolation.

 

Our ground of exultation is that there is no one, not even God himself, who will condemn us because “It is Christ that died for us, rose for us, sits at the Father’s right hand for us and makes intercession for us.” Augustus Toplady has beautifully expressed the believer’s ground of confidence in the words of one of his great hymns: He wrote,

 

Complete atonement thou hast made,

And to the utmost farthing paid

Whate’re thy people owed;

How then can 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.

 

Universal atonement abolishes that foundation without remedy.

 

Preaching the Saving Work of Christ

 

If Jesus’ redeeming work was not intended to secure the salvation of every sinner, how can we preach the gospel freely to all without exception. To answer this question, I have paraphrased a passage from Robert Haldane’s commentary on Romans. These were his comments on Romans chapter five.

Many seem to believe if they are going to proclaim the gospel they must tell every sinner Christ died for him. Additionally, they believe that if Jesus did not die to take away the sins of every individual, they cannot preach the gospel. This is very erroneous. The gospel declared that Christ died for the guilty and that the guiltiest sinner who believes shall be saved… ‘It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ even the chief of sinners. The gospel does not tell every individual to whom we addressed it that Christ died for him. Instead, it simply tells him that if he believes, he will be saved. On this basis, we can proclaim the gospel to every sinner. It is only after a person has believed the gospel that he can know Christ died for him individually. Since the Bible reveals that whoever believes shall be saved, it is quite consistent to proclaim the gospel to all sinners and declare that they will be saved if they believe. If the guiltiest person in the human race should believe, it is an absolute certainty that he would be saved. If anyone feels he cannot proclaim the gospel freely and has difficulty calling everyone to faith unless he can say, “Jesus died for every member of the human race,” he does not clearly understand what the gospel is. It is the good news that Christ died for the guiltiest who believe, not that he died for every individual whether he should believe or not [emphasis mine]. To the truth that every person who believes shall be saved there is no exception. The only sins that will not find God’s forgiveness are those that belong to sinners who refuse to believe the gospel; if they believe, they will be saved. . ..

Some would have a problem calling sinners to believe in Christ if His redeeming work was not intended for every sinner. This is no different from the difficulty some experience when they feel restrained in calling on sinners indiscriminately to believe the gospel because they know God will never save those he has not chosen for eternal life. Here is where they go wrong. According to the commandment of the everlasting God, we are to make the gospel known to all nations for the obedience of faith. It is certain those whom God has not graciously chosen and for whom Christ did not die will never believe. These are secret things that belong to God alone. They will be made known at the proper time. . .. We are not to inquire first, either for ourselves or others, about the identity of the chosen ones or the redeemed before we determine to whom we should preach the gospel. We must preach it to all, assured that whoever believes it shall receive forgiveness. When we believe the gospel, we come to understand for ourselves that Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree. We learn that, from the beginning, God has chosen us to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.

The work of Christ is of unlimited value. The reason all are not saved by it has nothing to do with insufficient value but simply because it was not intended to redeem all. In itself it was valuable enough to take away all the sins of mankind, had that been God’s intention. If Christ’s sacrifice had not been sufficient for all, it would not have been sufficient for anyone. Every sinner who will be saved needed a redemptive act of unlimited value; no more could be required to redeem every individual. We proclaim the all-sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work to all who hear the gospel. We invite all to rely on it for pardon and acceptance. We address them as freely as if we knew God had designed it for them from all eternity. All who rely on it in saving faith shall surely experience its power and unlimited value (Haldane, 1966, 203).

Conclusion

The only reasonable conclusion one can draw from this inquiry is that the death of Christ was intended not merely to provide the possibility of salvation for sinners, but to effectually accomplish salvation for those God has chosen.  As should be clear, no true Calvinist questions the abundant sufficiency of Christ’s redeeming work. The only issue dividing evangelicals is whether his death was intended to save all, to make all savable, or effectively to secure the salvation of a multitude no man can number. Since, as I have shown, his death guaranteed freedom from the reigning power of sin, effectual intercession and final glorification for all for whom He died, we can arrive at only one conclusion. God intended Jesus’ death effectively to secure these spiritual blessings for all those, but only for those, who believe the gospel.

It is not faith in the promises of God or faith in Christ that justifies sinners before God, it is Christ who justifies, through faith. Faith does not form any part of the basis of our justification. It is not that Jesus did His part by dying, we do our part by believing, and these acts taken together turn God’s wrath away. No,

 

Jesus paid it all.

All to Him I owe;

Sin has left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

 

Haldane, Robert,  The Epistle to the Romans, (London:The Banner of Truth Trust), 1966.

Hodge, Charles, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,) 1953.

Spurgeon, C.H., All of Grace, (www.philmorgan.org), nd.

 

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