Posts Tagged ‘Easy Believism

02
Jan
19

An Examination of the Carnal Christian Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affirmations and Denials

I affirm that:

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

I deny that:

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

Hermeneutical and Exegetical Considerations

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

An Important Principle of Interpretation

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

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

Context

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

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

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

A Specific Problem

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

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

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

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

A Particular Time

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

“Saved Yet So as By Fire”

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

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

The Context

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

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

The Metaphors

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

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

We and You (One Must Know the Difference)

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

Conclusion

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

Summary

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

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

28
Mar
18

The Real Issue in Gospel Preaching

 

 

One of the great problems with modern “evangelism” is that it attempts to deal with the wrong issue. The question with which most evangelistic conversations seem to begin is “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” Then, the “mark” is told that Jesus died for everyone without exception, and if they will just believe that he died for them, they can go to heaven when they die.  Aside from the fact that no apostolic preacher ever made such statements in early New Testament evangelism, there are several fatal flaws in this approach.

 

The first problem is that it ignores the sinner’s ignorance of the nature and character of God. This is one reason the “drive by” approach to evangelism is faulty.  True evangelism cannot take place in a theological vacuum. To assure sinners that God loves them when they have no concept of that God’s character and attributes will be a futile exercise. When they learn who God is and what he demands, they may not wish to be with him in heaven for one minute, much less for eternity.

 

Additionally, it ignores the true nature of the sinner’s condition in sin and rebellion against God. I recently heard an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor explain what he called the gospel. When he spoke about the universality of sin, he said this, “You have to know that you are a sinner because you have done bad things like everyone else.”  Such statements glaze over the true problem. The psalmist understood and stated the true problem when he wrote, “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works” (Psalms 14:1). The remedy God’s redemptive work accomplishes reaches beyond the sinner’s abominable works to the sinner’s corrupt nature.  Since all the unregenerate sinner’s actions result from his corrupt nature, it is not merely that he has done wrong things but that everything he has done has been displeasing to God since all his actions have sprung from the heart of a corrupt rebel. The Scriptures tell us the prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord and the plowing of the wicked is sin.  God’s redemptive plan intends to remedy not only the sinner’s guilt but his corruption.

 

Paul understood very clearly the commission Jesus had given him.  This is what he said Jesus had sent him to do. Jesus sent him to the Jews and Gentiles “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified through faith in me [Christ]  ( See Acts 26:16-20). Does this not indicate that unless sinners are turned from darkness to light, there will be no forgiveness of sins and no spiritual inheritance?

 

Please understand this does not mean sinners must quit all their sins before Jesus will accept them. What it means is that they must understand they are so corrupt that they will never be able to break the bonds of sin’s dominion by their own efforts. If they are to be saved from their bondage and corruption, only Christ can save them. They must bring their sins to Jesus that he might break those bonds. It is the promise that they will be fully pardoned and justified when they turn to God, that gives them confidence to approach him.

 

There is not the slightest hint in the New Testament Scriptures that it is God’s purpose to exonerate sinners of their guilt but leave them in the  state of sinful corruption out of which those sins have flowed.

 

If you are interested in reading in greater detail about this issue, I would urge you to read my book, “Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit.”  It is available at http://www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver.

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.

03
Jun
16

Identifying the Authentic Gospel

There is no more important issue than the precision of our gospel presentation. We may stumble in our understanding of secondary and tertiary issues without eternal consequences, but if we err in our gospel proclamation, we not only endanger the souls of those who hear us, but we will personally encounter God’s judgment. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:8). Even a slight deviation from God’s message will be devastating. There is no margin for error.

 

Given this necessity for accuracy in gospel preaching, it is incumbent upon us that we be able to distinguish the authentic gospel from all its counterfeits. Though the modern religious world has been flooded with counterfeit messages, it is not difficult to distinguish the biblical message and the method of its propagation from the substitutes. I would like to suggest seven earmarks of the biblical gospel that will help us recognize any departure from it.

 

 

It is Built on the Foundation Laid by The Apostles

 

In his introduction to the Epistle to the Romans, Paul began with the words, “Paul, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle.” He mentions his apostleship to establish his authority, conferred on him by Christ himself, to speak with certitude about the content of God’s good news. He made it clear in the verse I quoted above that the standard against which all other “gospels” are to be measured is “the one [gospel] we preached to you.” Any departure from that message must be a counterfeit gospel. We have no right or reason to preach any message that alters their message either by addition or subtraction. He wrote to the Corinthians, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder [wise architect] and someone else is building on it. . .” (1 Cor. 3:10). That foundation is Jesus Christ, and he tells his readers there can be no other. We must be careful how we build on that foundation.  If we would know what the content of our message must be, we need only scrutinize the messages the apostles and early believers proclaimed. Their preaching must be our pattern.

 

It is God-Centered

 

The second characteristic of the biblical gospel is that it is a message about God. Paul wrote, “. . .separated to the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). This phrase “gospel of God” could be understood to mean the good news that has God as its author or the good news that has God as its subject. The difficulty is that both these meanings are true.  If we understand the phrase in the first sense, the meaning is that there would be no good news for sinners if it were not for his salvation plan and his revelation of that plan in the Scriptures. Such a plan would never have occurred to us apart from God’s revealed truth.

 

The second sense in which we could understand this phrase is that God is the one who is the focus of this good news. That is to say, it is a message that is God-centered and not man-centered. Leon Morris wrote concerning the Epistle to the Romans whose central message concerns God’s universal salvific purpose, “Romans is a ultimately a book about God: How He acted to bring salvation, how His justice is preserved, how His purposes are worked out in history, how He can be served by His people.” To say this in a different way, the gospel is not primarily about the problems that have been produced by the existence of sin. It is not primarily about making people happy or repairing their broken relationships with other people. It is not even primarily about sinners going to heaven when they die. It is about the manifestation of God’s glory in the contrivance and execution of the plan of redemption.

 

It is According to the Scriptures

 

Paul wrote concerning this gospel, “. . .which he [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). It is important for us to remember that although God’s good news as it is disclosed in the New Testament Scriptures is more fully revealed than during the Old Testament period, it is not a brand new message. It is in full accord with God’s Old Testament promises. Additionally, the gospel call in the New Testament is essentially the same as the in the Old Testament. The essential difference between them is that the New Testament Scriptures reveal the fulfillment that only existed in type and promise during the Old Testament period.  The New Testament gospel answers all the Old Testament questions regarding salvation.

 

It Concerns God’s Son

 

Paul’s continuing description of the gospel in Romans one defines the focal point of God’s good news. The gospel message concerns God’s Son in the two stages of his incarnate state. It is about his redemptive accomplishments during the period of his humiliation “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” and about his all-sufficient ability to save his people as the “Son of God with power” in his state of exaltation. It is as the enthroned conqueror that he now commands sinners to bow before his exalted throne and promises pardon based on the redemption accomplished during the period the writer to the Hebrews called “the days of his flesh.” First century preachers did not proclaim him as a Savior who would forgive our transgressions but who had no authority to rule our lives. God’s gospel does not invite sinners to kneel at the cross for forgiveness; It commands us to bow before the throne and promises that God will pardon our sins when we do.

 

It Excludes Boasting

 

God’s saving work and the gospel proclamation of that accomplishment will exclude all boasting in human ability or merit and will give all glory to God.  In 1 Corinthians 1:29-31, after having described the sort of people God has called into the fellowship of his Son, Paul assigned a reason for his method of operation. He wrote, “. . .that no flesh [human being] should boast in his presence, but it is of his [God’s] doing that you are in Christ Jesus who of God has been made unto you, wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption in order that just as it is written, ‘he that boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” Any message that leaves the sinner any reason to boast about his contribution to the work of salvation is not God’s gospel. This seems to be a theme throughout Paul’s Epistles. In Romans three, after having explained the good news that justification is through faith alone and apart from the works of the law, he asks, “Where is boasting then?” He answers, “It has been shut out once and for all.”

 

It Produces Obedience in Those Who Receive It

 

The authenticity of the message we preach can be determined by the fruit it produces. The authentic message, when rightly received, will always teach its recipients to live soberly, righteously and godly in Christ Jesus (see—Titus 2:11-14. If the message we preach does not produce the fruit of holy living we must assume it has either not been received rightly or that our message is not the authentic gospel. Paul wrote to Titus that the salvation bringing [note he does not say “the salvation offering”] grace of God, teaches us to say no to impiety, and worldly desires, and live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age (see Titus 2:11-12). God’s saving grace does not pardon sinners and then leave them in their sins.

 

The object of Paul’s apostleship was to bring about “obedience to the faith” (Rom. 1:5). It is difficult to know whether he was, in speaking of “obedience to the faith” referring to the obedience which is faith or to the obedience that results from faith. In either case, his message called for submission to Jesus’ Lordship.  Douglas Moo has written,

 

Paul’s task was to call men and women to submission to the lordship of Christ (cf. 4.b and 7b), a submission that began with conversion. This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, but which was to continue in a deepening, life-long commitment. This obedience to Christ as Lord is always closely related to faith, both as an initial, decisive step of faith and as a continuing “faith” relationship with Christ. . .obedience always involves faith, and faith always involves obedience. They should not be equated, compartmentalized, or made into separate stages of Christian experience. Paul called men and women to a faith that was always inseparable from obedience–for the Savior in whom we believe is nothing less than our Lord. . . (Moo, 1991, 44-45).

 

It Produces a Sense of Amazement and Admiration

 

If properly understood, the revelation of the biblical gospel will produce in us a sense of amazement and admiration as we contemplate God’s great salvation.  We must not miss the fact that the ultimate goal of Paul’s gospel proclamation is stated in three words in Romans chapter one verse five. Paul states that the purpose of all his evangelistic activity is “for [on behalf of] his name.” A purpose that is even higher than obedience to the faith is the glory of the Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal in all God’s salvific activity as well his purpose in creating the world is the manifestation of his own glory.

 

As he came to the close of the doctrinal section of his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul seemed to have been overwhelmed with a sense of wonder as he contemplated those great truths that no eye has seen, no ear has heard and have not entered into the heart of man. He wrote, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past tracing out” (Rom.11:33)? Having considered the depths of God’s riches in accomplishing the salvation of his people, he could only conclude that his judgments [most likely referring to his decrees] are unsearchable and his ways [most likely referring to this acts of providence in executing his predestined plan] are inscrutable. He stood amazed as he considered the profundity of the divine mind in contriving such a magnificent plan. There is no evidence of an arrogant self-sufficiency that presumes to fully comprehend God’s mind. Often those who have failed to grasp the depths of their own corruption are so bold as to question what God should have done and what he would have been unjust to have done. They feign the ability to understand his paths and even seek to impeach the unfathomable ways of Jehovah. They will gladly receive God’s revealed truth as long as they can reconcile his providential dealings with their standard of fairness. Robert Haldane wrote,

 

Multitudes receive the testimony of God only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of His conduct, when measured according to the petty scale of their limited capacity. How unbecoming in such a creature as man! Shall he who is but ‘of yesterday,’ and ‘knows nothing,’ who is born ‘like a wild ass’s colt,’ pretend to penetrate the counsels of the Omniscient! (Haldane, 1966, 549).

 

By contrast, Paul asked, “For who has known the mind of the Lord or being his counselor has taught him?” In his decrees and providential ways, God is infinitely exalted above the oversight or management of his creatures.

 

A biblical understanding of God’s good news will invariably demolish any thought of bringing him under obligation. Paul asked, “Who has first given to him that it might be repaid him” (v. 35)?  If our concept of the gospel leaves us believing we have offered anything to God that would obligate him to smile with favor on us, we have clearly misunderstood his message. Charles Hodge wrote, “The creature has neither merit nor power. His hopes must rest on sovereign mercy alone” (Hodge, 1953).

 

The authentic gospel, when rightly understood, will inevitably and invariably lead us to ascribe all glory to God because it will lead us to understand that he is the source of all that is good “for of him are all things.” He is the means through whom all good occurs both in nature and in grace. His everlasting glory is the end to which all things are moving. Charles Hodge wrote,

 

When Paul asks, Who hath first given to God? the answer is, No one, for of him, through him, and to him, are all things. It is for the display of his character everything exists, and is directed, as the highest and noblest of all possible objects. Creatures are as nothing, less than vanity and nothing in comparison with God. Human knowledge, power, and virtue, are mere glimmering reflections from the brightness of the divine glory. That system of religion, therefore, is best in accordance with the character of God, the nature of man, and the end of the universe, in which all things are of, through, and to God; and which most effectually leads men to say, Not Unto Us, But Unto Thy Name Be All Glory (Hodge, 1953)!

 

If the message we proclaim does not lead us to a sense of awe and admiration as we contemplate the manifold wisdom of God in the plan, accomplishment and application of redemption, then that message is not the authentic gospel. A clear understanding of the biblical gospel will lead us to ascribe honor and glory to God as the beginning, middle and end of all things.

 

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.

Morris, The Theme of Romans, 249-63

 

 

20
Aug
15

Conferring “Assurance” in Evangelism?

It has been a common practice among some who call themselves “free grace” believers who teach the doctrine of OSAS [Once Saved Always Saved], to make the conferring of assurance on their evangelistic conquests a part of the evangelistic process. The purpose of this article is to examine not only that practice but also the biblical doctrine of assurance itself.

Let me say at the outset that I unequivocally believe the doctrine of OTSAS [Once truly saved, always saved]. Once a person is truly saved, that person is secure for eternity, but a person must be once saved to be always saved. The assumption among many evangelicals is that once a person confesses faith in Christ (They usually refer to this as “deciding for Christ,” “letting Jesus come into their hearts,” “praying to receive Jesus,” or some other utterly non-biblical expression), they are secure for eternity no matter what happens subsequently. The ones with whom I have corresponded have actually told me they believe once a person has made a decision to receive Christ he is eternally secure even if he does not love God or continue to trust Christ to save him. He may convert to Islam or become an Atheist and still be saved.

This is not the first time controversy has arisen over the relationship between faith and assurance. In the early part of seventeenth a controversy erupted in the Church of Scotland over a book entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Those who were called the “Marrow Men” taught that assurance was of the essence of faith so that it was impossible to have faith without having assurance.

We could perhaps obviate much of the disagreement that swirls around this issue by distinguishing between the different “assurances” about which the New Testament speaks. For a more extended treatment of this question, I would refer you to an excursus I wrote on assurance in my commentary on Hebrews. For our purposes here, suffice it to say that there is an assurance or a confidence (παρρησἰα; πληροφορἰα) that accompanies faith (see–Hebrews 10:22) and belongs to every true believer, and there is an assurance that comes only through diligent perseverance in well-doing (see–Heb. 6:11). Before we can have a meaningful discussion about assurance, it will be necessary to identify to which of these types of assurance we are referring when we use the term.

Like faith, one of these types of assurance focuses on God’s revealed truth. The focus is on God’s faithfulness. The believer simply trusts God’s promises that if he is truly resting solely on the merits of his great priest, his full acceptance in God’s presence is guaranteed. His task is to be certain he is clinging to Christ and trusting only in him.

Like hope, the other type of assurance focus on the future inheritance and, because that inheritance is not yet seen, we must wait for it with patience/perseverance. The question we must ask here is not whether everyone who belongs to the household of faith will inherit the blessings God has promised. That question is settled in every believer’s mind. The question I must ask is whether I belong to the household of faith. I am convinced that if God is for me, no one can prevail against me. What I must establish is that God is indeed for me. This understanding is not necessarily mine because I have begun my journey well. The focus of the Scriptures is not on the beginning of the race but on its end. Since I have not yet finished the race, it is necessary for me to examine my walk from time to time to discern whether it is characterized by “the things that accompany salvation.” This kind of examination is especially necessary when a person’s walk is contrary to his profession. When a person is living in a way that is contrary to God’s revealed will, God uses such exhortations as a means to produce the needed correction in the believer’s life. The warning and exhortation passages of the New Testament Scriptures are not intended to settle questions about whether or not a true believer can loose his salvation. They are intended to be used as the necessary means to bring about the diligent perseverance in faith without which we will never see God’s face in peace.

It is important to notice that in Hebrews 6:11-12, the “full assurance of hope” about which the writer speaks requires diligence. Faith requires no diligence at all. Why would he suggest that his readers need to be diligent if assurance is of the essence of faith? Instead, he expresses a strong desire that they will continue to be diligent in the path they have been following so that they might obtain the full assurance of hope and he desires that they follow the path diligently to the end. If they are going to inherit the blessings God has promised they must imitate those who through faith and longsuffering inherit what God has promised.

There are several important observations we need to make here:

  1. In neither of these passages is the issue one of trusting our works, our obedience, or our perseverance as the basis of our right standing before God.
  2. In neither of these passages is there any suggestion that we should take our eyes off of Jesus as our only hope and our highest prize and begin instead to trust our evidences that we have been born of God.
  3. Nowhere in the New Testament Scriptures are we forbidden to pursue works of obedience to Christ. In fact, we are commanded to diligently pursue such a course of obedience. It is not doing good works but trusting those works to any extent that the Scriptures forbid.
  4. The bases of the assurance of faith and the assurance of hope are different. The basis of the assurance of faith is God’s faithfulness (Heb. 10:23). Our full assurance of faith and our confident confession of our hope are firmly founded in God’s work for us and have nothing to do with our obedience to him. Our full assurance of hope rests on the confidence that we belong to God’s true people because he continues to work in us to will and work for his good pleasure. That we continue to pursue diligently the manifestation of his glory in our lives is the evidence [the things that accompany salvation] that we are among that blessed company who can say, “God is for us.”
  5. One of the characteristics of the faith of God’s elect is that is continues. It is though faith and longsuffering [patience] that we are to receive what God has promised. To say that it does not matter what occurs after one has made an initial confession of faith one must deny, or ignore a mountain of biblical passages like this one.
  6. The assurance of hope is not intended for and will not be granted to those who are deliberately walking in disobedience to God.

Before we begin a discussion about assurance, it is important that we specify what kind of assurance is in view. Is the child of God assured that Jesus is able to completely save all who come to God by him? Absolutely!  May he (and should he if he acting disobediently) from time to time question whether he actually belongs to the company of those who have come to God through Jesus’ priestly work? I believe the Scripture answer with and unequivocal “yes!” John Brown wrote,

. . .though the perseverance of the saints is certain, let us recollect that it is the perseverance of the saints that is thus certain. Many who seem to others to be saints, who seem to themselves to be saints, do “fall away.” and let us recollect that the perseverance of the saints referred to, is their perseverance not only in a safe but also in a holy course of disposition and conduct; and no saint behaving like a sinner can legitimately enjoy the comfort which the doctrine of perseverance is fitted and intended to communicate to every saint acting like a saint . . . (Brown, 1970, 296).

If assurance were of the essence of faith, John would not have written to those who were believing in Jesus’ name they they might know that they have eternal life (see 1 John 5:13).  Would they not have known already? Additionally, we need to understand that “these things” refer not merely to the immediately preceding verses, but to the entire epistle. Again John Brown wrote,

It is as believers of the truth that we are secured of eternal life; and it is by holding fast this faith of the truth, and showing that we do so, that we can alone enjoy the comfort of this security. ‘The purpose of God according to election must stand,’ and all His chosen will assuredly be saved; but they cannot know their election—they cannot enjoy any absolute assurance of their salvation—independent of their continuance in the faith, love and obedience of the Gospel (Brown, 1970).

As we shall see in greater detail when we discuss the biblical doctrine of repentance, a denial that we should expect a behavioral change in those who have truly been converted betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s saving work.

Now, let us return to the question, Is the conferring of assurance part of the evangelist’s work? There are several considerations that would cause us to answer this question negatively.

  1. The most obvious reason is that there is no evidence of such a practice in early New Testament evangelism. If they did not assure those who confessed faith in Christ that they were eternally secure because they had responded positively to the gospel call, why should we?
  2. It is impossible to know infallibly that another person’s faith is genuine. The New Testaments bears sad testimony to the fact that all who began well did not finish well. We must not assume that all professed faith is genuine faith.
  3. Though God may grant an assurance of hope to true believers, he will not give us such an assurance about another person.
  4. It is the work of God’s Spirit to bear witness with our spirits that we are sons of God, and he does so in conjunction with the God pleasing works of obedience he produces in our hearts.

We have every reason to assure those who have confessed faith in Christ that if they are truly and fully resting on him and his merits, they have been declared righteous and have been granted full access to the Father’s throne, but that is altogether different from assuming that their faith is real and conferring on them an assurance that is never to be questioned no matter what happens subsequent to their confession.

Consider just a few examples of the way in which biblical writers couched their statements concerning the salvation of their readers. “. . .and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:2). “And we are his house[hold] if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Heb. 3:6). “For we have come to share in Christ, if we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb. 3:14).

We must never forget that Jesus’ promise “. . .and I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish,” was not made to goats. It was made to his sheep whom he describes as those who “hear his voice and follow him.” We should never think this promise belongs to those who persist in their rebellion against God and ignore his voice speaking in the Word.

Βrown, John. The Epistle to the Hebrews, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972).

21
Nov
14

Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter Two:Rubbish Removal

“In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall” (Nehemiah 4:10).

The Priority of Rubbish Removal

It is impossible to build or rebuild on a foundation that is faulty and covered with rubble. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the wall, his first order of business was to inspect the foundation of the wall (see Nehemiah 2:11-16). Once he had learned what needed to be done, he encouraged the people to rebuild the wall by reminding them the good hand of God would be with them and give them success (see Nehemiah 2:20).

After the work had begun and was progressing well, God’s people encountered opposition and began to become discouraged. One of the reasons for their discouragement was the large quantity of rubble that needed to be carted away.

I would invite you to consider Jeremiah’s call and commission as a prophet of Jehovah. The LORD said to him, “Behold I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10). Notice that before God instructed him to build and to plant, he told him to tear down and pluck up.

It has become quite difficult to engage in biblical evangelism because the landscape of evangelical Christianity has become cluttered with so much non-biblical rubbish. I am not only or even primarily referring to the non-biblical and often anti-biblical practices and message that are in vogue. Instead, I am referring to the mindset that has characterized the evangelical church for decades. That mindset has resulted from a set of theological [or in many cases anti-theological or a-theological] presuppositions that have prevailed in the evangelical church for more than a century.

Doctrinal Rubbish

One such assumption is that faith is a decision that locks a sinner into an eternally secure salvation even if he should later deny the faith and return to a life of unbridled sin and wicked unbelief. According to this understanding of faith, if ever we can get a person to come to a point of decision at which he acknowledges the facts of the gospel, he will be saved for eternity. Some have traded biblical teaching that true believers will persevere in faith to the end for the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” Please do not misunderstand me. I believe that once God has truly declared a person to be righteous in his sight he will never alter that verdict, but that is different from the teaching that all who profess faith in Christ are saved for eternity no matter what occurs subsequently. This presupposition of “once saved, always saved” grows out of the free will doctrine. The belief is that once the scale of the sinner’s libertarian free will is tipped toward Christ so that he “decides for Christ” [as if Jesus is running for office] he gets his ticket punched for the gospel train that takes him to heaven. Nothing that occurs after that can cause him to be kicked off the train.

I know that for anyone who has carefully read and studied the Scriptures the idea that anyone could believe such a doctrine sounds too bizarre to be true, but I will not ask you to merely take my word for it. You can read it for yourself at such web-sites as http://www.expreacherman.com. The following represent a small sample of the statements that confirm their doctrine.

“It is possible for a believer to lose confidence in eternal security, or any other part of the gospel message. In such cases, he still has eternal life. (Luke 8:13).”

“One does not have to love God to receive the free gift of salvation. He needs to believe on Jesus as his Savior.”

“Demas is an eternally secure believer who turned his back on God. He is in heaven.”

From these brief quotations it is easy to see that in their view, faith need not involve anything more than an intellectual nod to certain propositions. It clearly has nothing to do with guilty rebels being reconciled to God and need not be ongoing. It appear that according to this view, once a sinner gets his ticket punched by making the right choice, he is home-free for eternity whether he continues to believe the gospel or not. Admittedly, this appears to be an extreme view even among those who practice free will evangelism, but it is in line with the widely held view called the “carnal Christian doctrine.” The idea is that once a person has made an open profession of faith, he is eternally secure no matter what occurs subsequently.

Several false doctrines as well as many non-biblical practices have grown out of this presupposition. I intend to discuss the faulty theological foundation of modern evangelism in detail in a subsequent chapter. For now, I want to focus more on the evangelistic rubbish that has cluttered the landscape of the Christian church.

The “Invitation” and the Sinner´s Prayer

In the first half of the nineteenth century, Charles Finney introduced a number of innovations into the practice of evangelism. One such innovation was what he called “the anxious seat.” At the end of an evangelistic meeting he would invite those who “were willing to be on the side of Christ” to come forward and sit on the anxious seat. In his view, if a person had been able to overcome his pride and natural timidity and had come to the anxious seat, he had given evidence of saving faith. In his Lectures on Revival he made it clear that the anxious seat was intended to be a replacement for baptism. He wrote,

The church has always felt it necessary to have something of this kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles, baptism answered this purpose. The gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ were called to be baptized. It held the place that the anxious seat does now as a public manifestation of their determination to be Christians.

Since he had assumed that all who came to the anxious seat were truly converted, he later found himself in a quandary when they gave no evidence of genuine faith. For that reason, he introduced the idea of a second work of grace that would accomplish what he had expected from the first work of grace.

The “anxious seat” was the precursor of the modern “invitation system” or the “altar call.” Many modern pastors and evangelists make the same assumption that Finney had made. They assume that if a person walks the aisle of a church building or coliseum and makes a public profession of faith, he or she has been saved for eternity. If such people give no evidence of love for Christ or a desire to obey him, they are referred to as “carnal Christians.” They are encouraged to make another decision and become a “spiritual Christian.”

The question is, “How can we know these people are truly Christians”? The stock answer is that we know they are saved because we saw them “get saved.” By that they mean they saw them walk the aisle to make a profession, and they assume that means they became genuine believers. Now if they are right, they are completely justified in using every psychological technique and emotional tactic possible to induce people to make that all important decision. Additionally, we are remiss if we do not use every scheme possible to get such decisions out of people.

What we need to discuss is not whether such practices as the “invitation” and the “sinner’s prayer” are justified, but whether the underlying presuppositions on which they are based can be supported biblically. There is nothing inherently wrong with a person walking to the front of a church building or coliseum to confess that he or she has trusted in Christ for salvation. The assumptions we need to question are those that have been taken for granted by modern evangelists and those who follow them. If you do not believe these folks actually assume these ideas, simply listen to them talk. The following are a few of their assumptions:

1. The use of such methods is necessary for the sinner’s salvation. I have often been asked, “If you don’t give an invitation, how can anyone “get saved?” This clearly implies that a walk to the front of a building or repeating a prayer is necessary for salvation. It seems that, according to their view, if we do not use their methods there will be people who will be lost who would otherwise have been saved.

2. A proper response to an invitation to come forward is an evidence of saving faith. I have often heard people make statements like “There were five people saved in the meeting last night.” By this they mean five people walked the aisle and made a profession of faith. At times they will say something like, “I know she is a Christian because I saw her “get saved.” Or “I saw him ‘get saved,’ and now he has backslidden. It must be possible for a person to lose his salvation.” Again, the inference is that if a person walks the aisle, he must be a true believer.

3. There is a limited time in which a person can be converted. One often hears them say, “If no one comes while we sing this verse, we are going to close the invitation.” Who do these people think they are? Are they going to open the gates of heaven to sinners and then close them because they didn’t respond at the proper time? God’s invitation to sinners is open as long as they live.

4. It would be wrong to conclude that a person’s profession may not have been genuine if he shows no evidence of love for Christ or a desire to obey him. These people must be Christians because they responded properly to a gospel invitation. They simply need to take a second step of faith and become “spiritual Christians.”

5. If a person doesn’t give “an invitation” at the end of a gospel message, he must not care about souls.

The Proper Venue for Evangelism

Another area in which the evangelical church needs to experience a radical paradigm shift is in its thinking about the proper venue for evangelism. For decades, evangelicals have been conditioned to think that the purpose of the church meeting is to provide a venue for the propagation of the gospel. This mentality has manifested itself most blatantly in the “seeker sensitive/friendly movement” and in the “emergent church movement.” The idea that seems to underlie the methodology of these movements is that the church should be a place where sinners will feel comfortable to “hang out.” As a result, everything that might be offensive to an unconverted person has been eliminated from the program. The entire idea of a hymnology in which God’s people were instructed in the great truths of the faith and inspired to worship him intelligently has vanished. The great hymns of the faith have been replaced with vapid ditties and theologically vacuous mood music designed to prepare the sinner to hear the message.

The message itself has been carefully crafted to produce the desired response from the unconverted. Everything that might be distasteful or offensive to the unconverted person has been omitted. We should remember here that a portion of the truth when presented as the whole truth becomes a whole lie. God forbid that any preacher should actually proclaim sound biblical doctrine in such a gathering. Preachers are often urged to “put the cookies on the bottom shelf so that everyone can reach them.” The result of following this advice has been an epidemic of spiritual malnutrition that is plaguing the church.

Just yesterday I listened to a portion of a “sermon” in which a Southern Baptist pastor was excoriating people in the so-called church he claims to pastor. He referred to these people who wanted to be taught more doctrine as “big fat spiritual babies,” and suggested that they are the excrement of the body of Christ. He said to these people, “I don’t have time to feed you; I’ve got work to do.” This man has been set over one of the larger churches [and I use the term “churches” very loosely] in the Southern Baptist Convention. He described the church as having a “big front door” through which unchurched, unbelieving people enter and “choose Christ.” To me, this speaks volumes about this man’s doctrine of the church. He clearly believes his work is not to feed the flock over which God has made him overseer, but preach to these people who are entering “the big front door” so that they will be converted, or to use his non-biblical phrase, “choose Christ.” The church is advertised as “A safe place for non-believers.” Is it any wonder that God’s people are malnourished when charlatans like this guy are allowed to stand in the pulpit and spew their putrescent garbage?
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not opposed to having unconverted people attend the gathering of God’s people to observe how we worship our God and hear what the Bible teaches. I am delighted when such a person is so overwhelmed by God’s truth that he or she becomes a true believer, but the evangelization of the unbeliever is not the purpose of the gathered church. Additionally, unbelievers should never feel “safe” from the possibility that they might hear something that will make them feel guilty before God.
There is not a single verse in the Bible in which believers are instructed to invite their unbelieving friends and loved ones to church. Christ’s command is not “bring people to church,” but “Go and make disciples.” The purpose of the assembly and of the teaching pastor is to equip believers to do the work of ministry. There is only one passage in the New Testament Scriptures that mentions an unconverted person coming into the assembly and in that passage (1 Cor. 14:23-24) it is stated as a possibility—“What if an unconverted person should happen to come into the assembly?” The apostle does not instruct them to bring such a person in for the purpose of evangelizing them.

It is time for shepherds to return to the task for which God has equipped them. If they are unable to nourish the flock with healthful teaching, it is time for them to find a new profession. Perhaps selling vacuum cleaners would suit them better.

In a later chapter, I want to offer suggestions about the proper venue for evangelism based on the biblical pattern. For now, suffice it to say that it is not the purpose of the gathered church to provide this venue.

The Use of Unbiblical Jargon

There are certain phrases one will never find in biblical proclamations of the gospel, yet many would think it impossible to evangelize without using them. I invite you to read the New Testament gospel presentations and see if you can find any of the following phrases that have become so commonplace in modern evangelism:

Let Jesus come into your heart.

Give Jesus your heart.

Open your heart, and let Jesus come in.

You need to “pray to receive Jesus.”

You need to “decide for Jesus.”

Jesus died for you.

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

Smile, God loves you.

God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

God can’t save you unless you let him.

Perhaps you are thinking that though these exact phrases do not occur in the New Testament Scriptures, we can certainly find verses that express the truth that lies behind them. After all, doesn’t the New Testament tell us that God loved the world in such a way that he gave his only Son (John 3:16) and that he demonstrated his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8-9)?

Regarding the first of these verses, I would invite you to read “Arminian Presupposition #2 Refuted” at http://www.truthunchanging.wordpress.com. The reality is that the word “world” was almost never used to designate every person on the globe without exception. John used it to indicate the condescension of God’s love. The holy one loved fallen rebels who were hostile toward him. John’s emphasis was not on the number of the people loved but on the nature of the people loved. Additionally, he used the word to indicate the true universality of God’s love. He did not merely love people from the nation of Israel but from every nation on earth. This is probably the predominant sense of the word translated “world” the New Testament Scriptures.

But what about verses like Romans5:8 that state that God loved “us” and Jesus died for “us?” Any reasonable person would simply need to read these verses in context to understand that “us” does not refer to every human being on earth. First of all, we should consider to whom Paul addressed the letter. He wrote, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7). Additionally, the immediate context makes it clear that “us” refers to Paul and to the believers in Rome. Consider his description of those to whom he addressed this epistle. He refers to them and to himself as follows:

We have been justified through faith (v.1).

We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1).

By faith we have obtained access into this grace in which we stand (v. 2).

We rejoice in hope of the glory of God (v. 2).

We rejoice in sufferings also (v. 3).

God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (v. 5).

We have now been justified by his blood (v. 9).

We shall be saved by him from the wrath of God (v. 9).

Certainly, no one would be so theologically inept as to suggest that “we,” “our,” and “us” in these verses refers to every sinner without exception. Yet, incredibly, there are those who contend that “us” in Romans 5:8 refers to every sinner without exception.

It is time for evangelicals to bring our phraseology into conformity with the biblical pattern. I urge you to read the sermons on record in the New Testament Scriptures and to begin to incorporate more biblical language in your gospel presentations. In the following chapter, I intend to examine those sermons and suggest a more biblical expression of the gospel of our great God.

If ever we are to be effective in making disciples, we must dispose of the rubbish that has so greatly damaged the cause of God and truth. I implore you to examine your message and methods in the light of Scripture. “Put all things to the test; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).

13
Sep
13

ARE “LORDSHIP SALVATION” AND WORKS SALVATION THE SAME?

I was reading a blog this morning from a Reformed guy who wrote about the Reformers having recovered the truth of free justification before God based solely on the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness. One of the comments was as follows:

I would argue that many Reformed tend to be legalistic (I’d exclude people like Michael Horton whom I learned much from) and the Lordship Salvation debate reveals that. For example, the great JI Packer wrote,”In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything.”

John MacArthur (who’s pretty Reformed) wrote that “Salvation is for those who are willing to forsake everything.”

Then there followed several banal comments that betrayed a total misunderstanding of the biblical gospel. Allow me to make a few comments of my own.

1. There is nothing “legalistic” about stating that salvation is for those “who are willing to forsake everything” or that “free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything.” If there were, we would have to label Jesus as a legalist. He said, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:23). Many who read this verse draw a false distinction between being a believer and being a disciple, but no such distinction exists in the Bible. If a person does not want to follow Jesus and learn from him, he doesn’t want to be a Christian. There is nothing legalistic about that; it is simply descriptive of what it means to be converted and be a Christian. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. . .” (John 10:27).

2. The issue of what happens subsequent to conversion has nothing to do with the basis of justification before God. No one who believes the biblical gospel thinks a person’s justification is based on his subsequently changed life. Was Paul teaching justification by works when he preached “. . . that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” ( Acts 26:20)? No, he simply understood that justifying faith will be obedient faith.

3. Any message that misses the element of salvation from sin, not merely salvation from the penalty of sin, is not the good news of free justification before God. When, in The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Christian fled the city of destruction and made his way to the wicket gate, he did so not merely to escape the destruction that was to fall on the city, but to be free from the sin burden on his back. People who flee to Jesus for salvation are people who are sin weary and feel heavy laden. Their God-given desire is not merely to be freed from guilt, but to be freed from sin.

4. God does not forgive sinners because we believe the gospel and give up all that we have. He forgives us because Jesus has stood in our place and paid our dept. That is the BASIS of justification, repentant faith is merely the channel through which we receive God’s free gift.

5. If it is the sinner who, out of his sinful nature, produces such repentance and faith, then salvation is indeed based on works. This is why the issue of the origin of faith and repentance is so important. If we believe these acts are the product of the sinner’s will, even if aided by some sort of non-discriminating prevenient grace, and that these acts are the distinguishing factor between the justified and the condemned, we indeed believe in works salvation. In truth, these acts are the sinner’s response to God’s saving grace in the hearts of dead men and women in applying to them the salvation Jesus has already accomplished for them.

6. Failure to understand these truths is a failure to understand the biblical nature of faith and conversion. Faith is more than mental assent to a list of propositions. It is more than the repetition of a canned prayer. Conversion is not walking an aisle, signing a card, or punching in a code on your iPhone. Conversion is turning to God from idols, to serve the living God. Faith that does not produce obedience is not true and justifying faith. Such faith and the obedience it produces is never the basis of justification. It is, nevertheless, the kind of faith through which alone God justifies.

7. We need to return to the issues set forth in Apostolic preaching. Jesus did not merely die to free us from guilt; he died to free us from our wickedness. “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:26).

26
Jul
13

The Basis of Final Judgment

Michael F. Bird has written on “the Progressive Reformed View of Justification” in a book published by I.V.P. titled “Justification: Five Views.”

His concern as well as the concern of others is that the gospel of justification through faith alone does not seem to be producing what the Bible describes as genuine Christians. He writes, “The pew-sitting couch potatoes of our churches need to hear Romans 8:1-3 as well as Romans 8: 4-5. . .Otherwise it is irresponsible to give a sense of assurance to people who have no right to have it.”
Additionally he writes, “The protestant paranoia against reminding our communities of judgment according to works, lest we become Catholic, misrepresents the biblical witness.”

I would agree that members of the evangelical community need to be reminded that salvation is more than justification. Evangelicals have preached a cheap, man-centered message for decades, and we are reaping the results in our largely unconverted “churches.” Still, I could not disagree more strongly with the idea that the remedy to our “churches” being peopled with the unconverted is to give people the impression that though we are initially justified through faith in Christ, we will be declared righteous in the last day, not based on what Jesus has accomplished, but based on our genuine, though imperfect, works of obedience in the process of sanctification. Not only does this sound like Catholicism, it is Catholicism.

There can be no doubt that in the final judgment our works will be called to testify to the reality of our faith, but to suggest that those works form any part of the basis of our justification before God is contrary to the clear testimony of the New Testament Scriptures. The idea that we should pursue obedience to God because we know that in the last day, we will be judged and either justified or condemned based on our obedience, is a false gospel that lies under God’s curse. If this had been Paul’s doctrine, the objection he raises and answers in Romans 6:1-14 would make no sense at all. In that case his answer would have been that though grace may have more than overflowed to forgive our overflowing sin so that we have been initially justified by the free grace of God alone, based on the redemption that is in Christ alone and through faith alone, from here on until the judgment, we are on our own since the final judgment will be based on our divinely produced obedience. There is not even the slightest suggestion that the apostle believed such a doctrine. He does not say “Of course we cannot continue in sin because our justification in the last day depends on our obedience.” Instead, he argues that it is impossible for those who are truly united to Christ to continue in sin since we have died to sin’s dominion.

The view that we can be motivated to godly living by our fear and guilt in regard to what will happen in the judgment if we fail to obey is the precise opposite of the New Testament teaching. The impetus for all Christian living is that, in Christ, believers have been set free from the law with all its condemning power. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I through the law, died to the law, THAT I MIGHT LIVE TO GOD.”

Since the law is God’s standard of righteousness, anyone who must stand before God in the last day based on that standard that requires perfect, continual and inward obedience has not died to the law and is not free from the law. If my final justification before God depends on my obedience [Please note I am not denying that the believer’s works will be a consideration in the final judgment. I am denying that those works of obedience will form the basis of my justification.], I will be lost forever.

The remedy for the pew-sitting, couch potatoes in our churches is not an altered view of justification, but an understanding of the work God performs in bringing about the faith through which he justifies believers. If faith is a mere free will decision on the sinner’s part, regeneration in the Reformed sense of that term is not really necessary. Many in the evangelical community view “faith” as a one-time decision that obligates God to justify the believer [the assumption these theological dimwits even know the term “justify” may be gratuitous] no matter what occurs after the deal is sealed. The reality is that not only does God enable one to believe initially, but he also continues to sustain that faith which in turn manifests itself in obedience. A “faith” that does not continue, a faith that does not work through love, is not justifying faith.

To believe this, it is not necessary to conflate justification and sanctification as Bird and others seem to do. We must merely understand that the same redemptive work of Christ that secured our justification also secured our sanctification. If sanctification is not occurring in one’s life, there is no evidence justification has occurred. This in no way requires that the believer’s obedience form any part of the basis of his right judicial standing before God.

It is for this reason Calvinistic teachers often state that though justification and sanctification are distinct from one another, they cannot be separated. Some have charged this represents “cognitive dissonance” on the part of those who make such a statement. According to them, this must mean a confusion or a conflation of justification and sanctification.

Perhaps it would be helpful to state our position in a slightly different way. The difficulty seems to be that opponents of this position seem to think we are talking about these two works of God being inseparable in that they are directly joined in the application of redemption. The point of intersection between these two divine acts is not direct. That is, they are distinct in the application of redemption. The only point of similarity between these two works of God in the application is that both occur through faith. Even then, the promises believed are different. In justification, the sinner trusts God’s promise that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. In sanctification, the believer accounts God to be faithful in his declaration that he is, through the body of Christ, dead indeed to the reign of sin and alive to God. Thus, justification and sanctification are always separate and distinct in their application. What occurs in sanctification can neither affect nor effect justification.

We say they cannot be separated because they are joined in their accomplishment. Both result from the same death of Christ. Jesus accomplished both for the same people. If he died for a person, that person also died with him. The point of contact between justification and sanctification [and every other spiritual blessing] is in the believer’s union with Christ.

It is impossible to effect sanctification in the lives of God’s people by telling them the basis of their final justification will be their obedience to the law. This will do nothing but bring about guilt and fear. Fearful and guilt-ridden people will not worship and obey God. This would be to conflate justification and sanctification in the application rather than recognizing that God has united them in the accomplishment.

18
Jul
13

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

The question, “What must I do to be saved?” though short and simple, is far more profound than many realize. We cannot even be absolutely certain the jailor who asked it even understood the implications of his inquiry. It is possible he had heard the Psalms Paul and Silas had been singing and been deeply convicted of his lost and desperate condition before God. Perhaps he had had some prior instruction about the character of God and the awful plight of sinners in a state of alienation from him. The reality is, we simply do not know the background of his question.

What we do know is that this question elicited a profound statement of gospel truth. Paul’s answer was “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. . . .” (Acts 16:31). Since Luke tells us in the very next verse “they spoke the Word to him and to all who were in his house” it is likely he did not immediately understand the implications of this short answer.

I want to explore with you some of the issues I believe this answer raises and discuss the Bible’s responses to those issues. The following are some of those issues:

1. What does the Bible mean when I talks about being “saved?” From what do we need to be saved?
2. What does it mean to believe?
3. What must a person believe if he/she is to be saved?

Let’s consider these questions one by one.

1. There are several places in both the Old and New Testaments where the term “saved” occurs. Additionally, the Scriptures refer both to God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, as “Savior.” Here are a few examples. In Isaiah 45:21-22 we read “. . .And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior: there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other.” The apostle Paul states in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” He also wrote in Titus 3:5 “he [God, our Savior] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

We could translate the word “saved” by the word “delivered.” It is used a person being delivered from his blindness (Luke 18:42), of sailors being delivered from drowning in stormy seas (Acts 27:31), of God delivering Noah and his family from the flood (1 Peter 3:20), Israelites being delivered from slavery in Egypt (Jude 5), etc.
In terms of spiritual deliverance, there are at least three senses in which the biblical writers speak of being “saved” from sin. Believers are:

Saved from God’s wrath. We are saved from sin’s penalty. [I have read some strange statements from self-proclaimed “Evangelicals” and “Biblicists” of late regarding Jesus’ death in relation to the wrath of God. It seems they are rejecting the idea that Jesus’ death has delivered us from God’s wrath. This is a blatant denial of the biblical doctrine of propitiation not to mention a whole host of biblical texts that speak of the wrath of God and the believer’s deliverance from it, e.g., John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2:8; 5:9; Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9].

Saved from the bondage of sin.
We are saved from our willful, autonomous, rebellion against God. We are saved from sin’s power.

Saved from all the ill effects of sin in the future. We will be saved from sin’s presence.

Notice, none of these issues has anything to do with delivering us from our poor self-image, a feeling of loneliness, financial instability, a bad marriage, a negative attitude about life, etc. Some of these benefits may result as God brings us into conformity with his revealed will, but none of them is promised in the gospel.

The Bible tells us Jesus came to save sinners from our sins (See Matt. 1:21). A person who does not want to be saved from his sins does not want to be saved at all. The issue the gospel is intended to deal with goes beyond having our sins forgiven so that we may go to heaven when we die. In fact, there is not a single verse in the Bible that mentions believing the gospel so that we can go to heaven when we die. God’s work of delivering his people from their sins is more about living than it is about dying. Consider just a couple of verses from the New Testament Scriptures that concern the purpose of God in saving sinners:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned [since the verb translated “returned” is in the passive voice, it would be better to translate it accordingly, i.e., “were returned” instead of “have returned.” The sheep are not the actors; they are acted on] to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).

Note the stated purpose for which Jesus bore the sins of his sheep on the tree—IN ORDER THAT we might die to sin and live unto righteousness. The sheep are not forgiven and left to wander in their sins.

2. What does it mean to believe?

To believe means more than merely to know the facts of the gospel and give mental assent to those facts. Of course, assent to certain gospel propositions is necessary, but faith involves more. James tells us that even the demons are orthodox in their assent to certain biblical propositions and even tremble because of what they know to be true. True and saving faith must go beyond the faith of demons.

Biblical faith or belief is crediting God with faithfulness and placing our confidence in him. It is believing against all odds that God can and will do all he has promised.

In John 3:36, faith is set over against disobedience. “The one who is believing in the Son has everlasting life, but the one who disobeys the Son shall not see life. . . .” For this reason, we believe true faith must involve a submission to Christ’s authority.

The nature of faith is such that it always looks away from itself. They true believer has no confidence in faith itself, since he knows that faith is not the Savior. Instead, faith, having considered the hopelessness of the sinner’s plight in sin and the impossibility of self-redemption, looks away from self to the Savior. Faith does not dwell on how bad I am but instead fixes its gaze on how good Christ is.

3. What must a person believe if he/she is to be saved?

The New Testament definition of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he was seen by witnesses to his resurrection (See 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). It is important for us to remember that these words were written to those who had professed faith in Christ and not to a group of unconverted people. As a result, this definition of the gospel message is somewhat different from the apostolic pattern we observe in the New Testament Scriptures. I believe it is important to examine the pattern of apostolic proclamation as we seek to answer questions about proper methods and message of evangelism. For example, do we have any example in the New Testament literature of a gospel preacher telling a group of unconverted people “Christ died for our sins?” or “Jesus died for you?” Did they ever tell sinners they needed to repeat a prayer or walk an aisle or open their hearts to Jesus? For that matter, was any sinner ever invited to come to the foot of the cross to receive Jesus?

In proclaiming the gospel, based on the apostolic pattern, must we tell sinners indiscriminately that Jesus died for them? Must a person understand and believe that Jesus died for him in particular before he can have confidence that Jesus will save him? Is it not sufficient to trust his promise to save sinners who believe and repent? I have paraphrased an excellent comment Robert Haldane wrote in his Commentary on Romans as follows,

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 most guilty who believe 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 address 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 most guilt 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 most guilty who believe, not that he died for every individual whether he should believe or not. 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. . . . (Haldane, Romans, p. 203).

The reality is, the pattern of apostolic preaching indicates it is to the throne we must send sinners, not to the cross. I am not at all suggesting there would be any gospel apart from the crucifixion, but we do not preach a Savior on a cross. We, following the example of the apostle Paul preach “Christ crucified,” i.e., Christ who has been crucified with the results of that crucifixion continuing into the present (This understanding is based Paul’s use of the perfect passive participle of the verb in 1 Cor.1:23. “It refers primarily to the exalted Lord who, in his exaltation remains the crucified One” (E.E. Ellis, “Christ Crucified,” Reconciliation and Hope, 70). The apostolic message was about the resurrected and exalted Jesus who was dead but is alive forevermore, and who has the keys of death and hades. Consider Paul’s teaching in Romans 10.

But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'”(that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'”(that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:6-9).

There were two cardinal truths Paul’s Jewish audience regularly rejected. One was the incarnation of the Messiah, the other was his resurrection. Paul’s point in these verses was that there is no need to ascend into heaven to bring the Christ down since he had already been incarnated in the person of Jesus, thus “Jesus is Lord.” There is no need to descend into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead since “God has raised him from the dead.” God has accomplished all that is necessary for the salvation of bankrupt and helpless sinners. All sinners must do is look and live. The promise of the gospel is “whosoever shall call on the Lord’s name will be saved.”

18
Jan
13

What Calvinists Believe about ¨Progressive Justification.¨

For the sake of context, I want to tell you just a bit about my religious upbringing. I grew up in an INDEPENDENT, Fundamental, Baptist home. As I was growing up, my heroes were men such as Jack Hyles and John R. Rice. I had memorized well the Romans Road and the Sinner’s prayer. Once a sinner had “prayed to receive Jesus,” I knew how to give him assurance of his salvation, based on his decision. I would tell him/her they were secure for eternity no matter what they did and that if they ever doubted their salvation they were “calling God a liar,” since he had said, “Whoever has the Son has life.” Surely, they had the Son since they had just invited him into their hearts. I never considered the possibility that their decision may not have been faith at all.

I would have fought anyone over the doctrine of “Once saved, always saved.” What I hadn’t yet realized is that you have to be once saved to be always saved. Faith in Christ is not a mere decision we make and move on. It is a life long commitment to follow him and obey him. It is also a life long commitment to forsake all hope of righteousness based on our following and our obedience.

I have said that to say this–I am not ignorant of this sort of mind-set. I have been there, and had great difficulty working my way out of it. I finally came to grips with the fact that the same Bible that teaches the absolute certainty of the true believer’s final glorification, also teaches the absolute necessity of the believer’s perseverance in faith to the end.

Many of those addressed in the NT Scriptures who were in trouble in their walk, were having difficulties because they were in danger of turning to some ground of hope other than Jesus Christ. Some are trying to make the issue about the necessity for obedience in the Christian life. This is not the issue. There is no question that believers are called on to obey. The issue is whether a person can truly trust Christ fully and depend on some other ground of hope, even to a slight degree, at the same time. Nor is the issue whether believers can merit or maintain their justification in the process of sanctification. It would not only be impossible to do so but absolutely unnecessary to do so. The genuine believer is as justified before God the first moment he believes as he will ever be.

I have been a Calvinists for almost 45 years and have never heard or read another Calvinist who used the term ¨progressive justification¨ except in contrast to our doctrine of justification. For example, A.A. Hodge wrote concerning the points of difference between Protestants and Romanists on the subject of justification, “As to the nature and office of faith. We say that it is the instrument; they the beginning and root of justification. 4th. They say that justification is progressive. 5th. That it may be lost by mortal sin and regained and increased through the sacrament of Penance, and completed in Purgatory.” (Outlines of Theology, p. 511).

I would only require a little thought to understand that Calvinists cannot believe in progressive justification. Consider the following:

1. We believe God justifies the ungodly (See Rom. 4:5). If we could in any way progress beyond the state of being ungodly and became as righteous in God’s sight as he requires for our full justification, we would no longer be candidates for such a declaration.

2. We believe justification before God is based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. This is a righteousness that is wholly outside us. We can have no contribution to it. We do nothing to produce it and could do nothing to render it more perfect.

3. The moment we trust God’s promise to save us through Christ redemptive work, God declares us as spotlessly righteous in his sight as is Christ himself.

4. Since we did nothing to merit the justified state in which we now stand as believers, nothing we do now can increase or diminish our right standing before God. Our standing before God has nothing whatsoever to do with our works of obedience either before or after conversion.

We do believe not every professing Christian has been justified. Our works of obedience and the confessed ground of our confidence before God after our initial profession evince the state of our souls before God. The true believer speaks of current confidence in Christ for the justification of his soul, not of some decision he made years ago. A person who truly trusts in Christ is a person who will continue to trust him to the end of his life. Does the true believer have to try to muster up enough faith so that he won’t be lost if he stops believing. No. If God has ever granted him faith, he [God] will continue to produce that faith to the end.

There are certain miscreants who seem intent on spreading their prevarications about Calvinistic beliefs. It matters not how often they are confronted with their lies, they continue to scatter them like handfuls of bad seed. God will reward such enemies of the gospel for their hatred for and distortion of his good news.