Posts Tagged ‘What is the gospel?


What the Traditionalists in the Southern Baptist Should Have Written

Several years ago a group of leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention, spooked by the specter of a rising tide of Calvinism within the ranks of the SBC and under the direction of Dr. Eric Hankin, contrived a document they called “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” When one reads the preamble to this document, at least two things become obvious.  The first is that those who wrote the document and those who later signed it are painfully ignorant of Calvinistic doctrine, and the second is that they wrote it for the purpose of counteracting the dreaded plague of Calvinism in their cherished denomination.  This is what they stated in the preamble—“ The precipitating issue for this statement is the rise of a movement called “New Calvinism” among Southern Baptists. This movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation, characterized by an aggressive insistence on the “Doctrines of Grace” (“TULIP”), and to the goal of making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.”

If that is an accurate assessment of their purpose, one would have expected that the concepts they affirmed would have been teachings that Calvinists deny and the ideas they denied, would have been teachings that Calvinists would affirm.  Interestingly, this was not the case in many of their affirmations and denials. Consider, for example, the following statements from their preamble to which any true Calvinist would say a hearty AMEN!

They wrote,

“Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is grounded in the conviction that every person can and must be saved by a personal and free decision to respond to the Gospel by trusting in Christ Jesus alone as Savior and Lord.”  And, “Baptists have been well-served by a straightforward soteriology rooted in the fact that Christ is willing and able to save any and every sinner.”

If their goal was to pee on a tire to mark their territory, I suppose they have accomplished what they wished to accomplish. If their goal was to open an honest and meaningful dialogue between themselves and Calvinists, they could not have failed more miserably.

I have reproduced here what they affirmed and denied in their declaration and what they should have affirmed and denied if they wished to address the real issues that separate them from soteriological monergists, A.K.A. Calvinists.  I am not suggesting that everyone who signed the document had sufficient theological understanding to fathom the depths of the issues under consideration. I am not suggesting that everyone who signed the document necessarily embraced all the implications I have suggested that their doctrine entails.  What I am boldly stating is that it is the issues under the heading “What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied” which Calvinists are concerned to address and not the “straw man” implications suggested by many of their affirmations and denials.  In large part, the issues that divide us are seen in the contrast between what they should have affirmed and what they should have denied.  Generally speaking, what they should have affirmed from their point of view is what Calvinists deny, and what they should have denied is what Calvinists have affirmed. These are the real issues we should be discussing if ever we are to find unity concerning these essential doctrines.

Consider the contrast between what they affirmed and denied and what they should have affirmed and denied.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article One: The Gospel

We affirm that the Gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved.

We deny that only a select few are capable of responding to the Gospel while the rest are predestined to an eternity in hell.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article One: The Gospel

We affirm that the gospel is the good news that God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for every person on the condition of their free will decision but has not secured the salvation of any person in particular. This is in keeping with God’s desire for every person to be saved, a desire that is subjugated to the sinner’s free will decision.

We deny that anyone is incapable of responding positively to the gospel or that God has decreed to permit anyone to remain in their sins and perish.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article Two: The Sinfulness of Man

What they affirm is unequivocally contrary to what Calvinists affirm.

We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any [every] person’s autonomous will.

We deny that any person is saved apart from an autonomous free will response to the Father’s ineffectual persuasion.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Three: The Atonement of Christ

We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ is the only available and effective sacrifice for the sins of every person.

We deny that this atonement results in salvation without a person’s free response of repentance and faith. We deny that God imposes or withholds this atonement without respect to an act of the person’s free will. We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article Three: The Atonement of Christ

We affirm that the penal substitution of Christ [that does not actually substitute for any sinner in particular] is nothing but a mere provision that, in itself, did not secure the salvation of any sinner. Though there is provision for the salvation of any sinner who decides to let Jesus’ save him, Jesus’ death was not actually and objectively intended to save any sinner in particular. The sole factor that determines who will be saved and who will be lost is the sinner’s autonomous decision and has nothing to do with God’s design and intention at all.

We deny that this atonement was intended objectively to secure the salvation of any sinner in particular or that God had any specific design in sending his Son apart from making a mere provision. Furthermore, we deny that any sinner will have this provision applied to him apart from the decision of his autonomous will. We deny that Jesus actually accomplished the eternal redemption of any sinner in particular since he objectively accomplished no more in his redemptive work for those who will make their autonomous free will decision to let him save them than he did for those who will finally be lost.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Four: The Grace of God

We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.

We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article Four: The Grace of God

We affirm that the grace of God is not intended to secure the salvation of any favored sinner so that God actually brings salvation to any person based on his prior intention, but has determined to permit millions of sinners to perish in unbelief rather than to violate their autonomous will. We affirm that though the sinner’s autonomous will decision cannot, in itself, merit a right standing before God, that decision that is determined by his greater humility, pliability, spirituality, intelligence, etc., is the sole factor that distinguishes him from other sinners. He and he alone is the one who makes himself to differ from other sinners.

We deny that God’s gracious efforts to save sinners are effectual in any sense but depend completely on the sinner’s autonomous decision to cooperate with God’s ineffectual efforts. We deny that God distinguishes between sinners on any ground other than the sinner’s autonomous decision.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner

We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life.

We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner

We affirm that regeneration is completely unnecessary in regard to bringing sinners to repentance and faith in Christ. The wooing of the Holy Spirit is never effectual in bringing sinners to Christ. There is no real reason for God to change a person’s heart and disposition since those who respond to the gospel are already humble and pliable and willingly respond to the gospel when wooed by the Holy Spirit.

We deny that any person’s regeneration is effected by the work of the Spirit removing his disposition to resist the free overtures of the gospel in response to which he is responsible to repent and believe.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Six: The Election to Salvation

We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are His by repentance and faith.

We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article Six:  Election to Salvation

We affirm that election to salvation is an invention of Calvinists and Arminians that did not occur at all. We do not believe that God had a gracious plan to save any sinner in particular but only chose a plan according to which he would save any sinner who was sufficiently humble and pliable by nature to make the right decision. We affirm that it is possible that God would never have a people of his own since the outcome depends fully on the sinner’s autonomous will decision and not on any plan that Calvinists and Arminians have imagined that he may have had.

We deny that God has any control whatsoever in regard to the salvation of sinners.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Seven: The Sovereignty of God

We affirm God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.

We deny that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article Seven: The Sovereignty of God

We affirm that though we believe God has knowledge of all that will occur, he has sovereignly relinquished all control of the universe to the sinner’s autonomous will decision, and would rather see millions of sinners perish in their sins than to remove their stony hearts and grant them a new disposition that would cause them to willingly comply with the demands of the gospel.

We deny that God’s sovereignty over all things means that he has the right to deal with his creatures as he has seen fit. We deny that he has the right to pass over guilty rebels and leave them to their just destruction and choose to redeem others who are equally guilty and bring them effectually to salvation.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Eight: The Free Will of Man

We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an “effectual call” for certain people that is different from a “general call” to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article Eight: The Free Will of Man

We affirm that, as an expression of his Sovereignty, God granted an autonomy to sinners that cancels out his own autonomy. It is the sinner’s autonomous will that determines all that occurs in human existence. We affirm that since sinners have responsibility to make proper choices and the ability to make improper choices, they must also have the ability to make proper choices. [We could add “Since we are completely ignorant of what Calvinists truly believe, we do not realize that no Calvinist would ever deny that sinners have the ability to choose between two options”].

We deny that God has any part in actually enabling sinners to believe. Whatever assistance he may give to any, he gives to all so that it is nothing but sinners’ autonomous decisions that determines their salvation.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Nine: The Security of the Believer

We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. This process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.

We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.

What They Should Have Affirmed and Denied

Article Nine: The Security of the Believer

We affirm that God’s purpose and promise to keep and save any believer completely, waits for and depends on the sinner’s autonomous decision to believe. Prior to this decision, God has no purpose for any sinner in particular. Once the sinner responds to the gospel in repentance and faith, God responds to his decision and determines to save him completely.

We deny that there are false professors whose profession and outward conformity to Christian standards may be no different from that of true believers who are in real danger of certain apostasy since they were never truly converted.

What They Affirmed and Denied

Article Ten: The Great Commission

We affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth. We affirm that the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation.

We deny that salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What They Should Have Understood Apart from a Profound Ignorance of Calvinism on Their Part

Article Ten: The Great Commission

Unless one believes in the salvation of infants and the mentally challenged, Calvinists would agree with the last article.

The following are the issues that Calvinists and SBC Traditionalists need to discuss:

The issue in Article 1 that divides Calvinists and non-Calvinists is not the free and universal offer of the gospel but whether God has determined to make the gospel effectual in bringing a chosen people to himself, or has done all he intends to do and has left the issue in the sinner’s hands to determine the outcome by the exercise of his autonomous will.

The issue in the denial of Article 2 is not whether sinners are able to freely choose between two or more options but whether sinners are able apart from divine enabling to choose to love and trust the God against whom they are hostile.

The issue in Article 3 is not whether the redemptive work of Christ is of sufficient value to save every sinner who will repent and believe but whether it was God’s intention merely to provide the possibility of salvation for sinners who would do their part and receive the gospel, or infallibly accomplish redemption for a multitude that no one can number to whom he would effectually apply that redeeming work by bringing them to faith and repentance.

The issue in Article 4 is not whether God has made a gracious and abundant provision for every sinner who will repent but whether his saving work is a mere provision or a saving accomplishment. Additionally, the issue is whether some sinners are more prone to salvation because of their humility, pliability etc.

The issue in Article 5 is not whether sinners are regenerated prior to or apart from hearing the gospel, but whether sinners in a state of pervasive corruption will ever respond rightly to the gospel unless God removes their disposition to resist its demands.

The issue in Article 6 is whether God or the sinner is the final arbiter in the sinner’s salvation. Did God choose a people or a plan and leave the success of that plan to the sinner’s autonomous choice.

The issue in Article 7 is whether God is sovereign over any sinner’s salvation at all, not whether his sovereignty requires him to cause any sinner’s rejection of faith in Christ. Ultimately, the issue is whether God has the right to rule his creation as he desires.

The issue in Article 8 is not whether sinners are able to choose between options but whether they have the ability to choose that for which they have absolutely no desire and to which their entire beings are absolutely averse.

The issue in Article 9 is not whether true believers are secure for eternity but apostasy is a possibility for those who have professed faith in Christ. The evidence of true conversion is a persevering faith.

The issue in Article 10 is that the document implies that Calvinists do not believe in a free and universal proclamation of the gospel and that they believe a person can be saved apart from a belief in the gospel.



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


Calvinistic Evangelism-Chapter Three-The Great Chasm

I can think of no better place to begin our investigation of the apostolic pattern for evangelism than Romans chapter one. In this chapter we find the theological statement and explanation of the message Paul and other first century preachers proclaimed. Since the apostle considered it his duty and debt to preach this message to people of every nation he wrote this Epistle to justify his Gentile mission. He states that it is his joy and delight to proclaim this universal message because it is God’s prescription for salvation to everyone who believes, whether Jew or Greek. He has stated in the prologue that this gospel of God concerns his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. He now proclaims that it reveals God’s method of declaring sinners righteous in his sight. It reveals God’s covenant faithfulness in reconciling believing sinners to himself.

The Two-fold Problem

In verse eighteen of chapter one he begins to explain the universal necessity for God’s gospel. He writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

This verse provides for us an outline of his entire argument in this section of the Epistle and brings into sharp focus the grave issues that exist between God and sinners. If we do not understanding what this verse teaches, it will be impossible for us to understand the message of the gospel. Additionally, if the message we proclaim does not deal adequately with the issues Paul has raised in this verse, it must be something other than God’s gospel.
This verse teaches us that sin has caused a mighty chasm to exist between God and sinners that the best of human ingenuity cannot bridge. No remedy will serve that does not effectively deal with God’s holy wrath toward sinners and the unholy hostility of sinners toward him. The gospel must not only answer the problem of the sinner’s guilt before God, but it must also address and remedy the problem of the sinner’s hostility toward God and his defilement by sin. The old writers and preachers understood what so many in our day seem to have completely forgotten. Think, for example, of the well-known hymn, “Rock of Ages.” Augustus M. Toplady wrote,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From that wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Some may be better acquainted with the alternate ending, “Save me from its guilt and power.” Both versions indicate a clear recognition that the gospel concerns more than pardon. In the version that speaks about Jesus’ work making believers pure, the emphasis is on God’s remedy for our defilement because of sin. In the version that speaks about his work saving us from sin’s power, the focus is on salvation from sin’s dominion, but both versions draw our attention to what the biblical refer to as “sanctification.”

It is to deal with the sinner’s two-fold predicament that God has revealed his method of putting sinners right with himself. In Paul’s exposition of this divine method of salvation he brings these two problems into bold relief. Not only are sinners under God’s wrath because of our legal liability, but he is engaged against us because of our recalcitrant rebellion against him. As we shall see, our stony hearts have caused us to suppress whatever truth God has revealed about himself—“. . . . who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
It is important that we understand what the apostle means by the word “wrath.” He is not referring to a fit of rage or anger. God’s wrath toward sinners is not a boiling over of fury but his settled indignation against that which contradicts his holy and righteous character. There is no reason to designate any message that fails to address this problem and announce its solution as “good news.”

The Gospel’s Primary Focus

It is important to notice that the order in which Paul states the reasons for God’s wrath shows a priority of one issue over another as well as a cause and effect relationship between those issues. He wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. . .” Charles Hodge wrote concerning the difference between “ungodliness” or “impiety” and “unrighteousness,” “The first represents impiety toward God and the second “injustice” toward men” (Hodge, 1953, p. 53).

Not only does the apostle place impiety toward God before injustice toward men in verse eighteen, but throughout the entire chapter he shows that the sinner’s wrong relationship with his fellow man results from his wrong relationship with God. Romans one, nineteen through twenty-three concern the sinner’s impiety toward God that is evinced by his suppression of God’s self-revelation. These verses speak of the sinner’s failure to glorify God as God and his failure to show him appropriate gratitude for his gracious benevolence. Additionally, they charge the sinner with idolatry since he has exchanged God’s glory for images of created beings. This is a description of impiety. Verse twenty-four describes their unrighteous acts in dishonoring their bodies between themselves. This verse is connected with the foregoing passage by the word “therefore.” The meaning is clearly that God gave them over to unrighteousness as a result of their impiety toward him.

Likewise, verse twenty-five describes impious behavior toward God in exchanging his truth for a lie and in worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. For this reason, God gave them up to unnatural relations between themselves (vv. 26-27). This behavior was unrighteous. Notice the words “For this reason.” They indicate that these acts of unrighteousness resulted from their impious behavior toward God.
We observe the same order in verses twenty-eight through thirty-one. Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, [impiety] he gave them up to a debased mind. The result was that they were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. All our unrighteous actions result directly from our rebellion against God. From this we should understand where our primary focus should be in gospel proclamation.

Now, since this is true, we need to examine our approach to gospel preaching in terms of our primary focus. Too often the focus of evangelical Christianity has been to deal with the sinner’s “felt needs”. Sinners all need to be better husbands, better wives, better sons and daughters, better employees, better bosses etc. Additionally, sinners usually have a self-image that is askew. Often we are told we lack self-love. We just don’t love ourselves enough. In reality, we love ourselves too much and place our self-love above love for God.
Years ago, when I was part of a Christian youth group, there was a great deal of emphasis on Jesus as our friend. Unfortunately, we now have an entire generation or two with a wonderful friend, but no Savior. It is gloriously true that Jesus is a wonderful friend for sinners and that he is the great lover of our souls, but the focus of our attention must be that as our friend he has laid down his life for us.

If you wish to see how this emphasis has worked itself out in practice, visit your local Christian book store. Compare the number of books about human relationships, gospel dieting, dating, how to be happily married, how to understand your teenagers, etc. and how few have been written about the sinner’s relationship with God. It should be the reverse. I am not suggesting these issues are unimportant but that the matter of prime importance is the sinner’s relationship with God.

God’s Broken Law

When we examine the theological basis for evangelism, we will consider the issue of the use of the Decalogue in gospel preaching. For now, I want to observe how Paul’s preaching of God’s law to the Gentiles differed from his message to the Jews.

A message that begins by assuring sinners that God loves them and that Jesus has died to pay for all their sins proclaims peace where there is no peace. It prescribes treatment before spotting the disease. If we would pattern our evangelism after the example of the apostles, we must begin where they began. I cannot find a single example of New Testament preaching that began with a proclamation of God’s universal, redeeming love. Instead, New Testament evangelists began their messages by telling their hearers that God’s wrath is engaged against them because they are both unrighteous and hostile toward him.

God’s Standard of Righteousness for the Gentiles

Two Commandments

Paul and others pressed home this evidence by charging Gentile sinners not with breaking the Decalogue but with breaking the two great commandments of the Law on which the rest of the Scripture depends. Additionally, in chapter two, verse twelve he states, “for as many as have sinned without the law will perish without the law.” As I intend to show later, the Gentiles were never under the law covenant of Sinai. It is for that reason the apostle could describe them as “not having the law.” This does not mean they are without any righteous standard whatsoever. Having been made in God’s image, they have an innate understanding that certain thoughts, actions, attitudes, and desires are right and others are wrong. The reality is that they are under the same righteous standard as were the Jews. God’s law whether written or unwritten only has two requirement—Love God and Love your neighbor.

Love God

Romans 1:18 speaks of the sinner’s impiety. This indicts the sinner for his guilt in breaking the first and great commandment of the Law—“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deut. 6:5). As evidence of this impiety, the apostle shows that in the face of all God’s self-revelations, in spite of all his benevolent goodness and patience, and in defiance of his proffers of mercy, sinners remain recalcitrant and obdurate in their rebellion against him. Here it is patently clear again that the sinner is not inclined toward God and goodness. One could not even draw from the New Testament Scriptures that he is neutral toward God. Instead, the apostle alleges that the sinner hates God and is at cross purposes with him.

In the indictment that follows Romans 1:18, Paul Apostle presents cogent evidence that sinners have broken God’s first and great commandment—we do not love God. In stating the evidence of our sin against God he also defines for us the nature of God’s design in salvation.

The issues with which we must confront the unconverted are clearly outlined here. One of the failures of modern evangelism is that even if sin is mentioned, it is not clearly defined. Often when people are asked if they know they are sinners, they do not even understand the gravity of the question let alone the answer. It is our duty to define what the Scriptures mean by sin; that it is first and foremost an offense against God. Instead of loving and glorifying him, we have lived to please ourselves.. We, like sheep, have turned to our own way. We have sought to find our satisfaction apart from him. We have preferred other things and other people above him. Ultimately, we have lived as if God did not exist. We have been impious.

Consider the following statements:

1. “For although they knew God (from his revelation of himself in the creation), they did not glorify him as God” (v. 21).

2. “. . .or give him thanks (v. 21).

3. “. . . exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and bird and animals and creeping things” (v. :23).

4. “. . .they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, . . .” (v. 25).

5. “. . .they did not see fit to acknowledge God, . . .” (v. :28).

6. “They are . . .haters of God. . . .” (v. 30).

These are our sins against God’s first and great commandment.

Love Your Neighbor

In the same way, Paul indicts sinners for breaking the second commandment. In consequence of their impiety in breaking the first commandment, God gave them over to unrighteousness in breaking the second commandment. Consider these verses:

1. “Therefore, God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity, . . .” (v. 24).

2. “Therefore, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . .” (v. 26).

3. “God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. . . .” (vv. 28-31).

It is important that we understand that when the text tells us God “gave them over to unrighteousness,” it does not mean he made them worse than they were already. It merely means that, as an act of judgment, God withheld from them his restraining grace and allowed them to act out their natural sinful desires. Apart from God’s hand restraining us, we are all capable of the most heinous sins imaginable.

God’s Righteous Standard for the Jews-
The Decalogue

As I have stated, both the Gentiles and the Jews are under the same righteous standard. It is merely that God codified his law, his two commandments, in the covenant he made with Israel. The law is not “summarily comprehended” in these two commandments. These two commandments are the law that is expressed in the Covenant of Sinai. That covenant merely granted greater privileges to Israel than to any other nation on earth because it gave them a fuller revelation of God’s righteous standard.

In chapter three Paul asked, “What advantage, then, does the Jew have?” One would have thought after reading Romans chapter two that his answer would have been, “They have no advantage at all.” Privileges are not the standard for justification before God. Paul’s entire point in that chapter is that God does not show favoritism based on one’s race, one’s religion, or one’s ritual. As far as justification is concerned, it is no advantage that a person knows right from wrong. It is no advantage that one is a member of God’s covenant nation. It is no advantage that one has heard and knows the law. It is no advantage that one has been circumcised as a sign of his covenant participation and blessing. God’s standard is one of unbending righteousness.

The fact that he answered, “They have great advantage in every way, chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God,” merely indicates that they are guilty of an aggravated condemnation. In spite of their great blessing and privilege, they are nonetheless guilty and under condemnation.

In chapter two, verses seventeen through twenty-four the apostle confronts the Jewish people specifically with their failure in regard to the law. It is difficult to know for certain whether in his use of the word “law” in verses seventeen through twenty is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures or to the Mosaic covenant. It could refer to either, but in verses twenty-one through twenty-four there seems to be little question that he is referring to the Old Covenant itself. In doing so, he is demonstrating what he meant when he wrote, “. . .as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law” (2:12).

Ultimately, they are no less guilty than the Gentiles. Paul charges them both with essentially the same sin. The Gentiles have failed to glorify/honor God (1:21). The Jews have dishonored God (2:24). Instead of being a light to the Gentiles, they gave cause for God’s name to be blasphemed among them.

The law not only shows both Gentile and Jew to be guilty before God, but it reveals their hostility toward God. In Rom 3:9 ff. Paul brings his indictment of both Gentile and Jew to a closing argument drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. He not only tells us there is no one righteous, but he also tells us there is no one who understands [spiritual truth]; there is no one who seeks God; there is no one who does good [works] not even one. Here Paul does not deny the ability of sinners to perform deeds that are pleasing and helpful to other people but of works that are pleasing to God and that merit his smile. When a person understands the lofty demands of divine law, his mouth will be stopped in terms of speaking about his ability to merit God’s favor.

A Persistent Pursuit of God’s Glory

Ultimately, God’s righteous standard comes down to this. He requires a consistent and persevering pursuit of a life of well-doing. This pursuit must be focused on a “glory and honor” that is undying and unending (see Romans 2:6-11). Who among us that is honest with himself would suggest that he or she is consistently and perseveringly engaged in such a pursuit?

I am not unaware that there is a sense in which at God’s final judgment the believer’s works will be called in to testify to the reality of his faith, but this does not appear to be Paul’s teaching in these verses. Paul’s purpose in this passage is to show that a person cannot plead privilege as the ground of his acceptance before God. God’s judgment is righteous judgment. It is not Paul’s purpose in this context to show that, when we stand before God in judgment the works produced in our lives by God’s grace will give evidence of the reality of our faith.

The most righteous among us cannot claim that his pursuit of righteousness and godliness has been uninterrupted by sin. Additionally, the pursuit of “glory and honor” about which he speaks is not self-centered and self-serving. This pursuit of “glory and honor” is not about glory and honor for ourselves. The apostle sets this pursuit over against “self-seeking” (v. 8). God’s concern is the manifestation of his own glory. The pursuit of the man whose righteousness will stand the test of God’s judgment must be characterized by an unbroken consistency. It must be uninterrupted and undiminished by any cloud of sin and rebellion that might arise. We must be able to say “I always do those things that are pleasing to him.”
I find Paul’s phraseology here to be intriguing. This is not the only place in the Scriptures where we find the phrase “glory and honor.” It occurs both in Psalm 8 and in Hebrews 2. It speaks not only of that holy image in which God created Adam but also of the ultimate goal of God’s redemptive work, namely, the believer’s restoration to God’s likeness. If our view of salvation involves anything less than the full restoration of God’s glorious image to his chosen people, we have never come to rightly understand that gracious work.
The contrast is between those who are self-seeking and self-serving and are thus involved in a lives of disobedience to God’s revealed truth and those who are seeking accurately to reflect God’s glory and honor and are thus involved in lives of consistent and persevering well-doing.
When we are measured by that standard there can be only one response. Our question must be, “Who shall be able to stand?”

God’s Universal Beneficence

You will search the New Testament Scriptures in vain searching for any statement that resembles the modern jargon to which evangelicals have become so accustomed. Those who believe in the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners are often asked how we can tell every sinner to whom we witness the gospel that God loves them and Jesus died for them. It would certainly be quite hypocritical of us to make such statements they do not accord with our doctrine. The answer to the question is far simpler than most would imagine. We do not include such statements in our message because such declarations are nowhere found in the apostolic message.

As we have noticed, the phrase “God loves you” never occurs in the New Testament record of gospel preaching. Many canned evangelism presentations use verses that were written to believers as if they have universal application. “God shows his love for us. . . .” (Rom. 5:8), refers not to us human beings, but to us believers.
What we do find in the biblical record are statements of God’s universal beneficence and common grace toward people as his creatures. When Jesus spoke of our duty to love our enemies that we might be the sons of our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:44-45) it should be clear to any thinking person that he is referring to God’s universal benevolence and not to his redeeming love.

In referring to God’s universal beneficence we often use the term “common grace.” It is important to understand that we use the term “grace” because every manifestation of this divine kindness is granted to rebels who have merited God’s wrath and curse. We do not use the term to suggest that God grants universal enabling to sinners.

We find the “common grace” theme not only in the book of Acts but also in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. This theme seems to be more prominent in gospel presentations to the Gentiles. God clearly treated the Gentile nations differently than he treated his chosen people, but now he has broadened the tent to include people from every nation. He now commands all people everywhere to repent (see Acts 17:30).

Even in that period during which he showed his mercy primarily to Israel he did not leave himself without a witness among the Gentile nations. Luke wrote, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways, yet he did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). Additionally, when Paul reasoned with the philosophers in Athens, he described God as follows: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). Paul wrote to Timothy that God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). It was this universal benevolence and common grace about which Jesus spoke in the sermon on the mount when he said, “. . .he [your Father who is in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). The implication of Jesus’ words is that the Father is merciful and gracious in allowing his creatures to enjoy his sunshine and rain. Note, it is not our sun, it is “his sun.”
In Romans 2:4-5, the apostle Paul teaches us how to apply the truth in the matter of evangelism. He wrote, “or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” In the previous chapter the apostle had indicted sinners based general revelation. That God continues to make himself known to his fallen creatures is an act of mercy that is poured out universally on them. His accusation was that in the face of clear revelation concerning God’s eternal power and divine nature, they had failed to glorify God and were ungrateful for his bounty (vv. 19-22). Additionally, they had exchanged the glorious God for images of created beings (v.23). Finally, they had decided God was not worth knowing (v. 28).

In evangelizing the unconverted we should remind them that their continued existence on earth is due to God’s kindness and patience. They owe their very existence to him. He gives to all life and breath and all things. He allows them to breath his air, walk on his ground, feel his sunshine and drink his water not because they deserve it but because he is kind and long-suffering. This kindness is intended to lead them to repentance, but they have presumed on the riches of his kindness and have lived as if he did not exist. Because their hearts are hard and impenitent they have stored up more divine wrath for themselves on the Day of Judgment.

There is perhaps no clearer evidence of the depth and breadth of the abyss that sin has created between God and the sinner than his reaction to every manifestation of God’s magnanimous kindness. Paul describes this sinful rebellion as the sinner’s suppression of God’s truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Then, he list a number of ways in which God has made himself known to sinners. These acts of God’s benevolence are clear and unmistakable. For example, in Romans 1:19-20 Paul wrote about God’s self-disclosure and states that what may be known about God as creator is “clearly seen being understood from the things that are made. . .so that they might be [or with the result that they are] without excuse.” There is no person in all of God’s creation who can plead ignorance. But, what has been the universal reaction to this general revelation? Paul wrote, “but although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were they thankful. . . (v. 21). In spite of the copious evidence that there is a Creator who deserves our worship and gratitude sinners have suppressed this truth in unrighteousness.

In every case, the sinner’s reaction is the same. It does not matter whether God reveals himself in his creation, in the conscience (see Rom. 2:15), in the commandments (see Rom. 2:17-24), in Christ’s gospel (see-1 Cor. 1:18) or in conviction [or reproof] of the Holy Spirit himself (see Acts 7:51), the sinner in a state of sinful nature always demonstrates the same hostility toward God (see Romans 8:7). This is why Paul summarizes his argument in Romans 3:9-18 as follows:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.””There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Such is the sinner’s plight. When the Bible says sinners are “lost” it does not mean they are merely disoriented and in need of someone to point them in the right direction. Instead, it means they are hopelessly and helplessly lost and need someone to return them to the right path. Otherwise, they will wander endlessly and be destroyed forever. To make matters worse they have ignored every sign encouraging them to return because they have preferred the path of destruction to the way of peace.

Keep in mind that to this point, we are considering the problems presented by the gospel, not their solution. In reality, what we have considered thus far is not good news at all for those who persist in a state of rebellion against God. By omitting this aspect of the message, modern evangelists have unwittingly robbed the gospel of its ability to amaze us. There was a time when grace was amazing; now it is viewed as an entitlement. If we think of God as love and only love, our question will be, “Why doesn’t he save everyone?” If we think of God as holy and just, our question will be. “Why does he save anyone?” The modern evangelist asks how he can present his message so that Jesus will be acceptable to sinners. The concern of the biblical gospel was how sinners could be made acceptable to God.

In his well-known introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ, J. I. Packer contrasted what he called the “old gospel” with the “new gospel.” Commenting on the reason the new gospel does not “answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty,” he writes,

We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man – to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction – and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’, too – more so, indeed, than is the new – but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God (Emphasis mine). But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach people to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and his ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed (Packer, 1958, p. 1).


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.”