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This post is part of a full article by Jeramie Rinne entitled Exposition and Sufficiency which can be read in its entirety at Reformation 21 website. Please click this link.

Making God’s Point Your Point

We’ve said that expository preaching flows naturally from a preacher convinced of Scripture’s sufficiency.  But what exactly is expository preaching?  There are many good definitions.  At 9Marks ministries, we typically say that an expositional sermon is one in which the point of the text becomes the point of the sermon, which is in turn applied to the congregation.  It’s a preaching that exposes what the Word says, and then shows how that relates to the hearers.  Visualize the expositor pointing at the text with his right index finger, and then pointing at himself and the congregation with his left index finger.  That’s the essence of exposition.

Perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what expository preaching is not.  Unfortunately the term carries negative and inaccurate connotations for some of us.  Consider these four clarifying denials about expository preaching:

First, expository preaching is not merely a verse-by-verse approach to Scripture.  A pastor can exposit a text verse-by-verse.  But he can also take up a paragraph, a pericope, or a whole chapter.  God’s Word speaks whether we take a microscopic look at one word, or a wide-angle shot of a whole book.  I have one sermon that I intentionally repeat at my church that covers the entire book of Job.  I recycle that sermon because suffering is a constant challenge in our peoples’ lives, and Job calls us to worship God even in our pain and perplexity.  But the point is that it’s one sermon on the main point of the entire book.

Second, expository preaching is not to be equated with the style of any one expositor.  When you think of someone who typifies expository sermons, who comes to mind?  Whoever that model pastor may be, don’t think that to be a faithful expositor you need to mimic his style, mannerisms, or preaching pace.  Give a text to four faithful expositors, and you will likely get four similar, yet unique sermons.  Though they will make similar points about the passage, the tone, emphasis and insights will vary according to the distinct personalities and gifts God has given to each.

Third, expository preaching is not merely a running commentary on the text.  Our definition includes an emphasis on application.  We preachers often struggle with making application.  Our seminaries trained us in exegesis, hermeneutics and theology, and our sermons often reflect this.  But if we never make application, we merely puff up our hearers with knowledge, or possibly cause them to tune out, without ever pushing the point of the text into their hearts, their families, their speech and their wallets.

Fourth, expository preaching is not inherently seeker insensitive.  We sometimes assume that relevant, topical sermon series are good for unbelievers and new Christians, while expository preaching is better for mature Christians.  Again, this betrays our faltering courage in the Bible’s adequacy.  Seekers (i.e. unrepentant sinners) need the Word of God if they are ever going to believe: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  Furthermore, sinners aren’t stupid; they’re just ignorant.  They can learn what God’s Word says if we’ll take the time to explain it to them clearly.  If teenagers can pound down Harry Potter and Twilight novels, and adults can consume The Wall Street Journal and follow the twists, turns, and theology of The DaVinci Code, then they can certainly digest a cogent expository sermon.

Expository preaching at its core is faithfulness to the Bible’s message and intent.  It arises from twin desires to see sinners sanctified and God glorified, by showing the power for doing both comes from God’s Word alone.  By making the point of the text the point of the sermon and application, we as preachers merely lead people to God on God’s terms and then watch as people encounter him through his Word.

 

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by Mitch Cervinka


“Federal Vision” (FV), also known as “Auburn Avenue Theology” (AAT), is a modern heresy promoted by certain Presbyterian pastors, including Steve Schlissel, Douglas Wilson, Steve Wilkins, Peter Leithart and others.  This heresy was carefully analyzed recently by the Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies of the Presbyterian Church in America, which produced a report that very fairly and insightfully analyzes and exposes the errors inherent in FV theology.[1]  I heartily commend it for your consideration.The essence of FV is that salvation must be viewed from two perspectives: 1) the “decretal/eternal” and 2) the “covenantal/historical”.  When discussing the “decretal/eternal” perspective, the advocates of FV seem to affirm an orthodox understanding of historical/Biblical Reformed theology, such as represented by the Westminster Confession of Faith.  However, when discussing the “covenantal/historical” perspective, the FV advocate comes across as Arminian or Pelagian—teaching that water baptism truly unites us to Christ, that those who are truly united to Christ can later fall away and be lost, that elect people can fall away and be eternally lost, etc.One of the great problems of FV, therefore, is that it describes salvation in two contradictory ways which can only confuse or mislead the people of God:

  1. it makes salvation appear to depend on our faithfulness rather than upon Christ’s faithfulness
  2. it teaches us to trust in external performances and earthly relationships—water baptism and church membership—rather than in Christ alone for our salvation
  3. it gives false assurance to those who are not decretally elect
  4. it deprives those who are decretally elect of the assurance that is rightfully theirs in Christ
  5. it blurs the meaning of such important Biblical terms as “elect”, “redeemed” and “regenerate”
  6. it places too much emphasis on the church as the agent of our salvation
  7. hence, it minimizes Christ as the object of our confident faith and deprives Him of the glory that is rightfully His

Because of the contradictory nature of these two “perspectives”, the “covenantal/historical” teaching of FV obscures or nullifies its “decretal/eternal” teaching.  All that they affirm concerning the “decretal/eternal”—unconditional election, particular redemption, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints—is overturned by all that they teach concerning the “covenantal/historical” perspective—claiming that a person can fall away from election and from his redemption, and can successfully resist the grace of God so as not to persevere in faith and thus be eternally damned in hell.  The apostle provides an apt analogy …

1 Corinthians 14:8 – And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?

When the advocate of FV complains that he truly does believe in the “decretal/eternal” perspective, and should therefore be accepted as an orthodox believer in the Reformed tradition, we must realize that this is but a half-truth.  He is only a part-time believer in the Reformed tradition.  The rest of the time, he denies sovereign grace by teaching that truly elect, truly regenerate believers can fall away from Christ and be eternally lost.  He is like a pastor who preaches the deity of Christ on the first and third Sundays of each month, and denies Christ’s deity in his other sermons.  An inconsistent Calvinism is not orthodoxy!Federal Vision claims that Scripture normally views election in the “covenantal/historical” sense.  Hence the “decretal/eternal” perspective is viewed as the Biblical exception rather than the rule—an intellectual curiosity having little practical application.  In Federal Vision, Biblical orthodoxy is trumped by a strained covenantalism that promotes outward conformity to water baptism and church attendance while downplaying any concern for genuine soul-transformation.  This is all too reminiscent of the rise of Liberalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when orthodoxy was viewed as outdated and provincial, and novel interpretive schemes were proposed to bring the Bible into conformity with the prevailing theological theories of the day.The “Reformed” Reformers (e.g. Calvin, Knox, the Puritans, Dort, Westiminster, etc.) clearly taught what FV refers to as the “decretal/eternal” perspective.  It is not so clear that they embraced the “covenantal/historical” perspective—certainly not in the same manner or degree that FV presents it.  In fact, they strongly denounced many of the teachings that FV affirms—upholding God’s eternal, sovereign election as being eternal and immutable; denying that a truly regenerate person could totally or finally fall away from salvation, etc.  They made a clear distinction between hypocrites and true believers, and denied that membership in the visible church was equivalent to union with Christ.There is a strong hint of modern Lutheran theology (i.e. that a truly justified, regenerated person can lose his salvation) in FV.  It might be added that there is an even stronger hint of Roman Catholic theology in their claims that 1) membership in the visible church is synonymous with (genuine, spiritual) union with Christ, 2) one becomes (truly, spiritually) united with Christ by means of water baptism, 3) a true believer can later fall away from Christ and be eternally lost and (so it would seem) 4) no one can have true assurance of ultimate salvation in this life.[2]We must understand that the faith-strengthening power of Reformed theology lies in its affirmation of the eternal, sovereign purpose and unalloyed grace of God in saving sinful, rebellious men.  When people are distracted from the gospel of God’s sovereign grace and made to believe that their salvation depends on sacramentalism (receiving baptism) or legalism (their own ability to remain faithful), it takes their eyes away from Christ, the only Savior, and turns them to idolatrously trust in themselves and their own performances.No true Calvinist has a problem with the “decretal/eternal” perspective—this perspective is plainly taught in Romans 8-11, Ephesians 2, and in numerous other passages of holy scripture, as well as in the various Reformed standards.  Clearly, it is FV’s peculiar “covenantal/historical” perspective that appears to be so heretical and so inimical to the gospel of the grace of God.  What, then, are the reasons given for holding this “covenantal/historical” perspective?Here are some of the reasons given:  1) Federal Vision opposes the revivalistic theology that bases the assurance of salvation on subjective experiences.  It seeks to replace such subjective, individualistic experiences with the objective fact of having received the ordinance of water baptism and being thereby accepted into membership in the visible church.   2) Federal Vision is concerned that, since we humans do not know God’s eternal decrees, and cannot see into the human heart, we must accept at face value an individual’s membership in the visible church so long as he faithfully perseveres in faith and good works.  3) The adherents of FV claim that FV is more faithful to scripture, asserting that the Bible “ordinarily views election through the lens of the covenant“.In response to the first reason, we must remember that the scribes and Pharisees were the objects of our Lord’s harshest rebukes, even though they were generally regarded as the most faithful and most respected members of the Jewish religion.  Our Lord did not merely chasten them as wayward children, but condemned them as hell-destined reprobates.  For example, in Matthew 23 alone, he pronounces “Woe” upon them no less than seven times, declaring them to be children of hell (vs. 15), “blind guides” and “blind fools” (vss. 16-17, 24), “hypocrites” (vss. 27, 29), comparing them to “whitewashed tombs“, “full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (vs. 27), and asserting that they were “sons of those who murdered the prophets“.  He concludes by calling them “serpents” and a “brood of vipers“, declaring “how can you escape being sentenced to hell?” (vs. 33), and prophesying that they would kill, crucify and flog the “prophets, wise men and scribes” that He would later send to them.  Surely, therefore, our Lord did not equate membership in the visible church with true faith or salvation.To base your confidence on ordinances and membership in the visible church is an ancient error known as externalism.  When the apostle exhorts us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves,” he does not tell us to look to our baptism or church membership as the basis for assurance.  Rather, he says “Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  The true test of salvation is a changed heart, which is not as subjective as the FV proponents suggest, since it involves evaluating our character and attitudes against the objective standard of God’s eternal, authoritative word.In response to the second reason, I would reply that it is far safer to consistently affirm the truth of God’s decretal/eternal election, and simply acknowledge that our human judgment of the spiritual condition of any given individual is limited and fallible, than to proclaim a theology where truly elect, truly regenerate saints can totally fall away and be forever lost.  Consider, for example, how the apostle John teaches us to understand apostasy…

1 John 2:19 – They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

John asserts that “if they had been of us, they would have continued with us“, assuring us that those who apostasize were never true members of Christ’s church.  John carefully distinguishes between the outward relationship of having assembled with us, versus the vital relationship of being “of us“, which is characterized by persevering faith.  Clearly, John had no illusions that these apostates had once been truly joined to Christ nor that they were once truly regenerate.We come then to the third reason—the proponents of FV assert that scripture actually teaches the “covenantal/historical” perspective.  Here is a sample of their claims[3]

  • The Bible ordinarily (though not always) views election through the lens of the covenant. This is why covenant members are addressed consistently as God’s elect, even though some of those covenant members may apostatize, proving themselves in the end not to have been among the number of those whom God decreed to eternal salvation from before the foundation of the world. Thus, the basis for calling them God’s “elect” was their standing as members of the Church (which is the body of Christ) and not some knowledge of God’s secret decree. The visible Church is the place where the saints are “gathered and perfected” by means of “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God” (WCF 25.3).
  • The Church is not merely a human community, and the Church’s enactments of the means of grace are not merely human works. God works through the administration of the sacraments by the power of His Spirit and His word of promise (WCF 27.3). The Church herself is God’s new creation, the city He promised to build for Abraham. The Church is not merely a means to salvation, a stepping-stone to a more ultimate goal. Rather, the Church herself is the historic manifestation of God’s salvation (WCF 25.1,2), the partially-realized goal in history that will be brought to final fulfillment at the last day. When someone is united to the Church by baptism, he is incorporated into Christ and into His body; he becomes bone of Christ’s bone and flesh of His flesh (Eph. 5:30). He becomes a member of “the house, family, and kingdom of God” (WCF 25.2). Until and unless that person breaks covenant, he is to be reckoned among God’s elect and regenerate saints.
  • By baptism, one enters into covenantal union with Christ and is offered all his benefits (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:1ff; 2 Cor. 1:20). As Westminster Shorter Catechism #94 states, baptism signifies and seals “our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace.” Baptism in itself does not, however, guarantee final salvation. What is offered in baptism may not be received because of unbelief. Or, it may only be embraced for a season and later rejected (Matt. 13:20-22; Luke 8:13-14). Those who “believe for a while” enjoy blessings and privileges of the covenant only for a time and only in part, since their temporary faith is not true to Christ, as evidenced by its eventual failure and lack of fruit (1 Cor. 10:1ff; Hebrews 6:4-6). By their unbelief they “trample underfoot the Son of God, count the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified an unholy thing, and do despite to the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29) and thus bring greater condemnation upon themselves.
  • Included in His decree, however, is that some persons, not destined for final salvation, will be drawn to Christ and His people only for a time. These, for a season, enjoy real blessings, purchased for them by Christ’s cross and applied to them by the Holy Spirit in his common operations through Word and Sacrament (Hebrews 6:4-6; Matthew 25:14ff; etc.).
  • For example, the same language that describes the Spirit coming upon Saul (1 Sam. 10:6) is used when the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon (Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29), and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). Yet in four of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the man in question was clearly given persevering faith and brought to final salvation by the Spirit’s work (cf. Heb. 11:32). The Biblical narrative, however, appears to draw no distinction between Saul’s initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who obtained final salvation.
  • All whom God has ordained to eternal life will surely be saved. But there is also another sense in which all those in the covenant are “saved.” They have been delivered out of the world and brought into the glorious new creation of Christ (thus, the Scripture speaks of those who had “known the way of righteousness,” “been cleansed from their former sins,” “have tasted of the heavenly gift,” etc.), but not all will persevere in that “salvation.”  Jesus spoke of those in the new covenant who were united to Him, but then cut off because they did not persevere in the fruit-bearing that is the evidence of a lively faith, by which we abide in Christ (John 15). Whatever the precise complexion and content of that union for those who do not persevere, nonetheless, if Jesus Himself is salvation, must we not conclude that being cut off from Him means being cut off the from source of salvation and, in that specific sense, from salvation itself?
  • The Bible often speaks of salvation in relational and covenantal categories. “Salvation” is a matter of being rightly related to God through Christ. But relationships are not static, unchanging entities. They are fluid and dynamic. Our salvation covenant with the Lord is like a marriage. If we continue to rest upon Christ in faith, we will live with Him happily ever after. If we break the marriage covenant, He will divorce us. It is probably unwise and pastorally inept, especially for tender consciences, to speak of this in terms of “losing one’s salvation,” but it seems contrary to Scripture to say that nothing at all is lost. To draw such a conclusion appears to deny the reality of the covenant and the blessedness that is said to belong even to those who ultimately prove themselves reprobate (Heb. 10:26ff).

In response to these claims, I would insist that Federal Vision misunderstands these passages, making numerous unwarranted assumptions.  Their excessive zeal for the covenant has impaired their hermeneutical judgment. For example, it is manifest that, when scripture says that the Spirit “came upon” Saul or David, it is not speaking of His work of regeneration, but of empowerment and gifting for ministry (i.e. as prophet, king or warrior).  The fact that David was a regenerate man does not justify taking the phrase “the Spirit rushed upon David” (1 Samuel 16:13) to mean that the Spirit came upon Him on this occasion so as to regenerate him.Scripture never explicitly identifies an elect person that fell away (other than Judas, whom Christ chose for discipleship, not for salvation—John 6:64, 70).  It is true that scripture sometimes speaks of the church corporately as being “elect”, or of being comprised of elect people.  However, this is to be understood in a general way, and not in a complete or exhaustive way.  It can mean that 1) elect people will normally be found within the church, 2) the church ought to be comprised only of elect individuals, 3) the church will ultimately be comprised only of elect people, or 4) the church, as an institution, was chosen and ordained by God to be the chief means by which His glory is proclaimed to the ends of the earth.  Any of these meanings is possible, and none requires us to believe that every individual member of the visible church is to be considered “truly elect”.Scripture says that Christ died for the “world” (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), but this does not mean He died for every single individual in the world.  In the same way, it does not follow that when the church is addressed as “elect”, it means to apply this term to every individual member of the church.  Jesus assured us that there would be tares among the wheat, and goats among the sheep, assuring us that there is always a difference in character between the truly regenerate and those who are not decretally elect. The tares are never actually wheat, but only appear to be so until they ripen. The goats are never actually sheep, and never have the character of sheep, but merely reside among the sheep.Likewise, when scripture warns the church of apostasy, it is acknowledging that there are often both elect and reprobate among her number. A truly elect person will never totally apostasize, and a truly reprobate person will never persevere to the end. However, because the church is a mixed company, there will always be those who “went out from us” because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19).  God’s warnings are one of the means He uses, through His Holy Spirit, to keep His truly elect people from apostasizing.  They are also one of the means He uses to demonstrate that the apostates are totally without excuse for leaving.Federal Vision has confused various aspects of the covenant of works with the covenant of grace.  The covenant of works is a covenant of human performance, whereas the covenant of grace depends solely upon Christ’s performance for us.  Notice how Paul contrasts law and grace in Galatians 3 …

Galatians 3:10-14 – For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Under the covenant of works, we must maintain the terms of the covenant.  However, under the covenant of grace, Christ has graciously interposed to be our covenant-keeper, and He cannot fail to keep the covenant.  Since the covenant of grace depends on Christ’s faithfulness, and not our own, there is no possible way for a person who is truly within the covenant of grace to “break covenant”.  The breaking of the covenant is possible only if we are the ones who are attempting to keep the covenant, which means that we are not living in the covenant of grace, but in the covenant of works.  Any scripture that speaks of “covenant breaking” is therefore given in the context of the covenant of works.It should be noted that, while the terms “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace” are not found in scripture, the concepts are quite Biblical.  Scripture repeatedly warns us that we cannot be saved by our works, but only by God’s electing grace and mercy, through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 3:20, 27-28; 4:1-8; 9:11, 16; 10:9; 11:5-6; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Acts 16:31; etc.).According to the claims made by FV, a person who is baptized and received into the church is thereby genuinely united to Christ and made a partaker of the various benefits of the New Covenant—even if he later renounces his faith in Christ and dies in unbelief.  FV would claim that, at one time, Christ knew this apostate individual as His own, but our Lord plainly denies this claim, saying:

Matthew 7:23 – … ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Federal Vision says that Christ once truly “knew” the apostate, but our Lord says to them “I never knew you“.  Thus, it is false to say that the apostate were ever truly united to Christ.  Water baptism has no power to unite anyone to Christ.This reveals one of the many exegetical errors on which Federal Vision is based.  Scripture never says that water baptism unites us to Christ.  None of the passages that speak of the saving benefits we receive through baptism ever mention water—rather, it is Spirit baptism alone that joins us to Christ…

1 Corinthians 12:13 – For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

We must understand the proper role of water baptism—it is an earthly symbol of the spiritual work of regeneration, and has no power whatever to effect the work it symbolizes. It is the spiritual work, and not the earthly symbol, that joins us to Christ.  Both are called “baptism”, but it is essential that we distinguish the symbol from the reality.  John the Baptist taught his disciples to look beyond water baptism to the Lord Jesus, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit rather than with water…

Mark 1:8 – I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Just as animal sacrifices and circumcision could not bring actual salvation to the Israelites (Hebrews 10:4; Galatians 5:2), so also water baptism has no power to save (1 Corinthians 1:14).  These are but symbols of the spiritual reality that can save.  Granted, water baptism is more than merely a symbol, for it serves as a seal of ownership when it is applied to a person who is (decretally) elect. Also, it confers to the church a certain measure of sanctifying grace by illustrating (and thereby teaching and reminding them of) the divine work it represents. However, these facts do not turn water baptism into a saving ordinance that confers some sort of actual salvation to the individual being baptized.There is no reason to suppose that the people spoken of in Hebrews 6 were ever truly saved …

Hebrews 6:4-6 – For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

These people were said to have been “once enlightened“, to have “tasted the heavenly gift“, to have “shared in the Holy Spirit” and to have “tasted the goodness of the word of God” and “the powers of the age to come“, yet fell away.  The sense of the verse is not that these individuals had ever been regenerated, but that they had been given abundant external evidences and inducements (short of regeneration) that should have been sufficient to convince any spiritually sensible person to come to Christ in faith.  There is an “enlightenment” concerning the things of God that comes short of genuine loving trust in God.  The references to “the heavenly gift” and “the Holy Spirit” and “the powers of the age to come” have to do with miraculous signs and gifts, rather than a soul-changing work of the Spirit.  Signs and wonders were common in the early church, and were evidently given even to some who were not truly regenerate.  So also there are many who delight in “the goodness of the word of God“, and yet deny the Redeemer to whom it points.  Therefore, none of the things said of these people proves that they had ever experienced genuine regeneration, and thus this is no proof that we should regard such people as ever having been “elect” or “united with Christ” in any saving sense.Matthew Henry asserts that the people described in Hebrews 6:4 were never truly converted or justified …

… These lengths hypocrites may go, and, after all, turn apostates. Now hence observe, [1.] These great things are spoken here of those who may fall away; yet it is not here said of them that they were truly converted, or that they were justified; there is more in true saving grace than in all that is here said of apostates. [2.] This therefore is no proof of the final apostasy of true saints. These indeed may fall frequently and foully, but yet they will not totally nor finally from God; the purpose and the power of God, the purchase and the prayer of Christ, the promise of the gospel, the everlasting covenant that God has made with them, ordered in all things and sure, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the immortal seed of the word, these are their security. But the tree that has not these roots will not stand.[4]

Notice especially Henry’s observation that true saints “will not [fall] totally nor finally from God“, and one of the reasons he adduces is that they are secure in “the everlasting covenant that God has made with them“.  The Reformers and Puritans did not typically believe in a “covenant” relationship that does not guarantee salvation.  Rather, they affirmed repeatedly that God’s covenant ensures the eternal salvation of those who are under the covenant, and that they can never totally nor finally fall away from it.This observation is affirmed in the Westminster Confession of Faith …

17:2 This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.[5]

It is the very nature of the covenant of grace that the saints will certainly and infallibly persevere in the state of grace.  Federal Vision denies this clear statement when it asserts that genuine believers can and do fall away from the covenant and are eternally lost.Scripture itself often teaches us that the true believer is secure in Christ and cannot totally fall away and perish.  For example, our Lord taught …

John 10:28-30 – I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Here, our Lord is speaking of specific people (His “sheep”) who were characterized by knowing Christ’s voice and instictively following Him (John 10:4-5, 14, 16).  This is not some future hypothetical group of disciples that managed to persevere to the judgment day, but people who, in this life, can be recognized as sheep.  It is these whom Jesus says will never perish.  Moreover, He gives the reason why they cannot perish—they are being held omnipotently by Himself and by His Father.  In order for the sheep to perish, someone would have to overpower God Almighty, which is impossible.Again, Peter declares …

1 Peter 1:3-5 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

According to Peter, our inheritance is imperishable, and we are being guarded by God’s power—His omnipotent power—through faith (i.e. faith as the instrument by which God is omnipotently guarding and keeping us)—for a salvation that will be revealed in the last time.  Thus, the salvation of which Peter here speaks consists not merely in the salvation blessings we experience in this present life, but in the ultimate blessings that will be ours at the end of time.  Our ultimate salvation is guarded by God’s omnipotent power as He upholds our faith to the end.
 In conclusion, it is destructive of the gospel to affirm the truth of sovereign grace with one breath, and to deny it (via the “covenantal/historical perspective”) with the next.  A context-sensitive theology (i.e. where the doctrine taught depends on the context of “decretal/eternal” or “covenantal/historical”) such as this can only be confusing to the hearers who hear seeming (or perhaps real!) contradictions taught to them.  God’s people need to be taught with clarity that salvation is by sovereign grace alone.  Regeneration is a real act of God’s Spirit and “You must be born again” (John 3:7) is a message that every person needs to hear.  This refers not to water baptism, but to a miraculous work of God that radically changes the human heart, imparting a deep love for God and a lasting faith that perseveres to the very end. God’s people need to know and have the utmost confidence that Christ alone is the Savior, and that our salvation depends upon Him alone. Only then will we have the freedom and confidence to serve God without guilt or fear.

Romans 8:15 – For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

It is destructive to the gospel to say that a person who was once joined to Christ may later fall away and be lost.  This makes Christ out to be a Savior who does not actually save.  This makes salvation depend, not solely on Christ’s faithfulness and merit, but on some merit or faithfulness of our own.  Even when we qualify such statements by saying that it is God who gives the faith or who causes us to persevere, we deny the perfection of Christ’s redemptive work to suggest that anyone who was once “saved” by Christ could ultimately be lost.  If those for whom Christ died will not necessarily be saved, then we cannot point to Christ as the perfect Savior who can be trusted to eternally save those who come to Him in genuine faith.  Instead, we are teaching people to trust in themselves—in their own faithfulness and ability to persevere.  Any gospel that takes our eyes away from Christ is heresy.  Any gospel that teaches us that Christ can only save us if we do our part, is heresy.  We must constantly reaffirm the Reformers’ banner of “Sola Gratia” — GRACE ALONE!
 
 Footnotes:
[1] The Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies may be read at http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/07-fvreport.html. [Return to text]
[2] Another evidence that FV represents a return to Papism is that many of its adherents are attracted to the “New Perspectives” teachings of N.T. Wright, who interprets the Pauline doctrine of justification to be ecclesial rather than soteriological, claiming that by “justify”, Paul intended primarily “participation in the covenant”.  He downplays forensic justification and openly denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the condemned sinner—doctrines that were at the heart of the Reformers’ rejection of the Roman church, and for which they were willing to suffer and die.  If Wright is correct, then where is the scriptural basis for the Reformation? [Return to text]
[3] These excerpts were taken from the summary statement provided on the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church website at: www.auburnavenue.org/documents/summary-statement-on-baptism.htm [Return to text]
[4] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hebrews 6:4. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc6.Heb.vii.html [Return to text]
[5] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17, Article 3. http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_XVII.html [Return to text
  
 
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21st Century Puritan Web Site – 1997-2007 Mitch Cervinka

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Original article by David Mathis at Desiring God Ministries 

 

 Twice Jesus was offered wine while on the cross. He refused the first, but took the second. Why so?

The first time came in verse 23, “they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” William Lane explains,

According to an old tradition, respected women of Jerusalem provided a narcotic drink to those condemned to death in order to decrease their sensitivity to the excruciating pain . . . . When Jesus arrived at Golgotha he was offered . . . wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it, choosing to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him (The Gospel of Mark, p. 564)

This first wine represented an offer to ease the pain, to opt for a small shortcut—albeit, not a major one in view of the terrible pain of the cross, but a little one nonetheless. But this offer Jesus refused, and in doing so, chose “to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him.”

The second time came in verse 35. After some bystanders thought he was calling for Elijah, “someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’” Lane comments,

A sour wine vinegar is mentioned in the OT as a refreshing drink (Numbers 6:13; Ruth 2:14), and in Greek and Roman literature as well it is a common beverage appreciated by laborers and soldiers because it relieved thirst more effectively than water and was inexpensive . . . . There are no examples of its use as a hostile gesture. The thought, then, is not of a corrosive vinegar offered as a cruel jest, but of a sour wine of the people. While the words “let us see if Elijah will come” express a doubtful expectation, the offer of the sip of wine was intended to keep Jesus conscious for as long as possible” (Ibid., 573-574).

So the first wine (mixed with myrrh) was designed to dull Jesus’ pain, to keep him from having to endure the cross with full consciousness. This wine he refused.

And the second (sour) wine was given to keep him “conscious for as long as possible,” and thus have the effect of prolonging his pain. This is the wine Jesus drank.

Other condemned criminals would have taken the first (to ease their torment) and passed on the second (so as not to prolong their horrific pain). But Jesus would take no shortcuts on the way to our redemption.

At the cross, he drank the wine of his Father’s wrath down to its very dregs, and he did so for us—that we might enjoy the wine of his Father’s love, join him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and live redeemed forever in the glorious presence of the one who took no shortcuts in saving us.

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by John M. Frame

            It has become increasingly common in Reformed circles, as it has long been in Lutheran circles, to say that the distinction between law and gospel is the key to sound theology, even to say that to differ with certain traditional formulations of this distinction is to deny the gospel itself.

            Sometimes this argument employs Scripture passages like Rom. 3:21-31, emphasizing that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith alone, apart from the works of the law. In my judgment, however, none of the parties to the debate questions that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. But it is one thing to distinguish between faith and works, a different thing to distinguish law and gospel.

1. The Traditional Distinction

            The distinction between law and gospel is not a distinction between a false and a true way of salvation. Rather, it is a distinction between two messages, one that supposedly consists exclusively of commands, threats, and therefore terrors, the other that consists exclusively of promises and comforts. Although I believe that we are saved entirely by God’s grace and not by works, I do not believe that there are two entirely different messages of God in Scripture, one exclusively of command (“law”) and the other exclusively of promise (“gospel”). In Scripture itself, commands and promises are typically found together. With God’s promises come commands to repent of sin and believe the promise. The commands, typically, are not merely announcements of judgment, but God’s gracious opportunities to repent of sin and believe in him. As the Psalmist says, “be gracious to me through your law,” Psm. 119:29.

            The view that I oppose, which sharply separates the two messages, comes mainly out of Lutheran theology, though similar statements can be found in Calvin and in other Reformed writers. [1] The Epitome of the Lutheran Formula of Concord, at V, 5, recognizes that gospel is used in different senses in Scripture, and it cites Mark 1:15 and Acts 20:21 as passages in which gospel preaching “correctly” includes a command to repent of sin. But in section 6, it does something really strange. It says,

But when the Law and the Gospel are compared together, as well as Moses himself, the teacher of the Law, and Christ the teacher of the Gospel, we believe, teach, and confess that the Gospel is not a preaching of repentance, convicting of sins, but that it is properly nothing else than a certain most joyful message and preaching full of consolation, not convicting or terrifying, inasmuch as it comforts the conscience against the terrors of the Law, and bids it look at the merit of Christ alone…

I say this is strange, because the Formula gives no biblical support at all for this distinction, and what it says here about the “gospel” flatly contradicts what it  conceded earlier in section 5. What it describes as “correct” in section five contradicts what it calls “proper” in section 6. What section 6 does is to suggest something “improper” about what it admits to be the biblical description of the content of gospel, as in Mark 1:15 and Acts 14:15. [2] Mark 1:15 is correct, but not proper.

2. Law and Gospel in Scripture

I have been told that proper at this point in the Formula means, not “incorrect” or “wrong,” but simply “more common or usual.” I have, however, looked through the uses of the euaggel- terms in the NT, and I cannot find one instance in which the context excludes a demand for repentance (that is, a command of God, a law) as part of the gospel content. That is to say, I cannot find one instance of what the Formula calls the “proper” meaning of gospel, a message of pure comfort, without any suggestion of obligation. And there are important theological reasons why that use does not occur.

Essentially, the “gospel” in the NT is the good news that the kingdom of God has come in Jesus (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:43, Acts 20:24f). [3] “Kingdom” is (1) God’s sovereign power, (2) his sovereign authority, and (3) his coming into history to defeat Satan and bring about salvation with all its consequences. [4] God’s kingdom power includes all his mighty acts in history, especially including the Resurrection of Christ. 

God’s kingdom authority is the reiteration of his commandments. When the kingdom appears in power, it is time for people to repent. They must obey (hupakouo) the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8, compare apeitheo in 1 Pet. 4:17). The gospel itself requires a certain kind of conduct (Acts 14:15, Gal. 2:14, Phil. 1:27; cf. Rom 2:16). 

When God comes into history, he brings his power and authority to bear on his creatures. In kingdom power, he establishes peace. So NT writers frequently refer to the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15; cf. Acts 10:36, Rom. 10:15), sometimes referring to the “mystery” of God bringing Gentiles and Jews together in one body (Rom. 16:25, Eph. 6:19). 

It is this whole complex: God’s power to save, the reiteration of God’s commands, and his coming into history to execute his plan, that is the gospel. It is good news to know that God is bringing his good plans to fruition. 

Consider Isa. 52:7, one of the most important background passages for the New Testament concept of gospel: 

How beautiful upon the mountains

            Are the feet of him who brings good news,

            Who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

            Who publishes salvation,

            Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (ESV)

It is the reign of God that is good news, news that ensures peace and salvation.

Even the demand for repentance is good news, because in context it implies that God, though coming in power to claim his rights, is willing to forgive for Christ’s sake.

            So gospel includes law in an important sense: God’s kingdom authority, his demand to repent. Even on the view of those most committed to the law/gospel distinction, the gospel includes a command to believe. We tend to think of that command as in a different class from the commands of the decalogue. But that too is a command, after all. Generically it is law. And, like the decalogue, that law can be terrifying to someone who wants to trust only on his own resources, rather than resting on the mercy of another. And the demand of faith includes other requirements: the conduct becoming the gospel that I mentioned earlier. Faith itself works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without good works (James 2:17).

      Having faith does not merit salvation for anyone, any more than any other human act merits salvation. Thus we speak of faith, not as the ground of salvation, but as the instrument. Faith saves, not because it merits salvation, but because it reaches out to receive God’s grace in Christ. Nevertheless, faith is an obligation, and in that respect the command to believe is like other divine commands. So it is impossible to say that command, or law, is excluded from the message of the gospel.

It is also true that law includes gospel. God gives his law as part of a covenant, and that covenant is a gift of God’s grace. The decalogue begins, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Only after proclaiming his saving grace does God then issue his commands to Israel. So the decalogue as a whole has the function of offering Israel a new way of life, conferred by grace (cf. Deut. 7:7-8, 9:4-6). Is the decalogue “law” or “gospel?” Surely it is both. Israel was terrified upon hearing it, to be sure (Ex. 20:18-21). But in fact it offers blessing (note verse 6) and promise (verse 12). Moses and the Prophets are sufficient to keep sinners from perishing in Hell (Matt. 16:31).

So the definitions that sharply separate law and gospel break down on careful analysis. In both law and gospel, then, God proclaims his saving work, and he demands that his people respond by obeying his commands. The terms “law” and “gospel” differ in emphasis, but they overlap and intersect. They present the whole Word of God from different perspectives. Indeed, we can say that our Bible as a whole is both law (because as a whole it speaks with divine authority and requires belief) and gospel (because as a whole it is good news to fallen creatures). Each concept is meaningless apart from the other. Each implies the other.

      The law often brings terror, to be sure. Israel was frightened by the Sinai display of God’s wrath against sin (Ex. 20:18-21). But it also brings delight to the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22). Similarly, the gospel brings comfort and joy; but (as less often noted in the theological literature) it also brings condemnation. Paul says that his gospel preaching is, to those who perish, “a fragrance from death to death” and, to those who believe, “a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16; compare 1 Cor. 1:18, 23, 27-29, 2 Cor. 4:3-4, Rom. 9:32). The gospel is good news to those who believe. But to those who are intent on saving themselves by their own righteousness, it is bad news. It is God’s condemnation upon them, a rock of offense.

3. Which Comes First?

            In discussions of law and gospel, one commonly hears that it is important, not only to preach both law and gospel, but also to preach the law first and the gospel second. We are told that people must be frightened by the law before they can be driven to seek salvation in Christ. Certainly there is a great need to preach God’s standards, man’s disobedience, and God’s wrath against sin, especially in an age such as ours where people think God will let them behave as they like. And very often people have been driven to their knees in repentance when the Spirit has convicted them of their transgressions of law.

            But as we have seen, it is really impossible truly to present law without gospel or gospel without law, though various relative emphases are possible. And among those relative emphases, the biblical pattern tends to put the gospel first. That is the pattern of the decalogue, as we have seen: God proclaims that he has redeemed his people (gospel), then asks them to behave as his covenant people (law). Since both gospel and law are aspects of God’s covenants, that pattern pervades Scripture.

            Jesus reflects that pattern in his own evangelism. In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that he can give her living water that will take away all thirst. Only after offering that gift does he proclaim the law to her, exposing her adultery. Some have cited Luke 18:18—30 as an example of the contrary order: Jesus expounds the commandments, and only afterward tells the rich ruler to follow him. But in this passage Jesus does not use the law alone to terrorize the man or to plunge him into despair. The man does go sadly away only after Jesus has called him to discipleship, which, though itself a command, is the gospel of this passage.

4. The “New Perspective” and Paul’s Gospel

Since the apostle Paul is most often in the forefront in discussions of the meaning of gospel, something should perhaps be said here about the “new perspective on Paul” in recent scholarship, based on writings of Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and others. In that perspective, the problem with Judaism, according to Paul, was not works righteousness, but its failure to accept God’s new covenant in Christ, which embraced Gentiles as well as Jews. On this perspective, Paul’s gospel is not an answer to the troubled conscience of someone who can’t meet God’s demands. Rather, it is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations. The “works of the law” against which Paul contends are not man’s attempts to satisfy God’s moral law, but the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles such as circumcision, food laws, and cleansings.

Discussions of this new perspective are very complex, entering into details about the nature of Palestinian Judaism at the time of Paul, Paul’s own history, and the exegesis of crucial texts. I cannot enter this controversy in a short paper. I do agree with those who believe that Sanders and others have been too selective in their references to Palestinian Judaism, and I believe that the new perspective fails to deal adequately with a number of Pauline passages, such as Rom. 4:4-5, 11:6, Eph. 2:8-10, Phil. 3:9, which make plain that Paul rejects, not only legal barriers between Jew and Gentile, but also all attempts of people to save themselves by their works. Luther’s doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide are fully scriptural and fully Pauline. [5]

But the new perspective legitimately warns us against reducing Paul’s gospel to soteric justification by faith. Paul’s confrontation with the Jews was on several fronts. And his gospel deals with a number of different issues, as my earlier discussion also implies.

5. Legitimate Use of the Traditional Distinction

Now if people want to define gospel more narrowly for a specific theological purpose, I won’t object too strongly. Scripture does not give us a glossary of English usage. A number of technical theological terms don’t mean exactly what similar terms sometimes mean in the Bible. Regeneration and election are examples, as is covenant. [6] We can define our English terms pretty much as we like, as long as those definitions don’t create confusion in our readers. 

Over the years, we have come to think of gospel as correlative with faith and law as correlative with works. In this usage, law is what condemns and gospel is what saves. Although this distinction differs from the biblical uses of the terms, it does become useful in some contexts. For example, we all know a type of preaching that merely expounds moral obligations (as we usually think of them: don’t kill, don’t steal) and does not give its hearers the knowledge of Christ they need to have in order to be saved. That kind of preaching (especially when it is not balanced by other preaching emphases) we often describe as a preaching of mere law, legalism, or moralism. There is no good news in it. So, we are inclined to say, it is not preaching of the gospel. So in this general way we come to distinguish the preaching of law from the preaching of gospel. That is, I think, the main concern of the Formula: to remind us that we need to do both things. 

We should be reminded of course that there is also an opposite extreme: preaching “gospel” in such a way as to suggest that Christ makes no demands on one’s life. We call that “cheap grace” or “easy believism.” We might also call it preaching “gospel without law.” Taken to an extreme, it is antinomianism, the rejection of God’s law. The traditional law/gospel distinction is not itself antinomian, but those who hold it tend to be more sensitive to the dangers of legalism than to the dangers of antinomianism. 

Such considerations may lead us to distinguish in a rough-and-ready way between preaching of the law and preaching of the gospel. Of course, even in making that distinction, our intention ought to be to bring these together. None of these considerations requires us to posit a sharp distinction. And certainly, this rough-and-ready distinction should never be used to cast doubt on the integration of command and promise that pervades the Scriptures themselves. 

It should be evident that “legalist” preaching as described above is not true preaching of law, any more than it is true preaching of the gospel.  For as I indicated earlier, law itself in Scripture comes to us wrapped in grace.

6. Law/Gospel and the Christian Life

The Formula’s distinction between law and gospel has unfortunate consequences for the Christian life. The document does warrant preaching of the law to the regenerate, [7] but only as threat and terror, to drive them to Christ Epitome, VI, 4. There is nothing here about the law as the delight of the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22). 

The Formula then goes on to say that believers do conform to the law under the influence of the Spirit, but only as follows: 

Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind, Rom. 7, 25; 8, 7; Rom. 8, 2; Gal. 6, 2. (Epitome, VI, 5).

So the law may threaten us to drive us to Christ. But truly good works are never motivated by any command, threat or reward.

            In my view, this teaching is simply unbiblical. It suggests that when you do something in obedience to a divine command, threat, or promise of reward, it is to that extent tainted, unrighteous, something less than a truly good work. I agree that our best works are tainted by sin, but certainly not for this reason. When Scripture presents us with a command, obedience to that command is a righteous action. Indeed, our righteousness is measured by our obedience to God’s commands. When God threatens punishment, and we turn from wickedness to do what he asks, that is not a sin, but a righteous response. When God promises reward, it is a good thing for us to embrace that reward.

            The notion that we should conduct our lives completely apart from the admonitions of God’s word is a terrible notion. To ignore God’s revelation of his righteousness is, indeed, essentially sinful. To read Scripture, but refuse to allow its commands to influence one’s conduct, is the essence of sin.

            And what, then, does motivate good works, if not the commands, threats, and promises of reward in Scripture? The Formula doesn’t say. What it suggests is that the Spirit simply brings about obedience from within us. I believe the Spirit does exactly that. But the Formula seems to assume that the Spirit works that way without any decision on our part to act according to the commands of God. That I think is wrong. “Quietism” is the view that Christians should be entirely passive, waiting for the Spirit of God to act in them. This view of the Christian life is unbiblical. The Christian life is a battle, a race. It requires decision and effort. I am not saying that the Formula is quietist (Lutheranism rejected quietism after some controversy in its ranks), but as we read the position of the Formula, it does seem that quietism lies around the corner from it.

7. The Objective and the Subjective

Part of the motivation for this view of the Christian life, I believe, is the thought that one’s life should be based on something objective, rather than something subjective. On this view, our life is built on what Christ has done for us, objectively in history, not on anything arising from our own subjectivity or inwardness. So in this view, gospel is a recitation of what God has done for us, not a command to provoke our subjective response. 

This understanding focuses on justification: God regards us as objectively righteous for Christ’s sake, apart from anything in us. But it tends to neglect regeneration and sanctification: that God does work real subjective changes in the justified.

I have no quarrel with this understanding of justification. But in Scripture, though justification is based on the work of Christ external to us, it is embraced by faith, which is subjective. And faith, in turn, is the result of the Spirit’s subjective work of regeneration (John 3:3). [8] So nobody is objectively justified who has not been subjectively changed by God’s grace.

So the Westminster Confession of Faith 18.2, even in speaking of assurance of salvation, refers not only to the truth of God’s promises (objective), but also to the “inward evidence of those graces” and “the testimony of the Spirit of adoption,” which are in some measure subjective.

In fact, we cannot separate the objective and the subjective. Objective truths are subjectively apprehended. We cannot have objective knowledge, confidence, or assurance, unless we are subjectively enabled to perceive what God has objectively given us.  

8. The Two Kingdoms

            We should also note the “two kingdoms” view of Christ and culture, that draws on the sharp distinction between law and gospel. [9] In general, that view states that there are two kingdoms of God, one, as Luther put it, the kingdom of God’s left hand, the other the kingdom of his right hand. The former is secular, the latter sacred. In the former, God rules by law, in the latter, by his word and Spirit.

The problem is that the two-kingdom doctrine claims a duality, not only between law and gospel as such, but also in God’s standards, his norms. There are secular values and religious values, secular norms and religious norms. Secular society is responsible only to natural laws, the morality found in nature. So, Gene Veith says, “morality is not a matter of religion.” [10] The church is subject primarily to the gospel, but in a secondary sense (as we have seen above) subject to both law and gospel, the whole content of the word of God. Therefore, although the Christian can participate in the general culture, he should not seek to Christianize it, to turn it into a Christian culture. There is no such thing as a Christian culture; there is only secular culture, and a Christian church. Nor, of course, should he try to bring secular standards into the church: secular music, for instance. [11]

It is true that we should not try to force unregenerate people to become Christians through civil power. The church does not have the power of the sword. Nevertheless, there are not two sets of divine norms for civil society, only one. And those norms are in the Bible. Morality is most emphatically a matter of religion. The unregenerate have some knowledge of God’s law through natural revelation (Rom. 1:32), but believers see that law more clearly through the spectacles of Scripture. The biblical view of civil government does not require us to force unbelievers to behave as Christians in every way, but it does call upon us to restrain their (and our!) sin in certain areas. We should be active in society to promote those godly standards. [12]

Concluding Observation

The sharp distinction between law and gospel is becoming popular in Reformed, as well as Lutheran circles. It is the view of Westminster Seminary California, Modern Reformation magazine, and the White Horse Inn radio broadcast. The leaders of these organizations are very insistent that theirs is the only biblical view of the matter. One has recently claimed that people who hold a different view repudiate the Reformation and even deny the gospel itself. On that view, we must use the term gospel only in what the Formula calls the “proper” sense, not in the biblical sense. I believe that we should stand with the Scriptures against this tradition.

 


[1] Lutheran theologians, however, frequently complain that Reformed theology “confuses” law and gospel, which is in the Lutheran view a grave error. The main difference is that for the Reformed law is not merely an accuser, but also a message of divine comfort, a delight of the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2). Also, the Reformed generally do not give the law/gospel distinction as much prominence within their systematic theological formulations. And, historically, they have been more open to the broader biblical language which the Lutheran Formula of Concord calls “correct” but not “proper” (see below).

[2] The passage cited by the formula, Acts 20:21, does not use the euaggello root, the usual term for “gospel” and “gospel preaching,” but the term diamarturomai. But Acts 20:21 is nevertheless significant, since it gives a general description of what Paul did in his preaching to “both Jews and Greeks.” That preaching was certainly gospel preaching. Paul resolved in his preaching to “know nothing but Christ and him crucified.” Luke 24:47 is also significant, for it includes both repentance and forgiveness of sins as the content Jesus gives his disciples to preach (kerusso) to all nations.

[3] N. T. Wright believes that this use of gospel has a double root: “On the one hand, the gospel Paul preached was the fulfilment of the message of Isaiah 40 and 52, the message of comfort for Israel and of hope for the whole world, because YHWH, the god of Israel, was returning to Zion to judge and redeem. On the other hand, in the context into which Paul was speaking, “gospel” would mean the celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor. Though no doubt petty kingdoms might use the word for themselves, in Paul’s world the main ‘gospel’ was the news of, or the celebration of, Caesar,” “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire,” available at http://www.ctinquiry.org/publications/wright.htm. Of course both of these uses focus on the rule of God as Lord, and both involve what is traditionally called law.

[4] This a triad of the sort expounded in my Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publications, 1987), Doctrine of God (forthcoming from the same publisher in 2002) and elsewhere.

[5] Although I am critical of the general stance of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and their publication Modern Reformation on this issue, I would strongly recommend Kim Riddlebarger’s essay, “Reformed Confessionalism and the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul,” available at the Alliance web site, www.alliancenet.org, as an excellent introduction to this discussion. I fully endorse the conclusions of that article.

[6] The phrases “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace” found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.2-4 are not found anywhere in Scripture. Covenant in Scripture refers to particular historical relationships between God and his people, mediated by Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. “Covenant of grace” generalizes the common features of these historical covenants, seeing them as successive manifestations of God’s redemptive Lordship. “Covenant of works” finds in God’s relation to our first parents features identical to his later covenants with, of course, significant differences.

[7] Theological literature speaks of three “uses of the law” : (1) to restrain sin in society, (2) to terrorize people in order to drive them to Christ, and (3) as a guide to believers. In Lutheranism (not in Reformed circles) there has been controversy over the third use, though the Formula affirms it. But in Lutheranism, it is often said that “the law always accuses.” So the third use is essentially the second use directed at believers, driving us to Christ again and again and away from our residual unbelief. Reformed writers do not deny our continual need for Christ and the importance of hearing again and again that we are saved only by his grace. But in Reformed theology, the law also plays a more direct role, giving us specific guidance in God’s delightful paths.

[8] So, again, saving faith works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without works (James 2:14-26).

[9] See, for example, Gene Veith, “Christianity and Culture: God’s Double Sovereignty,” from The Whirlpool (Jan.-Feb., 1997), available at http://www.alliancenet.org.

[10] Ibid.

[11] There are, of course, reasons to criticize the use of secular music in the church other than the two-kingdoms concept. But if that concept is rejected, then the distinction between sacred and secular is relativized somewhat, and one must evaluate “secular” music piece-by-piece, rather than as a general category.

[12] In terms of the categories of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (NY: Harper, 1951), we should be “transformationalists,” not “dualists.”

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Semper Reformanda

by Michael Horton

If you’ve been in Protestant circles for very long, whether conservative or liberal, you may have heard the phrase “reformed and always reforming” or sometimes just “always reforming.” I hear it a lot these days, especially from friends who want our Reformed churches to be more open to moving beyond the faith and practice that is confessed in our doctrinal standards. Even in Reformed circles of late, various movements have arisen that challenge these standards. How can confessions and catechisms written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries guide our doctrine, life, and worship in the twenty-first? Liberal Protestants frequently invoked this phrase to justify their captivity to the spirit of the age, but some conservative Protestants also use it to encourage a broader definition of what it means to be Reformed.

But where did this phrase come from? Its first appearance was in a 1674 devotional by Jodocus van Lodenstein, who was an important figure in Dutch Reformed pietism — a movement known as the Dutch Second Reformation. According to these writers, the Reformation reformed the doctrine of the church, but the lives and practices of God’s people always need further reformation.

Van Lodenstein and his colleagues were committed to the teaching of the Reformed confession and catechism; they simply wanted to see that teaching become more thoroughly applied as well as understood. However, here is his whole phrase: “The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.” The verb is passive: the church is not “always reforming,” but is “always being reformed” by the Spirit of God through the Word. Although the Reformers themselves did not use this slogan, it certainly reflects what they were up to; that is, if one quotes the whole phrase!

Each clause is crucial. First, the church is Reformed, and this should be written with a capitalized “R.” If it is true that Jesus rose from the dead two millennia ago in Palestine, then it is just as true in our time and place. The ecumenical creeds confess the faith that we all share across a multitude of cultures and eras. Similarly, the Reformed standards (such as the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms) summarize what Reformed Christians believe to be the clear teaching of God’s Word. Churches will always be changing in significant ways depending on their time and place, but these communal ways of confessing Christ remain faithful summaries of “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Our forebears who invoked this phrase had in mind the consolidation of catholic and evangelical Christianity embodied in the Reformed confessions and catechisms. There is a reason that this wing of the Reformation called itself “Reformed.” Unlike the Anabaptists, Reformed churches understood themselves as a continuing branch of the catholic church. At the same time, the Reformed wanted to reform everything “according to the Word of God.” Not only our doctrine but our worship and life must be determined by Scripture and not by human whim or creativity.

Interestingly, it is a mainline Presbyterian theologian, Anna Case-Winters, who brings attention to what she calls “our misused motto.” Winters points out that “in the 16th-century context the impulse it reflected was neither liberal nor conservative, but radical, in the sense of returning to the ‘root.’” This was reflected in the rallying cry, sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone). The Reformation had no interest in “change” as an end in itself. As Calvin argued in his treatise “The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” the Reformers were charged with innovation when in fact it was the medieval church’s innovative distortions of Christian faith and worship that required a recovery of apostolic Christianity. Rome pretended to be “always the same,” but it had accumulated a host of doctrines and practices that were unknown to the ancient church, much less to the New Testament.

Some people today leave out the “Reformed” part or at least interpret it as “reformed” (little “r”): the church is “always being reformed according to the Word of God.” This means that to be Reformed is simply to be reformed and to be reformed is simply to be biblical. All who base their beliefs on the Bible are therefore “reformed,” regardless of whether their interpretations are consistent with the common confessions of the Reformed churches. However, this runs counter to the original intention of the phrase. Doubtless there are many beliefs and practices that Reformed believers share in common with non-Reformed believers committed to God’s Word. We must always remain open to correction from our brothers and sisters in other churches who have interpreted the Bible differently. Nevertheless, Reformed churches belong to a particular Christian tradition with its own definitions of its faith and practice. We believe that our confessions and catechisms faithfully represent the system of doctrine found in Holy Scripture. We believe that to be Reformed is not only to be biblical; to be biblical is to be Reformed. As important as it is to keep “Reformed” in the phrase, an even more dangerous omission is often found among more liberal Protestants who also leave out the “according to the Word of God” clause. And usually it is “always reforming,” instead of “always being reformed.” In this view, the church is the active party, determining its own doctrine, worship, and discipline in the light of ever-changing cultural contexts. Progressivism becomes an end in itself and the church becomes a mirror of the world.

Yet those of us in confessional Reformed churches must also beware of forgetting that our doctrinal standards are subordinate to the Word of God. Christ’s church was reformed by God’s Word in the Reformation and post-Reformation era. It was brought back to God’s Word and the fruit of that great work of the Spirit continues to guide us through our confessions and catechisms. And yet the church is not only Reformed; it is always in need of being reformed. Like our personal sanctification, our corporate faithfulness is always flawed. We don’t need to move beyond the gains of the Reformation, but we do need further reformation. But here is where the last clause kicks in: “always being reformed according to the Word of God.”

It is not because the culture is always changing and we need to be up with the times, but because we are always in need of being re-oriented to the Word that stands over us, individually and collectively, that the church can never stand still. It must always be a listening church. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Personally and corporately, the church comes into being and is kept alive by hearing the gospel. The church is always on the receiving end of God’s good gifts as well as His correction. The Spirit does not lead us apart from the Word but directs us back to Christ as He is revealed in Scripture. We always need to return to the voice of our Shepherd. The same gospel that creates the church sustains and renews it. Our personal conformity to the Word that Paul commands in Romans 12 is never completed in this life, and the same is true of the church in this present age.

This perspective keeps us from making tradition infallible but equally from imbibing the radical Protestant obsession with starting from scratch in every generation. When God’s Word is the source of our life, our ultimate loyalty is not to the past as such or to the present and the future, but to “that Word above all earthly pow’rs,” to borrow from Luther’s famous hymn. Neither behind us nor ahead of us, but above us, reigns our sovereign Lord over His body in all times and places. When we invoke the whole phrase — “the church Reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God” — we confess that we belong to the church and not simply to ourselves and that this church is always created and renewed by the Word of God rather than by the spirit of the age.

 

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

 Original article can be linked from Ligonier Ministries.

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I am fascinated with Oshea Davis’ take on the sovereignty of God and the issue of evil in one of the forums at Facebook. He was kind enough to synthesize his comments, which I later understood to be a portion of the discourse in the book ‘Divine Decrees’ based on the Sermons of Jonathan Edwards.  Davis is the editor of this book. 

To embark on a study on this topic, I took the liberty to start research on the same subject and arrived first to a lengthy and scholarly article at Monergism.com written by William G. T. Shedd.  A section in the afore-mentioned article is appended hereunder which, I believe, is vital in the understanding of the issue.  To read the full article, please follow this link. My prayer is to be enriched further on the glorious subject of the sovereignty of God. And through His Son and my Lord – Jesus Christ – am I utterly thankful that none of the minutest details of my life were ever out of His sovereign hands even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-14)

-EmmausTrekker-

 

Characteristics of the Divine Decree (excerpt from William G. T. Shedd’s article The Divine Decrees)

 
The following characteristics mark the divine decree:
1.      The divine decree is founded in wisdom. This is implied in saying that God’s purpose is “according to the counsel (boulēn) of his will” (Eph. 1:11). There is nothing irrational or capricious in God’s determination. There may be much in it that passes human comprehension and is inexplicable to the finite mind, because the divine decree covers infinite space and everlasting time; but it all springs out of infinite wisdom. The “counsel” of the divine mind does not mean any reception of knowledge ab extra, by observation or comparison or advisement with others; but it denotes God’s wise insight and knowledge, in the light of which he forms his determination. It is possible, also, that there is a reference in the language to the intercommunion and correspondence of the three persons in the Godhead: “The counsel of the Lord stands forever” (Ps. 33:11); “with him is wisdom and strength; he has counsel and understanding” (Job 12:13); “the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” (Prov. 19:21); “he has done all things well” (Mark 7:37); “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).
2.      The divine decree is eternal: “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning” (Acts 15:18); “the kingdom was prepared from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34); “he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4); “God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Cor. 2:7); “the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8); Christ as a sacrifice “was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20). This characteristic has been defined in what has been said under attributes respecting the simultaneousness and successionlessness of the eternal, as distinguished from the gradations and sequences of the temporal.
3.      The divine decree is universal. It includes “whatsoever comes to pass,” be it physical or moral, good or evil: “He works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:10–11); “known unto God are all his works from the beginning” (Acts 15:18; Prov. 16:33; Dan. 4:34–35; Matt. 10:29–30; Acts 17:26; Job 14:5; Isa. 46:10):
(a) The good actions of men: “Created unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10);
(b) the wicked actions of men: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23; 4:27–28; Ps. 76:10; Prov. 16:4);
(c) so-called accidental events: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov. 16:33; Gen. 45:8; 50:20); “a bone of him shall not be broken” (John 20:36; Ps. 34:20; Exod. 12:46; Num. 9:12);
(d) the means as well as the end: “God has chosen you to salvation, through sanctification (en hagiasmō) of the Spirit” (2 Thess. 2:13); “he has chosen us that we should be holy” (Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:2); “elect through sanctification of the Spirit” (Acts 27:24, 31):
The same divine purpose which determines any event determines that event as produced by its causes, promoted by its means, depending on its conditions, and followed by its results. Things do not come to pass in a state of isolation; neither were they predetermined so to come to pass. In other words, God’s purpose embraces the means along with the end, the cause along with the effect, the condition along with the result or issue suspended upon it; the order, relations, and dependences of all events, as no less essential to the divine plan than the events themselves. With reference to the salvation of the elect, the purpose of God is not only that they shall be saved, but that they shall believe, repent, and persevere in faith and holiness in order to salvation. —Crawford, Fatherhood of God, 426
(e) the time of every man’s death: “his days are determined” (Job 14:5); “the measure of my days” (Ps. 39:4); the Jews could not kill Christ “because his hour was not yet come” (John 7:30). It is objected that fifteen years were added to Hezekiah’s life after the prophet had said, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (Isa. 38:1, 5). But this assertion of the prophet was not a statement of the divine decree, but of the nature of his disease, which was mortal had not God miraculously interposed.
4.      The divine decree is immutable. There is no defect in God in knowledge, power, and veracity. His decree cannot therefore be changed because of a mistake of ignorance or of inability to carry out his decree or of unfaithfulness to his purpose: “He is in one mind, and who shall turn him?” (Job 23:13); “my counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). The immutability of the divine decree is consistent with the liberty of man’s will: “God ordains whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty, or contingency, of second causes taken away, but rather established” (Westminster Confession 3.1). This is the doctrine of Christ. He asserts that his own crucifixion was a voluntary act of man and also decreed by God: “They have done unto Elijah whatsoever they pleased (hosa ēthelēsan): likewise shall the Son of Man suffer them” (Matt. 17:12); “the Son of Man goes as it was determined (hōrismenon), but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed” (Luke 22:22). In Acts 2:23 it is said that Christ was “delivered by the determinate counsel of God” and “by wicked hands was crucified and slain.”

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(Original post at Monergism)

 

To one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” – Romans 4:5

How is the Christian to see himself in this world? “Simul iustus et peccator” – “At the same time righteous and a sinner”. Justification is forensic. In Christ, we are declared, counted or reckoned to be righteous when God imputes the righteousness of Christ (an “alien righteousness”) to our account. Christ’s righteousness ascribed to the redeemed individual without their personal merit. We are declared righteous in Christ, it is imputed to us — it is counted as ours … not infused in us. We are counted righteous in God’s eyes because of Christ. But this does not make us righteous in ourselves. That will only happen at our glorification when Christ transforms these bodies to be sealed in righteousness. Justifying righteousness is something which always resides in the Person of Christ alone. The imputation of this “alien” righteousness is the only means by which man can be acceptable to God. As long as the Christian lives, he is guilty in himself, but “in Christ” he is righteous and accounted precious.

The Council of Trent itself reveals that Rome considered Luther’s simul iustus et peccator to be a most serious threat to the traditional teaching of the Catholic church. The Roman Church contended that “justification” means making a man righteous in his own person. The Catholic reasons, “How can God pronounce a man to be righteous in His sight unless he is actually righteous?” He therefore thinks that a man must be born again and transformed before he can have right standing with God. In this system of thought, a man can have no real assurance of justification, for he can never be sure whether the Holy Spirit has made him righteous enough to be accepted of God.

Righteousness through Christ is called an “alien” righteousness because it did not generate from us. It is not our righteousness; it is his. It is an alien righteousness because it came from without, and now it is in a foreign land. It does not belong here; it is an alien righteousness. In Latin we call it simul iustus et peccator: simul, simultaneously; iustus, just; et, and; peccator, sinful. That is me – simultaneously righteous and sinful. That is my contribution to salvation — my sin! At the same time that I am a sinner, God sees me as righteous because of the blood of Jesus Christ. That is the message of outreach — it is the message of salvation.

Righteousness comes in two ways: coram deo (righteousness before God) and coram hominibus (before man). Instead of a development in righteousness based in the person, or an infusion of merit from the saints, a person is judged righteous before God because of the works of Christ. But,absent the perspective of God and the righteousness of Christ, based on one’s own merit—a Christian still looks like a sinner. The declaration involves God imputing to the believer’s “balance sheet” or account the alien righteousness of Christ. The believer is not declared righteous by virtue of his own merit, but on the basis of the merit of Christ. When united to Him, it is justification which becomes the foundation upon which the believer can stand with confidence coram dei. The believer has no cause to fear in the presence of God because of His acquittal. The believer has only and always to look to the finished work of Christ on the Cross and hear God’s declaration, “You are accepted.” Because of justification the believer does not fear God’s rejection because of the sin still present in his/her life. God does not look at the sin in our life except through the work of Christ. This tension is resolved in the Incarnate Christ, crucified and now risen for the life of the world.

Eternal life is Christ dwelling in His righteousness in the soul of the justified person. So eternal life is union with Jesus Christ. And the word for that union with him is faith. The sinners comes to him, rests in him, trusts in him, is one with him, abides with him; and this is life because it never ends. The united soul abides in the Vine eternally. Weakness, sin, proneness to sin never brings separation, but only the Father’s pruning, which cements the union even and ever tighter.

The Judge of all the earth declares us “not guilty” when we believe because Christ was pronounced “guilty” for us on the cross. We are not first made righteous, then declared righteous; we are declared righteous by grace through faith in Christ, then made righteous! When we believe, God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us ‘as if’ it were our own. However, it is HIS righteousness, that is why Paul says in Romans 1:17 that there is a righteousness that has been revealed from God, a righteousness not of our own, but a righteousness revealed from God and freely given to those who do not work, but to those who believe. In light of the goodness and graciousness of God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, we should daily repent of our own self-righteousness (our works), The words imply a declaration and pronouncement from the divine court of the believer’s right standing with God. “Justification” in itself does not mean a change in the man, but a declaration of how he appears in God’s sight.

Through faith we run to Christ and hold fast to Him, who satisfied the law on our behalf (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:10-13). In this way we are accounted righteous in the sight of God through faith alone, without doing the works of the law. We are simul iustus et peccator.

Luther recognized that even in a state of regeneration the believer still lives in the world and still in fact does commit acts of sin. There is no attempt to redefine sin to make it anything less than what it is. Rather there is a stark recognition of the dialectic of the Christian’s acceptance before God and the fact that he still sins. Luther’s phrase to describe this condition was that the state of the Christian between regeneration and ultimate glorification is simul iustus et peccator, at once just (or justified) and sinner. This is not a condition that will ever be transcended in this life. Rather, the believer must always rely on the finished work of Christ for his/her acceptance before God.

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