Posts Tagged ‘justification’

(click this link to view the original article)

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.”


Read Full Post »

Foreword: The question above was answered briefly by Donald A. Carson and the original videoblog can be accessed here.  I have transcribed his response and appended it below.


*     *     *     *     *


That’s a very good question. Right on the top, when we have to say that many of those who have fought God all of their lives, wouldn’t at all be that happy in heaven, it seems to me.  If the enjoyment of God’s holiness and the praise of His Name and the wonder of His character, if these things are not really precious in the first place, then why on earth would such a person want to go to heaven?

But there are more fundamental answers. It really is important to see that hell is not a place where there are a lot of deeply sorrowful, repenting sinners who really want to repent from their sins and get out. The bible speaks of hell as a place where those who are filthy, are filthy still. It’s an alarming picture. There’s no evidence anywhere in the Bible that people come to hell and actually repent and want to turn to the living God. Rather it’s going to be a place for all eternity where these people are still defying God, still hating Him, still justifying themselves, still tearing down relationships, still being resentful, still nurturing self-righteousness, in an endless cycle of brokenness and shame and guilt and defiance that shows no repentance ever.  In that sense there is an ongoing cycle of guilt and punishment that is part of what individual sinners still want.  It’s painful to say it but it’s the truth.

Whereas the very nature of biblical Christianity is that God intervenes and breaks the power of this sinful cycle, and gives a new heart and transforms people, frees them from their guilt, gives them His Spirit so that there is a beginning of new life, new desire, new orientation, new hungers, finally consummating in the new heaven and the new earth – the home of righteousness.

So you cannot really answer the question why does God ever consider putting people into hell unless you put it within the much larger question of “what is righteousness?”, “what is sin?”, “what is the connection between shame and punishment?” And within that framework, what will be clear from all eternity, both for those in heaven and even for those in hell, is that God is just and is seen to be just. Even those in hell will acknowledge that for all eternity.

URL: http://against-heresies.blogspot.com/2009/11/don-carson-how-can-god-be-loving-and.html

Read Full Post »

The Main Difference Between Calvinist and Non-Calvinist Views of Saving Grace by John Hendryx (from www.reformationtheology.com)

Recently I had am exchange on a message board regarding the particulars of Calvinism. Hopefully you find it helpful:

Visitor #1: I gave up on Calvinism a long time ago.

My response: You mean you gave up on the idea that Jesus Christ alone is sufficient to save you?

Visitor #1: Yep

Visitor #2 chimes in: John, is it possible you’re caricaturing the situation just a smidge? Calvinism cannot possibly have a monopoly in affirming Jesus Christ as sufficient.

My response: Actually the central difference between Calvinist and non-Calvinist soteriology is that Calvinist believes Jesus Christ is sufficient to save to the uttermost while non-Calvinist soteriology believes that while Jesus is necessary, he is not sufficient. To clarify what I mean, both Roman Catholics and Arminians for example, would anathematize anyone who says you can be saved without the grace of God. The Reformers never claimed Rome believed you can be saved apart from grace. That wasn’t the debate. The debate of the Reformation was never ever about the necessity of grace, it was always about the sufficiency of grace. That remains the issue today in so many contexts (James White). So no I am not caricaturing the situation. This is the essence of it. The theology of Calvinism or Reformed Theology centers on the sufficiency of Christ in salvation. There is nothing more essential to its position and this is what sets is apart from other all other types of theology. Another way to put it: it is the difference between Monergism &. Synergism. As Michael Haykin notes, “the most vital question, is, whether sinners are wholly helpless in their sin, and whether God is to be thought of as saving us by free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying us for Christs’ sake when we come to faith, but also raising us from the death of sin by His quickening Spirit in order to bring us to faith.” In other words, whatever God requires of us, (including faith), if we believe the unregenerate man has the power in himself to exercise, then we make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of no effect. Either Christ is a complete savior, OR He helps us to save ourselves. What Calvinism means in the historic sense, is that Jesus Christ is a complete savior, not a partial one.

Visitor #1: I gave up on Calvinism because grace is resistible.

My response: Jesus himself teaches that no one can believe in him unless God grants it (John 6:53-65)… and ALL to whom God grants it will believe (v. 37). These passages plainly teach that Jesus alone is sufficient to save. His grace is effectual. He leaves no room from the unregenerate, natural man making good choices on his own, so as to leave no room for any boasting. Why do you think one person believes the gospel and not the other? Was one born with more natural wisdom? Or inclination to good? What makes people to differ? Jesus Christ or something else?

Visitor #1: so does “sufficient” mean that those whom God decides shall have salvation shall have salvation, or that those whom God decides shall have salvation can have salvation?

My response: The word “sufficient” means that Jesus Christ meets all the conditions for us that are necessary for our salvation, not only some of the conditions. It further means what Jesus does for us on the cross meets all of God’s requirements for us, including giving us a new heart which is needed to believe and obey (Ezekiel 36:26). In other words, apart from grace sinners are unable to obey the gospel, any more than the law, without a new heart. The non-Calvinist (synergist) position denies this and instead affirms that the natural man, can have faith in Christ while still in the flesh (with an unrenewed heart). So to answer your question, it means that what Jesus does for us in his life death and resurrection is not only necessary but completely sufficient to save us. This was the point of the Reformation’s affirmation of the principle of Solus Christus, or Christ alone. God’s love for His own is unconditional so He makes sure the job gets done. To look at it from another perspective, the synergist denies that what Jesus does for us is sufficient to save us… grace is necessary but the unregenerate man must also somehow come up with the good will to exercise faith apart from the Holy Spirit granting renewal of heart. So God’s love for the sinner is conditional, based entirely on his response. But the Scripture says that “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all…no one can come to [Jesus] unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:63, 65)

Visitor #1: John: thanks for the response…boiling that down, though, does Calvinism hold that if God decides that someone is to receive salvation, then that person will indeed receive it? My understanding of Calvinism is that the answer is “yes”, and what you’re saying seems to validate that: Jesus Himself meets all the necessary conditions, so there remains no condition that the one receiving salvation must fulfill.

My response: Yes that’s right! – This is what Jesus teaches in John 6:63-65. & 37. A new heart which has faith is part of Christ’s grace to us (Ezekiel 36:26). We don’t come up with faith on our own (drawing from our own resources), apart from the Holy Spirit. This passage in John (among many others) should put an end to all argument on this issue. God’s love for his people in Christ is unconditional, not conditional … therefore Jesus meets the conditions of salvation for us, doing for us what we are morally unable to do for ourselves. He is a Savior, not merely a helper. That means when He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3,4) he makes sure the job gets done on earth in time. On the other hand, the non-Calvinist, or synergist position, believes God’s love for people is conditional. That is, conditioned on the natural man’s response.

The difference between the two views could perhaps be illustrated fairly well by two parents whose children run into the street. The first parent stands afar at the curb and calls out to the child to get out of the way of the car, but does not lift a finger beyond asking him to use his will. The second parent, on the other hand, runs out into the street at the risk of his/her life, scoops him up, and makes sure the child does not get hit by the car. Which is more loving? When the person loved cannot save themselves true love does not dilly dally.

God loves his loved ones with a resolute will that gets the job done. The God of the Bible names and numbers his sheep, who saves the lost sheep and fends off the wolf.

Warm regards


Note: I am using the word Calvinism to cover the historic Augustinian, Monergistic view.

Read Full Post »

In the foreword on my post last October 12, I mentioned of uploading in this weblog a series of articles from Modern Reformation’s 1996 out-of-print issue entitled ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress – The Life of a Justified Sinner’.  The Reformation that began God began through Martin Luther in the 15th century brought the centrality of the triune God (Theocentric) back into theology. Despite downgrade controversy (borrowing the term from the 18th century English prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon) in the last 2 centuries as church doctrines became more and more man-center (anthropocentric), by the grace of God, today a resurgence of the biblical doctrines espoused during the Reformation period  are grounding Christians again to a wonderfully Christocentric faith.

Herebelow is a short article on the key concepts in Reformation spirituality. At the bottom of this post, I have a footnote (*) expanding item #5 a bit further in order not to confuse the  terms and their biblical significance vis-a-vis the Roman Catholic traditional understanding and practice  of infant regenerational baptism and transubstantiational eucharist.

*     *     *     *     *


1. Union With Christ

Every doctrine related to salvation and the Christian life must be oriented around this touchstone of faith. No theory of Christian growth or development can obscure or ignore this central fact. In Reformation spirituality, the objective and subjective, external and internal, are linked inseparably by this reality. “In Christ” we are justified and are being sanctified.

2. Justification By Faith Alone

“To declare righteous,” this courtroom term is the core of the Good News. If we seek to attain divine favor by our own willing and running, we will quickly end up in either self-righteousness or despair. Progress in obedience comes only as we acknowledge Christ to be our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.

3. Sanctification

Here is another essential biblical word. Once declared righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we now grow in personal righteousness in union with Christ and his righteousness. In our salvation we contribute absolutely nothing except sin. But once regenerated by God’s grace (apart from our cooperation), we are free to cooperate with the Holy Spirit for the first time. Sanctification, therefore, unlike regeneration, justification, etc., requires our energies and participation. We grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, actively animated by the gospel. Both justification and sanctification are the gift of God by virtue of our union with Christ.

4. Calling/Vocation

Also related to the “priesthood of all believers,” this Reformation doctrine emphasized the fact that everything we do honors God if done in faith. A ditch-digger is no less spiritual than a missionary. God has created each of us with certain gifts and we are meant to find meaning and fulfillment not only in church-related things, but in our work and leisure as well. This doctrine, more than any other, was responsible for what has come to be identified as “the Protestant Work Ethic.”

5. Means of Grace(*) 

Baptism and Holy Communion, in Reformation spirituality, figure prominently as “means of grace.” Baptism is the beginning of our life in Christ, and in Communion we feed on Christ–the Bread of Life–throughout our wilderness journey.



(*) originally termed as ‘sacraments’; the means of grace mentioned in item #5 above pertain to the biblical significance of water baptism of persons who have repented and turned to Jesus Christ in faith, and the commemorative purpose of the Lord’s Supper, commonly referred to as the breaking of the bread – both of which were instituted by the Lord in the New Testament. In these sacraments, the Lord, through the mediation of the Holy Spirit, appropriates upon the believers the grace necessary for our sanctification and preservation until the day of His return (see Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:41-42; Romans 6:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32).


Read Full Post »

Foreword This article was originally posted in Modern Reformation’s issue entitled The Pilgrims’s Progress – The Life of A Justified Sinner – Nov./Dec. Vol. 5 No. 6 1996. This issue is now out of print and one of the best volumes that rolled out of the press. It can be accessed electronically at Modern Reformation’s website but only if you are a current subscriber to the magazine itself. A few more articles from that issue will be uploaded on this weblog in the future.  In the meantime, be blessed as you read on.


*     *     *     *     *

By Harold L. Senkbeil

The biblical terms “sanctify” and “sanctification” are from the same word family as “holy” and “holiness.” The rich tapestry of the biblical language of holiness contains but one single golden strand woven throughout: the absolute sinlessness and transcendent purity of God the Holy Trinity. God alone is holy in himself, and therefore from God himself all holiness must proceed; apart from him nothing is holy. Therefore God sends forth his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we believe his holy Word. That Word (also in its sacramental forms) is the means the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify us–to make us holy–within the fellowship of the Holy Christian Church, which is the communion of saints,or holy people.

As long as sanctification is seen as primarily in the arena of human morality, the heart of sanctification is lost. True, sanctification does effect a change in morality, but sanctification in itself is not a question of human morality, but divine purity. Once sinners are purified by God’s divine grace, they live lives which reflect God’s own holiness.

Borrowed Holiness – This is absolutely vital. If you and I as sinners are to spend eternity in the presence of a holy God, we must share in his holiness: “Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The truth is, since the fall of Adam every human being is excluded from the presence of God except one: God’s own sinless and holy Son. We have no holiness in this world apart from Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God. Believers borrow their holiness from him by faith. Sanctification therefore comes as good news; it is gift language, for it means our cleansing and purification through the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus’ sake. All who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ by faith, together with the holiness that belongs to him; “that we may share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Sanctification is therefore just as much a gift as is justification.

There is a link between faith and life, between justification and sanctification, between salvation and holy living. And that link is Christ. He “. . . has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). We have no life to live as Christians that is not given by God the Father, earned by God the Son, and bestowed by God the Holy Spirit. Therefore our focus is always on Jesus Christ, God incarnate in human flesh. Because he is our redemption,or atoning sacrifice for sin, he is also our righteousness, or perfection before God. And because he is our righteousness/redemption, he is also our holiness,or sanctification. With St. Paul, we have one Christ-centered confession: “For me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). In this way the bondage to our private emotions is broken, and we live holy lives in perfect freedom “outside of ourselves.”

Our Part? – One of the most ancient and persistent Christian heresies (viz. Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism) is that human beings have a role to play in their own salvation. In its most blatant form this heresy claims that Christ’s sacrifice is not sufficient to save, but that we must place our own good works into the balance to give us favorable standing before God. Its subtle form seems more attractive: God does all the work in justification, but we finish this work by our sanctification. We may be declared right by God’s gracious judicial decree through faith in Christ alone, but then it is up to us to perform the works of love and obedience which true holiness requires. This error makes justification merely the first stage of sanctification. God gets us going on the path of holiness, and we continue. God starts and we finish. God has his part and we have ours, so the thinking goes.

But the life we live “in the body” we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. We have no life to live apart from the life which he bestows by faith. And this faith itself is a gift from God, not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:9). We are therefore “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Christian salvation (or justification) and Christian living (or sanctification) are but two aspects of one divine reality: the life bestowed in Jesus Christ. Such life is received by faith. And Holy Scripture declares that faith is God’s work from beginning to end: “[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Of the Making of Many Books . . . – This scriptural teaching is sadly missing in the popular Christian literature of our day. Religious best-sellers focus on the sanctified life, but precious little gospel is contained in these books. What gospel we do find is couched in command language, not motivation language. The books are essentially lists of “how to’s” for the Christian life, what to do and not to do in order to make sense out of the complex world in which we live. The issues of modern life are not examined in light of the good news, but almost exclusively in light of the proscriptions and prescriptions of moral imperatives.

If the modern Christian’s dilemma stems from living in an antagonistic culture, then we can profitably learn from the New Testament. Here the apostles were delineating a “life-style” for Christians who lived in a world completely at odds with everything they stood for. As we look to the letters of the New Testament, we find many statements describing what the new life in Christ means for everyday stresses and strains. Never, however, do these statements of law stand on their own. Always they are undergirded by the life-giving and empowering gospel of Jesus Christ. (italics mine)

Life for the apostles is not viewed merely as a complex chain of obstacles to overcome by practicing a long list of commands God has prescribed for every contingency. The hostility we encounter in this world cannot be chalked up to the quirks of the human mind. Rather, the New Testament recognizes one sinister enemy behind all of the sins and turmoil of life, both internal and external. He is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), the ruler of darkness (Eph. 6:12), the one who accuses God’s people in his presence day and night (Rev. 12:10). God’s perfect creation has been invaded by this evil adversary and he can now be called the prince of this world (John 14:30).

Entering this enemy-occupied world, Jesus Christ has assumed human flesh to deal with Satan on his own turf (Gal. 4:5). In the body of his flesh he has made satisfaction for the sins of the whole world and has defeated the devil by his death and resurrection (Col. 2:14-15). To all who believe in him he promises everlasting life (John 11:26). Those who trust in him are credited with his very holiness (2 Cor. 5:21). Drawing on this faith relationship, there is light and life in this world of darkness and death (John 1:4).

One Focus – No wonder, then, that the apostles were always framing their description of the new life in Christ in the context of Christ’s death and resurrection on their behalf. In everything they had to tell the faithful about living the Christian life, they had one focus and one focus only: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The entire life of Christian service should be viewed as Christ’s action being carried out in the life of the believer: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). (italics mine)

The difference is striking. Most of the evangelical world puts the spotlight on the Christian’s action; the New Testament focuses on Christ’s action.

Contact with God  The central attraction of the evangelical movement is not its doctrine of the renewed life in itself, but rather how that renewed life provides demonstrable proof of the reality of God and his action in the world. Carter Lindberg has described the current American scene very well:

The credibility of the church rests on the changed lives of its people, thus only the praise-filled experience of God’s presence and power is the answer to today’s experience of insecurity and uncertainty. The depersonalization of contemporary life in the midst of materialism and secularism disposes persons to search for a personal experience of reality.1

There is another alternative. Rather than seeking the reality of God in our own experience, the Bible directs us to find assurance in the historic events of God’s intervention in this world in the person and life of his Son. The basis of our knowledge about God and his living, vibrant reality is not in our experience, but in the experience of Jesus on the cross. There he faced the wrath of the Father and made satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. In his triumphant resurrection, there is validation of his entire saving work. In the word of his gospel, we have no mere static facts about events of history, but the actual means by which people of every age may be brought into genuine contact with the saving work of Christ. “It [the gospel] is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

The Power for Sanctification –  Current evangelical literature, with its myriad of principles, warm folksy illustrations, and down-to-earth advice presents the power for the new life as a combination of man’s work and God’s work: Sure, God saves me by grace, but then he expects me to save myself with his help! With his Spirit he gives me the power I need to get started, but then it’s up to me. By following his principles and continuing in close fellowship with him and my fellow believers, I will be inspired to produce the kind of life that is pleasing to him. Spectacular power is available; all I have to do is reach out and grab it!

Do-It-Yourself Christians? – Thus we see that self-assertion raises its ugly head. Pride is deeply ingrained in the human nature. No one likes to be told he can’t do something; in fact, each of us enjoys taking credit for his or her accomplishments. So also when it comes to the Christian faith. There is something deep within us that rebels when Scripture reminds us that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Similarly, we do not like to hear that God himself is the driving power in our life of sanctification: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

True, Scripture does speak of the activity of the Christian in performing works of love: “. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling . . . .” At the same time however, we are reminded that the power for the sanctified life is not our own: “. . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13).

A Package Deal – Justification (receiving God’s righteousness) and sanctification (sharing in God’s holiness) are to be clearly separated theologically, but not essentially. Like the proverbial horse and cart, they can neither be unhitched nor re-hitched. Putting sanctification before justification is an affront to God’s grace and a stumbling block to faith. Holding to justification without sanctification leads nowhere, for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). No one setting out on a journey in a horse-drawn cart hitches the cart in front of the horse, nor does he shoot the horse. Together they make a unit. Yet clearly the horse has to come first and provide the power if there is to be any forward movement!

As one Lutheran theologian observes:

Sanctification describes the same reality as does justification but describes the justified Christian’s relationship to the world and society. Justification and sanctification are not two separate realities, but the same reality viewed from the different perspectives of God and man. From the perspective of God the reality of the Christian is totally passive and non-contributory as it receives Christ only. From the perspective of the world, the same reality never ceases in its activity and tirelessly performs all good works.2 Thus when speaking about the power for the sanctified life, we dare never stop speaking about Christ. St. Paul put it this way: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The person and work of the crucified Lord is the sum total of our message. He is all in all–“our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). No wonder, then, that Luther could write, “Having been justified by grace, we then do good works, yes, Christ himself does all in us.”3

The Sign of Jonah In the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, we have a remarkable sequence of events that helps us understand how God operates through the cross of his Son in direct opposition to every human expectation.

The Pharisees and Sadducees speak for all of us, asking Jesus to prove his identity (v. 1). We all would like to know where in the world God is, and we would like him to make himself perfectly and unmistakably evident.

Jesus, however, makes it clear that there will be no miraculous evidence given. The only evidence will be the “sign of Jonah” (v. 4). The strange three-day sea journey of the Old Testament prophet in the fish’s stomach was really a picture of the three-day burial of Jesus.

You cannot be any more hidden than Jonah was in a fish belly under the water. Jesus makes the extraordinary claim that he would be no less hidden: people would be able to see who he was when his lifeless body would be placed into a tomb for three days. To ask for any more proof than his death is foolhardy and dangerous; it is following the teachings (“yeast”) of the Pharisees and Sadducees (v. 5-12).

Church Growth – When Peter made his glowing confession that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), Jesus explained that Peter had not arrived at this conviction by human ingenuity. God the Father had revealed it to him.

Whenever people come to faith, it is always on God’s initiative. Jesus makes it clear that this is the permanent pattern for the growth of his church; he himself will build it as the Father brings people to confess that he is Christ and God (v. 18-19).

The Satanic Pitfall – Immediately after Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus begins to explain what his saving work includes: first torture at the hands of the power structure in Jerusalem, then execution and, only after that, resurrection (v. 21). Peter is horrified. “This shall never happen to you!” he exclaims (v. 22).

What Jesus has to say to Peter at this point stands for all time as a clear condemnation of every effort to find God through human reason and speculation: “Out of my sight, Satan! . . . You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 23). The “things of men” always run directly opposite to the “things of God.” The things of men focus on glory and power; the things of God center in weakness and the cross. Human eyes are always on the heights; God’s eyes are always on the depths.

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

Where in the world is God? We want to know. We all want to know. The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees is still with us, prodding us to look for God in the experiences of our mind and heart. But we have to let God be God. We have to let him speak where he has promised to speak to us: from the cross of Jesus, his Son!

The Real Problem – Most people think that the human dilemma is that our lives are out of adjustment; we don’t meet God’s expectations. Salvation then becomes a matter of rearranging our priorities and adjusting our life-style to correspond with God’s will. In its crassest form, this error leads people to think they earn their own salvation. More often in today’s evangelical world, the error has a more subtle disguise: armed with forgiveness through Jesus, people are urged to practice the techniques and principles Christ gave to bring their life-style back into line.

 It is certainly true that sinful lives are out of adjustment. We are all in need of the Spirit’s sanctifying power. But that comes only after our real problem is solved. Sins are just the symptom; our real dilemma is death.

God’s Final Solution – God warned Adam and Eve that the knowledge of evil came with a high price tag: “. . . when you eat of (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Our first parents wanted to be like God and were willing to pay the price. And we are still paying the price: “the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom. 6:23); “. . . in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22); “. . . You were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

The real problem we all face is death. Physical death, to be sure. But ultimately and most horribly, spiritual death–being cut off from God forever. And everyone must die. You can either die alone or die in Jesus.4

In his death Jesus Christ swallowed up our death, and rose again triumphantly to take all of the teeth out of the grave. In the promise of the resurrection, death loses its power. When we die with Jesus, we really live!

Wanted: Dead and Alive! – There is no sidestepping death. Everyone must die. It is the basic human dilemma; but the cross is God’s great answer to our predicament. We need not die alone. Jesus long ago died in our place, and that means that every baptized Christian dies in Jesus. “Don’t you know,” St. Paul wrote, “that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). Far from being some mere symbol of our dedication to Jesus, holy baptism is the God-appointed means of planting the cross of Jesus Christ squarely in the midst of our lives.

In our baptism Christ takes us in his arms, sins and all, and carries us into his own tomb to die with him. Death is always frightening. But this death is different, for when you die with Jesus, you also live with him. “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom. 6:5).

That means that if we die in Jesus through our baptism, we also live in Jesus; a resurrection takes place. The difference is that we have died and risen along with Christ: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4).

After our burial with Christ in our baptism we are no longer the same person in God’s sight. Our sins have been left behind in his tomb–the one place in all the universe that the Father will not look. And we have a new life through faith in him; it is the risen life of Jesus Christ!

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (Rom. 6:6-8).

Through Death to Life – So we see that the cross of Jesus is far more than a nice decoration or a theological concept. In fact, it is the central hinge around which all of faith revolves. At the cross the hidden God has opened up his very heart for all to see. In the death of Jesus, the God-Man, with eyes of faith we see most clearly the Father’s love. Baptized into that death, the cross takes on a whole new dimension. Now we can see that the only route to life is through death. And death is not to be feared, if it is the death of Jesus–for his death brings life!

That is the hardest thing to learn. We are always trying to avoid hardship, pain, and death. Yet the cross of Jesus reveals to us that the only life worth living is a life which is given through death–the death of Jesus. There is no getting around the cross of Christ; the Christian life is always a life under the cross. But the way of the cross is the way to life. Rather than fleeing from suffering and pain, Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow him. The only life we have to lose is counterfeit; the life we gain is the real thing–it is the life he lives through us!


1. Carter Lindberg, The Third Reformation?: Charismatic Movements and the Lutheran Tradition (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983), 180.

2. David Scaer, “Sanctification in Lutheran Theology,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, 49:2, 3, 188.

3. Martin Luther, AE 34, 111.

4. I am indebted to Robert Kolb (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis) for his summary of this and many other aspects of Luther’s “Theology of the Cross.”


Rev. Harold L. Senkbeil, STM, is the pastor of Elm Grove Evangelical Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. Portions of this article are taken from one of his books: Sanctification: Christ in Action (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1989).

Read Full Post »


I have posted here snippets from an article written by R. C. Sproul on the current situation regarding the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. This is one doctrine that has been maligned for nearly two millennia, even from the early days of the apostles.  As Sproul noted, till today much is being proposed to contradict this important foundation of the Christian faith.  On the matter of justification by faith alone, Martin Luther’s famous quote in Latin  is mentioned here once more: articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (the article on which the church stands or fall).  The apostle Paul, under  the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote a potent pronouncement on those who will even attempt to deliver an adulterated gospel:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10).

Confessing evangelicals must take an uncompromising and clear stand on the pure and unsullied Gospel of Jesus Christ where justification by faith alone is a central truth.  Otherwise, we are selling out like Esau who exchanged his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of red stew; the red stew being a type of another gospel. We proceed to read and be reminded on  the following verses contained in the Scriptures where the  biblical doctrine of justification are grounded, unfolded and summarily proclaimed:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” – Romans 3:21-26

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:20-21

For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2Corinthians 5:21

And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness – Romans 4:5

The reformer Jonathan Edwards, in his 1734 treatise entitled ‘Justification by Faith Alone’ based on Romans 4:5, proposed these 6 points as to the importance of this doctrine:

First, the Scripture itself treats this doctrine as of great importance.  It records for us the apostle Paul’s insistence on it, more specifically in his letter to the Galatians. Second, any other scheme is a man-made salvation. It takes away Christ out of the place of the bottom stone, and puts in men’s own virtue instead of him. Third, it is in this doctrine that the most essential difference lies between the covenant of grace and the first covenant. Fourth, this is the main thing for which fallen men stood in need of divine revelation, to teach us how we who have sinned may come to be again accepted of God, or, which is the same thing, how the sinner may be justified. Fifth, the contrary scheme of justification derogates much from the honor of God and the Mediator. It diminishes the glory of the grace of God and the Redeemer, and proportionally magnifies man. It makes the goodness and excellency of fallen man to be something, which I have shown are nothing. Sixth, the opposite scheme does most directly tend to lead men to trust in their own righteousness for justification, which is a thing fatal to the soul. This is what men are of themselves exceedingly prone to do, through the partial and high thoughts they have of themselves, and their exceeding dullness of apprehending any such mystery as our being accepted for the righteousness of another.

He concluded by saying that teaching and propagating contrary doctrines and schemes to the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, is of a pernicious and fatal tendency.

*   *   *   *   *


Excerpts from the article IS THE REFORMATION OVER?
by R.C. Sproul

The dispute over justification was not over a technical point of theology that could be consigned to the fringes of the depository of biblical truth. Nor could it be seen simply as a tempest in a teapot. This tempest extended far beyond the tiny volume of a single teacup. The question, “what must I do to be saved?” is still a critical question for any person who is exposed to the wrath of God. Even more critical than the question is the answer, because the answer touches the very heart of gospel truth.

…the biblical and Protestant view of justification is that the sole grounds of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, which righteousness is imputed to the believer, so that the moment a person has authentic faith in Christ, all that is necessary for salvation becomes theirs by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The fundamental issue is this: is the basis by which I am justified a righteousness that is my own? Or is it a righteousness that is, as Luther said, “an alien righteousness,” a righteousness that is extra nos, apart from us — the righteousness of another, namely, the righteousness of Christ?

At the moment the Roman Catholic Church condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, she denied the gospel and ceased to be a legitimate church, regardless of all the rest of her affirmations of Christian orthodoxy.

To view the full article, please proceed to Ligonier Ministries by clicking  here.
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.


R C SproulRobert Charles Sproul, (born 1939) is an American Calvinist theologian, pastor and prolific writer. He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries  and can be heard daily on the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast in the United States and internationally. Sproul holds degrees from Westminster College, Pennsylvania (B.A.), Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary (M.Div), the Free University of Amsterdam (Drs.), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Ph.D.).  He has taught at numerous colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and Jackson, Mississippi, and Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale. Currently, Sproul is Senior Minister of Preaching and Teaching at Saint Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Florida. He is also a Council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Read Full Post »