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Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

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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by Pastor John Samson

 

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23: 39

I have often contemplated the potential scene in my mind as one by one, the proponents of all religions were given the opportunity of talking to the thief on the cross, and what they would say to him. This was a man who was a criminal, a notorious sinner, and definitely one whose so called “bad deeds’ would outweigh the good ones. Being nailed to a cross negates any further opportunity for good works to be done. But it would be an interesting conversation, wouldn’t it, to hear what each religionist might say to him? In every case (apart from perhaps universalism which teaches that all people will be saved regardless of their works) each religion would require the man to somehow come down from the cross to do something.

What would a spokeman for Islam say? How about a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness? What would a Buddhist say? or a New Age guru? How about a Roman Catholic? If each could speak to this man, what religious advice would or could they give to him for the purpose of being saved (however they even define what that means)? Some might say that all he could do would be to hope for mercy, but Christ, the biblical Christ gave him far more than just hope. In contrast to what all man made religious systems could give the man, Christ gave him full assurance of salvation – and not just eventual salvation after countless years in the fires of purgatory, but bliss and paradise that very day!

Certain religions would require baptism, others would require the man go through religious instruction and devotion of some sort, while others would ask him to do more good works before his death hoping that they might outweigh the bad ones. But here’s my point, the man could never find salvation in those religious systems because he was stuck, pinned, nailed to a cross. His chance to help elderly people cross roads, or to give to charity or to live a life of service was gone. Nailed to a cross, works and service were no longer possible. His was a totally hopeless case.. except that crucified next to him was Someone who was able to save him by what He was doing, rather than what the man might do. Only the real biblical Jesus with the real biblical Gospel could announce to a criminal that before the day was over, he would be with Him in Paradise!

This thief’s salvation portrays the Gospel so clearly. Someone embracing anything other than the biblical gospel can only scratch their heads in wonder at the precious words given to this man, for in their system, such words would be impossible to say.

As far as I know, this man was the only person in the Bible that Jesus gave instantaneous assurance of salvation to. Jesus’ words, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” removes all doubt.

Can we know what was going on in the heart of this man? Well, we do not have a perfect understanding, but putting the pieces of the biblical text together, we can get quite a good picture. What is clear from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is that this man had been amongst the many who had mocked Christ. Yet seemingly, out of nowhere, he turns to the other thief and says, “Don’t you fear God?” Obviously, this thief was now fearing God for him to be asking this question of the other one.

He also knew he was getting exactly what he deserved – “we indeed suffer justly” he said.

He also recognized the innocence of Christ when he said, “he has done nothing wrong.”

When he turned to Jesus and requested, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” though knowing death was inevitable for all three of those crucified, he believed Jesus would triumph over death, and therefore, would be resurrected.

In affirming the fact that Jesus would come into His kingdom, he affirmed the Lordship or even the Deity of Christ. How much he knew of this we do not know, but obviously, he knew that Christ was indeed King.

So, he had an awareness of divine judgment, he knew the availability of forgiveness, he believed Christ was the true King and that in Christ there is hope even for him, he knew of the coming Kingdom and wanted to be a part of it.

As God opens our hearts and mind to the one true biblical Gospel, we will also find in Christ the full assurance of salvation. As we turn away from any attempt at self justification, knowing that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith and all of this is the gift of God, not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8,9), we too will enjoy the sweet saving mercy of God.

What a testimony to the Gospel this thief is. His testimony is exactly the same as mine. God saves sinners through the perfect work of the perfect Savior, plus nothing! Hallelujah!

 

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By Dr. Albert Mohler

The images streaming in from Haiti look like scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The scale of the calamity is unprecedented. In many ways, Haiti has almost ceased to exist.

The earthquake that will forever change that nation came as subterranean plates shifted about six miles under the surface of the earth, along a fault line that had threatened trouble for centuries. But no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming. The 7.0 quake came like a nightmare, with the city of Port-au-Prince crumbling, entire villages collapsing, bodies flying in the air and crushed under mountains of debris. Orphanages, churches, markets, homes, and government buildings all collapsed. Civil government has virtually ceased to function. Without power, communication has been cut off and rescue efforts are seriously hampered. Bodies are piling up, hope is running out, and help, though on the way, will not arrive in time for many victims.

Even as boots are finally hitting the ground and relief efforts are reaching the island, estimates of the death toll range as high as 500,000. Given the mountainous terrain and densely populated villages that had been hanging along the fault line, entire villages may have disappeared. The Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation has experienced a catastrophe that appears almost apocalyptic.

In truth, it is hard not to describe the earthquake as a disaster of biblical proportions. It certainly looks as if the wrath of God has fallen upon the Caribbean nation. Add to this the fact that Haiti is well known for its history of religious syncretism — mixing elements of various faiths, including occult practices. The nation is known for voodoo, sorcery, and a Catholic tradition that has been greatly influenced by the occult.

Haiti’s history is a catalog of political disasters, one after the other. In one account of the nation’s fight for independence from the French in the late 18th century, representatives of the nation are said to have made a pact with the Devil to throw off the French. According to this account, the Haitians considered the French as Catholics and wanted to side with whomever would oppose the French. Thus, some would use that tradition to explain all that has marked the tragedy of Haitian history — including now the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment.

God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening.

God’s rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake — at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense — in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption.

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young?

Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.

The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe. The entire cosmos awaits the revelation of the glory of the coming Lord. Creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation.

In other words, the earthquake reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real message of hope. The cross of Christ declares that Jesus loves Haiti — and the Haitian people are the objects of his love. Christ would have us show the Haitian nation his love, and share his Gospel. In the midst of this unspeakable tragedy, Christ would have us rush to aid the suffering people of Haiti, and rush to tell the Haitian people of his love, his cross, and salvation in his name alone.

Everything about the tragedy in Haiti points to our need for redemption. This tragedy may lead to a new openness to the Gospel among the Haitian people. That will be to the glory of God. In the meantime, Christ’s people must do everything we can to alleviate the suffering, bind up the wounded, and comfort the grieving. If Christ’s people are called to do this, how can we say that God hates Haiti?

If you have any doubts about this, take your Bible and turn to John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is God’s message to Haiti.

 

 

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Another question was emailed to me a few weeks ago primarily on the issue of divorce and remarriage among Christians. He had a 2-part question; the first dealt with salvation, and the second about remarriage.

 

First question: “Is salvation lost if a separated guy marry [sic] again? Even it is already annulled? Is the salvation of the partner whom he married also lost?”

My reply:  Well, firstly, the Bible teaches that salvation is of the Lord and nothing can be contributed by man to have it (Titus 3:4-7). The means to receive it is by faith – which is also a gift (Eph 2:8-9). Thus, salvation is believing in the Lord who is proclaimed through the Gospel (Romans 1:16).

Sin does not disqualify us, for if it does, then no one is saved for everything that we do is marred by sin.  Only the finished work of Jesus Christ through His sinless life, sacrificial and substitutionary death, and resurrection has made anything that we do (as saved people) holy and acceptable to God (see Hebrews 10:8-18).

Having the truth of our salvation, its basis, its merits and its security in Christ Jesus briefly established above, remarriage of a separated person does not disqualify him from such a wonderful salvation. However, there are other consequences, particularly the conveyance of a conflicting message concerning the Gospel and Christians divorcing and re-marrying even when their original spouses are still alive. This I find dishonorable, and based on the original question, disqualifies men from Christian ministry (eldership and deaconship). But more importantly, righteousness is the fruit of true faith in Jesus Christ, and every believer through the mediation of the Spirit and the Word heeds the call to love the Lord God above all else. And loving the Lord manifests in humility and submission to His will.

 

Second question: (originally in Pilipino) Can a person whose marriage is annulled re-marry?

My reply: (This is a shortened version of my lengthy reply). Referring to the texts in Matthew, particularly chapter 19:3-10, we take note of the original questions of the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any reason?”

I highlighted two words in the question so that we can ground our answer correctly.  The use of the word “lawful” refers to the requirements of the Law of Moses. Wanting to find fault, this question was directed at the Lord.  In His response, noted the following:

  • That God’s will has been declared even before Moses that when two people – man and woman – are joined together, they become one (Genesis 2:24)
  • That divorce was not of God’s but of Moses’ command because of “the hardness of their hearts” – meaning they would not obey the Lord concerning matters on marriage.
  • That divorce can only be meted out only if one of the spouses are sexually immoral.

Therefore, it is not lawful to divorce for “any” reason.  The only reason allowed for divorce is adultery of one of the spouses.  However, we must remember that under the Law, adultery (the only ground for divorce) is punishable by death.

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” – Leviticus 20:10

The death of the adulterous spouse now frees the other spouse to remarry because it is only through the death of one spouse can marriage be dissolved. An allegorical view concerning the believer’s union with Christ ‘s death and resurrection was discussed by Paul in the first few verses of Romans 7. In it, the allegoryof marriage and its dissolution through death is used allowing for a remarriage.

Having said this, whether marriage is annulled (Philippine law does not allow divorce) or divorce as granted by the laws of any human government, remember that the Law of God is above these laws and no re-marriage can be allowed unless one of the spouses die.

I would also like to share with you what Albert Barnes Commentary said about this section of Scripture:

And I say unto you. Emphasis should be laid here on the word I. This was the opinion of Jesus—this he proclaimed to be the law of his kingdom—this the command of God ever afterwards. Indulgence had been given by the laws of Moses; but that indulgence was to cease, and the marriage relation to be brought back to its original intention. Only one offence was to make divorce lawful. This is the law of God. And by the same law, all marriages which take place after divorce, where adultery is not the cause of divorce, are adulterous. Legislatures have no right to say that men may put away their wives for any other cause; and where they do, and where there is marriage afterwards, by the law of God such marriages are adulterous.

 Barnes’ emphasis is on the authority of Jesus Christ.

One famous Philippine TV/radio personality who has already gone to be with the Lord is Helen Vela. When she became a born again Christian, she relates in her beautiful testimony of heeding the call of God to be separated from the man whom she cannot be married because that was not her true husband. Her original husband separated from her long before and lived in adultery with another woman. If  only that taped testimony is still available, it would be an encouraging word for Christians who are in the same situation.

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Foreword:  This is the last installment on the series  from Modern Reformation, Nov./Dec. Vol. 5 No. 6 1996 issue. To see the complete list and full articles, go to ‘Categories’ from the sidebar and choose the section on The Life of A Justified Sinner. – EmmausTrekker

 

By Dr. Michael S. Horton

Everyone knows St. Augustine , that fourth-century giant, as the doctor of grace. To a large extent, the Reformation was simply a recovery of and improvement on Augustine’s system. Few quills have graced the subject of guilt and grace like the Bishop of Hippo’s. And yet, Augustine’s own conversion was not so much due to the guilt of his sins, as to their power. You see, Augustine had been a member of a heretical sect known for its immorality. The immediate point of contact for him was the indomitable tyranny of sin. Theologians have distinguished three aspects of sin: its guilt, its power, and its presence. The moment we place our confidence in Christ’s saving work, we are instantly justified, liberated from the condemnation which the guilt of our sins deserves. Further, because of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work, we are not only given the faith to believe, resulting in our justification; we are also given the gift of repentance, resulting in a life of sanctification or growth in Christian maturity. And yet, we know the struggle of Romans 7 all too well. Though we are justified and are being sanctified, we are engaged in a war and will know no peace until we are finally delivered from the presence of sin altogether in the New Jerusalem.

Know The Enemy
The unholy trinity most often identified in Scripture is well-known to most of us: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

First, the world. Now, be careful with this one, because it is not the world per se that’s the problem, but the world as it has come to be shaped by the warped hands and minds of sinful human beings. As God created it, the world was a good place–“very good,” God said. The Creator placed Adam in the garden as the worldly custodian, to insure that all creation served and praised its glorious Maker. But we know the story: Adam and Eve failed God in this task and the entire creation was placed under a curse to bondage and decay. The second law of thermodynamics was one physical aspect of this curse. And yet, God did not leave it this way. In the very day on which God pronounced judgment, He also promised redemption (Gen. 3:15). From Eden , history unfolds in successive stages of redemptive acts pointing to the ultimate act of redemption in Christ’s self-sacrifice.

But we very often forget that the world itself was included in this promise of redemption. It wasn’t just for Christians that the “new creation” or the “new age” dawned. In Romans chapter eight, St. Paul informs us, “The whole creation is on tiptoe” waiting to see our redemption. “The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited–yet it has been given hope.” That’s right, even creation itself has been given the promise of redemption. “And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” ( Rom. 8:20-21, Phillips).

Therefore, the world has now become the theater of war. Just as Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait made that state the theater of conflict, so too Satan has invaded this world through the disobedience of our first parents. The world is our enemy, therefore, not in the sense that we are hostile to its culture, its music, its science, its art, its civic and social life–for we were created to participate in these activities. Rather, it is the world as dominated by alien forces hostile to the reign of Christ which presents some of our most urgent challenges.

This is why the Apostle warned, “Do not be conformed to this world’s pattern of thinking, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:2). Hence, we “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Every method, belief, outlook, agenda, must become a POW of Jesus Christ. Our beliefs and attitudes must pass His inspection. Some years ago, the National Council of Churches, often railed against by evangelicals as liberal, made the remark that, “The world sets the church’s agenda.” But today, it is often evangelicals themselves who are taking in uncritically the popular trends and fashionable thoughts which make it difficult sometimes to discern where Christianity ends and pop culture begins.

If the conflict with the world is a war without, the conflict with the flesh is the war within. St. Paul makes it the subject of his seventh chapter of Romans. “We know,” he says, “that the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” At this point, Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, does not experience the “victorious Christian life” so many Christians are promised these days. He feels like a POW in the battle with sin. One minute, in Romans six, we find him fighting and overthrowing attacking forces in hand-to-hand combat. The next, in Romans seven, he is a prisoner. This is the nature of the Christian life. This is the course of sanctification. What many Christians today regard as a “carnal Christian” is really either an unbeliever or, like the rest of us–a struggling saint. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out . . . When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!” (vv. 21-24).

The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not, as is often suggested, that the former lives a “victorious life,” or that he “lives above all known sin.” Rather, it is that the Christian is at war within, while the non-Christian is not even aware of any conflict. The Christian houses two hostile forces. He is at once “justified and sinful,” pro-God and anti-God. And this war with oneself will never be resolved until we reach the Promised Land. As Alexander Whyte, the Presbyterian pastor of the previous century informed his congregation, “You will never leave Romans seven while I am your minister!”

The third enemy, archenemy, in this war, is the devil himself. Unlike the mystery religions surrounding the Jewish and early Christian cultures, biblical faith located evil in personal beings rather than impersonal forces. A revived collection of mystery religions, the New Age movement seeks to discover and manage these evil forces, but Christians know where evil comes from. It is the result of personal, active, willful rebellion by creatures brought into being as good creations by a good God.

In Revelation twelve, we read about a “war in heaven.” After our Lord ascends, war breaks out and Michael defeats Satan. The dragon is therefore expelled from heaven and is no longer given access to the court where his prosecution against Christians can be heard. And yet, “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Thus, the theater of war moves from heaven to earth itself. Here, Satan prowls like a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He deceives unbelievers with false teaching; he entices Christians with false promises, and though he knows his time is short, his hatred for Christ and His redeemed hosts drives him to assault. Though he cannot win the war, he is happy to win battles, making common cause with the world and the flesh.

Know The Weapons
“Put on the full armor of God,” Paul’s command in Ephesians chapter six, is well-known to many of us. First up is the “belt of truth.” Before anything else, we have to know what we believe and why we believe it if we are to withstand the world, the flesh, and the devil. Another metaphor might be that of roots reaching deep into the soil of Scripture. We must read Scripture not only for devotional purposes, but to understand in a profounder way the meaning of our faith. We ought to read great Christian classics instead of light and fluffy popular books. There is a war for our mind and truth is the place to start. As a belt, it holds our pants up in battle.

Second, the “breastplate of righteousness” is listed. According to the Cambridge Biblical Commentary, “Most likely, this refers not to the believer’s moral character, but describes God’s rescue operation in Christ, bringing the assurance that the Christian is right with God.” In other words, our protection in battle is the confidence that we are justified–that is, already declared righteous. Whenever Satan comes to tempt us, we hold up the cross. Whenever the flesh threatens to bring us back under the dominion of Adam, we remind ourselves of our union with the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Whenever the world tells us about self-esteem or self-confidence, or takes a short-cut around dealing with the real problem of guilt, we respond with this doctrine of justification.

Third, there are the “ready feet.” Once armed with truth and the knowledge of our justification in Christ, we are now ready to zealously act. This is of great importance. St. Paul refers in Romans to his legalistic friends as those who “have tremendous zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” This zealous ignorance was especially disastrous, he says, because what they failed to understand was essential to the gospel: “For not knowing about the righteousness of God which is by faith, they set out to establish their own righteousness.” Zeal must be led and directed by the truth and justification which have already been discussed. That being said, many of us are so content with the belt and the breastplate that we forget our shoes. Zeal without knowledge is misguided energy, but knowledge without zeal is a profound waste of good news.

Fourth, we have the “helmet of salvation.” What is important to note in all of this is that every weapon with which we have been provided is outside of us. In other words, whether it’s truth, or salvation, the weapons with which we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil are not inner resources. So much of the emphasis I see these days on “spiritual warfare” calls believers into themselves through spiritual exercises like “spiritual breathing” or other forms of subjective, mystical navel-gazing. But this is just what Satan’s strategy has been. In every pagan folk culture, mysticism dominates. Techniques are provided for dealing with the forces within. Sin becomes a matter not of personal rebellion as much as demonic conflict (such as Jimmy Swaggart’s insistence that he was fine now after Oral Roberts cast the demons off of the evangelist’s back), and the war becomes a “good force” vs. “bad force” nonsense. This is folk religion rather than Christian warfare and it certainly has nothing to do with Ephesians six.

One should also notice that the helmet of salvation is given at the beginning of the war, not the end. Salvation is never a carrot God dangles in front of us to keep us going, but is a declaration already made at the beginning of it all. What commander would send his forces into battle without a helmet, merely promising them one as a reward for their success? God gives us the “helmet of salvation” right from the start, not if we win, but so that we will win.

Know The Captain
Each of these weapons mentioned in Ephesians six is first listed in the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah 11. Of the Messiah it is promised, “Truth will be the sash around His waste.” “Righteousness will be His armor . . . His own arm worked salvation. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, He put on garments of vengeance and wrapped Himself in zeal as a cloak.” Further, He is even the shield and the helmet: “He is my shield behind whom I take refuge” (Ps. 144:1-2); “He will wear the helmet of salvation upon His head” (Is. 59:17). And He is the sword, known to John’s Gospel as “the Word of God.”

In all of our battles with the enemy, we reach for nothing that Christ has not already won for us. Even when we win a personal battle, it is because Christ has already fought and successfully won over His trials and temptations. In Christ, the war is already won, so the battles are real but the outcome is already known.

I hear someone saying, “Wait a second, even when you guys do talk about sanctification and the pursuit of godliness, you end up talking more about justification and ‘alien righteousness’ than practical steps of holiness.” That’s correct, and any method that does not do that is not Pauline, evangelical, or Reformational in any sense. Let me give an example of how genuinely practical this approach is even for godliness. In Shakespeare’s “MacBeth,” the witches’ prophecy that “no man born of a woman will conquer you” inspires MacBeth to fight even the dreaded MacDuff. In the heat of battle, MacBeth taunts his enemy with the prophecy and confidently wields his sword because of it. But then MacDuff informs the usurper that he was not, technically speaking, born of a woman, having been torn from his mother in her death. Just as soon as the news reaches MacBeth’s ears, the strength leaves him and he is immediately taken in battle.

Many Christians live defeated lives, not because they are failing to follow certain steps or are not living up to the “victorious Christian life” (whatever that is), but because they do not have the confidence that no one, not even Satan, can “lay any charge to God’s elect” (Rom. 8:32). In the heat of battle, the strength we have to keep on going is knowing that our Commander has already determined the outcome of the war by His victory. His ascension into heaven and the devil’s expulsion from the same guarantees that our skirmishes, serious as they certainly are, will nonetheless not bring us ultimate defeat. Knowing that already makes all the difference.

Conclusion
Having said all of that, I wonder if we really want to be rid of our sins. In Romans six, Paul cheers us on: “Do not let sin reign, therefore, in your mortal body.” In Romans seven, he is more sober, reflecting on his own personal struggle to “practice what he preached” in the previous chapter. In the eighth chapter, he goes on to encourage us that even though we lose battles here and there, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1).

As believers, we live between those three poles–energetic zeal, struggle/failure, gospel. But I wonder if we take the first two poles as seriously as we really ought. Knowing that our salvation is sealed in the courts of eternity, do we eventually ignore the challenges of Romans six because of the failures of seven and the unconditional “no condemnation” in eight? I guess what I’m saying is: What do we have to lose? If we’re afraid of losing a battle, of being disappointed with a failure out on the field, we need only remember that our success or failure on the battlefield does not determine the outcome of the war. We can fight with confidence.

John Owen once said of Christ, “When He comes to war, he finds no quiet landing place. He can set His foot on no ground but that which He must fight for.” We will not grow without a fight, without sharing in His sufferings. Unlike justification, our sanctification is a lifelong struggle–so much for “let go and let God.” Small victories are prized; battles lost are soon forgotten, extracting lessons for the next. None of our enemies–the world, the flesh, or the devil, will simply move aside and put up a white flag. And yet, in our fighting we fail to hide our unrestrained anticipation prefigured in the arrival of Israel in the Promised Land: “Then the land had rest from war.”


Dr. Michael Horton is the chairman of the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and is associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California . Dr. Horton is a graduate of Biola University (B.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.) and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (Ph.D.). Some of the books he has written or edited include Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Beyond Culture Wars, Power Religion, In the Face of God, and We Believe.

 

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About the Creed:  This creed is of uncertain origin. It was supposedly prepared in the time of Athanasius, the great theologian of the fourth century, but many scholars have theorized that it seems more likely that it dates from the fifth or sixth centuries because of its Western character. It communicates two essential points of Bible teaching: that God’s Son and the Holy Spirit are of one being with the Father; and that Jesus Christ is true God and true man in one person. Traditionally it is considered the “Trinitarian Creed.” In many congregations it is read aloud in corporate worship on Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost.

Athanasian Creed

Whoever wants to be saved should above all cling to the catholic faith.

Whoever does not guard it whole and inviolable will doubtless perish eternally.

Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.

For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.

But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit.

Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit.

The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite.

Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit: And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.

Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit: And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty.

Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God: And yet there are not three gods, but one God.

Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord: And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.

As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords.

The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten; the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father; the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.

Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.

It is necessary for eternal salvation that one also faithfully believe that our Lord Jesus Christ became flesh.

For this is the true faith that we believe and confess: That our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and man.

He is God, begotten before all worlds from the being of the Father, and he is man, born in the world from the being of his mother — existing fully as God, and fully as man with a rational soul and a human body; equal to the Father in divinity, subordinate to the Father in humanity.

Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.

He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man.

He suffered death for our salvation. He descended into hell and rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

At his coming all people shall rise bodily to give an account of their own deeds.

Those who have done good will enter eternal life, those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.

This is the catholic faith.

One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully.

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(by Arthur Pink, “Unworthiness” 1940)

GRACE is favor shown to the undeserving and ill-deserving.

When Divine grace bestows salvation upon the ill-deserving, it makes them conscious of the infinite favor that has been shown them. Fallen man is naturally proud, self-complacent, and self-righteous.

But wherever the miracle of regenerating grace is wrought–all this is reversed. Its subject is stripped of his peacock feathers, made poor in spirit, and humbled into the dust before God. He is made painfully aware of the loathsome plague of his heart, given a sight of his vileness in the light of God’s holiness, and brought to realize that he is a spiritual pauper, dependent upon Divine charity. He now readily acknowledges that he is a Hell-deserving sinner.

“I am not worthy of the least of all Your mercies and unfailing love, which You have shown to me, Your servant” (Genesis 32:10). This is the confession made by all who are the recipients of the saving grace of God. Whenever a miracle of saving grace is wrought in the heart–pride is subdued, self is effaced, and a sense of ill-desert takes possession of the heart.

One of the elements of great faith–is deep humility. “For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not worthy to be called an Apostle” (1 Cor. 15:9). “I am less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8). What complete self-abasement! The most eminent Christians–are always the most lowly ones; those most honored in Christ’s service–are deeply conscious of their unprofitableness.

 

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