Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Potter’s House 12/2/2012: Calvinism’s Election Only Selects Some for a Chance to Obtain Heaven

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 4, 2012

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We have taken a short interlude in the book of Romans in order to launch “False Reformation: Four Tenets of Luther and Calvin’s Egregious False Gospel.” Of course, this still relates closely to the apostle Paul’s gospel treatise that we are studying in the book of Romans. The Potter’s House crew has supplied invaluable input, and together we have crafted chapter two. Following is that chapter, and the pdf file will be updated later as PPT readers can watch and comment on the progression. One key thing that we have learned together is the following: the Reformation doctrine posits an election that  predetermines some for salvation and others for damnation, but once you are elected  you have to do just the right things in sanctification to obtain heaven! It’s almost like being selected for a chance to win a lottery. Certain people are elected, but they can still lose their salvation.

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Chapter 2: “False Reformation.” Revised and Updated

The case for progressive justification would normally be almost impossible to make against Luther and Calvin for the following reasons: they were masters of nuance and left a mass of literary droning that would have to be examined to make a case; the Reformation motif is deeply ingrained in our tradition, and would normally require a notable theologian of tremendous stature to gain any traction on the issue.

But we live in unique times. Along with the aid of the Information Age, there is the following reality: The Reformation false gospel eventually produces the bad fruit of progressive justification and dies a social death. From among the ashes, theologians emerge (sanctified Calvinists) with a corrected soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) while retaining the Reformed nomenclature and other less troubling doctrines. This is why many “Calvinists” have a correct soteriology and an eschatology (doctrine of last days) that matches progressive justification (one resurrection, one judgment). It is also why the idea of eschatology being a “secondary” or “non-essential” doctrine is promoted heavily in Reformed circles—eschatology defines gospel. If you think justification and law are separate for the believer, you will hold to separate resurrections and judgments for the saved and unsaved (see Illustration 1, p.24). Christians will not stand in a judgment where law is the standard for righteousness—they have already been declared righteous. Only those who are under the law will be judged by the law, and with guaranteed results (Romans 2:12).

A Short History of Progressive Justification

Eventually, authentic Calvinism (advocates of progressive justification) dies out for the most part and the Calvinist Light (sanctified Calvinists) version becomes the norm. These Calvinists also retain the predestination view of authentic Calvinism as well, and that becomes the major focus of controversy between them and other camps. When authentic Calvinism comes back in the form of resurgent movements that take place, on average, every 150 years, the two camps find themselves at odds with each other. This provides an excellent opportunity because sanctified Calvinists are usually of a scholarly bent and   articulate apt theological arguments against the progressive justification of authentic Calvinism. And this book will in no wise pass on said opportunity. This is major: well-known and respected sanctified Calvinists refuting authentic Calvinism; i.e., old Calvinists (sanctified, but thought to be traditional), and “New Calvinists” of the latest resurgence. But who holds to the original Reformation gospel? As we shall see, the New Calvinists.

Furthermore, the last resurgence movement of authentic Calvinism took place in 1970 and has presently all but taken over the contemporary church [7]. The contemporary men who discovered the “lost gospel of the Reformation” surmised that the other resurgent movements had failed because the doctrine needed to be systematized and repackaged to fit socio-historic considerations of any given time. Apparently, they were right. In order to accomplish this, they founded the Australian Forum think tank. Their theological journal was Present Truth Magazine, and it is a treasure trove of commentary on the authentic gospel of the Reformation. Articles that articulate many elements of authentic Reformed doctrine are abundant. The Forum is no longer operating, but a Progressive Adventist group archived the journal [8].

Between the powerful information tools of our day, sanctified Calvinists, and the Forum archives, the evidence that the Reformers were proponents of progressive justification becomes obvious when you are pointed to the right places among literally mountains of written pontifications. Perhaps the most obvious is the title of John Calvin’s fourteenth chapter of book one in the Calvin Institutes: “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive.” That chapter will be used to develop the thesis as we progress.

Defined by Linear and Parallel Gospels

The grand crux of Reformation error is progressive justification. This is the belief that our justification, or just standing as declared by God, must be maintained. In other words, we are not justified apart from the law. The righteous demand of the law must be continually satisfied in order for justification to be valid. This demand never ceases for anyone—saved or unsaved. So that there is no confusion here, we are going to take a short interlude and examine an often heard phrase among the Reformed of our day. They often speak of the “ground” of our justification: e.g., “What is the ground of our justification?” It is important to note that the Bible never frames the question of justification in that context. We are chosen, called, set apart, and declared righteous; end of discussion.

This is where we discuss two primary gospels: a parallel gospel (two components side by side), and a linear gospel (everything on the same trajectory or line). Let’s also note two Reformed phrases that are biblical anomaly in this discussion: “the ground of our justification,” and “the golden chain of salvation.” This will form a foundation that we will continue to build on in our understanding.

The parallel gospel sees our justification as a chain from the declaration to glory. Uninterrupted, and guaranteed, and based on the atonement of God’s elect, Jesus Christ. At a point in time, we believe on Christ and are born again. Though we are still in our mortal bodies, the old sinful self died with Christ, and was raised with Christ in resurrection and infused with the righteousness of the Father. Hence, we are in fact righteous because of the new birth. All things are new. So, alongside of the timeless chain of justification and guaranteed glorification, or final sanctification, we live our lives separately from the finished work of justification. Because we are now born of our new Father, there is warfare between us and this mortal body that we are presently trapped in. Though sin’s power over us is broken because the old man is dead, mortality still possesses a life that is able to wage war against us and the indwelling Holy Spirit that has sealed us until the day of redemption. The apostle Paul referred to this warfare as between the “law of my mind” and the “law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:21-24 [Galatians 5:16,17]). The “law of sin” probably refers to a remnant left in our members from being “under the law” which provoked our sinful nature to sin (Romans 6: 14,15, 7:1, 6, 8-11). This parallel life that operates separately in time apart from the timeless finished work of justification is called PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION  As we discussed in chapter one, we grow spiritually as we are more and more “set apart” from the old ways. It is a progressive separation.

This brings us to the authentic Reformed linear gospel. Everything is on a straight line. We are declared just as a onetime declaration by God, but sanctification (what they deceptively call progressive sanctification) operates in-between the declaration and final justification (what they deceptively call final sanctification) that is determined at a final judgment where both the lost and saved stand in judgment. They call this the “golden chain of salvation” (a chain is linear), and base it on Romans 8:30; i.e., this verse is not about justification only, but about the whole spectrum of the gospel from beginning to end [9]. This puts us in the mix between justification and glorification. It’s a chain with two ends, and we are in the middle. Proponents of the parallel gospel say that sanctification is not mentioned in Romans 8:30 because the verse is about justification only and justification/sanctification are totally separate. The Reformation gospel states that sanctification is not mentioned in Romans 8:30 because justification/sanctification are part of the same chain—they are fused together; all chains are made up of links fused together. There should be a line drawn in the sand today that demands, “State your Romans 8:30! Does it include sanctification, or not?” The right answer is, “no.”

Therefore, since our sanctification is supposedly between the two ends of the chain (justification and glorification), one can see that the “ground” of our justification would now be a critical issue. Our sanctified life is now a series of links that connect justification to glorification. So, if we begin by faith alone, the justification links must also be maintained by faith alone as justification progresses towards glorification. “Progressive sanctification” is really PROGRESSIVE JUSTIFICATION as believers build the links of justification by faith alone to the final link of glorification. This concept is what is really behind the Reformed motto, justification by faith alone. It’s that, but it is also justification by faith alone in sanctification as well. Don’t miss that: justification by faith alone in sanctification. Justification has to be maintained.

This concept is commonly taught in Reformed circles. It also smacks of works salvation, and the accompanied idea that we can lose our salvation (and therefore begging the question of what we need to do to keep it). An example of the explanation thus far can be observed in the following sermon by Reformed guru John Piper:

Picture it like this. Your salvation is like a chain that extends back into eternity and forward into eternity. It is an unbreakable chain. Wherever you look on this chain, you find links of iron forged by God himself.

If you look back into eternity as far as you can look, you find election (1:1–2): “To the elect aliens.” “God chose you from the beginning,” Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “for salvation.”

If you look forward into eternity as far as you can on this chain of salvation, you see an inheritance that (according to verse 4) is reserved by God for you, and is therefore imperishable and undefiled and unfading. God took charge of your salvation at the beginning before you existed, and God is securing its great goal before you ever get there in the future.

If you look back on this chain a couple thousand years, you find God sending his Son Jesus to shed his blood for your sin (the sprinkling in verse 2). And then you find him raising Jesus from the dead to conquer death and give you hope (v. 3).

If you look back one or two or twenty or seventy years as a believer, you see that great link in the chain called new birth, and you see from verse 3 that it is not a link forged by you but by God: “Blessed be God who caused us to be born again unto a living hope.”

And if you look now at the chain of salvation being forged this very day in your life, what do you see? If you look at the chain that connects new birth in the past with your inheritance in the future, what do you see? [10].

Piper then specifies activity that he hopes is not seen as we participate in building the links of justification in sanctification by faith alone:

One image is of the Christian walking along the edge of a great chasm which he needs to cross to get to heaven. He is holding onto one end of the chain leading into the past. Day by day he is forging the links of faithfulness as best he can with some help from the Holy Spirit (not infallible help) so that eventually he can try to connect with the chain of heaven that hangs down from the high cliff on the other side. But he is never sure that he will forge the links well enough or have the strength to finish the chain….

The other image, which I hope you don’t have, errs in the opposite direction. It’s almost the same image as before. The Christian with the chain of salvation leading into the past is walking along the chasm attempting with some help of the Holy Spirit (not infallible help) to forge the links of faithfulness and eventually link up with the chain of heaven on the other side. But in this image the Christian has a safety belt around his waist tied to the chain of heaven on the other side so that even if he lets go of the chain leading to the past or stops forging any links of faithfulness, he will not fall to his death but be drawn into heaven another way than by the chain.

In the first image, the believer has no security or confidence that he will make it to heaven. In the second image the believer has security in the wrong place; a kind of automatic eternal security that can get you to heaven another way than by the chain of God’s saving, persevering acts revealed in Scripture [Ibid.].

Notice this statement specifically: “In the second image the believer has security in the wrong place; a kind of automatic eternal security that can get you to heaven another way than by the chain of God’s saving, persevering acts revealed in Scripture.” Notice that the chain continues towards heaven via “saving….acts.” God justified/saved in the beginning, continues to save in our sanctification (if we participate in the links the right way), and will completely save/justify at the end of the chain. That’s progressive justification. Piper continues in the same sermon:

This is very different from the security of the safety belt. Some people think that, because of some past experience, they have a safety belt and can leave the forging of faith behind, drop off into the chasm of sin and unbelief, and just swing low over to the promised land. Well, there is no safety belt. There is one way to heaven: the way of persevering faith. And this is why verse 5 is so important.

Our security is not in making heaven unconditional. Our security is in God’s infallible commitment to fulfill the conditions of heaven [Ibid.].

Notice that there is still a “condition” for heaven. Certainly, no unrighteous person will dwell in heaven, but Piper is plainly saying that a “condition” must be met to complete the chain. Said another way: justification must be maintained. It’s not finished. It’s progressive. Consequently, part and parcel with the linear approach is the possibility of losing your salvation:

There is danger on the way to salvation in heaven. We need ongoing protection after our conversion. Our security does not mean we are home free. There is a battle to be fought. And in this battle we need protection and help far beyond what we can supply for ourselves [Ibid.].

The following citation is the crux of this point. The beginning of the chain is by faith alone, and we are kept by the power of God “through” faith alone IN sanctification:

The means God uses to protect us is faith. “We are now being protected by the power of God through faith” [Ibid.].

Bottom line: salvation by maintaining our just standing by faith alone in sanctification—as opposed to seeing justification as a finished work which frees us to pursue biblically informed aggressive obedience in sanctification as a way to love God.

And as stated before, the “ground” of our justification becomes paramount in the golden chain of salvation. Elder Reformed statesman RC Sproul stated the following about the “ground” of our justification:

At the very heart of the controversy in the sixteenth century was the question of the ground by which God declares anyone righteous in His sight….

When we say that the Reformation view of justification is synthetic, we mean that when God declares a person to be just in His sight, it is not because of what He finds in that person under His analysis. Rather, it is on the basis of something that is added to the person. That something that is added, of course, is the righteousness of Christ. This is why Luther said that the righteousness by which we are justified is extra nos, meaning “apart from us” or “outside of us.” He also called it an “alien righteousness,” not a righteousness that properly belongs to us, but a righteousness that is foreign to us, alien to us. It comes from outside the sphere of our own behavior. With both of these terms, Luther was speaking about the righteousness of Christ [11].

This statement by RC Sproul is a major linchpin in understanding Reformed progressive justification. First of all, he attributes the very issue we are discussing here to being central, or the “heart” of the Reformation. Key is his statement that, “It [a righteousness that makes us just] comes from outside the sphere of our own behavior.” Do not miss this: the righteousness of Christ is completely outside of the sphere of “our behavior.” Why? Because “our” (we can only assume that this is [being in the first person plural] speaking of Christians) must be based on something other than our imperfect behavior. It must be based on an “alien” righteousness; i.e., the righteousness of Christ. And remember, he is talking about our “behavior” which would include sanctification issues. Sproul is fusing justification by faith alone with behavior in sanctification. Therefore, if we think we can please God in sanctification with a behavior that is our own, it could affect our just standing or the ground of our justification. Instead of our behavior in sanctification being a different consideration than works for justification, Sproul, as all the Reformers—makes it the same issue.

We will discuss this whole Reformed issue of a righteousness completely outside of us—even in sanctification, but for now the major concern is a perceived need to maintain a just standing in sanctification, and the idea that we will stand in a future judgment to determine if we properly maintained that just standing by faith alone in sanctification. A clearer view can be lent to this discussion by adding a quote from John Piper:

He’s going to take our place and His righteousness is going to count for me on the last day and that will be my solid ground” [12].

Hence, there is a standard to be maintained throughout sanctification—the righteousness of Christ alone implemented by faith alone in sanctification. That will be our “solid ground” at a future judgment; therefore, righteousness completely outside of us must be the standard to properly maintain the links in the golden chain.

And RC Sproul attributes these same beliefs to Martin Luther. One of the developing themes of this book will concur with that notion. First, the law remains a standard for justification because justification must be maintained by the righteousness of Christ until “the last day.” let us once again review what Scripture states about the fusion of our just standing with law:

Romans 3:19 – Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

Romans 6:14 – For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 7:1 – Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.

On the cross, Christ proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30). What is finished? There is only one part of the gospel that is finished: justification. Christ secured God’s declaration by His death and resurrection. This is why it is said that He was slain before creation (Revelation 13:8, 1Peter 1:20, Ephesians 1:4 2Timothy 1:9).

If God’s righteousness is imputed to our account, nothing in sanctification is needed. The two are completely separate. Justification, in and of itself, is finished and glorification is guaranteed based on God’s justification alone. Glorification may not only speak of final sanctification, resurrection, and redemption, but also the fullness of salvation and the sealing of the Holy Spirit when we believe in Christ. At any rate, justification is a finished work, and sanctification is progressive—the two are completely separate.

Progressive justification comes part and parcel with the idea of justification being maintained until glorification, and it’s why those of the Reformed tradition are sensitive to the charge. And if justification must be maintained, what maintains it? And how is it maintained? And whodoes what in the process? The what, how and who. In the linear gospel, what maintains justification? The law. How? If we don’t work in sanctification, the righteousness of Christ (completely separate from “our behavior”) will be credited to our account. Our only work is to live by faith alone. Who? Christ maintains the law for us if we live by faith alone.

We can conclude that progressive justification manages to combine the worst of both worlds: works salvation because the law is still a standard for justification in sanctification. We work to maintain justification via Christ’s righteousness through faith alone, and if we don’t do that just right, we can lose our salvation. Any doctrine that teaches such is a form of works salvation. Secondly, antinomianism (anti-law of God) because Christ obviously obeys for us, and we have no righteousness in us that could effectively obey God’s word. It’s works salvation by antinomianism. At any point that we stop being antinomian—we lose our salvation. In fact, many in the Reformed tradition state that being accused of antinomianism is a test that determines if you are really preaching the gospel or not:

If you don’t preach in such a way that somebody responds like Romans 6;1, “Let us sin so grace may abound,” you’re probably not preaching the gospel. We’ve got to preach good news, not good advice as the ground of our salvation [John Piper: Ibid.].

Now remember, in the same video [12], Piper said that the righteousness of Christ was to be his ground for justification in the last day. Here, he is saying that we must preach “the gospel” as the ground of our salvation. Therefore, we maintain our justification throughout sanctification by preaching the gospel to ourselves. And in fact, one of the Reformed clarion calls of our day is, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day” [13], and The same gospel that saved us also sanctifies us. If we are justified by the gospel at the beginning of the chain, and that justification has to be maintained by faith alone in the works of Christ until the “last day” it only makes sense that to maintain that just standing by faith alone would require a continual revisiting of the gospel. And many of the Reformed in our day state that in no uncertain terms:

Where we land on these issues is perhaps the most significant factor in how we approach our own faith and practice and communicate it to the world. If not only the unregenerate but the regenerate are always dependent at every moment on the free grace of God disclosed in the gospel, then nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image. Start with Christ (that is, the gospel) and you get sanctification in the bargain; begin with Christ and move on to something else, and you lose both [14].

This is another linchpin statement by a notable Reformed teacher in our day. The same gospel that saved us must continue to sanctify us. This is because we are justified by faith alone, and trust the works of Christ alone for that salvation. But if the beginning of our salvation by faith alone is connected to our resurrection by a linear chain in time—then the original justification must be maintained by faith alone, or the same justification by faith alone that saved us. And obviously, if we don’t live out the “golden chain” by faith alone, “you lose both.” Both what? Answer: justification and sanctification. Therefore, justification must be maintained by the perfect obedience of Christ in what the Reformed deceptively call progressive sanctification. It’s really progressive justification. It propagates a required effort on our part to keep our just standing through faith alone in “sanctification.” Rather than sanctification being completely separate (parallel) with a freedom to work hard at experiencing the power of salvation as testimony to the world concerning our love for God, the Reformed way requires a fretting that we are not living by faith alone because justification is linear from salvation to glorification, and we function in the middle rather than operating completely separate from the finished work of justification. The following touches on one of the results:

New Calvinism, because it fuses justification and sanctification together has a complicated formula for what is works in sanctification and what isn’t works in sanctification, which determines whether or not you make “sanctification” the ground of your justification. But what they’ve done is created a complicated formula that determines what is works in sanctification and what isn’t works in sanctification that might affect your justification. But my brothers and sisters, when the two are fused together, everything that we do in sanctification is a work, whether it’s merely meditation, prayer, or doing jumping jacks. Do you understand what I’m saying here? [15].

What this actually looks like in the big picture, and supposedly in real life is explained well by the aforementioned Australian Forum:

After a man hears the conditions of acceptance with God and eternal life, and is made sensible of his inability to meet those conditions, the Word of God comes to him in the gospel. He hears that Christ stood in his place and kept the law of God for him. By dying on the cross, Christ satisfied all the law’s demands. The Holy Spirit gives the sinner faith to accept the righteousness of Jesus. Standing now before the law which says, “I demand a life of perfect conformity to the commandments,” the believing sinner cries in triumph, “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, His suffering and dying; mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, and suffered, and died as He did . . . ” (Luther). The law is well pleased with Jesus’ doing and dying, which the sinner brings in the hand of faith. Justice is fully satisfied, and God can truly say: “This man has fulfilled the law. He is justified.”

We say again, only those are justified who bring to God a life of perfect obedience to the law of God. This is what faith does—it brings to God the obedience of Jesus Christ. By faith the law is fulfilled and the sinner is justified.

On the other hand, the law is dishonored by the man who presumes to bring to it his own life of obedience. The fact that he thinks the law will be satisfied with his “rotten stubble and straw” (Luther) shows what a low estimate he has of the holiness of God and what a high estimate he has of his own righteousness. Only in Jesus Christ is there an obedience with which the law is well pleased. Because faith brings only what Jesus has done, it is the highest honor that can be paid to the law (Rom. 3:31) [16].

This states it in no uncertain terms. Justification, instead of being a finished work once declared, still answers to the law which demands perfect obedience. Therefore, we cannot measure up, and must continually offer the perfect works of Christ to the Father to maintain our just standing. “Faith” is thereby defined. The Forum further elaborates:

The flesh, or sinful nature of the believer is no different from that of the unbeliever. “The regenerate man is no whit different in substance from what He was before his regeneration.” — Bavinck. The whole church must join the confession, “Have mercy upon us miserable sinners.” The witness of both Testaments is unmistakably clear on this point.

No work or deed of the saints in this life can meet the severity of God’s law. Apart from God’s merciful judgment, the good works of the saints would be “mortal sin” (Luther), and nothing is acceptable to God unless mediated through the covering cloud of Christ’s merits. Because of “indwelling sin,” we need mercy at the end as much as at the beginning, for the old nature is as evil then as ever. Growth in grace, therefore, does not mean becoming less and less sinful, but on the contrary, it means becoming more and more sinful in our own estimation.

It is this conviction of the wretchedness of even our sanctified state—which conviction comes by the law—that keeps sanctification from the rocks of self-righteousness. It keeps the Christian’s little bark constantly pointed toward his only star of hope—justification by faith in a righteousness that stands for him in heaven. The refuge of the sinner must ever also be the refuge of the saint [17].

Consequently, the law is still a standard for our righteousness. As we have seen previously, the Scriptures make it absolutely clear that we are justified APART FROM THE LAW. The Reformers twist that to mean apart from us maintaining it which requires us to live by a faith that continually offers the obedience of Christ as a satisfaction to the law. And at any point where this is not done, we lose our salvation. Therefore, this is no different than Christ plus something for salvation; in this case, faith alone as defined by the Reformers. And this is exactly why the Reformers, especially Luther, took exception with the book of James—James posited an aggressive sanctification that combines our obedience with faith, but yet separate from justification, and that concept turns the Reformation gospel completely upside down.

Anytime salvation is not “finished,” works enter in. This is why a separation of true progressive sanctification and justification is absolutely essential—NOTHING we do in sanctification can affect our justification. This is the ground of our assurance; and our freedom to aggressively obey in progressive sanctification is the experience of that assurance—we see what God has worked in as we work it out.

One wonders if this is the primary point of election, a dynamic dichotomy between justification and sanctification. God wants us to be so certain that justification is finished that he completes it before we are even born….no, in fact, before the Earth was even created! This seems to be the point rather than determinism. How ironic therefore that the sultans of fatalistic determinism posit a confusing requirement to maintain our just standing by a perpetual reoffering of the finished work of Christ that secured our justification. While propagating the idea that God predetermines who will be saved and who will go to hell before the foundation of the world, it would seem that the predestination is only a choosing that qualifies us for a chance to get to heaven. From there, we must maintain the choosing through a complicated faith alone procedure in sanctification. This is another area where eschatology is gospel. The Reformers concur that Israel was elected, but then promote the idea that the Jews lost their choosing through being unfaithful to the covenant and was replaced by the church. Apparently, the same goes for us as well. This does not encourage a free and aggressive obedience that pleases God, but rather a false assurance in exactly what the brother of Christ the Lord warned us against: “Faith without works is dead, being alone.” Moreover, if James meant the works of Christ and not ours; certainly, one of his stature in the apostolic church would be expected to communicate better than that, and it is doubtful that such sloppy communication would have escaped the divine editor embodied in the Holy Spirit.

So, law is fused with justification as a perpetual requirement,  sanctification is fused with justification, and this always encompasses a requirement by us to do something in order to retain our just standing; i.e., works salvation. Again, the Reformers invented something unique: a works salvation by not working. By working (not living by faith alone) you can lose your salvation. Stated another way: salvation by maintaining justification through not working in sanctification, or antinomianism in sanctification. When salvation is linear, we are in the middle between justification and glorification, and can therefore affect our justification. This is the Achilles heel of the Reformation false gospel. When salvation is linear (a chain), there are only two choices: work your way into heaven via raw effort because the standard is my good works outweigh my bad works, or the standard is perfection according to the law, but Christ obeys it perfectly for me via my faith alone. The Reformers picked the latter.

To the contrary, in the parallel gospel, there is NO STANDARD to maintain. The righteousness of God has been deposited to our account in full. There is NOTHING to maintain, it is “FINISHED.” Sanctification operates on a totally different plane albeit a life colored by the reality of the new birth, and becomes one reality with the finished work of justification at the resurrection. We can plainly see from the substantial data presented thus far that the Reformed gospel is not finished—it progresses towards the end of the chain. And, we are in the middle, and therefore a participant in justification in some way or another, and that is not only a really bad idea—it’s a false gospel. Keep in mind that it is the Reformers who call salvation a “chain,” it is their term. And a chain is linear.

The Australian Forum identified with this concept of linear versus parallel and illustrated the point with the following charts (added illustrations by author in brackets) [18]:




Notice that in true Reformed fashion, “Final justification on judgment day” is reworded with “End of Christian life” in order to nuance what is being taught.  It is also interesting to note what the Forum wrote about the parallel model:

The Reformed and Arminian streams of theological thought have always had more difficulty maintaining the centrality of justification than the Lutheran stream has had. In the Reformed system justification is regarded as a static, once-in-a-lifetime act followed by sanctification [Ibid.].

Remember, the Forum was the organization that rediscovered the “lost Reformation gospel” and was critical of the Reformed landscape of that day; i.e., Calvinism Light as discussed prior. Their golden chain model doesn’t necessarily depict the linear model to a “T,” but the explanation of the chart certainly does:

In contrast to these two positions, Luther and the Lutheran Confessions regard justification as a present continuous need of the believer, who is always a sinner in his own eyes yet always grasping the justifying verdict of God by faith in Christ’s righteousness Ibid.]

And that’s the problem. The two following illustrations (#s 2 and 3) summarize our discussion thus far:



John Calvin’s Progressive Justification

We have seen how the present-day Reformers continually claim to be of authentic Lutheran and Calvinistic doctrine, or authentic Reformed soteriology. But is that true? The so-called New Calvinists of our day are the most respected theologians in the world. Could so many of them be wrong? It’s very doubtful, especially when the writings of Calvin and Luther are examined. As mentioned beforehand, the title of Calvin’s fourteenth chapter of book one in the Calvin Institutes is entitled, “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive.” It staggers the mind to know that Christians readily reject progressive justification out of hand (those who know what it is, which may be a smaller number than we care to know), but yet, somehow, Calvin has gotten away with propagating it in broad daylight for over 500 years. Even more staggering is the summary dismissal of the outrageous behavior of the Reformers—past and present. Christ’s words, “By their fruits you will know them” do not carry the appropriate weight on this issue. Nevertheless, as we shall see, the root of the fruit is a false gospel which shouldn’t surprise us.

Concerning chapter 14, and in accordance with what we have learned so far, Calvin strongly discourages Christians from making any effort to obey the law in order to please God. Calvin was adamant that Christians should understand that they can earn no merit from God by keeping the law. But merit for what? Obviously, if Calvin didn’t think our justification was at stake—as Christians, this wouldn’t even be an issue, but….

Even were it possible for us to perform works absolutely pure, yet one sin is sufficient to efface and extinguish all remembrance of former righteousness, as the prophet says (Ezek. 18:24).

With this James agrees, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all,” (James 2:10). And since this mortal life is never entirely free from the taint of sin, whatever righteousness we could acquire would ever and anon be corrupted, overwhelmed, and destroyed, by subsequent sins, so that it could not stand the scrutiny of God, or be imputed to us for righteousness. In short, whenever we treat of the righteousness of works, we must look not to the legal work but to the command. Therefore, when righteousness is sought by the Law, it is in vain to produce one or two single works; we must show an uninterrupted obedience. God does not (as many foolishly imagine) impute that forgiveness of sins once for all, as righteousness; so that having obtained the pardon of our past life we may afterwards seek righteousness in the Law. This were only to mock and delude us by the entertainment of false hopes. For since perfection is altogether unattainable by us, so long as we are clothed with flesh, and the Law denounces death and judgment against all who have not yielded a perfect righteousness, there will always be ground to accuse and convict us unless the mercy of God interpose, and ever and anon absolve us by the constant remission of sins. Wherefore the statement which we set out is always true, If we are estimated by our own worthiness, in everything that we think or devise, with all our studies and endeavors we deserve death and destruction [section 10].

Notice that the standard is perfection; hence, the law is still the standard in our sanctification. And because sanctification is a series of links connecting justification to glorification, “so long as we are clothed with flesh, and the Law denounces death and judgment against all who have not yielded a perfect righteousness, there will always be ground to accuse and convict us unless the mercy of God interpose, and ever and anon absolve us by the constant remission of sins.” In other words, Christians need a “constant remission” of sins to prevent “death and judgment.” In case you think there is a possibility that Calvin was writing about justification prior to salvation, he follows with this statement:

We must strongly insist on these two things: That no believer ever performed one work which, if tested by the strict judgment of God, could escape condemnation; and, moreover, that were this granted to be possible (though it is not), yet the act being vitiated and polluted by the sins of which it is certain that the author of it is guilty, it is deprived of its merit [section 11].

Though heavily nuanced in context to this point, what Calvin is stating becomes clearer as one reads further in chapter 14:

Hence we infer, according to the reasoning of Paul, that it was not of works. In like manners when the prophet says, “The just shall live by his faith,” (Hab. 2:4), he is not speaking of the wicked and profane, whom the Lord justifies by converting them to the faith: his discourse is directed to believers, and life is promised to them by faith. Paul also removes every doubt, when in confirmation of this sentiment he quotes the words of David, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” (Ps. 32:1). It is certain that David is not speaking of the ungodly but of believers such as he himself was, because he was giving utterance to the feelings of his own mind. Therefore we must have this blessedness not once only, but must hold it fast during our whole lives.

Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be perpetual in the Church (2 Cor. 5:18, 19). Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death—viz. ablution, satisfaction, expiation; in short, perfect obedience, by which all our iniquities are covered. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul says not that the beginning of salvation is of grace, but “by grace are ye saved,” “not of works, lest any man should boast,” (Eph. 2:8, 9) [section 11].

In the first paragraph, Calvin makes it clear that he is referring to Christians in regard to the forgiveness of sins, but the following words make it clear that it is the same forgiveness that saves us; in other words, the blessing of salvific forgiveness must continue: “Therefore we must have this blessedness not once only, but must hold it fast during our whole lives.” The problem with this, other than what has been previously discussed at length, is seen in what Christ taught Peter about the difference between the original salvific washing and the repentance/forgiveness that occurs in sanctification:

John 13:5 – Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Obviously, according to Jesus, we do not need a continual washing. The “washing” refers to justification (1Corinthians 6:11). However, the icing on the cake is in the last paragraph of section 11:

Moreover, the message of free reconciliation with God is not promulgated for one or two days, but is declared to be perpetual in the Church (2 Cor. 5:18, 19). Hence believers have not even to the end of life any other righteousness than that which is there described. Christ ever remains a Mediator to reconcile the Father to us, and there is a perpetual efficacy in his death….

Calvin is stating that reconciliation to God (justification) is “perpetual,” and that Christ’s death has a “perpetual efficacy” to continually reconcile us to God—“the same gospel that saves us also sanctifies us,” or more accurately, keeps us justified till the “end of life.” Pray tell, what was “finished” at the cross? In sections 10 and 11, Calvin stated for all practical purposes that salvation is continually applied to the Christian life by faith alone, and he prefaces the idea with a strong admonition against any attempt to obey the law—obedience in sanctification is deemed futile and equal to an attempt to be justified by it. This is progressive justification. Also notice that we must “hold fast” this faith alone that avoids any futile attempt to obey the law.

So, are the New Calvinists correct in their assessment that they are promoting the original gospel of the Reformation? Absolutely. But once again, exactly like the New Calvinists of our day, Luther and Calvin wrote massive volumes full of nuance and doublespeak in regard to these issues. Without the digital information age and the theological prowess of the Australian Forum, unraveling the Reformation false gospel would be nearly impossible. Like some sort of super-cult, Reformation doctrine reassigns different meanings to common biblical terms in order to propagate their progressive justification. The whole idea of, in essence, being resaved everyday must be assimilated into the minds of Christians using stealth. Though an unfortunate victim of Reformation doctrine, John MacArthur Jr. stated it best in his assessment of second century Gnostics who launched a massive invasion on the second century church:

Gnosticism was not a single unified cult. Gnostic thinking offered the possibility of “designer” religions, where each false teacher could basically invent his own unique sect. That is why gnosticism as a system wasn’t easy to refute and isn’t easy to describe. The ideas of one gnostic group weren’t necessarily held by other gnostics. It took much labor and diligence to contend against this diverse set of false doctrines. And over several centuries’ of time, gnostics produced hundreds of varieties of counterfeit Christianity.

Every form of gnoticism starts with the notion that truth is a secret known only by a select few, elevated, enlightened minds. (Hence the name, from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge.) Gnostics offered a sinister smorgasbord of ideas, myths, and superstitions, all borrowed from pagan mystery religions and human philosophy. Those beliefs were then blended with Christian imagery and terminology. When the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching didn’t fit gnostic doctrines, gnostics simply wrote their own fictional “gospels” and passed them off as mere enlightened accounts of Christ’s life and ministry.

Gnostic teachers accumulated both wealth and followers by promising their disciples the secret knowledge—for a price, of course. Naturally, most gnostic cults claimed to have a monopoly on the secrets of the universe. Because various groups of gnostics did not necessarily agree among themselves about what the secret knowledge was, gnosticism was a highly competitive brand of heresy, and most of its purveyors were therefore skilled polemicists.

Every form of gnosticism was actually pagan to the core, but because gnostics had a peculiar tendency to synthesize Christian doctrine and symbolism with their worldly philosophies, they fooled many Christians. They borrowed biblical terminology and elements of Christian teaching. But they redefined all the terms and revamped all the teaching. Then they masqueraded as Christians and advertised their religion as a more enlightened version of Christianity. Gnostic leaders often aligned with established churches to gain credibility. They aggressively recruited followers from within the church itself. Because the gnostics employed familiar Christian terminology and professed faith in Christ, many in the church were uncertain about whether to embrace them as brethren or reject them as heretics [19].

There is not a more apt description of the present-day New Calvinist movement based on authentic Reformed theology than this one offered by one of its promoters. In fact, there is no room here to catalogue the mass of similarities. But this should not surprise us. St. Augustine, known as one of the fathers of Reformed theology, integrated Neo-Platonism into much of his teachings. Historically, this is no big secret—no pun intended. One church historian that I was privileged to have a phone conversation with described Gnosticism as, “a poor man’s Platonism.”  Regardless of Augustine’s penchant for Neo-Platonism and Roman Catholicism, he was the primary theological influence on Martin Luther and John Calvin. This is painstakingly documented in David Hunt’s contemporary classic work, “What Love is This?” [20]. Calvin quoted Augustine more than 400 times in his Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion which is usually around 1000 pages in most translations. And the first sentence of chapter one in book one is fundamentally a Gnostic statement. Calvin states the following in that sentence:

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.

But Calvin believed that mankind, including the regenerate, were totally depraved. So, basically, his description of wisdom matches many historic descriptions of Gnosticism: the knowledge of good and evil becomes the primary vehicle for knowledge and wisdom.

The willful present-day ignorance of Reformed history and substance is absolutely astounding, but what the church must primarily come to grips with is the fact that the Reformation gospel itself has always been fundamentally false. It is progressive justification with Gnosticism as its “practical application.” This will be expounded on in more detail as we progress.

Martin Luther’s Progressive Justification  

Marin Luther’s Cross Theology is really the heart of authentic Reformation doctrine. It’s radical, Gnostic, and brilliantly nuanced. As we shall see, the only place left to go for application from progressive justification is Gnosticism. The basics of Gnosticism will be explained where applicable to Reformed doctrine. This is an aside, but necessary to prevent the kind of logical questions that arise from becoming a distraction.

Though MacArthur rightfully describes Gnosticism as gnosis, or secret knowledge, it is usually an elitist knowledge that is related to dualism. Good and evil, thesis and anti-thesis, etc. Primarily, Gnosticism holds to the idea that the spiritual realm is the knowledge, or vision of the good, and matter is evil. Common in the mix is also the basic idea that opposites define each other; i.e., there wouldn’t be any such thing as light if there wasn’t darkness—there wouldn’t be any such thing as good if evil didn’t exist, etc. And when it gets right down to it, original Reformed theology is definitely based on this same principle.

Luther’s dualist concept is two trajectories that we live by in regard to his theology of the cross which included the glory story, and the cross story. He articulated the theology in his Heidelberg Disputation which was used in an inquiry by the Augustinian Order concerning Luther’s “new theology” [22]. As stated beforehand, the Reformation’s present-day children have digital tools that were not at the disposal of their theological ancestors, so we will utilize a helpful illustration used by a New Calvinist organization. World Harvest Mission is an organization founded by Dr. John “Jack” Miller who was a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary. World Harvest is founded on Miller’s Sonship Theology. Sonship was a spin-off from the Australian Forum and started a huge war between the sanctified Calvinists and the authentic Calvinists in Presbyterian circles. But let there be no doubt about it: Sonship Theology is pure authentic Reformed theology of the cross. Sonship Theology parrots authentic Reformation doctrine to a “T.” And there isn’t a better visual illustration of Luther’s theology of the cross than the World Harvest “Cross Chart.”


Indeed, World Harvest has done an immense service to the church by creating this chart. The two trajectories represent the cross story. Everything else, and that means, EVERYTHIG, is the glory story. Notice that the cross gets bigger. Progressive justification? Obviously. And basically, it’s a theology of death. Luther propagated a sanctification that sought to completely annihilate the individual. Only a reading of the Heidelberg Disputation can enable one to begin to understand the depth of self-depravation that Luther sought. Salvation begins with an understanding that God is holy and we are sinful followed by repentance. In Luther’s theology, that basic understanding must continue to grow—the basic premise of salvation must get bigger. We must immerse ourselves in the gospel, or the cross story, and shun the glory story; i.e., anything at all that’s about us. Self-death is job one; self-death in all respects—a complete emptying of self. This is exactly why this theology of death dies a social death, and then returns.

The Heidelberg Disputation

Luther’s Disputation to the Augustinian Order begins with the following:

Brother Martin Luther, Master of Sacred Theology, will preside, and Brother Leonhard Beyer, Master of Arts and Philosophy, will defend the following theses before the Augustinians of this renowned city of Heidelberg in the customary place, on April 26th 1518.

Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, »Do not rely on your own insight« (Prov. 3:5), we humbly present to the judgment of all those who wish to be here these theological paradoxes, so that it may become clear whether they have been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul, the especially chosen vessel and instrument of Christ, and also from St. Augustine, his most trustworthy interpreter.

Notice that Augustine is put on par with the apostle Paul, and contrast that with Luther’s opinion on the parishioner’s ability to reason and deduct:

This has already been said. Because men do not know the cross and hate it, they necessarily love the opposite, namely, wisdom, glory, power, and so on. Therefore they become increasingly blinded and hardened by such love, for desire cannot be satisfied by the acquisition of those things which it desires. Just as the love of money grows in proportion to the increase of the money itself, so the dropsy of the soul becomes thirstier the more it drinks, as the poet says: »The more water they drink, the more they thirst for it.« The same thought is expressed in Eccles. 1:8: »The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.« This holds true of all desires.

Thus also the desire for knowledge is not satisfied by the acquisition of wisdom but is stimulated that much more. Likewise the desire for glory is not satisfied by the acquisition of glory, nor is the desire to rule satisfied by power and authority, nor is the desire for praise satisfied by praise, and so on, as Christ shows in John 4:13, where he says, »Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again.«

The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it. In other words, he who wishes to become wise does not seek wisdom by progressing toward it but becomes a fool by retrogressing into seeking »folly«. Likewise he who wishes to have much power, honor, pleasure, satisfaction in all things must flee rather than seek power, honor, pleasure, and satisfaction in all things. This is the wisdom which is folly to the world [Thesis 22].

The self-depravation required by the “gospel-centered” life therefore includes all knowledge with the exception of cross knowledge. Of course, Luther wasn’t devaluing practical knowledge that aided society and living in general, but with the exception of the cross story, he truly believed that any theological knowledge on the part of parishioners would promote the glory story of self while diminishing the cross story. One is astounded once he/she realizes how deeply engrained these principles are in the present-day New Calvinist tsunami. It also thoroughly explains the everything gospel mentality in the contemporary church coupled with a woeful absence of doctrinal teaching. Reformed theology has no place nor any tolerance for the faithful Berean who would dare question their version of Pauline theology, or Augustine. The fate of those who dared is well documented. And this same mentality prospers today among many Reformed pastors:

Paul told the Corinthian church that “‘knowledge’ puffs up but love builds up” (1Cor 8:1). So, if you love knowledge and look into the word of God to gain mere knowledge and you absolutely love doing it to the exclusion or ignoring of everything else, you may be “puffed up” and indeed not “building up.”…. Puffiness rips and tears. Puffiness pushes people away. Puffiness divides. Perhaps even more critical is the fact that puffiness portrays a small gospel and devastatingly distorts God’s glory.

To the puffy I say, “Stop studying your Bible.” Go on a quest for Jesus.  He is the Word! Study Him, not it [23].

One may ask, “Why doesn’t this Reformed pastor mention the balanced person who studies God’s word for unselfish reasons?” Other than the fact that there is no room in Reformed theology for the existence of such a person—it isn’t “either/or.” There are only two ways to read your Bible according to the Reformers: cross, or glory. To read the Bible for personal knowledge is to read it according to your own selfish story, and not the cross story. Unbelievably, after this author has sarcastically referred to the Reformed “either/or” hermeneutic for years, it is found to actually exist, and it is even what some respected Reformed theologians call it specifically! [24]. Who knew? All spiritual reality that is according to true wisdom is embodied in the cross story, and the glory story is the enemy of the cross [25]. Keep in mind that this also apes the first sentence of book one, chapter one, of the Calvin Institutes, and is fundamentally a Gnostic statement. This also explains Luther’s attitude towards personal reason:

Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom … Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism… She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.

Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God.

There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason… Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed.

Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.

Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his Reason.

To be a Christian, you must “pluck out the eye of reason” [26].

The Heidelberg Disputation is a complete dressing-down of mankind’s worth on steroids, but that would include Christians as well. Salvation begins in the cross story, and continues in it until resurrection. In fact, the very definition of perseverance in Reformed theology is fighting to stay in the cross story and out of the glory story [27]. It is a fight against our own worth and ability:

It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

The law wills that man despair of his own ability, for it »leads him into hell« and »makes him a poor man« and shows him that he is a sinner in all his works, as the Apostle does in Rom. 2 and 3:9, where he says, »I have already charged that all men are under the power of sin.« However, he who acts simply in accordance with his ability and believes that he is thereby doing something good does not seem worthless to himself, nor does he despair of his own strength. Indeed, he is so presumptuous that he strives for grace in reliance on his own strength [Thesis 18].

Again, one may ask, “What about the person who utilizes their own strength, but in reliance on God?” That would be some other story other than EITHER the cross story OR the glory story. It’s either/or. Therefore, you either depend totally on Christ, or totally on yourself. There is NO in-between. Let it be known: this is how the Reformed mind perceives reality. Also note a key sentence: “Indeed, he is so presumptuous that he strives for grace in reliance on his own strength.” Note that there is a striving “for grace.” In other words, we strive for salvation. Justification is not a finished work resulting in the impartation of salvation’s full power and blessings that we can appropriate in sanctification, but we are rather striving for final justification. In Gerhard O. Forde’s commentary on the Heidelberg Disputation, he acknowledges that,

Theologically and more universally all must learn to say, “I am a sinner” and likewise never to stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true….The fundamental question of the Disputation is how to arrive at that righteousness that will enable us to stand before God [Ibid.].

Again, this is the Achilles heel of Reformed theology because Christians will not stand in a judgment that determines our righteousness; we have already been declared righteous. And again, this is what makes eschatology gospel. The biblical evidence that Christians will not stand in a general judgment to determine a just standing is overwhelming, but I would only point out Psalm 103:11-13;

For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

It is most striking in the way that Reformed theology is always the extreme antithesis of biblical truth. While Luther’s theology seeks a nearness of sin for the privilege to experience God’s love, the Bible states the opposite. God’s love is measured by how far He has thrown our sins away from us by virtue of the fact that we are His children by faith alone. Luther proposed a deep relishing in sin consciousness in order to experience a new birth resurrection:

For a resurrection to happen, there must first be a death. The truth must be heard and confessed; then there is hope. New life can begin….[Ibid.].

So, instead of the Christian dying once (the death of the old man), and then being born again (new creaturehood where “all things are new”), he/she experiences continual death and life until the judgment. In essence, perpetual re-salvation:

God gathers his people together in a covenantal event to judge and to justify, to kill and to make alive. The emphasis is on God’s work for us – the Father’s gracious plan, the Son’s saving life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit’s work of bringing life to the valley of dry bones through the proclamation of Christ. The preaching focuses on God’s work in the history of redemption from Genesis through Revelation, and sinners are swept into this unfolding drama. Trained and ordained to mine the riches of Scripture for the benefit of God’s people, ministers try to push their own agendas, opinions, and personalities to the background so that God’s Word will be clearly proclaimed. In this preaching the people once again are simply receivers – recipients of grace. Similarly, in baptism, they do not baptize themselves; they are baptized. In the Lord’s Supper, they do not prepare and cook the meal; they do not contribute to the fare; but they are guests who simply enjoy the bread of heaven [Ibid 14, pp. 189-191].

No wonder we are to preach the gospel to ourselves every day and believe that the same gospel that saved us also sanctifies us; in essence—it’s a daily re-salvation of unchanged sinners who are no different than unbelievers. There really is no “sanctification” per se; the Reformers use the same term, but it doesn’t have the same biblical meaning. The only difference between the lost and the saved is the story they are living in which is marked by….

For in the end we arrive, as we shall see, at the love of God, which creates anew out of nothing. So we begin the journey [28].

Couple this with the fact that Luther writes in his Small Catechism that the Holy Spirit forgives our sins daily [29]. In essence, the Heidelberg Disputation was a total rewriting of the gospel and method for interpreting the Bible. “Christians” work at staying saved via the same gospel that saved us. We must progress our salvation in our nothingness in order to be found as nothing when we reach the judgment throne of God, and finally seeing His love, will be created “out of nothing.” This whole motif saturates present-day Reformed writing, and we will revisit the following citation to further illustrate the point:

Where we land on these issues is perhaps the most significant factor in how we approach our own faith and practice and communicate it to the world. If not only the unregenerate but the regenerate are always dependent at every moment on the free grace of God disclosed in the gospel, then nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image. Start with Christ (that is, the gospel) and you get sanctification in the bargain; begin with Christ and move on to something else, and you lose both [30].

The Disputation continually emphasizes justification as a goal, rather than something that has already been obtained, regardless of the fact that much of the document clearly concerns sanctification. For certain, Reformed theology gets a pass on much of its heresy because many assume that “justification by faith alone” is only talking about initial salvation. But as we have observed, such is not the case. The often heard Reformed motto of Sola fide also pertains to sanctification—not just initial salvation. It is a linear gospel that seeks final justification by working to maintain our just standing through the same gospel that saved us by faith alone. Sanctification is not a fight to be separate according to biblical application (Matthew 7:24), but rather a fight to separate from the “glory story.” And if anything is about you at all—it’s that story—there is no in-between. And that includes righteous behavior in particular.

Furthermore, volumes could be taught and preached on the two trajectories of the cross story without any practical application. And that has certainly been the case for over 500 years. Parishioners can sit under said teaching for years without realizing that practical application is missing. What you know about yourself and God is the application—not anything you do. This is central to the doctrine:

He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.

For the righteousness of God is not acquired by means of acts frequently repeated, as Aristotle taught, but it is imparted by faith, for »He who through faith is righteous shall live« (Rom. 1:17), and »Man believes with his heart and so is justified« (Rom. 10:10). Therefore I wish to have the words »without work« understood in the following manner: Not that the righteous person does nothing, but that his works do not make him righteous, rather that his righteousness creates works. For grace and faith are infused without our works. After they have been imparted the works follow. Thus Rom. 3:20 states, »No human being will be justified in His sight by works of the law,« and, »For we hold that man is justified by faith apart from works of law« (Rom. 3:28). In other words, works contribute nothing to justification.

Therefore man knows that works which he does by such faith are not his but God’s. For this reason he does not seek to become justified or glorified through them, but seeks God. His justification by faith in Christ is sufficient to him. Christ is his wisdom, righteousness, etc., as 1 Cor 1:30 has it, that he himself may be Christ’s vessel and instrument (operatio seu instrumentum) [Thesis 25].

As we previously discussed in chapter one, the Christian is free to work hardily in order to love God and others because he/she has no fear that such works can affect our just standing which is a finished work. Because the Reformed gospel is linear with us being in the middle of the “chain” that begins with our salvation and ends at resurrection, much concern arises that we can, in some way, break the chain. That this is an authentic Reformed position was clearly shown previously via the John Piper citations. Therefore, “laboring” with God by faith alone is critical. Thesis 25 of the Disputation explains in detail how that happens.

There is no doubt that Luther and Calvin chose their words carefully in explaining these concepts in order to create cover for their progressive justification. You really don’t know for certain whether or not they are speaking in regard to justification or sanctification. This is a perfect storm of deception; by continually talking about sanctification concepts in a justification way, the reality of biblical sanctification dies out on its own. If you never feed it—it will die; yet, preaching on the two trajectories of the cross story and the Christian life in regard to justification only (and using justification verses to make sanctification points) provides excellent cover. Granted, many know something is not right, but they can’t put their finger on it. When they ask, they are deemed as puffy intellectuals who want to dwell in their own “glory story.” They are in fact now the enemy in the war between the cross story and the glory story. Asking questions in a concerned way equals “seeking your own glory.”

Eventually, the hope is the following: as learning and doing dies out for lack of such ingredients being in the delivered “word,” the saints will begin to function according to Thesis 25 of the Disputation. And this does work splendidly. And what does this functioning look like? Basically, as one swims in the ocean of their despair from acknowledging their own wickedness, Christ obeys in our place: “Therefore man knows that works which he does by such faith are not his but God’s” [Ibid.]. So, when Luther states the following in the same thesis, he is not talking about our works, but God’s: “Not that the righteous person does nothing, but that his works do not make him righteous, rather that his righteousness creates works.” But those “works” are not ours. He makes that plain by stating in the same thesis, “Therefore man knows that works which he does by such faith are not his but God’s” You can see that many would not pick up on this deceptive concept. Luther is saying that we work, but we don’t work. We work at doing nothing so Christ will impute perfect obedience to our sanctification in order to maintain justification.

However, he makes it plain elsewhere how this supposedly works: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins….If someone cuts with a rusty and rough hatchet, even though the worker is a good craftsman, the hatchet leaves bad, jagged, and ugly gashes. So it is when God works through us” [Thesis 6]. We function in an earthly realm, and as we live in the cross story by focusing on the two trajectories, some of the works that happen are God’s, but since He is doing them through us and the outward appearance is marred, we really don’t know for certain whether it is us doing them, or God. And, it’s NOT RELEVANT:

He, however, who has emptied himself (cf. Phil. 2:7) through suffering no longer does works but knows that God works and does all things in him. For this reason, whether God does works or not, it is all the same to him. He neither boasts if he does good works, nor is he disturbed if God does not do good works through him. He knows that it is sufficient if he suffers and is brought low by the cross in order to be annihilated all the more. It is this that Christ says in John 3:7, »You must be born anew.« To be born anew, one must consequently first die and then be raised up with the Son of Man. To die, I say, means to feel death at hand [Thesis 24].

Notice also that Luther redefines the new birth. It is some kind of rising up in our despair amidst the continual re-saving of progressive justification. At any rate, ALL righteousness remains outside of us, and any righteousness at all found in us leads to the “glory story” of subjective existentialism. Therefore, in later church history, Luther’s Reformation gospel became known as the centrality of the objective gospel outside of us, and was articulated by this visual illustration by the Australian Forum:


This chart perplexes people, but illustration 2 pertains to the man on the right side. As the man meditates on the works of Christ and believes in them, Christ works and preserves the man’s just standing. The man on the left side coincides with illustration 3.


Moreover, Luther’s Reformation gospel has brought many long accepted evangelical interpretations into question; among them, the traditional understanding of the new birth and the idea that believers have a righteousness that is inside of them and actually belonging to their own being; albeit a gift from God. Authentic Calvinism teaches that the results are the ones listed on the left side of the above chart.


Therefore, today’s Reformation camp teaches that infusion was the crux of the controversy between Rome and the Reformers. Rome believed that “grace” was infused into the believer; i.e., the new birth. And that’s true, but Rome’s view of the new birth was different from that of evangelicals of our day. Rome, like the Reformers, also holds to a linear gospel, and sees the new birth as enabling the believer to finish their justification. Christ plus enablement. The Reformers rightfully argue that it takes perfection for believers to be involved in a linear gospel where law is still the standard. They simply replace Rome’s enablement via the new birth to finish salvation with the idea that Christ obeys for us in sanctification in order to finish the finished work thereof a different way. They proceed to lump evangelicals and Rome together regardless:

In it [Goldsworthy’s lecture at Southern] it gave one of the clearest statements of why the Reformation was needed and what the problem was in the way the Roman Catholic church had conceived of the gospel….I would add that this “upside down” gospel has not gone away—neither from Catholicism nor from Protestants [31].

Because evangelicals believe in infusion via the new birth, they are supposedly no different than Rome. How can they fairly make this charge when evangelicals hold to a parallel gospel? Remember the either/or hermeneutic? Because the Reformers only see a linear gospel in the cross story with justification in the beginning, sanctification in the middle, and glorification at the end, the completion of the chain can only be powered by justification or sanctification. Obviously, the finishing of justification by empowerment from sanctification is a huge problem, hence:

This meant the reversal of the relationship of sanctification to justification. Infused grace, beginning with baptismal regeneration, internalized the Gospel and made sanctification the basis of justification. This is an upside down Gospel [Ibid.]


When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel [ibid.].

Actually, to call it “upside down” is disingenuous. The issue is really infusing the saint with ability or enablement to participate in the finishing of justification. BUT, the very fact that they posit this argument against Rome, and falsely against evangelicals as well, positively confirms that the Reformers hold to a progressive justification. And, when a gospel is linear, the saints are somehow involved in justification.

And when that’s the case, even faith is a work rather than a gift from God. Living by faith alone becomes something that you do to KEEP your salvation. And that’s a problem. Justification must be finished by God. Faith is a gift for justification (Romans 12:3), but we are to put that gift to work in sanctification (2Peter 1:5-11). A fear of aggressive sanctification suggests that sanctification is part of  a process that gets us to heaven that we are involved in. That’s a really bad idea.

“It is finished” is the clarion call of the evangelical, not a continual revisiting of the same gospel that saved us in order to do our part in the process. That is an egregious false gospel.

Potter H. 1

51 Responses

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  1. gracewriterrandy said, on December 7, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    In all that is written on the blog to which you directed me, I do not find a single statement that Christ continues to obey for us (your statement “Jesus IS DOING IT.”) No one says that. And to my knowledge, no one says anything about Jesus active obedience in place of our obedience in sanctification. Help me out here. Give me a quote.


  2. gracewriterrandy said, on December 7, 2012 at 11:14 AM


    Thanks for the quote, but it has nothing to do with what you are claiming. I believe in the active obedience of Christ, but that doesn’t mean he keeps obeying for us or that his obedience is substituted for ours in sanctification. Neither does in mean he has to keep obeying to maintain our justification. That is what I need documentation for. You can’t just make such claims and not support them. Well, I guess you can since you often do, but you should not.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 7, 2012 at 12:00 PM

      Then what is the significance of double imputation Randy? What is the specific application of active obedience? What’s its purpose?


  3. gracewriterrandy said, on December 7, 2012 at 1:55 PM


    The imputation of the preceptive and penal obedience of Christ relates only to justification, not to sanctification. Justification credits believers not only with forgiveness for sins but with a positive righteousness. Jesus’ death satisfied the penalty for all his peoples’ sins, but did nothing to provide a positive righteousness. Righteousness in Scripture is defined by obedience to God’s revealed will. What God requires of us as his creatures is not merely neutrality but obedience that flows from sincere love to our Creator. This love manifests itself in love to our neighbor. Jesus made it very clear that this God requires this kind of righteousness of us.

    Jesus, the consummate Israelite, performed this kind of loving obedience under a highly specific expression of God’s eternal law. His obedience under that covenant earned all the blessings promised to covenant keepers. In union with Christ, believers become partakers of all those blessings, not because we were ever under that covenant, but because we are in him who was under that covenant and kept it perfectly, perpetually and internally. His finished work becomes ours because ours because through faith we are united with him. All of this concerns our justification, not our sanctification.

    Sanctification concerns not our guilt and lack of a positive righteousness before God, but our polluted nature because of sin. This problem requires internal work. Specifically, it requires the removal of the stony heart from us and the implantation of a heart of flesh. It requires the washing of our souls. It requires the infusion of a new spirit [disposition] into us. It requires the indwelling of God’s Spirit who causes us to walk in God’s ways. These are the blessings promised to the heirs of the New Covenant. Paul speaks of the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke of being born of water and of the Spirit. Both these references seem directly related to the blessings promised to the heirs of New Covenant blessings.

    None of this is merely credited to believers. It is a works God actually performs in our hearts/innermost beings. It all relates to Jesus death but in a totally different way. The power of sin’s reign is broken because the believer, in union with Christ, died to its power and dominion when, through faith, we were first united to him. We are, therefore, exhorted to stop living like slaves to sin because we no longer are slaves to sin. Jesus obedience to death does not substitute for our obedience, but it enables us to obey. The blessings of the New Covenant all result from his redemptive work.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 7, 2012 at 3:47 PM


      Your statement is full of double speak designed to deliberately confuse people with the confounding of justification and sanctification. It’s a verbal shell game that you learned from your evil father, John Calvin, and Uncle Luther. You are now officially sent to the Kool-Aid corner for a time out.


  4. gracewriterrandy said, on December 7, 2012 at 2:20 PM


    If you would like to be rid of me, on this issue at least, all I am asking is either an acknowlegdement that the above statement accurately represents our position and that we don’t believe in the imputation of Jesus active obedience in place of our obedience in sanctification. Additionally, you need to state that we do not believe or teach that our justification has to be maintained by Christ’s continued active obedience and if it isn’t we believe we will loose our salvation.

    The other option would be to produce documentation that main line Reformation doctrine has been consistent with what you have claimed.

    I am not asking you to agree with or present arguments against my views. I don’t think we have enough in common to even have a discussion. I just want you to stop the straw man arguements.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 7, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      That’s what you believe.


  5. trust4himonly said, on December 7, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    This is double speak GWR……. so tired of this. This is what is Soooooooo…..aggravating- I heard the same thing at my John MacArthur church I use to go to. Yes, I said John MacArthur church. I heard such contradicting messages- I KNOW, I was there and the Holy Spirit was telling me something was wrong. And yes I listened to the Holy Spirit and left and guess what? my doubt and fear was gone!

    Yes, Jesus’s statement “It is finished” is quite significant meaning it is all DONE….. The obedience was done at that moment- there is NO active obedience. You are using the word ACTIVE and that means it is PRESENTLY doing. He does not keep dying, He did it. This statement of active obedience is no different from Catholicism, because of the Eucharist where one is to participate in Jesus’ death when they eat the body (wafer) and drink His blood, so in essence Jesus is dying every time.


  6. trust4himonly said, on December 7, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    Paul again the focus is on death. Might be different techniques in the way of presenting it Calvinism vs. Catholicism, but again the fruit does not fall far from the tree.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 7, 2012 at 3:41 PM


      The Reformation was founded on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. The whole document is about death. BTW, this is a new find first shared with you: Piper’s Christian Hedonism is also based on it. If you want to understand Reformed doctrine, read Forde’s commentary on the Disputation. A real eye-opener.


  7. said, on December 7, 2012 at 5:55 PM

    They have to use double speak or they would have to admit that sanctification is synergistic and that elevates man to being responsible instead of a perpetual worm and led individually by the Holy Spirit and not the guru. Then they have no control if people understand that.

    Paul I am looking forward to seeing christian hedonism mapped to death and the confession. It hhas been years since I read Piper on that and forget his apologetic for it.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 7, 2012 at 6:06 PM

      Piper kinda put his own twist on it, but its there big time.


  8. trust4himonly said, on December 7, 2012 at 9:58 PM

    ha… Lydia just saw Pipers clip on you tube about Christian Hedonism- what blasphemy to even use the word hedonism! Yes here is another example of double speak using this word for our Calvinist friends. Piper claims he is to put the pleasure of God above himself yet look at the definition of hedonism and it is quite the opposite.

    “Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.[1] In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure (pleasure minus pain).

    Ethical hedonism is the idea that all people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible to them. It is also the idea that every person’s pleasure should far surpass their amount of pain. Ethical hedonism is said to have been started by a student of Socrates, Aristippus of Cyrene. He held the idea that pleasure is the highest good.[2]”

    Wikipedia dictionary

    Oh yeh Paul! Coined by Socrates- what a coincidence!


  9. trust4himonly said, on December 7, 2012 at 10:02 PM

    God, in His Righteousness, cannot abide by this terminology! It is the antithesis of who He is.


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