Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves: The Devil is in the Details
Originally published April 17, 2013
After nearly six years of research on the Reformation I have come to the conclusion that like all cults, its proponents deliberately deceive by changing the definition of familiar terms and using subtle verbiage. They condone this because they don’t think we are “ready” for the hard truth of the authentic Reformed gospel. John Piper said that outright during an interview while answering the question, “What would you say to the Pope if you had two minutes with him?”
A good example of this subtle deception is a recent article posted on SBC Voices. Here it is:
If you search through the blogosphere, you’ll see some who advocate Christians “preaching the gospel to ourselves” daily, and you’ll see others who are staunchly against “preaching the gospel to themselves.” I think some who speak against “preaching the gospel to ourselves” misunderstand and/or misrepresent what we mean. Here is why I preach the gospel to myself. Out of the gospel flows both justification (being declared righteous by Christ alone) and sanctification (the immediate positional adoption by Christ into God’s kingdom, and the progressive setting apart of our lives from the Devil’s kingdom into God’s kingdom). The gospel is the source of both, but the two are separate acts of the Spirit’s work in our lives. If you repent and have faith in Christ, trusting in His life, death, and resurrection for your salvation, you are immediately justified and sanctified, and you will be progressively sanctified as God works out salvation in you. Christ, the gospel, is the source of the Spirit’s work through faith alone.
This is a little less subtle than what followed in the same article, but the goal by the writer of said post is to sound biblical while trying to sell us Calvin’s progressive justification. The Devil is in the details. Like all cults, Calvinism distorts the Trinity by overemphasizing one member over the others. The Jehovah Witnesses overemphasize God the Father and destroy the role of Christ while others overemphasize the Spirit’s work to the exclusion of Christ and the Father. Calvinists overemphasize Christ and exclude the Father’s role in justification. Notice he states that Christ is THE gospel: “Christ, the gospel.” The definite article “the” is ever so subtle, and completely untrue. The Trinity is the gospel, not just Christ. Notice that he also states,
If you repent and have faith in Christ, trusting in His life, death, and resurrection for your salvation, you are immediately justified and sanctified, and you will be progressively sanctified as God works out salvation in you.
According to the post, we have to trust “in His life” as well as His death for our salvation. Did you catch that little subtle statement? That is the belief that Christ lived a perfect life on earth so that His obedience can be imputed to our sanctification while we are justified by His death. This comes from Calvin who believed that Christians are still under the jurisdiction of the law and it must be obeyed perfectly until we get to heaven where our final justification is verified. As long as we live by faith alone in sanctification, Christ’s perfect obedience is applied to our sanctification which prevents “making sanctification the ground of our justification,” a truism often uttered by John Piper.
This is where all of this living by the same gospel that saved us and preaching the gospel to ourselves comes into play. If we live by the same gospel (faith and repentance only) that saved us in sanctification to prevent our sanctification from being the ground of our justification, the perfect obedience of Christ to the law will continue to be imputed to our Christian walk. This promotes the idea that it is alright for Christians to remain under the law as long as Christ keeps it for us. This is why they say justification is “distinct” from sanctification but “never separate” because Calvin saw sanctification as a process that completes justification. That’s a VERY problematic gospel. Note:
Christ, the gospel, is the source of the Spirit’s work through faith alone.
The Spirit’s work? Is he talking about the Spirit’s work in justification or sanctification? Yes, because they believe they are both the same. And here is the kicker: if you don’t live your Christian life by faith alone (the same gospel that saved you) resulting in Christ’s obedience being imputed to your sanctification, you lose both justification and sanctification. So, you have to keep your salvation by living by faith alone in sanctification. Remember, you have to trust in Christ’s life, not just His death and resurrection. Note the following statement by New Calvinist Michael Horton:
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.
Much more could be said, but I think you get the picture. The author of the post furthers his position by referring his readers to seven elements pertaining to the same subject by a Rick Phillips. Phillips is much more subtle, but his first element reads as follows:
1. Justification and Sanctification are twin benefits that flow from union with Christ through faith. Christ is himself the center of the gospel, and through faith we are saved in union with him (Acts 16:31; Eph. 1:3). Justification and Sanctification are distinct benefits flowing through union with Christ by faith alone.
Regardless of whatever else these guys say, this is the bottom line: if we remain in union with Christ by faith alone, justification and sanctification continue to flow by “faith alone.” What did James say about that? John Piper:
We are kept by the power of God through faith [emphasis mine].
It’s works salvation by living by faith alone in sanctification; i.e., the same antinomianism they claim to refute. Because we are supposedly still under the law, Christ must keep it for us so His perfect obedience to the law will cover us at the judgment day. But the only obedience of Christ that is part of the atonement is His obedience to the cross—we don’t need obedience to a law that we were justified apart from. We are now enslaved to the law and its righteousness, but it can’t judge our justification. It has no jurisdiction over our justification, period.
The Devil is in the details.