Paul's Passing Thoughts

Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 11, 2016

This is part three of a six part series.
Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two
Click here for Part Four.
Click here for Part Five.
Click here for Part Six.

We continue on in our review of an article written by Tim Challies in 2014 entitled, “Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel”. Challies states in his introduction, “What I have found is that the Roman Catholic Church understands my theology very well.” But by contrast, those of authentic reformed theology also understand Catholicism very well. This should really come as no surprise to us, since the reformation boiled down to nothing more than two packs of wolves vying for the mutton. The argument has always been about progressive justification and whether or not believers have anything to contribute to the mix.

In an interesting twist, Challies doesn’t argue against Catholicism directly. In fact, he offers very little in the way of support for his own views which he simply claims Catholics reject. This conveniently allows him to frame the argument any way he wishes without having to back it up. It is one thing to say “you reject what I believe,” but it is an entirely different matter to say, “here is why you reject what I believe.” Really, it serves as nothing more than a distraction, getting our attention off the real issue. While we are busy evaluating what Catholics say about Protestants, we are ignoring what Protestants are saying.

Challies cites select canons from the Council of Trent. To be specific, these citations come from the Sixth Council of Trent of January 13, 1547 [i]. The canons on justification are only one section of a larger body of work. The first section contains a lengthy affirmation of the Catholic doctrine on justification. The canons that follow are then the resulting refutations based on what is taught in section one. Challies cites the canons only while ignoring the specific doctrinal statements in section one.

So having said that, let’s continue our review by looking at Challies’ third point. Quoting from his article:

“If anyone says that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he firmly believes that he is absolved and justified, or that no one is truly justified except him who believes himself justified, and that by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected, let him be anathema. (Canon 14)”

“This may require some nuance, because I do not believe that I am absolved from sin because I believe I am absolved from sin; however, I do hold, as the Council says here, that faith in Christ alone does absolve sin and justify sinners. (Rom 5:1)”

So far this is one of the most confusing statements in this article! There is a reason his reply is “nuanced”, and I give him some credit here for at least being honest about that. Let’s parse this out. Challies says, “I do not believe that I am absolved from sin because I believe I am absolved from sin”. Said another way, simply believing that one is absolved from sin does not absolve from sin. In that sense, it would seem that Challies would find agreement with Rome, for that is what it appears that Canon 14 declares. And I seriously doubt that anyone in their right mind would say they are absolved from sin simply because they believe it. The must be some basis for absolution other than simply declaring it.

But look carefully at Canon 14. It states, “absolved from sins AND justified.” Both are related. The former is dependent upon the latter. Catholicism rejects the notion of justification by “faith alone” and that furthermore such a justification should be the means or the basis of absolving sin. But it goes even farther than that. The last part of Canon 14 states, “by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected.” Once again what we have is the idea of an ongoing absolution of “present sin” in the Christian life, and such absolution is only obtained by “faith alone”, which Catholicism rejects. Whereas in Catholicism such absolution, such maintaining of justification, would be obtained by the sacrament of confession (among others).

Challies’ “nuanced” first part of his reply only references absolution with regard to “faith alone” and conveniently leaves out a reference to justification. Therefore he feels he can honestly say, “no, I don’t believe I am absolved of sin simply because I believe I am.” At face value, it is a purposefully obtuse understanding of Canon 14, and Challies knows this, thus the need he feels to “nuance” his reply.

Yet he turns right around in the second part of his reply and says, “faith in Christ alone does absolve sin and justify sinners.” It would seem as if he has just contradicted what he said in the first part of his statement. Which is it Tim?   Are you absolved of sin because you “believe” you are or not? When one understands that with Protestants, “faith alone” is needed to maintain justification, it all become pretty clear. In the Protestant construct, “faith alone” does absolve sin because then the “active obedience of Christ” is applied to the believer’s account. If believers are still sinners, Christ’s work of keeping the law must be constantly imputed, and that only happens by “faith alone”. As that happens, justification is maintained.

This is yet one more example of just how both Catholics and Protestants believe in a progressive justification. What Challies calls “nuance”, not only in this example but in his entire article, is better referred to as “doublespeak.” It is language used to deceive usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth. It is also a technique used by teachers of reformed theology whereby they allow the laity to assume that they mean something other than what they are really saying.   We will continue to dissect the doublespeak as we examine point number four in the next article.

Andy


[i] https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5392

 

 

 

Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 10, 2016

This is part two of a six part series.
Click here for part one.
Click here for part three.
Click here for part four.
Click here for part five.

Yesterday we began to take an in-depth look at an article written by Tim Challies back in 2014. Our assertion here at PPT is that there is fundamentally no difference between Catholics and Protestants in terms of doctrine, particularly the doctrine of justification. The mantra of “faith-alone” has been the hallmark of Protestant orthodoxy from the beginning of the Reformation, but very few Protestants truly understand what the reformers meant by that. That misunderstanding is perpetuated to this day by the who’s who of Protestant big dogs for the purpose of keeping the laity ignorant and uninformed. But Challies has allowed us a peek inside the elite world of academics who truly understand authentic Protestantism.

Challies’ purpose is to explore the ways in which Catholics reject what he believes in the way of Protestantism. His attempt at apologetics is really nothing more than a back-door polemic, but are their views really all that different? We continue to unpack this gift given to us by examining the second point of his article.

“If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema. (Canon 12)”

Before we go on we need to examine this statement more closely. Canon 12 makes a declaration about what it believes justification is NOT; it is not merely confidence in divine mercy alone, or “faith alone”. That being said, the question we need to ask ourselves then is, if it’s not confidence in divine mercy, or confidence alone that justifies, then what DO Catholics teach is the basis or standard of justification? If Challies is going to claim that Catholics reject what he believes, it is important for us to know what the contrasting view is. Why does Rome reject the Protestant view of justification being a mere “faith alone”?

Interestingly enough, the answer can be found from the very same council of Trent. Specifically, the canons that Challies cite are from a larger work entitled, The Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, published January 13, 1547[i]. It contains three sections:

  • Decree Concerning Justification
  • Canons Concerning Justification
  • Decree Concerning Reform

To answer our question we must refer to the first section, the “Decree Concerning Justification.” In Chapter IV we read the following:

CHAPTER IV

A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE SINNER AND ITS MODE IN THE STATE OF GRACE

In which words is given a brief description of the justification of the sinner, as being a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior. This translation however cannot, since promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

 Do you see that? Roman Catholicism teaches that the standard for justification is the new birth! Moreover, the new birth is propagated by a desire of one to be born again. This requires a conscious effort of the individual to make a choice. Chapter V goes on to make this clear.

CHAPTER V

THE NECESSITY OF PREPARATION FOR JUSTIFICATION IN ADULTS, AND WHENCE IT PROCEEDS

It is furthermore declared that in adults the beginning of that justification must proceed from the predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ, that is, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits on their part, they are called; that they who by sin had been cut off from God, may be disposed through His quickening and helping grace to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace; so that, while God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, man himself neither does absolutely nothing while receiving that inspiration, since he can also reject it, nor yet is he able by his own free will and without the grace of God to move himself to justice in His sight. Hence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you,19 we are reminded of our liberty; and when we reply: Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted,20 we confess that we need the grace of God.

To be clear, the Catholic view of justification begins with the new birth, defined in their own words as being a supernatural translation from one state of being to another. A literal change. The new birth is what starts you on your way. That justification is then maintained, as the believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit, throughout his life. “Faith alone” is not enough.

Challies says that the Catholic view is contrary to what he believes. In responding to Canon 12 he states,

“I believe this! I believe that justifying faith is confidence in God’s divine mercy which remits sin for the sake of Christ and on the basis of the work of Christ. It is this—faith—and nothing else that justifies us. (Rom 3:28, John 1:12)”

In other words, Challies believes that there is no cooperating with the Spirit through works to maintain justification. It is “faith alone” and nothing else. Once again, this is a statement that you or I might agree with. But the devil is in the details. The key is in this phrase:

“…justifying faith is confidence in God’s divine mercy which remits sin for the sake of Christ and on the basis of the work of Christ.”

We are again allowed to assume that “faith alone” refers to initial salvation. What Challies fails to mention is that Protestantism believes that this “work of Christ” is on-going throughout the life of the believer as a covering for “present sin”. Moreover, in stating that Catholics reject his view of justification, he has unwittingly admitted that Catholics also reject his view of the new birth. Said another way, Catholics believe that the new birth is a literal change of being, and Challies does not!  The new birth is defined as merely and ability to “see” his sinfulness and need of salvation rather than a literal change of being.

The Bible, however, teaches that when a person believes, he is changed. The old man dies. He is crucified with Christ. A new creature is born in his place who is the literal offspring of God who CANNOT sin (1 John 3:9). The reason he cannot sin is because when the old man dies, the law can now no longer condemn him. The new, born again creature is not under the condemnation of the law (Romans 8:1). Therefore there is no sin, because where there is no law there is no sin (Romans 4:15, 5:13). And if there is no sin, there is no “present sin” and therefore no need of a “covering”.

If a believer is still defined as a sinner, then he indeed would be in constant need of some work of “grace” to cover that sin. In the Protestant construct, that work of grace is effected by Christ, known as the “active obedience of Christ”. Christ obeying the law in our place is imputed to the believer as a covering for present sin.   But if that is the case, then according to Protestantism, the standard for justification is not the new birth but the law. Such a doctrine keeps a believer under the law. Being “under law” is the Biblical definition of an unsaved person. Furthermore, the apostle Paul said in Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” In other words, Christ’s work to END the law with His death on the cross becomes pointless!

Furthermore, if a continual “covering” is needed to maintain one’s righteous standing, then that means justification is an ongoing process. Even if the effecting of the “covering” is obtained by “faith alone” throughout one’s life rather than a co-laboring, it still makes justification progressive, instead of a one-time event in the life of a believer.

So once again we see that BOTH Catholics and Protestants hold to a progressive justification, and that the ONLY difference is the means of maintaining it, works vs. “faith alone”. Catholics make no equivocation about this. It is Protestants who are confused. But that confusion is the result of such duplicitous double-speak from the likes of men such as Tim Challies.

In the next article we will examine point number three.

Andy


[i] https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5392

Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 9, 2016

This is part one of a six part series.
Click here for part two.
Click here for part three.
Click here for part four.
Click here for part five.
Click here for Part Six.

For quite some time now, Paul’s Passing Thoughts has been saying that Protestants are the most confused group of people in the world.   They are the ones who have no idea what they believe about the gospel. Catholics on the other hand might believe a false gospel, but at least they are honest about what they believe.

I actually think Tim Challies has done us a great service. He wrote an article back in 2014 in which he attempts to show how Catholics disagree with what he believes.   But what it ironically ends up being is an indictment against Protenstantism. No one should any longer be able to come to us here at PPT and say we are misrepresenting Protestantism or Reformed theology. Challies has unwittingly made the case for us in his own words. He has provided several points of Catholic orthodoxy for us to consider. But I think it is ironic, because in his effort to show where Catholic orthodoxy rejects what he believes, it has given us an insight into just how much Protestantism actually agrees with Catholicism.

In this post, we will examine the first statement from the article, and other points will be considered in subsequent posts. From the article, point number one:

Catholicism declares –
“If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema. (Canon 9)”

We understand what is meant by the Roman Catholic Church in this regard. And I have spoken also with Catholic friends (even Eastern Orthodox) who will maintain that indeed this is what is taught by their church: that salvation begins with faith (beginning justification) and is maintained by works throughout their lives (progressive justification). It is by the performing of the sacraments that such maintaining of justification is accomplished (infant baptism, eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation/confession, anointing of the sick, marriage, holy orders[1]).

Now let’s take a look at Challies’ response

“I believe that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required and nothing else needs to be cooperated with, to obtain the grace of justification. Rome understands exactly what I believe here and rejects it. (Rom 3:20-28, Eph 2:8)”

He’s right.  Rome understands exactly what he means!  The problem is that Protestants don’t understand what he means.  At first glance it seems like a reasonable response with which you or I could agree, but his statement is disingenuous at best.   Why? Because Challies fails to point out one critical aspect. The Catholic statement on justification clearly suggests progressive justification. Something else (in addition to faith) is needed to be justified. For the Catholic, that “something else” is works through the performance of the sacraments, and these are performed over one’s lifetime. As these works are done, justification is maintained.

Challies neglects to point this out. He simply says it is faith and nothing else. This is very nuanced. In so doing, he allows his reader to assume that he is talking about justification as being a one-time event. He fails to mention that the Reformed doctrine of “faith alone” must be lived out continuously throughout the Christian life. If at any time a person ceases to live by faith alone, if he attempts to perform any works, he puts his salvation in jeopardy. Any works performed would only serve to condemn because this would be an attempt to merit righteousness. This was the major point of contention of the Reformation. Both Luther and Calvin state as much in their writings.

“Still, however, while we walk in the ways of the Lord, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, lest we should become unduly elated and forget ourselves, we have still remains of imperfection which serve to keep us humble: “There is no man who sinneth not,” says the Scripture (1Kgs 8:46). What righteousness can men obtain by their works?” ~ Calvin[2]

“First, I say, that the best thing which can be produced by them is always tainted and corrupted by the impurity of the flesh, and has, as it were, some mixture of dross in it. Let the holy servant of God, I say, select from the whole course of his life the action which he deems most excellent, and let him ponder it in all its parts; he will doubtless find in it something that saviors of the rottenness of the flesh since our alacrity in well-doing is never what it ought to be, but our course is always retarded by much weakness. Although we see that the stains by which the works of the righteous are blemished, are by no means unapparent, still, granting that they are the minutest possible, will they give no offense to the eye of God, before which even the stars are not clean?  We thus see, that even saints cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation.” ~ Calvin[3]

“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 (2Cor 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, i.e., 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).” ~ Calvin[4]

“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” ~ Luther[5]

“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” ~ Luther[6]

What Challies actually believes along with the rest of those of the Reformed Protestant tradition, is that a person not only receives salvation by justification by faith alone, but that salvation is maintained by faith alone in sanctification.

Furthermore, notice the use of the term “sinner”. Again, the reader is allowed to assume that a “sinner” is an unsaved person. But there again is the nuance. Both Catholics and Protestants teach that ALL men are sinners, even saved ones! (“Sinners saved by grace.”) In fact, in his introductory remarks at the beginning of the article, Challies states,

“We [Protestants and Catholics] agree on the problem: we are sinful people who have alienated ourselves from God and are thus in need of salvation. But we disagree in very significant ways as to how sinful people can receive that salvation.”

Challies acknowledges that he agrees with Catholics on this point.  And there is no distinction made as to who exactly the “sinful people” are here.  There is nothing specified as to who the “we” is referring.  It is clear that he includes himself and believers in that equation.  It stands to reason then that if believers are still “sinners” then they are in constant need of justification.  He says so himself in that very statement.  Salvation/justification therefore must be ongoing (progressive) in this construct.

I submit that there is ONLY one difference between Catholics and Protestants. Both believe in a progressive justification, but the dispute revolves around what happens afterward, how it is maintained. While Catholics believe it is maintained by works, Protestants believe it is originated AND maintained by “faith alone” as well. In either case, salvation is made to be a process instead of a finished work.

In this regard, Challies is exactly right. Catholics do not believe what he believes and indeed rejects it. But I would wager that if most of his readers and followers, to wit, most of Christianity, were honest with themselves and discovered what Protestantism really teaches about justification, they would reject it as well.

In part two of this series we will examine Challies’ second point from his article.

Andy


[1] http://study.com/academy/lesson/the-7-catholic-sacraments-definition-history-quiz.html

[2] John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion edited by Henry Beveridge, pg 502

[3] ibid Pg 508

[4] ibid, pg 509

[5] The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 18

[6] ibid

If You Don’t Have “A Righteousness of Your Own,” You Are Condemned

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on April 14, 2016

Originally published May 2, 2015

“But here is the primary problem: Protestantism is a slick works salvation gospel. Basically, it turns doing nothing into a work; you do nothing to keep yourself saved. People assume that doing nothing with intentionality to obtain an objective is not doing anything. In reality, doing nothing is still doing something; it’s a “choice,” and deciding to do something or not do something is doing something in both cases.”

In vogue among evangelicals is the idea that we have no righteousness of our own. If we lay claim to a good work that pleases God, we must sanctify it with, “It wasn’t I who did it—it was Jesus working through the Spirit.”

To take credit for a good work is to steal the glory from God, and lay claim to a “righteousness of our own.” This idea is rooted in Martin Luther’s alien righteousness. It is the belief that all righteousness remains outside of the believer.

The result is a confused endeavor to do Christianity without doing anything; after all, “The just shall live by faith.” Therefore, Protestantism still struggles in the clarification of how we do Christianity without doing anything; after all, “It’s not about our doing, it’s about what He has done.” Protestantism is fraught with these doing it without doing it truisms.

Actually, Luther and Calvin articulated how the Christian life is done without doing, but Protestantism wouldn’t be any more popular than the Branch Davidians if Protestants knew the true tenets of Protestantism.

But here is the primary problem: Protestantism is a slick works salvation gospel. Basically, it turns doing nothing into a work; you do nothing to keep yourself saved. People assume that doing nothing with intentionality to obtain an objective is not doing anything. In reality, doing nothing is still doing something; it’s a “choice,” and deciding to do something or not do something is doing something in both cases.

The linchpin is Protestantism’s redefinition of the new birth which is redefined as an ability to better see what we can’t do, rather than a new creature who does things because of who we are.

Hence, if we have no righteousness of our own, we are condemned. If you are the least bit familiar with the New Testament, you know of the interpretive duo of “gift” and “reward.” Once you receive a gift, you own it, right? Salvation and the righteousness that comes with it is a GIFT. Rewards come in this life and the life to come as a result of how we put the gift that we now own into use. Primarily, the Bible calls that “love.”

But now think with me for a moment. If something is not a gift, what is it? Right, it’s a loan, and what do we know about loans? Right, you have to pay them back. And frankly, that’s exactly what Protestantism teaches: that righteousness is on loan from Jesus. We have no righteousness of our own; we only have the righteousness of Jesus. The gift of righteousness is really righteousness on loan from Jesus, and we receive the benefits by antinomian faith alone payments (doing nothing).

Let’s clarify the Protestant payments a little more. Because of this construct, Protestants have to categorize works into two categories: works of self-righteousness, and faith alone works. Faith alone works usually consist of praying, faithfulness to church attendance, tithing, and behaving well at church. Works of self-righteousness are pretty much everything else, but particularly thinking that you know something well enough to debate the pastor.

Because Protestantism denies that we own the gift of righteousness, they must now define REWARD as final salvation, and they most certainly do in no uncertain terms. Think about that: the final equation of Luther’s alien righteousness is salvation as reward for living by faith alone. That’s a huge problem.

One of the keys to understanding all of this is Hebrews 6:10,

“For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.”

Why would it be “unjust” for God to “overlook” YOUR “work”? Because you have earned it. This isn’t complicated: salvation/righteousness is a gift that you can’t earn, but nevertheless this righteousness is part and parcel with your new being, and you are rewarded for how you put it to use for love’s sake.

The conclusion of the matter is simple: Protestantism is a false gospel that circumvents love because we supposedly have no righteousness of our own. It makes ownership synonymous with being the originators of righteousness which also defies the reality of a “gift” as well.

paul

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John Piper’s Vine and Branches Conference: A Synopsis of its Heresy

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on January 27, 2016

Originally posted December 14, 2013

“Take note that Calvin is also confirming the Reformed belief that sins in the Christian life separate us from salvation. Therefore, the same repentance and faith that was needed originally continues to be needed as a way to keep ourselves saved. However, according to Calvin, the same gospel that originally saved us must be continually administered by Reformed pastors.”

John Piper states in the promotional video for his Vine and Branch conference that the union with Christ doctrine could be the most important doctrine that you have never heard of. The blogger Alex Guggenheim responded to that notion this way:

Okay, so here we have Neo-Calvinists who have, for the last 15-20 years and certainly the last 10 years, overwhelming their people and those being assimilated, being offered a conference on “the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of.”

Hmmm…so Neo-Calvinists, what have you been doing all this time if this doctrine is central to all things as your promo says? Suddenly you now offer the most important doctrine. I suggest theological and ecclesiastical malfeasance with such an admission.

If it was and is so important, and it is, why haven’t you made it the centrality of your teaching and articulations all this time or…is this just another gimmick to incite spiritual anxiety in people who now believe they have been missing something and cannot miss this?

Good grief.

The Calvin Institutes of the Christian religion is their playbook, and it is a very thick linguistic droning. This is their bible, and they are continually mining it for new ideas. Sometimes these ideas take a while to find in the book of Calvin. However, I believe it is the same document that will hang them because people are starting to read the document for themselves. Piper begins the promotion for the conference with a statement by Calvin, so let’s start with Calvin.

John Calvin

The crux of the Reformation false gospel is the idea that justification is not a finished work. Therefore, they make the separate work of sanctification the growing, or progression of justification. The saint becomes a colaborer in the finishing of justification rather than a colaborer for the kingdom as an ambassador. The saint is not working towards a reward from his Master, he is working towards the final prize of salvation.

Therefore, the saint must obtain that final prize the same way he received it, by FAITH ALONE. So, he must run the race of salvation by faith alone. This is made possible by the “vital union with Christ.” Our “union with Christ” sanctifies our participation in justification. Let me repeat that:

Our “union with Christ” sanctifies our participation in justification.

It makes running the race by faith alone possible. It enables us to gobble up more and more grace in order to keep ourselves saved—by faith alone of course. James addressed the problem of this very notion in James 2:14-26. It hearkens back to the problem of justification and sanctification not being completely separate; one being a finished work and the other being a progressive work. This is the Achilles’ heel of every false gospel that has ever come down the pike.

So, how do we supposedly run the race by faith alone? The same way we started, by faith alone which entails “living by the gospel.” We live to get more grace. If we keep filling up our gas tank at the salvation filling station, we will be able to “stand in the judgment” that we are driving to. In fact, this is exactly how Reformed theologians frame the issue:

We repeat, Justification is not a thing that we pass and get behind us. As Barth rightly said, it is not like a filling station that we pass but once. As we hold to its eschatological implications, justification by faith can never become static but must remain the dynamic center of Christian existence, the continuous present. We are always sinners in our eyes, but we are always standing on God’s justification and, perhaps more importantly, moving toward it. To be justified is a present-continuous miracle to the man who present-continuously believes, knowing that he who believes possesses all things, and he who does not believe possesses nothing. Such a life is only possible where the gospel of justification is continually heard and where God’s verdict of acquittal is like those mercies which Jeremiah declared were new every morning—”great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).[1]

Also…

Rather than obsessing through a checklist of necessary Christian behavior, he argued that it is important to get back to the heart of Christianity. Faith, he says, shouldn’t be based on “our performance” but, instead, it should be predicated upon “God’s performance for us in Jesus.”[2]

But there is no “performance” for us by Jesus in the Christian life that maintains justification. That work is done. In regard to justification, “It is finished” and Christ has sat down at the right hand of the Father. We work together with Christ in our sanctification. Again, at issue is the fusion of a finished work with a progressive work. But since the Reformation sees justification/salvation as progressive, we must continually fill our gas tanks with the same grace that saved us. That is the essence of union with Christ; it enables us to receive perpetual fillings of salvation. There are two primary ways that we “keep ourselves in the love of God”[3] or in union with Christ.

1. Mortification and vivification. According to Calvin, mortification and vivification is obtained through the union with Christ.[4] It is a lifestyle of “constant confession and repentance” that avoids the pursuit of a godly life and embraces a life that is “literally Christ himself.”[5] Simply stated, it is perpetual resalvation through the same repentance and sorrow for sin, and belief in the works of Christ only that saved us. By focusing on our depravity (“deep repentance”), a new need for grace is realized and when embraced results in a refreshing of the soul (vivification); viz, a joy experience.

This is the perpetual reliving of our baptism—a “daily dying and rising.”[6] It also results in EXPERIENCING the works of Christ in our life “subjectively,” but it is not really us doing the work—it is a manifestation of Christ’s work that we only experience [7]. This is otherwise known as “new obedience” in Reformed circles. It can be compared to standing in the rain; you experience it, but you are not participating in the work of it or producing it. This enables us to live our Christian lives by the same gospel that saved us, and resulting in being able to “stand in the judgment.”

2. The Sacraments. We get more saving gospel through the Sacraments. Said Calvin:

It is irrational to contend that sacraments are not manifestations of divine grace toward us… We conclude, therefore, that the sacraments are truly termed evidences of divine grace, and, as it were, seals of the good-will which he entertains toward us. They, by sealing it to us, sustain, nourish, confirm, and increase our faith.[8]

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.[9]

3. Absolution through church membership.

According to Calvin:

Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them. Wherefore, as during our whole lives we carry about with us the remains of sin, we could not continue in the Church one single moment were we not sustained by the uninterrupted grace of God in forgiving our sins. On the other hand, the Lord has called his people to eternal salvation, and therefore they ought to consider that pardon for their sins is always ready. Hence let us surely hold that if we are admitted and ingrafted into the body of the Church, the forgiveness of sins has been bestowed, and is daily bestowed on us, in divine liberality, through the intervention of Christ’s merits, and the sanctification of the Spirit.

To impart this blessing to us, the keys have been given to the Church (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). For when Christ gave the command to the apostles, and conferred the power of forgiving sins, he not merely intended that they should loose the sins of those who should be converted from impiety to the faith of Christ;531 but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers. This Paul teaches, when he says that the embassy of reconciliation has been committed to the ministers of the Church, that they may ever and anon in the name of Christ exhort the people to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). Therefore, in the communion of saints our sins are constantly forgiven by the ministry of the Church, when presbyters or bishops, to whom the office has been committed, confirm pious consciences, in the hope of pardon and forgiveness by the promises of the gospel, and that as well in public as in private, as the case requires. For there are many who, from their infirmity, stand in need of special pacification, and Paul declares that he testified of the grace of Christ not only in the public assembly, but from house to house, reminding each individually of the doctrine of salvation (Acts 20:20, 21). Three things are here to be observed. First, whatever be the holiness which the children of God possess, it is always under the condition, that so long as they dwell in a mortal body, they cannot stand before God without forgiveness of sins. Secondly, This benefit is so peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in the communion of the Church. Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it. Of the public reconciliation which relates to discipline, we shall speak at the proper place.[10]

…by new sins we continually separate ourselves, as far as we can, from the grace of God… Thus it is, that all the saints have need of the daily forgiveness of sins; for this alone keeps us in the family of God. [11]

Take note that Calvin is also confirming the Reformed belief that sins in the Christian life separate us from salvation. Therefore, the same repentance and faith that was needed originally continues to be needed as a way to keep ourselves saved. However, according to Calvin, the same gospel that originally saved us must be continually administered by Reformed pastors.

John Piper

John Piper is the guru of Christian joy. Most Christians find it strange that he puts so much emphasis on Christian joy, that is, until you understand mortification and vivification. If vivification is not taking place, viz, the upside of mortification and vivification, then you are not in union with Christ. This totally explains the following outrageous statements by him:

“Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Desiring God  page 55).

“Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, ‘Believe in the Lord,’ but, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord’?” (Desiring God page 55).

“The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an ‘extra’ that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your ‘faith’ cannot please God. It is not saving faith” (Desiring God page 69).

“Not everybody is saved from God’s wrath just because Christ died for sinners. There is a condition we must meet in order to be saved. I want to try to show that the condition…is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist” (Desiring God page 61).

“We are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy” (Desiring God page 66).

 “Something has happened in our hearts before the act of faith. It implies that beneath and behind the act of faith which pleases God, a new taste has been created. A taste for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ. Behold, a joy has been born!” (Desiring God page 67).

“Before the decision comes delight. Before trust comes the discovery of treasure” (Desiring God, page 68).

Michael Horton

The following statement by Michael Horton is a good summation of the Reformation’s false gospel:

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.[12]

Paul David Tripp

Lastly, out of necessity, Calvin’s doctrine must depend on an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. As Rick Holland has stated, “bad grammar makes good theology.”[13] That’s because this doctrine cannot survive a grammatical examination. Tripp, one of the more viral forms of Calvinism, concedes on page 27 of How People Change (2006) that a literal interpretation of Scripture does call us to “change the way we think” (one of the more passive forms of obedience), but that this approach “omits the person and work of Christ as Savior.” In other words, a literal interpretation that circumvents use of the Bible as a tool for returning to the same gospel that saved us cuts off the progressive justification process.

paul

Endnotes  

1. “We” are the authors of the theological journal published by the Australian Forum project that launched the present-day Calvinist resurgence: Graeme Goldsworthy, Robert Brinsmead, Geoffrey Paxton, and Jon Zens. Citation from Present Truth Magazine volume 35—article 3, Righteousness by Faith part 4, chapter 8.

2. The Blaze interview with Tullian Tchividjian: Oct. 15, 2013 9:01am  | Billy Hallowell.

3. CJ Mahaney has used this theme many times and prescribes “preaching the gospel to ourselves” as the prescription. In reality, this is a means of keeping ourselves saved according to Reformed theology.

4. The Calvin Institutes 3.3.9, first sentence.

5. Paul David Tripp: How People Change Punch Press 2006, p.6

6. Michael Horton’s Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way: p.661

7. Ibid p.661, Ibid note 5, p. 215

8. The Calvin Institutes 4.14.7

9. Michael Horton: Christless Christianity; pp.189-191

10. The Calvin Institutes 4.1.21,22

11. John Calvin: Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles; The Calvin Translation Society 1855. Editor: John Owen, p. 165 ¶4

12. Michael Horton: Christless Christianity; p. 62

13. Rick Holland: Uneclipsing the Son; p. 39

Revised Vital Union Chart

JCPJ 2

Linear Gospel 1

parallel gospel 1

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