Paul's Passing Thoughts

Escaping Church and its Culture of Death

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on August 17, 2017

HF Potters House (2)

Originally published August 19, 2015

Week in, and week out, and days in-between, professing Christians meet at a local institutional church to further indoctrinate their families in the Protestant culture of death. It doesn’t seem like death as families cheerfully socialize together and lift up their hands as the hipster praise bands make a joyful noise to the Lord. In addition, charismatic orators speak of things that are clearly in the Bible.

But let’s talk about good old fashioned theological math found in the Bible. The Bible addresses the only two people groups that exist in the world: the lost and the saved. As professing Christians, we want to be biblically defined as saved people, no? Can a case be made in this post that present-day evangelicals define themselves according to what the Bible defines as “lost.” Yes. All in all I am sure you will agree; any religion that defines itself as unregenerate is a really bad idea.

Here is how the Bible defines the two people groups:

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

Every person living in the world is under law or under grace; lost or saved. Protestants define themselves as under law with under grace as a covering. Romans 6:14 is defined this way:

We are under grace because the righteousness of Christ continually saves us from being under law.

So, with Protestantism, it’s both. Under grace means we are still under law but progressively saved by grace. Under law is who we are, while we “experience” grace. Under law is what we do, under grace is what we experience. Supposedly, when Paul stated that we are “not” under law, what he really meant to say is under law is the absence of grace. The lost are only under law, but the saved are under both.

Hence, we are still under the “righteous demands of the law,” but if we are under grace, Jesus keeps the law for us. This is achieved by focusing on our sinfulness against the law, and returning to the same gospel that originally saved us out of gratitude. Objections to this idea are met with accusations of indifference to Christ’s sacrifice. Therefore, the “Christian” must live a “lifestyle of repentance” and constantly seek a “greater revelation of self” which is inherently sinful. The goal is to plunge the depths of our supposed total depravity. And if you are paying attention, our sin and the original gospel that saved us are the constant drumbeats we hear in the institutional church week in and week out.

Consequently, our goal is to see more and more of our reality of being under law resulting in an increased joy regarding our original salvation. Mainline evangelical Paul Washer states it this way:

At conversion, a person begins to see God and himself as never before. This greater revelation of God’s holiness and righteousness leads to a greater revelation of self, which, in return, results in a repentance or brokenness over sin. Nevertheless, the believer is not left in despair, for he is also afforded a greater revelation of the grace of God in the face of Christ, which leads to joy unspeakable. This cycle simply repeats itself throughout the Christian life. As the years pass, the Christian sees more of God and more of self, resulting in a greater and deeper brokenness. Yet, all the while, the Christian’s joy grows in equal measure because he is privy to greater and greater revelations of the love, grace, and mercy of God in the person and work of Christ. Not only this, but a greater interchange occurs in that the Christian learns to rest less and less in his own performance and more and more in the perfect work of Christ. Thus, his joy is not only increased, but it also becomes more consistent and stable. He has left off putting confidence in the flesh, which is idolatry, and is resting in the virtue and merits of Christ, which is true Christian piety (Paul Washer: The Gospel Call and True Conversion; Part 1, Chapter 1, heading – The Essential Characteristics Of Genuine Repentance, subheading – Continuing and Deepening Work of Repentance).

This not only turns the Bible completely upside down, but leaves the Christian in a lifestyle of death while rejoicing in it. This is a true celebration of death, and church is the culture thereof. Romans 6 is clear about what it means to remain under law:

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Obviously, if we believe our formal sinful self has been “brought to nothing,” Paul Washer’s sanctification construct is impossible, and his statement speaks to the authentic soteriology of the Protestant Reformation. How do you achieve a greater revelation of your sinful self when your former sinful self has been “brought to nothing”?

You don’t, which leaves the “believer” yet under law and in need of salvation. The “believer” needs to continually return to the same gospel that saved him/her in order to remain saved. Instead of the new birth being a onetime event that brings the former sinner to “nothing,” the new birth is defined as a joy experience resulting from revisiting the gospel afresh for forgiveness of sin that still condemns us.

This cycle simply repeats itself throughout the Christian life. As the years pass, the Christian sees more of God and more of self, resulting in a greater and deeper brokenness. Yet, all the while, the Christian’s joy grows in equal measure because he is privy to greater and greater revelations of the love, grace, and mercy of God in the person and work of Christ (Ibid).

We are asking the question, How does the gospel save believers?, not: How does the gospel get people to be believers?… Believers need to be saved. The gospel is the instrument of God’s power to save us. And we need to know how the gospel saves us believers so that we make proper use of it (John Piper: Part 2 of a series titled, “How Does the Gospel Save Believers”).

Progressive sanctification has two parts: mortification and vivification, ‘both of which happen to us by participation in Christ,’ as Calvin notes….Subjectively experiencing this definitive reality signified and sealed to us in our baptism requires a daily dying and rising. That is what the Reformers meant by sanctification as a living out of our baptism….and this conversion yields lifelong mortification and vivification ‘again and again.’ Yet it is critical to remind ourselves that in this daily human act of turning, we are always turning not only from sin but toward Christ rather than toward our own experience or piety (Michael Horton: The Christian Faith; mortification and vivification, pp. 661-663 [Calvin Inst. 3.3.2-9]).

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

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 (The Calvin Institutes: 3.14.11).

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 (Michael Horton: Christless Christianity; p. 62).

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 (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.21).

Therefore, “under grace” is defined as a mere qualification to return to the same gospel that saved us; in other words, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day” in order to keep ourselves saved. How prevalent is this idea in the contemporary church? Consider this laundry list from Peter Lumpkins .com:

“As Pastors we must first preach the gospel to ourselves before we proclaim to the world the necessity of a Savior” Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network.

“Yet even when we understand that our acceptance with God is based on Christ’s work, we still naturally tend to drift back into a performance mindset. Consequently, we must continually return to the gospel. To use an expression of the late Jack Miller, we must “preach the gospel to ourselves every day” Jerry Bridges, Reformed author.

“We must preach the Gospel to ourselves and one another every day” Ashland Avenue Baptist Church Distinctives, Lexington, KY

“The Gospel must be central to our lives and central to our message. Strive to keep the Gospel in the center of your worship ministry. Jerry Bridges tell us that we must preach the Gospel to ourselves everyday. It has been said that we never move on from the Cross, only to a more profound understanding of the Cross”

Dr. Greg Brewton, Associate Dean for Music and Worship Leadership at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We must preach the Gospel to ourselves” Francis Chan, Passion 2011

“Yesterday was a powerful moment in the Word of God as we studied Romans 8:1-4. I challenged those present to learn to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Why? If we do not preach the gospel to ourselves daily, we will return to sin, bondage, guilt, the Law, and legalism…You see, this is why we must preach the gospel to ourselves daily” Ronnie Floyd, former Chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force

“I’ve been re-reading Jerry Bridges’ excellent book The Discipline of Grace…Bridges reminded me of just how important it is to “preach the gospel to ourselves everyday” if we are going to be transformed into the likeness of Christ” Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

“…I once assumed…that the gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in order to be saved… But I’ve come to realize that once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel, but to move them more deeply into it. The gospel, in other words, isn’t just the power of God to save you, it’s the power of God to grow you once you’re saved… . This idea that the gospel is just as much for Christians as it is for non-Christians may seem like a new idea to many but, in fact, it is really a very old idea” Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

“We must preach the gospel to ourselves everyday… . As we preach the gospel to ourselves, we should be both encouraged and overwhelmed with gratitude, and both should give us a desire to deal with the sin in our lives” Casey Lewis, student, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“A Prayer for Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves… . …Most gracious Lord Jesus, even as Paul was eager to preach the gospel to believers in Rome, so I’m eager to preach it to my own heart today…” Scotty Smith, Guest blogger at Justin Taylor’s The Gospel Coalition site and Pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN

“We must constantly be preaching the gospel to ourselves, filling our hearts with your beauty and bounty, Lord Jesus… . Dear heavenly Father, it’s not about “mind over matter,” or the power of positive thinking, or the pragmatic good of cognitive therapy. It’s all about preaching the gospel to ourselves every opportunity we get…” Scotty Smith, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN (here and here, respectively)

“We must constantly be preaching the gospel to ourselves, filling our hearts with your beauty and bounty, Lord Jesus… . Dear heavenly Father, it’s not about “mind over matter,” or the power of positive thinking, or the pragmatic good of cognitive therapy. It’s all about preaching the gospel to ourselves every opportunity we get…” Scotty Smith, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN (here and here, respectively)

“How can we not shift from the hope of the Gospel? By preaching the Gospel to ourselves daily… . “Preaching the Gospel to yourself” is a phrase I first ran across in The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, and have observed for years in the life of my good friend, C.J. Mahaney. C.J. has written persuasively, biblically, and practically on this topic in his new book, Living the Cross Centered Life… . Don’t take a day off from preaching the Gospel to yourself” Bob Kaulfin, Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries and worship leader at Covenant Life Church led by Josh Harris.

“Far too many Christians are passive in their fight for joy…. What can I do?’ Well, God does not mean for us to be passive. He means for us to fight the fight of faith t he fight for joy. And the central strategy is to preach the gospel to yourself… . John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, p.81, as quoted by Bob Kauflin

I am thoroughly engrossed with Joe Thorn’s personal mediations on preaching the gospel to oneself” Tom J. Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, promoting Joe Thorn’s book, Note to Self: the Discipline of Preaching to Oneself

“In the few months prior to Verge God was really working on me. I’ve been doing a lot of repenting of the idols in my heart. I’ve been preaching the gospel to myself” Steve McCoy, SBC Pastor

“This may sound really selfish, but faithfully preaching the gospel to myself is actually what enables me to share it faithfully to others” Timmy Brister, SBC Associate Pastor.

“I chose not to include the response to the gospel…but just tried to focus on what the gospel actually is. I edit it regularly as I try to grasp and preach the gospel to myself” Ed Stetzer, LifeWay

This isn’t a technique for boosting our spiritual growth; this is a means of re-salvation because we are still technically lost and under law. “Under grace” merely qualifies us for perpetual re-salvation. That’s Protestantism…period!

And the culture that will result is defined in the Bible:

Romans 6:15 – What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[c] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christ said, “You must be born again.” This is clearly a doctrine that redefines the new birth by defining the “believer” as unchanged and yet under law. Along with that is an unavoidable conclusion that this also includes a fruits unto death existence that is part and parcel with being under law.

This will, and does make sin and condemnation the focus and theme of church while the Bible emphasizes ADDING virtue to our faith in contrast to a continual re-visitation of our supposed depravity.

1Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

2Peter 1:3 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Romans 15:14 – I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

In the past, Protestants were confused enough about their own soteriological traditions that the fruits unto death were minimal, but during this Neo-Reformed resurgence that we are witnessing presently, such is not the case; the institutional church is a blatant culture of death. And those who would expose their children to it are woefully undiscerning. Ask yourself this simple question: do I leave church better equipped to see something that the Bible states isn’t there or better equipped to love God and others? Am I better at seeing my own depravity, or have I learned new ways to love which covers a multitude of sins anyway?

The remedy for this malady is a return to where the gathering of believers belongs: in home fellowships where believers are equipped to love God and others as a lifestyle, NOT a “lifestyle of repentance.” The institutional church was first called “church” when it was founded in the 4th century, and it was founded on the same idea that believers remain under law. Therefore, an authoritative institution was created that supplied official re-salvation for those under law. The institutional church goes hand in glove with the idea that it supplies a place for re-salvation, i.e., those qualified to receive it by being “under grace.”

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; but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers” (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.22).

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 (Ibid).

Come out from among them and be separate.

What Your Sanctification Says About Your Justification: Is Your Gospel True or False?

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

Originally published February 27, 2015

“No false religion teaches that you earn your justification by perfect law-keeping—there is always a system that prescribes sanctified do’s and don’ts that in turn fulfill the law for you, otherwise known as ‘the traditions of men.’”

What do you believe about salvation? Your Christian life will tell you. Therefore, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 should not confuse us. The “wicked” servant was not cast into outer darkness because he didn’t put his talents to work, but rather what he thought it meant to be a servant. In other words, in order to be saved, you need to know what a Christian is. That should be fairly evident.

Do you live your Christian life by “faith alone”? That is a statement in regard to what you believe about salvation, or what happened to justify you; viz, justification.

This is not complicated. Don’t complain that I am making your touchy-feely “simple” gospel a theological treatise. I am sure you concur that some Bible words have to be understood in order to be saved. The Bible splits humanity into two categories: saved and unsaved; i.e., “under law” or “under grace” (Romans 6:14).

“Under law” is the biblical nomenclature for the unregenerate lost. Under law means that sin rules you. Not in a plenary sense, because man’s conscience and fear of punishment from civilian law restrains people. Yet, they are under the condemnation of God’s law and every violation is documented. Unless they are saved, they will be judged according to their works in the final judgment. Though some who followed their conscience more than others will receive a lesser condemnation, it is still eternal separation from God. They are under law, and enslaved to sin. The last judgment DOES NOT determine justification; it ONLY determines the degree of eternal condemnation. It doesn’t determine justification; it only determines the wages of sin.

Moreover, sin uses the condemnation of the law to provoke people to sin. Primarily, sin uses desires to tempt people, but sin’s incentive is the law because it condemns. Sin lives for the purpose of condemning people, and uses desire to get people to sin against God’s law. This leads to present and eternal death. Sin’s desire is to bring death. When the Bible speaks of “the desires of the flesh” it is referring to instances when the flesh is serving the desires of sin.

The flesh can also be used to serve the desires of the Spirit (Romans 12:1). The flesh has NO desires; it is used by the dweller for good or evil purposes. We will either use our bodies to serve the desires of sin or the desires of the Spirit. Of course, people have their own desires, but unfortunately, the unregenerate are guided by the desires of sin. They assume sinful desires are their own desire which is true. In contrast, sinful desires are not part and parcel with the regenerate soul.

Said another way: among the lost, the desires of sin are very much the same desires possessed by the individual who are indifferent to the law of God. A desire for God’s law is absent while their life is continually building a death and condemnation dividend. Some of that dividend is paid in this life until the full wages of death are paid at the final judgment.

Under grace is not void of law. The law (same as “Scripture” or same as “Bible”) has a different relationship to the saved, or those under grace. A literal baptism of the Holy Spirit takes place, as symbolized in water baptism, which puts to death the old person under law and resurrects the new person under grace. The saved person is now a new creature created by the Spirit of God. The person under grace is literally born of God—he/she is God’s literal offspring.

Therefore, the old person is no longer under the condemnation of the law in the same way a dead person cannot be brought under indictment for a crime. Consequently, the motivation for sin is gone. The power of sin is the law’s condemnation that leads to death (1Corintians 15:56, 57). In addition, the person under grace has been given a new heart that loves God’s law and its way of life. The book that could only bring death is now a book that brings life. Either way, it is the Spirit’s law; He uses it to condemn those that are under it, or uses it to sanctify those who are under grace (John 17:17).

THEREFORE, how you see the law determines what you believe about salvation. If you believe that you can somehow obey the law in a way that unwittingly seeks to be justified by law-keeping, you are still under law. If you believe justification is defined by perfect law-keeping, you are still under law. Those who believe this also believe they need a salvation system that filters all their works into a category of faith alone. The Christian life is categorized or departmentalized into works that attempt to be counted for justification and faith alone works that qualify as “living by faith alone.” Do not miss the point that this also includes abstaining from certain things that aren’t necessarily sin as defined by the Bible.

Yes, hypothetically, a person would need to keep the law perfectly to be justified by the law, but that doesn’t make perfect law-keeping the standard for righteousness. If that were the case, the law is a co-life-giver with the Holy Spirit, and a death would not be necessary. We are justified APART from the law—law has NO part in justification. The Bible defines justification, but it’s not a standard of justification (Rom 3:21, Gal 2:19, 4:21). Law-keeping by anyone does not justify.

If one is trusting in a system that fulfills the law for justification, particularly if it calls for not doing something in order that the law is fulfilled in our place, that is works salvation through some kind of intentionality whether passive or active. These kinds of systems are always indicative of being under law rather than under grace. One such system that has several variances calls for doing certain things or not doing certain things on the Sabbath which can be Saturday or Sunday depending on the stripe of system. If you follow the system on the Sabbath, all works done by you during the week are considered to be by faith alone.

In Reformed theology, particularly authentic Calvinism, contemplation on your sin leading to a return to the same gospel that saved you imputes the perfect law-keeping of Christ to your life. Notice that a fulfillment of the law is required to keep you saved, but we do faith alone works in order that Christ’s perfect law-keeping is imputed to our account. The problem here is that a fulfillment of the so-called “righteous demands of the law” is the standard for justification. Hence, clearly, this keeps so-called “Christians” UNDER LAW. In addition, a so-called faith alone work is still a work.

Not so with under grace. We are now free to follow our new desire to obey the law out of love without fear of condemnation. The law is the standard for love, not justification. In all of the aforementioned systems of sanctified justification by works, faith doesn’t work (or love) because it can’t lest salvation be lost. In the Christian life (sanctification) faith works because it can for the sake of love without condemnation (Galatians 5:6).

Knowing that justification is a settled issue that has nothing to do with the law anyway, the true Christian only sees law-keeping as an opportunity to love. Christians not only have the anthropologic law of conscience written on the heart, the new birth writes the Bible there as well. In other words, they love the law. Obviously, those who must focus on faith alone works in order to remain justified cannot focus on aggressive obedience to the law that defines love.

This is exactly what the books of James and 1John are about. Faith is not afraid to work because there is no condemnation. Faith without works is dead, “being alone” (James 2:17 KJV).

Are you in a religious system that propagates faith “alone” in the Christian life? Your faith is not only dead, it speaks to what you believe about justification. You believe justification has a progressive aspect and is not completely finished. Secondly, you believe the law has a stake in justification. Thirdly, your system categorizes works as faith alone works (an oxymoron of sorts) or works that are unfiltered in some way and therefore are efforts to “self-justify.”

If you believe the right gospel, you know that it is impossible to unwittingly partake in an endeavor to justify yourself. It’s a metaphysical impossibility—it’s not in the realm of reality. No false religion teaches that you earn your justification by perfect law-keeping—there is always a system that prescribes sanctified do’s and don’ts that in turn fulfill the law for you, otherwise known as “the traditions of men.”

It’s the fallacy of faith alone works for justification. But any work for justification is justification by works whether doing nothing (abstinence is still doing something), something passive (contemplationism or prayer is also a work) or anything active.

Law and justification are mutually exclusive, and true faith is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Faith works because there is no fear in love (1John 4:18). Don’t be like the servant who was afraid and hid his talents in the ground. Christ said it best:

“If you love me, keep my commandments.”

paul

Escaping Church and its Culture of Death

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on August 5, 2016

Originally published August 19, 2015

HF Potters House (2)

Week in, and week out, and days in-between, professing Christians meet at a local institutional church to further indoctrinate their families in the Protestant culture of death. It doesn’t seem like death as families cheerfully socialize together and lift up their hands as the hipster praise bands make a joyful noise to the Lord. In addition, charismatic orators speak of things that are clearly in the Bible.

But let’s talk about good old fashioned theological math found in the Bible. The Bible addresses the only two people groups that exist in the world: the lost and the saved. As professing Christians, we want to be biblically defined as saved people, no? Can a case be made in this post that present-day evangelicals define themselves according to what the Bible defines as “lost.” Yes. All in all I am sure you will agree; any religion that defines itself as unregenerate is a really bad idea.

Here is how the Bible defines the two people groups:

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

Every person living in the world is under law or under grace; lost or saved. Protestants define themselves as under law with under grace as a covering. Romans 6:14 is defined this way:

We are under grace because the righteousness of Christ continually saves us from being under law.

So, with Protestantism, it’s both. Under grace means we are still under law but progressively saved by grace. Under law is who we are, while we “experience” grace. Under law is what we do, under grace is what we experience. Supposedly, when Paul stated that we are “not” under law, what he really meant to say is under law is the absence of grace. The lost are only under law, but the saved are under both.

Hence, we are still under the “righteous demands of the law,” but if we are under grace, Jesus keeps the law for us. This is achieved by focusing on our sinfulness against the law, and returning to the same gospel that originally saved us out of gratitude. Objections to this idea are met with accusations of indifference to Christ’s sacrifice. Therefore, the “Christian” must live a “lifestyle of repentance” and constantly seek a “greater revelation of self” which is inherently sinful. The goal is to plunge the depths of our supposed total depravity. And if you are paying attention, our sin and the original gospel that saved us are the constant drumbeats we hear in the institutional church week in and week out.

Consequently, our goal is to see more and more of our reality of being under law resulting in an increased joy regarding our original salvation. Mainline evangelical Paul Washer states it this way:

At conversion, a person begins to see God and himself as never before. This greater revelation of God’s holiness and righteousness leads to a greater revelation of self, which, in return, results in a repentance or brokenness over sin. Nevertheless, the believer is not left in despair, for he is also afforded a greater revelation of the grace of God in the face of Christ, which leads to joy unspeakable. This cycle simply repeats itself throughout the Christian life. As the years pass, the Christian sees more of God and more of self, resulting in a greater and deeper brokenness. Yet, all the while, the Christian’s joy grows in equal measure because he is privy to greater and greater revelations of the love, grace, and mercy of God in the person and work of Christ. Not only this, but a greater interchange occurs in that the Christian learns to rest less and less in his own performance and more and more in the perfect work of Christ. Thus, his joy is not only increased, but it also becomes more consistent and stable. He has left off putting confidence in the flesh, which is idolatry, and is resting in the virtue and merits of Christ, which is true Christian piety (Paul Washer: The Gospel Call and True Conversion; Part 1, Chapter 1, heading – The Essential Characteristics Of Genuine Repentance, subheading – Continuing and Deepening Work of Repentance).

This not only turns the Bible completely upside down, but leaves the Christian in a lifestyle of death while rejoicing in it. This is a true celebration of death, and church is the culture thereof. Romans 6 is clear about what it means to remain under law:

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Obviously, if we believe our formal sinful self has been “brought to nothing,” Paul Washer’s sanctification construct is impossible, and his statement speaks to the authentic soteriology of the Protestant Reformation. How do you achieve a greater revelation of your sinful self when your former sinful self has been “brought to nothing”?

You don’t, which leaves the “believer” yet under law and in need of salvation. The “believer” needs to continually return to the same gospel that saved him/her in order to remain saved. Instead of the new birth being a onetime event that brings the former sinner to “nothing,” the new birth is defined as a joy experience resulting from revisiting the gospel afresh for forgiveness of sin that still condemns us.

This cycle simply repeats itself throughout the Christian life. As the years pass, the Christian sees more of God and more of self, resulting in a greater and deeper brokenness. Yet, all the while, the Christian’s joy grows in equal measure because he is privy to greater and greater revelations of the love, grace, and mercy of God in the person and work of Christ (Ibid).

We are asking the question, How does the gospel save believers?, not: How does the gospel get people to be believers?… Believers need to be saved. The gospel is the instrument of God’s power to save us. And we need to know how the gospel saves us believers so that we make proper use of it (John Piper: Part 2 of a series titled, “How Does the Gospel Save Believers”).

Progressive sanctification has two parts: mortification and vivification, ‘both of which happen to us by participation in Christ,’ as Calvin notes….Subjectively experiencing this definitive reality signified and sealed to us in our baptism requires a daily dying and rising. That is what the Reformers meant by sanctification as a living out of our baptism….and this conversion yields lifelong mortification and vivification ‘again and again.’ Yet it is critical to remind ourselves that in this daily human act of turning, we are always turning not only from sin but toward Christ rather than toward our own experience or piety (Michael Horton: The Christian Faith; mortification and vivification, pp. 661-663 [Calvin Inst. 3.3.2-9]).

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

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 (The Calvin Institutes: 3.14.11).

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 (Michael Horton: Christless Christianity; p. 62).

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 (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.21).

Therefore, “under grace” is defined as a mere qualification to return to the same gospel that saved us; in other words, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day” in order to keep ourselves saved. How prevalent is this idea in the contemporary church? Consider this laundry list from Peter Lumpkins .com:

“As Pastors we must first preach the gospel to ourselves before we proclaim to the world the necessity of a Savior” Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29 Network.

“Yet even when we understand that our acceptance with God is based on Christ’s work, we still naturally tend to drift back into a performance mindset. Consequently, we must continually return to the gospel. To use an expression of the late Jack Miller, we must “preach the gospel to ourselves every day” Jerry Bridges, Reformed author.

“We must preach the Gospel to ourselves and one another every day” Ashland Avenue Baptist Church Distinctives, Lexington, KY

“The Gospel must be central to our lives and central to our message. Strive to keep the Gospel in the center of your worship ministry. Jerry Bridges tell us that we must preach the Gospel to ourselves everyday. It has been said that we never move on from the Cross, only to a more profound understanding of the Cross”

Dr. Greg Brewton, Associate Dean for Music and Worship Leadership at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We must preach the Gospel to ourselves” Francis Chan, Passion 2011

“Yesterday was a powerful moment in the Word of God as we studied Romans 8:1-4. I challenged those present to learn to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Why? If we do not preach the gospel to ourselves daily, we will return to sin, bondage, guilt, the Law, and legalism…You see, this is why we must preach the gospel to ourselves daily” Ronnie Floyd, former Chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force

“I’ve been re-reading Jerry Bridges’ excellent book The Discipline of Grace…Bridges reminded me of just how important it is to “preach the gospel to ourselves everyday” if we are going to be transformed into the likeness of Christ” Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

“…I once assumed…that the gospel was simply what non-Christians must believe in order to be saved… But I’ve come to realize that once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel, but to move them more deeply into it. The gospel, in other words, isn’t just the power of God to save you, it’s the power of God to grow you once you’re saved… . This idea that the gospel is just as much for Christians as it is for non-Christians may seem like a new idea to many but, in fact, it is really a very old idea” Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

“We must preach the gospel to ourselves everyday… . As we preach the gospel to ourselves, we should be both encouraged and overwhelmed with gratitude, and both should give us a desire to deal with the sin in our lives” Casey Lewis, student, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“A Prayer for Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves… . …Most gracious Lord Jesus, even as Paul was eager to preach the gospel to believers in Rome, so I’m eager to preach it to my own heart today…” Scotty Smith, Guest blogger at Justin Taylor’s The Gospel Coalition site and Pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN

“We must constantly be preaching the gospel to ourselves, filling our hearts with your beauty and bounty, Lord Jesus… . Dear heavenly Father, it’s not about “mind over matter,” or the power of positive thinking, or the pragmatic good of cognitive therapy. It’s all about preaching the gospel to ourselves every opportunity we get…” Scotty Smith, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN (here and here, respectively)

“We must constantly be preaching the gospel to ourselves, filling our hearts with your beauty and bounty, Lord Jesus… . Dear heavenly Father, it’s not about “mind over matter,” or the power of positive thinking, or the pragmatic good of cognitive therapy. It’s all about preaching the gospel to ourselves every opportunity we get…” Scotty Smith, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN (here and here, respectively)

“How can we not shift from the hope of the Gospel? By preaching the Gospel to ourselves daily… . “Preaching the Gospel to yourself” is a phrase I first ran across in The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges, and have observed for years in the life of my good friend, C.J. Mahaney. C.J. has written persuasively, biblically, and practically on this topic in his new book, Living the Cross Centered Life… . Don’t take a day off from preaching the Gospel to yourself” Bob Kaulfin, Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries and worship leader at Covenant Life Church led by Josh Harris.

“Far too many Christians are passive in their fight for joy…. What can I do?’ Well, God does not mean for us to be passive. He means for us to fight the fight of faith t he fight for joy. And the central strategy is to preach the gospel to yourself… . John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, p.81, as quoted by Bob Kauflin

I am thoroughly engrossed with Joe Thorn’s personal mediations on preaching the gospel to oneself” Tom J. Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, promoting Joe Thorn’s book, Note to Self: the Discipline of Preaching to Oneself

“In the few months prior to Verge God was really working on me. I’ve been doing a lot of repenting of the idols in my heart. I’ve been preaching the gospel to myself” Steve McCoy, SBC Pastor

“This may sound really selfish, but faithfully preaching the gospel to myself is actually what enables me to share it faithfully to others” Timmy Brister, SBC Associate Pastor.

“I chose not to include the response to the gospel…but just tried to focus on what the gospel actually is. I edit it regularly as I try to grasp and preach the gospel to myself” Ed Stetzer, LifeWay

This isn’t a technique for boosting our spiritual growth; this is a means of re-salvation because we are still technically lost and under law. “Under grace” merely qualifies us for perpetual re-salvation. That’s Protestantism…period!

And the culture that will result is defined in the Bible:

Romans 6:15 – What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[c] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christ said, “You must be born again.” This is clearly a doctrine that redefines the new birth by defining the “believer” as unchanged and yet under law. Along with that is an unavoidable conclusion that this also includes a fruits unto death existence that is part and parcel with being under law.

This will, and does make sin and condemnation the focus and theme of church while the Bible emphasizes ADDING virtue to our faith in contrast to a continual re-visitation of our supposed depravity.

1Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

2Peter 1:3 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Romans 15:14 – I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

In the past, Protestants were confused enough about their own soteriological traditions that the fruits unto death were minimal, but during this Neo-Reformed resurgence that we are witnessing presently, such is not the case; the institutional church is a blatant culture of death. And those who would expose their children to it are woefully undiscerning. Ask yourself this simple question: do I leave church better equipped to see something that the Bible states isn’t there or better equipped to love God and others? Am I better at seeing my own depravity, or have I learned new ways to love which covers a multitude of sins anyway?

The remedy for this malady is a return to where the gathering of believers belongs: in home fellowships where believers are equipped to love God and others as a lifestyle, NOT a “lifestyle of repentance.” The institutional church was first called “church” when it was founded in the 4th century, and it was founded on the same idea that believers remain under law. Therefore, an authoritative institution was created that supplied official re-salvation for those under law. The institutional church goes hand in glove with the idea that it supplies a place for re-salvation, i.e., those qualified to receive it by being “under grace.”

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; but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers” (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.22).

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 (Ibid).

Come out from among them and be separate.

What Your Sanctification Says About Your Justification: Is Your Gospel True or False?

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 29, 2016

Originally posted February 27, 2015

PPT HandleWhat do you believe about salvation? Your Christian life will tell you. Therefore, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 should not confuse us. The “wicked” servant was not cast into outer darkness because he didn’t put his talents to work, but rather what he thought it meant to be a servant. In other words, in order to be saved, you need to know what a Christian is. That should be fairly evident.

Do you live your Christian life by “faith alone”? That is a statement in regard to what you believe about salvation, or what happened to justify you, viz, justification.

This is not complicated. Don’t complain that I am making your touchy-feely “simple” gospel a theological treatise. I am sure you concur that some Bible words have to be understood in order to be saved. The Bible splits humanity into two categories: saved and unsaved, i.e., “under law” or “under grace” (Romans 6:14).

“Under law” is the biblical nomenclature for the unregenerate lost. Under law means that sin rules you. Not in a plenary sense, because man’s conscience and fear of punishment from civilian law restrains people. Yet, they are under the condemnation of God’s law and every violation is documented. Unless they are saved, they will be judged according to their works in the final judgment. Though some who followed their conscience more than others will receive a lesser condemnation, it is still eternal separation from God. They are under law, and enslaved to sin. The last judgment DOES NOT determine justification; it ONLY determines the degree of eternal condemnation. It doesn’t determine justification; it only determines the wages of sin.

Moreover, sin uses the condemnation of the law to provoke people to sin. Primarily, sin uses desires to tempt people, but sin’s incentive is the law because it condemns. Sin lives for the purpose of condemning people, and uses desire to get people to sin against God’s law. This leads to present and eternal death. Sin’s desire is to bring death. When the Bible speaks of “the desires of the flesh” it is referring to instances when the flesh is serving the desires of sin.

The flesh can also be used to serve the desires of the Spirit (Romans 12:1). The flesh has NO desires; it is used by the dweller for good or evil purposes. We will either use our bodies to serve the desires of sin or the desires of the Spirit. Of course, people have their own desires, but unfortunately, the unregenerate are guided by the desires of sin. They assume sinful desires are their own desire which is true. In contrast, sinful desires are not part and parcel with the regenerate soul.

Said another way: among the lost, the desires of sin are very much the same desires possessed by the individual who are indifferent to the law of God. A desire for God’s law is absent while their life is continually building a death and condemnation dividend. Some of that dividend is paid in this life until the full wages of death are paid at the final judgment.

Under grace is not void of law. The law (same as “Scripture” or same as “Bible”) has a different relationship to the saved, or those under grace. A literal baptism of the Holy Spirit takes place, as symbolized in water baptism, which puts to death the old person under law and resurrects the new person under grace. The saved person is now a new creature created by the Spirit of God. The person under grace is literally born of God—he/she is God’s literal offspring.

Therefore, the old person is no longer under the condemnation of the law in the same way a dead person cannot be brought under indictment for a crime. Consequently, the motivation for sin is gone. The power of sin is the law’s condemnation that leads to death (1Corintians 15:56, 57). In addition, the person under grace has been given a new heart that loves God’s law and its way of life. The book that could only bring death is now a book that brings life. Either way, it is the Spirit’s law; He uses it to condemn those that are under it, or uses it to sanctify those who are under grace (John 17:17).

THEREFORE, how you see the law determines what you believe about salvation. If you believe that you can somehow obey the law in a way that unwittingly seeks to be justified by law-keeping, you are still under law. If you believe justification is defined by perfect law-keeping, you are still under law. Those who believe this also believe they need a salvation system that filters all their works into a category of faith alone. The Christian life is categorized or departmentalized into works that attempt to be counted for justification and faith alone works that qualify as “living by faith alone.” Do not miss the point that this also includes abstaining from certain things that aren’t necessarily sin as defined by the Bible.

Yes, hypothetically, a person would need to keep the law perfectly to be justified by the law, but that doesn’t make perfect law-keeping the standard for righteousness. If that were the case, the law is a co-life-giver with the Holy Spirit, and a death would not be necessary. We are justified APART from the law—law has NO part in justification. The Bible defines justification, but it’s not a standard of justification (Rom 3:21, Gal 2:19, 4:21). Law-keeping by anyone does not justify.

If one is trusting in a system that fulfills the law for justification, particularly if it calls for not doing something in order that the law is fulfilled in our place, that is works salvation through some kind of intentionality whether passive or active. These kinds of systems are always indicative of being under law rather than under grace. One such system that has several variances calls for doing certain things or not doing certain things on the Sabbath which can be Saturday or Sunday depending on the stripe of system. If you follow the system on the Sabbath, all works done by you during the week are considered to be by faith alone.

In Reformed theology, particularly authentic Calvinism, contemplation on your sin leading to a return to the same gospel that saved you imputes the perfect law-keeping of Christ to your life. Notice that a fulfillment of the law is required to keep you saved, but we do faith alone works in order that Christ’s perfect law-keeping is imputed to our account. The problem here is that a fulfillment of the so-called “righteous demands of the law” is the standard for justification. Hence, clearly, this keeps so-called “Christians” UNDER LAW. In addition, a so-called faith alone work is still a work.

Not so with under grace. We are now free to follow our new desire to obey the law out of love without fear of condemnation. The law is the standard for love, not justification. In all of the aforementioned systems of sanctified justification by works, faith doesn’t work (or love) because it can’t lest salvation be lost. In the Christian life (sanctification) faith works because it can for the sake of love without condemnation (Galatians 5:6).

Knowing that justification is a settled issue that has nothing to do with the law anyway, the true Christian only sees law-keeping as an opportunity to love. Christians not only have the anthropologic law of conscience written on the heart, the new birth writes the Bible there as well. In other words, they love the law. Obviously, those who must focus on faith alone works in order to remain justified cannot focus on aggressive obedience to the law that defines love.

This is exactly what the books of James and 1John are about. Faith is not afraid to work because there is no condemnation. Faith without works is dead, “being alone” (James 2:17 KJV).

Are you in a religious system that propagates faith “alone” in the Christian life? Your faith is not only dead, it speaks to what you believe about justification. You believe justification has a progressive aspect and is not completely finished. Secondly, you believe the law has a stake in justification. Thirdly, your system categorizes works as faith alone works (an oxymoron of sorts) or works that are unfiltered in some way and therefore are efforts to “self-justify.”

If you believe the right gospel, you know that it is impossible to unwittingly partake in an endeavor to justify yourself. It’s a metaphysical impossibility—it’s not in the realm of reality. No false religion teaches that you earn your justification by perfect law-keeping—there is always a system that prescribes sanctified do’s and don’ts that in turn fulfill the law for you, otherwise known as “the traditions of men.”

It’s the fallacy of faith alone works for justification. But any work for justification is justification by works whether doing nothing (abstinence is still doing something), something passive (contemplationism or prayer is also a work) or anything active.

Law and justification are mutually exclusive, and true faith is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Faith works because there is no fear in love (1John 4:18). Don’t be like the servant who was afraid and hid his talents in the ground. Christ said it best:

“If you love me, keep my commandments.”

paul

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

%d bloggers like this: