The Scriptures clearly teach that Salvation is a free gift. We can do nothing to earn it. We are lost, alienated from God, cursed and deserving of physical and eternal death. Adam the first man acted for himself and for his posterity. He was the Federal Head of the entirety of the human race. His sin, whether the actual sin or the resulting curse, passes on to all of us, all of his descendants. As CS Lewis put it, being descendants of Adam we can hold our heads high and yet also hang our heads in shame. We bear the image of God and yet we're cursed by sin.
Like it or not, we're united to Adam, we're in Adam. We need a 2nd Adam to come along and create a new race, a new people. Old Testament Israel represented both the 1st and 2nd Adams…a sort of repeat performance of the first and an anticipation of the second. This point is often missed, certain groups emphasizing the one to the exclusion of the other. The 2nd Adam comes and passes the test, completes the tasks and yet to rescue those under the curse of the 1st Adam he must pay the penalty of sin and make a way of reconciliation to God. Christ the 2nd Adam does this and now we are 'in' Him…united to Him, 'under' Him.
There's nothing we can do to affect this, to earn this, or even to maintain it. It truly is a gift. God out of pure love for His treasonous creatures did this for us. All of mankind is shown mercy, but only those of us who are saved can grasp the wonders, the breathtaking wonders of Grace. Its foundations in the Person and Work of Christ are rightly called amazing, and its application via the Holy Spirit…well, even the Angels are in awe of it.
These categories are foundational, eternal concepts and universal in the sense that they are spoken of in general categories…except for the few instances in Scripture where we are given particulars…..we 'know' Paul, Elijah, David, Moses, Abraham…they're all Elect, saved, in Heaven.
But for the rest of us who live in the post-Canonical Revelation era…..we are left with Means…objective signs and seals, tangible fruits which show the work of the Holy Spirit.
Those Eternal factors are true and generate worship and awe and great comfort, but in terms of the here and now, the temporal….the Church cannot open the windows of eternity and look into your heart or mine to see if we're indeed Born Again, transformed, united with Christ.
We're left with looking at the temporal administrative means and the tangible fruits that accompany their use. And I think we'll find that the Scriptures often convey theological concepts…Ecclesiological and Soteriological in terms that can be understood either way. Interestingly, if the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of the saved and through the Means provided, then on one level we can determine in our limited capacity the state of the Heart……not by looking to the Eternal Universal but at the Temporal Particular.
What am I talking about?
The Scriptures say that we must keep believing. The Scriptures proclaim to us the finished work of Christ the 2nd Adam. But then we are commanded and exhorted to believe and repent. Are these works? Yes and no.
Yes, in that in time and space, we do them and they manifest themselves in our lives.
No, in that we cannot do them unless the Holy Spirit has changed our hearts. Being Born Again, we not only 'do' these things, we must do them. If you're Born Again, by definition, by your very reborn nature…you repent and believe. That's what a Born Again person does.
What other means does God provide? We read Scripture, we pray, we're part of the Church (that's assumed by the New Testament)…and thus being part of the Church we partake of the Holy Rites…Baptism and the Supper.
But we possess a dual nature…..we still have the flesh, the sinful nature which not only tempts us to sin, it can utterly deceive us.
So on the one hand we rest in the Eternal Truth of Christ and His work. We know that we can do nothing. We wouldn't believe, we wouldn't repent if it wasn't for the Holy Spirit. Those who think otherwise are ignoring Scripture and are letting their philosophical commitments take over. We wouldn't turn to God….we're dead, we hate Him, we're enemies and traitors…in our flesh, we want nothing to do with Him. We'll happily take idols, even ones we might call Christ or Jehovah….but it won't be the True Christ of Scripture.
Now, we can take this great doctrine of Grace and build a system around it.
Or, we can stop, grasp this, but then turn to the Scriptures and we start finding more layers. We start finding things like Means, like Temporal Categories.
We know Salvation is by Grace through Faith, not of ourselves, not of works……
But then we're told to Make our Calling and Election Sure?
Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?
We're told that we're dead to sin, but we're also to die daily, to pursue the mortification of the flesh.
Why? If we're saved we're saved right? End of story? Yes in the eternal sense, in the Already....but we're still in the time of Not Yet.
Paul says……IF you continue in the faith grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel. This conditional, in Colossians 1 he ties to what...the gospel he preached.
20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;
All these glorious things, these elements of the gospel in 20-22....IF? The gospel is qualified? Are these empty words, this conditional that suggests you might be 'moved away'?
Now here's where I get accused of defining Faith as..Faithfulness. That's a common tactic by those who reject what I'm saying. Thus they would argue that I'm saying faith is in fact works.
I would say that faith is a gift, but saving faith is alive. It's not producing meritorious works, some kind of quantity. It's alive, in that it produces a qualitative difference in the person's life. Otherwise faith is just a mental exercise, assenting to words, just like the easy believism we find with Billy Graham and others.
Faith must be living…..we're repenting and believing constantly. As born again people, we can't help it…that's what we do. The works then are not about us gaining, earning, or advancing, they are necessary evidences that we indeed believe.
Repenting and believing constantly (not just one time)……mortifies the flesh.
Even though in Christ….we are justified, sanctified, adopted, glorified…….
Here in time and space we're being justified, sanctified, adopted, and glorified.
We're warring against the flesh, actively putting to death the old man…what's left from our relationship with the 1st Adam.
So we keep our eyes on Christ and understand there's nothing we can do, it doesn't depend on us…in fact even our pathetic and minuscule victories over the flesh that are often tainted by pride….even those come from Him. Since we have no assurance in ourselves, we have complete assurance in Him. Eternally speaking, we couldn't be more secure. We can't be plucked from His hand…His decree from before the foundation of the world cannot be undone.
But we understand that we live in time and space, the Not Yet, and we don't find our name and birth date in a Bible verse. We still possess sinful natures and we are exhorted to struggle, strive, fight, bear fruit, persevere, reckon ourselves, die, live, grow, in order to make sure we're not deceiving ourselves.
We employ the Means He has provided and exercise our faith. In fact using those means should show that indeed we're trusting in Him and not ourselves. We realize how weak we are and rather than trust in intuition, emotion or experience, we flee to the objective things God has provided…..Word, Prayer, Repentance the fruit of Faith.
And thus we are kept free from the dangers, the warnings found in Hebrews. Paul won't have to stand in doubt of us , tremble for us, worry about us not continuing, falling from grace, failing to make our calling and election sure. We won't fall away.
I refuse to explain away all the positive/active verses that suggest we must do, act, and show life and vitality in order to claim that we have real faith. Of course we understand that anything we do any vitality we show is the Spirit working in us…not anything we're capable of doing. Only someone who doesn't understand grace will stand there and say, 'look at all the good things I've done,' or 'I haven't sinned in years,' or 'choosing Christ was the best decision I ever made.' These are grave misunderstandings that are self-focused, thinking in terms of points or quantity, a wage earned. But the Scriptures do qualify faith in terms of quality.
Nor will I explain away or soften the warnings of Scripture, the reality of apostasy, and the danger of being condemned by the Means….being put out of communion, being broken from the Body by Church Discipline.
Now we can try and qualify everything. Someone who might fall way, could still be elect. Someone put out of the Church might in fact be saved. And obviously there are multitudes of praying, professing people who are lost. There are many exceptions. This was the case in the Old Testament as well. Despite the Means, the Order which God Himself had established, we still find people like Rahab, Naaman, and the widow of Zarephath being praised.
It is all of Grace…….but all of our understanding is derived from Scripture. I want to be very careful before I come along and pick up on just one aspect and ignore or explain away others. I want to be careful not to make a system that places this or that verse into some category that adheres to the system I've created.
I don't want to turn to passages like Romans 7 and say….this doesn't work with my understanding of the Christian Life. If we're saved by Grace then this struggle cannot be a reality. We'll place that into a different category that we've derived, or we'll explain it through a metaphor….even though spiritualizing narrative violates basic ideas of exegesis that we follow elsewhere…….or we'll simply say this must be Paul pre-conversion even when there's no basis to say it and in doing so we conflict basic foundational statements he had just made a couple of chapters before.
Justification by Faith Alone is true. The Alone is not emphasized as strongly in Scripture as Luther put it. Nevertheless it is true, but we can't take one axiom and centralize it. Christ was Human…but He was also Divine. Can't reconcile it with a system? You don't need to. You need to submit to the teaching of Scripture. God is One? Yes, but be careful now. Justified by Faith Alone. Absolutely true and in addition to that God also tells us to Be Perfect, to be sorrowful yet always rejoicing, to passively believe and accept the free gift and to actively repent, work, and labour. There's no conflict, only when we rationalize on a system level.
Antinomianism or anti-law can refer to the resulting practice of a loose life that often flows out of a Easy Believism gospel. But it can also refer to the rejection of temporal means. Everything is grace and election…so therefore….
Church can't really mean anything. It's good, but you can't ascribe any objective meaning on it. But what do the Scriptures say about life in the body, baptism, communion? The language is strong and employs words which tie it to salvation, casting them in efficacious terms. Do we explain them away for the sake of maintaining a system? Do we start with Sola Fide and say, well, Baptism can't mean that because it would contradict Sola Fide?
I'm not willing to do that.
This type of thinking takes Sanctification and constricts it so it can only be understood 'in Christ' in the eternal sense….eschatologically, completed. While that's patently true, the parallel idea that we're growing in wisdom, knowledge and godliness here on earth is rejected. There are texts to be dealt with so some lip-service must be paid, but they are effectively gutted of any meaning. Why? If we're growing.....the systems says: that means either we're improving on Christ's work or that our actions are affecting our standing or accomplishing something. Okay, I'll admit that notion may conflict with a Systematic understanding of Grace…but what does the text say?
We need to be careful that we don't develop system categories that toss everything into one or another category that remain in permanent opposition as we find with some expressions of the Law/Gospel hermeneutic. More on that later.
Sometimes God's commands reflect His Character and in light of sin, we cannot comply. I know that's strange to some, but that's the whole gospel. He demands perfect righteousness and we can't do it. He's not unjust in commanding it, but thankfully he's non-just in that He shows love and provides a way.
Sometimes God gives commands that flow out of the gospel reality. We'll never actually do them right. In light of the gospel, that's not the point. Everything we attempt is corrupted with sin and all we're left with is filthy rags…..but somehow even our corrupted works when generated by the Holy Spirit and understood in light of our union with Christ…they're pleasing to Him. It's as if He's looking at His own work and ignores the pride and wrong motivation that corrupts what we do. We do it, but He's not even looking at our part……He's looking at His part. But here in time, I can't tell for sure if it's the Spirit….all I know is, my brother is walking with the Lord because his life shows it, or he's not walking with the Lord in which case he has no right to be called Christian.
Struggling with the flesh……not wanting to do what's right, or wanting to what's right and then doing wrong…….well, how can that be? We're dead to sin. To suggest a struggle means, we're doing something….works salvation legalism, right?
What does the text say?
The danger here is there are some people who coming out of Easy Believism need to learn the gospel is not a 'Get out of Hell Free' card. It's not the gospel of Church Parking Lot signs with cute and clever little sayings. They need to learn, it's about the renewal of the mind, transformation, growth, fruit, true and sorrowful repentance, and an agonizing fight to keep the faith. They need to learn…narrow is the way and that there will be many who say Lord, Lord, didn't I do this or that in your name and yet He'll say--- I never knew you.
But then there are others who come from a legalistic background and need to learn the gospel isn't about a daily Bible reading regimen, skirt-length, hair-length, diet, abstention, whether or not you have a television, whether or not you read fiction, what Bible version you use, what political party you belong to and whether you vote, and/or any other combination of abuses of Biblical doctrine or man-made rules. These folks need to learn to quit thinking about and focusing on themselves and measuring everyone by themselves. These folks need to learn that God is working on everyone in His own time, that issues and people's motivations are complicated, that different people have different levels of self-control…what may be okay for one, is not wise for another. They need to learn that the gospel is of Grace and isn't about keeping rules…his yoke is easy, the gift is free, you can rest in full assurance. Our works are nothing. We can't contribute a thing. It's all the Holy Spirit so there's no point in really worrying too much about where I'm at or where you're at. I'm saved by faith. And at the Judgment, I want answer for my sins…He'll see Christ and say well done thou faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.
They're both right, but if just take one and not the other…….you've got a system instead of Scripture, a man-made construction instead of revelation.
Go to part 3