Titus 3:14—“And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”
Even though it is popular to be against individualism, and thus FOR making transparent and public what we keep private, I have no intention here of talking much about my marriage to my wonderful wife Linda. I am trying to make a point against self-righteous puritans who condition everything on our perseverance. But it is close to Valentine’s Day, and I have been married to my beautiful wife for 33 years, and I like the analogy of the marriage metaphor.
In our marriage, I am the one who likes to write the poetry. I am the verbal romantic who likes to joke about needing to earn points from my wife. And she is the one who calms me down by saying: “I already married you. What more do you want?” And of course I reply: everything!
Puritans are not sure if you are married yet. If they are consistent and not simply self-righteous, puritans are also not sure if THEY are married yet. The more they talk against carnal security and the more they insist on the inevitability of mandatory fruit, the more puritans need to ask themselves: am I the fourth dirt in the parable, or one of the other three?
I remember the time before I was married. Even up there on the platform before the “I do”, I was still anxious. It was not too late for Linda to open her eyes and see me as I was, and then call the whole thing off. So what I am saying?
We are married now. It’s too late now to stop it. Despite our two children, Romanists could “annul” it and say it never happened, and most Protestants could divorce and call the remarriage a new picture of Christ and His elect, but we have already been married.
Or, as my wife jokes: I already married you. What more do you want? I am not here denying that we don’t want more of each other. I am not even denying at this point that what we do now is a condition of staying married. Although I would like to think that’s true, the analogy breaks down between our marriage to each other and God’s love for the justified elect. Right now, I am denying that what we do counts as evidence that we are or are not already married.
I am not an Arminian, and I don’t believe that the justified elect lose their salvation, and therefore I don’t think that Christians have to do stuff to stay in the new covenant. But my point right now is that I am not a puritan, and I don’t believe that the justified elect have to do stuff to prove to themselves or to God that they are real Christians.
Puritans tend to let you in the front door by faith alone, but then after they allow you a little time, they will let you out the back door if your faith is still alone. In addition to faith, they ask: what have you done for me lately? It would be like my wife saying to me: sure, I married you for love, but now I want to see the big house with the bird nests in the big back yard.
I am not denying that a husband could do more. I also agree that a husband SHOULD do more. There is always more! But how much does a husband have to do in order to show himself and his wife that he really married the wife? Notice, I am not even talking right now about keeping the wife!
I suppose in today’s Reformed culture, Gerhard Forde would be called an “antinomian”. Certainly he had a false Lutheran gospel based on water regeneration and faith, instead of on Christ’s propitiation. But Forde used to love this question: what would you do now if you found out that you didn’t have to do anything?”
When I walked down that aisle 33 years ago, what was my thinking? Was it probation, so that I had so much time to prove to Linda’s parents that I was not work-less or worth-less? No. So was my mind thinking: now that I am married, I don’t need to love her? It’s not strictly necessary?
We need to ask the question: necessary for what? I do not say that works are not necessary for justification but that synergism is necessary for “sanctification”, because that difference cannot account for the biblical idea of sanctification by the blood (Hebrews 10:10-14). But I do say that our works are not necessary to obtain God’s blessings. Romans 4:4—“To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due”. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has elected the elect in Christ and has blessed the elect in Christ with every spiritual blessing.
Works are needed. Wives need their husband to work for them. Husbands need their wives to work for them. Love works. But works are not needed to prove that we are already married. It might sound good for Dan Fuller to teach that we grow by the same “faith alone” as we get justified by “faith alone”. But when the faith by which we grow is never alone, then that means that the faith by which we get justified is never alone. And this means that faith alone really means with the addition of works.
I know I don’t deserve to have Linda as my wife. But I also know that I will never ever in the future deserve to have Linda as my wife. And you can redefine “justice” until it becomes less strict and “family-law” and never use the word “merit”, but at the end of the day I will still never deserve to be married to her.
BUT I AM married to her. And these “points” I joke about getting from her when I do something for her, they are not mortgage payments on a note which can never be burned. I am not like Jacob who had to work seven more years after he got married (and that after seven years and her sister!)
Married is married. What we do doesn’t get us more married. And what we do doesn’t prove that we are married. There is no cause-effect relationship between our works and our salvation, because the elect are saved by Christ’s work. When the elect become justified, they are married to Christ. Christians share in what Christ has, not because of what they do but because they are now married/justified.
The puritans tend to say that you are in the house despite of who you are and what you have done, but now that you are in, there is a new covenant which now expects more of you because you could now do more if you wanted to. The subtext is even more threatening and ominous: maybe you are in, and maybe you are not in, and we shall wait and see what you want to do and then what you do, and we will never say it specifically about you, but we will say in a general way: there are some folks who were never in the house in the first place.
And the more consistent (less self-contradictory puritans, think Schreiner and Caneday) will say to themselves: sure I have been baptized (at least by a Trinitarian Romanist but was that good enough?) and sure I have been working now for a long time (but with what motives and what results?) but how am I to know that I will keep working from now on in (so let me die first before I do something which will prove to me and everybody that I was never married in the first place!)