Choose Your Antithesis Carefully

Josh Moody, pastor of College Church , No Other Gospel, Crossway, p 170

“Living as a godly Israelite in Old Testament times was not legalistic; salvation was always by faith because the promise came first. But trying to live under Moses, when Christ has arrived, is legalism….

p171–” Justification was always by faith…But now that Christ has arrived, the operation of this justification by Christ HAS BEEN REVEALED…Christ now says, ‘with me you can’ and we find that by His Spirit we do and we want to do.”

This is Josh Moody manipulating language to ignore the discontinuity of the covenants. Instead of pointing to a change of covenants, he writes about “the revelation” of what supposedly always there. And more importantly, instead of explaining a change of covenants, he describes a change in “us”, so that we now can and want to do the law.

Part of the problem here is using a word like “legalism” which can mean almost anything and nothing. Does it mean semi-Pelagianism but not Arminianism, so that Moody can assure us that “now that Faith has come” Christ has died for you all?

His claim here is that in the Old Covenant there were godly folks who did not live “legalistically”, even though “the operation of” justification by faith had not been revealed.

So let me see. 1. Some were justified by grace through faith in the righteousness of Christ in the Old Testament. I certainly agree with that. But 2. He says that some of the godly were not “legalistic” during the old covenant despite the lack of new covenant revelation. How this is possible, he does not explain. If he simply means that no true Christian is ever a legalist, that is certainly not what he argues elsewhere in his book. But if he wants to say that the revelation has now released the justified elect from “legalism”, how can he think that the justified elect in the old covenant were also free from this “legalism”? Moody is ignoring the change of covenants.

Perhaps it was not “legalistic” for the justified elect under the Mosaic covenant to do what the Mosaic law told them to do. It was not for them a means of justification. So when Moody speaks of “trying to live under Moses when Christ has arrived”, he is not thinking of “legalism” as trying to be justified by the law.

Am I therefore saying that Moody needs to define “legalism”, and state his different definitions when he changes his meanings?

But there is still a problem. In Galatians 3, when Paul is writing about “before faith came, the law was our cop”, he was not only revealing a change in covenants and in redemptive history. In these same verses, Paul is concerned with individuals “getting justified” by Christ, concerned about individuals being baptized by God into Christ

Even though I don’t think it’s right for Moody to ignore the difference between the old and new covenants (thus only stressing that now people can do the law and want to), the solution here is not only to see that the old covenant law is not the same as the new covenant law. The solution is to remind us that, even during the time of the new covenant, there are many non-elect folks for whom Christ never died and who have never been baptized into Christ.

Even though Moody says often that he doesn’t want to assume that everybody is a Christian, as a “minister of the church” he doesn’t seem to be able to keep from telling his readers that God loves them and that Christ died for them. p42–“Christ was cursed for me and you.” p100–“The only way to realize that you’re okay is to realize that God loves you and that Christ died for you as you are.” p160–“We preach to people that they are sinners until they believe it, and then we preach to them that Christ died for their sins.”

Of course Moody might even agree that election and definite atonement are something to be added “on top of the gospel we already believe” (much like circumcision!) but he certainly does not believe that these truths are the gospel. And so he offers a gospel on terms that evangelicals can accept, the same gospel as preached by Billy Graham (whose false gospel Moody claims that God the Holy Spirit uses,p16).

In my conclusion, I am not any less judgmental than Moody is. I am simply making an “old fashioned point” (p16) that not everybody who talks about Jesus believes in the Jesus revealed in the Bible. The difference between Moody and me is that we have different gospels. I quote Moody: “if I believe something wrong and teach others to believe something wrong, I am under God’s judgment. That
is a thought so strange to modern ears that it feels like, with this passage, we are entering an alien world.” (p39)

Moody rightly asks why the Galatians were tempted to add their works to Christ’s righteousness (faith). Moody rightly answers that this temptation does not come from the faith which fears God, but comes from the fear which does not trust the cross to be enough to justify. But if Jesus died for everybody, and not everybody is justified, then those who trust this false Jesus should be afraid. They will need to be careful to complete their faith with works, and thus we have Moody’s stress on the “now in the AD we can and want to”.

If Jesus died for everybody, and not everybody is saved, then we need to be fearful about if we have enough faith, since as Moody explains it, “faith is the relational glue that attaches us to Christ.” (p150). Moody is enough of a manipulator not to be talking about the topic of Jesus dying only for the elect. And since he is not teaching that, he is teaching that Jesus did die for everybody.

If you think that kind of antithesis is unfair, then I will use one of his analogies: if you can’t go by train (because the train doesn’t go there), you have to go by car, and you can’t go by train and by car at the same time. If the only kind of atonement revealed in the Bible is definite and effectual (for the sheep, and not for those who will not believe, John 10), then there is no atonement revealed in the Bible for everybody, and you can’t have it both ways, no matter what John Stott or Martyn Lloyd-Jones or anybody tried to do. I have no more interest in being rude than Moody does, but when it comes to the thing that really matters, the cross, then I want to take my stand on what the Bible says that cross does.

You can say all matter of true things about the difference between law and gospel (and I have no doubt that the false teachers in Galatia did so), but you have no legitimate right to say them, if you avoid the offense of the cross being A. for the elect alone and B. being alone effectual, being the difference, since Christ’s death was not for everybody. And the true things you say about the cross, or about law and gospel, end up not being true things, just like the doctrine of the false teachers in Galatians.

You can say that Christ died for everybody and not be a “semi-Pelagian” or “soft legalist”. My point is not merely that evangelicalism is inherently Arminian. My point is that, if Christ’s death was the righteousness intended and obtained for everybody, then it’s not His death but our faith which must make the difference. And if that is so, we need to be very afraid.

Let me end with one more quotation from Moody: “Nobody comes along and says that you don’t need faith. They just say it’s not faith alone. But if it’s not faith alone, then it is faith plus law; and if it is by law, then it is no longer by promise; then it is no longer by faith. The message of faith and works is really a message of work; it is simply legalism” (p157)

Let me say something different. Nobody comes along and says that Jesus didn’t need to die. They just say that Jesus died for everybody but that it doesn’t work unless the Spirit causes you to consent to it. They just say that, even if you are not elect and even if the Spirit doesn’t cause you to consent to it, Jesus loves you and died for you and offers to save you, but His death didn’t take away your guilt and it doesn’t work, because you didn’t have faith in it.

But if Jesus died for everybody, then it is that death PLUS you being changed so that you can and want to, and if the difference of the new covenant is regeneration, then the promise is not about Christ alone or His death alone; and if it is about your being changed (so that grace is not cheap and Jesus is King), then salvation is not by Christ’s death. The message of His death plus your regeneration is really at the end a message about your regeneration.

And even if Arminians can’t agree with Calvinists about regeneration being before faith, or about regeneration being purchased for the elect by Christ, then they can still all unite in faith that the Jesus who died for everybody and the Jesus who died only for those who are saved are one and the same Jesus. Because in the end, it’s not the death that matters. It’s regeneration, and we can see that!

No “one or the other” here. No “this or that” needed. So choose your antithesis carefully.

Explore posts in the same categories: arminians, atonement, covenants, faith

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One Comment on “Choose Your Antithesis Carefully”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Galatians 3:21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

    Galatians 2: 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor

    Romans 5: 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

    Romans 7: For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead

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