Archive for February 2012

Not all Disagreement about what the Law Says is Legalism

February 22, 2012

Most commentators on Philippians 3:18-19 focus on the word “belly” and assume that it means greed, not only the desire for too much food but the lust for money and sinful pleasures. They do not connect “belly” to the desire to have one’s own righteousness from the law, even though that has been the topic of paragraphs just before. But the lust of the flesh is subtle.

The trouble with “taste not touch not” is when people think that their tasting not and touching not brings them some blessing which the righteousness of Christ could not bring. There is nothing wrong with tasting not and touching not. Simply because we do not agree with another person about what God’s law teaches is no excuse to call that person a legalist.

But a person is a legalist, even if he has a right interpretation about what God’s law teaches, if that person thinks that his obeying that law brings him a blessing which the righteousness of Christ did not cause.

The law of God should not be blamed for legalism, even though God has predestined the abuse of the law. When a person thinks that his not tasting and his not touching brings him blessing, that person is not only a legalist but also an antinomian, because that person is thinking that God is satisfied with something less than perfect obedience and satisfaction of the law.

The only way that God can be pleased with the good works of a Christian is when the Christian knows that these good works are blessings from Christ’s righteousness, not a supplement to Christ’s righteousness.

And this distinction is not only something that God knows, or only something that smart “Reformed theologians” know. Every Christian knows that Christ’s righteousness is the only reason for every love-gift from God.

The sin which deceives us all by nature is that WE DESIRE WHAT WE PRODUCE TO GIVE US SOMETHING WE OTHERWISE WOULDN’T HAVE. We will give God’s “grace” the credit for helping us produce it. We have no problem saying that “particular election” is the reason we produced it. But, like Cain, we want to take what we produced and offer it to God as some small part of what God will accept it as righteousness.

We don’t mind of God haD to produce some righteousness also to supplement it and “make up the difference”. But the one thing we want, the thing which the people who killed Jesus wanted, is the one thing Cain wanted, and that is to have God accept what we have produced and what we sincerely (even if ignorantly) offered to God.

Frequently people tell me: “you are not going to tell me that I am lost just because I do not believe in definite atonement.” And then they say: I know what I used to be, and I know that I am different now, because now I know it’s all Christ, now I know it’s not works. Now I know it’s grace. And I just don’t even need to get into this question of who Jesus died for.

And then, in contradiction to their claim not to know, they say: I know he died for me because I was a sinner.

And I ask: did Christ die for all sinners? And again they say: I don’t need to get into that. And I ask: how do you know that Christ died for you? Does the grace to believe come from the death of Christ or from some other place?

And they say: I don’t need to know where I got faith because I got it. And then I ask: faith in which Christ, the one whose death saves or the one who died for those who will be lost? And then they start caling me some names.

The motive for that name calling is the same as Cain’s motive for murdering Abel. I John 3:12 explains: “why did he murder him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

Those with a false gospel cannot understand why one person’s work is evil and another person’s work is not evil. They cannot understand that it is evil to condition blessing on works. Indeed, despite talk about election and regeneration and -in many cases- even about definite atonement, those with the false gospel still judge saved and lost by works instead of judging works by saved and lost.

Packer “no ask no tell” on election, but Packer does talk about a false universal “offer”

February 19, 2012

When J. I Packer claims that election is not part of the gospel message (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God), he relegates the doctrine of election to the “hidden God” who we need not know. Besides the God who has already elected a sinner in Christ or not, there is a false god offering Christ to sinners.

Instead of a propitiation in which Christ is offered by God to God to bear the sins imputed to Him, the true nature of propitiation and imputation is not supposed to be told. It is not so much a matter of doubting how much God the Holy Spirit can teach a sinner about propitiation and imputation, but rather a desire that the truth of the matter not be known.

It’s as if Packer is being more cautious and prudent than God. Of course we don’t know who is not elect. But we do know that God has an elect, and that Christ only died for that elect, and if we leave that out, we must also leave out the whole matter of a past imputation of sins to Christ.

“Bearing sins” becomes a very flexible metaphor, in which the reality and success of the bearing are to be determined by the Holy Spirit convincing the sinner. If the Spirit fails to convince a sinner, that sinner will bear for himself the sins Christ bore for him, including presumably the sin of not being convinced by the Spirit.

The false gospel has two Gods, one wanting to save all sinners. The false gospel also cannot have a righteousness which was completed at once in the past by Christ. The false gospel can have an alien righteousness, but in the Augustinian sense that it’s God doing the work of righteousness by grace IN the elect sinner.

You can have a false God-righteousness, you can have a false election, you can say that God delivers faith to the sinner, and still have a false gospel. Because if the message is not about what Christ did by Himself outside the elect sinner, if the gospel is not about sins imputed once and taken away once, then justification becomes a theoretical footnote, and assurance depends on regeneration making you different from other people.

And instead of telling God’s elect that Christ is coming a second time not to deal with their sin, preachers still have people doing the dealing. Deal with your sins, or God will deal with them for you, is not a message about what Christ has done.

Being “Confessional” Is not Enough if You Won’t Preach Christ’s Effectual Death

February 14, 2012

The ultimate way we can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you” is to tell them that the gospel they MUST believe excludes even this believing as the condition of salvation. The only condition of salvation for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect.

No debated language about the objectivity of “covenants” or “sacraments” should be allowed to obscure this gospel truth. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, no matter how confessional or sacramental or “covenantal” you are, you will end up encouraging people to make faith into that little something that makes the difference between life and death!

I am not looking for another discussion about Calvin and Luther on the extent of the atonement. I am not even looking for something “classical” enough for influential people to sign in alliance.

I am asking us if we believe that the glory of God in the gospel means that all for whom Christ died will certainly be saved. Or is that doctrine too “rationalistic” for us? Would that doctrine perhaps take the grace of God out of the hands of those who hand out the “means of grace” and locate grace with the Father who has chosen a people and given them to Christ? (Romans 11:4-6)

Remember, at this time, I am not disputing various positions on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But I am asking now about God’s love being found in the propitiation accomplished by Christ. Out there, back then!

Election is God’s love. When the Bible talks about God’s love, it talks about propitiation. I John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” If all we only stipulate that the appeasement of wrath will not work without our faith, then it’s not enough to add on that God sent His son to purchase our faith. The nature of the cross as a propitiation will not be proclaimed.

Since there is only one propitiation, a propitiation for the elect which is also the same thing for the non-elect, amounts to nothing. Does the Neo-Calvinist love the gospel of election, or does he hate the doctrine and suppress it? Yes, Christ loved the church, but the church in the non-election way of talking is not individuals written in the lamb’s book, but a class of people who put their trust in a “jesus who died for everybody”.

The Neo-Calvinist does not talk about Christ not dying for the non-elect. He won’t even talk about Christ not dying for those who don’t put their trust in Him. The Neo-Calvinist wants you to give yourself to Christ without knowing anything about election.

The Neo-Calvinist will even defend this non-election gospel as being the only perspective possible to us. We have to know we believe, before we can know if we are elect. I agree that knowing our election before we believe is impossible. Knowing our election is NOT our warrant to believe. (See Abraham Booth’s wonderful book against preparationism– Glad Tidings).

But this is no excuse for leaving the Bible doctrine of election out of the doctrine of propitiation by Christ’s death there and then on the cross. We can and should teach the doctrine of election. The Bible doctrine of election does not teach unbelievers that they are elect, nor does the Bible doctrine of election teach unbelievers that they can find out if they are elect without or before believing,

The glory of God does not depend on human decisions, and the gospel must not become a hostage to collaborations with evangelicals who in the name of universal atonement condition salvation on what God does in the sinner.

I reject the priority of regeneration (or Christ indwelling by the Spirit) over justification. I reject the idea that regeneration is the condition for God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect.

There is a true either-or between propitiation out there back then and our time and our place. Propitiation is not INSIDE the person who is elect, loved by God. Nor is the propitiation in the Roman Mass. Once, and then Christ sat down at the right hand in heaven.

We must not confuse the propitiation with the application of the propitiation. Romans 6 teaches that God in time places the elect into the death of Christ, and there is a resulting transition from wrath to favor. Free from righteousness, then free from sin, not under the law. But this is legal application of the atonement, not the atonement itself. This is God’s imputation, not regeneration or the indwelling of Christ.

How Can the Righteousness Be In Heaven, if Christ is In Your Heart?

February 12, 2012

Christ’s death is not obedience to the law. Christ’s death is satisfaction to the law. Christ’s death is not abrogation of the law.

Jeremiah 23: 6 This is what He will be named: The Lord Our Righteousness.

Jeremiah 33:16 Judah will be saved and this is what she will be named: the Lord Our Righteousness

I saw Jesus in heaven AT THE FATHER’S RIGHT HAND
 ‘THERE,’ I said, ‘is my righteousness!’ So that WHEREVER I WAS or whatever I was doing, God could not say to me, ‘Where is your righteousness?’ For it is always right BEFORE HIM. (John Bunyan)

I agree about our absolute need for the new birth. What some of us have said is that this “regeneration” should not be defined as “union” and it should not be given priority over God’s imputation of righteousness. We have said that the Spirit does not do the imputing. We have asked for a definition of “union”.

But I am asked this question: “Where is heaven that we are to look to? God is everywhere an especially in the hearts of His people.”

I guess that covers it. Nothing more needs to be said. No need to speak of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, No need to speak of the ascension of the Lord Jesus, and the real absence of the humanity of Christ until the second Advent. Even if you aren’t Zwinglian, or Calvinist, even if you are Lutheran, we can’t only talk about “God everywhere”. We need to be Christocentric.

The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to the church. Christ baptises the elect with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not baptize the elect into Christ. The elect in Christ are legally joined to the redemptive-historical merits of Christ by God’s imputation.

In heaven, Christ sits. Why? Because the work that saves Christ has finished. But why waste your time on what Hebrews when all you know and need to know is that “God is everywhere”?

Hebrews 9:28–”Christ, HAVING BEEN offered ONCE to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save them that eagerly await Him.”

What sense could that make? If Jesus Christ is simply everywhere, who cares if He comes again, since we have Him by His Spirit already in our hearts? Please pay attention. I am not denying that Christ indwells the hearts of those who have been justified, but I am\ suggesting that we talk about Christ’s kingdom without placing the present time into competition with what Christ got done at the cross.

Of course folks don’t deny that things like atonement and justification are part of the gospel. Of course they would sign the
Westminster Confession paragraphs on justification. Sure, they agree with that basic overall “Reformed” position, so no need for them to keep talking about that stuff when they can instead talk about their experiences.

Whether I am talking to a five year old or to a old old man on his death bed, I don’t want this “God anywhere and everywhere.” I want “Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord who was handed over
because of our trespasses and raised because/in order to our justification.” (Romans 4:25).

Romans 5 (love in our hearts through the Spirit who has been given us) begins with peace with God by means of justification. Justification is not the Spirit’s gift. The Spirit is God’s gift to the justified elect. Romans 5:9– “We have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.”

I look to heaven, not simply because the God-man who died with the imputed sins of all the elect has ascended there, but also He is coming from there. And these historical events are not below my navel or under my chest. The righteousness by which the justified REIGN is NOT a righteousness imparted (or infused) in us by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 5:17 explains that those who receive (by imputation, like the guilt of Adam is received) “the free gift of righteousness REIGN in\ life through the one man Jesus Christ”. Romans 5:21 continues the theme into Romans 6. “Grace reigns through the righteousness” of that one man. Romans 6:9–”death no longer has dominion over Christ. For the death HE died HE died to sin, once for all.”

Christ’s triumph over the powers, Christ’s kingdom, none of this can or should be set over against His finished work of righteousness. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift, and it is not the Holy Spirit baptizing in Romans 6.

There are many who agree, sure the legal is part of “union”, but when it gets right down to it, they think the atonement and justification is somehow less real and true than what’s happening in their hearts.

Romans 8:10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the Spirit is alive because of righteousness.

I won’t take the time to do the full exegesis, but nobody is denying that Christ is in the justified elect, nobody is denying that this happens by the Spirit alive in the justified elect, but the point in question concerns the righteousness. Is that righteousness what you think God is doing in you? Or is that righteousness what God did in Christ’s satisfaction of the law? What is the “righteousness of faith” in this context?

Romans 10:6 But the righteousness of faith says: Do not say in your heart, who will ascend into heaven (to bring Christ down), or who will descend (to bring Christ up from the dead). The word (about what? is the news about what Christ did to satisfy the law?) is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.

Is Supporting the Troops Like Supporting Homosexuality?

February 8, 2012

Today I got interested in a series of videos telling us seven reasons why President Obama is not a Christian. We don’t need seven reasons. NONE of us is born a Christian. ALL of us are born lost, guilty, dead in sins. ALL of us will stay that way unless God causes us to hear, understand, and believe the gospel. Period.

The third reason given by the videos was that “Obama supports homosexuality” I am curious about this idea of “supporting” something. 1. Are there tears for Obama when folks talk about him not being a Christian? 2. What does it mean that he “supports it”? Does this mean that Obama advocates that people begin to practice homosexuality? Does it mean that he supports the civil liberty to become homosexuals, if that’s what people decide, even though he doesn’t agree with the decision?

3. Will there also be a series explaining why every Republican candidate is not a Christian? 4. Will there be a series explaining why every Roman Catholic is not a Christian? 5. Will there be a series explaining why every Mormon is not a Christian? 6. Will there be a series explaining why no USA president has ever been a Christian? Which of them knew the gospel of God’s sovereign free grace in which His righteousness is revealed?

More importantly, will somebody be explaining why it matters if the President is a “real” Christian? Since the law says there’s to be no religious test for office, why is it important for us strangers and sojourners to be deciding about a politician’s religion? 8. Is the USA “exceptional” because its leaders have been or were “Christians”?

I don’t propose to answer all these questions in this essay. But I want to ask some more. If you “support the troops”, does this mean that you advocate that people become soldiers? Does it mean that you
think that Christians should become soldiers and kill for Christ and His glory? Does it mean that you support the civil liberty to become soldiers, if that’s what people decide, even though you don’t agree with the decision? Does it mean that you think it’s one way for poor people to go, but not the best for your children?

Would you fault the “moral compromise” of the Lord Jesus for His submission to the occupying empire and its allies on the Sanhedrin? Is Christ’s rejection of Peter’s sword an endorsement of the gross and blatant evil done by the Romans, or do you think that the Roman administration of Roman laws was basically good for business and civilization?

Acts 2:23 “this Jesus, handed over according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

We should never confuse what’s “necessary” (because it’s predestined by God) with what is good or practical or legitimate. I can agree that nation-states do great evil, without in any way seeing any duty or mandate or vocation for us to attempt to fix these regimes or replace them. “Submit” does NOT mean “do the evil they command”. But neither does “submit” mean ” I accept suffering from them because I think they are good and legitimate”. By what standard would we make this judgment? By the standard of the Mosaic covenant? By the command of the Noahic covenant that blood that takes must be taken as a sacrifice to God? Which God? By the standard of what your “natural instincts” tell you to do?

Patience, even such that we wait for the Lord Jesus to come and judge, is not necessarily cowardice, and most definitely not approval of that which is evil. To do nothing when nothing wise can be done is to avoid the evils which come when we attempt to overcome evil with evil. We cannot dismiss the command with the idea–”if it were only me suffering that’s one thing, but it’s not only me suffering, so therefore I am one of the gods who must do something about it.”

I Peter 2:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

mark: God’s foreordination is not God’s approval. God’s purpose in Christ involves His second advent, and apocalypse will uncover the evils done in the name of the good.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

mark: What some speak of as the “spirituality of the church”, I think of as the “politics of the church”. The words “ecclesia” and “politics” do not belong only to those willing to do violence. God’s
purpose in Christ is manifest when ecclesia happens and ecclesia will happen. There is something very “religious” about “supporting the troops” of an evil empire, and there is something very “political” about knowing that church is more important than family or race or national boundaries.

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the
day of visitation.

mark: Unless we adopt a situation ethic (now we have the spectacle of democracy!), since when do aliens tell the nation in which they live how to conduct their affairs??? Agreed, you surely are not going to listen to what Jesus Christ said, but we like our plan B better than your plan B???

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the
ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants[ of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the
emperor.18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.

mark: On this matter of unjust suffering, the idea is not to restrict the suffering to something “private” or something which is “religious persecution”. Rather, the imperative depends on the indicative of what the Lord Jesus Himself did in a situation where his people were threatened by an evil occupying power. The text does not say to move to Jerusalem and be a carpenter and not have a wife. But the text does say that Christ is our example in suffering, also that we do this by “trusting Him who judges justly”.

19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we, having died to sin, live to righteousness.