No Balance, Christ’s Work or Your Works

2 Peter 1: Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.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 love. 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. 10 Therefore, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

With its emphasis on “knowledge” and “calling”, 2 Peter One reverses legalism by commanding us to examine our works by making our calling and election sure. Those who know Christ are commanded to become effective They are not commanded to become fruitful in order to find out if they know Christ (or are known by Christ).

But  many  assume a “practical syllogism” in which assurance of calling is based on our works. To do that,they attempt to isolate one verse and ignore the context, which begins in the very first verse with the idea that faith is given because of Christ’s righteousness. They makes their works of faith the assurance. In effect, their assurance of Christ’s atonement is only as good as their confidence in their own works.  Their “faith” turns out to be assurance in works, not assurance in Christ’s atonement. Because it can’t be both. There is no “balance” in this “sola”.

By what gospel were we called? Was it the gospel of “characteristic obedience” or was it the gospel of “Christ paid it all for the elect”? Legalists are trying to follow Christ as Lord without first submitting to salvation only by God’s perfect and sufficient alone righteousness.

We do not work to get assurance. We must have assurance before our works are acceptable to God. But many puritan “experimental” Calvinists, along with the Arminians, think of faith as the “condition” that saves them.. Yes, they disagree about the cause and source of faith, but they both are way more concerned about the condition faith leaves you in than they are in the object of faith.

Though the true gospel knows that the justification of the ungodly does not happen until righteousness is imputed and faith is created by hearing the gospel, the true gospel also knows that it is the righteousness ALONE (apart from the works of faith created) which satisfies the requirement of God’s law. (Romans 8:4)

The experimentalist wants to say that her imperfect works are the evidence of Christ’s work in them. But way too often this moralist does not test her works by the gospel doctrine of righteousness. As Hebrews 9:14 and Romans 7:4-6 teach us, that a person not yet submitted to the righteousness revealed in the gospel is still an evil worker, bringing forth fruit unto death. Those who work for assurance not justified, and any assurance they have is a deceit.

Indeed, unless we are universalists or fatalists (some Primitive Baptists are both), we cannot avoid the search for evidence. But we need to see that the evidence is submission to the gospel, which involves knowledge about election, imputation and Christ’s satisfaction. It is a waste of time to talk about “obedience to law as evidence” unless a person knows what the gospel is. A person who finds evidence in works shows that they don’t know what the gospel is.

Moralists stress the nature and quality of faith, but not the righteousness COMPLETED by Christ which should be the only object of faith. It is Christ (not us) who satisfies God’s law.

There are many false gospels and only one true gospel. The only way not to be self-righteous is to know that the law demands perfect righteousness and that the gospel proclaims how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. One certain result of the righteousness earned by Christ is that the elect will believe this gospel and not any false gospel.

Legalists thank their false god for enabling them to keep meeting the conditions so they won’t be “broken off the covenant”. The workers who came before the the judgment in Matthew 7 were sure that they had satisfied the conditions. They do not deny that election is the reason that they meet the conditions to stay in and to be sure. But instead of pleading Christ alone who got done a perfect righteousness, they also plead something else.

These moralistic theonomists have flattered themselves about their obedience being acceptable. But those for whom Christ died will came to repent of that false gospel.

Scot Hafemann (p60): “ Sandwiched between what God has done for us and what God promises to do for us in the future, we find the commands of God for the present as the necessary link between the two.” This false gospel makes everything conditional, not on Christ, but on us—- if you do enough right, then God promises not to break you off…

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7 Comments on “No Balance, Christ’s Work or Your Works”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”

    theonomist lordshipper : II Peter 1 says sin causes a believer to doubt his salvation. It’s right in the text! How can you deny it? Peter also promises that if we walk by faith, we’ll make our election sure.

    mark: he sees “right in the text” that which is NOT there. If he were correct, the text would have to say that “whoever lacks these qualities will find that he was never cleansed from sins”. But the text does not say that. The terrible thing about the legalist seeing in the text what is NOT there is that he does not see what IS there.

    “Forgotten that he WAS CLEANSED”. The text presumes the indicative, the assurance which comes with knowledge of Christ, and then warns about forgetting the past cleansing. But he says that the person lacking qualities should doubt if he ever was cleansed. Not what the text says. If we are elect, we will walk by faith. NOT, if we obey the law, we will find out that maybe we are still in the covenant one more day.

    The context is saying that, in order to walk by faith (and be effective) we need to first have faith and assurance of our calling and election. But the legalist reverses that. Instead of warning the Corinthians about joining Christ to prostitutes, the legalist would say that those who sinned with prostitutes showed that they were not Christians.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    t to me: you need to accept all of Scripture. (Even the verses that demand good works from believers) There really aren’t any contradictions in God’s word; the apparent problems are figments of your imagination.

    mark: There is a big difference between accepting all Scripture and accepting your mis-reading of Scripture. But some theonomists don’t seem to understand that distinction. Again, we have a case of t not attending to what I have written and suggesting that I have written things I have not written.

    I have not said there are any contradictions in Scripture. I have shown how t’s reading of II Peter chapter one contradicted the text, and then t changed his reading, but then still held on to the contradiction about the text somehow proving that those in the covenant can perish. This is a problem either with t’s ability to think or his ability to be honest with himself.

    t: “We are his workmanship created for good work in Christ that he predestined us to walk in”.How can you read that verse, and tell us that works are not necessary? That’s the very reason he created us!

    Mark: well, the truth is that we were not talking about Ephesians 2 but about 2 Peter 1, but you now seem to flee what you have written and divert us by claiming that I “tell us” things which I have never written. I have never said that works are not necessary. The question has to do with WHY works are necessary. Necessary for what reason?

    t began by saying that obedience to the law was the necessary condition for staying in the covenant, then he changed his mind and said that it was important for those who are justified to not forget that they are justified, but now of course he has come back to saying that those “in the covenant of grace” can be lost if they don’t work.

    2 Peter 1 tells us to make our calling and election sure so that we can work and be effective in that work. But t changed the nature of the necessity, isolated one verse, ignored the indicative (have been cleansed), and then assumed that if a person didn’t agree with his mercenary (self-righteous and self-interested) motives for work, that that person didn’t think law and works were necessary in any way.

    Like many others in our day, t has dismissed simple gratitude for salvation as being the necessity for obedience to God’s law. If you don’t agree with him about works being the difference between staying in the covenant, he just can’t imagine that you think that law is needed in any way. But that’s his problem. He needs to look at the Heidelberg Catechism again. What does a thankful person need to do?

    t: “They were never really born of God. Even though they were in the covenant of grace.”

    mark: Not all theonomists approve of “the federal vision”. I know some who believe the gospel. But t has a false gospel. Make no mistake about me knowing and walking with the same faith t has but just being confused about it. t and I have different gospels.

    Doug Wilson: “Special election IS covenantal election for those who by grace persevere. For those who fall away, covenantal election devolves into reprobation.”

    The Canons of Dordt, 1:9—Election was not founded upon the forseen obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as the prerequisite, cause or condition on which election depends.Therefore election is the fountain of every good.”

    David Engelsma, The Federal Vision, p 93—Doug Wilson does not teach that performing the condition of remaining in the covenant proves or gives assurance to election. Doug Wilson teaches that performing the condition of remaining in the covenant is what makes election effectual. Many in the new covenant, according to Wilson, refuse to perform the covenant conditions and thereby render God’s election of them null and void.”

  3. markmcculley Says:

    mark Galli: Deyoung rightly argues that, as Scripture enjoins, we should “examine ourselves,” but also wisely says we shouldn’t “take our spiritual temperature every day.” He devotes one paragraph to the latter exhortation, but in my experience, the temptation to spiritual narcissism is so powerful, it requires more to think it through. Whenever I’ve made a priority of examining myself, it’s pretty near impossible not to take my spiritual temperature every day. I’ve come to conclude that I, at least, cannot vigorously pursue holiness without becoming preoccupied with my progress or lack thereof. I don’t think DeYoung appreciates the full power of this temptation.
    Second, he rightly notes that in the pursuit of holiness, repentance is “a way of life”—meaning we should not expect perfection in this life, and that we’ll always need to repent of something. But he creates an impression that repentance is the gut check on the way to something else, a mere means to the life of holiness. Again, what I’ve discovered is this: The older I’ve grown, the more I realize how layered and subtle is my sin; the more spiritually mature I am, the more I realize, along with Jeremiah, how desperately wicked my heart is. In that sense, as I run the last laps of life, I’m much less impressed with my outward progress, and more aware than ever of my sin, and more and more in a constant state of repentance. Others compliment me on my “progress”—I no longer have a temper, I’m more considerate of my wife, more compassionate toward others, and so on and so forth. But they cannot see my heart, and if they did, they’d run in fear, repelled by the cauldron evil that remains. Perhaps I’ve simply failed in the pursuit of holiness. Or maybe the pursuit of holiness is not so much a striving to adopt a life of habitual virtue but learning how to live a life of constant repentance.
    Third, he says that those who pursue a righteous life are “susceptible to judgmentalism and arrogance.” What I think he fails to see is that those who pursue holiness with the passion that he pleads for are more than “susceptible” to these temptations; they will inevitably become self-righteous. This is my personal testimony and the witness of history. DeYoung points us to the Puritans as examples of holiness. But there is a reason that the Puritans have a reputation for priggishness and self-righteousness. Having been a student of the Puritans myself, I know their movement started out with the best of motives—to live godly lives in a sinful world. But their passion for holiness led inevitably to self-righteousness. Their historical reputation is due in part to secular bias, but it is also due to historical facts.
    I think two teachings of Jesus need to play a much larger role in any discussion of holiness, but unfortunately they rarely do. The first is the parable of the Pharisee and the sinner (Luke 18). In that parable we see that the person who has pursued holiness, and has done so with reasonable success, is condemned. The person who is as unholy as unholy can be is praised. His repentance seems to be not merely a way to become holy but the very essence of holiness—that is, an attitude and a behavior that pleases God.
    The second teaching is Jesus’ admonition that our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3). The context is almsgiving, but the principle applies to all our good deeds; Jesus knew all too well that when sinful people start examining themselves, taking note of their holiness progress, they will not be able to avoid one of two sins: despair at their lack of progress or self-righteousness at their seeming progress. This progress, of course, is an illusion, because it is tainted with the sin Jesus condemned with vigor: self-righteousness.
    So while I applaud the reminder that we are called to be holy, and while I recognize that there is some deliberate effort involved, I believe that a conscious and purposeful pursuit of holiness is about the worst way to go about it. I cannot think of a person I know or a historical figure who has aspired to holiness without suffering from spiritual pride. This has certainly been the case in my own spiritual journey. The times I have deliberately tried to become godly are when I have become most like the devil—irritable, judgmental, arrogant, and prideful to start with.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/november-web-only/if-at-first-you-dont-succeed-stop-trying-so-hard.html?paging=off

  4. Kirk Says:

    Verse 10 sounds like he suggesting that if we practices the qualities he listed out that we would not fall away. Is Peter talking about the qualities of making our calling and election sure – so that we would not forget that we have been cleansed?

  5. markmcculley Says:

    The strength of Peterson’s work is his ability to engage various biblical texts without ever losing sight of their wider context. In fact, it is an appeal to context that leads him to disagree with J. C. Ryle’s interpretation of Hebrews 12:14 (a verse that says “without holiness, no one will see the Lord”) Peterson’s approach sees holiness as an expression of our “once-for-all” sanctification and Ryle sees holiness more as “proof” of our salvation. Peterson believes stressing the positional aspect will lead to the expression of the progressive aspect, whereas Ryle believes stressing the progressive aspect will lead to evidence of the positional.

    Or to look at it from the other side: wrongly emphasizing the progressive will lead to an obscurity of the positional and to doubts of salvation (according to Peterson), whereas wrongly emphasizing the positional will lead to apathy and lack of incentive to faithfully pursue a holy life (according to Ryle) https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2014/08/18/christians-are-holy-and-wholly-possessed-by-god/

    I Peter 1: 15 But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.

    II Peter 3: 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness 12 as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God.

    Hebrews 10: 7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but God the Father does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, discipline yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

    Hebrews 12: 4 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord. 15 Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and by it, defiling many. 16 And make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one mea

    1 Timothy 2:15 But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    John Owen: “There is also a twofold justification before God mentioned in the Scripture. First, ‘By the works of the law,’ Rom. 2:13; 10:5; Matt. 19:16-19. Here is required an absolute conformity unto the whole law of God, in our natures, all the faculties of our souls, all the principles of our moral operations, with perfect actual obedience unto all its commands, in all instances of duty, both for matter and manner: for he is cursed who continueth not in all things that are written in the law, to do them; and he that breaks any one commandment is guilty of the breach of the whole law.
    Hence the apostle concludes that none can be justified by the law, because all have sinned. Second, there is a justification by grace, through faith in the blood of Christ; whereof we treat. And these ways of justification are contrary, proceeding on terms directly contradictory, and cannot be made consistent with or subservient one to the other. But … the confounding of them both, by mixing them together, is that which is aimed at in the distinction of a first and second justification. But whatever respects it may have, that justification which we have before God, in his sight through Jesus Christ, is but one, and at once full and complete.”

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Turretin–“There are two ways of standing before God in judgment – legal and evangelical. The legal way consists in one’s own obedience or a PERFECT conformity with the law, which is in him who is to be justified. The evangelical way of standing before God by a surety in the place of him who is to be justified. The legal way is in us, the gospel way is in Christ.‘Not the hearers, but the doers of the law shall be justified’ (Rom. 2:13); and ‘Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law. That the man which does those things shall live by them’ (Rom. 10:5).
    ‘The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every
    one that believes, for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith’ (Rom. 1:16, 17); and ‘Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 3:24) …
    The legal way requires it in the man to be justified, but the gospel way admits the vicarious righteousness of a surety. (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. II, p. 637)


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