Category Archives: Biblical Theology/Doctrine

A Concise Resource on Justification by Faith Alone from Romans 4:3-5

Any of the following types of theological confusion, such as 1) mingling justification with sanctification; 2) equating  justification with church membership; 3) describing saving faith in terms of a saving faithfulness; 4) teaching that faith or righteousness is conferred by a sacrament rather than that faith is sealed by a sacrament; or 5) claiming that faith is the basis for justifying righteousness rather than the instrument by which it is imputed are contrary to the teaching of this passage. Rather, the elect are justified by faith (the sole, God-granted instrument) in Christ alone as God definitively imputes to them forever the perfect righteousness of Christ even as their sins and the eternal judgment they deserved are transferred to Christ.

With the confusion that is often sown regarding the doctrine of justification by faith alone, I wanted to review and clarify in my own mind my understanding of this essential doctrine. Especially in light of just celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, writing down my thoughts is a good exercise in application. Yet I wanted to be sure this clarification came from a study of Scripture, not only just from reading what others have written about it.

Thus, I returned to the crystal clear teaching of Romans 4:3-5 on this subject. How refreshing it is! This text says, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (NASB).

I thought I would share my thoughts with you. To that end, I offer below why this subject continues to need to be treated, a concise exegetical treatment on how to understand this text, a short summary statement on justification from my study, and then a guard produced by others to protect the church against those who would try to teach contrary to this doctrine. I hope this is a handy resource here on Gentle Reformation.

Modern Confusion

For there is confusion. The last few decades have shown us that. Examples abound. Norman Shepherd stating that “The exclusive ground of the justification of the believer in the state of justification is the righteousness of Christ, but his obedience, which is simply the perseverance of the saints in the way of truth and righteousness, is necessary to his continuing in a state of justification” (Call of Grace). Pastor Steve Schlissel saying at the Auburn Avenue conference that “anyone who believes that the main message of the book of Romans or Galatians is justification by faith is a nutcase.” N.T Wright declaring that “justification…is not a matter of how someone enters the community of the true people of God, but of how you tell who belongs to that community” (What Saint Paul Really Said). Recently, Kyle wrote this post on yet the latest controversy surrounding this topic.

Remembering we need sola scriptura to uphold sola fide, let’s look then at this passage. We will consider first the context of the verses under study.

The Context of Romans 4:3-5

Contrary to the statements above, one of the main teachings of all of Scripture, and particularly the Book of Romans, is justification by faith. Looking back at the previous chapter, we read that we are justified “through faith” (dia pisteuo in the Greek of Romans 3:25), “by faith” (pistei in Romans 3:28 is an instrumental dative), and “from faith” (ek pisteuo in Romans 3:30), but never “on account of faith” (dia pistin) as indicated by some of the quotes above. Faith is the instrument of our justification, but not the meritorious grounds of it. Faith is expressed as trusting Christ for our salvation.

Coming to our immediate context, Paul makes clear that Abraham was not justified by works (Romans 4:1-2). The thrust of Paul’s argument in Romans 4 is that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised, making him the father of all – Jew or Greek – who believe in Christ (Romans 4:9-12). Paul then speaks with undeniable clarity in our verses regarding this truth.

Studying Our Text

Paul’s chief statement regarding justification by faith is in Romans 4:3 where he quotes from Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” This quote comes from Abraham’s story where the LORD promised him that his seed would number as the stars. In the Hebrew Old Testament of Genesis 15:6, the word “believed” is a form of the Hebrew word “Amen,” which indicates ideas such as “certainly, truly, solemn ratification, hearty approval.”  In its verb form, the word means “to stand firm in, to trust in, to be certain in, to believe in,” and always has an object, which in this case is the Lord.  The Lord must provide the salvation and blessing he has promised, and this is what Abraham believes or says “Amen” to. Abraham could not have been justified by works anymore than he could have counted all the stars that the Lord showed to him.  Continue reading…

The post A Concise Resource on Justification by Faith Alone from Romans 4:3-5 appeared first on The Aquila Report.

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What is Heresy? Is Arminianism Heresy, Part I

Pulpit & Pen examines what the meaning of heresy is. Included in this piece is a list of specified, defined heresies. Some of the examples given are: Antinomianism, Arianism, Modalism, Montanism, Pelagianism, Sabellianism, and the Galatian Heresy (works righteousness). All are prominent heresies.  Because the visible Church is infested with heresy, believers must do as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11). We must read and study the scriptures to find out if someone’s teaching is true or if it is false.

P&P tells us what heresy is and what it is not — and what they consider damnable heresy:

  1. Random Internet Denizen: John MacArthur is a heretic! Us: Why? Random Internet Denizen: Because he said you could accept the Mark of the Beast and still be saved! Us: What heresy is that? Random Internet Denizen: What do you mean? Us: Heresies have names. What is the name of that heresy? Random Internet Denizen: I don’t know. Us: So John MacArthur is a heretic, but you don’t know what kind of heretic? Random Internet Denizen: [silence]

That’s pretty much how the majority of heresy discussions go. The term is often – but not always – misapplied in various ways. Unfortunately, the term has been misapplied so frequently that some have thrown out the term altogether, and choose not to use it at all. But, heresy is a fine word. There’s no reason to throw it out. Heretic is a fine title to give someone, and there’s no reason we should stop. We just need to make sure that we’re using it correctly.

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Source: What is Heresy? Is Arminianism Heresy, Part I

The One Genuine Cure for Legalism and Antinomianism

We are not related to the law directly as it were, or the law in isolation as bare commandments. The relationship is dependent on and the new fruit of our prior relationship to Christ. In simple terms, just as Adam received the law from the Father, from whose hand it should never have been abstracted (as it was by the Serpent and then by Eve), so the new-covenant believer never looks at the law without understanding that his relationship to it is the fruit of his union with Christ.

Antinomianism takes various forms. People do not always fit neatly into our categorizations, nor do they necessarily hold all the logical implications of their presuppositions. Here we are using “antinomianism” in the theological sense: rejecting the obligatory (“binding on the conscience”) nature of the Decalogue for those who are in Christ. Antinomianism, it was widely assumed in the eighteenth century, is essentially a failure to understand and appreciate the place of the law of God in the Christian life. But just as there is more to legalism than first meets the eye, the same is true of antinomianism.

Opposites Attract?

Perhaps the greatest misstep in thinking about antinomianism is to think of it simpliciter as the opposite of legalism.

It would be an interesting experiment for a budding doctoral student in psychology to create a word-association test for Christians. It might include:

  • Old Testament: Anticipated answer → New Testament
  • Sin: Anticipated answer → Grace
  • David: Anticipated answer → Goliath
  • Jerusalem: Anticipated answer → Babylon
  • Antinomianism: Anticipated answer → ?

Would it be fair to assume that the instinctive response there at the end would be “Legalism”?

Is the “correct answer” really “Legalism”? It might be the right answer at the level of common usage, but it would be unsatisfactory from the standpoint of theology, for antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace. This is why Scripture never prescribes one as the antidote for the other. Rather grace, God’s grace in Christ in our union with Christ, is the antidote to both.

This is an observation of major significance, for some of the most influential antinomians in church history acknowledged they were on a flight from the discovery of their own legalism.

According to John Gill, the first biographer of Tobias Crisp, one of the father figures of English antinomianism: “He set out first in the legal way of preaching in which he was exceeding jealous.”

Benjamin Brook sets this in a larger context:

Persons who have embraced sentiments which afterwards appear to them erroneous, often think they can never remove too far from them; and the more remote they go from their former opinions the nearer they come to the truth. This was unhappily the case with Dr. Crisp. His ideas of the grace of Christ had been exceedingly low, and he had imbibed sentiments which produced in him a legal and self-righteous spirit. Shocked at the recollection of his former views and conduct, he seems to have imagined that he could never go far enough from them.

But Crisp, in keeping with others, took the wrong medicine.

The antinomian is by nature a person with a legalistic heart. He or she becomes an antinomian in reaction. But this implies only a different view of law, not a more biblical one.

Richard Baxter’s comments are therefore insightful:

Antinomianism rose among us from an obscure Preaching of Evangelical Grace, and insisting too much on tears and terrors.

The whole scale removal of the law seems to provide a refuge. But the problem is not with the law, but with the heart—and this remains unchanged. Thinking that his perspective is now the antithesis of legalism, the antinomian has written an inappropriate spiritual prescription. His sickness is not fully cured. Indeed the root cause of his disease has been masked rather than exposed and cured.

There is only one genuine cure for legalism. It is the same medicine the gospel prescribes for antinomianism: understanding and tasting union with Jesus Christ Himself. This leads to a new love for and obedience to the law of God, which he now mediates to us in the gospel. This alone breaks the bonds of both legalism (the law is no longer divorced from the person of Christ) and antinomianism (we are not divorced from the law, which now comes to us from the hand of Christ and in the empowerment of the Spirit, who writes it in our hearts).

Without this both legalist and antinomian remain wrongly related to God’s law and inadequately related to God’s grace. The marriage of duty with delight in Christ is not yet rightly celebrated.

Ralph Erskine, one of the leading Marrow Brethren, once said that the greatest antinomian was actually the legalist. His claim may also be true the other way around: the greatest legalist is the antinomian.

But turning from legalism to antinomianism is never the way to escape the husband whom we first married. For we are not divorced from the law by believing that the commandments do not have binding force, but only by being married to Jesus Christ in union with whom it is our pleasure to fulfill them. Thomas Boston himself is in agreement with this general analysis:

This Antinomian principle, that it is needless for a man, perfectly justified by faith, to endeavour to keep the law, and do good works, is a glaring evidence that legality is so engrained in man’s corrupt nature, that until a man truly come to Christ, by faith, the legal disposition will still be reigning in him; let him turn himself into what shape, or be of what principles he will in religion; though he run into Antinomianism he will carry along with him his legal spirit, which will always be a slavish and unholy spirit.

A century later, the Southern Presbyterian pastor and theologian James Henley Thornwell (1812–1862) noted the same principle:

Whatever form, however, Antinomianism may assume, it springs from legalism. None rush into the one extreme but those who have been in the other.

Here, again, is John Colquhoun, speaking of the manifestation of this in the life of the true believer:

Some degree of a legal spirit or of an inclination of heart to the way of the covenant of works still remains in believers and often prevails against them. They sometimes find it exceedingly dificult for them to resist that inclination, to rely on their own attainments and performances, for some part of their title to the favor and enjoyment of God.

If antinomianism appears to us to be a way of deliverance from our natural legalistic spirit, we need to refresh our understanding of Romans 7. In contrast to Paul, both legalists and antinomians see the law as the problem. But Paul is at pains to point out that sinnot the law is the root issue. On the contrary, the law is “good” and “righteous” and “spiritual” and “holy.” The real enemy is indwelling sin. And the remedy for sin is neither the law nor its overthrow. It is grace, as Paul had so wonderfully exhibited in Romans 5:12–21, and that grace set in the context of his exposition of union with Christ in Romans 6:1–14. To abolish the law, then, would be to execute the innocent.

For this reason it is important to notice the dynamic of Paul’s argument in Romans 7:1–6. We have been married to the law. A woman is free to marry again when her husband dies. But Paul is careful to say not that the law has died so that we can marry Christ. Rather, it is the believer who was married to the law who has died in Christ. But being raised with Christ, she is now (legally!) free to marry Christ as the husband with whom fruit for God will be brought to the birth. The entail of this second marriage is, in Paul’s language, that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

This is the sense in which the Christian’s relationship to the law is that of being an “in-law”! We are not related to the law directly as it were, or the law in isolation as bare commandments. The relationship is dependent on and the new fruit of our prior relationship to Christ. In simple terms, just as Adam received the law from the Father, from whose hand it should never have been abstracted (as it was by the Serpent and then by Eve), so the new-covenant believer never looks at the law without understanding that his relationship to it is the fruit of his union with Christ.

Bunyan saw the meaning of Romans 7. An “inclination to Adam the First” remains in all of us. The believer has died to the law, but the law does not die. The law still exists to the believer. But united to Christ the believer is now able to fulfill the law of marriage and bear fruit!

Thus grace, not law, produces what the law requires; yet at the same time it is what the law requires that grace produces. Ralph Erskine sought to put this in verse form:

Thus gospel-grace and law-commands
Both bind and loose each other’s hands;
They can’t agree on any terms,
Yet hug each other in their arms.
Those that divide them cannot be
The friends of truth and verity;
Yet those that dare confound the two
Destroy them both, and gender woe.
This paradox none can decipher,
That plow not with the gospel heifer.

So, he adds,

To run, to work, the law commands,
The gospel gives me feet and hands.
The one requires that I obey,
The other does the power convey.

Head and Heart

This is a fundamental pastoral lesson. It is not merely a matter of the head. It is a matter of the heart. Antinomianism may be couched in doctrinal and theological terms, but it both betrays and masks the heart’s distaste for absolute divine obligation, or duty. That is why the doctrinal explanation is only part of the battle. We are grappling with something much more elusive, the spirit of an individual, an instinct, a sinful temperamental bent, a subtle divorce of duty and delight. This requires diligent and loving pastoral care and especially faithful, union-with-Christ, full unfolding of the Word of God so that the gospel dissolves the stubborn legality in our spirits.

Olney Hymns, the hymnbook composed by John Newton and William Cowper, contains the latter’s hymn “Love Constraining to Obedience,” which states the situation well:

No strength of nature can suffice
To serve [the] Lord aright;
And what she has, she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.
How long beneath the law I lay
In bondage and distress!
I toil’d the precept to obey,
But toil’d without success.
Then to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do;
Now, if I feel its pow’r within,
I feel I hate it too.
Then all my servile works were done
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose his ways.
What shall I do was then the word,
That I may worthier grow?
What shall I render to the Lord
Is my enquiry now.
To see the Law by Christ fulfil’d,
And hear his pard’ning voice;
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.

We are dealing here with a disposition whose roots go right down into the soil of the garden of Eden. Antinomianism then, like legalism, is not only a matter of having a wrong view of the law. It is a matter, ultimately, of a wrong view of grace, revealed in both law and gospel—and behind that, a wrong view of God Himself.

Taken from The Whole Christ by Sinclair B. Ferguson, © 2016, pp. 155–162. Used by permission of Crossway. Sinclair Ferguson’s new companion teaching series is also available hereThis article is used with permission.

The post The One Genuine Cure for Legalism and Antinomianism appeared first on The Aquila Report.

TULIP and The Doctrines of Grace

The central truth of God’s saving grace is succinctly stated in the assertion, “Salvation is of the Lord.” This strong declaration means that every aspect of man’s salvation is from God and is entirely dependent upon God. The only contribution that we make is the sin that was laid upon Jesus Christ at the cross. The Apostle Paul affirmed this when he wrote, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). This is to say, salvation is God determined, God purchased, God applied, and God secured. From start to finish, salvation is of the Lord alone.

This truth is best summarized in the doctrines of grace, which are total depravity, unconditional election, definite atonement, effectual calling, and preserving grace. These truths present the triune God as the author of our salvation from beginning to end. Each member of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit—has a part to play in redemption, and they work together as one God to rescue those perishing under divine wrath. In perfect unity, the three divine persons do the work that hellbound sinners, utterly unable to save themselves, cannot do.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY

The first man, Adam, sinned, and his transgression and guilt were immediately imputed to all mankind (Christ excepted). By this one act of disobedience, he became morally polluted in every part of his being—mind, affections, body, and will. By this sin, death entered the world, and Adam’s fellowship with God was broken.

Adam’s guilt and corruption were transmitted to his natural offspring at the moment of conception. In turn, each of his children’s children inherited this same radical fallenness. Subsequently, it has been passed down to each generation to the present day. Adam’s perverse nature has spread to the whole of every person. Apart from grace, our minds are darkened by sin, unable to understand the truth. Our hearts are defiled, unable to love the truth. Our bodies are dying, progressing to physical death. Our wills are dead, unable to choose the good. Moral inability to please God plagues every person from their entrance into the world. In their unregenerate state, no one seeks after God. No one is capable of doing good. All are under the curse of the law, which is eternal death.

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

Long before Adam sinned, God had already decreed and determined salvation for sinners. In eternity past, the Father chose a people in Christ who would be saved. Before time began, God elected many from among mankind whom He purposed to save from His wrath. This selection was not based upon any foreseen faith in those whom He chose. Nor was it prompted by their inherent goodness. Instead, according to His infinite love and inscrutable wisdom, God set His affection upon His elect.

The Father gave the elect to His Son to be His bride. Each one chosen was predestined by the Father to be conformed to the image of His Son and to sing His praises forever. The Father commissioned His Son to enter this world and lay down His life to save these same chosen ones. Likewise, the Father commissioned the Spirit to bring these same elect ones to faith in Christ. The Son and the Spirit freely concurred in all these decisions, making salvation the undivided work of the triune God.

DEFINITE ATONEMENT

In the fullness of time, God the Father sent His Son to enter this fallen world on a mission to redeem His people. He was born of a virgin, without a sin nature, to live a sinless life. Jesus was born under the divine law so that He would fully obey it on behalf of disobedient sinners who have repeatedly broken it. This active obedience of Christ fulfilled all the righteous demands of the law. By keeping the law, the Son of God achieved a perfect righteousness, which is reckoned to believing sinners so that they are declared righteous, or justified, before God.

This sinless life of Jesus further qualified Him to go to the cross and die in the place of guilty, hellbound sinners. On the cross, Jesus bore the unmitigated wrath of the Father for the sins of His people. In this vicarious death, the Father transferred to His Son all the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him. As a sin-bearing sacrifice, Jesus died a substitutionary death in the place of God’s elect. On the cross, He propitiated the righteous anger of God toward the elect. By the blood of the cross, Jesus reconciled the holy God to sinful man, establishing peace between the two parties. In His redeeming death, He purchased His bride—His elect people—out of bondage to sin and set her free.

Jesus’ death did not merely make all mankind potentially savable. Nor did His death simply achieve a hypothetical benefit that may or may not be accepted. Neither did His death merely make all mankind redeemable. Instead, Jesus actually redeemed a specific people through His death, securing and guaranteeing their salvation. Not a drop of Jesus’ blood was shed in vain. He truly saved all for whom He died. This doctrine of definite atonement is sometimes called limited atonement.

EFFECTUAL CALLING

With oneness of purpose, the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world to apply this salvation to those chosen and redeemed. The Spirit came to convict the elect of sin, righteousness, and judgment and to turn to the Son all whom the Father gave to Him. At the divinely appointed time, the Spirit removes from each elect person his unbelieving heart of stone, hardened and dead in sin, and replaces it with a believing heart of flesh, responsive and alive unto God. The Spirit implants eternal life within the spiritually dead soul. He grants the chosen men and women the gifts of repentance and faith, enabling them to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Suddenly, all things are made new. New life from the Spirit produces new love for God. New desires to obey the Word of God produce a new pursuit of holiness. There is a new life direction, lived with new passion for God. These born-again ones give evidence of their election with the fruit of righteousness This call from the Spirit is effectual, meaning the elect will certainly respond when it is given. They will not finally resist it. Thus, the doctrine of effectual calling is sometimes called the doctrine of irresistible grace.

PRESERVING GRACE

Once converted, every believer is kept eternally secure by all three persons of the Trinity. All whom God foreknew and predestined in eternity past, He will glorify in eternity future. No believer will drop out or fall away. Every believer is firmly held by the sovereign hands of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, never to be lost. None of Jesus’ sheep for whom He laid down His life will perish. The Holy Spirit permanently seals in Christ all whom He draws to faith. Once born again, none can ever be unborn. Once a believer, none can ever become an unbeliever. Once saved, none will ever be-come unsaved. God will preserve them in faith forever, and they will persevere until the end. Thus, the doctrine of preserving grace is often called the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

From beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord. In reality, these five doctrines of grace form one comprehensive body of truth concerning salvation. They are inseparably connected and therefore stand or fall together. To embrace any one of the five necessitates embracing all five. To deny one is to deny the others and fracture the Trinity, setting the three persons at odds with one another. These doctrines speak together with one voice in giving the greatest glory to God. Such high theology produces high doxology. When it is rightly understood that God alone—Father, Son, and Spirit—saves sinners, then all glory goes to Him.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

Source: TULIP and The Doctrines of Grace

3 Reasons Every Christian Needs to Use the Creeds

What is the best way to instruct ourselves and our children? According to Timothy W. Massaro the best way is to familiarize ourselves with the creeds (statement of faith) of the early church. “Worshipping God, and understanding what was necessary for our salvation, drove our church fathers to write down why salvation had to look and be a certain way,” says Massaro. In his piece over at CCC Church Life, he explains why he believes the creeds are essential. He writes:

When we think about the Christian faith, most people today rarely think about creeds, liturgy, or confessions, let alone see them as essential to their relationship with God. Our hesitation concerning creeds is understandable, especially when they are disconnected from our worship and love of God. People often see them as cold, mindless doctrines that have nothing to do with Jesus. But this is not how they were created nor how they should be used.

In the creeds of the early church, we find something of a hidden secret – a treasure chest overlooked by many. We find a way to instruct ourselves and our children in the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Let’s look at each of these three points to see why every Christian needs to use the creeds in their personal and corporate worship.

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Source: 3 Reasons Every Christian Needs to Use the Creeds

Here are Some Great Videos on the Five Solas from the Faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary – Canon Fodder

Last month RTS Charlotte and Christ Covenant Church came together to host a Reformation conference entitled, The Gospel of Grace and Glory: The Reformation at 500 and Counting.

The five plenary sessions of this conference were on the five solas of the Reformation: Kevin DeYoung (Sola Fide), James Anderson (Sola Gratia), Blair Smith (Solus Christus), Derek Thomas (Soli Deo Gloria), and myself (Sola Scriptura).

I might add that all these speakers (except myself!) are Systematic Theology profs at Reformed Theological Seminary.

And Keith and Kristyn Getty capped off the weekend with a concert that Sunday night.

Over the years (and even this year) I’ve heard a number of talks on the five solas.  And I have to say that the four talks given by my colleagues are some of the best I’ve ever heard.  They were insightful, profound, enlightening, convicting and encouraging.

The good news is that we have these talks on video.  Feel free to skip over mine and get onto the good ones! Here they are:

Session 1 | Sola Scriptura

Mike Kruger — “The Foundation for the Reformation, the Church, and All of Life”
https://player.vimeo.com/video/240278500

Session 2 | Sola Fide

Kevin DeYoung — “Why the World Desperately Wants the Doctrine of Justification (But Doesn’t Realize It Yet)”
https://player.vimeo.com/video/240330646

Session 3 | Sola Gratia

James Anderson — “The Glorious Offense of God’s Gospel Grace”
https://player.vimeo.com/video/240668864

Session 4 | Solus Christus

Blair Smith — “Against the Idol Making Factory”
https://player.vimeo.com/video/240672545

Session 5 | Soli Deo Gloria

Derek Thomas — “Worshiping the God Who is Worthy”
https://player.vimeo.com/video/240676752

View Videos

The One Genuine Cure for Legalism and Antinomianism

Antinomianism takes various forms. People do not always fit neatly into our categorizations, nor do they necessarily hold all the logical implications of their presuppositions. Here we are using “antinomianism” in the theological sense: rejecting the obligatory (“binding on the conscience”) nature of the Decalogue for those who are in Christ. Antinomianism, it was widely assumed in the eighteenth century, is essentially a failure to understand and appreciate the place of the law of God in the Christian life. But just as there is more to legalism than first meets the eye, the same is true of antinomianism.

Opposites Attract?

Perhaps the greatest misstep in thinking about antinomianism is to think of it simpliciter as the opposite of legalism.

It would be an interesting experiment for a budding doctoral student in psychology to create a word-association test for Christians. It might include:

  • Old Testament: Anticipated answer → New Testament
  • Sin: Anticipated answer → Grace
  • David: Anticipated answer → Goliath
  • Jerusalem: Anticipated answer → Babylon
  • Antinomianism: Anticipated answer → ?

Would it be fair to assume that the instinctive response there at the end would be “Legalism”?

Is the “correct answer” really “Legalism”? It might be the right answer at the level of common usage, but it would be unsatisfactory from the standpoint of theology, for antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace. This is why Scripture never prescribes one as the antidote for the other. Rather grace, God’s grace in Christ in our union with Christ, is the antidote to both.

This is an observation of major significance, for some of the most influential antinomians in church history acknowledged they were on a flight from the discovery of their own legalism.

According to John Gill, the first biographer of Tobias Crisp, one of the father figures of English antinomianism: “He set out first in the legal way of preaching in which he was exceeding jealous.”

Benjamin Brook sets this in a larger context:

Persons who have embraced sentiments which afterwards appear to them erroneous, often think they can never remove too far from them; and the more remote they go from their former opinions the nearer they come to the truth. This was unhappily the case with Dr. Crisp. His ideas of the grace of Christ had been exceedingly low, and he had imbibed sentiments which produced in him a legal and self-righteous spirit. Shocked at the recollection of his former views and conduct, he seems to have imagined that he could never go far enough from them.

But Crisp, in keeping with others, took the wrong medicine.

The antinomian is by nature a person with a legalistic heart. He or she becomes an antinomian in reaction. But this implies only a different view of law, not a more biblical one.

Richard Baxter’s comments are therefore insightful:

Antinomianism rose among us from an obscure Preaching of Evangelical Grace, and insisting too much on tears and terrors.

The wholescale removal of the law seems to provide a refuge. But the problem is not with the law, but with the heart—and this remains unchanged. Thinking that his perspective is now the antithesis of legalism, the antinomian has written an inappropriate spiritual prescription. His sickness is not fully cured. Indeed the root cause of his disease has been masked rather than exposed and cured.

There is only one genuine cure for legalism. It is the same medicine the gospel prescribes for antinomianism: understanding and tasting union with Jesus Christ Himself. This leads to a new love for and obedience to the law of God, which he now mediates to us in the gospel. This alone breaks the bonds of both legalism (the law is no longer divorced from the person of Christ) and antinomianism (we are not divorced from the law, which now comes to us from the hand of Christ and in the empowerment of the Spirit, who writes it in our hearts).

Without this both legalist and antinomian remain wrongly related to God’s law and inadequately related to God’s grace. The marriage of duty with delight in Christ is not yet rightly celebrated.

Ralph Erskine, one of the leading Marrow Brethren, once said that the greatest antinomian was actually the legalist. His claim may also be true the other way around: the greatest legalist is the antinomian.

But turning from legalism to antinomianism is never the way to escape the husband whom we first married. For we are not divorced from the law by believing that the commandments do not have binding force, but only by being married to Jesus Christ in union with whom it is our pleasure to fulfill them. Thomas Boston himself is in agreement with this general analysis:

This Antinomian principle, that it is needless for a man, perfectly justified by faith, to endeavour to keep the law, and do good works, is a glaring evidence that legality is so engrained in man’s corrupt nature, that until a man truly come to Christ, by faith, the legal disposition will still be reigning in him; let him turn himself into what shape, or be of what principles he will in religion; though he run into Antinomianism he will carry along with him his legal spirit, which will always be a slavish and unholy spirit.

A century later, the Southern Presbyterian pastor and theologian James Henley Thornwell (1812–1862) noted the same principle:

Whatever form, however, Antinomianism may assume, it springs from legalism. None rush into the one extreme but those who have been in the other.

Here, again, is John Colquhoun, speaking of the manifestation of this in the life of the true believer:

Some degree of a legal spirit or of an inclination of heart to the way of the covenant of works still remains in believers and often prevails against them. They sometimes find it exceedingly dificult for them to resist that inclination, to rely on their own attainments and performances, for some part of their title to the favor and enjoyment of God.

If antinomianism appears to us to be a way of deliverance from our natural legalistic spirit, we need to refresh our understanding of Romans 7. In contrast to Paul, both legalists and antinomians see the law as the problem. But Paul is at pains to point out that sin, not the law is the root issue. On the contrary, the law is “good” and “righteous” and “spiritual” and “holy.” The real enemy is indwelling sin. And the remedy for sin is neither the law nor its overthrow. It is grace, as Paul had so wonderfully exhibited in Romans 5:12–21, and that grace set in the context of his exposition of union with Christ in Romans 6:1–14. To abolish the law, then, would be to execute the innocent.

For this reason it is important to notice the dynamic of Paul’s argument in Romans 7:1–6. We have been married to the law. A woman is free to marry again when her husband dies. But Paul is careful to say not that the law has died so that we can marry Christ. Rather, it is the believer who was married to the law who has died in Christ. But being raised with Christ, she is now (legally!) free to marry Christ as the husband with whom fruit for God will be brought to the birth. The entail of this second marriage is, in Paul’s language, that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

This is the sense in which the Christian’s relationship to the law is that of being an “in-law”! We are not related to the law directly as it were, or the law in isolation as bare commandments. The relationship is dependent on and the new fruit of our prior relationship to Christ. In simple terms, just as Adam received the law from the Father, from whose hand it should never have been abstracted (as it was by the Serpent and then by Eve), so the new-covenant believer never looks at the law without understanding that his relationship to it is the fruit of his union with Christ.

Bunyan saw the meaning of Romans 7. An “inclination to Adam the First” remains in all of us. The believer has died to the law, but the law does not die. The law still exists to the believer. But united to Christ the believer is now able to fulfill the law of marriage and bear fruit!

Thus grace, not law, produces what the law requires; yet at the same time it is what the law requires that grace produces. Ralph Erskine sought to put this in verse form:

Thus gospel-grace and law-commands
Both bind and loose each other’s hands;
They can’t agree on any terms,
Yet hug each other in their arms.
Those that divide them cannot be
The friends of truth and verity;
Yet those that dare confound the two
Destroy them both, and gender woe.
This paradox none can decipher,
That plow not with the gospel heifer.

So, he adds,

To run, to work, the law commands,
The gospel gives me feet and hands.
The one requires that I obey,
The other does the power convey.

Head and Heart

This is a fundamental pastoral lesson. It is not merely a matter of the head. It is a matter of the heart. Antinomianism may be couched in doctrinal and theological terms, but it both betrays and masks the heart’s distaste for absolute divine obligation, or duty. That is why the doctrinal explanation is only part of the battle. We are grappling with something much more elusive, the spirit of an individual, an instinct, a sinful temperamental bent, a subtle divorce of duty and delight. This requires diligent and loving pastoral care and especially faithful, union-with-Christ, full unfolding of the Word of God so that the gospel dissolves the stubborn legality in our spirits.

Olney Hymns, the hymnbook composed by John Newton and William Cowper, contains the latter’s hymn “Love Constraining to Obedience,” which states the situation well:

No strength of nature can suffice
To serve [the] Lord aright;
And what she has, she misapplies,
For want of clearer light.
How long beneath the law I lay
In bondage and distress!
I toil’d the precept to obey,
But toil’d without success.
Then to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do;
Now, if I feel its pow’r within,
I feel I hate it too.
Then all my servile works were done
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose his ways.
What shall I do was then the word,
That I may worthier grow?
What shall I render to the Lord
Is my enquiry now.
To see the Law by Christ fulfil’d,
And hear his pard’ning voice;
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.

We are dealing here with a disposition whose roots go right down into the soil of the garden of Eden. Antinomianism then, like legalism, is not only a matter of having a wrong view of the law. It is a matter, ultimately, of a wrong view of grace, revealed in both law and gospel—and behind that, a wrong view of God Himself.

Taken from The Whole Christ by Sinclair B. Ferguson, © 2016, pp. 155–162. Used by permission of Crossway. Sinclair Ferguson’s new companion teaching series is also available here.

Source: The One Genuine Cure for Legalism and Antinomianism

The Obscenity of Indulgences

Code: B171030

Have you ever seen St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome? Whether you see it in person, or in pictures, it’s spectacular. From the vast piazza surrounded by tall columns to the gigantic dome that dominates Rome’s skyline, it is unforgettable. Those who step inside witness vast marble hallways lined with priceless works of art, including Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Even the casual observer can tell that no expense was spared when Pope Leo X set out to rebuild the cathedral in the sixteenth century. Five hundred years later it is still a monument of architectural grandeur and lavish beauty.

But beneath the outward appeal of its construction lies the ugly truth about its funding. The elegance of St. Peter’s quickly becomes an eyesore when you realize its extreme opulence was financed primarily through the extortion of Europe’s longsuffering peasants.

Pope Leo X used the sale of indulgences as the primary means of funding his massive building projects in Rome. Leo sent representatives throughout his dominion to extort the masses through the sale of indulgences.

To understand indulgences, we need to go outside the teachings of Scripture and acquaint ourselves with the codified Catholic dogmas of purgatory, penance, and the treasury of merit.

Purgatory

Catholics believe in a place between heaven and hell called purgatory. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. [1]

Roman Catholicism denies the clear biblical teaching that final judgment follows death (Hebrews 9:27), when the redeemed inherit eternal life (Revelation 21:27) and the unredeemed inherit eternal damnation (Revelation 20:15). The belief in purgatory implicitly denies Paul’s teaching that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In fact, Catholicism goes so far as to pronounce damnation on anyone who denies their doctrine of purgatory:

If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema. [2]

Even for the serious Catholic, who has already worked hard to achieve salvation, purgatory remains an inevitable dread. The only mystery on this side of the deathly veil is how much punishment awaits and how long it will take before one reaches “the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

In the medieval church, purgatory sentences were widely thought to be much longer than our earthly life spans. Understandably, that caused a great deal of anxiety among church members. The offer of a reduced sentence, or escape altogether, had even the poorest parishioners eager to empty their pockets—especially if it allowed them to sidestep the grueling acts of penance.

Penance

The Catholic belief in penance is a distortion of the biblical doctrine of repentance. Whereas repentance refers to a newfound hatred for sin and the profound desire to turn away from it, penance is a process by which the sinner makes satisfactory payment for his own sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.” [3]

Making satisfaction for sins often involved the recitation of certain prayers, gifts to the church, and other good works. More extreme acts of penance required periods of self-denial and even self-harm. Brutal flagellation and starvation were not uncommon, especially for people guilty of egregious sins, or those tortured by a tender conscience.

Prior to his conversion, Martin Luther suffered enormously through those acts of satisfaction. He had an acute awareness of his own depravity and thus willingly put himself through the most rigorous of penitential acts. James Kittelson describes them in vivid detail:

Long periods with neither food nor drink, nights without sleep, bone-chilling cold with neither coat nor blanket to warm him—and self-flagellation—were common and even expected in the lives of serious monks. . . . [Luther] did not simply go through the motions of prayers, fasts, deprivations, and mortifications of the flesh, but pursued them earnestly. . . . It is even possible that the illnesses which troubled him so much in his later years developed as a result of his strict denial of his own bodily needs. [4]

For many, the more extreme forms of penance were even more unappealing than time spent in purgatory. Both false doctrines put an incredible burden on the members of the Catholic Church. There was no hope of reprieve, in this life or the next.

The Treasury of Merit

That absence of hope created a market that the Roman Catholic Church could exploit. To that end, they instituted the treasury of merit, a heavenly slush fund for Catholics to draw on to reduce their future suffering, or perhaps escape purgatory altogether. Composed of the excess righteousness achieved by Christ, His mother Mary, and all the saints, Catholics could draw on the treasury of merit—for the right price.

According to Catholic dogma,

The “treasury of the Church” is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. . . . This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . . [and] the prayers and good works of all the saints. [5]

Indulgences were sold as a way to tap into the treasury of merit. The bottomless nature of that reservoir amounted to a conveniently limitless income stream for the coffers of Rome.

The Sale of Indulgences

Pope Leo X called on a monk by the name of Johann Tetzel to lead the sale of indulgences in Germany. Tetzel was a master salesman—the spiritual forerunner of the charlatans we see dominating Christian television today. He may have also been the pioneer of seductive advertising jingles. His sales pitch was certainly effective: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” And while that’s an English translation, it rhymed just as well in the original German—the money klingt and the soul springt.

The scene was imposing. Tetzel preached under the pope’s banner and the sanctimonious aura of the church. It was extortion and emotional manipulation of the highest order. It was quick and dirty business. The money flowed freely and the transactions were finalized swiftly. Tetzel’s entourage rapidly moved from town to town, amassing a vast amount of wealth along the way.

Behind Tetzel lay a long trail of German peasants with empty pockets. But in front of him stood one very angry monk who was about to put an end to Tetzel’s obscene racketeering.

 


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Albert Mohler Blog: “Here We Stand”

In this essay, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and discusses the continued significance for the Reformation today. Mohler writes:

“Christ’s church will remain in need of a continuing reformation until He comes. But here we must be very careful. More liberal churches claim to embrace the Reformation call of Semper Reformanda – as the church always being reformed. This can open the door to doctrinal revisionism and liberalism in the name of reformation. The true churches of the Reformation, however, understood that the right call was for a church always reformed by the Word of God.”

Click Here to Read More

The New Calvinism: Areas of Weakness

Popular blogger and pastor Tim Challies examines the New Calvinism — watch or read:

The New Calvinism has become a worldwide movement of Christians who are looking to the past to recover and live out the precious truths of Reformed theology. Having introduced the movement and having identified some ways in which we see evidences of God’s grace in and through it, I am now suggesting some weaknesses it may do well to address. Here’s that video in Facebook and YouTube formats, followed by a transcript for those who prefer to read.

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Source: The New Calvinism: Areas of Weakness

Reformation 500: Can Roman Catholicism be Considered Christianity?

From Berean Research:

Eric Davis of The Cripplegate looks at ten doctrines which render Rome outside of Christ. After reading his exposé you’ll understand the reasons Protestants believe that the RCC stands in stark opposition to biblical Christianity, thus it is apostate.

Sadly, a vast number of Roman Catholics cannot be considered authentic Christians.  In other words, Catholics aren’t born again (regenerate) believers. And because our Catholic friends are unsaved, we must share the true Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.

Pastor Davis concludes with this reminder:

The Reformers were forced to depart from Roman Catholicism in order to unite with Christ. Five hundred years later, evangelicals still cannot come together with Catholics. Those who desire true salvation in Jesus Christ must break from Roman Catholicism. This 500th anniversary, may we pray to that end.

Now to his excellent exposé:

It’s that time of year again when we remember the Protestant Reformation. But this year, it’s really something special: 500 years have passed since the greatest movement of God in church history next to the birth of the church at Pentecost.

But was the Reformation really necessary? Were the Reformers merely a pack of spiritual naysayers looking to rain on Rome’s innocent parade? Were they not looking to take their ball and mitt to start their own game?

The Reformers were not moved by preferences to seek and start another denomination. They were moved by Scripture to break from something that could not be considered Christian. Five centuries have not improved Rome’s doctrine. The need for her reform could not be greater.

Tragically, several reasons remain why Roman Catholicism still is not Christian. At this 500th year anniversary, it’s worth taking a thorough look at ten doctrines which render Rome outside of Christ. Many of these are sufficient on their own.

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Source: Reformation 500: Can Roman Catholicism be Considered Christianity?