On being a crazy Christian

The gospel is bigger than a one-time message about the forgiveness for sins. It has to be. When the gospel only includes the atoning element, the forgiveness of sins, and when a one-time “born-again” conversion experience is so elevated it swallows up everything else, then you’ve got a truncated gospel.

Now, I’m not talking about Christians needing to be re-justified, or maintaining-justification, and I do think that people who believe that Jesus died for their sins, placing hope in the sufficiency of that, that’s a justifying faith. However, I think if that is as good as the good news is to someone, it’s a recipe for them being a baby Christian. Particularly in the affluent and seductive world we live in.

There is of course a tendency in the Reformed world in America, particularly to those who only know the Westminster Confession of Faith, (or some teacher influenced by it) to build only two main mental categories. Categories built on the theological categories of Justification and Sanctification. It goes something like this: “Justification is attained when I believed, and before that I was a baddie, and now I’m involved in Sanctification and for the most part done with being a baddie.”

This is a super-simplified take on the fact that justification is a one-time event, and since we’ve been removed from the law as a covenant-of-works, it becomes to us a guide to a God-glorifying life. The fact that even the power of sin in our lives is like a snake that has had its head cut off, and we have all the power in Christ to overcome whatever temptation we face each day. Even though, because of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in us, we have been much improved, have different desires and have changed many habits.  Yet by that same Spirit, we see (or we should see), how far off we are from the perfect standard, which is Jesus Christ, the one truly obedient Israelite, the promised seed of Adam and of Abraham who loved God and neighbor perfectly, fulfilling all righteousness under the law.

Somewhere in that we should see that we are no where near what God requires. Yet it seems that most American Christians think that a personal renovation from the state of being in gross-sin and having no desire for the things of God, to less-sin along with a sometime desire for the things of God means they’re somehow far above the same level of reproach as the great unwashed masses, the real sinners out there, or perhaps that guy in the church who doesn’t seem to visibly obey King Jesus as well as I do.

This simplified view often turns into a simple message, particularly among the more broadly evangelical camp of “Take-Jesus-as-Savior-and-then-you’d-better-work-on-making-Him-Lord-or-else-you’re-goin’-to-hell.”  Trying to teach these people that works only follow justification as a consequence of prior regenerating union with Christ doesn’t often go very far, and they might peg anyone who does so as a liberal who is unwilling to say with un-minced words that Jesus better be King of your life or else. The Reformed Presbyterian version of this is: “But Sanctification is important too” …reminding them that “I didn’t’ say it wasn’t” is going to be the next step to probably getting nowhere.

It seems these people have setup this dichotomy where either one or the other is elevated and that when you elevate one, you’d better balance it out, because the two main categories governing their thought are that one is either a legalist or an antinomian. Too much law, and you’re a legalist, and too much gospel and you’re an antinomian.

Again, this is an over-simplification that is not helpful, because the gospel believed is what was able to make people who were formerly very moral Jews and or grossly sinful pagans do some pretty amazing things. They were now willing to not only accept persecution, rejection from society and imprisonment, but they also bore the antithetical fruit of actually rejoicing when all their worldly possessions and property were taken away from them.

“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property” (Heb 10:34a)

Now I’m a Texan who’s been on this earth for over 50 years and I don’t personally know anyone who would do that. It’s really shocking behavior. In fact, I will be honest about myself, I would have a serious problem if someone came and told me that all my stuff is being taken away because I am Christian.

My first thought is: “from my cold dead fingers.” Yet there that verse sits, right there in the bible. Who were these people, and why were they so over the top crazy rejoicing while their stuff being take away? This must be some sort of socialist plot to take more of my money.evicted Christians

Speaking of socialist plots… The first time I was shown that verse was by a well-off church Administrator/elder who was on the wealthy church’s payroll (partly with my money), and who himself had just come back from a vacation in Europe, a place I had never been.

This was the first years of the Obama administration, and I had not realized how many people in the allegedly conservative church I was in had voted for him. This elder was my elder and I was complaining about barely being able to make it financially, and about how a corrupt Federal law had made it impossible for our family owned mortgage brokerage to continue to compete with the larger companies and we had to close it down, and how bad off we were, and how much we were struggling. Based on me taking all that to him he hit me with that verse and suggested my wife (who had been the educated and certified primary operator of that family business) get a job.

Since then I have given a little thought to it now and again, and over time I realized that the answer was in the second half of the verse itself. “since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” (Heb 10:34b) . I present it to you in this little essay not because I’m an out of touch self-important socialist trying to get my hands on your stuff, (which yes, they most probably are), but to ask you a question. Do you think those crazy Christians only heard (and believed) a good report of Justification in Christ and then move on into sermons emphasizing Sanctification and personal holiness in their lives lived? Did that kind of sermon inspire such joy at having their earthly possessions plundered?

The fact is that Christ, by His obedience secured not only the promised eternal life in the first covenant with Adam, but we find out even more about the future secured by the obedient seed where there is an eternal and imperishable inheritance promised to Abraham and His seed (Christ) and to us who are seeds in Christ (Gal 3:26-28).

This is also not the only place we see Christians rejoicing, not over thoughts relating simply to being born again, with sins forgiven, but further into eternal things we Justified have attained in Christ:  1 Pet 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice…

In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul paints a much bigger picture of what God has done for us in Christ, all based on Christ’s work, starting from electing us in eternity past all the way to our guaranteed eternal inheritance, with the mere mention or thought of all of this wonderful news eliciting praise of God by Paul as he goes through it all, he writes of praise to God over and over again.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

This is all part of the good news is it not? 

The Gospel is for Christians, because the gospel includes the description and reality of what is promised and secured for all who rest their faith on Christ alone. Only with the centrality of that hope regularly proclaimed and therefore pressed into the heart of every structure of the believer’s worldview would we expect to see a Christian like the Hebrews 10:34 Christians were.
Speaking of the ultimate hope is about the eternal life and eternal inheritance. Jesus teaches us not lay up treasures here on earth, but in heaven (Mat 6:19-20), and Paul even tells us where to set our minds, on the things above, where Christ is (Col 3:1). This is not an abstract call to mindless piety, but there is a specific hope He is calling us to, because that is where Christ is, and that is where our life is hidden and where our future secured hope is.

This sort of expanded view of the gospel helps make more sense of those crazy Christians in Hebrews 10:34.

The gospel for them had to have been expanded beyond a singular justifying event and message of atonement to a larger understanding of what all Christ secures and where our true hope lies. They had a bigger picture of things preached to them, and so to have a biblical understanding of the message of the gospel we must say that the good news therefore cannot be collapsed down to simply a pre-conversion message for unbelievers, but is at the heart of the Christian life. It’s the great hope of our very existence in a world where we all eventually grow old and die.  It’s not so much about a balancing act, but an all-consuming belief about the ultimate nature of reality that very naturally bears the fruit of holiness as a consequence.

Holiness of a life set apart by God. With what is important to speak about, to think about, to meditate on, and to do, being ever more controlled and governed by the doctrinal foundation of the Christian theology concerning the promises of God to those who rest their faith upon Christ alone.

The Gospel is for Christians, because the gospel includes the description and reality of what is promised and secured for all who rest their faith on Christ alone. Only with the centrality of that hope regularly proclaimed and therefore pressed into the heart every structure of the believer’s worldview would we expect to see a Christian like the Hebrews 10:34 Christians were. 

This is of course the whole reason that God instituted the church and called ministers into them. That we are not only matured, but as Peter teaches, it is part of the ordinary means of God’s guarding us to the inheritance: “ to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for…salvation.” (1Pet 1:3-5) It is through faith we are guarded by the power of God. This faith is in the gospel, of what we have in and through faith in Christ. This is why the gospel is for Christians, and why a church that clearly teaches and proclaims the whole gospel is a necessity.

Is it also why the Westminster Confession of Faith states that “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible Church” (WCF 25:2) Its why excommunication is serious business, and why a clear and consistent grounding in the whole gospel is not only the highest honor a pastor is given, but is his most solemn responsibility to protect it. A pastor protects the gospel by proclaiming it. You help guard the Christian by proclaiming the gospel to them. This is the one chief duty of the shepherd over the flock, with the normative law proclamations always included as a guide for a life of gratitude, needing to be pressed in more or less for how grossly pagan, or perhaps unloving and needing of instruction in godliness the converts are. It is my observation that most Christians in a moral culture need less repetitive guidance in that regard and gladly seek to obey the moral law as a guide to a life of gratitude.

I would even say that in a culture where moral imperatives are valued, an important measure is not how much a Christian claims to love the law of God, but do they have an appetite for and hope in the gospel? You can fill large churches with “Promise Keeper” Christians, and “City Builder” Christians just aching to do something, but what is their ultimate hope? Would they rejoice at their stuff being taken away from them because they are Christians? Perhaps some would, but what about being looked upon as the scum of the earth, as evil and ridiculed as a fool added to that?

If someone would rejoice in that, in my mind right now, I’d have to say they are a much better Christian than me. I like my stuff, and I don’t want to be ridiculed and oppressed, to those who do, I say “you first.” It’s not as if my pastor hasn’t done a good job of grounding us in the eternal inheritance that is ours. I would say that he is the best pastor in my city who has consistently taught and emphasized the centrality of the gospel better that most anyone I’ve ever heard. But ultimately, I’m still struggling with my comfortable life and my blessings here.  I hope to have a long life with my wife, and see even great grandchildren that belong to the Lord.

But I also hope and am struggling to let go. I want to be able to let go of everything, especially as I get closer to glory. I want to do that, I want to rejoice at my eternal inherence as everything is slowly taken away from me in regards to my health, and abilities.

So, from that perspective, if we do that, we really are like those crazy Hebrews 10:34 Christians. For them it was sped-up into a quicker set of events, but ultimately, we do have all our possessions taken away. Do any of us really want to be on a death bed clinging to our land, our house, our retirement account? Surely a Christian would not do that, so why live our lives as if those things are our hope now?

It’s because we’re immature. It’s because we’re still baby Christians.

Sunday is a day of rest for Christians. It’s a sign of our eternal rest. It’s like a foretaste of the eternal rest, like a little piece of heaven we rest in once per week, secured by the labors of Christ on our behalf. It is therefore not at the end of the week as a covenant of works sign, but moved to be beginning of the week, given to us with the required consummation meriting obedience already fulfilled by Christ for us. What a beautiful day each Sunday is for the believer.

Like Paul, we hear the good news of all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ and we praise God. Like Peter said we who are born again to a living hope are guarded through faith to our imperishable inheritance. When hear about and we believe what we have in Christ and what Sunday is when we will start to see that it’s not really a day to skip Church for Cowboys football games, or skiing at the lake. That is for the babies, the this-world clingers who sadly are given only the milk of truncated gospel proclamations, and large doses of watered-down moral imperatives to balance it out (as if they could). As the writer of Hebrews 6:1 says however “let us leave the elementary teaching about the Christ and press on to maturity not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith” A more mature faith starts with a more robust and complete gospel pressed in. Regularly pressed in to the heart by the Holy Spirit so that when the crazy-let-go time comes (Heb 10:34) and it will come, we can let go and rejoice. Lord help us to love the good news, which includes our eternal inheritance secured by the obedience of Christ on our behalf.

A reason to exist – The crisis of “why?”

why have a church


In our capitalist society we’re constantly given a reason to do something. Normally it’s a reason to buy something, but during an election season it’s about why you need to be for or against a particular side or candidate. I’m no psychologist, but if there is such a thing as overloading people with why they should do something, not do something, be for something or be against something it seems like we’ve reached that saturation point and then some. It seems like Americans have had whatever mental and emotional receptors to why you should believe something, do something or be for or against something be so abused and overused that there are many diverse ways in which people are coping with it.

Is a marriage a temporary arrangement or is it for life? Without a universal truth under-girding it, you have no answer as to the “why” it’s for life, or why it’s between a man and a woman. With no accepted universal truth upholding it there is no meaning behind what a man is or a woman is, or why one can not simply identify as another.

This is something that has caused those pressuring us to do or believe, or act have found more scary and threatening ways to get us to do what they want.  The end result of what all of this causes to happen is something that I’m not going to try and answer, and I’m not trying to write any sort of cultural article, but I’m just explaining the situation that we find ourselves in here in America in 2020.

Many scholars believe that Western Culture ascended into the modern day starting in about the 13th century when Thomas Aquinas is credited with helping get the Greek scholars accepted back into the universities. For the purposes here I will briefly describe Plato and Aristotle as each offering the fundamental components of philosophy. For Plato it was universals, and for Aristotle it was particulars. It is the emphasis of Aristotelian particulars that are credited with the ushering in of the Renascence, and Reformation that followed. However, a common set of universals is necessary for a civilization to exist or to have meaning or a “why?” that causes its people to value its continued existence.

For example: A marriage is something particular, but in order for that marriage to have a meaning, there must be some sort of accepted universal truth of what a marriage is.  Is a marriage a temporary arrangement or is it for life? Without an accepted universal truth under-girding it, you have no answer as to the “why” it’s for life, or why it’s between a man and a woman. With no accepted universal truth upholding it there is no meaning behind what a man is or a woman is, or why one can not simply identify as another.

In Western culture, particularly since the time of the Reformation the bible and Christianity have served to provide the answers to the universals, and those were accepted by a majority. Now that Christianity is being rejected, the universals that gave a basis to the particulars within our culture have begun to be rejected. So, the particulars themselves are beginning to lose their meaning. When a culture can’t agree on the very meaning or “why” behind many of the things that make up the culture, chaos ensues, and that is exactly what we’re seeing happen. Things are breaking down, and collapsing. 

The Why of a Nation?

For those of us who don’t really see politics as the ultimate answer, it’s been helpful to not be completely caught up in the daily battles of this or that political side.  One of the things that has helped me to understand more what is happening in the rest of the world is a lot of articles describing the rise of the civilization state.  The civilization state is a sort of answer to the Western invention of a “nation state”. A civilization state is a concept where China, India, and Turkey are offered up as examples who have leadership that consider their nation built upon the foundation of a civilization. This civilization is, in their minds, enough to give them their universal meaning upon which to make up the particulars of their culture.

One does not have to agree with their conclusions, or really even the idea of a civilization state being a successful model to see what they’re aiming for. They are seeking a basis or foundation to build on, a foundation of universals within which to found their “why?”.  A nation has to not hate itself to remain a nation. For the protesters of 2020 who see America as not worth keeping, the sweeping away of statues represents the position that America was founded upon irredeemably flawed principles and actions. It’s foundations are seen as rotten. So much so that it just needs to be made into a parking lot and started over.  These people were educated into this by people who knowing best in their own eyes chose to abandon the previous “why” and historical basis for America, and we now see the consequences of those commitments and that teaching unfolding in cities before our eyes.

The Why of a Church?

What about a church? A church absolutely has to have a “why” for its own existence, and there are a lot of banners of “why” that are lifted over particular churches today.  You’ll often find clues as to what that church is all about when they make a tagline (an Our Vision) for the church on their website. For example, some fellow NAPARC churches in my area say things like “LOVE GOD AND NEIGHBOR” as their tagline, so from that it seems that they’re all about the normative use of the law.  If one wants to hear a bunch of stuff for you to do as a Christian and center around that, go there.  Others say things like this: “Nurturing a joy for loving God and neighbor by proclaiming and living out the gospel”. That’s the same normative use (3rd use) of the law again, only this time the gospel is something they proclaim and are apparently also doing.  Apparently they’re the good news or what they do is the good news. This is not a Reformed view taught from the confessions.

I could go on but it is clear that these churches do not center on Christ’s objective work or the gospel.  What they center on is not good news, but the effects of the good news, or our response to the good news. I can tell you from experience that as time goes on you will see a good portion of the children raised in this type of church find that they can love neighbors just fine without all the hassle of the church and all of the annoying people that go to it. Also, you can find those exact same kinds of “Our Vision” statements on the websites of the long apostate mainline churches as well.

Churches need a “why?”  bigger than transforming temporary cities, or doing good to their neighbor, or making sure the culture stays conservative. Those churches that don’t have something bigger at the center won’t make it. They’ll eventually die off and disappear, and that is actually happening right before our eyes.

Then there is what you could call the politically heavy “curmudgeon church”. These are usually full of right-wingers who to hear them talk, just about any conservative political talking point of the day seems to occupy half of their brain space, while other half gets filled with sports of some sort, leaving them without a central focus, clinging to empty pietistic right-leaning do-gooder-ism, and external behavior modification.  Most of the sermons here also tend to lean towards your responsibility to take God seriously with the normative, (3rd) use of the law as the main focus. 

The woke church is the new hotness of “why”. They’re transformational, so their tag-lines are also sayings like “Love God and People”, but some of them also say things about the city they live in. they’re “For the city”.  A famous church in New York flies this figurative banner over their church based on their vision statement: “[We] exist to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to [our city] and, through it, the world.” Now there’s a different element to this type of church that is clearly Post Millennial and world building. The gospel seems to be there to help motivate and empower people to do city building/gospel spreading. Their work in the city is part of the good news of God bringing in the kingdom through cultural efforts. Only now, in America many cities failing. They’ve become hotbeds of looting, crime, hate  and people and businesses are leaving them. This whole movement of gentrification and city building optimism that seemed to come in with the secular transformational Obama administration has failed.  Really with Covid-19 it would make sense that many of these churches might be struggling to keep going at all unless they shift the message. 

The next type is becoming more popular as things get worse, the Reconstructionist type. This is the Doug Wilson vision that is very popular with some of the Reformed curmudgeons and baptistic-predestinarian hipsters. It is a pessimistic-postmill view that fully accepts that there will certainly be a collapse of everything, but that everyone will be looking for those universals again when they try to raise up civilization again from the ashes, and Pope Doug will be there to give it to them as the church becomes a type of modern day Israel. I won’t say much more about this except to say that the Israel of the OT was a type of the fully consummated kingdom of heaven and that Theonomy and Reconstructionism should be avoided. There is a long history of spiritual shipwrecks on those shores.

My point here is that Churches need a “why?”  only it needs to be bigger than transforming temporary cities, or doing good to their neighbor, or making sure the culture stays conservative. Those churches that don’t have something bigger at the center won’t make it. They’ll eventually die off and disappear, and that is actually happening right before our eyes.  Just like the younger generations in our nation that were not given a big enough reason to convince them “why?” to keep America, so the same goes and will continue to go in all these churches that fail to put Christ and His gospel at the center of their “why?”.

A Modern Reformation

We need a Modern Reformation, and it doesn’t require anything very radical, although it might entail the changing out of some pastors for what they fail to preach (not simply what they claim to believe), leaving your current church, or starting a new church. There have already been some movements towards this, but I don’t think some of those people understood the real issue completely. The issue is not simply different leadership and some reworking of the power structure, any more than any single political candidate or party can fix what’s going on in America. Because it has to be a different approach to what is central to Christianity than more than a simple policy, or leadership issue.

This is the good news, the gospel. It’s not something we live out, but we simply believe it. We live out the consequences and effects of it, and that is considered under the category of law, which is a distinct category from the gospel. The church model for the modern Reformation should therefore be grounded in Reformed history, which is to say that it must be confessional.

It’s about what’s at the center of everything. You’ve got to know your center, and you’ve got to articulate it, even fight for it and protect it.  A church has to have the right “why” at the center, and we have a clue back at what was at the center of the Reformation itself. The Reformation was about recovering something that had been lost. That’s where we find ourselves now. What had been lost was the good news. That salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, often summarized as justification by faith.  What has been lost today is the meaning of all of those words or “why?” or how they would or could be centered upon.  In some Reformed churches they’re just sort of slogans, or things to mention every so often with the rest of the focus back to normative use of the law.  Either that, or it’s seen as a balancing act between that and law.

To recover a right understanding of “justification by faith alone”, and why it’s worth protecting is that there has to be an understanding that eternal life is on the line, not the transformation of this world .  What’s at the center of our message should come from the fundamental perspective that we all die, that we’re all dying, and that God is Holy and there is a judgement day appointed, with hell or eternal life with God as the ultimate destination for everyone. That’s foundational stuff that rather than being continually assumed must make up part of the fabric of our faith. Everyone in the church needs to be regularly taught this theology. They need to understand what the gospel is and helped along (shepherded)  to be able to articulate it to themselves and to others, because it must be made central and therefore emphasized. 

I personally have found a helpful way understand the gospel is to see it through the doctrine of first and last things. The bible begins with man at peace with God in a paradise (first things), and ends with man at peace with God in a paradise (last things). At the creation Adam was given a probationary covenant. He was righteous in God’s sight, yet with the ability to fall. He was given a mission, a mandate to please God for a period of time by obeying and fulfilling the mission to subdue and fill the earth.  The consequences of failure were death and perdition and the consequences of success were eternal life and the blessings of God.  He failed and therefore should have received death, but out of mercy alone God stepped in and killed animals as a substitute type and clothed both Adam and Eve with their skins. He then promised a second Adam from their offspring that would come and defeat Satan who had deceived man. This promised second Adam, Christ came and died on the cross to pay for sin, but also completed the probation by always doing what pleased the Father (Jn 8:29). So, Christ fulfilled the original mission in the protological (doctrine of first things) age, to get us to the eschatological (last things) age of the new heavens and the new earth. Attaining this eschatological goal, and new heavens and earth is often called consummation. So, the goal of all the bible, of all human history is a trajectory towards consummation, which is eternal life as son’s of God in the household of God forever. 

We could call the time we are in now as the “soteriological” (pertaining to salvation) age. With this context, and with God set to judge all of mankind, to be justified is what John Calvin said is to be “declared righteous before the tribunal of God”. In other words, Christ had to die for our sin, and He had to merit a positive righteousness for us, so we could be righteous in the eyes of God who is perfectly holy.  This is referred to theologically as Christ’s passive and active obedience. Luther referred to what he called the “marvelous exchange”, whereas others have called it the ‘great exchange” or more recently “double imputation”.  That our sins are assigned to Christ on the cross and removed from God’s sight forever, and Christ’s righteousness (the consequences of His obedience) is imputed or assigned to us and that both these things are necessary to justify us. So, to be justified is not simply as some would say a state of grace that we can fall away from. It is the end of any probationary status for the believer. If you are justified (through having faith in Christ alone) you HAVE eternal life. Good works and sanctification necessarily follow not as a condition, but as a mere consequence of our justifying union with Christ, thought faith alone. Faith as the alone instrument that rests our hope on Christ and His righteousness alone.

This is the good news, the gospel. It’s not something we live out, but we simply believe it. We live out the consequences and effects of it, and that is considered under the category of law, which is a distinct category from the gospel. The church model for the modern Reformation should therefore be grounded in Reformed history, which is to say that it must be confessional.  Further I think it is important that rather than the 3 Forms of Unity (Continental Reformation) or the Westminster Confession of Faith with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms (English Reformation), modern Reformation churches should be all 6 of these forms of unity. Partly because of the important fact that the Westminster Confession of Faith has the fully formed covenant theology, and the Heidelberg Catechism has the historical model for how we should center Christianity.

The Heidelberg Catechism is divided into three main sections that help us stay balanced and centered on Christ and His work. As per Calvin’s order of the law it is organized as:  First use of the law, Gospel and Third use (normative) of the Law, or Guilt Grace Gratitude. It should be noted that this is also the same structure we find of the book of Romans. The model is presented in HC Q&A 2 as: How great my sin and misery, How I am set free from my sins and misery and How I am to be thankful to God for deliverance.  This is a good model for sermons, and for the liturgy. If a pastor is not grounding the body in both the first and third use of the law and the gospel, he is not grounding the body in the full council of the Word of God.

One important thing to note is that the normative (third use) use of the law is  (even in our currently state of being redeemed and being sanctified) still something we are unable to do perfectly, and so it should remind us again of the first use of the law, and that God is holy, and we are therefore driven to and must ultimately end on and center on the gospel itself.

This is why this gospel is at the center of the Christian faith and must be at the center of every church. It must be taught as something that could (and should) be articulated by all believers, protected, and defended.  This is the only thing big enough to center a church around, and bring together people from all walks of life with all kinds of different ideas and agendas. A Christian faith with Christ’s saving work at its center is the only thing big enough to where you kids will not abandon it when they leave your home. They need to be taught to articulate it to defend it and to give a reason why it’s our only hope and comfort in life and in death, even against all other views such as Roman Catholicism and Federal Vision.

We all need to know what we believe and why we believe it. This is how you continue as a church, your lamp-stand brightly lit, and not have it taken away by the Lord. This is how you preserve and protect the gospel, by articulating it, by teaching it ever more clearly and fully.  You probably won’t be able to build a mega-church with this model, but it is certainly possibly to build a church where salvation is found, and that the Lord would please with.

A church has to have the objective truths of the scriptures articulated and defended. Church members need to be educated in the historic Reformed doctrines articulated by understood through the teachings found in the Reformed confessions. These things have to be understood and agreed upon in order to give the particulars or the churches reason for existing any meaning.

You might be able to fill a church with a host of unbelievers by centering it on the great commandment to love God and neighbor, because that is God’s command to all of Adam’s offspring. It’s natural to the heart of man, which is why all false religions have doing good works at the center of them. 

Thankfully though all the doctrine for the church has already been laid out in the Reformation, and you can find it in the confessions. The Heidelberg Catechism as well as a Redemptive Historic understanding of the OT gives us the model. To center the church on Christ, on His person and work, and live lives of gratitude.  We don’t need to innovate or create earthly utopias, or seek to maximize our joy, or optimize and modernize the Reformed faith. We just need to return to what the church used to know, and Reform our churches accordingly. 

Missionalism and Transformationalism Should Be Abandoned


Missionalism is not the answer, it’s the Theological basis of the Distraction

These days in the Reformed world, there is no way of escaping Neo-Calvinism, or Postmillennial views. The voices within this particular framework are particularly susceptible to the news, and therefore particularly vocal during election cycles. There is what could be termed “election cycle Christianity”, where Christians become especially active based on what they’re seeing and hearing in the world.

There is however a dark side of the Neo-Calvinistic movement known as Missionalism, which is the

There is however a dark side of the Neo-Calvinistic movement known as Missionalism, which is the syncretizing of the Great Commandment with the Great Commission. One result is that that the gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven gets harnessed into being an engine and mechanism for the transformation of the Common (non-redemptive) Kingdom of Man.
syncretizing of the Great Commandment with the Great Commission. One result is that that the gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven gets harnessed into being an engine and mechanism for the transformation of the Common (non-redemptive) Kingdom of Man. Categories become erased, and both the language used and the assumptions brought into the Christian worldview is that they are all part of the same thing.  We are to be “living out the gospel”.

So, naturally as the cultural strings are pulled in an election cycle the Missional church must not only be weeping on command with whatever suffering they have elevated into our sight this week, we must be swept up into the same sense of frustration at our own inability to change what desperately needs changing for the better. Cynicism at this is considered as a certain wrong-headed aloofness, and being non-political is not an option afforded to the Christian, because it’s all in the mix.

It is true that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Man are connected, they meet in the life of the Christian. Christians are members of both kingdoms, and Missionalism has syncretized the Great Commission (preach the gospel, baptize, make disciples) and the Great Commandment (Love God and neighbor) together.

Evangelism is the intersection where all the category mixing begins. In order to reach the world Missionalism teaches that we must come alongside the world, feel their plight, be for the justice that the world is for as the media pulls the string, take the right position, vote the right way, and use the right language. Only it appears that it must be left leaning, because that’s what direction pop-culture leans. One effect of this is the Church gives moral credence and cover to secular political movements.

There is a certain and attractive immediacy of this flavor of Christianity that does sound a lot like Paul becoming as a Jew among Jews and a Greek among Greeks, but there is a sort of compromising that can occur, more than that, it does occur, and it’s going to take wisdom, discernment and a realization that there is going to be a struggle not to compromise truth, but the issue that already exists and is prolific  right now is the mixing of theological categories that they have done.

I would argue that because of that, Neo-Calvinistic Missionalism is not something that God is blessing. Because it’s not a healthy or right view of Christianity or the Christian life. Right doctrine and good theology is used by the Missional movement, but it ultimately serves a different master. It’s ultimately a corruption of biblical Christianity, and it needs to be corrected, or better yet, abandoned.

That need for doctrinal correction is an important issue that I believe needs to be elevated in the Reformed world. The big blind spot that the missional movement has, its mixing of theological categories and mixing of the idea that we are both living-out and proclaiming the gospel.

The spirituality of the church needs to be reasserted, and a proper understanding taught of how Christians should live in God’s Two Kingdoms. The theological categories of law and gospel need to be kept distinct, and an understanding that the gospel is good news, not good works, and that we are not in any way living-out the gospel. We are simply proclaiming the gospel of what God has done in Christ two thousand years ago to save sinners like us and anyone who would believe. Good works are the Christian ethic, fruit every individual Christian is to bear, but they are not the good news. We are not the good news. We’re here to bear witness to the good news. It’s a message, a proclamation of something God did to save us and all who believe.

Instead of the Neo-Calvinistic emphasis on transformation, we should assert the historic Reformed understanding that there are two distinct kingdoms that God rules over. There is a Kingdom of Heaven (the redemptive kingdom of God) and a Common Kingdom of man (a non-redemptive kingdom God also rules over). Believers (God’s elect) are members of both kingdoms, but unbelievers (those who are not elect) are only a part of the Common Kingdom. The Common Kingdom is not eternal. It has a terminus. There is an end to it all on the great day of judgement, it and all those who are not elect have no eschatological future, they have no eternal life, and no future in the new heavens and the new earth.

The Common Kingdom is inaugurated covenantally in the promise God made with Noah and all of creation. That promise from God that He would never again destroy all life with a cataclysmic flood, but that things would continue, the rain falling on the just and unjust, until the last day, until all God’s purposes are complete and all His elect have been united to Christ through faith alone.

Christians are not given a mission to redeem the earth, or the culture or all things. That is not the mission God gave the church. The church is given the Great Commission to proclaim the gospel, baptize and make disciples. We individual Christians should love our neighbors. That is the Great Commandment given to all mankind, and it is a rule for the Christian life that we seek to love God and neighbor.  As individuals we can and should certainly love our neighbors as the Holy Spirit calls us to and enables us to particularly in our own personal circles. Christians can certainly get involved in politics, and in various ways seek to limit some of the worst suffering in this fallen world. But that is not the mission of the church. It is not redemptive work, although it might (or it might not) gain an ear for the preaching of the gospel to some. Remembering that the common culture, God’s Common Kingdom has no eschatological future should help us to moderate our expectations of just how far those labors can go.

Here is a helpful example of the teaching that Paul gave to the church in Thessalonica. That the church there should “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [their] own affairs, and to work with [their] hands, as instructed,  so that [they] may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thes 4:11-12)

This is contrary to many views of the Christian life in America that have followed Abraham Kuyper (a), who was a politically and culturally minded conservative Christian theologian whose theology was in part a reaction to the ending of state-funding churches the Netherlands and the entrenched liberalization that had occurred within the Dutch church. A believer in the separation of Church and state, he developed a system involving Christians interacting in their own different spheres of influence in life which he termed “sphere sovereignty” and went on to further develop this thought into what he termed “Calvinism as a life system”. Among conservative Reformed Christians in America these “sphere” categories helped define how to understand and engage the world and eventually to seek influence in the culture.  The impact of his popular theology has shaped Christian thought immensely in the past 120 plus years, particularly in the Neo-Calvinist movement.

Neo-Calvinism holds a specific view of the “cultural mandate” (sometimes called dominion mandate) given to Adam to subdue and fill the earth. They hold that even though the cultural mandate was originally a part of the covenant of works that Adam was to fulfill, that instead of Christ fulfilling that mandate in the new heavens and the new earth in the age-to-come that Christ is calling on us in at least a partial fulfillment of that mandate in Christian lives in this current-age.

That since as Kuyper notes, there is no square inch of the universe that is not God’s, that God is calling us to be involved and somehow injecting the Christian worldview into every part of the domain of human existence. Some take that as requiring a more direct Christian civil governance, while others (Neo-Calvinistic Missionalism) argue we should seek to influence culture.

Either way this somehow makes us responsible not only for something that is part of the Covenant of Works, but that it also makes us involved in God’s temporary Common Kingdom, harnessing God’s eternal Kingdom of Heaven for this new mission.

Either way this somehow makes us responsible not only for something that is part of the Covenant of Works, but that it also makes us involved in God’s temporary Common Kingdom, harnessing God’s eternal Kingdom of Heaven for this new mission.

This is at the heart of “Missionalism”, which is the theology of a missionary named Lesslie Newbigin (b), which has been popularized by Tim Keller.  Pastor Keller has found a way to weave Reformed theology into this narrative of mission, which includes the idea that an authentic gospel (a gospel that reaches unbelievers) must include deeds. Which blurs the lines between the gospel as message and good deeds that we do.

One example of this theological commitment can be Pastor Keller’s 2018 New York Times article (c)  where he clearly argues that Christian must vote (and it seems he prefers we vote Democrat), that being apolitical is not an option, but that we must weave what we do with the good news or else.

This is what has recently shaped a lot of the theological commitments in the PCA in issues involving social-justice such as racial inequalities, economic inequalities, and gender issues. Rather than being a Reformed Presbyterian denomination, there has been a particularly Neo-Calvinistic shift, which confidently assumes Missionalism is not only the proper form of Reformed Christianity, but it’s the only form to reach the world in this present evil age.

This redirecting of the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven to include positions and issues that are more in the realm of the Common Kingdom have had the effect of a change of emphasis on doctrinal issues to issues of ethics, where instead of doctrine informing ethic, ethics are beginning to shape doctrine. In many ways this seems like a replay of what happened in the mainline Churches earlier in the 20th century.  It is my position that Missionalism as it is currently taught, needs to be rejected, and that even the Neo-Calvinistic view of Calvinism as a Life System needs to be rethought so that a proper Two-Kingdom perspective is in place in it. So that there is moderation as to how much influence, or how far influence goes, and to what end in the Common Kingdom. We should have more moderate expectations of those cultural efforts.  We must not loose sight of the fact that we are not called to transform this world in this present evil age, and that is not the mission of the church. The gospel is not a tool or engine to bring about earthly utopias (right or left wing), or the city of God. That city comes down from heaven at the Eschaton (Rev 21:2), and that is the day we should all be looking forward to.


Note: Redeemer Presbyterian Church New York, Vision Statement: 

The Redeemer family of churches and ministries exist to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, the world.

What does Old Testament, New Testament mean?

Old and new testament

What does Old and New Testament mean?

This is not really very well understood in Big Eva (Broad-Evangelicalism). People normally think it means the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace, but that’s not where OT / NT titles come from.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF 7.4) explains that the terms Old and New Testament has to do with last things, that is the consummation of all things. It has to do with a “Testator”, that is Jesus Christ as the one whose death involves the bequeathing of an everlasting inheritance.

The Old Testament is where we first find out about this inheritance, particularly with Abraham, where he and his Seed (That is Christ) and all his seeds (that is all who believe and are saved in Christ) inherit the land.

The Old Testament is where we first find out about this inheritance, particularly with Abraham, where he and his Seed (That is Christ) and all his seeds (that is all who believe and are saved in Christ) inherit the land (Gen 13:14-16). Now it was a bit difficult for Abraham, because he was also told that he was going to die, being gathered up to his fathers (Gen 15:15), but that he was also going to still inherit the land (Gen 15:7). We’re told in Hebrews that Abraham had already considered that God could raise the dead. (Heb 11:19) 

We find out from Paul in Romans 4:13, that this inheritance is actually not just Canaan, but that was just a type, or symbolic placeholder for the whole world. We find out also by Paul in Galatians 3 that we New Testament believers in Christ are also in on this inheritance, because we’re Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (v3:29)

So, what about all the Mosaic Covenant and all the rigid laws, and having to obey to be able to stay in the land and the requirement to be perfect to live and all of that?

Well in addition to the law being God’s perfect standard for righteousness, all that was part of the typology to. The mixed Mosaic covenant was more of a subservient covenant to the prior Abrahamic promissory grant form of covenant. Israel is the type of the new creation people of God. The land was a type of Eden for Christ as the second Adam to fulfill the terms of the first merit based covenant, and by fulfilling the law to earn the inheritance. By doing so Christ saved us as our federal head.  Our salvation and part in Christ’s inheritance is not works (merit) based, but it is grace alone through faith alone in the gracious / promise / grant type of covenant that God had first made with Abraham (really begun in Gen 3:15), and administered through types and promises.

The law also served as a teacher or tutor to lead them to Christ. Paul says in Gal 3:22 that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”.  Those not in Christ and therefore in the covenant of grace (promise) are still in Adam and under a works (merit and performance) based covenant with God and are therefore cursed under the law.  

The administration of the types of the covenant of grace in the OT were in addition to things like the promises made of an inheritance. So we see types of a sacrificial substitute in the animal skins that God clothed Adam and Eve with (Gen 3:21), and the Passover lamb that covers those who have faith to put it over their doorposts so that God’s judgement passes them over (Exo 12:1-28), in circumcision, which is a sign of a cutting off or death sign removing of sin (Gen 17:9-14), and in various other ways in the OT.

In the NT it’s administered more simply through word and sacrament, where we see Baptism as a bloodless washing away sin death sign where the floodwaters of judgement went over Christ’s head, as if being drowned in a judgement flood (Luk 12:50) , and us with him(Rom 6:3), and yet he was raised for our justification (Rom 4:25) , and us with him, to eternal life. (Rom 6:9)

So, we see two principles, administration and substance across both testaments. That the administration changes between testaments, but the substance (which is Christ) remains the same. In other words, it’s all about Christ who by His works, His perfect righteousness under the covenant of works secures everything for the people of God, and how God grants everything to us in Christ in the covenant of grace through the instrument of faith alone.  So the good news across the whole bible is about a grant, or inheritance for those who are righteous in God’s eyes by faith, that is just by believing in Christ as he is presented administratively, and through promises in the Word.

We find out more as the narrative progresses in the bible into the New Testament that we Gentiles are also invited in and able to enjoy this inheritance because as we rest in Christ, we’re granted eternal life, and we’re Abraham’s offspring who are adopted into the household of God, a royal family, and we’re to live in the New Jerusalem, which fills the New Heavens and the New Earth forever. So, Old and New Testament is about an eternal inheritance, in and because of Christ and what He has secured for us. Really the whole bible has this focus and trajectory of the consummation of all things, it’s all about Christ’s testament, based on His death in this present evil age which results in an eternal inheritance in the glorious age to come.

Christ’s Active Obedience secures heaven


The Westminster Standards are where Reformed Theology finally resolves into a clearer understanding of Covenant Theology. That the Scriptures actually contain a bi-covenantal structure or division, with a distinction being made between law and gospel. The Westminster Standards do more than that however. They ground us in Christ’s work appealing to both His obedience and satisfaction. This doctrine is defined as Christ’s Active and Passive obedience.  Some more recent theologians have erroneously diminished Christ’s Active Obedience down to it simply qualifying Him as the “spotless lamb”. This leads to a view where Christ’s cross was about penalty paying. A turning away of God’s wrath from our sin. They sometimes speak of being reconciled to God by this, or being “fully forgiven” because of this, but they still remain in error, and are proclaiming a truncated gospel.

We need to recapture the understanding that soteriology is eschatological. That our salvation is part of God’s eternal plan which is moving towards the consummation of this present evil age, and resolving all things in the age to come.  Therefore, we need to understand Christ’s work on earth associated with the theology of last things. That Christ is saving His people to bring them into the household of God to dwell with God for eternity.

So, we need to understand the covenant God made with Adam was a requirement, not only that he not transgress, but that He also work and fulfill a positive aspect to the covenant. The Westminster Standards also show us that that there is a negative and positive side to the law.  For example, we can transgress the law and do wrong to our neighbor, but the standards also point us in the scriptures the flip side where we are required to promote the good of our neighbor. So, it is with what Christ came to accomplish. He came to die on the cross for our sins, but also to perfectly love God and neighbor as our representative substitute, or stand-in.

Christ’s paying for our sin makes us innocent but not righteous, but his positive fulfillment of all righteousness under the law makes us righteous. Both His passive and active obedience are required to justify us. 

We see this in verses like John 8:29 where Christ says “I always do what pleases the Father”. This doing what is pleasing to the Father is a fulfillment of what Adam should have done in the Covenant of Works he was under.

The law given to Israel is a codification of what it takes to live a life pleasing to God the Father. It is summarized in saying that we must perfectly love God with all our heart and mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus living out the positive aspect of the law perfectly is what is called His Active Obedience. Jesus fulfilled a positive righteousness, and it was this aspect of His saving work (in addition to his penalty paying) that brings us into a state of Justification before God. This is the basis of our adoption into the household of God, eternal life, an eternal inheritance, and the everlasting blessings of God. Christ’s paying for our sin makes us innocent but not righteous, but his positive fulfillment of all righteousness under the law makes us righteous. Both His passive and active obedience are required to justify us. When it is said that we are justified by faith alone (faith as the alone instrument) , this is what is meant: That Christ paid the penalty, and Christ fulfilled the probation. That is the good news that a right understanding of our confession will bring us to embrace and proclaim. 

Yet, where is any explanation of anything like this in the churches in America? Listen to them, sermon after sermon, far too many churches (even Reformed ones) are apparently busy exegeting random biblical texts, and focused on other biblical doctrines, or perhaps either being all woke, or being all conservative to make sure and keep the wokeness at bay that there is no room to ground the body in a gospel that includes any kind of understanding of what Christ’s Active Obedience accomplished.

Historically this good news has been proclaimed as Imputed Righteousness, but a good amount of those proclamations today are from people like John Piper, or Doug Wilson, or others who have abstracted and divorced the imputation of Christ’s righteousness from the idea that His work had fulfilled and completed the probationary requirements that merit and secured title to heaven and eternal life for all those united to Him.  In more strict Reformed confessional circles there has been confusion about and a denial of a works principle fulfilled in the Mosaic covenant has contributed to that. For some reason in answer to Dispensationalism the Mosaic covenant became know as strictly gracious, and any works principle in it that could merit anything, even by a perfectly righteous man was denied.

The end result is that they slip this works principle back into the Christians life, either doctrinally or functionally. To create a sort of climb the ladder up to God mentality in a Christian, you don’t have to actively teach that a Christian is to do that. You just have to not teach truth. You just have not teach and proclaim Christ’s work as completing that works-based-righteousness requirement, and the Christian’s life lived as strictly a consequence of our being a new creation in Christ, and is in no way a ladder climbing up to God. When Reformed pastors and theologians fail to teach the complete good news that the confession points us to, then they lead us to a very natural theology where approval is assumed to be based on what we do and don’t do. 

We need a modern Reformation, and it needs to start by a proper understanding of the covenant theology found in the Westminster Standards. One that includes a Covenant of Works fulfilled by Christ in the Law codified in the Mosaic Covenant.  We need to focus back on what Christ’s accomplished for us, because in the end that is our only hope. That is the hope that is at the center of the Christian life. J. Gresham Machen pointed us in the right direction when he proclaimed at the end of his life “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”

Whats wrong with Johnny?

n MacArthur back in the early 1990s on his Grace to You radio broadcast, and as a young man just learning Reformed theology, I was excited to hear what sounded like a commitment to God’s sovereign grace come across in some of his messages. As the years went by, and his relationship with R.C.Sproul grew, John MacArthur (JMac) began to be elevated in Reformed circles. Although his book on Lordship Salvation created some controversy, mainly because it confused so many people, even theologically Reformed people like myself. Because I was theologically conservative, and certainly believed that Christ is Lord, and obedience is important, but as time went on, I noticed what seemed to be inconsistent comments from JMac.

I first heard John MacArthur back in the early 1990s on his Grace to You radio broadcast, and as a young man just learning Reformed theology, I was excited to hear what sounded like a commitment to God’s sovereign grace come across in some of his messages. As the years went by, and his relationship with R.C.Sproul grew, John MacArthur (JMac) began to be elevated in Reformed circles. Although his book on Lordship Salvation created some controversy, mainly because it confused so many people, even theologically Reformed people like myself. Because I was theologically conservative, and certainly believed that Christ is Lord, and obedience is important, but as time went on, I noticed what seemed to be inconsistent comments from JMac.

Fast forward to today, R.C. is gone, JMac is older, and I’ll admit that I haven’t listened to him much in many years. While I respect his commitment to not giving in to theological liberalism, particularly his standing firm with R.C. during the disastrous Catholics and Evangelical’s together compromise, I’ve always considered him someone sort of on the edge of the Reformed world.

I’m a firm believer however, that If you’re for Reformation, then you’ve got to call out the doctrines that are in error. You’ve got to point them out and name them, and sometimes you’ve got to name names, so there’s not confusion. The Church needs to know what the error is and who is pushing the error so we can avoid it, and perhaps even avoid them. Particularly if it’s gross error.

So, John MacArthur has continued to do that, yet recently he pointed out a person in the Reformed community that I know (my very orthodox Anglican friend) and he said among other things that he was an antinomian and a false teacher. But I happen to very familiar with this person’s theology, and I have to say that JMac made a huge mistake.

First off I have to admit that this friend having previously been mentored under the Lordship Salvation view had within the past year spoken out against Lordship Salvation, having pointed out that it’s errors were: “Soul enslaving, freedom killing, conscience afflicting, assurance destroying, and aw/gospel confusing”. I’m not sure if Jmac took personal offense or if he just has one way of looking at these things, but rather than defend Lordship Salvation, he appears to just accept that category of thought and has not been willing to actually pay attention to the person’s responses, and what he is and isn’t saying.

It’s not as if the problems with the term has not already caused some controversy and its main issue in recards to classical Reformed theology pointed out. The term: Lordship Salvation. Dr. Michael Horton already wrote a great book describing some of the problems that we in the Reformed world have against the term, and the way JMac and others who agree with this term define the law and Christian obedience.

The problem with Lordship Salvation is that it’s coming specifically out of an evangelical and Dispensational view, out of Big Eva (big Evangelicalism), where people were used to the template of responding to these altar calls accepting Jesus as savior. Then they assign this separate stage where you needed to also accept his Lordship over your life. As Dr. Horton already pointed out, we in the Reformed world don’t teach that Christ isn’t Lord. We would agree that Christ IS Lord, and Savior, and if you don’t come to Christ as Lord and Savior, then you haven’t come to the Christ of the bible. Or to say it positively, you must come to Christ as Savior and Lord, or you haven’t come to the Christ of the bible. There is no separating of Christ’s nature, or of His Priestly and Kingly offices. We would deny that there are multiple stages of coming to Christ, were you get this little part of Him and then you get a second part. There are no second blessings, or any of that nonsense. Christ is either a complete savior, and Lord, or it’s not Christ.

Either you place your faith in Christ the Lord, and His saving work on your behalf, or you don’t, and if you do, though you might have times where you fail to obey, you’re going to start to want to obey, and start obeying in your life in some ways. So away with these ideas that my friend, or any of us who are committed to Reformed confessional theology would deny that Christ is Lord, or would seek to lead people into disobedience of the Law of God. I would argue that in fact, we are the ones who understand the biblical view of a Christians obedience, and are the ones that uphold the right view of the law of God in the Christian’s life.

The real problem with the recent doctrine called Lordship Salvation is that it comes out of an entirely unbiblical set of assumptions. We who come out of historic confessional Reformed theology know nothing of this two-step view.

For those of us who know our confessional Reformed Theology and proper law/gospel categories, we don’t buy it. We know that fear of condemnation, or hope of reward is no proper Christian motivation, and that nothing but doubt and lack of assurance that spring from this internally inconsistent mixture of Reformed theology and Dispensationalism.

So, they who hold to Lordship Salvation as defined by JMac are the ones who come in error. The term itself is a misnomer. The reason they make this mistake is because of a commitment to the doctrine of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is a commitment to divide redemptive history into stages, denying the covenant theology structure found in Reformed Theology. There is the real crux of the problem between my theologically Reformed friend and Jmac.

Historical Reformed theology would see the law of God as having been completely fulfilled by Christ. We see the moral law as a codified natural law, a law that is written on man’s conscience. Christ having fulfilled that; the moral law still stands as a standard for living a life of gratitude. JMac, does not see the moral law (the 10 commandments) as still binding on the Christian, but would say the law of love (which they say is consistent with the moral law) is now the standard. So, it’s simply a raised bar that we’re to strive to fulfill with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Can you see the terrible flaw in Lordship Salvation?

We who are Reformed first understand Christ’s sermon on the mount as raising the bar beyond human ability to fulfill it, driving us to despair of our faith in our own ability to be good enough. JMac sees it differently though. In an article written and posted on Ligoneer.org in 2007 titled Above Reproach he writes of “our obedience to the moral and ethical principles of God’s law.” How “The moral standard God’s people are supposed to live by far surpasses even the highest principles of normal human ethics.”, and the biblical example he points to is Matthew 5:20, about which he says: “This was one of the main points of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: ‘I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’”.

Now he admits as a sort of aside in the article that the standard is ultimately unattainable, but his primary of view of that is that it’s for us to do more, and try harder to fulfill it. So he sees Jesus teaching here, and Jesus command in 5:48 that we should “be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect”  to be teaching us that we should be relentlessly pursuing “perfect ethical consistency”. It’s hard to believe how someone could walk away from that, and not think that though Jesus does His part, that we are expected with our lives to somehow be doing our part. To us who understand covenant theology, It sounds like and feels like being put back under a covenant of works.

This view he has expressed is inconsistent with the understanding of law and gospel, the first use of the law and the covenant theology found in Reformed scholasticism, and in Reformed confessions.

His theology is an internally inconsistent mix of Dispensational theology with Reformed theology and is one reason that JMac has continually mixed law and gospel categories, because he doesn’t come from the Reformed view that Christ by his active obedience fulfilled the probation of the covenant of works, and has therefore already merited eternal life and the blessings of God. Dr. Sproul, (though he considered JMac a friend) raised the red flag on this problem coming from Dispensationalism and its failure to recognize a completed covenant of works before his death.

In an article about The Covenant of Works [b], Dr. Sproul wrote about what he called a crisis in our day:  “Beyond the ongoing discussion between traditional dispensationalists and Reformed theology with respect to the basic structure of biblical revelation, there has arisen in our day an even greater crisis with respect to our understanding of redemption.

This crisis focuses on the place of imputation in our understanding of the doctrine of justification.”  He goes on to point out that “At the heart of this question of justification and imputation is the rejection of what is called the covenant of works.”

Dr. Sproul goes on to speak of the Reformed understanding of the active obedience of Christ and how it is essential to our salvation. “In this work of fulfilling the covenant for us in our stead, theology speaks of the “active obedience” of Christ. That is, Christ’s redeeming work includes not only His death, but His life. His life of perfect obedience becomes the sole ground of our justification. It is His perfect righteousness, gained via His perfect obedience, that is imputed to all who put their trust in Him.

The Active Obedience of Christ is a doctrine not found in Dispensational theology, so JMac has to borrow the language and concept of it from  Covenant Theology. It does not even fit in a Dispensational construct, so he has to shoehorn it in. 

Therefore, Christ’s work of active obedience is absolutely essential to the justification of anyone. Without Christ’s active obedience to the covenant of works, there is no reason for imputation, there is no ground for justification. If we take away the covenant of works, we take away the active obedience of Jesus. If we take away the active obedience of Jesus, we take away the imputation of His righteousness to us. If we take away the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, we take away justification by faith alone. If we take away justification by faith alone, we take away the Gospel, and we are left in our sins. We are left as the miserable sons of Adam, who can only look forward to feeling the full measure of God’s curse upon us for our own disobedience. It is the obedience of Christ that is the ground of our salvation, both in His passive obedience on the cross and His active obedience in His life.

All of this is inseparably related to the biblical understanding of Jesus as the new Adam (Rom. 5:12–20), who succeeded where the original Adam failed, who prevailed where the original Adam lost. There is nothing less than our salvation at stake in this issue.

The Active Obedience of Christ is a doctrine not found in Dispensational theology, so JMac has to borrow the language and concept of it from  Covenant Theology. It does not even fit in a Dispensational construct, so he has to shoehorn it in. 

Yet there remains a defective view of what Christ as secured, and therefore what Christ is teaching in the sermon on the mount. JMac has a defective view of the moral law and how it is still binding as a standard on the Christian life, in its 3rd use, as a guide to a life of gratitude. So, he uses language speaking about Lordship Salvation, and speaks of taking obedience seriously, and many conservative Reformed people think his doctrine is okay, because perhaps it’s that simplistic result that they’re looking for themselves.

For those of us who know our confessional Reformed Theology and proper law/gospel categories, we don’t buy it. We know that fear of condemnation, or hope of reward is no proper Christian motivation, and that nothing but doubt and lack of assurance that spring from this internally inconsistent mixture of Reformed theology and Dispensationalism.

It’s the heart of gratitude that’s been assured of a sure salvation based on the obedient work of Christ that we argue for, and the confessions are on our side on this. R.C. Sproul would certainly be on our side on this, and would perhaps say “Johnny Mac, do I need to tell you again what you believe?” R.C. Was good for Jmac, but unfortunately, he didn’t completely finish the work of bringing him all the way into Reformed theology. So we’re all stuck with this celebrity preacher who’s accepted in the Reformed world as if his views were Reformed. If God didn’t win JMac over through R.C. who JMac respected immensely, I doubt that any of us can. I think we just need to love JMac where he is, pray for Him, but not fall into his bad views, and help people who’ve been oppressed under those views out and into a healthy understanding of law and gospel, and into good covenant theology found in historic confessional Reformed Theology. That’s what JMac has a problem with, not with my friend. That these confessions of what we profess with the historic Reformed church is a right understanding of the scriptures.

If we’re for a modern Reformation, then we have to make distinctions between those who simply borrow from some Reformed doctrines while rejecting or even attacking the covenant theology at the heart of Reformed theology. There’s enough confusion and problems already in the confessional Reformed world. We we don’t need to add the errors of Dispensationalism and Lordship Salvation to them.

a : https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/above-reproach/

b: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/covenant-works/

Other Resources: Brushed Red offers some commentary on the slanderous attack John MacArthur made, and showed some of JMacs own circular reasoning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4-PQo-62AU


Final Salvation – Is the Christian life a probation, or is eternal life secured?

final salvation


Is final salvation based on a combination of faith and fruit, or is eternal life secured at our justification? The way some people answer is typically based on how they see the Mosaic covenant. If they see the Mosaic covenant as strictly a covenant of grace, then they tend to see the covenant of grace as God’s gracious salvation based on a probationary life where He works to complete the fulfillment of the covenant in the believer’s life. This is what would be called an antecedent view vs a consequential view. That our obedience is antecedent to “final salvation” rather than consequential of already having eternal life where works necessary flow out of the new creation life that Christians are in Christ.

So, whether or not God’s grace is probationary comes down to how someone sees the covenant of works. If you look back at Reformed scholasticism the covenant of works is sometimes referred to as the covenant of life, or covenant of nature. This is because it is the law written on the heart of man that we should love God and neighbor, with the promise of life and the sanction of death in the balance for either obeying or disobeying.

Sometimes people get confused about calling the Mosaic covenant a covenant of works.  Reformed people agree that covenant was made with Adam, and that it was a probation that He failed.  So, as a result of mankind having Adam’s sin imputed to him, is no longer capable of a probation, but because of sin is under a state of condemnation and unable to fulfill the covenant of works. Therefore, when some people come to the “do this and you will live” seen in the story of the rich young ruler (Matt 19:16-26) they fail to understand what it means. How can Jesus promise life when, not only is Adam’s sin imputed, but Jesus also sets the bar of fulfillment to perfection (Mt 5:48)?

Because Christ, never having sinned, and by being born out of ordinary generation did not have Adam’s sin imputed to Him.   Therefore, He was able to fulfill all the conditions of the Mosaic covenant, which is to say He fulfilled the whole law. Christ fulfilled the law written on the heart of mankind. So, what do we say Christ fulfilled? The covenant of life, the covenant of nature? Or do we call it the covenant of works?

One understanding that all sides have of this is that, the perfect fulfillment of the law being impossible for the Israelite to fulfill is a tutor, or schoolmaster that drives the Israelite to seek Messiah. It was to drive them to Christ who, as the second Adam, perfectly fulfills the law and imputes the consequences of His obedience to all who believe. This is what Paul is getting at in Romans when he contrasts the righteousness by works (to condemnation) and the righteousness which comes by faith (to salvation).  

Because Christ, never having sinned, and by being born out of ordinary generation did not have Adam’s sin imputed to Him.   Therefore, He was able to fulfill all the conditions of the Mosaic covenant, which is to say He fulfilled the whole law. Christ fulfilled the law written on the heart of mankind. So, what do we say Christ fulfilled? The covenant of life, the covenant of nature? Or do we call it the covenant of works?

If we say that Christ fulfilled any sort of conditional works principle in the Mosaic covenant, then how is it that we call the Mosaic covenant strictly a covenant of grace? It certainly wasn’t a covenant of grace to Christ. It was also not gracious at the national level, because Canaan, being a type of garden of Eden where man was to dwell at peace with God, required Israel’s obedience or the land would spit them out (Lev 18:28).  

So, what should we call the Mosaic covenant? Some people like John Piper (who collapse the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants) say that it was a gracious covenant to the Israelite, but it was also conditional. In other words, God provided everything, but in order to receive “final salvation”, they had to bear enough fruit of obedience, with God’s help of course. (Piper, Future Grace p248, 1995 ed.) That doesn’t sound like good news to me. That sounds like Rome’s position where we cooperate with grace for a final verdict. Piper extends this view to the new covenant as well (p249).

Calling all covenants gracious, and adding probationary element to them is often called monocovenantalism, and it’s at the heart of the Federal Vision error. If we don’t have some sort of view of Christ fulfilling the conditions of the covenant that’s a problem. If we don’t see Christ fulfilling the works of perfectly loving God and neighbor and thereby securing eternal life, then we’re going to at least functionally couch the Christian life as a sort of probation to attain life. Our works will be seen as antecedent to the concept of a “final salvation” rather than consequential to a salvation already secured by Christ’s obedience and sacrifice.  

We who are Reformed have to have a works principle that merits life completely fulfilled by Christ looming large in our systematic theologies, or else we’ll either doctrinally or functionally collapse the covenants, and start to mix law and gospel, and see grace as probationary.

Either Christ has secured eternal life for us, and His resurrection is our resurrection, or we await a  performance conditioned resurrection to life in the future. That is, either our resurrection is a vindication that we are in Christ, or our resurrection includes a set of scales where God weighs our good works and sees if there are enough there to match up with the justification which He had initially given to us.

That last view is really a collapsing of justification and sanctification, because it is a collapsing of the covenants. So, if you have a problem stating the Mosaic covenant was a republication of the covenant of works, then you’d better call it something else that has room for a probationary works principle fulfilled and not just gloss over it.

We who are Reformed have to have a works principle that merits life completely fulfilled by Christ looming large in our systematic theologies, or else we’ll either doctrinally or functionally collapse the covenants, and start to mix law and gospel, and see grace as probationary.

The right answer here is that there is no probation. Adam had a probation and he failed. Christ as the second Adam fulfilled that probation and merited eternal life. He secured it, and we who are united to Christ HAVE eternal life (1Jn 5:13) , and the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Ro 11:29) . For those united with Christ, our salvation is made final by Christ’s resurrection. 

The Christian life is NOT a probation. As J. Gresham Machen said shortly before his death: “He [Christ] has not merely paid the penalty of Adam’s first sin, and the penalty of the sins which we individually have committed, but also He has positively merited for us eternal life. He was, in other words, our representative both in penalty paying and in probation keeping. He paid the penalty of sin for us, and He stood the probation for us…. the probation is over.” (Machen radio broadcast December 1936, The Active Obedience of Christ)

Because the probation has been fulfilled for us, we have nothing more of our relative obedience to fulfill it with. We can not merit or demerit anything from the perfect obedience of Christ on our behalf. We only have the motive of gratitude left to us with the moral law as a rule, not to attain life, but as a guide to the Christian life, a guide of what pleases God.

So, yes God sanctifies us in this life, we are resurrected and glorified, but those are never probationary. Christian growth in sanctification is a consequence of the new creation life we have in Christ. It is not antecedent for attaining it as a “final salvation”. Good works necessarily occur in the life of a justified Christian, and we could even say in that context that they are antecedent to glorification.  But Christ resurrection is God’s pronouncement of the verdict of “righteous” on Him, and on the elect who are united to Him through faith. The new creation life IS eternal life breaking out in us right now. That is why good works are considered evidence. It’s evidence that we are in Christ, never evidence that we have done enough to stay in Christ.

If you are in Christ, you are a new creation, that is, you are definitively sanctified, and are seated with Christ in heaven. The fruit of good works is a necessary consequence of that new creation life (i.e. It exists), not a bar to meet to attain it, or a co-instrument along with faith that God will weigh at the final judgement. For the Christian, the final judgement is vindication that you are in Christ, the revealing of sons. The already pronounced verdict for Christians who are in Christ is not only not-guilty, but righteous first-born sons of God who have eternal life and an eternal inheritance.  Christian, that is good news for sinners like me and you.



Romans 2:25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

We could also say: A Christian is not one merely outwardly, but a Christian is one inwardly.

Look at the words “outwardly” and “inwardly” above. They are very important to understanding why the infant males of believers were circumcised in the old testament, and why that practice continued into the new testament with a new sign where the infant children of believers are baptized in the early church, and continues still to this day.  Both of those “outwardly” applied sacraments were signs of God’s covenant commitment, and in the case of children it is coupled with His command to we who are their believing parents to teach them to know God and His ways.

In the case of the sign being applied to children, it is not the outwardly applied covenant sign of circumcision or baptism that regenerates them inwardly (as Roman Catholicism wrongly teaches), but that God’s model is “family”. We can see that believers do tend to raise children that wind up also believing, and we loving parents should raise our children to have faith in Christ. The outward sign of the covenant has always been applied to children and God’s plan is that we, who know Christ, raise them as members of the Christ confessing community of believers we are a part of, and we their parents are to teach them (we Reformed teach them the word understood through the confessions, and catechisms) the faith that is their birthright, because the promise to we who believe is to us and our children (see Acts 2:39). We do this in the hope and expectation that they will inwardly appropriate the faith.

One example we see later in Romans 9 is where Paul points out Jacob and Esau. Both had received the sign of the covenant outwardly, but later in life, inwardly only Jacob believed, Esau did not. What was the difference? We’re told it’s because one was elect and the other was not.

However, this applying of the outward sign was given to both when they were infants.  This is the way God outwardly administrates the Covenant of Grace in both it’s old and new administrations. The outward sign is put on the parents who believe when they come to faith in Christ, and then also to their children, because this outwardly applied sign is also part of a family commitment by the parents to teach the faith. That is the mandate to us, even though in God’s secret election some of our children might not ever wind up inwardly believing, it is significant that we see Esau is said to have forsaken his birthright. It’s the reason in Acts 2:23 says that the promise is for us and our children, because the covenant model hasn’t changed, just the way it is administered has changed. Males are no longer a federal heads in the same way they were during the time of the old administration, and so both male and female children receive the outward sign which is also no longer a bloody sign of cutting off, because Christ was cut off in His sacrifice on the cross.  

In the new administration God still takes this family of believers model very seriously, because He takes the teaching of our children the faith, among a community of believers hearing the word preached to them every Sunday, very seriously. We their parents should personally teach them the faith. Not just stick them in a school or have some pastor teach them. There is nothing wrong with others teaching them, but it’s especially important that we parents personally teach them as that is God’s model and mandate. 

The model is not to just consider them hellions until they make a decision to answer an altar call someday, but to teach them and raise them expectant and hopeful that God’s promise to us is for our children as well. In this we see that Abraham is the model. Abraham was chosen to teach the faith to his children, and so are we: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord …” – Gen 18:19

This is the Reformed model because it’s the biblical model, it’s the way the sacrament of Baptism is to be done. — That this promise of God is also to our children, even though they haven’t believed yet, and it’s later where God causes them to inwardly trust in Christ. Our hope for them is that they don’t forsake their birthright like Esau did. Baptism is a sign of God’s commitment to us, and in the case of our children the expectation is that we would follow biblical model of parental discipleship to them. Because we are chosen to teach the children of our household about Christ and His gospel for them. 

“Reformed theology” is short hand for: “understanding-the-bible theology”

The bible explains the human condition. It explains why we do what we do, and what God has done to rescue us out of our condition. 

When the bible speaks of God saving us, part of what we’re being saved from is our broken status as works based self-justifiers. Since we’re made in God’s image, we’ve got the moral law of God written on our consciences. This law is summarized in the 10 commandments, and is further summarized as loving God and neighbor. We see this law at work when even an atheist jumps into a freezing pond to save someone he doesn’t know. John Calvin points to that kind of example and explains that by doing this he is simply responding to the law written on his heart to love his neighbor. One could even say that earth worship done by some Druidic pagan is seeking to love God, though it’s redirected to a more abstracted universal concept or transcendent deity. We know that man is built to worship, whether it’s a football team, beauty, or a god of his own making.

We also see the principle at work in people who can’t or don’t ever apologize have a righteousness (an I’m-good-enough) of their own that they’re trying to achieve or maintain. Their self-worth is based on performance, and internally it would crush them to admit that they’re a failure. The internal lawyer that accuses them is so strong that to give in and admit that the lawyer is right is a horror that they simply cannot face. If these people are Christians, they have not been taught, or they refuse to give up what they “bring to the table” and simply rest in Christ’s righteousness for them. Theirs is a type of treadmill Christianity where Christ forgives them, but they’re looking to sanctification to be a place to silence the lawyer. Often comparing themselves with others becomes the standard.

For the unbeliever, they have nothing to rest in, but must continue on that treadmill where they try to fill that black hole of their own lack of enoughness, and so they must also find a group of others that they can compare themselves to and come out looking better than. This is the human condition. The condition of mankind who has the law written on the heart, it came from Adam who was made for works-based righteousness.

Biblical Christianity, (which is Reformed Christianity with a proper covenant theology) understands and can explain the human condition. We know why people (including ourselves) do the things we do. There is this craving to do something and be declared righteous for it. To “do this and live”, or at least be enough. This is why many Christians tend to regard sanctification as leaving vice and doing virtue. What they don’t understand is that true sanctification (set-apart-ness) includes the forsaking of our own righteousness and resting in Christ’s righteousness. That is what happens in large part at conversion. If a person has not forsaken their own righteousness to rest in Christ’s alone, they’re not understanding or believing the saving good news.

Subjective lived-out Christian principles derived from debated interpretations of scripture are made objective measures of true Christianity, and therefore those who are woke, those who hold these right positions, they’re the righteous ones.

Because of ignorance it’s historically been the morally conforming conservative do-gooders that appear to be good Christians, when it reality they might not be converted at all. Today left-leaning do-gooders who virtue-signal tend to consider themselves better than others (or at least good enough) because they’re woke, meaning they hold the correct social or political views. This new Christianity is rapidly replacing the old-school type psudo-Christianity. This new Christianity is rapidly replacing the old-school type psudo-Christianity. This new brand of “I’m right by what I do” Christianity is based on a sort of lock-step common conscience, of wokeness. Which are subjective lived-out Christian principles derived from debated interpretations of scripture that are made objective measures of true Christianity. Therefore those who are woke, those who hold these right positions, they’re the righteous ones. It’s the equivalent of saying “…and Abraham believed in the doctrines of wokeness and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” If not doctrinally at least functionally they’ve renegotiated justification based on an insistence of a conscience binding woke-sanctification. This is not Reformed theology.

Historic Reformed theology is a way to understand most of the reasons why we do what we do, because it is an understanding of the bible’s covenantal themes. Reformed theology is Covenant Theology, which is the underlying doctrine of the great exchange. That is the good news of the imputation of our sin to Christ, which is born away on the cross, and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. We are to rest not in our sanctified selves, but only in Christ’s righteousness for us. Any evangelical obedience (the relative obedience that we do to the law as Christians) is out of the motive of gratitude alone, because there is no merit in them to either lose or gain, as Christ and His work alone is our righteousness. Christ’s obedience and sacrifice secures eternal life, and heaven for us, because we are united to Him, and so His resurrection was our judgement day. His death and resurrection was a judgement day event where we died positionally with Him and were raised again positionally with him, and are now seated positionally with Him.  That is our definitive sanctification.  It is a reckoning or counting towards (imputation) one who is a substitute from or to another. Christ is our substitute who died for us, and our substitute who lived righteously for us. So, in Christ, we’re not simply pardoned sinners, but God counts us as if we’ve loved Him with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves.  This is what it means to be justified. It’s irrevocable, because it was earned entirely outside of us by Christ, and given to us (who believe) as a gift.

A Reformed understanding of the bible explains the human condition, and understands the escape from wrath and judgement through salvation in Christ, a well as preservation and building up of ones faith through a God ordained community of Christ professing believers until we are brought into glory and our inheritance.

This is how a holy God is reconciled to and saves sinful mankind out of our miserable self-justifying (yet failing to be truly righteous) condition, by giving us Christ as our representative. Through the instrument of faith alone (that is believing and trusting in Christ and the promises of God in Him) God unites us to Christ and tells us because of that Christ bore our failure to be righteous away on the cross, and Christ also earned a perfect righteousness for us by His whole obedient live lived. By doing so. Christ fulfilled the covenant of life (covenant of works) that our first representative Adam did not, and so He has secured the promises of eternal life and the blessings of God.

It is through the explaining of doctrine, (that is the normal means of the preaching of the word of God) particularly the gospel I just explained that God uses to, by His spirit grant us faith so that we trust in Christ. So, this same gospel that justifies us is to continue to be examined and explained each week in all its’ glorious detail so that we are built up in Christ, and our faith is strengthened. That is why Historic Reformed piety is church centered, and particularly the “means of grace” centered, which is word and sacrament. Word (law and gospel, and particularly gospel) and sacrament, and then as we have offspring, we baptize them and we moms and dads catechize them (teach them the faith) as they are covenant members of the Christ confessing community of believers.

This is Reformed theology, it explains the human condition, offers

A Reformed understanding of the bible explains the human condition, understands the escape from wrath and judgement through salvation in Christ, as well as the preservation and building up of ones faith through a God ordained community of Christ professing believers until we are brought into glory and our inheritance.  There is an answer for our natural tendency to self-justify, a way to answer the inner-lawyer with Christ’s perfect righteousness. As the church proclaims the good news of the outside-of-us righteousness of Christ, we believe it, and rest in it. That is repentance from our own efforts to be enough, and we turn to and rest in Christ alone. Then when we’re freed from that bondage, by God’s Spirit we are enabled to follow our new nature, as we are a new creation in Christ, seeking obedience from the heart, out of the motive of gratitude alone.  Therefore, we are definitively and objectively freed from the penalty of sin, and also continued to be experientially and subjectively freed from the power of sin.

Martin Luther – Survey of Church history

martin luther

Survey of Church History (Mar 2019) written by Scott Willingham 


Born the son of a German miner in 1483, Martin Luther found himself brought up during the waning years of the decline of the Middle Ages, a time when papal prestige was decreasing, papal corruption was increasing, and the turmoil within the church was at an all-time high. In 1505, at twenty-two years old, Luther was well on his way to becoming a lawyer when he was caught in a lightning storm that scared him to the point of appealing to St. Anne, the patroness of miners, and promising her that he would become a monk if she would but spare his life. At the protests of his parents, Luther became a monk just two short weeks later. Over the next dozen years, Luther would devote himself to the monastic lifestyle in its most severe form, later recounting that if he had continued on at the pace he was going, he would have likely killed himself by his unwavering devotion to the work of a dedicated monk. He would later say that if any monk had ever been saved by his sheer monkery, it would have been him. That all began to change in 1515 when God used Paul’s letter to the Romans to show Luther that righteousness does not come by law keeping, but rather by faith in the merit of Jesus Christ.

            Having his understanding of Scripture, and of God in general, radically changed by this concept led Luther to question and ultimately criticize a number of Roman doctrines and practices. This came to a head when John Tetzel made his way through Germany selling indulgences as a part of a fundraising campaign for the completion of St. Peter’s basilica. Luther had had enough. In response, Luther wrote his famous ninety-five theses, intended for debate over such practices, and nailed them to the door of the Castle Church door at Wittenberg. This proved to be the act that ignited the Reformation.

            Luther quickly gained support from those who suffered as a result of the corrupt church practices, and opposition from those who benefited from them. This support made waves that were noticed by those in power and Luther quickly found himself having to defend his positions. In 1519, John Eck challenged Luther’s position on indulgences claiming that anyone who opposed indulgences was a heretic. It was during this eighteen-day debate with Eck at Leipzig that Luther appealed to what would later become known as one of the Five Solas. Luther placed ultimate authority in Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura), not in church councils or popes. And Luther didn’t stop there. He wrote a series of pamphlets challenging corrupt church practices, calling for their reform, and elevating the “common man’s” position with God and within the church to its rightful status- as priests who serve God within their particular vocational callings, all of which equally sacred. This push against the corrupt church order earned him an official papal bull from Pope Leo X in 1520, who demanded that Luther recant his positions. After refusing, Luther was excommunicated from the church in 1521. Later that same year, Luther was called by emperor Charles V to defend his positions at the now famous Diet of Worms. After refusing to denounce his position again, Luther was declared an outlaw and was forced to go into hiding for nearly a year. During this time of exile in the Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the New Testament into German, personifying a later motto of the Reformation “post tenebras lux”, “after darkness, light.” After Luther came out of hiding in Wartburg, he pressed into the task of reforming the church all the more, abolishing the office of bishop, reforming the practices of monks and nuns, exhorting those in ministry to marry, and himself marrying a former nun; all of which solidified his status as an outlaw. But the damage to the Roman church was done. The Reformation was underway and, in many ways, still is today. 

The Law of God had done its work in showing Luther his need for a Savior

            During Luther’s years as a monk, he found himself racked with guilt brought about by the painful realization that he was a wretched sinner who was unable to live up to the Law of God, and who consequently stood condemned. This led to Luther hating God for giving him a standard to meet that he was unable to, regardless of his extreme efforts and devotion. Luther’s objective view of the Law and his conviction that no man could live up to its standards brought him to a point of despair for his own life and disdain for his own utterly inadequate internal righteousness. The Law of God had done its work in showing Luther his need for a Savior, a position that would later become known as Luther’s second use of the Law. From this point of despair Luther searched for an answer to his problem. His revolutionary “discovery” of justification by faith alone would prove to play an invaluable part in the Reformation of the church and would take Luther from being a God-hater to one who loved God greatly and who would risk his life so that others could experience and know this scandalously free grace of God.

            Rather than relativize the Law of God and turn it into something palatable and achievable by us on our own, as is painfully common in evangelical churches today, Luther took the Law for what it is- the perfect expression of God’s holy, blameless, unwavering character and the standard to which we are held. This objective view of the Law led to Luther’s recognition of his need for a Savior and for a righteousness that comes from outside of himself. The Law did its work on Luther, and if we are to love people well, we must bring that same Law to bear on the people we minister to and allow it to crush them, as it crushed Luther. But we cannot leave them there under the crushing weight of the Law. Our job, more accurately- our privilege, as ministers, as priests, as Christians is to bring the Law to bear on people and then, when the full weight of the Law has done its work, we are to offer the hope that only comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The perfect, personal, perpetual obedience of Jesus Christ to every aspect of the Law of God is the only answer to the demands of the Law and it is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone that we obtain Christ’s obedience as if it were our own. We need this good news to free us from the burden of the Law, as did Luther, and the people we minister need the same good news, but in order for the good news of the gospel to in fact “be” good, our people need to first feel the burden of the Law. As Luther came to stress, we must distinguish between Law and gospel rightly. For the good of our neighbor, we must correctly proclaim Law as Law and gospel as gospel, because any failure to rightly distinguish between the two, or any overlap between the two is, as Theodore Beza said, “one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupts Christianity.” [1] If we take Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount and prescribe them to our people as attainable by great personal effort and sacrifice, we fall into the same category as the Romanists who Luther fought so strongly against. If we soften Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” into, “you need to try your best,” we downplay the righteous requirements of God and make them something we can achieve on our own, thus negating our need for Christ’s active obedience. In order to love people well, we must first bring the full weight of God’s Law and then offer the only Solution- the person and work of Jesus Christ. From there we can move to Luther’s third use of the Law, where the Law of God serves as a guide for a life of gratitude for the Christian. When we properly distinguish Law from gospel and then present the appropriate uses of the Law, we offer true freedom for our neighbor.

[1] “The Word of God: Its two parts — the Law and the Gospel,” Monergism, https://www.monergism.com/word-god-its-two-parts-—-law-and-gospel.


About Scott: Scott is a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church Fort Worth OPC, is currently studying online at Westminster Theological Seminary, and is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes director for the state of Texas for FCA Motocross. Scott is also one of the voices behind the Gospel Driven Athlete podcast.

You can find more stuff about and from Scott here: http://fcamx.com/texas , and here http://fcamx.com/gospeldrivenathlete