Archive for the ‘The Gospel’ Category

The Power of the Gospel, Part 2

December 9, 2008

Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Last time we looked at the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel that appears to be the majority report in the modern day that is set out before people seems to be very weak as it is utterly reliant and dependant upon the power of the will of human beings. The Gospel of the Bible is powerful because it is utterly reliant and dependant upon the will and power of God. The Gospel in Scripture is the Gospel of the omnipotent God who alone can take human souls and deliver them from the state of spiritual death and bondage that they are in. It is God alone who can raise those who are in spiritual bondage to one far more powerful than they are and can raise human beings from the spiritual dead. James 1:18 sets this out very clearly: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.”

In light of the above paragraph, the preaching of today is far too man-centered. The preaching of today preaches to man as if something was in his own power to do and does not address human beings as dead in sin and unable to raise themselves from the dead. It does not address human beings as in spiritual bondage and utterly helpless to help themselves. Instead people are preached to as if these things were in their own power. But human beings must be born again and raised from the dead and the power of God alone can bring people forth by the word of truth. Instead of preaching to the will of man as if it has power to do what is needed to be saved, the Word of God points us to look to the will of God as what is needed to be saved. The Gospel is powerful because it is God Himself who is powerful and works through His word.

In the previous BLOG several verses were given to show that sinners are dead in sin and in bondage and slavery to sin. Instead of just giving these verses a nod of the head and continuing on as if they were not true, we need to look at them a lot closer and others a lot closer. The first three verses give us the same thought: Ephesians 2:1: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:3: “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” Colossians 2:13: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.” If we are to be faithful to Scripture and the Gospel, we must understand these verses and utilize them as they are necessary to understand what the new birth really is. These verses clearly show us that salvation is beyond the power of human beings and is more than a mere act of the human will. The spiritual nature of man is dead. In other words, when a believer is telling people the Gospel of Jesus Christ, those people need to know that they are dead in their sins. They are spiritually dead and cannot just make a decision or exercise an act of the will in order to be saved. What must happen to them is that God must make them spiritually alive which is to bring them forth from the dead.

What will happen if we bring a Gospel to people and ignore this basic fact? We will be bringing a message to those who are spiritually dead and so we will water the message of the Gospel down in order to have something for them to do. If we do not teach them that they are dead, they will think that all they have to do is to exercise their will in a prayer or act of belief and they will be saved. They will not recognize that the Gospel is all about an omnipotent God who must exercise His will in order to bring them forth from the spiritual dead. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news to those who see that they are dead in their sins and that they are by nature children of wrath. It is good news to those people because they can see that they don’t have the power to raise themselves from the dead, but instead they need to be emptied of their pride and self-centeredness so that they don’t try to save themselves by an act of their will. It is good news to these people because it takes their eyes off of themselves to see the living God who alone can raise them from the dead and also give them life that is everlasting.

We can see this in Colossians 2:13 as well as in Ephesians 2:4-10 (not quoted). Dead sinners are not just given a ticket that allows them into heaven, but they are raised from their spiritual deadness and given life. This is a life of great power because it is the life of God in their souls. This is a life of grace because that is the only way God operates toward anyone and especially toward dead sinners. This is of the power of God because the life that begins by grace is a life that is sustained at all points by grace and even through eternity. This Gospel is a Gospel of great power because it is the Gospel of the omnipotent God who does as He pleases. What a powerful Gospel.

The Power of the Gospel

December 7, 2008

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is something that is disputed and fought over. It is that way because the hearts of men are wicked and do not want to bow in utter submission to the true Christ. It is far easier to think of salvation as Jesus doing something and then all I have to do is to pray a prayer and exercise an intellectual belief and then I am saved from hell. We think of that as good news because it delivers us from hell. But what we don’t often think of is that sin itself is the punishment for sin (Romans 1:18-32). When God judges sinners, He turns them over to hard hearts and they are given over to more and more sin. If God just saves people from a place called hell and does not deliver them from sin itself, then they would have a living hell within them. There is no hell apart from sin and one is not saved from a future hell until s/he is saved from the power of sin in the present.

In the past several blog posts I have set out some things about how we use time and then the thoughts and words that we use. We are going to give account to God for all of those things. Our thoughts will be judged and even every careless word will be brought into judgment (Matthew 12:26). Can we be said to be delivered from hell if we are not delivered from the power of sin regarding our thoughts and words? The Gospel of Jesus Christ delivers from the guilt of sin but also the power of sin. A heart that has been changed by the living God is one that longs to be delivered from its own sinful thoughts and words. It is a heart that has been changed by the grace of God. In fact, Paul told us that we are to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). This should not be a burden in doing something we don’t want to do, but it should be a burden that we have not perfected it any better than we have. Do we have the love of God in us if we are not striving after holier and holier thoughts?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is also the Gospel of the kingdom of God in the hearts of His people. When a sinner has been transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son (Colossians 1:13), that sinner is no longer the same ole sinner but is now a completely different person. The Gospel of the omnipotent God is a Gospel of power to change hearts and to change the focus and intents of hearts. The Gospel is not just a bunch of facts that we have to be convinced of or convince ourselves of, but it has to do with the Person of Jesus Christ dwelling in the hearts of believers. The good news of the Gospel is that no longer am I completely a slave of sin and a slave of the devil, but that now Jesus Christ lives in me and He works love and holiness in my soul because He is now my life. The Gospel is about the fact that the Lord God omnipotent reigns and His kingdom is in the hearts of all true believers in and through Christ. What kind of weak Savior is Christ if He is unable to deliver His people from the power of sin now? Could He deliver His people from hell later on if not from the power of sin now?

In our day what is called the Gospel is hardly even recognizable as even close to the same Gospel in the Bible. The Gospel of the Bible is one of great power. The Gospel of the Bible is one of great glory. The one today is weak and focused on man and has little to nothing of the glory of God in it. The Gospel of the Bible is one where the glory of the beauty of God shines brightly in and through it. The so-called gospel of today shines forth with the darkness of a focus on man. But the power of the Gospel is seen in delivering the sinner from the power of sin which is the love and glory of self. When a semblance of the gospel is preached and yet it still leaves men centered on themselves, it is a weak and erroneous gospel because those people are not delivered from the power of sin.

Matthew 1:21 sets out this thought in terms of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” The Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the Lord who will deliver His people from the bondage of sin. After all, John 8:34 tells us very clearly that sin is a form of slavery: “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”” Other verses also set this out as a clear truth from Scripture: “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:23). “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” (Rom 6:20). “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (Rom 7:14). “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3). If the Lord Jesus Christ who is King of Kings came to deliver His people from the dominion of darkness, Satan, and sin (Col 1:13), then a person only has Christ if that person is broken from the bondage of sin. This does not mean that a person will be perfect, but simply that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does deliver a person from bondage by the power of the Gospel or the power of God in Christ.

In Pursuit of the True Gospel, Part 21 – Words and their Meanings

August 6, 2007

There is at least one other question that must be dealt with, or at least dealt with a little more fully. What of those who claim to be saved by faith alone through grace alone? In the modern day we are willing to accept people as brothers in Christ based solely on the fact that they say they believe in justification by faith alone or that they say that they believe they are saved by grace alone. While this appears to be a charitable way to treat others, it is not the most loving way we can treat them and it is certainly not the most honoring to Christ.

Let us say that a person applies for church membership. That person gives lip service to the Gospel as stated. Do we then simply allow the person to join? I certainly hope not. We want to see if the life of the person fits with his or her profession and what the person means by the words. People can profess the Gospel and simply be deceived. People can profess the Gospel and not know what the words really mean. If we allow that as possible and, in fact, happening on a regular basis, shouldn’t we be more careful of those we say we want unity with? Shouldn’t we be more careful of those we receive as brothers and speak of glowingly in public?

Just because a person says that he is saved by grace means virtually nothing today. Roman Catholics and Antinomians believe that too. But the word is defined differently and the concept is a different idea in virtually every way. Does the Arminian mean the same thing as the Reformed person when he says that he is saved by grace alone? It is possible that a professing Arminian and a professing Reformed person do mean the same thing. However, if one person truly holds to the Arminian system and the second truly holds to the Reformed system, the two must mean something different. It is even possible to be mostly Pelagian and still use the same language.

The real issue is what Scripture says about being saved by grace and whether or not the person holds to that. We must never seek unity that is apart from the Gospel of grace and grace alone. Even if a person professes a Gospel like that, it does not mean in and of itself that the person really believes in the biblical Gospel. There are also differing conceptions of what justification by faith alone means. That is, a person can profess a belief in justification by faith alone and still not believe the Gospel. Many people are raised up with the facts of the Gospel and so they will profess to being saved by grace through faith without knowing what that means or ever having a change of heart.

Before the hand of fellowship should be extended in doctrinal unity around the Gospel we must make clear what the Bible teaches, what we mean by that, and then what others mean by it. Men can go around speaking highly of other people when they in fact do not even hold to the same Gospel even though they use the same language about the Gospel. We must first be clear about what the Gospel really is and then deal with others. Those who are Reformed must not simply take the word of man that others hold to a true understanding of justification by faith alone. By that I mean that we should not assume that professing Reformed people hold to a biblical teaching and we should not assume that professing Arminians hold to the biblical Gospel either. There will be some who are Reformed in name who in reality hold to the Arminian teaching and perhaps some who are closer to the Pelagian system. There will be some who profess to be Arminian but might actually be Reformed while some are most likely Pelagian. Let us not hold to a unity of words while the Gospel is not begging.

We live in very dangerous times. The Word of God is said to be inerrant but is not treated as the Word of God. Many people claim to believe in justification by faith alone but have no idea what is really meant by that. To be frank and to the point, I have heard conferences on justification by faith alone by Reformed men and did not hear the core issues dealt with.

Romans 3:24-31: “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

Some deny the utter freeness of grace by asserting free-will and others assert that grace does not establish the Law. We must get clear on these things to agree in truth. If we cannot agree on these things, we do not believe the same Gospel. It is by grace and nothing but grace.

In Pursuit of the True Gospel, Part 20 – The State of the SBC

August 4, 2007

Without attempting to water things down, it is my belief that the SBC is in big trouble as a denomination in terms of the truth and Gospel of the living God. For years the SBC was liberal in its leadership and institutions. That was a horrid thing. There was then the conservative resurgence and now they have control. But what do they have control of? What was the heart of the conservative resurgence? Wasn’t it a battle over inerrancy and moral issues? Was it ever a battle over the Gospel? In other words, the resurgence was not the same thing as the Reformation. It was simply a conservative resurgence. That is not the same thing as a fight for the Gospel. It is not even close.

Liberalism is not Christianity and is not even a version of it. It is a denial of Christianity and nothing short of it. Let us not be so tolerant and gracious to declare that. But what teaching has replaced Liberalism in the offices and other positions of leadership? Has it been a thorough return to the Gospel of grace? We have seen many efforts at evangelism of some sort and baptism. Matthew 23:15 tells us that one can give a great effort at evangelism and it does nothing but condemn both the evangelizer and the one evangelized: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” A great effort at evangelism is not a good thing if one does not have the Gospel which alone truly converts. Could it be that many conservatives have a false gospel and as such their converts are made into sons of hell too?

Without question virtually every leader in the SBC is Arminian. What does that mean in light of what the pioneer Reformers wrote during the Reformation? Arminianism [semi-Pelagianism] was seen to be a rejection of NT Christianity and in a sense a return to NT Judaism “for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other” (Bondage of the Will, p. 59). What would Luther think of the SBC? Am I attacking the SBC? I don’t think that I am, but I am pointing out that there needs to be a real Reformation and not just a conservative resurgence.

When Luther took up his pen in writing the Bondage of the Will, he said that he took up his pen in order to stand for grace. Reformed theology takes its stand on the five sola’s of the Reformation because all those points are closely linked to the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is grace alone. The five sola’s did not come out of nothing; but all were points that were all about the main issue and that was the Gospel. The doctrine of free-will is virulently opposed to the doctrine of grace alone and Christ alone and at some point all the sola’s of the Reformation. Can Arminian theology really be that which a modern Reformation can be built upon?

Evangelism and total depravity are teachings which cannot be separated which means that evangelism and the bondage of the will cannot be separated. Just because someone does what they call “evangelism” does not mean that they are proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just because someone is getting people to pray a prayer and then be baptized does not mean that those people are converted. Evangelism is founded in doctrine and cannot happen without it. Without the true Gospel there will be no true evangelism. If the doctrine of man’s total depravity is true, then we cannot approach man as if he still has a spark of life in him. If the doctrine of depravity is true, then man is indeed dead in sin and in bondage to sin. That changes everything about evangelism. Those who do not really believe man is dead and in bondage to sin will not evangelize people in the same way than will those who believe those things are true. If a person is dead and in bondage to sin, that person must be made alive by the grace of God and delivered from the bondage to the devil. Those who deny that will teach a person that s/he needs to make a choice to be saved. Those two positions teach a different Gospel.

The SBC is still in a war for its soul though many think that the war has been won. It has not been won and perhaps it has hardly even started. Until men will deal honestly with the souls of others in evangelism, baptism, church membership and discipline, have we really dealt with the primary issues? Liberalism is an obvious departure from the Gospel. Conservative teaching is not so obvious which makes it more deceptive. Can we love the truth and grace of God with our whole being and then be tolerant of those that deny the truth and grace of God whether liberal or conservative? The SBC can survive for years as a conservative, religious institution without the Gospel. The Pharisees sure did. It might survive with a group of people calling themselves “Reformed” in it as well. That would be a deceptive unity. What must happen is for God to break some from love for anything but Himself and begin to teach the real Gospel. The kingdom and the Gospel will continue with or without the SBC.

In Pursuit of the True Gospel, Part 19 – Deceptive Appearances of Unity

August 2, 2007

In the Historical Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will the writers say this: “These things need to be pondered by Protestants to-day. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognized by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism to-day become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, prefer a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth?”

Is a deceptive appearance of unity more important than the truth of the Gospel in the SBC? Does doctrine matter anymore? Does Reformed theology and Arminian theology teach the same thing about grace and justification by faith alone? If they don’t, any unity based on something other than vital doctrines will be a deceptive appearance. Could it be a deception that is about the Gospel? Could it be that as the SBC strives for unity that the Gospel will be obscured by that very unity? A true unity can only happen around a true Gospel. The differing parties within the SBC must not be unified apart from the Gospel or it will be a deceptive appearance of unity and perhaps a denial of the Gospel itself. We are not talking about matters that can be minimized and glossed over.

For many years Roman Catholicism has talked about wanting unity. For years previous to the Reformation it wanted to keep its unity. But the unity it kept was a unity in denying the Gospel. This is not to say that there were no people within Roman Catholicism that did not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But it is to say that for Rome, unity was the goal and the unity they kept was at the expense of the Gospel. Rome had a semi-Pelagian theology and it was unified around it. Luther came on the heels of Wycliffe and a few others and thundered forth a Gospel that was all of grace and which destroyed the pride of man and established the glory of God in the Gospel. Luther and Rome had a lot of conflict and along came Erasmus as the champion of unity and peace. He tried to minimize and gloss over the differences in order to have unity. Luther would have none of it and his volume in reply to Erasmus was a display of the glory of God in a whole grace toward fallen and sinful humans.

There are many parallels within the SBC and other denominations to what went on during the time of the Reformation. The cry to increase baptisms is not the same as the cry to proclaim the Gospel of grace so that that God’s glory in the Gospel would be declared. The cry to get the people down the aisle and get people to make decisions is not the same as calling people to deny themselves and cry out for the mercy of a holy and sovereign God. Tetzel sold indulgences which gave people a card which paid for their sin before they committed it. Forms of theology in the SBC and other denominations right now have people come up an aisle, pray a prayer, apply the water, and then tell them that they will be lost no matter what they do. Which is worse? Can anyone who holds to the Gospel of Jesus Christ be united to a perversion like that? This is not to say that a person who is truly saved will ever be truly lost, but it is to say that when people are saved from hell they are saved from the power of sin. Jesus Christ is Lord over all that He saves and He will not allow His people to live a life of unrepentant sin.

The SBC and other denominations have had and still have trouble with people misusing money. Perhaps that is minimizing and glossing over the issue, but there has been trouble with that. Can we stand around and point at Rome without dealing with our own house? What the SBC needs is a true Reformation. Bringing conservative men into leadership is better than having liberals there, but that does not mean that a true Reformation and revival have taken place. A unity that takes place without a thorough Reformation will be nothing but a deceptive appearance. There is no way that any form of unity should take place within the differing groups of the SBC apart from a thorough Reformation. The “good ole boy” system must be thrown out and men must begin to seek God for godly leadership that is solid in doctrine. Many conservatives must cast out their legalism and others need to cast out their libertine doctrines. The only way for that to be done is for some Reformed men to stand up and declare the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ. “Unity” is but a word without Reformation and solid doctrine.

In Pursuit of the True Gospel, Part 18 – Reformation

July 31, 2007

If indeed the Arminian system is a denial of the Gospel as Luther claimed (he called it semi-Pelagianism), then this is a serious difference to minimize and gloss over. Does the doctrine of the will matter in our day? Luther thought that it was the essential issue that set out what grace really meant and that grace and the teaching on the will really interpreted the Gospel. If we gloss over the issue of the will and simply say that others believe in salvation by grace, what have we really done? Roman Catholicism says that it believes in salvation by grace too. What do people mean when they say that they believe in salvation by grace? Are we being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ if we simply assume that they mean what the Bible means on the subject?

Roman Catholicism says that salvation is by grace but means that God gives grace that we then have to cooperate with and then apply through the use of means. Does the Arminian system teach anything different in principle than that? What does the Arminian mean by saying that salvation is all of grace? The system would say that salvation is provided by grace but a person must believe of himself in order for that grace to be applied. For the Arminian to say anything else is to deny the system that is built on free-will and that is a denial of Arminianism. The Arminian might say that God gives all men a measure of grace in order to believe, but that leaves them in the same position. The remaining movement of the will comes from the person and so is not all of grace but instead is just mostly grace. It also denies that man is dead in sins and trespasses.

The conclusion is then that Roman Catholicism and Arminianism do have the same principle at the heart of it. Both have Christ providing grace for salvation and yet both have man applying grace to himself in some way. Both deny the total depravity of man because the will has something good in it that does not need to be redeemed and so can choose God. Both have man doing a work or doing some works in order to be saved. Both deny by their doctrine that grace alone does really saves and that faith itself is the work of God and purchased by Christ. The pioneer Reformers saw what semi-Pelagianism (Arminianism today) was and they were strong in their denunciations of it. Has Roman Catholicism changed today? Has Arminianism changed today? If Roman Catholicism changes, it is no longer Roman Catholicism. If Arminianism changes, it is no longer Arminianism. To change is to change from the system and not the system itself.

The Reformed system was set out by the Reformers as the theology of Holy Scripture. They taught that to teach free-will as Roman Catholicism does and what Arminianism does today is a denial of the Gospel. I know that I have said that several times in differing ways, but this concept must be grasped. This is not a small difference that is going on within the SBC. This is not just a small issue, but according to Luther and the pioneer Reformers this issue is over the Gospel itself. If this issue is minimized and glossed over by anyone, it is either in ignorance or on purpose. Either way it works out to be the same. If anyone thinks that there can be unity within the SBC without discussing this issue and that the Gospel is not compromised by the refusal to discuss this, that person has missed the whole point of the Reformation. If people who call themselves Reformed are willing to unite with others without this being perhaps the most substantive issue, then those people are greatly deceived. The Gospel cannot be discussed without this issue. That means that any unity apart from this issue will be a unity that is apart from the Gospel as taught by the Reformers. The SBC needs a true Reformation and not one that is without the theology of the Reformation. Is that theology taught in Scripture? If it is not brought up and discussed, will others know?

In Pursuit of the True Gospel, Part 17 – Standing Firm on the Gospel of Grace

July 29, 2007

In the Historical Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will the writers say this: “These things need to be pondered by Protestants to-day. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognized by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism to-day become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, prefer a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth?”

Are Reformed people in the SBC trying to minimize and gloss over the differences for the sake of inter-party peace? That is a very Erasmian thing to do if it is being done. In one sense it is true that some people are “atheological,” but in another sense that is very wrong. All people are inescapably theological at the heart level. All men know that there is a God by the way they were created and through nature, or at least that is what Romans 1:18-32 tells us. Men suppress the truth in wickedness and one way to suppress the truth is by avoiding theology. Men have to be theological in order to suppress the truth about God and by avoiding theology they are avoiding that which they hate. We must be direct in dealing with the differences and show others what they are suppressing.

What the above paragraph shows is why some people want to gloss over theology. Glossing over and minimizing theology is one way for the heart to suppress the truth. People hate the light and love the darkness. Another reason that we minimize and gloss over differences is because men like to be liked and love to be loved. It is hard to step out and stress what some people consider fine points if it irritates other people, especially if the other people are known, respected and liked in many circles. However, a love for the glory of God and for the Gospel requires that we get down to the fine points and drive them home. We should not assume that just because a person is a respected denominational leader or pastor that the person is truly converted.

Let us be very blunt and get down to the crux of the issue. Another way to put it would be to say that we must not minimize and gloss over the differences in order to obtain inter-party peace. Martin Luther said that he would be willing to keep the pope if the Gospel would just be preached. He did not want to divide from Rome but he had to over the Gospel. His real issue with Rome was over the Gospel and in particular the real issue for Luther was over the bondage of the will and salvation totally by grace. Let us make no mistake about this point. This was the crux of the issue at the time of the Reformation and it is still the dividing line today. We must never minimize this issue or we will be minimizing the Gospel. It matters not whether one goes under the title of “Reformed” or “Arminian”. What really matters is whether Christ has saved that person wholly of grace and lives in that person’s heart.

The Arminian system in name is the prevalent system of thought in the SBC. It is preached far and wide that man has free will and can use that free will to choose Christ as he wills. That was a denial of the Gospel to Martin Luther. That makes man depend on himself for faith and is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works. The difference between works for salvation and works after salvation is on whether man is depending on himself or Christ to do them. Can one really believe in Christ alone if he is trusting in himself to come to Christ? Can one really trust in Christ alone if he has come up with the faith himself? Can one really trust in Christ alone if he trusts in his own work to be saved? We see then that it does no good to gloss over the Arminian system at all. It does no good to minimize the differences. However, what we must be aware of is that there may be many people who are Reformed in name who are really Arminian in reality and practice. There might also be some who are Arminian in name and are Reformed in reality and inconsistent in practice. The pioneer Reformers were adamant that the Arminian system was a rejection of New Testament Christianity. If it was then, it still is. If we don’t face up to that issue, then we are minimizing and glossing over the differences. We must stand for the truth of Gospel and let the chips fall where God causes them to fall. We must stand here or we will not be standing at all. What are we standing for if not the glory of God’s grace in the Gospel?

In Pursuit of the True Gospel, Part 16 – The Offense of the Gospel

July 27, 2007

In this BLOG we will deal with the question whether Protestantism in our day has become more like Erasmus than Luther. What that means is that we try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of peace within the denomination or Christendom as a whole. We have seen this between the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics. We have seen this in the Evangelical Catholics Together documents. The doctrinal differences are minimized and glossed over for the sake of peace. However, Scripture does not charge us to find peace at the cost of truth. In reality there is only true peace where there is truth. Without truth, there is no true love.

Within the SBC there are differing groups. There are those who are at least moderately liberal and those who are conservative. Others are fundamentalists, charismatic, and then those who are Reformed. While that does not necessarily describe everybody, it does give a broad idea of the situation. How are all of these people to exist peacefully within the SBC? Frankly, it appears that at least some of the effort going on now is to gloss over the differences. That may work for some time, but it is not a permanent peace. For there to be true peace within the SBC, the positions of each party must be stated. There must be true debate on the issue rather than a simple dialogue as such. Dialogue is aimed at fostering understanding and respect between the parties. Debate should be aimed at a love for the truth and a desire for the truth to be made known and to be understood. Debate sharpens the differences in terms of its precision and sets out the differences exactly where they are and are not.

Erasmus was a man that wanted peace and unity apart from theological precision and bold statements of truth. He was a scholar and preferred peace and simple morality to the truth. The spirit of Erasmus lives today in many areas. What we need are men like Luther who will point out the differences with biblical fidelity, a sharp logic, theological precision, and then to take a stand on the truth without concern about what men say about them. We need men who are willing to have men mad at them in order to please the living God. We need men who are willing to humbly stand for the truth even if it is offensive to the modern mind. The worst thing that can happen is for men to be more afraid of offending men than they are of offending God. Erasmus was a man that was willing to speak out on issues but did not want to offend men with them. We must be very careful not to be an Erasmus.

What is the problem with being like Luther? We have all seen those who are willing to stand up for what they believe and yet they appear to like offending men because it makes them exalted in their own eyes. It is almost like they are looking for ways to offend people or to say things that offend for the sake of appearing like a Luther or a prophet. But Luther’s words for the most part were not meant to offend for the sake of offending. He was blood earnest in standing for the truth of the Gospel. Whenever we stand we want to be sure that we are standing on the truth of God out of love for His glory and the souls of other human being. Our offense must be the Gospel itself and the cross itself. When men are offended at us rather than the Gospel, we have sinned. It is true that men will think they are offended at us rather than the Gospel and especially those that think they have it themselves. But let us not deceive ourselves; the Gospel will not go forward in this day without many being offended. There will be no revival and no reformation in or out of the SBC or anywhere else without many people being offended by the truth of the Gospel and of the cross. We are simply kidding ourselves if we think anything else.

In Pursuit of the True Gospel, Part 15 – Justification by Faith Alone

July 25, 2007

If the Bondage of the Will does in fact set out what the pioneer Reformers believed about the Gospel, then we have to conclude that modern Protestantism has tragically sold its birthright since the day of Luther. We must never think that we are Reformed in the historical sense if we have slipped to the point of teaching in essence the same Gospel as Rome does. At that point we would no longer be protesting at all. In writer after writer and speaker after speaker we hear that Arminians are inconsistent but are still brothers. We hear that we are to be gracious and dialogue with them in an effort to convince them. What we must understand, however, is that if they truly hold to the Arminian system and we truly hold to the historical Protestant position, then we cannot call them Christian brothers. That sounds so strange in the modern day, but it is still at least logically correct. Let us look at it from this view. The historical Protestant (Reformers) view says that salvation is wholly of God and wholly of grace. A person is dead in sin and cannot come to God apart from God’s grace in making that person alive and giving that person the gift of faith. The Roman Catholic view, apart from some of the sacramental issues, is that a person has the ability to make a step toward God and cooperate with grace. That is also the Arminian view.

Can we see that both of these views cannot be the same view of Scripture? Romans 4:16 sets out why salvation is by faith: “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” It is by faith in order that it will be in accordance with grace. Justification is not by faith alone in order that it may be easier for people to be saved so that they don’t have to keep a law of some sort. It is by faith alone in order that it may be by grace alone and it is by grace alone so that salvation will be completely by Christ and that is to the glory of God alone. If we make faith out to be a human work that is not completely and utterly of grace, but instead depends on the human choice and will, then we have a Gospel that is not wholly of Christ and wholly of grace. It is, therefore, a huge difference. It is the difference between Roman Catholicism and the pioneer Reformers. It is the difference between true Arminianism and the Gospel.

Let us go back and try to clarify a few things. Is this saying that all people who call themselves Arminians are truly unconverted? No, I am not saying that. I am simply saying that the system of Arminianism does not teach the Gospel and is opposed to it. It is only when the systems are set out for what they truly teach can one deal with individuals. I am sure there are those that go under the banner of Arminian that are converted. I am also sure that there are those that are under the banner of Reformed that are not. It is not the creed that one holds since people on different sides of an aisle can call the same thing something different. It is the true belief of the heart. A hyper-Calvinist thinks of a Calvinist as an Arminian while an Arminian might think of a Calvinist as a hyper-Calvinist.

The doctrine of justification by faith alone was important to the Reformers because it safeguarded the principle of sovereign grace. We must look at that principle and know that it is taught without fail in Ephesians 2:1-10. In order for the grace of God in salvation to be truly grace, it cannot have anything in man that makes man worthy of it or it is not grace. God must save according to His character and not anything man works up in himself or it is not a grace that is truly grace. While the differences appear small in the eyes of modern niceness, they are not small in the light of the glory of God. The two systems are not even close and one is not the Gospel.

In Pursuit of the True Gospel, Part 14

July 23, 2007

The article that I have been dealing with (the June 07 Banner of Truth magazine) is saying that Calvinists are guilty of pride if they think of other theologies as inferior and perhaps non-Christian. However, I have been saying that the Reformers themselves saw Arminianism as a false Gospel, though indeed they referred to it as Semi-Pelagianism. In the Historical Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will the writers say this: “These things need to be pondered by Protestants to-day. With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognized by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before us what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism to-day become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, prefer a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth?”

The chilling quote from above was published in 1957. It is now fifty years later and we have to ask if the writers were correct at that point or not. We then have to ask if things are better or worse if they were correct. Without questioning things are worse and perhaps even much worse. What would the Reformers think of modern Protestantism? While we have no way of knowing these things exactly, we can have a good idea from what they wrote and the positions they wrote against. It is my belief that Packer and Johnson were right in 1957 when they say that “modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognized by the pioneer Reformers.”

Why wouldn’t modern Protestantism be recognized by the Reformers? What the authors of that statement were saying, I think, is that the pioneer Reformers would not have recognized modern Protestantism as anything like what they fought for and were willing to die for. I know this is going to sound rude and harsh, but at some point the Emperor needs to be told that he has no clothes on. Modern Protestantism does not have any clothes on that would identify it as the Protestantism that God sent forth during the time of the Reformation. Even more, it appears that what is known as Reformed theology in our day is not what the pioneer Reformers taught. In the modern day Reformed people also have followed the path down and out of the sight of the pioneer Reformers. Some of them hold to the five points of Calvinism, but a type the Reformers might not have recognized. Some of them hold to justification by faith alone, but again a type that the Reformers would not have recognized as what they taught.

What we must say, and perhaps at the top of our literal and literary lungs, is that all presentations of justification by faith alone are not even close to being the same thing. Again, to quote from the Historical Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the will, “Justification by faith only is a truth that needs interpretation. The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood till it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia. What is the source and status of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received, or is it man’s own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves?” (p. 59). This is a vital point. The quote then goes on to show that if God is not the source of faith and it does not depend totally on God, then that is a return to Reformed Catholicism’s way of salvation in principle.

We have got to get our heads and souls clear of the modern muddled way of looking at this. We are so afraid of offending people that we will not take the time and effort in prayer and the study of Scripture in prayer to notice that the Gospel has virtually been lost in our generation. Let us ask another question that gets to the point of the issue. If true grace is not understood apart from the teaching of the bondage of the will, then what does that say about today’s versions of the doctrine of justification? Again, the pioneer Reformers taught that we cannot understand the teaching of justification alone apart from the biblical understanding of grace alone. Luther was so emphatic in writing that one cannot understand grace apart from understanding man’s bondage of the will in sin. What Luther taught and what modern Arminianism teaches, even if it is under the guise of Reformed theology, are biblically and logically contradictory. Surely it is evident that our nice little teachings on justification by faith alone would have been condemned by the Reformers. After all, they were fighting Rome over the Gospel and the glory of God in the Gospel. It is not just some little difference between two differing camps. These are issues that are utterly vital concerning the Gospel and today some think others are proud for pointing out the differences.