What Did the Thief on the Cross Know and Believe?

Luke 23:34-43
And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I’ve heard it often said, especially by people who should know better, that the thief on the cross knew almost nothing about the gospel, certainly nothing about redemption or the atonement, and very probably nothing about election and predestination.  This false narrative is then used to defend the charge that folks need not believe nor even know sound gospel doctrine in order to be counted as brothers in Christ.  Certainly, it is argued, they need not believe Jesus died only for His elect.

This false narrative, however, fails to take the thief’s own words fully into account. Instead, his last words are very often breezed over as though it were a common occurrence for a man in the throes of unimaginable pain and horror at the hands of execution by crucifixion to make note of the innocence of the man whom, it is supposed, he did not know nor had ever met, being crucified next to him even while he himself knowingly suffers for the crime of robbery.

If we let the thief speak for himself though, and resolve to leave our presumption behind us as we listen, then what we hear is a very different narrative than the false one most often asserted today.  The story we hear from his own lips as recorded for us in the gospel of Luke by eyewitness account is one which reveals to us the fact that he knew a whole lot more than many folks today would have us believe.  What he knew, in fact, was the gospel itself.

The thief’s final words are recorded for us in the twenty-third chapter of the gospel of Luke.  They are:

– “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?”

– “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

– “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

These are odd words indeed for someone who had supposedly never previously met Jesus, had never heard Him and knew nothing about His message.  In fact, even the other thief himself appeared to have had some clue as to who Jesus claimed to be, having railed at Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ?”  How would he have known this without having heard any of Jesus’s claims about Himself?

So, the first thing we discover from Luke’s passage is the fact that both thieves had at least some knowledge of Jesus’ claims to Messiahship.  Had they caught one or two of His sermons?  Had they witnessed some of His miracles?  Or had they only heard the things others were saying about Him?  It probably doesn’t matter which, because Jesus’ renown was so far and wide that by the time He was arrested there was no one in Israel who had not heard about Him. (Acts 10:36-37, Luke 24:18).  Whatever the case, we have no reason to believe both thieves had not, like the rest of Israel, also heard about Him.

Still though, the fact they knew something about Jesus does not necessarily mean they knew His gospel message, nor does it necessarily mean they believed it.  Certainly, the first thief did not believe the claims Jesus made about Himself.

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

These are not the words of someone who believes the claims Jesus made about Himself.

40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

Same sentence?  Same as whom?  Same as Jesus.

Here we find the second thief confessing faith in the fact that Jesus, a man who has done nothing wrong and is therefore not receiving the due reward for His deeds, is nevertheless under the same sentence of death as he himself is.  I am reminded of Sandeman’s words:

“The appearance of Divine grace, pouring contempt on all boasted human worth is so striking here, that it is no wonder to find them stumbling at it. Why wasn’t Christ made to suffer alongside men of equal repute with Noah, Abraham or Daniel? Why instead was He numbered with those who the world has always counted the worst of the worst? Because there would be no encouragement, no hope for people like us, who identify not with Daniel, but with a common thief. He, who had spoken no blasphemy and had committed no wrong, and who was yet capable of saving Himself and the thief beside Him, nevertheless, made no effort to save Himself nor the thief from the condemnation of the cross. Rather, by suffering the injustice of men, even men whom He had created, He pleased the Father, because He was doing His will. If God did not spare His own just and sinless Son from wrath, what hope do we sinners have should we try to stand by our own sin stained merit? If this is what God does to the tender root, what will He do to the dry? The thief did not ask that God change his heart. Nor did he ask that God make him less a sinner than the other thief. He instead, fearful of what the wrath will mean for a twig as dry as himself, asks that this One who has opened not His mouth to His accusers, nor sought to escape His Father’s wrath or His Father’s will, would remember him when He comes into His kingdom.” — Robert Sandeman, Letters on Theron and Aspasio:Addressed to the Author, pg 270

Our thief acknowledged that he was under a just sentence of condemnation for his sins. He also acknowledged that the man suffering next to him, the man Christ Jesus, was blameless and had done nothing deserving of condemnation.  For this reason, though He now hung dying on a cross, nevertheless He would still come into His kingdom.  His death then, could not have been for His own sins, because He had done nothing to deserve it.  After all, people who are under a just sentence of condemnation do not come into kingdoms.

Well then, whose sins could He be dying for if not for His own sins?  The thief tells us.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Remember me.   Remember the guy who is justly being put to death for his sins.  Remember the thief who is deserving of condemnation.

How could the thief make the request for Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom if the thief’s sins were not the sins Jesus was dying for?  Jesus would have no just reason to remember him if He were not dying for his sins.

Here in the thief’s own words then, we find a confession of faith in the propitiatory, redemptive nature of Christ’s atoning death for His people’s sins.  And it isn’t a stretch to imagine him making these connections, because life in Jerusalem would have daily brought him into contact with Temple life.  Daily animal sacrifices; lambs, goats, doves, pigeons being slaughtered in offering as a sacrifice for peoples’ sins.

Now here he hangs on a cross next to a man who is blameless, next to the Man who he is going to confess is the Messiah Himself, and it doesn’t occur to us that his final words are a confession of faith in the atoning offer of Christ’s sacrificial death?  It would be absurd to think his words were anything but this.

But what about election?

Perhaps the thief was a Jew or a Samaritan or even a Roman slave.  In either case, we can be certain that he was very well acquainted with the Jewish faith.   He was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, after all.  The soldiers hadn’t taken Jesus and the thieves on a three-week journey to Rome in order to crucify them.  No, Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect stationed in Judea.  Jesus and the thieves were crucified immediately outside the city walls of Jerusalem, in an area known as Golgotha.  This was why the Jewish leaders wanted the bodies removed from the cross before the start of the feast.

For this reason, we know the thief had to have been residing somewhere in the area of Judea, and for this reason we know there is no way he would not have known about the Jewish doctrine of election.  The Jews made sure everyone knew it.

Judea was steeped in the doctrine of election.  From Israel’s very inception, God made certain they knew He had chosen only them from all the families of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6, Amos 3:2).   They, in turn, made sure everyone else knew this about them too.  This was the problem the Pharisees faced when they confronted John the Baptist.  They thought they were safe, because they were children of Abraham.

The New Testament was written against the backdrop of election.  The Jewish doctrine of election was in and behind everything the apostles preached.  What’s more, it was also very well known among the Pagan Gentiles, who knew all too well from listening to the Jews, that none but the Jew could be saved.  Today, it would be like suggesting that most twenty-first century Americans don’t know about the Muslim doctrine of Jihad.  No way would we expect a twenty-first century American to know nothing about Jihad.  In similar fashion, we should not expect someone living in first century Judea to know nothing about the Jewish doctrine of election.   After all, this idea of Jewish exceptionalism gave the Roman state huge headaches.  The Jews refused to go along quietly with Roman occupation even though Roman occupation meant great wealth and a better, more modern life.  The reason they refused to go along with Roman occupation was because they believed themselves to be the chosen people.

All of Palestine and Roman territories east of Jerusalem were drenched in the teaching of Jewish predestination.  Everywhere where there was a synagogue, you’d better believe election was being taught.  And if you happened to be someone living in a region plum with these synagogues, then you could not escape learning about election.

We know then the thief knew about election.  We know he confessed faith in the good news of accomplished redemption in Christ’s death.

But what about Christ’s resurrection?  “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  Dead people do not remember, and they certainly do not come into kingdoms.

“Remember”

Acts 10:30-31 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.

Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more

Revelation 16:19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.

How could the thief had asked Jesus to remember him if the thief had believed Jesus’ death would be the end of Jesus?  How could the thief had expected Jesus to come into His kingdom if he believed Jesus was just going to die and stay dead?

Psalm 139:8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in the grave, you are there!

Psalm 68:20  Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.

In addition to this though, the thief also acknowledged that Jesus would be coming into His kingdom.  Who comes into a kingdom save for a king?  And who in the world could possibly atone for sins not his own and then afterward come into a kingdom save for the Lord God of Israel alone?

Daniel 2:44
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.  How much more resistant to destruction can a kingdom be than to have swallowed up and overcome even death itself.

If Jesus is going to be coming into a kingdom, then it is going to be an indestructible kingdom that has overcome even death itself.   Such a kingdom could belong to no one but the Lord God of Israel Himself.

We also then find in the thief’s final words a confession of faith identifying the man Christ Jesus with the very Lord God of Israel Himself.

So, what do we know the thief believed?   According to his own words, he believed the gospel.  He believed Jesus had accomplished the redemption of His elect by offering His body as a sacrifice for their sins.  We know he believed Jesus had accomplished this, because we know he believed Jesus would overcome death and in the process inherit a kingdom that He would obtain for all those for whom He had died.

There might be some folk who still disagree with me though.  In fact, they may be accusing me of reading too much into the thief’s final words.  To this I have only one thing to say.

Do these folks really find it so difficult to imagine someone living in first century Jerusalem coming at least several times come across an Old Testament passage like Isaiah 53:3-7?  I mean, even the Ethiopian slave found this passage, right.  Are these folks who find it so difficult to imagine the thief believed the gospel really trying to tell us that the Holy Spirit could not have later on a cross reminded this man of this passage he had come across and then opened his mind to understand the passage?  Is this really what they are trying to tell us?

Isaiah 53:3-7
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.

What did the thief know and believe?

Matthew 27
37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’

Luke 23
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Do you still believe the thief knew nothing about the good news of Jesus Christ?

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52:7-10

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Did Jesus Tell the Rich Young Ruler To Obey the Ten Commandments for Eternal Life?

 
 
Matthew 19:16-26
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
 
In the account we see a wealthy young man has approached Christ to ask what thing he must do to have eternal life.   Right from the start we see the man thinks freedom is found in God’s law.  He thinks he can earn his way out of condemnation and into eternal life by paying God off with some performance.   What good thing must I do to have eternal life, Jesus? What good law must I obey to satisfy the cost of eternal life?
 
Jesus tries to show Him just how impossible it is for man to earn eternal life by his performance. He does this first by reminding the man of the commandments, knowing full well the man can never keep any of the commandments to the perfection they demand.
 
The man won’t have it though. He is certain there is something he can do to satisfy the law’s demand for perfection.   All these things I have done since my youth, he says.  Yes, perhaps I haven’t done them to perfection day after day, minute after minute since the moment of my conception,  but at least I have tried.  Doesn’t that count for something?
 
Jesus sees He is getting nowhere by pointing out the ten commandments, so He shifts gears and tries a different tactic.   He hits the young man right square where he, as a wealthy man who loves his wealth, cannot go.  That is, sell all that you have and give it to the poor.
 
What is Jesus doing here? Is He telling us that there is indeed something we can do to obtain eternal life, and that this something is to give away everything we own and go live with the poor and sick in Calcutta?  No.  A thousand times no.

Rather, He is hitting this man with a command He knows the man cannot obey.   Had the young man been a king or a governor, then Jesus might have told him to give up his throne and go live with the peasants.  Had he been a professional soldier, then Jesus might have told him to sell his sword and shield and go live with the pacifists.  But this man was not a king or a soldier.  Instead, he was a very wealthy man who loved his wealth very much, and so Jesus tells him to do the one thing no wealthy man who loves his wealth can do – go sell all that he has and give it to the poor.  Jesus’ point is, we cannot perform our way into eternal life.   It is impossible and Jesus even says this.

 
Look at the passage again. He turns to the disciples and He says something which blows their minds away.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven. The text says the disciples were astonished. Astonished! Why were they astonished? They were astonished, because they had thought just like the rich young man had that they could indeed perform their way into heaven, and having just heard the man confess that he had performed all God’s laws since his youth, they were certain he was a sure bet for heaven.
 
Instead though, Jesus turns to tell them it is easier to imagine the largest animal in Israel passing through the smallest hole in Israel than to imagine in any way this man could obtain eternal life by his performance. They stand astonished at this. The text then tells us that in their astonishment they asked Jesus “Who then can be saved?” I mean, if that man can’t be saved, and he has obeyed the law from his youth, what chance then do we have? Who then can be saved?
 
Jesus gives us the answer. With man it is impossible.  Absolutely impossible. But with God all things are possible.
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Was Zacchaeus’ Payback Evidence of His Salvation?

Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

 

I hear people use this passage to argue that Zacchaeus’ decision to make restitution to those he had defrauded was evidence that he was saved.  Therefore, these same people argue, we too had better had similar evidence in our lives if we expect to be assured that salvation has come also to our house.

Is this really what the passage says though?  I think not.  In fact, I think it tells us something very different.

I will assume the reader knows about the facts surrounding the account.  Zacchaeus was not simply a tax collector, but rather a chief tax collector.   This marks him out as an inordinately wealthy man, wealthier even than the wealthy.   Bearing this assumption in mind, notice first verses 5 and 6.

5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.

Here we find Jesus intruding into Zacchaeus’ life without an invitation.  Jesus did not ask Zacchaeus whether he would mind having Him at his house today.  In fact, He failed even to make a proper social introduction, not even taking the time to learn Zacchaeus’ name.  And why should He? After all, He already knew it!

The point is though, rather than asking for an invite, Jesus instead instructs Zacchaeus to come down from the tree, not because Zacchaeus wants to, but rather because God had eternally willed it.  “I must stay at your house today,” He says.  Must.  Not merely wants to; but rather, must.   I must stay at your house today.   Zacchaeus receives this news with joy.  He hurries to do what Jesus has instructed him to do.

But notice what happens next in verse 7 when the crowd hears the news.

7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”

Who is “they”?  The they are the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Scribes.  They are the self-righteous hypocrites.  They have been following Jesus along with the crowd, listening to and watching Him.

It should be noted that in His parables Jesus often contrasted the Pharisee against the tax collector.  The two men who went up to the Temple to pray, for example, was one such parable.  Two men went up to the Temple to pray, said Jesus, and one was a Pharisee while the other a tax collector.

The reason for this contrast between Pharisee and tax collector was simple enough.  The Pharisees hated the tax collectors.  While the Pharisees saw themselves as pious men, righteous and above reproach, teachers of the blind and the leaders of Israel, they saw the tax collectors as disgusting sinners, utter reprobates.
In truth however, the Pharisees were the most reprehensible and unrighteous men in all of Israel.  Jesus often criticized them for their hypocrisy and wickedness.

Mark 7
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”  And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Luke 11
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
In the place of God’s holy law, the Pharisees had erected their own law.  They called these laws, fence laws.  They followed their own laws flawlessly even when their laws violated and ignored every jot and tittle of God’s law. As a consequence of this, they believed themselves righteous and in no need of salvation.

Jesus criticized them for this, telling them that it was not for the righteous He had come, but rather for the sinner.  They did not and could not heed the warning.

Now here they stand though, near the foot a Sycamore tree, listening to Jesus inform a chief tax collector that He intended to stay at the man’s house today.  I can almost hear the disgust in their voice as they grumble.  “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  What scandalous behavior!

Two things happen in the wake of Jesus’ good news announcement to Zacchaeus.  First, Zacchaeus finds himself overwhelmed with joy by the good news.  He is so overwhelmed with joy that he informs Jesus he is going to make financial restitution to all the folks he had defrauded over the years.

Zacchaeus is not saying this in response to the crowd’s grumble.  In fact, in his surprise and joy he probably hadn’t even heard the crowd grumble.

Jesus heard it though.  And it is here where the second thing happened.  Jesus says something to Zacchaeus  within earshot of the crowd.

9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

We could spend all day just on the phrase, “he also is a son of Abraham”, but I want to address the first point I raised.  What did Jesus mean by today salvation has come to this house?

How did salvation come to this house?  Had Zacchaeus done something to make salvation come to his house?  Had he earned salvation for his house by deciding to make financial restitution to all those who he had defrauded over the years?

No, of course not.  Salvation is by grace alone.  Had Zacchaeus earned salvation for his house, then salvation would not be by grace alone.

No, Zacchaeus had done nothing to earn salvation for his house.  Rather, salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house, because Zacchaeus was a man whom God had predestined from eternity to save; and because he was predestined to be saved, he was now also a sinner who needed the very salvation God had predestined for him.  He was a sinner in need of salvation.  He was not a righteous man in need of an attaboy-pat-on-the-back from God.

Today, salvation has come to this house because today was the day which had been predestined for Zacchaeus.  The timing of it had nothing to do with Zacchaeus’ decision to make financial restitution.

Zaccheus was simply expressing gratitude for the free gift of salvation the only way he knew how – by making financial restitution.  If there is evidence of anything here, then it is evidence of his gratitude, not of his salvation.

His need for salvation was the evidence of his salvation.  It was his need for the good news Jesus would explain to him.

By announcing that salvation had come today to the house of this son of Abraham, Jesus was exposing the darkness in the hearts of those Jews who grumbled.  Salvation had not come to the houses of those who had grumbled even though they too were sons of Abraham like Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner even though he was a son of Abraham, and he believed Jesus was the only way he could receive this salvation.  Those sons of Abraham who grumbled though, did not know they were sinners and so did not believe they needed to be saved.

Today, many of the self-righteous continue to believe they are without need of the cross either for salvation or else for assurance.  They believe instead they have done enough to earn their assurance.  This is why when they cast about for evidence of salvation they look always to their performance.  They read a passage like Luke 19 and they immediately interpret Zacchaeus’ restitution as proof of his salvation.

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A Federal Vision or Just the Same Old Nonsense

A controversy arose in 2002 after an annual pastor’s conference held at the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana.  The controversy centered around the subjects of baptism, justification and salvation.  The men who were invited to speak at this conference included Steve Wilkins, pastor of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church; Douglas Wilson; R C Sproul, Jr; Carl Robbins; John Barach; and Steve Schlissel.  The theological views presented by these men soon came to be known as Federal Vision Theology.  In September of the same year, under pressure to defend the views they presented, the Auburn session approved a 13-point summary statement of their views.

I wish I could say these 13 points represented a new threat to the gospel, but they didn’t. Sadly, most have been present and even cherished in reformed/Calvinistic/Presbyterian circles for decades and sometimes even centuries.  The only thing new about them is the way they were combined with baptism and communion.  Consider, for example:

Summary Statement of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church’s Position on the Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation (emphasis within are mine):

  1. This covenant is made with believers and their children. It is publicly manifested in the Church, the body of Christ which we formally enter by means of baptism. The Church is not merely a human community, and the Church’s enactments of the means of grace ARE NOT MERELY HUMAN WORKS. THEY ARE GOD’S WORKS THROUGH HIS ORDAINED MINISTERS. The Church herself is God’s new creation, the city He promised to build for Abraham. The Church is not MERELY A MEANS TO SALVATION, a stepping-stone to a more ultimate goal. Rather, the Church herself is God’s salvation, the partially-realized goal in history that will be brought to final fulfillment at the last day. WHEN SOMEONE IS UNITED TO THE CHURCH BY BAPTISM, HE IS INCORPORATED INTO CHRIST AND INTO HIS BODY; HE BECOMES BONE OF CHRIST’S BONE AND FLESH OF HIS FLESH.
     
    6. God uses means by which His Spirit works SALVATION INTO THE HEARTS OF HIS ELECT: the preaching of the Word, THE FAITHFUL ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS OF BAPTISM AND THE LORD’S SUPPER, AND THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS. These means have been entrusted to the Church. By these, through the blessing of the Spirit, the Church becomes THE MOTHER OF ALL BELIEVERS.  APART FROM THE CHURCH AND ITS MINISTRY OF THESE MEANS OF GRACE, THERE IS ORDINARILY NO SALVATION.

    So, baptism and communion are not “merely” (notice the propagandist language) the works of men who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  No, they are God’s works effectually wrought through the hands of “ordained” ministers.  Too bad for those who aren’t ordained ministers, huh.

    Furthermore though, these “means which God effectually works through the hands of His ordained ministers” they are the very means of salvation itself.  That is, in answer to the question how does God save His elect, these men answer, by uniting the elect to the church through the sacraments of baptism and communion.  If this does not represent a blatant return to Rome then nothing does.

    But the tragedy is only beginning, because we are about to find a whole lot of other men drawn into the act.

  2. By baptism one is joined to Christ’s body, united to Him covenantally, and given all the blessings and benefits of His work. This does not, however, grant to the baptized FINAL SALVATION; RATHER, IT OBLIGATES HIM TO FULFILL THE TERMS OF THE COVENANT (EMBRACING THESE BLESSINGS BY FAITH, REPENTING OF SINS, AND PERSEVERING IN FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE TO GOD). One can only fulfill the terms of the covenant by faith, not by works. (?) And even this faith is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast.
     

    Now where have I heard this before?

    10. Once baptized, an individual may be truly called a Christian because he is a member of the household of faith and the body of Christ. HOWEVER, NOT ALL WHO ARE CHRISTIAN IN THIS SENSE WILL PERSEVERE TO THE END. SOME WILL FALL FROM GRACE AND BE LOST. The Bible DOES NOT explain the distinction between the nature of the work of the Spirit in the reprobate and the nature of His work in the elect, and even uses the same language for both.

    So, people who are part of the body of Christ will not persevere?  Some parts of Christ’s body will fall from grace and be lost?  Anyone remember what the P in TULIP stands for anymore?

10-2.  For example, the same language that describes the Spirit coming upon Saul (1 Sam. 10:6) is used when the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon (Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29), and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). Yet in four of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the man in question was clearly given persevering faith and brought to FINAL SALVATION BY THE SPIRIT’S WORK. The Biblical narrative, however, appears to draw NO DISTINCTION between Saul’s initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who obtained FINAL SALVATION. While God, no doubt, predestined Saul’s apostasy (since He foreordains all that comes to pass), God was not the author of Saul’s apostasy. Saul received the same initial covenantal GRACE that David, Gideon, and other men who persevered in faith received, but he did not receive the gift of perseverance. At the same time, HIS FAILURE TO PERSEVERE WAS DUE TO HIS OWN REBELLION. Herein lies the great mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

Just what is this reminding me of?

11.  None of those elect unto final salvation can lose that salvation, however much he may backslide. God preserves all His elect in covenant faithfulness. THE BIBLICAL LANGUAGE REGARDING SALVATION, HOWEVER, IS MORE COMPLICATED.    In one sense, ALL THOSE IN THE COVENANT ARE SAVED.  They have been delivered out of the world and brought into the glorious new creation of Christ, BUT NOT ALL WILL PERSEVERE IN THAT SALVATION.  Jesus spoke of those in the new covenant who would be UNITED TO HIM, BUT THEN CUT OFF BECAUSE THEY DID NOT PERSEVERE IN FRUIT-BEARING.  If Jesus Himself is salvation, are we not forced to conclude that being cut off from Him means being cut off from the source of salvation and from salvation itself?

Oh yeah, now I remember what this reminds me of.

“God’s grace is not a static attribute whereby He passively accepts hardened, unrepentant sinners. Grace does not change a person’s standing before God yet leave His character untouched. Real grace does not include, as Chafer claimed, ‘the Christian liberty to do precisely as he chooses.’ True grace, according to Scripture, teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.  Grace is the power of God to fulfill our new covenant duties, however inconsistently we obey at times. Clearly, grace do not grace permission to live in the flesh; it supplies power to live in the Spirit. Faith, like grace, is not static. Saving faith is more than just understanding the face and mentally acquiescing. It is inseparable from repentance, surrender, and a supernatural longing to obey.” – John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, pg 7

“Saving faith is more than just understanding the facts and mentally acquiescing. It is inseparable from repentance, surrender, and a supernatural longing to obey. None of these responses can be classified exclusively as a human work, any more than believing itself is solely a human effort.” – John MacArthur, ibid, pg 7

“The answer to the question, what is faith? is the most basic one in this whole controversy. It is not a simple mental assent to facts—not lordship facts and not Savior facts. It is a heartfelt coming to Christ and resting in him for what he is and what he offers. It is an act of the heart that no longer hates the light but comes to the light because a new set of spiritual taste buds have been created and Christ now tastes satisfying to the soul.” – John Piper, Letter to a Friend Concerning the So Called Lordship Salvation

“Reformed theology cuts the ground out from underneath the position presented by Wilkin (Robert), for the faith that saves is the work of the Spirit in regeneration itself, and hence cannot possibly be separated from the rest of the work of the Spirit. Hence, there is no contradiction between saying that a person who believes has eternal life and saying that a person who keeps Christ’s word has will never see death. Only the synergist has to struggle to explain the relationship: the monergist has a consistent understanding.” – James White, “Lordship Salvation, Faith, Repentance, and Monergism”

The Auburn men talk of a “final salvation” brought about the Spirit.  Lordship drops the “final” aspect of this even as they continue to talk about salvation as being wrought by the Spirit.  Funny thing, I thought salvation was something which had been wrought by the Son and is only applied by the Spirit.  Not according to the Lordship Salvation or Federal Vision men it isn’t.

Listening to the Auburn lectures it becomes clear what the Auburn men think of faith.  They talk about faith as being “more than mere intellectual assent”, and they talk about the object of faith as being “not merely doctrine, but rather a person.”   Once again with the no creed but Christ nonsense.

12.   It appears that the Bible speaks of salvation, more often than not, IN RELATIONAL AND COVENANTAL CATEGORIES, RATHER THAN IN METAPHYSICAL ONES. SALVATION IS NOT A THING WE POSSESS THAT CAN BE LOST AND FOUND, LIKE CAR KEYS. IT IS A MATTER OF BEING RIGHTLY RELATED TO GOT THROUGH CHRIST.  BUT RELATIONSHIPS ARE NOT STATIC, UNCHANGING ENTITIES.   THEY ARE FLUID AND DYNAMIC.  Our salvation covenant with the Lord is like a marriage. IF WE PERSEVERE IN LOYALTY TO CHRIST, WE WILL LIVE WITH HIM HAPPILY EVER AFTER.  IF WE BREAK THE MARRIAGE COVENANT, HE WILL DIVORCE US It may not be wise to call this “losing one’s salvation,” but it seems contrary to Scripture to say that nothing at all is lost. To draw such a conclusion appears to deny the reality of the covenant and the blessedness that is said to belong even to those who ultimately prove themselves reprobate.

A “fluid and dynamic” relationship is neither what the Scriptures nor the reformers defined as a forensic judgment.  The gospel is about what Christ got done outside of His elect, and not instead about what Christ can do with them and alongside them.

In the April, 2003 issue of Christian Renewal (a Canadian newspaper), Steven Wilkins, Douglas Wilson, John Barach, and Steven Schlissel sat down for an interview.  In this interview, Steve Schlissel stated:

“Have Reformed folks gotten it wrong? Yes, to the extent that they’ve followed Luther in an imaginary Law/Gospel antithesis…. The law as God gave it is the gospel…. And the gospel as announced by Paul is the law…. The gospel brings demands…. The gospel has obligations. Always has…. the gospel is permeated with God’s good law . . . we insist that saving faith is an obedient faith.”

Douglas Wilson echoed this sentiment:

“What drives apostasy is unbelief, and the engine that drives salvation is faith and only faith.”

[Interviewer: “But not faith only”?]

[Wilson]: “Not bare bones faith. Not assent. Devils have that. True faith is more than assent…. we say faith cannot be separated from trust and obedience, and…we say saving faith cannot be separated from a life of obedience and trust.”


Isn’t this exactly what MacArthur has said?  Indeed, it is.

“Saving faith is more than just understanding the face and mentally acquiescing. It is inseparable from repentance, surrender, and a supernatural longing to obey.” – John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, pg 7

“Orthodox doctrine by itself is no proof of saving faith. Demons affirm the oneness of God and tremble at is implications, but they are not redeemed. Mathew 8:29 tells of a group of demons who recognized Jesus as the Son of God. They even exhibited fear. Demons often acknowledge the existence and authority of Christ (Matt. 8:29-30); Mark 5:7), His deity (Luke 4:41), and even His resurrection (Acts 19:15), but their diabolical nature is not changed by what they know and believe. Their fearful affirmation of orthodox doctrine is not the same as saving faith. James implies that demonic faith is greater than the fraudulent faith of a false professor, for demonic faith produces fear, whereas unsaved men have ‘no fear of God before their eyes’. If the demons believe, tremble, and are not saved, what does that say about those who profess to believe and don’t even tremble?” – John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles, pg 151

Like the Lordship Salvationists, the Auburn men also deny that doctrine is the object of faith, and that faith is intellectual assent to this doctrine.   The Auburn men insist instead that faith is in a person and in a relationship, and not instead in facts about said person.

I wish I could say only the Lordship and Federal Vision guys share this idiotic view, but I would be lying if I did.  Sadly, this Kierkegaardian existential view of faith has been the cherished opinion of many reformed folk for centuries.  One need only read how Sandeman is treated to see this.

Not satisfied to deny only four of the five points, the Auburn men go on to deny the fifth, as well.

8.  God has decreed from the foundation of the world all that comes to pass, including who would be saved and lost for all eternity. Included in His decree, however, is that some persons, NOT DESTINED FOR FINAL SALVATION, will be drawn to Christ and His people ONLY FOR A TIME. These, for a season, enjoy real blessings, PURCHASED FOR THEM BY CHRIST’S CROSS, and applied to them by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament.

Here again, I wish I could say this was something new, but . . .

“In continuing the analysis of this doctrine (particular atonement), it is necessary to be clear what the question is not. The question is not whether many benefits short of justification and salvation accrue to men from the death of Christ.  The unbelieving and the reprobate in this world enjoy numerous benefits that flow from the fact that Christ died and rose again.  The mediatorial dominion of Christ is universal.  Christ is head over all things and is given authority in heaven and earth.  It is within this mediatorial dominion that all the blessings which men enjoy are dispensed.” – John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, pg. 61

“Evan (Evangelista). I beseech you consider, that God the Father, as he is in his Son Jesus Christ, moved with nothing but with his free love to mankind lost, hath made a deed of gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in this his Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life. And hence it was, that Jesus Christ himself said unto his disciples, (Mark 16:15), ‘Go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven’: that is, Go and tell every man without exception, that here is good news for him; Christ is dead for him; and if he will take him, and accept of his righteousness, he shall have him. — The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Edward Fisher, Chapter 2, Section 3, 3

Read any of the tolerant Calvinists today.  James White insists the apostles defined THE CHURCH by more than facts about the Trinity, the Cross and the resurrection, but he’ll turn right around and insist you’re Hyper-Calvinist if you insist they also defined THE GOSPEL by more than these facts too.

My question for the ministers and pastors and synods who criticize and refute the Auburn men for their view on baptism; why bother when you yourselves have been preaching the same heresies they have?  Why not first clean out the Lordship Salvationists and Tolerants in your midst?  Why are you holding to obvious heresies like Common Grace and the Free Offer and then pretending to be shocked when men like Schlissel and Wilson take you up on it?

9.  Salvation depends upon being united to Christ (REFER TO #7 ABOVE TO SEE HOW ONE IS TO BE UNITED TO CHRIST.) Clearly, those who are eternally saved are those who continue to abide in Him by the grace of God. There are those, however, who are joined to Him as branches in the vine, but who because of unbelief are barren and fruitless and consequently are cut off from the vine and from salvation. Jesus says these “believe for a while” but do not bear fruit unto salvation.

 

13. With this understanding, the “five points of Calvinism” are still preserved, but they have been enriched by a nuanced covenant theology following the tradition and teaching of Augustine and Calvin. By framing the issues as we have, we are able to preserve God’s sovereignty in salvation and hold covenant breakers accountable for their apostasy. Additionally, this view seems to do full justice to the Scripture’s teaching on the nature of the Church and efficacy of the sacraments, as well as the genuineness of the covenantal promises and threats. In our formulation of how we understand the application of God’s sovereign and covenantal grace, we lose nothing and yet, gain much in our understanding of how the sovereign God applies His salvation in history.

No, the five points of Calvinism are not still preserved. Nothing about the five points of Calvinism are preserved by anything in these 13 points, or in the heresies of Lordship Salvation, Common Grace, the Free Offer of the Gospel or the Marrow.   You accept any of those, then you might as well call yourself a Federal Vision man.

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The Natural Man Does Not Believe that Believing the Gospel is the Evidence of Salvation by Giovanni Camacho


Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:18 ESV

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 1 John 5:10 ESV

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 ESV

Believing in Christ means that you believe what God has said about Christ (i.e. the gospel). You cannot believe in Christ without believing the gospel-that is to say, that believing in Christ is the same thing as believing the gospel. These two things are not separate. There is no meaningful, Biblically-based distinction between believing in Christ and believing the gospel. Scripture does not present believing in Christ as one thing, and believing the gospel as another thing. Some think that one can believe in Christ without believing the gospel. Or that one can believe in Christ without having any knowledge of who He is or what He did. These are those who say things like “I don’t need doctrine, I just need Jesus,” or “All you need to do is believe in Jesus, you don’t need that cold and hard doctrine,” and other such like phrases. This is falsehood.

You cannot believe in Christ (i.e. believe the gospel) if you don’t know anything about Him or His work. That is to say, there is no such thing as a content-less gospel. In like manner, you cannot be wrong about His Person and work and also believe in Christ, because to believe in Christ means that you agree with what God has said concerning Him and His work, not falsehood about who He is and what He did. To rightly be called a “believer,” or to “believe” as contemplated by the verses cited at the beginning means to agree with the very specific, very simple, and very clear propositions that God has put forward concerning Christ and His work. The gospel is a simple message…but it is a hated message by those who have not yet been converted.

To believe means to agree with or to assent. Believing a proposition does not make the proposition actually true or false. The veracity or falsehood of the proposition is independent from one’s assent to it. To believe a proposition simply means that we, in our minds, agree with the proposition. If I believe that the proposition 2+2=4 is true, then I agree with a proposition that is, in fact, a true proposition. The proposition that 2+2=4 is actually true, whether or not I agree with it. My believing it or not believing it in no way affects the veracity of the proposition. However, my agreement with the proposition does determine whether my belief is correct-that is to say, whether my belief agrees with objective reality or the truth. If I agree with propositions that are actually true, then my belief matches ( i.e. I agree with) the objective reality-the truth.

Likewise, if I believe that the proposition 2+2=5672 is true, then I agree with a proposition that is a false proposition. This proposition is false, no matter how many people agree with it. My believing that proposition in no way affects that it is false-that is to say, that my believing that proposition does not make it true or false by merit of believing of it. However, my agreement with the proposition does determine whether my belief is correct/incorrect-that is to say, whether my belief does, or in this case, does not agree with the objective reality. A false proposition will never be or become true, no matter how many people decide that they agree with it.

If what you believe is incorrect, then by definition, you do not believe the truth. Instead, you believe a falsehood. It doesn’t matter how popular that falsehood is, it is and always will be a falsehood. Contrarily, if what you believe is correct, then by definition, you believe the truth. It also doesn’t matter how popular the truth is, it is and always will be a truth.

The gospel is a definite and limited set of propositions concerning the Person and work of the sinless God-man Jesus Christ. These propositions describe both who He is and what He did when He took on flesh, dwelt among men, died on a Roman cross and was raised. The gospel also describes the meaning of His work-what His death actually accomplished from a theological standpoint. There is only ONE gospel that is true.

The gospel is a complete set of propositions. Leave out one or more of these propositions and you have an incomplete gospel. Change one or more of these propositions and you have a false gospel. Both of these are useless. We know this because Paul says in Romans 1:16 that “THE gospel is THE POWER of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” When Paul uses the phrase “the gospel” he is intending to communicate that the complete and accurate set of propositions concerning the Person and work of Jesus Christ are THE POWER of God for salvation. He leaves no room for the conclusion that one can do with an incomplete or false version of this gospel. He states that the gospel is THE POWER of God for salvation. It is the means that God uses to save His people. False and incomplete gospels are not the power of God, and therefore cannot save.

You either believe these gospel propositions and are RIGHTLY called a “believer,” or you do not believe these gospel propositions, and calling yourself a “believer” is presumptuous and incorrect. You don’t get to believe falsehood and still get to be called a “believer.”

The natural man hates the gospel. He also hates the claim that believing the truth (i.e. believing the gospel) is the EVIDENCE that one has been saved by Christ. He would rather assume that something he has DONE is what makes the difference between eternity with God or eternal death. He does not actually care much for the content of the gospel, as long as one remains within a wide universe of what he considers acceptable belief.

Let’s be clear, it is the work of Christ on the cross that saves His elect. Nothing in the elect sinner, or nothing that the elect sinner does, including believing the gospel, can save them. It is Christ’s work and His imputed righteousness alone that will cause one to stand guiltless before God. But HOW do YOU KNOW that Christ saved YOU? The Bible teaches that one KNOWS that Christ saved them by BELIEVING the GOSPEL, or BELIEVING IN CHRIST. The issue is one of assurance of salvation. Every religious person ASSUMES (most incorrectly and without justification) that they will be saved, but on what are they basing their assurance? Usually, it’s something they have done.

Let’s look at the first text I cited-Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:18 ESV. This text instructs us that those who BELIEVE in Him are not condemned, and those who do not believe in Him are condemned already, BECAUSE they have not believed in Him. The BELIEVING is what IDENTIFIES or distinguishes those who possess eternal life from those who are condemned. As stated earlier, this phrase “believes in Him” refers to believing the testimony that GOD has given concerning Christ, not believing a lie from the devil and hoping that will do.

The devil lies about Christ. He lies about His person and His work. These lies that he puts forward about Christ amount to false gospels-they do not describe the truth concerning Christ and His work, two things which are completely inextricable. His Person and work cannot be separated. You cannot be talking about the true Christ while ascribing to Him a work which He did not do. In doing so, you have merely described a false christ. In lying about Christ, the devil actually invents false christs and false works to deceive those who belong to him. The closer these lies resemble the truth, the more deceptive they are.

Make no mistake, the devil will never tell the truth about Christ, and where one is hearing about a christ whose person and work does not match up with the testimony given by God, no matter how slight or seemingly insignificant the deviation may be, one has encountered a false christ and an invention of the devil designed to deceive and keep one ensnared to do the devil’s will. The most sophisticated form of deception is found in false religion-in those things that man assumes please God. The sin that deceives men naturally is not immorality, but rather self-righteousness brought to fruition through false religion.

It is the gospel that reveals the self-righteousness of men as utterly disgusting and deplorable to a Holy God and points the converted sinner to the only acceptable righteousness before Him-that established by Jesus Christ.

So, the issue comes back to assurance and the gospel. Which gospel do you believe? Do you believe the testimony of God? Or do you believe a lie of the devil? The lie of the devil cannot provide you a biblically supported ground of assurance of salvation, but you can be deceived into thinking that it will suffice, and that God will save you in spite of disagreeing with Him, which really means that you call God a liar. This is not a good place to be, and many who are here ASSUME incorrectly that they have right standing with God.

Look at what 1 John 5:10 says- “Whoever BELIEVES in the SON (that is, whoever believes the gospel) HAS THE TESTIMONY in himself.” What John is saying is that the sinner who believes in the Son of God has the gospel as the evidence of their salvation. It is the BELIEVING of the gospel that communicates ASSURANCE of salvation to the one who believes it. Why? Because the gospel is the testimony of God, and the Bible tells those who believe the testimony of God that they have eternal life. What is the gospel? The promise of God to save sinners based on the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you believe in Christ (i.e. agree with God concerning the Person and work of Christ), then you possess the promise of God to save sinners based on the Person and work of Christ. Believing the gospel is the evidence that God has promised to save you because of the Person and Work of Christ. Want to know if Christ and His work saved you? Repent and believe the gospel. That is the only thing that can give you true assurance of salvation. Everything else is sinking sand.

The natural man despises this idea. The natural man believes that any sinner can believe whatever they want about Jesus Christ (with some of their own personal caveats about what they think is and is not acceptable) and be saved in spite of not believing the truth. They deny that the gospel is the power of God for salvation.

Instead, they claim (indirectly) that satanic lies (i.e. false gospels) have the exact same ability to save as the true gospel, and that there is no meaningful distinction between the truth and a lie. That it doesn’t matter if you believe that Christ died for everyone and that one’s choice is what makes the atonement effective, or if you believe Christ only died for the elect and that the cross is the sole ground of their salvation. That it doesn’t matter if you believe that you can lose your salvation or that you can’t. That it doesn’t matter if you believe that God chooses who to save based on His own purpose or on what He sees inside a sinner. That what you about Christ specifically doesn’t matter, as long as you believe He did something for you. What did He do? Doesn’t matter, as long as you believe He did something for you.

The disgusting irony of all of this is that they will tell you that if you don’t believe that those who fail to make the right choice and “choose” Christ will suffer for all of eternity regretting their failure, that you are a heretic. Eternal torture, in their estimation, is non-negotiable. The work of Christ? Ahhh, who cares? You can think what you want about that, after all, no one has a perfect theology. What happens to the reprobate? You better be right about that, or you’re going to hell with them. Doesn’t matter what you believe about Christ, but if you believe that people will be annihilated, you’re a heretic. Doesn’t matter what you believe about Christ, but if you don’t believe in progressive sanctification/increasing holiness, then you’re a heretic. Doesn’t matter what you believe about Christ, but if you don’t stand with Israel, then you’re a heretic. This is the self-righteous hypocrisy and spiritual blindness of the natural man. The one thing that matters (the Person and Work of Christ) is the one thing they could not care less about in terms of precision. Everything else? Non-negotiable. Could it be that they feel so strongly about these other things because they cannot see Christ and the glory of His work? More on that some other time…

The natural man will give all sorts of reassurance to those who believe false gospels, piously claiming that “it is Christ’s work that saves” all the while denying/distorting what that work actually is and what it actually accomplished. They chide anyone who claims that the biblical evidence of salvation is believing the gospel, and essentially claim that God saves apart from the gospel (which is a denial of Romans 1) or that God saves using false gospels, which is to claim that God is a liar, or is ok using lies to save His people. This is blasphemy, and this is what spiritual warfare looks like.

Let’s look at the third text I cited-And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 ESV

Prior to believing the gospel, we did not have an understanding of the truth. We did not know God. We believed lies about God and Christ. Any assurance of salvation that we had at that time was based on false religion and was not biblically supported-it was deception.

It is Christ who comes and gives the elect sinner UNDERSTANDING of the truth SO THAT they may KNOW HIM who is true. This is a running theme through the New Testament. Christ says in John 8 that it is the Son who sets one free by means of the truth. Paul writes that Godly repentance leads one to a knowledge of the truth. John writes that it is God who teaches the truth to His people, and because they have been taught the truth, they come to Christ. Jesus Himself says that eternal life is KNOWING the one true God.

God ENSURES and CAUSES His chosen people to KNOW WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR THEM THROUGH THE PERSON AND WORK OF JESUS CHRIST. IF God teaches you something, you will know it. He gives understanding. He created the human mind. No person that He teaches will fail to grasp what He teaches them because it is not their own capacity which causes them to grasp it, but rather a capacity given by God. The capacity to understand spiritual truth comes from God-He gives it to those He regenerates. Paul makes this very point in 1 Corinthians 2-those who have been made spiritual people understand spiritual truths-natural men cannot understand spiritual truths. That is HOW the elect sinner KNOWS that they are elect and therefore saved-because they KNOW and BELIEVE the gospel-God’s testimony of what He has done in Christ.

The issue keeps coming back to assurance. How do YOU KNOW that you are saved? If you don’t believe the gospel, then you don’t have biblically-based support for assuming that you are saved. Claiming to be saved in spite of failing to believe the gospel is just deception. Check this text out-“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-23-ESV. How can you have assurance of salvation when you don’t believe what God says about His Son? Does God not love you enough to teach you the truth? If God doesn’t teach you the truth, then you don’t belong to Him, and believing lies only means you’re still captured by the devil, and have not been set free by the Son through the means of the truth. Repent and believe the testimony of God. That is the only way the assurance you have of salvation will be BACKED UP by the Word of God.

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LAW AND GOSPEL: WHY THE TWO NATURES AND NEW NATURE THEORIES INCREASE THE GUILT

Romans 4
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Romans 1:32  Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Guilt.  I sin, I know I sin, and I know I deserve to die for my sin.  The crushing weight of guilt and shame is more than I can endure.

Man has been trying to remove his burden of guilt ever since God drove him out of the garden.  He has tried hiding it with fig leaves, raging at it in murder, and burying it beneath a self righteous exterior.  Nothing works.  The guilt continues to hound him.

The Christianity I had been raised with, had indeed devoted the early part of my adult life to, could not address the overwhelming sense of guilt and shame that burdened me daily.  I am a sinner.  I sin every day. And I know I deserve to die for this.  Yet even so I cannot stop sinning.  No matter what I try, I continue to succumb to the temptation.  If God loves me, then why won’t He take the temptations away?  If He loves me, then why won’t He stop me from sinning?

I recall how even as a child I would sometimes lay awake in my bed at night, imagining the horrors of what would happen if I were to die in my sleep.  I was certain even at that age that I would wake up to find myself in hell.

Years later, after I reached adulthood, I tried the various religious methods that promise to alleviate my sense of guilt.  I tried the “let go and let God” method.  This method promised to be a virtual guarantee.  Whenever a temptation arose, I was to say under my breath, “Lord Jesus take over.”  This was supposed to be the means by which the Spirit would then energize me to overcome the temptation.  It never worked.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  The only thing it did was increase the feelings of guilt and shame.  After all, if the Lord Jesus was not “taking over”, I thought, then it had to be because I was too evil even for Him.

I tried the positive self talk method.  Don’t tell yourself you’re sinner.  That’s a lie.  Jesus died for you.  You’re God’s beloved now.  Right.  And can a leopard change its spots?  It didn’t work.  Lies cannot satisfy the demand of a guilty conscience. And if Jesus has died for everyone, then why is everyone still trying to not feel guilty?

I tried ignoring the guilt and instead burying myself in social outreach programs.  We give you this bag of groceries to show you that God loves you, no strings attached.  We wash your car to show you Jesus wants to have a relationship with you.  We give you this can of cola to . . .  blah, blah, blah.  Right.  And if God really loved me, then He’d do something about these feelings of guilt and shame.

I tried New Age and Humanism.  They just turned out to be sloppy philosophical versions of the other tricks I had already tried.

In despair, I eventually tried drowning the feelings of shame and guilt with alcohol and drugs.  This didn’t work either.  In fact, things just got worse. Shame spiraled down into depression before depression turned to anger and self abuse.  Alcohol and drugs have a way of convincing the abuser that he deserves the abuse.

Sometime in my thirties the Lord was finally pleased to reveal His gospel to me.  A friend and now brother in Christ had spent a few weeks poring over the gospel with me by email.  At the same time I had been studying the epistle to the Hebrews.  One afternoon, after I had spoken with my friend, I opened my Bible to resume my study of Hebrews.  I turned to chapter 10 and began to read.  Two minutes later, all the lights in my head came on.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
There it was in front of me.  The answer for the guilt and shame I had lived with over the course of my adult life.   I had read the chapter at least three dozen times, but had never seen it like this before.  Here I was now though, seeing it for what seemed like the first time.

If there is anything we could do to make ourselves acceptable to God, then we would only need to do that thing one time, because having sufficed to make us acceptable to God once, that thing would have sufficed to make us acceptable to God forever.

My much praying, my repeated Bible studying, my church attendance, my many repeated attempts to resist temptation, none of these things could make me acceptable to God. The proof of this was that they had to keep being repeated.

There is only one thing that makes a person acceptable to God.  It was a thing which He Himself performed, and it is a thing which He shall never again repeat.  It was the sacrificial death of His own Son.

I realized right there and then that the gospel is not about a transformation inside me.  The gospel is not a renovation project.  Rather, it’s a relocation project.  God transfers His people from one kingdom to another.

In other words, the gospel is the good news about a change in federal headships. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells us that no good tree produces evil fruit, and no bad tree produces good fruit.  He was not telling us that everyone is a tree.  He was instead telling us that there are only two trees – one that is righteous and one that is unrighteous.

Jesus Christ is the second Adam.  He is the head of a new race of people; a people made righteous by the imputation of His righteousness to them.   He is the tree of life, and all who are “in Him” are His good fruit.

The first Adam is the head of an old race of people; a corrupted people made unrighteous by the imputation of his guilt to them.   He is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and all who are “in him” are his evil fruit.

The good news is God keeps books.  He’s a bookkeeper, an accountant.  This is how He justifies.  He does not justify by performing some mystical thing inside a person that results in better performance.  No, He justifies by doing something outside of the person.  And what He does is credit Christ’s obedience to their account.  He reckons Christ’s righteousness to them.

This solves the guilt.  It completely removes it in one fell swoop, because the righteousness is no longer dependent on my performance.  I am still getting bad results in my behavior, and yet I’m no longer crushed with overwhelming guilt because of it.

Put that on hold.

Opposite this good news is the theory of two natures.  This theory hypothesizes that all men have one nature that was corrupted by sin at the fall.  However, upon conversion through the gospel, the Holy Spirit creates a new nature for the man.  Though still possessing his sin nature, he now also has a righteous nature.  For the rest of his life then, these two natures will duke it out for supremacy inside him while he learns to submit to his new nature and resist his old sin nature.
This is not good news.  This is terrible news.  It’s terrible news for several reasons.  First, it debases the cross of Christ.  With the no nature good news, the cross is what God imputes to my account.  The object of my faith then, the thing which assures me that I am indeed righteous, is the sacrifice of Christ itself.

In the two natures bad news though, the cross merely serves to prepare man to receive a new nature so that he can now combat sin in his life.  It’s not the cross that serves to assure me that I am righteous.  Instead, it’s the experience of overcoming sin in my life that assures me, because this is what proves I have been justified.

In the no nature good news, guilt was once and for all dealt with in a single blow.  With the two natures bad news though, guilt is something that still rides me every time I fail to obey my spiritual nature.  I’m left wondering, am I really saved?  Have I really been regenerated? Am I really righteous?

Much like the two natures theory, the new nature theory also grounds righteousness upon something that occurs inside me.  Rather than hypothesizing two natures though, this theory instead proffers that our sin nature gets replaced with a new, sinless nature.  Even worse, this new sinless nature is then the grounds for God imputing Christ’s righteousness to men.  The men who teach this nonsense sneer at the idea that God would reckon an unrighteous person righteous by merely imputing righteousness to their account, because as they put it, this would be mere “legal fiction”.  They instead insist that we must be made inwardly righteous in some mystical way before God can then impute us righteous.  Just like the two natures theory, this one nature nonsense twists the gospel into a message about renovation rather than a transfer.

Both theories are false.  Both theories are a false gospel.  Both theories fail to see that the good news is not a message about righteousness grounded on personal transformation.   Rather, the good news is a message about righteousness grounded upon a single event that occurred outside of us two-thousand years ago at place called Golgotha.

In the third chapter of his epistle to the Galatians, the apostle Paul urges his readers to recall the message he had preached to them.  It was before your very eyes Jesus Christ was portrayed as crucified, he says.  Notice that.  He does not say it was before your eyes you received a new nature, or it was before your eyes the Spirit made you to sin less.

Of course, some legalist is going to read this and then falsely charge me with Antinomianism.  They will accuse me of saying sin all you want with impunity, because after all, Jesus already paid for it.

I did not say this.  I did not say sin all you want with impunity.  God disciplines His people. His people have been instructed to resist evil and to do good, but this does not mean they will succeed, nor does it mean they will become less sinful. I have said it before and I will say it again; if I am becoming less sinful, then I am also growing less needful of the cross.

You stopped drinking?  Good for you.  AA has the same effect.
You stopped holding on to unforgiveness?  Good for you.  Psychological counseling has the same effect.
You stopped abusing drugs?  Good for you.  Recovery has the same effect.

If not drinking, smoking, and doing drugs is evidence of justification, then everyone who undergoes counseling and AA has been justified.  This is certainly not the case.

The reformers summarized the gospel like this; we are justified, not by something God does in us, but rather by something God does outside of us.  If this is true, then the object of our faith cannot be something done inside of me. It must instead be the something that God did outside of me.  Unfortunately for many in the reformed community today, people are by faith laying hold not of the cross, but rather themselves.

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The Gospel of Grace (Tract Form)

The gospel is the revelation of God’s righteousness.  It reveals the good news of how, even though God is good and right to demand the death of all who disobey Him, He is also good and right to save from death a people who have disobeyed Him.  (Romans 1:16-17)

Long ago, before He created the world, God determined to glorify Himself by sending His Son to die for a people whom He had purposed to save from eternal judgment.  (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:5)

He also determined to glorify Himself by condemning to eternal judgment everyone whom He did not choose to save.  The Bible calls this choice, predestination.  (Romans 9:14-24)

In determining to save and condemn, God also chose who He would save and who He would condemn.   The choice He made had nothing to do with the people He chose.

In other words, He did not base His decision to save and condemn on anything we would do.  Rather, His decision was based solely upon His own good purpose and will.

God was not wrong to make this choice either.  After all, He is the Creator, and as the Creator He has the right to fashion His creation for whatever purpose He sees fit.   He would only be wrong if He had later lied about the purpose of its creation.  He did not.


Romans 9
:14-24
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!  For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”  But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

In so choosing who to save and who to condemn, God also determined that both groups would fall into sin.  In this way, He could send His Son to die for those whom He had chosen for salvation; thereby glorifying His mercy and kindness, as well as His holiness and justice.

Romans 9:9-13
For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”  And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,  though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

God determined that both groups of people would fall into sin through the disobedience of one man.  That is, by treating Adam as the representative of the entire human race, God judged both groups of people guilty of Adam’s disobedience.  He did this through an act of imputation. Imputation is a word sometimes used in accounting.  It refers to the transfer of a value in one account to another.

To accomplish His purpose of felling the entire human race into sin, God credits Adam’s disobedience to every person’s account.  Adam disobeyed and now we each and every one of us get stuck with the bill.  (Psalm 51:5, Psalm 53:3-4, Romans 5:13-21)

This fall into sin, brought about by the imputation of Adam’s guilt is called Total Depravity. Total depravity, because the totality of man’s mind and body is effected by sin.  There is no part of him which desires to honor and worship God by submitting to His authority and obeying His commandments.  Although he knows from the observance of creation that God exists and is worthy of his honor and worship, he nevertheless suppresses this knowledge in unrighteousness.  (Romans 1:28-32)

For this reason, God’s good and just demand for those who disobey Him is death.  He demands this, because this was the penalty He announced beforehand for disobedience.

Genesis 2:16-17  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

In addition to this imputation of Adam’s guilt, each man adds to this guilt.  His disobedience compounds.  He begins with Adam’s guilt imputed to him, and then adds the guilt of his own disobedience to this. Thus, both groups of people, those whom God had determined to save, and those whom He had determined to condemn, find themselves in utter need of salvation from God’s good and right punishment for their sins.

The method God had determined from eternity to use to save His elect from the punishment of death for their sins was the death of His Son. That is, in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a virgin, born under the law to redeem those who are under the condemnation of the law.  This Son of God is the eternal second Person of the Holy Trinity, the only begotten Son of God, God of God, Jesus Christ.

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons

John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.

God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, took to Himself human flesh and humbled Himself to be born of a virgin. He, who had always been fully God, consented to become also fully a man without ever ceasing to be God. Though He was fully a man, He was nevertheless conceived by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, rather than by natural means. This means He was not born of Adam’s seed. That is, Adam did not represent Him. He came into the world unblemished by the imputation of Adam’s guilt. (Philippians 2:5-7, Luke 1:26-35)

To accomplish the salvation of His elect, Christ humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. At the cross, God imputed all the sins of His elect to His Son, Jesus Christ.  That is, He reckoned Jesus guilty for every act of disobedience His people had done, were doing and would ever do.

In so doing, Jesus did not Himself become sinful.  Rather only, the sins of His elect were charged to His account.  The bill had been transferred to His account.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

With Christ thus reckoned guilty of His elect’s sins by imputation, God then poured out upon Christ the full and eternal measure of His wrath. God punished His Son for the sins His of His elect.  Jesus died their death, the death they had merited with their disobedience, as well as the guilt Adam had merited for them.  (Matthew 1:21, John 10:14-15, John 10:26-29)

Jesus’ decision to die on the cross for His elect was an act of obedience.  He, whose will had always been in perfect agreement with the Father’s, now agreed once again with His Father even to the point of death.  Thus, His work was perfect in its obedience.

For this reason, God raised Christ from the dead. This act of raising Christ from the dead was God’s way of announcing to the world that Jesus Christ is righteous.  (Romans 1:3-4)

But there is still the matter of His elect’s depravity, for although Christ has taken the punishment due His elect for their disobedience, His elect are still nevertheless lost in the effects of total depravity.  To accomplish this total rescue of His elect, God first reckons them righteous.  That is, in the fullness of time, in some due course within each of their lives, God imputes to each of His elect the righteousness Christ earned for them by His perfect obedience.  This righteousness which He earned for them is made theirs by imputation. (Romans 4:3-5)

As an immediate consequence of this imputation, the Holy Spirit overcomes the willful suppression of God’s truth in each elect person’s mind.  That is, He makes the elect person to understand the gospel, as well as to believe it.  The Bible refers to this as new birth.

Having been imputed righteous and born again, the elect person is now declared righteous.   He did nothing to earn this declaration.   Rather, God Himself did all the work, and so therefore receives all the gratitude and glory for accomplishing it.  The Bible refers to this declaration as justified.

Realizing that God’s holy law can no longer accuse him because Christ has suffered the law’s punishment for his disobedience, the justified man now delights in God’s law.  Though his body is still under the influence of evil desires which he can never escape in this life, the justified man nevertheless does still desire to please God.   (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13-14)

In addition to this, the justified man also is made to agree with God that Christ is going to return one day to judge those whom He did not choose for salvation and to resurrect those whom He did.

Because Christ’s resurrection was a declaration of His righteousness, the same resurrection He underwent will be the same resurrection His elect will undergo.  (John 5:24-25, Romans 6:5)

This is the gospel, and God commands all men everywhere to repent of all their false gospels and to believe only this gospel.  Only His elect shall do this.

Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

 

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