Why I Am No Longer a Calvinist by Giovanni Camacho

When I was first converted to the truth of God’s sovereign grace in salvation based on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ alone approximately two years ago, I was encouraged by a brother to start writing. At that time (and to this day), I found/find myself having a lot of debates with “tolerant Calvinists” about the (de)merits of Arminianism on various internet forums and have joined/join other voices in standing against this heresy.

Many words have been written against the heresy of Arminianism, and praise God for that. Spiritual warfare is waged through the proclamation of the truth as against the lies of the devil. But as I was recently speaking to another brother, he pointed out something that I had not fully cognized even though I have been battling against it for almost 2 years. As we spoke, it hit me like a cold wet blanket-the most cunning deception of our day is not Arminianism. It is “Calvinism” as it is now popularly known and espoused.

Arminianism is open paganism. It is so off that it should be dismissed for the sub-biblical satanic cult that it is carte blanche, even by other nonbelievers like those of the “Reformed” faith. It is a Frankenstein of a doctrine, monstrous in its claims and diabolical in its implications. It is to be avoided at all costs in the same way a deadly and infectious disease is to be avoided.

Arminianism is satanic. There are no “blessed inconsistencies.” There is nothing there to be redeemed, no “essentials” to be preserved, no value whatsoever in the offer of salvation it gives. However, the blind will tell us that Satan has the “essentials” right, and therefore his gospel is something God can also use to save.

Strangely, in an ironic twist of the most ghastly and frightening sort, it is the modern Calvinist who has become an apologist for the false and satanic gospel of Arminianism. The modern Calvinist defends the Arminian lie as “essentially true.” The Synod at Dordt would be ashamed to have these unconverted compromisers identify with them.

This tolerance and compromise with satanic falsehood is the systematic teaching of the “popular” Calvinist charlatans of our day-James White regularly defends the satanic lie of Arminianism, chiding anyone who rightly states that it is heresy as a “hyper-Calvinist.” One has to wonder what exactly is the purpose of all his debating when none of it matters apparently, since, as he defends, Arminians agree on the “essentials.” One might begin to believe that if it is true that Arminians agree on the essentials and are no less a brother or sister than one who believes the truth (notice I didn’t say a “Calvinist”), then perhaps Mr. White simply likes to hear himself talk.

The late R.C. Sproul, another Calvinist of even greater renown than White, was widely and popularly known for defending the salvation of Arminians based on God cutting them a break on their unbelief. This man gave the pithy and nonsensical phrase “blessed inconsistencies” as a defense to the satanic message of Arminianism and in turn armed a generation of unbelievers with yet another way to undermine and attack the truth. Thousands of religious people are currently mourning his death, and yet he functioned largely to undermine the truth through his defense of Arminianism as “blessed inconsistency.” (side bar-“blessed” inconsistencies? Really RC? how exactly can believing a lie be a function of being “blessed?” How can anyone ever say that believing a lie was a “blessing?” How could anyone say that being lied to is a “blessing?” What kind of nonsensical bat guano is it to claim that evidence of God’s love on someone is that they believe a “blessed” lie? Is this too soon?)

John MacArthur is also another “Calvinist” who openly embraces Arminians as brethren, also excusing their unbelief. So does his yes man Phil Johnson. Voddie Bauchum affirms Arminians. Paul Washer affirms Arminians. Steve Lawson affirms Arminians. Tim Conway affirms Arminians. Albert Mohler affirms Arminians. David Platt affirms Arminians. Sam Storms affirms Arminians. Jeff Durbin affirms Arminians.

These men are all known for their “Calvinistic” leanings in their teachings, and yet they all, at bottom, are willing to affirm someone who believes a false gospel as a brother. How they miss Paul’s condemnation of other gospels in Galatians 1 can only be a product of thinking that Arminians do have the true gospel that Paul taught, which means that, at bottom, they too believe that salvation is conditioned, at some level, on the sinner.

The reason for this, at bottom, is because the natural man views these two doctrinal positions as merely interpretive positions. They think that there are “Calvinist” verses and that there are “Arminian” verses. They think that there are “tensions” and “paradoxes” in scripture. They think that each position is to some degree viable because each side has “its” texts. If that were true, then they would be right about not excluding Arminians.

That is how the modern Calvinist understands his current doctrinal position-as a mere interpretive standpoint which is more “consistent” than Arminianism. This is why they have no problem with considering Arminians brethren, because they see their own Calvinism as merely an interpretive standpoint. Further, most of them claim and believe that they were Arminians until recently when God taught them the “real truth.” So, what they really think is that “Calvinism” is optional window dressing that God may or may not teach one.

——-

Arminianism and Calvinism are not interpretive viewpoints. They are not “lenses” through which we can read this text or that text as supporting one view or the other. There is one right view of the text, and millions of wrong views. The right view is whatever the text actually means as intended by the author.

That is the standard-what did the author actually and objectively intend to convey in writing that down? That’s what we need to seek when we read Scripture-the authorial intent of the message: what did the author mean? What did he want us to understand? That’s what we need to know. That’s what the text means-what the author meant when he wrote it down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

There are no “Arminian” verses. There are no “Calvinist” verses. There is just the text with its meaning. There are no paradoxes or tensions. There is one right interpretation which provides complete unity to all of the counsel of God. That right interpretation can only be made by those who are spiritual, by those who possess the mind of Christ. The doctrinal/interpretive result of being given the mind of Christ is to understand all of the text consistently in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ (no-I’m not claiming that upon conversion someone automatically understands the whole Bible, I’m claiming that upon conversion “tensions” go away and an interpretive harmony replaces it). That process produces the articulation of doctrines like the effective atonement of Christ for His elect; the unconditional election and reprobation of men; the security of salvation of the sinner.

It is not that those doctrines are “Calvinistic doctrines.” John Calvin did not make these doctrines up. Nor did he bring them to light. They have always been a part of the presentation of the true gospel, because they are the doctrines which compose the true gospel. Effective atonement, unconditional election, and security of salvation are what the Bible teaches. Those doctrines are the content of the teachings of scripture on salvation and justification. Those doctrines are not made up interpretation and viewpoints of equal value to some other viewpoint. Those doctrines are the only view point because those doctrines are the only doctrines the Bible teaches.

————

Before I was converted, I had happily adopted the label “Calvinist,” in spite of the fact that I had never, at that time, read anything John Calvin had written. Truth be told, to this day, I have only read his commentary on Ephesians 1. That’s it. That is the extent of my study of John Calvin. I do not believe what I believe about the cross because I studied Calvin. But, I was happy to adopt the label because it seemed to carry some legitimacy with it, like I had joined the group of people who were “serious” about Bible study.

These people read more than just John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:8-9. These people seemed to be OK with God’s sovereignty in salvation. These people seemed to be more committed and generally more dedicated to scripture than any Arminian I knew at that time. It seemed to me that being Calvinist was better than being Arminian because it communicated to me that I was more serious about being religious and doctrinally consistent than those Arminians who just wanted to pray a prayer and be saved! Than those easy-believers who love their sin and don’t want to reform morally!

I started wading into forums and talking about Calvinism and Arminianism, and I sounded like so many others-“Arminianism is wrong, but Arminians are still brethren, they are just immature.” See, I was a tolerant Calvinist Lordship Salvationist before I was converted (that is a mouthful). I believed that salvation was ultimately conditioned on my changing enough (empowered by God, of course) to prove that God had truly justified me. Terrified because my sin just kept growing and getting worse, I was lost and in unbelief. At that time, while I was an unbeliever, I was calling myself a “Calvinist” or at least OK with people calling me that.

After God converted me to the truth, I stopped actively calling myself a “Calvinist,” mostly because I resented the idea that the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace were associated with what largely appears to be an interpretive viewpoint called “Calvinism.” However, I did still allow people to call me that, and I would even adopt the title for the sake of making it easier to talk with others. I use labels all the time to identify doctrinal positions, so I let people continue to call me a Calvinist BECAUSE the doctrines of depravity, election, atonement and security are associated with Calvinism. This ease of communication has been my sole and only purpose in allowing myself to be called a “Calvinist.”

However, in light of the comments I made above, I have no desire to be identified as a “Calvinist” any longer. I’m not a Calvinist. I do not believe what the modern “Calvinist” believes-I do not consider Arminianism to be a kindergarten gospel; I do not consider Arminians to be brethren; I do not consider effective atonement for the elect alone to be a “viewpoint” among others; I do not want to be counted amongst the tolerant and the compromisers; I do not want my gospel to be associated with the name of a man who actually taught that God loves all men and desires that they all be saved (See Calvin’s commentary on John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:8-9), or in other words…Arminianism.

When I was first converted, one of the first articles I wrote had a passing comment about how I thought that the devil had used the label “calvinism” as a way to cause the unbeliever to dismiss the truth as merely dismissing an interpretive viewpoint. I am now convinced that is exactly what he has done. The devil has managed to attack the truth by sticking a label on it that men can refuse by thinking that they are rejecting a man. This problem is exacerbated by these Calvinist charlatans who are quick to reassure us that Arminianism is good enough for the purpose of getting you through those pearly gates. Modern Calvinism has become a thinly veiled defense of satanic Arminianism. How can I continue to identify in label with enemies of the cross? I cannot any more.

I know that many of us have adopted that label for the ease of communication with tolerants and Arminians. But I would encourage gospel believers to renounce this title because it has an appearance of wickedness to it-it is now associated with tolerance of a false gospel as also true.

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James – Can That Faith Save Him?

James 2
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 
26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James cites two examples to prove his assertion that faith without works is dead.  The first example he cites is that of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.

Genesis 22
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.  After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy[a] will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

This work which James cited is a work Abraham performed at least some twenty years after God credited righteousness to him by faith.   Did you hear that?  TWENTY YEARS!

Neither an infant nor a child of six or seven could carry the amount of wood required to consume a human body by fire.   Verse 6 tells us, “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son.”   That son is not a boy of six or seven, but rather of nineteen or twenty.

This leaves us with a huge question.  If works serve to assure a person that his faith is genuine, then what did Abraham do for assurance during the twenty years previous to the sacrifice of Isaac? Did he wander about in fear and doubt?

The second example James gives is just as stark as the first.

Joshua 2
Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

How long had it taken for Rahab and the rest of her countrymen to hear the news about Israel’s exodus from Egypt?  Ten years?  Twenty years?  Thirty years?  After all, keep in mind, Israel had just completed its forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  How long had Rahab been waiting for two of them to show up on her doorstep?  Like Abraham, what had she been doing all that time for assurance prior to their arrival?

I am told by some people that simple assent to the gospel does not give assurance of faith. I am told that if there are no works flowing out of my professed and believed conversion, then there is no saving faith.  It would appear at first sight that James agrees.  But does he really?

Consider the sin James identifies in his readers.

James 2
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

They had begun making distinctions between each other, not only between believer and unbeliever, but even more so between rich and poor.  Is this how the grace of God teaches us to think?   Of course not.

The grace of God has taught us that we are all sinners, from the least to the greatest, from the wealthiest to the poorest.  No one is less a sinner than another.  We are all worthy of death.  We are all brought forth in iniquity.

For this reason we are to love our enemies, as well as our brothers.  We are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but rather in humility we are to consider others as better than ourselves.

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

They had disregarded the distinction the grace of God had taught them to make, and had instead returned to the old way of distinguishing one another in accordance with the flesh.

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Hypothetically speaking, had they been able to fulfill the requirement of the law’s demand for perfect obedience, then James would have had no issue with them.  Of course not, because they would have been sinless.  As it is though, no one can fulfill this demand.  Rather, we are all sinners, and the very fact his readers were showing partiality proved they were sinners.

Since it was the case then that they were sinners, James therefore encourages them to speak and act as those who are judged under the law of liberty; that is, by the principle of grace; rather than by the law of sin and death.  Speak and act as those who are under grace, in other words.  This means, no more distinctions between rich and poor, because God’s grace teaches us to look at ourselves and other men differently.   God’s grace teaches us to look at ourselves and others as sinners in need of grace.

It is at this point that James writes his now famous passage.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

Since it is true God’s grace teaches us to look at ourselves and others as sinners in need of grace, what good is it for someone to say he is under this grace, yet at the same time still distinguish between men as rich and poor.

In other words, what good is a grace that cannot view all men as sinners in need of it?  Can this grace save?  No, it cannot.  And the proof it cannot lies in the fact that it cannot view all men as sinners.  It instead continues to distinguish between men as though some men had no need of it.  A gospel that does not train people to love the poor and rich alike because we are all sinners in need of God’s grace, is no gospel at all.

Unfortunately, many men have read into this passage the notion that good, solid gospel faith is something the spiritually blind and lost can have, but because they do not also have works to go along with it, that good, solid gospel faith is thereby rendered useless and ineffectual.   I cannot stress enough just how abominable this notion is.

But Dave, someone will surely say, what about them demons?  Them demons believe God is one, don’t they?   Indeed they do, AND THEY HATE HIM FOR IT!

Consider how the demons interacted with Jesus in the gospels  “Have You come before the time, Jesus?”  I mean, we know God lies.  The serpent said so, in the garden.  So have You come before the time the Father set?
They accused Him of lying.   Yes, they agree a time is coming when Christ is going to punish them with eternal fire, but they do not for one minute agree He is just and righteous to do this!


The point is,
Abraham did not find assurance in his works.   Neither did Isaac.   He instead found assurance in the gospel, just as Isaac did.   What his sacrifice did was reveal a little more about that gospel to he and Isaac.

“The popular preachers could not have chosen a more proper place to show their real sentiments (the thief on the cross). 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

 

 

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Antinomian Propositions or No Faith? Dr Alderson’s Confusion

I recently came across a book entitled, “No Holiness, No Heaven: Antinomianism Today”.  It was written by the late Dr Richard Alderson, former Senior Lecturer in English as a Foreign Language, Southwerk College, London (Banner of Truth, 1986).  In his book, Dr Alderson sought to briefly examine the history of and explain the current practice of Antinomianism today.  Whether he succeeded is something I will leave to the reader.   The problem I have with his book is that Dr Alderson turns out to be yet another in a long line of critics who have either failed to do their homework, and/or who have failed to understand some of the men they criticize.

Case in point, as I read Dr Alderson’s little book on Antinomianism, wouldn’t you know it, I stumbled yet again across a very distorted and false representation of Robert Sandeman.  Beginning on page 55, Dr Alderson writes:

  Robert Sandeman taught that saving faith is confined to the mind.  Faith is simply a intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel.  Feelings (the heart) and obedience (the will) are rigidly excluded as ‘works’.  Such was Sandeman’s misguided way of ‘safeguarding ‘ justification by faith only. 
        In all such teaching the main emphasis is put on the initial confession of Christ with the mouth, based on Romans 10:9-10: ‘If you confess with our mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with the heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 
        Now it is self-evident that no preacher or evangelist can possibly read another man’s heart.  All the emphasis in handling this verse is therefore put on an individual’s verbal profession.  The enquirer confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord; he further professes to believe in his heart that God has raised Christ from the dead.   On this basis he is confidently pronounced saved. 
        Despite the obvious fact that the inevitability of sanctification is clearly here – Jesus as Lord of our lives – all the emphasis in the Sandemanian viewpoint is placed on justification, so that Paul is impiously misconstrued as teaching easy believism – or cheap grace, as it has so rightly been called.  You make your confession – preferably after walking down the aisle – and then you may be assured you are a Christian and can henceforth be untroubled by any qualms of conscience.  No change of life is required – no fruit, no good works, no holiness.  To insist upon these things would be to go back to works.  It would make converts concerned about the subjective and lead them to forget that all is objective – in Christ.
— Richard Alderson, No Holiness, No Heaven: Antinomianism Today, pg 55

 

Two things need to be said about this ridiculous passage.  First, Dr Alderson is clearly conflating the heresy of R T Kendall and Zane Hodges with the teaching of Robert Sandeman.  In fact, Alderson even cites Kendall a paragraph or two later as though Kendall and Sandeman were of the same ilk.

I find this to be the common problem with all Lordship Salvation folks.  If they have any inkling even at all of who Sandeman was, then they certainly will have no idea what he actually taught, because they will have never bothered to have actually read him for themselves.  Instead, they will have read only books about him, books written by men who will have themselves only read books about him, leaving few, if any, who will actually have read him in his own words.  Thus, they come away with these ridiculous conflations and false accusations, knowing not one thing Sandeman actually said.

Kendall and Sandeman have nothing to do with each other.  Sandeman would have condemned Kendall of heresy every bit as much as Kendall, I have no doubt, would condemn Sandeman were he aware of him.

Nowhere did Sandeman exclude the will (obedience) from justification.  The very idea is preposterous.  What  are we, passive, mindless machines that are simply acted upon by the Creator?  No.  The will of the man totally depraved must be regenerated so that he is “made willing” by the Spirit to believe the gospel.   Sandeman never once denied this.

What Sandeman denied was that this necessary act of conversion is what justifies the man.  What justifies the man instead is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the man.

In other words, a man is not justified by his believing, but rather by the object of his believing.  He is made willing by regeneration to obey the command to agree with God that Christ has accomplished the redemption of His elect by offering His body to God at the cross as a sacrifice for His elect’s sin.  The object of his faith (the gospel) has justified his faith.  Dr Alderson sounds like an Arminian trying to justify his belief that his belief has justified him.

The second thing which needs to be said is that Sandeman also nowhere taught that the main emphasis of a person’s confession is to be placed on the confession of Romans 10:9-10.  In fact, not even Kendall does this, though for a different reason than Sandeman doesn’t (which makes me wonder whether some of these Lordship Salvationists even bother to read anyone they criticize).

There was no such thing as “saving faith” in Sandeman’s theology, because he never bought into this idea that an act of believing is what saves a person.  Rather, faith is just faith; a mental act of the regenerated intellect.   As far as the cause of salvation went, it was the imputation of Christ’s righteousness that did the saving.  The act of believing simply meant intellectual assent to the facts which encompass this imputation.  The propositions of Romans 10:9-10 do not even begin to do this.  We must go far beyond the mere facts of Romans 10:9-10.

Now, for Kendall though, the mere facts of Romans 10:9-10 are enough.  In fact, according to Hodges and Kendall both, we don’t even need the facts of Romans 10:9-10.  We can instead make do with a single proposition – Jesus promises eternal life to all who believe on Him (see my essay “The Lordship Salvation Controversy” here:   https://cornbreadandbourbon.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/the-lordship-salvation-controversy/ )  It needs hardly be said how much we condemn this.

But the problem for Dr Alderson goes beyond this difference, because what Sandeman saw was a problem with the way some men were defining faith.   Erskine, for example, and Boston, as well as many others had taken to splitting up the single act of faith into several different, separate acts for which each act then had to then be properly qualified in order to count as true faith.

Today, for example, we hear men like R C Sproul and James White tell us that justification is by grace alone through faith alone.  Yet these same men then quickly turn right around and tell us that this faith alone is an act to be qualified by a heartfelt sorrow for our sins; a life of obedience to God; and some immediate change in our behavior.

Now, Sandeman never denied, nor do we deny today that Scripture does command us to turn from our sins, to devote ourselves to the performing of works pleasing to God, and to rely exclusively upon God for all our needs.  The question instead is, do these acts qualify and define faith?

To avoid the absurdity of saying we are justified by aught else but faith, they commonly divide faith into as many different acts or motions as will serve all their purposes. Hence we hear of the various acts of faith, direct and reflex. Hence the faith of reliance, affiance, assurance, the act of flying, and the act of trusting, a believing application, appropriation, and c. Mr. Boston, I think, divides saving faith into four acts. And others again choose to assure us, that one single act of faith is sufficient to save our souls forever; but, then, that single act must be properly qualified. In the same view, many epithets are given to faith; as a true, sincere, lively, manly, generous, triumphant faith, &c. Here I am ready to express my wish, that Aspasio had carried his aversion to the terms and phraseology of the popularly doctrine much farther than he has done. The dialogues are far from being sufficiently purged of them.
        It would be tedious to take particular notice of all these forms of expression. But one thing in the general may be freely said, that where the faith necessary to justification is described, every epithet, word, name or phrase, prefixed or subjoined to Faith, not meant as descriptive of the truth believed, but of some good motion, disposition, or exercise of the human soul about it, is intended, and really serves, instead of clearing our way, to blindfold and decoy us; to impose upon us, and make us take brass for gold, and chaff for wheat; to lead us to establish our own, in opposition to the Divine righteousness, even while our mouths and our ears are filled with high sounding words about the latter.
        In vain shall we consult catechisms, confessions, and other publicly authorized standards of doctrine for direction here. These are framed by the wisdom of the scribes, and disputers of this world. We can receive no true light about this matter, but from the fountain head of true knowledge, the sacred oracles of Divine revelation. Thence it will appear, that justification comes by bare faith. Ask a Christian, what’s his faith, the spring of all his hope? And he answers you in a word, the blood of Christ. Ask a proficient in the popular doctrine the same question, and he immediately begins to tell you a long-winded story, how grace enabled him to become a better man than he was, and this he calls conversion. Thus we see what a wide difference there is betwixt the false and true grace of God.
— Robert Sandeman, Letters On Theron and Aspasio: Addressed to the Author, pgs 281-282

I frankly acknowledge, then, that my religion, or my hope toward God, is not founded on argument, not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God; – not on any deductions from any principles I had hitherto known; but on authority interposed in a manner quite unexpected, baffling, confounding, and repelling all my reasonings; and, if I may be allowed the expression, forcing upon me a new set of principles, by the most convincing and satisfactory, as well as irresistible evidence; – not on any reasoning a priori, but on a plain matter of fact, established by impregnable evidence; – not on any effort exerted, or any motion felt on my breast, but on that motion of divine power, which burst the bands of death when Jesus rose; – not on any operation which men call mystical, to avoid saying unintelligible, but on the simplest and most striking operation of power that can affect the human mind, even the presenting alive again a man who was dead; – not on felling any change on my heart to the better, or the remotest good inclination of my will, but on that fact, which, sore against my will, forced upon me the most shocking view of my guilt, and proved me to be an enemy to Heaven, in that respect wherein I thought to have approved and valued myself to my last hour; – not on a work of power assisting me to fell, will, or do anything, in order to peace with God, but on a work of power, proving to demonstration that everything needful thereto is already completely finished; – to say all in one word, not on any difference betwixt me and others, or any token for good about me whatsoever, but on the token or proof of divine good will expressed, in the resurrection of Jesus, toward sinners of all nations, without regard to any difference by which one man can distinguish himself from another.
Robert Sandeman, Letters to Theron and Aspasio: To the Author, pages 60-61

For Sandeman, faith was intellectual assent with the propositions of the gospel.  The problem I have with Dr Alderson is that he assumes Sandeman defined those propositions by the contents of Romans 10:9-10.  He did not.  He went far beyond the contents of Romans 10:9-10.

The propositions defined by Sandeman one is to assent to included the truth about man’s sin and Divine justice, the truth about Divine election and predestination, the truth about the incarnation and virgin birth of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the truth about the atoning death of Christ, the truth about His resurrection and ascension, the truth about the Divine call and regeneration, and the truth about the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of His saints.

I assert that Dr Alderson’s issue was with these propositions rather than with Sandeman’s definition of faith.  Dr Alderson did not define the gospel by these propositions.  No Lordship Salvationist does, because these propositions do not permit the Lordship Salvationist to remain unrepentant about their false conversion.

For example, if the gospel is defined, in part, by the truth about Divine election and predestination, then this means all my attempts to live obediently to God before I understood and agreed with the truth about Divine election and predestination were but self righteous and evil works, and therefore to be repented of.  This is what the Lordship Salvationist despises.

We must understand, the issue with Antinomianism is not one of faith.  It is not as though the Antinomian believes in nothing at all.   No, he believes in something all right, but what he believes in is not the gospel.

By attacking the Antinomian’s faith rather than his gospel, Dr Alderson, and the many others who are like him, are giving approval to the Antinomian’s gospel.   Why would they do such a thing?  The answer is simple.  They want a gospel free of the truth about Divine election and predestination so they can continue to count their efforts to live obediently to God as proof of an authentic conversion.  They want the truths about the gospel to stand as optional doctrine in what they insist is a justified person’s theology.

This is why we find John MacArthur claiming in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, that Jesus Christ died for everyone’s sins.  It is why James White has yet to meet an Arminian he hasn’t counted a brother in Christ.  It’s why R C Sproul believes the holiness without which no one will see the Lord is one’s personal holiness.  It’s why John Piper believes there are two kinds of justification; a present justification and a final justification.

Certainly, were we to exclude the truth about our sin and Divine justice from our gospel, then we would be guilty of Antinomianism.  That is, we would be guilty of preaching another gospel.  What we would not be guilty of is preaching a different definition of faith.

Were we to claim that God is pleased with His people living any old way they want to, or that His command for them to offer their bodies to Him as a living sacrifice is irrelevant, then certainly we would be guilty of preaching alien propositions.  We would not be guilty of preaching an alien definition of faith though.   Faith is just simply faith.  It is just simply intellectual assent.  The question we need to ask is the same question Sandeman asked, what are the propositions you have intellectually assented to?

In summary, have you ever noticed how Piper, Washer, Mac, White (and all the other popular guys like them) are always criticizing the validity of their opponent’s faith, but never the contents of their opponent’s gospel.  They have little to no problem with the propositions their opponent believes.  They instead just want their opponents to believe whatever propositions they believe “the right way”; that is, with emotion and behavior change.

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John Piper Is Trying to Take the Holy Spirit Hostage Again

John Piper is up to his old tricks again.   In a recent article (see here: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/does-god-really-save-us-by-faith-alone )
he argues that there are two ways of justification – the way of law keeping which requires our perfection, and the way of faith which depends on Christ’s perfection.

Piper defines this faith which depends on Christ’s perfection as “the receiving of Christ for all He is, perfect and holy, and not instead the receiving of Christ for health insurance.” By health insurance he means receiving Christ simply for the purpose of going to heaven when we die. He says receiving Christ does not mean receiving Christ simply for the purpose of going to heaven after we die.

Piper further argues that a faith which is “merely intellectual” cannot justify (yeah, that old nonsense again).  Instead, a faith which justifies is a faith that must be accompanied by deeds of love done by us (but remember, still inspired and caused by the Spirit, because somehow this makes justified by deeds okay just as long as we remember to give the Spirit the credit for making us perform the deeds).

He then argues that the phrase found in Paul’s epistles, “obedience of faith”, is referring to this, a faith (as defined by Piper) which is accompanied by deeds of love we perform, but which are caused by the Spirit working inside us to sanctify us.

Piper then concludes that in this way we are “justified by faith alone, but not a faith that is alone”.

To summarize, Piper believes the term “justified by faith” means justified by our act of faith.  He also believes this faith is to be defined as committing ourselves for the Lord’s sake to the lifelong work of drudging up feelings of shame and/or butt hurt for our sins, and also to the work of trying very, very, oh so very hard to obey the law so as to prove to God and to the world that we are truly serious about our devotion to the Lordship of Christ.  Piper believes this faith is the coin that buys us a plate at the table of God’s fellowship.   Oh, and lastly, Piper believes this is not the same as saying justified by works, because he wants us to remember that he has assigned the cause of this faith to the Holy Spirit working in us.

In response to Piper, I state the following:

Justification by faith does not mean justification by our act of faith.  It instead means justified BY THE OBJECT OF OUR FAITH.

Second, faith does not mean “receiving Christ for all His is, perfect and holy”.  Faith instead means “TO INTELLECTUALLY PERCEIVE, AGREE WITH AND APPROVE OF THE PROPITIATION WHICH GOD PUT FORWARD BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST RESULTING IN THE COMPLETE AND FINISHED REDEMPTION OF ALL GOD’S PREORDAINED ELECT.”

Third, there are indeed two ways of justification – the way of law keeping which requires perfection, and the way of faith which depends on the propitiation which God put forward by the blood of Jesus Christ. The first way has always been closed off to us, because eternal life was never promised to us in return for our obedience.  (Ditto at least to Piper’s rejection of the imaginary covenant of works).  Adam could never have merited eternal life in the garden. What Adam would have merited instead was another day in the garden in which he would need to obey the command in order to not die.  This would have continued day after day, this threat of dying continuing to hang over him.   That, my friend, is not eternal life.

Jesus, who was never in Adam, is the only Person who could and did justify Himself by His law keeping.

Bad stuff, that Piper. Really very bad stuff.  Unfortunately, most of the reformed Protestant world today has bought into it.

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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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