In by Grace, Stay in By Faithfulness?

We’re coming up on Reformation Day again this seems like a good time to cover the basics again. The medieval church came to teach that we enter a state of grace through baptism. According to the medieval church, we remain in a state of grace by the exercise of our free will, which we were said to have retained after the fall, in cooperation with grace. This consensus was confirmed at the Council of Trent and became Roman Catholic dogma.

It remains Roman dogma:

§1989The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

For Rome, acceptance with God includes forgiveness but it “with justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us” (ibid, §1991). Justification

establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent (ibid, §1993)

As part of this article, the catechism quotes the teaching of Session VII of the Council of Trent (1547), which declared “man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it.” According to Rome, the Spirit enables our cooperation but we must do our part. It can be lost, unless we do our part.

The Reformation was a repudiation of the scheme of acceptance with God on the basis of forgiveness plus moral renovation, i.e., by grace and cooperation with grace or by grace and faithfulness. According to the Augsburg Confession (1530), Article 4, the Protestants confess:

men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

Article 11 of the Anglican Articles (1552, 1563, 1571) confesses:

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

Article 18 of the French Confession (1559):

XVIII. We believe that all our justification rests upon the remission of our sins, in which also is our only blessedness, as says the Psalmist (Psa. 32:2). We therefore reject all other means of justification before God, and without claiming any virtue or merit, we rest simply in the obedience of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us as much to blot out all our sins as to make us find grace and favor in the sight of God. And, in fact, we believe that in falling away from this foundation, however slightly, we could not find rest elsewhere, but should always be troubled. Forasmuch as we are never at peace with God till we resolve to be loved in Jesus Christ, for of ourselves we are worthy of hatred.

Article 23 of the Belgic Confession (1561):

We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works.

And the same apostle says that we are justified “freely” or “by grace” through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.

That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God’s approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves.

In fact, if we had to appear before God relying—no matter how little—on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up.

Therefore everyone must say with David: “Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified.”

Question 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism says:

60. How are you righteous before God?

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

Recently I received an email from a evangelical, Protestant pastor, who identified himself as a Calvinist, who wrote that he believes “under the new covenant” we enter “by faith” but that “we must maintain our place in the covenant, i.e., justification via faithfulness to the moral law.”

In light of history the very brief history of the doctrine of justification sketched above, this is a remarkable thing for an evangelical Protestant to say. It’s remarkable because it represents a (probably) unintentional repudiation of everything the Reformation stood for and achieved by God’s grace.

The sentiment expressed by this pastor is entirely medieval. The Council of Trent says, “Amen.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the (Roman) Faith says, “For what are you waiting? You’ve adopted the very doctrine of holy Mother church.”

As he explained his view it became clear that he adopted this view for the very same reason that the medieval church adopted its view and that Rome, in 1547, adopted her view: to ensure that her people would be sanctified.

To desire sanctity in God’s people is a very good thing. God clearly reveals himself in Scripture as desiring, even demanding it of his people. What Scripture teaches and what the Reformation rediscovered, however, is that making our acceptance with God in any way conditional upon our obedience or our cooperation with grace will never produce the sanctity desired.

If grace and cooperation with grace is such an excellent formula for producing sanctity why was the late medieval church in the moral mess that it was? If covenant nomism or covenant moralism is so successful and producing sanctity why did it fail the Galatian church? After all, having sorted them out with respect to the good news the Apostle then proceeded to explain to them the nature of the Christian life that follows from justification. It is clear that legalism, moralism, nomism had not produced the sort of fruit that Paul expected of believers.

Why then, if it failed those NT churches who were tempted by it, if it failed after most of 1000 years of church history, if the universal testimony of the confessional Protestant churches (Lutheran and Reformed) rejected it with one voice, would folk continue to find this proposal so enticing?

More on this in part 2

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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43 comments

  1. Dr. Clark –

    You mentioned the Protestant pastor in your article trying to stay saved by keeping the moral law.

    If you get a couple of minutes click on the Calvary Chapel website of Golden Springs with Raul Ries. Click on their doctrine on “Abiding”- it is right out of Rome. The problem is that this is all over Christian radio.

  2. Sanders work on Covenantal Nomism didn’t prove Judaism to be a religion of grace; rather it highlighted the true nature of legalism/Galatianism. It’s amazing that supposed Protestants embrace this error as the essence of the biblical teaching on justification.

  3. I appreciate the article which summarizes much of the Reformed thought on this issue. However, the Reformers themselves advocated for semper reformata – they wanted others to build on their foundation and continue to refine and develop doctrine. Therefore, the creeds and catechisms are good, but not infallible. They are valuable, but if they are shown to be in error in relation to God’s Word, those view must be discarded.

    To that point, the Reformers were not correct in every single area of doctrine (they did not even agree on every area of doctrine) and while it is a false church, the RCC is not in error on every area of doctrine. Simply labeling a particular doctrine as Reformed does not make it automatically correct and simply labeling a doctrine as RCC does not make it automatically heretical.

    The Reformation was exactly correct in that we come into a right relationship with God via faith alone – and any right relationship with God is gracious. However, our relationship to God is a marriage and God has demonstrated throughout redemption history that He will not tolerate unfaithfulness in those who are called the people of God. They must either repent (turn from their wicked ways) or be removed from the covenant.

    The idea of justification as a one-time, permanent state that requires nothing of the one who is in covenant might fit with the historic Reformed position, but it contradicts scores of biblical passages. I will list a few here that support the idea that one must be faithful to his marriage with Christ, not as a means of earning or meriting that marriage (anymore than I earn favor from my wife), but as the means to be faithful to or maintain that redemptive relationship:

    Matthew 3:7-10 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

    John 8:31,39 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.

    John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

    1 Corinthians 7:19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

    Galatians 5:19-25 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

    If removal from the marriage covenant were impossible, why were the Jews removed because of whoredom? Why is the unfaithful servant thrown into hell? Why does Paul warn the Galatians that they have been “severed from Christ”? How can one be severed from Christ if he was never in union with Christ?

    Through Scripture, we understand the problem with modern Christianity: because people are being taught that they can be an unfaithful bride and yet remain married to God. Five out of seven churches in Revelation certainly understand that faithfulness to the covenant is required.

    • I don’t want to sound demeaning but, it seems you misunderstand a whole host of Reformed historical theology. You are reading in post-Finney, Charismatic, American evangelical theology that says you can be a carnal Christian and make it into heaven so long as you intellectually make a profession of faith that Jesus was a real person.
      That idea is not of the reformation at all.
      Looking at your site’s doctrinal thesis I didn’t see anything that differed from what Reformed theologians thought or wrote.

    • “Looking at your site’s doctrinal thesis I didn’t see anything that differed from what Reformed theologians thought or wrote.”

      Never mind, your blog is FV. I am not going to argue and don’t care to. Goodbye.

    • Interesting that you would use a marriage analogy to try and prove your point given the words of Christ in Matt 19:

      ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”…“Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

      Sure sounds like the original design of marriage, and hence the one that follows the pattern of the church’s marriage to Christ, is once married (justified), always married.

      Marriage analogy aside, you are right that faithfulness is required for covenant keeping, which is why Christ faithfully keeps the covenant on behalf of His people. Seems you make the Arminian error of thinking that we are in any way capable of rendering true obedience to the law.

      The threat passages are not a problem for Reformed theology, we embrace them. Those who are part of the covenant community but prove to be without faith are not, and never were part of the eschatological people of God. This doesn’t require some paradigm of being united to Christ and then being expelled. It’s the same reason Esau and any unfaithful Jew did not inherit the substance of the covenant, because they were not united by faith with those who listened (Heb 4:2). Being without faith, they are not children of promise. Esau was a member of the Abrahamic covenant in receiving the covenant sign but he was not a member in the same sense Isaac was.

    • Josh,

      The phrase is “Ecclesia Reformata, simper reformanda secundum verbum Dei“—The Church [is] Reformed, always being Reformed according to the Word of God.”

      As Michael Horton notes in his chapter on this slogan in the volume Always Reformed.

      Its first appearance was in a 1674 devotional by Jodocus van Lodenstein, who was an important figure in Dutch Reformed pietism—a movement known as the Dutch Second Reformation (Nadere Reformatie). According to these writers, the Reformation reformed the church’s doctrine, but the lives and practices of God’s people always need further reformation.

      Reformanda is a future passive participle. Horton explains what Van Lodenstein meant by “Reformed.”

      The Reformed church was not just reformed in a general way. It was not even “reformed” simply because it followed the Bible. Countless sects and heretical groups claimed as much for themselves. Van Lodenstein and his colleagues were committed to the teaching of the Reformed confession and catechism. To be more consistently reformed according to the Word of God is to be Reformed. However, they wanted to see that teaching become more thoroughly applied as well as understood. If the Word of God is normative, and Reformed interpretations most faithfully exposit that Word, then this teaching should provoke continual reform so that every aspect of the life of Christians and the church should be regulated by Scripture.

      Your use of the slogan is typical of the way it is usually used and abused because people are generally ignorant of its original and historic sense.

      Further, it’s an abuse to invoke it to mean, in effect, as your comments concedes, that we need to go back to Rome on the material principle of the Reformation.

      I’m convinced from the clear teaching of God’s Word that justification is by God’s unmerited favor.

      O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

      Your essential problem seems to be that you are not distinguish between the law and the gospel. In Matt 3:7-10, Jesus was preaching the law to people who thought that they were righteous by works! Isn’t that exactly what you’re proposing? Works righteousness? You begin with “grace” but end with works, i.e., cooperation with grace for justification. On justification you are a Romanist but without even all the help that Rome claims to give (since I assume you offer only 2 sacraments when Rome offers 7).

      You are not distinguishing, as Paul did, between works and grace in Romans 11:6:

      But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

      In your system it is by works thus it is no longer grace.

      You quote John 8 but you stop too early. Our Lord himself explained what he meant by “works”:

      But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 dWhoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

      and

      56. Abraham saw my day and rejoiced

      He had already defined “work” in ch 6: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

      The same is true for your quotation of 1Cor 7 and Gal 5. In each case you’ve confused the FRUIT of justification with the ground and instrument of justification. You’ve turned the NT on its head.

      You’re evidently reacting to “Easy Believism.” The orthodox, confessional Reformed share your concern but the Reformed faith (with Scripture) rejects your solution.

      The solution is to get the gospel right and to relate the Christian life properly as fruit (James 2) and evidence of faith and new life.

      Moralism kills and what you’re offering is nothing but moralism. For the sake your congregation I pray you’ll reconsider.

      Jesus did not die to make acceptance with God available to those who do their part. Paul makes clear in Rom 7 that we are so corrupted with sin in this life that none of us, not even he, is able to do what you’re asking us to do.

  4. God’s love is NOT a mortgage! We do not begin as houseshoppers needing help from the God, who like a bank loans us what we need to buy an eternal home then pay him back over our lives and beyond! INSTEAD, we are dead in sin, unable and unwilling, but God’s Spirit acts, brings life, grants us desire for God, and faith so that all God requires is met in Christ’s perfect life and death. In Christ, on account of Christ, according to the love of Christ, by the merits of Christ (in life and death), we are granted an eternal home that cannot be taken away.

  5. Not a mortgage . . . a marriage to which we are obligated to remain faithful. JMJR, if you are married, you have obligated yourself to faithfulness. If you are unfaithful and do not repent, your marriage will be destroyed. But no one believes that marital faithfulness “earns” or “merits” or “pay” for marital blessings.

    Justification is our reconciliation or marriage to God and the unfaithful will be removed from that covenant. Biblical support:

    The example of Israel
    Revelation 2,3
    The parable of the soils
    The parable of the talents
    The parable of the unforgiving slave
    The threat to the Galatians of being severed from Christ
    The threat of final apostasy in Hebrews 6

    There’s more . . . just think about it as your read your Bible, you will see it all over the place.

    • Israel’s status and tenure in the land may have been legal but not their salvation. To say that it was is old-school dispensationaism and Pelagianism.

      Yes, there are conditions in the Scripture. The question is what to do with those conditions. Protestants say that Jesus fulfilled the conditions for us. That’s the good news.

      The Reformed have spoken differently about “conditions” at different times. See Herman Witsius on this in the Economy of the Covenants or better his Irenical Animadversions regarding the rise of moralism in England. He deals with it in there.

  6. Dr. Clark, a couple of questions –

    Was the original Reformation correct on all points? If so, what expression of that Reformation is/was infallible?

    Also, I think your answer to this question might clear some things up for me:

    When Paul tells the Galatians, “you have been severed from Christ,” what was he talking about? I understand that you hold the position that justification cannot be lost, but if justification (union with Christ, a state of forgiveness, reconciliation, etc. with God) cannot be lost, what was the risk for the Galatian believers if they persisted in their course of action?

    Or was there any risk?

    On a related note, what happens when a person is excommunicated? Do the lose their justification or do they retain it even as they are removed from the covenant community and declared bound in sin?

    I think those are kind of the same question.

    • Josh,

      No, the Reformation was not correct on all points. Most of the Reformers still believed in Christendom. Most confessional Protestants (e.g., Abraham Kuyper) have rejected Christendom as an error. Most of the Protestants believed in geocentrism. Most confessional Protestants don’t relate science to Scripture in the same way. See Recovering the Reformed Confession on this. I have a chapter that deals with this problem.

      As you know, I’ve argued that the threats are real but your question assumes things I do not. Paul is speaking to people on the basis of the profession of faith. Read this essay and then we’ll talk. It would also help if you read Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

  7. I appreciate the correction on simper reformanda – I’ve seen it different ways. I completely agree with Dr. Horton that the church must always be reformed according to the Word of God.

    That is what I am working toward – not reforming according to the RCC or Westminster or Heidelberg – but according to the Word of God, which is why my questions primarily deal with the Text.

  8. I will read the essay . . . I’m not sure about the book. Ironically, I have read the response – A Faith that is Never Alone – which I found compelling on some points. You are actually cited in a footnote in that book and I really curious about it, but it is unrelated to this discussion, so I will save that one. 🙂

    I’m really interested in dealing with the text, especially Galatians 5:4 (and others): Can a person be severed from Christ? The language seems very similar to John 15 and the discussion of the removal of branches from the vine due to unfruitfulness and then they are thrown into the fire.

    I will read the essay, but it seems like a really simple answer: can a person be severed from Christ or not? I think that clearly, we can be severed, purged, blotted out, etc. I have interacted with a host of Reformed guys on this, but no one has yet to give a satisfactory answer . . . in fact, not one person has even responded when I ask about Galatians 5:4 and though you have been a willing conversant, you seem to be avoiding that one.

    • Josh,

      How could you possibly evaluate CJPM on the basis of the response? How do you know that the critics are telling the truth? You can do what you will but the very title of the response is misleading.

      Norm Shepherd has NEVER understood the issues, not since 1974 when he went to war against the entire Reformed church and confession on the doctrine of justification. Norm had only two categories: the good guys, who agree with him and antinomians. He had and to this day has no idea that he fundamentally misunderstands his critics and the Reformed tradition.

      Shepherd (and his followers) think that the orthodox, confessional view is antinomian. Well, that’s exactly what Richard Baxter said and the Reformed agreed with Owen.

      Shepherd was rightly concerned about the “easy believism” of the Zane Hodges group but the answer is not the confuse grace and works. The answer is to re-assert the third use of the law. The reason that both the Lordship people and the Hodges people had such a time is that neither one of them had taken the time to learn medieval theology, the Reformation, and the Reformed and Lutheran confessions. Had they done they would have known that this debate occurred the first time in the 1550s.

      That’s part of why the Heidelberg Catechism said what it did in the early 1560s, to clarify that mess. We’re neither accepted because we’re sanctified nor are we free to sin because we’re freely justified. We believe in the third use of the law. We always have.

      The issue has NEVER BEEN whether there must be fruit. The issue has ALWAYS been what is the status of that fruit. Shepherd wanted and wants to make that fruit more than evidence. He wants, as you seem to want to do, to make fruit a part of the instrument of justification.

      The Reformed faced that challenge at Trent and rejected it. That is exactly why the Westminster Divines said,

      1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

      2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

      Rome says that faith is made faith (formed) by love. The Protestants say that faith is made efficacious by its object: Christ. Shepherd and his followers have never understood this distinction.

      The divines were distinguishing between a faith that works (itself out) through love from the medieval and Roman doctrine of faith that becomes efficacious through love (sanctity).

      Further, please notice these clauses:

      “not for anything wrought in them”

      This is the Reformed response to Trent. Rome says that we are accepted in part on the basis of what is worked (wrought) in us by the Spirit. The Reformed say no! We agree with Luther and Calvin who said that the ground of justification is always outside us. Calvin said in his commentary on Galatians that when it comes to justification we never discuss good works. We discuss them under the heading “sanctity” as a consequence of justification.

      or done by them,

      This is the confession’s response to the Roman dogma that we must do “our part for justification,” that we must exercise our “free will.” William Perkins addressed this in the late 16th century. See the posts on “Who are the true catholics” on the HB.

      but for Christ’s sake alone;

      Sounds a lot like Luther, huh?

      nor by imputing faith itself,

      This is their response to the Arminians, who sought to take us back to Rome via a redefinition of faith. Why do you think the entire Reformed world in Europe and the British Isles rejected Arminius with one voice? Because saw in him a return to the errors of Pelagius (which, they said, Arminius had brought out of hell again).

      As to whether any of the elect can be lost. The answer is NO! Absolutely not! Can justification be lost? No! Absolutely not!

      Is that clear enough?

      Could Isaac have lost his election?

      What does God’s Holy Word say? “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” Before either one of them had done anything….

    • Josh, you are assuming quite a bit going into the Galatians 5 text and the others you are citing. You assume that the people who fall were justified, regenerated, indwelt by the Spirit, etc. What reason have we to believe this? I mentioned this above (although I mixed up my example a little) but you didn’t respond so I’ll try again. Take Isaac and Ishmael. Both were in the covenant with Abraham. Both received the covenant sign. We even see God deal bountifully with Ishmael on the basis of the fact that he is a covenant member. However, we are clearly told that it is only Isaac who is the child of promise. Isaac is the only one who we are given any indication receives the substance of the promises of the covenant. And what is that substance? Justifying faith, regeneration, indwelling of the Spirit, etc. Being a member of the covenant does not mean that one receives all of the benefits of the covenant.

      Now, when Paul says in Galatians 5 that those who would be justified by the law are severed from Christ, why must we believe that this means they were justified? The context of the passage is using circumcision as a theme. What happened to members of the covenant that were not circumcised (Gen 17:14)? Under the Abrahamic covenant, those who refused circumcision showed themselves to not be justified by faith as Abraham was and were thus cut off (severed perhaps?) from the covenant and from God. Now, Paul turns this on its head and shows that since circumcision has passed away, it is now a mark of rejecting the covenant just as much as uncircumcision was before. To be severed from the covenant is to be severed from Christ but to be a covenant member is not necessarily to be united to Christ.

      Those who are justified do not fall from grace. Many who are in the covenant community but are not justified do. These warning passages are real because there presence of tares among the wheat is real. Like Paul, we can’t always tell the difference and do well to give the warning to all, lest there be in any an unbelieving heart (Heb 3:12). But, those who go out from us were never truly of us (1 John 2:19).

    • Hopefully this 2012 thread has not gone totally cold.

      Josh C…

      You too must explain Gal 5.4 though I dare say you would offer something like “we are not justified by works, but works ‘seal’ our salvation”?

      However the Perseverance of the Saints is not threatened by this verse, despite the appearance to the contrary in various translations (especially the ESV beloved by so many, and the preceding hint in its translation of Gal 5:2)

      The ESV’s ‘severed’ implies ‘once linked to, but now separated from’ but the ‘once linked to’ is not present. Although several appearances of ekpipto elsewhere are so rendered, the ‘ek’ is often a status/situational word unlike ‘apo’ which is a directional’ word associated with parting company. This verse is not about parting company with/from Christ.

      Furthermore there is absolutely no indication in v4 of ‘trying’ or ‘would be justified’ in the Greek. As with ‘severed’ this also suggests some chronological moving from A to B which is not present in the emphatic, virtually definitional, picture drawn here. What we have is ‘either A or B’ rather than ‘if you move from A to B, then no longer A’.

      The best and simplest, though inelegant, translation would be something like ‘If you ARE ‘law-just’, then you are apart from (or standing outside of) Christ’. This simply emphasizes two alternative positions (rather than two alternative routes, let alone a change of routes).

      ‘Justified by law’ itself also has too much time component here; it is better to think of ‘law-just’ or ‘faith-just’. The word ‘justified’ is present tense closer to ‘being justified’ rather than ‘having been justified’. Once we think in terms of ‘having been’, we then think ‘what next?’. ‘Having been justified but no longer justified’ is not biblical and nor can it be obtained from Jehovah’s threats in the OT to destroy or cast out His people.

      If you are still there and respond, we can then look at John 15

      (ps – it is ‘semper reformanda’ where ‘reformanda’ is a gerundive, an ugly brute meaning ‘ought to be always being reformed’. Ugly)

  9. I for one am thankful for Tullian focusing on the indicatives. Some complain he never leaves the indicatives of the gospel, and that he is contradicting scripture by always wanting to frame every imperative in the indicative of the work of Christ.

    People forget the epistles we sometimes spread out into several months of detailed sermons forget these letters were read in a matter of minutes to the congregation; meaning the original hearers had less of a chance of losing sight of the indicatives they had just heard a few minutes earlier. The gospel imperatives of the latter part of the Pauline epistles were in the context of the gospel indicatives.

    Some well intended ministers spend so much time going through a letter and disecting each leaf and branch of scriptural trees that they lose sight of the forest. Ive been in some churches that took months to get through Ephesians 4-6 meaning if not reminded in every sermon what that passage follows theologically a “reformed” church can preach moralism “from the bible” inadvertently, and yet claim they are being faithful to teaching verse by verse. All it takes is a brief reminder of the flow of the text and the ordo salutis in these situations so Christ and His gospel are always preeminent in every sermon. The congregation will be healthier and be those that worship Christ in SPirit and in truth with the freedom only the gospel can bring. Lets not let our un contextual imperative preaching inadvertently lead our congregation to trying to complete what the gospel/Spirit began.

    A gospel centered sermon and church must do more than talk about Jesus. His life, death, resurrection, ascension and intercession for the elect must never take the back seat to any peculiar text. To not do so is to destroy what the reformers so brilliantly rediscovered, all the while taking pride that the sign out front says “reformed”.

    • Michial,

      This is helpful. Thank you. You’re quite right about the way the epistles would have been experienced originally vs the way we often experience them.

    • Michial hi

      I would even go further, drawing on Mike Horton and his ‘Performative Speech Acts’.

      First an analogy if I may

      If we are given imperatives out of proportion to the indicatives, we lose the ‘glory’. But when we see a magnificent fireworks display, and at the same time are told ‘run’. ‘jump’ ‘freeze’ etc, these commands and our responses come out of a totally different dynamic.

      God’s Word never returns to Him void. In, and to, those awoken by the gospel, ‘It’ achieves effortlessly – as effortlessly as it was to say ‘Let there be light’.

      To those not woken by the gospel (and I specify that situation with sadness), that very same Word blocks up the ear – and condemns. How does it condemn? By bringing forth the same distorted fruit as for Adam when he learnt what it would be needed to be God and to ‘do’ God – to ‘work goodness’ – at which he/we have been quite hopeless down through the ages.

  10. Drew, how does one express faith and enter the covenant community, but not be justified?

    Also, you really need to understand what the Mosaic Law had to say about divorce – divorce was allowed in the case of unfaithfulness. And, furthermore, God divorced the Jewish nation because of unfaithfulness. Divorce is not his will, but it is a reality nonetheless.

    • Josh,

      If you’ll read the free, online, linked journal article to which I’ve referred you. Read Romans 2:28 and carefully. Your question assumes that the administration of the covenant of grace is the same as its substance. That’s a bad assumption. That’s why the problem of apostasy is real but doesn’t require one to become an Arminian or what I’ve sometimes called a “covenantal Arminian.” I.e., it doesn’t require us to become functional Arminians under the rubric of “covenant.” There are those in the visible covenant community (the visible church) who are members of that community who have only an outward relation to it. They participate in its administration but they’ve not laid hold of Christ and his benefits by grace alone, through faith alone.

      Yes, national Israel was divorced as a national people but there were within the old covenant church those who believed. Not all Israel is Israel — but some (of) Israel IS “Israel.” That’s why Paul calls new covenant believers the “Israel of God.” Here’s an of how that works.

      • Dr. Clark, I am familiar with the passage and I plan to read the paper. But, what do you say is lacking in those individuals who are in the covenant community, but are not justified

    • Josh,

      Dr. Clark has answered you on this point a bit already but I’ll give my own response. How does one express faith, enter the covenant community and not be justified? They don’t. There are plenty who profess faith, are accepted by the church on the basis of that profession but are not justified because God never actually gave them faith. Why this assumption that all who are in the covenant community are justified? We have numerous examples of covenant members who were not justified: Ishmael, Esau, those who rebelled against God in the wilderness, the wicked kings of Judah, Judas Iscariot, etc.

      You are correct and I am aware that Moses allowed for divorce because of unfaithfulness, that’s exactly my point. As Christ said, Moses allowed it because of hardness of heart. The problem you have is, how can one who has been made faithful once for all by the once for all sacrifice Christ offers in His own blood be considered unfaithful? There is no hardness of heart or unfaithfulness imputed to those who are justified. Concerning Israel, like Dr. Clark said, not all Israel is Israel. God was not in a constant state of divorcing and remarrying Israel as their faithfulness waxed and waned. The language is given because God had entered into covenant with the nation, but those who did not believe showed themselves to be in the covenant only outwardly but not by faith. This is why Christ will say at the judgment day to those who thought they believed, “depart from me you doers of iniquity for I never knew you” rather than, “for I once knew you but you were unfaithful.”

      It seems you have 2 key problems leading to your misinterpretation of the text. First, you believe that every member of the covenant is justified. Second, you believe that it is possible for those in Christ to be faithful to God’s law by means other than the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. If you’re going to debate this issue, you need to prove those assertions rather than assuming them in your argument.

  11. Dr. Clark, I’m not saying that I necessarily accept Faith that is Never Alone or that I reject CPJM. Furthermore, the creeds and catechisms and councils are valuable and have their place. You have a great command of them – in fact, citations from the creeds, etc. are kind like your superpower. But where they depart from Scripture, they must be discarded.

    What I do accept is the record of Scripture. If you could give me a biblically satisfactory answer regarding Galatians 5 and Hebrews 6 and John 15 which are all instances where individuals are in union with Christ (that can only be justification) and then they are moved from that place of justification, I have no motivation to read CPJM. I can say that I most likely will find a large number of statements in that book that are difficult to support biblically. That is all I am looking for.

    According to Scripture, those who are elect unto salvation will persevere until the end. They are elect unto mercy. If Jacob or Abraham for that matter had persisted in disobedience, they would have been removed from the covenant. Just as some Jews were faithful and some were unfaithful, we have some who profess Christ and are faithful and some who are unfaithful. Just as Peter repented and returned, Demas, Alexander, Crescens, and Titus left and were removed.

    Another passage that simply adds to the idea that one can lose salvation is the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:23-35). Clearly, this servant was forgiven (justified) at one time and then because of his refusal to forgive another, the forgiveness, mercy, grace, justification that had been extended to him was removed. This fits perfectly with other places in the Gospels where Christ states that the Father will not forgive us if we do not forgive others. This is the loss of something . . . the most biblically fit peg for this hole is justification.

    We cannot, nor do we “justify” ourselves. But we can remove ourselves from the place of justification.

    While it is true that election and calling are unconditional, God does not save people against their will. We do know know whether or not we have been elected or effectually called. This is why Peter tells us to “make our calling and election sure.”

    To be honest, I was really hoping for a biblical critique of the idea, a forum to really examine the biblical evidence and come to a conclusion. The citation of creeds and catechisms and the writings of other men sometimes just muddies the waters. I am, however, looking forward to your second piece on this issue.

    • Josh,

      You misunderstand what the confessions are. It’s not necessarily your fault. Many people treat them as if they were mini-systematic theologies. They aren’t. They are ecclesiastical interpretations of Holy Scripture. When I cite the confessions I’m citing the official, considered, prayerful ecclesiastically sanctioned interpretation of Scripture as it touches on the questions addressed therein. In general, Reformed ministers, elders, and in some parts of the tradition, even members subscribe (literally “to write one’s name underneath”) the documents they say, “This is what I believe Holy Scripture to teach. This is my faith.”

      So, the Reformed churches and confessional Reformed Christians don’t assume the same stance toward the confessions as your comment seems to imply.

      Further, if you’ll take the time to read it there has been a great lot of work done with Scripture both by private persons and by the churches to reply to the various questions your asking and to the assertions you’ve been making about faith and works. Indeed, if you’ll read, e.g., the Fifth Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dort you’ll see the entire Reformed Churches (see the “rejection of errors” and see how your view is directly in their sites) repudiating your interpretation of Scripture. Anyway, there’s been a great lot of biblical exegesis to reply to the claims of the covenant nomists.

      There is a good lot of biblical exegesis in CJPM, which you’ve not read. Have you read Mike Hortons’ critique of covenantal nomism published via WJKP? What about Guy Waters‘ work? The Waters/Johnson ed. vol? Venema’s critique of the NPP/covenant nomism? Or this volume by Guy Waters? Or Stephen Westerholm?

      Have you read vol 5 of John Owen’s Works, where he replied to Baxter’s nomism?

      Have you read Luther’s later lectures on Galatians and Romans or Calvin’s lectures/commentaries on Romans? They dealt with nomism there.

      It’s not that there aren’t responses. There are lots of responses spanning centuries. The question is whether you’ve read and understood them. The onus probandi isn’t on the orthodox Reformed writers and churches.

    • Josh

      A common theme in your comments is to be man-centred not God-centred and thus to mistake Description for Prescription

      ‘If you love me, you will obey My commandments’ does NOT mean ‘if you obey my commandments, then you are loving me and I will save you’.

      It means – descriptively – ‘Those whom I have saved, in whom I have placed my love for them and their love for me, they will – I can tell you – go about obeying my commandments’

    • I have sought to answer your questions about Gal 5.4

      John 15 (6-7) have the same underlying message – happy to expand

      As for Heb 6 – and by way of a taster – why does the writer say in Heb 6. v8 ‘near to being cursed’?

      That ‘near to’ is surely an unnecessary, distracting nuisance; so why did he put it in??!!

  12. Josh writes,

    Dr. Clark, I am familiar with the passage and I plan to read the paper. But, what do you say is lacking in those individuals who are in the covenant community, but are not justified.

    Ultimately it’s election. Isn’t that the point of Romans 9? Our difficulty, however, is that we don’t know who is and isn’t elect. We know who makes profession of faith and so we accept credible professions of faith and deal with them on that basis. That’s what I mean by “administration of the covenant of grace.”

    So, a child is born into a covenant family and given the sign and seal of covenant initiation (baptism). He is catechized, nurtured, and loved by his family and congregation. At a certain point the elders hear this (now) young person’s profession of faith and he is admitted to the table. Let’s say that this young person begins to absent himself from the means of grace (worship, sacraments) and he resists overtures from the elders and sadly, the process of discipline begins. Over the course of a few years this person shows himself to have been a hypocrite, to have a hard heart and the church is forced to recognize that this person has shown himself to be impenitent and an unbeliever. Tragically, the church is forced to administer the process of excommunication to recognize the state of affairs.

    Was this person ever actually united to Christ? So far as the church knows, no. Was this person ever a believer? So far as we know, no. Was this person ever regenerate? So far as we know, no. In our tradition we describe such persons as hypocrites.

    This person has apostatized. He was admitted to the visible covenant community. He was “enlightened” (perhaps a reference to baptism in Hebrews). He was admitted to the table, which Hebrews describes as tasting “of the powers of the age to come.” When he repudiates his profession of faith he has “trampled under foot the blood of Christ.”

    Unlike many, Hebrews takes the administration of the covenant of grace very seriously. I think this is quite like what Paul has in mind.

    Is he lost forever? We don’t know that. We administer discipline in the hope of driving someone who is impenitent to a knowledge of his sin and his need for Christ. As far as we know he may yet repent and turn to Christ. That’s our prayer.

    • Okay, now we are getting somewhere. 🙂

      I suspected that this would be the practical outworkings of your belief in a one-time, permanent declaration of justification. The problem is that since you have no place in your system for the loss of justification (note that I did not say the loss of election, not the loss of salvation as a whole – those are different discussions), you actually undermine the doctrine of justification via faith alone.

      You say that since a person does not persevere in his faith, he was never justified are we to then believe that an individual can express faith, be baptized (which biblically always follows faith, but I’ll leave that one alone 🙂 but God somehow refuses to justify him? Is justification through faith alone, or not?

      It seems that on this point, the system that I am proposing is in far greater congruence with sola fide – one is justified on the basis of faith alone and that faith can be the barest of faith – faith the size of a mustard seed.

      The difference and I believe Scripture strongly indicates that a person must remain faithful once he has entered into faith and been justified, otherwise his justification can be lost. This is Paul’s point in Romans 2 that you cited above: whether a person is in covenant with God via circumcision or via faith, he must remain faithful. Otherwise his circumcision or initial faith is worthless. All kinds of passages should be springing into your mind: Romans 2, John 8, 1 Corinthians 7, James 2, etc.

      This also fits perfectly with the garment metaphor that we find all through Scripture. From Zechariah to Matthew to Jude to Revelation the garment is used as a picture of righteousness (justification). This garment is necessary in order to attend the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14), but it can be stained, soiled and even removed. Stunningly, Scripture goes so far as to even reveal the material that comprises this garment: “it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” – Rev. 19:8

      I say that one enters justification via faith alone but must maintain that gracious state of justification for the rest of his life via faithful obedience – this is the marriage covenant that God makes with us.

      You say that one enters justification via faith alone but if he falls away from the faith (via unfaithfulness?), then he was never justified in the first place. That seems really problematic for several reasons:

      – is God lying when He offers justification via faith alone?
      – should pastors tell their people that they are justified? It seems that this places pastors and churches in the position of being liars.
      – Boy, this is a rough deal for the person who expresses faith, enters the community, but does not get justification and all the accompanying blessings – the Spirit, etc. It is like saying, you get to make marriage vows with another person, but you are not really married.

      There are all kinds of arguments that support my position, but I will leave with this one:

      You reference “trampled underfoot the blood of Christ.” If a person was never justified . . . how in the world can he “trample. . . “? Furthermoe, the author of Hebrews states that these same people “are crucifying once again the Son of God.”

      Justification come as a result of the Sacrifice of Christ through faith. If these people were never justified in the first place, how in the world could they be accused of crucifying Christ again?

  13. Amen, Dr Clark! Amen JMJR! Amen to the rest of the brethren here!

    Indeed, the Law claim all of our being – the whole person, and not just the works. Thus, one either conform to the Law as a “whole” or NOT at all coram Deo. IOW, one either conform 100% or not at all. In the legal scheme, justification is seen as a loan to cover for the shortfall in
    staying in.

    James who is often cited by Romanists and their co-religionists in support of grace plus works cannot be anymore clearer:

    “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

  14. Josh,

    If you knew the history of Protestant theology and the ABCs of the Reformation nothing I’m saying would be a surprise to you. What is surprising is that you need me to spell it out for you on a blog!

    1. We’re working with very different views of “faith” relative to justification. You define it as “faithfulness” Neither Scripture nor the confessions define it that way. Here’s a statement developed by our faculty to speak to these issues.

    Relative to justification you have a Romanist definition of faith.

    2. You seem to hold a Baptist view of the church which explains why you’re so amenable to confusing the substance of the covenant with its administration–because that’s a Baptist mistake. Once more, there are three ways of relating to the one covenant of grace.

    Outward members of the covenant of grace, trample the blood of Christ (Heb 10) underfoot when then they apostatize because the administration is real. Go back and read what I wrote. Hebrews is very interested in the administration. People are rightly accused of crucifying the Son again precisely because they’ve stood before God and sworn an oath. When we walk down the aisle, not to pray the sinners prayer or sit at the anxious bench, but to receive Holy Communion, we are swearing an oath before God that we are Christ’s and he is ours, that he is our obedient sacrifice, that we identify with him because he first identified with us. If we eat that covenant renewal feast unbelieving we are effectively crucifying him all over again, because to crucify him is to reject him. The apostates profess Christ but like Judas they turn away. They are really calling for Bar-Abbas again.

    We must affirm the reality of the decree AND the administration. That’s why we don’t confuse the two, to avoid the very error that you’ve created.

    Please read this post and the article (and CJPM) and we’ll keep talking but I’ve been writing and publishing on this stuff for about a decade and I can’t reproduce it all in a combox and I won’t.

    3. You also have an Arminian doctrine of perseverance.

    4. You’ve turned the covenant of grace into a covenant of works. You’ve turned the good news of free acceptance with God into bad news: sinners must (in effect) keep what began as a gift, thus the gift is no longer a gift but a reward. This defies Paul’s clear teaching.

    Paul indeed uses the marriage analogy but it’s rather like prophet who married a prostitute. We are the prostitute.

    5. You’ve turned grace into opportunity. That’s not grace.

    6. No, God is not lying when he offers justification through faith alone. Read the Westminster Confession. Read Galatians! Read Eph 2. Faith is a gift. God renews us by his Spirit from death to life. As part of that renewal (regeneration) he gives us faith and unites us to Christ.

    7. Pastors should indeed tell believers that they are justified. We do it every Sabbath. We announce that all who have trusted in Christ, who are resting on his finished work for them, are accepted freely by God. All who seek to present themselves to him on the basis of what they’ve done are under his condemnation: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do EVERYTHING written in the book.” How are you doing today, Josh? Have you sinned? On what basis will you present yourself to the All Holy God, who is a consuming fire? I plan to hide behind Jesus and his finished work. Will you present yourself to him on the basis that you kept your “part” of the covenant? If so, I fear for your soul young man.

  15. It concerns me that so many in our reformed churches do not recognize the FV as the threat to the gospel that it is. It is far more dangerous than cults and other religions because of its insidious nature. It is a Roman wolf that looks far more like a sheep than Rome ever could. Yet, men in some of our camps who preach and teach cooperation with grace are treated lightly, as if it is only a disagreement on the scale of whether one is post-mil or a-mil rather than an outright attack upon Christ.

  16. Quoted Portion: Pastors should indeed tell believers that they are justified. We do it every Sabbath. We announce that all who have trusted in Christ, who are resting on his finished work for them, are accepted freely by God. All who seek to present themselves to him on the basis of what they’ve done are under his condemnation: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do EVERYTHING written in the book.” How are you doing today, Josh? Have you sinned? On what basis will you present yourself to the All Holy God, who is a consuming fire? I plan to hide behind Jesus and his finished work. Will you present yourself to him on the basis that you kept your “part” of the covenant? If so, I fear for your soul young man.

    We have strayed a bit from the original issue, in light of that I would like to pose this question:

    If a person “trusts in Christ and rests in His finished work” they are justified. Let us assume that a man does this. However, after a period of time – say 20 years – that person becomes convinced that a person must also be circumcised in order to be saved. He then begins to practice and preach this doctrine.

    Which is the correct answer?

    a) He was permanently justified for all time and nothing, not even the sin of legalism, can remove Him from that state of justification.

    b) Even though he had faith and believed, God refused to justify him originally, therefore he was never justified.

    c) He was justified, but now has been severed from Christ and therefore is no longer justified.

    I know that you are busy Dr. Clark and commenting on a blog is certainly a low priority for you (understandably so). If you want to let the matter drop, I will respect that.

    But if anyone else would like to tell me their answer and support it biblically, I am extremely interested in that answer.

    • Josh,

      You’re making assumptions I don’t share. You’re asking me to answer questions that assume things I don’t.

      The Reformed view is that we don’t know and don’t have to know whether a person really is justified. We don’t know what God knows. We know what people say.

      You ignore the category of administration. Paul is writing from an administrative perspective. No one who is actually justified, who actually believes can ever be lost.

      You also seem to ignore unconditional election. How many times have I pointed you to Jacob and Esau. Does Paul imagine that Jacob could ever have been lost? No! What more do you want?

      I’ve written a great deal for you on this and I’ve given you a great lot to read and you have yet to give any evidence that you’ve read any of it.

      Take a look at the stuff to which I’ve pointed you and we’ll talk.

    • Josh

      You raise many excellent, albeit rather theoretical, questions where Reformed thinking is not as well expressed as it should be. But I also detect an unteachable cockiness which perhaps Dr Clark is too gracious to mention. I suspect you could give a perfectly coherent defence of the Reformed view to your Arminian friends, if so moved eg if your life depended on it

      I am not actually clear whether you are genuinely in search of understanding of the Reformed position or not.

      Of your a,b or c, the latter (c) is to be ruled out although it is your favored choice.

      As for a and b, you have rather sketched caricatures. As Dr Clark points out, faith is not an Arminian act, and salvation is by election. We are therefore only discussing ‘instruments’ not ’causes’.

      As for ‘a’, we most of us spend our life supplementing our joyous dependence with some legalism ‘just in case’. Whether this amounts to a core of faith or a core of legalism is in the mind of God alone. For me the best indicator is how one determines the ‘fight of faith’. If it is to fight ‘for’ faith in the face of all in the world that tells you that you alone are now the master of your destiny, then this is salvific faith. If the fight of faith is to fight to do the works that we would have to do if we lived by the law not by faith, then that seems a dead, indeed damning ‘faith’ – can you not see how contradictory that would be

      Your ‘b’ is also a caricature; surely even you do not believe that God ‘refuses’ to justify! But if someone has an apparent, even self-professed faith but which is not dependence, then that person is not saved. That says nothing more than that there will be lots of church-goers saying ‘Lord, Lord, did we not …’ to which, note, He does not say ‘you did not do enough’ but a stark ‘I never knew you’. While you may enjoy scoring points off reformed folk for not ‘doing’ enough, you may yourself be risking that comment by the Lord.

      Somewhere earlier you mention ‘marriage vows’ but as Dr Clark points out, we are the harlot not the obedient wife. Fortunately God foresaw this and, in the over-arching redemptive schema, has Abraham fall asleep while He, God alone, passes through the divided animal carcasses as if to say, may such destruction happen to Me if I do not deliver both My and Abraham’s (ie the people of faith’s) part in this.

      You paint God too small and man too big in all this.

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