Romans 2:13—Justified Through Our Faithfulness? (1) UPDATED

Apostle PaulAs I mentioned in an earlier post in Romans 2:13 Paul writes, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (ESV).1 The chapter begins with matter of judgment. Since 1:18 Paul has been prosecuting the Gentiles on the basis of their natural knowledge of God, which we suppress. Because of the effects of sin all our faculties and desires are corrupted. Because we all know the moral law of God in our consciences we are without excuse before God. Chapter 2 begins with a reiteration of this law principle: “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (ESV). Now he turns his attention to Jews, those who had received the old covenant, the Mosaic law, the national covenant (Romans 9:4–5; 3:1–3; ESV). The whole of chapter 2 is a prosecution of the Jews according to the standard that had been revealed to them, the Mosaic law. God had exercised forbearance with the Israelites but because of the hardness of their hearts (vv.4–5) they are storing up judgment instead. Judgment will be rendered according to “works” (v 6). Those who seek “for glory and honor” by patience will receive eternal life (v. 7). Those who do not “obey the truth” (v. 8) will be judged. Because God is impartial, both Jews and Greeks will be judged according to their works (v. 9–11). Those who sinned under the Mosaic law will be judged by that standard and those who sinned under the natural law by that standard (v.12). The rest of the chapter after v. 13 continues in the same vein. The Gentiles have the substance of the moral law written on their conscience (vv. 14–15). The Jews, who boast about having the Mosaic law, will be judged by the standard of the law given at Sinai (vv. 16–29). Thus, when Paul contrasts “hearers” and “doers” it is hearers and doers of the law. Both Jews and Gentiles are under substantially the same law: love God with all one’s faculties and one’s neighbor as himself (Matt 22:37–40) but, as Paul shows in chapter 3, no one does this. In chapter 5 he explains why this is, because, as the New England Puritans put it, “In Adam’s fall, sinned we all.” The only reference to the gospel in this section is the broad use of the word, the promise that God will judge law breakers. There is no good news for sinners here.

The magisterial Protestant interpretation of Romans 1–3 was that these chapters were largely a presentation of the law, with the intent of demonstrating to Jews and Gentiles the impossibility of sinners of meeting the standard of righteousness. As quoted in the earlier post, Calvin’s interpretation reflects this reading:

They who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children. It is therefore improper and beyond what is needful, to introduce here a long discussion on the subject, with the view of exposing so futile a sophistry: for the Apostle only urges here on the Jews what he had mentioned, the decision of the law, — That by the law they could not be justified, except they fulfilled the law, that if they transgressed it, a curse was instantly pronounced on them. Now we do not deny but that perfect righteousness is prescribed in the law: but as all are convicted of transgression, we say that another righteousness must be sought. Still more, we can prove from this passage that no one is justified by works; for if they alone are justified by the law who fulfill the law, it follows that no one is justified; for no one can be found who can boast of having fulfilled the law.

For Calvin, this passage is law, an expression of God’s righteous demand. Anyone who would present himself to God on the basis of the law must actually keep the law. The only thing that satisfies justice is actual, complete, perfect fulfillment of the law. The slightest disobedience to God’s holy law merits only one thing: condemnation. Calvin found no good news for sinners in this section of Romans.

In light of its overwhelming thematic and conceptual unity, in light of the Reformation reading of Romans 1:18–3:20, it is difficult to see how or why any confessional Protestant could or would read this section differently but in 1978 a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), Norman Shepherd, in the midst of what would become a seven-year long controversy over whether a Reformed Christian may teach justification “through faith and works” or “through faithfulness” proposed 34 theses for discussion and debate. Among them was this one:

20. The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 3:21; James 1:22-25).

This reading dispensed with the historic Protestant (Lutheran and Reformed) distinction between the two principles of law and gospel. Instead, this reading proposed that, in Romans 2:13, Paul was not prosecuting sinners on the basis of the law, that he was not pressing the righteous and holy demands of God upon them to teach them their sins and misery and to drive them to Christ. Rather, according to this re-reading, Paul was speaking of Christians who will so cooperate with grace as to be sufficiently righteous as to be accepted by God was a radical re-reading of this passage.

This radical re-reading of Romans 2:13 continues to reverberate in some Reformed circles to the present day.

Next time: Romans 2:13 in its original setting and the impulse to distinguish between initial and final justification.


1. The NA28 says: “οὐ γὰρ οἱ ἀκροαταὶ νόμου δίκαιοι παρὰ [τῷ] θεῷ, ἀλλʼ οἱ ποιηταὶ νόμου δικαιωθήσονται.” The Vulgate reads: “non enim auditores legis iusti sunt apud Deum sed factores legis iustificabuntur.” Theodore Beza’s Latin New Testament has “(non enim qui audiunt legem justi sunt apud Deum; sed qui legem praestant justificabantur.” Arguably the Vulgate is a more straightforward translation. What make’s Beza’s interesting is the insertion of the prepositional phrase apud Deum (with God), the insertion of parentheses (in my 1834 edition) which extend to v. 15, and the use of the somewhat more ambiguous praestant in place of factores. Praestant has a number of senses among them “to fulfill.” It seems as if Beza wanted to make clearer the sense that the law is something that must be performed completely or perfectly and not merely attempted. One of the two notes on this verse in the Geneva Bible (1599 edition) says: “Shall be pronounced just before God’s judgment seat: which is true indeed, if any such could be found that had fulfilled the law: but seeing Abraham was not justified by the Law, but by faith, it followeth that no man can be justified by works.”


  1. “They who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children.”

    I loved that quote. I think we should introduce compulsory laughing at moralists for our kids’ catechism classes.

    Great article!

    • Agreed, but sadly the moralists never make themselves that open to that charge. They tie works not to justification, but to sanctification, and then say justification and sanctification are both necessary for salvation. Even that puts their logic rather too crudely

  2. The question is: in what significant way does Shepherds understanding differ from the Roman Catholic view on justification?

    Yet, I must say that works are an important part of sanctification, and no one will be saved without sanctification. Saying that works are an important part or aspect of sanctification (that is, works of obedience to the will of God, not legalistic works of any kind), and that justification and sanctification are both necessary for salvation (actually, they are 2/3’s of salvation, to be correct, glorification being the third part) is in no way same as saying that works or sanctification are a ground or an instrument of justification and final salvation. But they are “the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” (WCF, 16.2) and they “strengthen their (believer’s) assurance” (Ibid.)

  3. We should keep in mind that we no more “do” sanctification that we “do” justification or glorification. Good works are a result or outworking of our sanctification.

    Q. 35. What is sanctification?
    A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

    I do think that definition needs unpacking but it does indicate that it is sanctification which enables a practical walk in a godly direction, i.e. mortifying sin and living unto righteousness – not our good works which enable sanctification.

    • Thank you, Jack

      As you say, sanctification and good works are not the same; one produces the other, but not the reverse.

      Perhaps you could now go on to add a word or two towards unpacking that definition.

      “Santification..whereby we are renewed” (passive verb)

      “(we) are enabled (passive) more and more to die (active?) unto sin, and live (active) unto righteousness”.

      We know the means of sanctification are the preached word etc, and the fruit is good works. But ‘in the middle’ what happens, what do we experience?

      TT is talking about appropriate ‘affections’ – in us but generated in an ongoing fashion from outside us – that enable us to live unto righteousness; others seem to speak as if there is a will power or source that was deposited in us at conversion (although in need of regular refreshment) that we can draw on, ie that we are in a pre-equipped (since conversion) state of empowerment.

      These sound like minor differences of emphasis but I for one think not. Without re-entering the current fray, would you care to comment on the above distinctions?

  4. Doesn’t the ESV undermine the clear Reformed position by saying that Abraham’s faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness’ (not ‘for’ or ‘unto’ righteousness, which is how ‘eis’ in the Greek would be translated), i.e. Abraham’s faith was imputed AS righteousness?

    The ESV translation seems to fly in the face of the WCF, which affirms that believers are NOT justified “by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness”.

    • Kevin,

      Since we had the debate before the ESV and will continue to have the debate about the precise function and definition of faith (I’m with you and the WCF!) I doubt that we can fault the ESV on this or ask them to pick a side. I think we may infer our doctrine from “as” just as well as “unto.” In their defense the expression “unto” is fairly archaic. They seem to have been willing to translate more closely than say, the the NIV, but I don’t know that they were willing to reintroduce archaic expressions.

      At a certain point translations can only do so much and the rest is down to teaching and explaining.

  5. 2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
    3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ?

    Those questions come from the PCA membership vows. Question 2 clearly says “rest upon him alone for salvation,” then question 3 says “becomes”. Becomes simply means “looks good on”. We are best dressed, so to say, when we have on our best behaviour. It doesn’t affect our salvation.

    This was confirmed for me when I read WCF 14.2. (Mark Jones uses the first half in his book, “Antinomianism”. I am not sure why he doesn’t add in the last half.)
    “…But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION, and ETERNAL LIFE, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”

    Seriously guys, why is this even an issue? This truly does deserve to be laughed at by children. (I am not laughing anymore though.)

    • Amen, Deb! As necessary as the emphasis on obedience and living in a manner worth of the Lord truly is, regarding how we obtain salvation it still needs to be subservient to

      “…But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION, and ETERNAL LIFE, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”

  6. We do “do” sanctification… in the power of the Spirit! We don’t “do” justification and we won’t “do” glorification!

    WCF 16.III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will, and to do, of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.”

    • Miro,

      Wouldn’t it be better to say that the Spirit sanctifies us (through the due use of ordinary means), which produces in us good works? Are they not the fruit of sanctification?

      We do good works. Amen! Why? Because, as we say, “the Spirit of Christ” enables us. It’s due to his influence and his work in us. No, we are not to grow negligent but should we identify sanctification and good works entirely?

      Do the standards identify good works with sanctification as you have done? It does not seem so, not even in the place that you quote.

    • Scott hi

      “We do good works because the spirit of Christ enables us”

      1. Is it possible for a believer to do works that appear good but which are not works enables/directed/whatever by the Holy Spirit, but which are ‘in our own strength’?

      2. If so, how do we tell the difference in ourselves or in others?

    • Richard, isn’t the answer to your first question obviously Yes? We are still sinners. And why do we need to know the answer to the second question, at least as far as others are concerned? Isn’t it a bit like trying to sort out the wheat and the tares ahead of time? As far as ourselves as believers, one of the main “jobs” of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin. That which I may self-righteously be doing would be the very kind of sin that Jesus promised the Spirit would shine light on in the redeemed in order to further their repentance and godly living.

    • Jack, thank you

      1. I agree that of course we are sinners and will sin, but we will not always sin knowingly; our worst sins are probably when we feel most holy. My point behind this is that trying to be obedient is not in itself any reassurance that we are going in the right direction – we might even be sinning more (and I am not offering antinomianism). And yet Tullian’s critics in this recent debate have not addressed this. ‘Effort towards obedience’ (the simplistic Nike ‘Just Do It’ sermon approach) itself needs to be checked against something other than the effort or the sincerity behind it (and Tullian has offered his thoughts on this).

      2. Which takes me to your second point – do we need to know? You have said that the Holy Spirit wants us to know at least of ourselves.

      3. Of course we are not in the position of God sifting wheat and tares but the Church is tasked with teaching the counsel of God. If we see people, or even whole branches of the Church, leading others astray (and I think moralism is astray), then we should speak up, especially if it is a primary gospel matter (though some may dispute) but also if it can make some people (many people, counting responses to Tullian’s blogs) a lot more contented – and that must be good for evangelism too!

      4. As for our own continuing sin (rather than others’) I think we need teaching on this because I am aware of how easily I can snuff out the promptings of the Holy Spirit, dismissing them without a moment’s thought. And equally the enemy can use our conscience to say that our sins are of the unforgivable kind.

  7. Dear dr. Clark,

    yes, I think that your corrective is right when you say that good works are a fruit of sanctification. Yet, when the Bible presents sanctification, it does it in twofold manner: it identifies the final cause of it as God in Christ through the Spirit (1. Cor 1:30; 2. Thes 2:13; 1. Pt 1:2), but it also invites us to willingly participate in it:
    “present (an imperative) your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” Rom 6:19
    “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality (an implied imperative)” 1 Thes 4:3
    “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation (an imperative; by “working out your salvation” I interpret it as: work out your eschatological (not yet) salvation in your present sanctification (already)) with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:12-13

    So, all I want to say is that even though the Spirit of God is working out our sanctification, we are “not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them (by our obedience to the invitation to obey in them.)” (WCF).

    Maybe I am missing something, or completely misunderstanding what some of the commentators are saying, but it seems to me that they are missing this volitional aspect of sanctification that the Bible stresses, as well as the WCF.

    • ‘volitional’ is getting close to the heart of it, but maybe the issue is

      “does the Holy Spirit use us”?


      “do we use the Holy Spirit”?

      This may not be ‘it’ but the more we can drill down into the anthropology of the believer, the better we will understand God, direct ourselves, each other, and teach unbelievers

    • Miro

      I too haven’t read the book but on the face of it, I personally find ‘acting the miracle’ an unhelpful title – it compounds the confusion, simply packaging it as a shiny enigma.

      For me, the question remains – when is a believer living by the power of the Holy Spirit, and when is he acting in his own strength? It is not a question to ask ourselves before each decision but it seems important to clarify as part of theological understanding. Tullian’s view seems to be that the first is when we act out of joy/genuine heart-warmed gratitude, whereas he is more sceptical of other motives

      I think that, in the face of much ‘moralistic’ ‘own strength’ preaching, he is doing useful work to find this distinction

    • I have a perspective that helps me. I had to really figure this out for myself when a friend of mine (who was obviously not a Christian) died. I couldn’t figure out what to do with my love for him. It finally fell into place for me when I realized that everything I loved about him, all the good things, were gifts from God. God takes back that goodness when someone ultimately rejects him (the only unforgivable sin). So, I really just loved God’s goodness.

      If I paint a picture, it is beautiful because I put my vision into it using my talent. It is not the painting that is beautiful so much as my vision is beautiful. The painting is simply my expression.

      We are simply clay. We can’t mould ourselves in any way. All we can do is learn to see the goodness God has put into us and others. Learning about the artist has always been a huge part of understanding any work of art. The more we understand about the artist, the more incredible the artwork becomes.

      It’s really not about trying to do or be anything. It’s about realizing that we are adopted children of I AM.

      The most afraid I have ever been in my life was when I realized that my soul would live forever. I wasn’t afraid of going to Hell in any way. I was afraid of FOREVER. The mind-blowing concepts like eternity are what really freak me out. The thought of Hell breaks my heart, but the fear and trembling stuff has an entirely different source.

    • Interesting stuff, Deb !

      “God takes back that goodness”

      1. God does not ‘take back’ because it is not ours, not even in us – He is in us.

      “someone ultimately rejects him”

      2. You are not Reformed then?

      “I really just loved God’s goodness.”

      3. C S Lewis majors on this

      “We are simply clay. We can’t mold ourselves in any way.”

      4. I heartily agree; not many do; some see it as antinomianism

      “All we can do is learn to see the goodness God has put into us and others.”

      5. Yes, this jaw-dropping seeing is the ‘fear and trembling’ you mention. We see God at work in us and others – we remain vessels of clay (no ‘puts’)

      “The more we understand about the artist, the more incredible the artwork becomes”.

      6. I think the Mona Lisa speaks for itself. I think Dali’s ‘Last Supper’ is rather spoiled by knowing too much of Dali !

      “The most afraid I have ever been in my life was when I realized that my soul would live forever”….”I was afraid of FOREVER”.

      7. Fascinating – for a Christian

    • Yep, I am in over my head here. I definitely could take more time to figure out the correct theological terminology.

      1. The point was that I loved my friend. The he killed himself and I didn’t know what to do with that love. All love has its source in God and that’s where I ended up.
      2. Totally Reformed. God’s sovereignty, check. Romans 1’s unrighteousness, Mark 3’s unpardonable sin, however you want to say it.
      3. ?
      4. .
      5. I think artists ‘put’ stuff into their work.
      6. Even knowing it is called the ‘Mona Lisa’ or the ‘Last Supper’ says a lot. Most people get more out of a piece when they know more about the artist’s inspiration.
      7. Incomprehensibility is frightening to me, yes, as a Christian.

      P.S. The only reason I care to give my two cents is because I have just seen, first-hand, what happens when some pastors spend too much time with their heads in books. I like the way it was said here once before: “practical theology and pastoral wisdom,” we need more of that. I appreciate that this blog encourages discussion, unlike ref21.

    • Richard,

      we are to be obedient always, even when our motives are not right! We are also to preach obedience always, even when people’s motives are not right. And then, we are to preach that true obedience is when our motives are right.

      I think that too much introspection with regards to motives can turn into its own legalism, especially if we follow the confession and believe that all sin is intermingled with wrong motives, infirmities and even sin!

    • I agree with your second para exactly because I disagree with the approach of your first.

      If you preach primarily obedience and that true obedience comes from right motives, then you will indeed end up with a deadly introspection

      If you preach Christ and Him crucified, then true motives and true obedience will flow out as ‘fruit’ as will ‘appropriate’ introspection.

      I think you have the cart before the horse but you are in good (and majority) company in this.

    • Richard,

      I did not see you in the church this morning, so I really do not know how do you know what I do or do not preach!
      You wrote: “If you preach Christ and Him crucified, then true motives and true obedience will flow out as ‘fruit’ as will ‘appropriate’ introspection.”
      But, what if we do as Paul did, and preach “Christ and Him crucified” first, as a foundation to all Christian life (Titus 3:7), and then preach a proper response to this Good News (Titus 3:8, 14). Thus, first preach the indicatives, but never not-preach imperatives.

      In other words, there is a holy balance in not, on the one hand, disregarding the cross and preaching the obedience (legalism), and on the other hand, preaching the cross and disregarding the obedience (cheap grace), but always preaching the obedience deeply submersed in the preaching of the cross!

      Of course, we could try and only preach the cross (which is not what Paul did, as his statement that he preaches only the cross of Christ doesn’t mean “all cross, no obedience” but “all Christ, no human philosophy”), but if my (reformed confessional) understanding of human nature is right, we will (1) have people in our churches deluding themselves that they are Christians and they are not; (2) Christians in our churches being unfruitful because we never “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:22) nor “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2. Tim 4:2) nor “persist in this … (nor) save both yourself and your hearers” (1. Tim 4:16).

    • That obedience follows from a proper reception of Christ and Him crucified doesn’t mean that it follows by way only of the “subconscious”, which is how some interpret the statement. “Let go and let God” is right only if with our own will we let go of sin and with our own will put the effort into obeying God – that’s what “let God” means. Paul laboured more than they all – He, all that was in him, did the labouring, yet still, it was not him but the grace of God that was in him.

    • Miro

      1. You took my imprecise comment “If you preach primarily obedience” too personally; I meant ‘we’ or ‘one’. Apologies!

      2. I also said ‘primarily’ specifically to rule out the idea of never preaching the ‘command’ elements so prevalent in, say, Paul’s letters. You have too readily taken me as preaching easy-believism!

      3. I agree that self-deluded non-believers in church need the law and consequent judgment, not ‘submersed in the gospel’ but as set out by Paul at the Areopagus and as it so frighteningly first appeared at Sinai. On conviction they then need the gospel.

      4. Unfruitful believers do need stirring up but with great discernment. We preach the law (in its Third use) if they do not know it; but if they do know it, it can be dangerous to shift into preaching it in more of its Sinaitic form, thinking that by doing so we are simply making it clearer and more pertinent. But that is common.

      5. So I like your phrase “deeply submersed in the preaching of the cross” but I fear that often what is in fact preached is ‘X and now Y’ where we move ‘beyond the gospel’ to (back to) the law. Your usage of “a proper response to this Good News”, and first preach the “indicatives” then the “imperatives”, belies this, because these all too common phrases carry a connotation of a wrong form of synergism on the part of the believer. (We reject a similar usage where Catholics say God gives His grace and man responds)

      6. So what am I advocating? That “deeply submersed in the preaching of the cross” means we do not speak, as we often do, to the old man in each of us, trying to drag him into a greater compliance to the written code – the old man improving himself by persuading himself that he now has within himself the power to do so. Indeed what we do say to the old man is ‘You are finished’!

      7. Instead we must speak to the mysterious new creation within believers calling forth more and more the substance of this new creation. It is just that we don’t do this because it is not easy and indeed hard to understand in the first place. My partial understanding of it has been helped by Mike Horton’s notion of Performative Speech-Acts (see my reply below of May 31, 2014 @ 1:35 PM to Deb James)

    • I don’t believe so at all – maybe I should have put the phrase in quotes

      I was simply conceding part of Miro’s point in his June 1, 2014 @ 12:07 PM final para, that they may well be Christians who need stirring up, but then warning against trying to do so by majoring on the Sinaitic terror involved in the First Use.

    • Don’t Bunyan’s discussions on the Food Laws shed some light on this? It occurs to me that the Bible lists three animals that chew the cud and do not part the hoof, but only one that parts the hoof and does not chew the cud. So those without any Christian profession who resemble true Christians in their personality and lifestyle are nothing like as common as those who profess to be Christians, but deny Christ by their lives. My soul, take heed.
      Christ talks about those who build their house upon the sand, but doesn’t mention any that seem to be living on the rock but fail to build a house, possibly because my proposed latter analogy is a try that will not stand up to scrutiny.
      We tend to miss the fact that the first table of the law is as important as the second.

    • Richard, isn’t what Deb is speaking about in her friend simply what is called theologically Common Grace? It is present in some reprobates in abundance, but later withdrawn. In the Scriptures I think people like Jehoram of Israel and Joab displayed some of it.
      Deb, not everyone who commits suicide does so in a sound mind. This doesn’t, of course, mean that your friend was a Christian, but please don’t base your belief that he wasn’t simply on his manner of death.

  8. Simply put:
    “If any part of our justification is by works, we’re in a heap of trouble”


    • Dr. Clark,
      thank you for the quotes from Tullian. I agree with all of them, and indeed I try to preach it to my congregation.
      My personal problem is that there are men I respect, like yourself, that defend Tullian, and then men that I respect, like brothers at the Gospel Coalition, that say he should correct some of his views. Maybe this is all a big misunderstanding… I hope it clears out in the end!

      Richard UK, I agree that it is definitelly “the Holy Spirit uses us,” or as the title of Piper’s book (that I did not read, but I like the title) says: it is “acting the miracle” in the mystery of sanctification.

  9. “Volitional” got me thinking… Dr. Caroline Leaf says that “Science is just catching up with the Bible”. She teaches about how habits are formed chemically in the brain. Quantum Physics research is proving that positive and negative intentions and emotions physically alter your brain and change DNA. Positive builds and connects and takes longer to tear down, negative breaks apart but is more easily changed.

    It really is about love. The imperatives, for a Christian, are not negative; they are not “You cannot do that and you must do this”. They are positive; they are “Choose life and LIVE!!!!”

    And the Quantum Zeno Effect (QZE) “stipulates that your brain becomes what you focus on and how you focus.” “QZE is the repeated effort that causes learning to take place”. What is it that inspires our focus and motivates us to repeatedly do something to the point of it becoming habit? (Phil. 2:13- He works in us both to will and to do, He does it for His own glory)

    • Mike Horton (WHI) speaks usefully of Performative Speech-Acts whereby God’s word achieves what it sets out to do; it does not return to Him void.

      So we can interpret the last 1/3 of all Paul’s epistles either as an appeal for obedience to the new autonomous man restored to his Adamic state, or we can see them as doing exactly what you suggest (including the ‘negative’ ones of which there are many – but they only become ‘negative’ when we seek to obey them out of our own will/volition).

      The scientists have indeed recognized the complexity of human anthropology but the Church’s view was borrowed from Aristotle and apart from some break-throughs (Augustine, Luther, Edwards, Sibbes etc), it remains there.

  10. It is kinda hard for me to know how to exactly answer somebody directly on this blog, as I cannot find a Reply button on every comment.

    Anyways, I think that there are some things where we do need to be obedient even when we have no heart in it. For example, I do not think anybody would say that we can break the 10 commandments if our heart is not in obeying them. And therefore, as we minister to one another, we should stress obedience in those matters.
    On the other hand, I do feel that there are more positive commandments where we do need to be more careful not to bring anyone towards legalism, for example, in the matters of giving, reading the Bible, prayer, doing positive good works. It is easy to overburden people or to judge them uncharitably in these matters.
    I forget who it was, but they spoke about the harm of the notion of “radical Christianity” being the “normative Christianity”. On the other hand, I think that the Bible does say that “obedient Christianity” is the “normative Christianity,” that is, like dr. Clark wrote in a comment, a “fruitful Christianity” (bringing at least some fruit of faith).
    The truth and wisdom are somewhere in the right balance.

    • Miro (and anyone who doesn’t realize this), comments without reply buttons are themselves replies to comments, whereas those with reply buttons are comments on the original posts with no implied reference to previous comments. So the nearest you can get to replying to a comment that has not got a reply button is to scroll back and reply to the first comment-with-a-reply-button you find as you scroll back.

    • Miro, I think it’s Watchman Nee who said (and Angus Kinnear wrote) that the Normal Christian Life is Not I But Christ. But I guess you’re probably not referring to him …

    • john Rokos,
      thank you for explanation!
      No, I wasn’t referring to Watchman Nee. I wouldn’t consider him to be the bastion of orthodoxy. 🙂
      I would probably agree with that statement (normal Christian life is not I but Christ), because it is in the Bible, but in the same way acknowledging that there are levels of maturity “in Christ.” In the same way we wouldn’t expect a baby to drive a car, we shouldn’t expect of baby-Christians to show the same level of “in Christ” maturity as from older believers.

    • Yes Miro, micropresbyterianism (i.e., making the household church the ultimate unit of ecclesiastical ruling and teaching authority on earth) has its weaknesses and opens the door to more weaknesses (When the political situation makes it impossible for larger Presbyterian bodies to meet, the Waldensian model, in which local elders are supplemented with travelling “apostles” {this clearly doesn’t mean people like the twelve apostles and Paul and Barnabas, etc., but goes back to the original meaning of the Greek word)} may be preferable).
      One thing that is significant about Watchman Nee’s doctrine is his highly developed trichotomy (I mean tripartite definition of man, not snazzy haircut!). Berkhof took Barth seriously as a mistaken but still Reformed theologian, so one would hope that later systematic theologians would not ignore Nee in that matter, but point out that if one is going to embrace trichotomy, one might as well embrace quadrichotomy, since soul and spirit are as difficult to divide asunder as joints and marrow.

  11. Beautifully put, Deb

    Do see if you can manage church – it is not always good to go without. Maybe try a Lutheran one – they tend to be very friendly too

    I laughed to see that Mark Jones’ book helped you see the opposite of what he intended.

  12. A serious question to anyone out there.

    Deb writes

    “The ‘do more’ focus I grew up with nearly destroyed my life, and my marriage. I have always hated life until recently. Now, I am finally learning to trust and rest completely in God, and it is so freeing. (It is all the stuff Tchividjian is teaching.)”

    I’ve put the last sentence into brackets because the recent debate is not specifically what I wanted to raise.

    We all know people broken not so much by the Church as by bad theology in their church. (If not, we need to meet some fast).

    How do we teach people to mortify the sin in themselves – without mortifying themselves? How do we stir one another to good works – without inducing guilt for failure? How do we expend ourselves as Paul did – without putting ourselves in hospital or onto medication?

    When we tell believers that they are now empowered to do stuff (fight sin in their lives/love their neighbor as much as or more than themselves), how is that different – psychologically – from all the Positive Thinking courses that persuade people that the ability for change is already within them? (even the world has come to realise that such courses are generally snake oil)

    Can anyone refer me to one, just one, downloaded sermon in the whole Christian world (other than something by TT please) that can both (i) extend comfort to the afflicted, but (ii) also at the same time teach how to fight sin?

    Too often we get a good sermon on comfort, but followed the next week by one on mortification that has somehow forgotten the context of the previous week’s. That is the sort of schizophrenia that I suggest has led Deb into her plight

    Although no doubt the knee jerk reaction of many, please do not see this as a call for antinomianism or for suspending all teaching of the law.

  13. Richard, you wrote: “How do we teach people to mortify the sin in themselves – without mortifying themselves? How do we stir one another to good works – without inducing guilt for failure? How do we expend ourselves as Paul did – without putting ourselves in hospital or onto medication?”

    You mentioned psychology. I have been dealing with this exact issue over the last few years. I found a lot of healing in DBT-Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, which really relates to this whole law-gospel thing, I think, because that is a dialectical issue.

    I did hear a sermon once, although I don’t think it was archived, on Psalm 69. My mom noted that it was exactly what DBT teaches- acceptance and change.

    I have been struck by the similarities in the Church’s attitude (in general, of course) towards both homosexuality and mental-illness. Both issues involve an invalidation that is the opposite of healing.

    Psalm 69 goes from anguish to anger to praise. How would you preach to someone who was in that kind of anguish, in a way that would result in the kind of praise that the psalm concludes with?

    Psalm 51 says: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation… then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You… For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.”-Psalm 51:12-17

    There is a reason Les Miserables is classic literature. It is amazing on so many levels: “His conscience weighed in turn these two men thus placed before it, the bishop and Jean ValJean. Anything less than the first would have failed to soften the second… The Bishop alone remained. He filled the whole soul of this wretched man with a magnificent radiance. Jean ValJean wept long.”

    And what happened to Javert, the man of law? He killed himself because he could not accept grace.

    It is not a sermon exactly, but Hugo says it amazingly. The bishop does not condemn ValJean but sets him free and this results in: “Jean ValJean was trembling in every limb.” The Bishop says, “Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man… Jean ValJean, my brother, you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition and give it to God!”

    Who has put more emphasis on God’s holiness than R.C. Sproul? And what is the result of that teaching? You either end up awestruck (which would necessitate obedience) or you end up like the people in Mark 5:17 “Thy began to plead with Him to depart from their region”.

    Yes, obedience is good and is the best way for us to live and have the closest relationship with God. But focusing on obedience is burdensome. Teach us about what results in obedience! I can see my own sin. Help me to see God, who HE is, what HE has done. I think it is a matter of heart and focus.

    • Much to think about in what you write.

      But the bishop’s comment – which concedes subsequent sovereignty and responsibility to Val Jean – is not what Jesus would say

      “The Bishop says, “Forget not, never forget that YOU have PROMISED (??) me to use this silver to become (BECOME ??) an honest man… Jean ValJean, my brother, you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition and give it to God!”

      This is Moral Therapeutic Deism

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