Romans 2:13—Justified Through Our Faithfulness?

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.

Romans 2:13 In Its Original Setting & The Impulse To Distinguish Between Initial & Final Justification

Above we began looking at a neglected aspect of the current controversy over justification and sanctification. What has been neglected is a 1978 proposal that, at the judgment, “faithful disciples” will be justified before God through their faithfulness.  The current controversy over sanctification is, however, part of an argument that began long before 1978. It has its roots in the late 1520s when Johann Agricola (1494–1566) denounced the doctrine that God’s holy moral law governs the life of the Christian, i.e., what we know as the “third use of the law” (tertius usus legis). In the confessional Lutheran (e.g., in the Book of Concord) and Reformed understanding of justification, salvation, and the Christian life no Christian is “under the law” with respect to his acceptance with God (justification). That cannot be. Paul was repeatedly explicit about this:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:15–16; ESV).


For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:10–14; ESV)


For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28; ESV)

Much of the medieval church had concluded and Council of Trent confirmed a doctrine of progressive justification through sanctification by medicinal grace (divine and semi-divine substances as distinct from divine favor or approval) and cooperation with grace.

At Trent, Session 6 (1547) Canon 11, Rome declared:

If any one says, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God; let him be anathema.

According to Rome, in the sacraments, the Christian is endued with a certain power with which he must cooperate. Justification is through grace and cooperation with grace. Canon 9 made clear the necessity of cooperation with grace unto justification:

If any one says, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

She continued by denouncing the pan-Protestant definition of faith in the act of justification as “confidence in the divine mercy.” No, according to Rome, faith justifies because it works and through working. Faith does what it does not because of its object but because of what it is, because it is formed by love (fides formata caritate). According to Rome, Christ has done his part, on the cross and in baptism, of making salvation possible but we must do our part. This remains the Roman doctrine of justification in the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church (§1987ff). To a man the magisterial, confessional Protestants rejected this scheme as no different from “the works of the law” denounced by the Apostle Paul. The Protestant churches confessed the same.

The theological unity on this point, however, did not prevent all difficulties. In the 1550s the Lutheran theologian George Major (1502–74) proposed that good works are “necessary for retaining salvation.” There is nothing new about the NPP/FV doctrine of “in by grace, stay in through works.” The Reformed categorically rejected that doctrine in favor of teaching that sinners are justified (declared righteous) out of God’s favor alone (sola gratia), received through faith alone (sola fide) resting in, receiving, trusting in  Christ, his finished work for us, and in his promises alone. New life and true faithnecessarily results in sanctity, which, in turn, produces good works as fruit and evidence of true faith and justification. When faced with the potential modifying this doctrine  the Synod of Dort replied in effect: We get in by grace and we stay in by grace.

Nevertheless, some Reformed Protestants have sometimes given in to the temptation to reintroduce a version of the “works of the law,” i.e., grace and cooperation with grace, into Reformed theology. Sometimes it comes in the front door, as in the case of Norman Shepherd’s doctrine of justification “through faith and works” or “through faithfulness.” Sometimes, however, justification by grace and cooperation with grace has been reintroduced through the backdoor, as it were, by distinguishing explicitly or implicitly between an initial justification and a final justification. In this scheme sinners are said to be justified initially, in this life, by grace alone (sola gratia), sola fide(through faith alone) but finally justified, in the same legal sense as in the first instance, also partly on the basis of inherent righteousness and sanctity produced through union with Christ. Proponents of this approach limit the function of faith to forensic, legal justification in this life. Once we are justified talk of faith recedes and “existential union with Christ” becomes more prominent. Justification and sanctification are said to be logically twin benefits issuing from existential (formerly known as mystical) union with Christ initiated by God at regeneration. In this view there is and can be no logical order between justification and sanctification. At least one proponent (though we can hardly think he is alone in his sentiments) has argued that Reformed Christians must “move on” from “ordo salutis thinking.” Another critic of the traditional (and arguably confessional) Reformed view has labelled as “semi-Pelagian” the notion that, in the application of redemption, in regeneration (defined as awakening from spiritual death to spiritual life) the Holy Spirit creates or endows the elect with new life and with that new life the gift of faith, and through faith creates a mystical union with Christ and his believer. This would seem to the doctrine and intent of the Westminster Shorter Catechism when it says,

Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?

A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling. [emphasis added]

The catechism’s “thereby” would seem to signal that Spirit-wrought faith and not regeneration per se is the “instrument” of our existential, mystical union with Christ in the application of redemption. In other words, according to the catechism, existential or mystical union (as distinct from that union that may said to exist in the decree, from all eternity, and that federal union that may be said to have existed in Christ’s acting for us in his obedient life and death) is unavoidably part of a logical order. It is the regenerated who believe and it is believers who are united to Christ (and that faith is the gift of God) and is believers united to Christ who are justified.

Sometimes proponents of a “two-stage” doctrine of justification have appealed to the language of “double justification” and implied that the Reformed, under that rubric, taught a two-stage doctrine of justification. The evidence does not support this suggestion. When the Lutherans and the Reformed wrote of a “double justification” (duplex iustitia) they were not establishing either two grounds of standing before God (imputed righteousness and inherent righteousness)—that was the Romanist view advocated at Regensburg (1541)—nor were they imply that there are two stages to justification, initial and final. Rather, they were distinguishing between justification as a legal, forensic act, whereby God declares those who are intrinsically unjust to be legally just on the basis of Christ’s condign merit imputed to them and the process of progressive sanctification whereby the consequences of that justification are worked out gradually, graciously in the lives of believers as they are conformed to Christ in mortification (putting to death the old man) and vivification (the making alive of the new man). This doctrine was effectively that taught by Calvin as the “twofold grace of God” (duplex gratia Dei) and by Olevianus and others as the “double benefit” (duplex beneficium) of the covenant of grace: justification and sanctification. According to Calvin, Olevianus and others, the same Spirit who raised us to life, who gave us the grace of faith, who, through that faith united us to Christ, is also at work in us sanctifying us. This is why they had no need of a “two-stage” doctrine of justification and, instead, distinguished between justification and vindication. We are justified in this life and shall be vindicated in the next. This is how Luther and the rest of the magisterial Protestants related Paul and James. Paul was speaking of a forensic, legal justification and James, in chapter 2, was speaking of evidence of faith or vindication of the claim to be a believer.

Some Reformed Dissatisfaction

Just above we considered Romans 2:13 in its own context (Romans 1:18–3:20) and the impulse to distinguish between an initial stage of justification sola gratia, sola fide, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed, and a final stage of justification in which our Spirit-wrought sanctity becomes part of the instrument and/or ground of justification. In this installment we will examine at one of the internal documents in the dispute where we are able to see this turn to a two-stage doctrine of justification connected to Romans 2:13.

In the course of the original (or first stage of the) Shepherd controversy (1974–81) many informal documents were created. There was a faculty report and responses to the faculty report and addenda to those documents. There were also public letters to supporters of the seminary and responses to those letters and then finally a report by the board of trustees. Not all of the documents are dated so it’s not completely certain when they were drafted or circulated. I believe the document below to be from 1978 but cannot be completely certain. This document, written in defense of Shepherd, shows the beginnings of what would become a more fully developed approach to Romans 2:13 in which it was interpreted not as an expression of the pedagogical use the law (sometimes denominated the first use, sometimes denominated the second) but as an indication that there are two stages of justification, initial and final, and that Romans 2:13 contains a promise of final acceptance with God on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity.

I quote extensively from the document (pages 5–7). The only omissions are internal outline numbering and internal references to other parts of the document on the grounds that to retain these would be confusing to the reader. Nothing of substance in this section of the paper has been omitted. The document was signed but I omit the name in order to focus on the substance of the issue.

The author writes:

The Roman Catholic notion of faith formed by love and other serious misunderstandings of this verse [Gal 5:6] must be recognized and avoided….Faith justifies only as it rests in Christ and his finished righteousness, not as it looks too its working in love. Love and good works do not have a function or instrumentality for justification separate from, parallel to, or beyond that of faith. The sole instrument of justification is faith, from which working through love flows [sic] as the necessary and integral fruit or manifestation. Where the relationship between faith and its working (good works) is not expressed in this or some other equivalent way, the unique function (instrumentality) of faith for justification and so too, then, Christ’s finished righteousness as the exclusive ground of justification threatened to be obscured or denied.

This seems to be a fairly robust affirmation of the traditional Reformed doctrine of justification on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness alone through faith alone. The subordinate clause, “from which working through love flows” is not entirely clear grammatically but the intent seems to be to say that those who are justified by grace alone, through faith alone will produce the fruit of sanctification.

There is, however, an interesting qualification that should not be missed. “Love and good works do not have a function or instrumentality for justification separate from or parallel to or beyond that of faith.” Though the statement denies the Roman doctrine of “faith formed by love” it seems as if the definition of faith offered here is not far from it. Certainly we should agree with the author that sanctification and consequent good works do flow as fruit of justification and union with Christ but what is the result of saying that sanctification and good works are a constituent of faith in the act of justification? There is a certain degree of ambiguity. Since this was an informal document perhaps we shouldn’t press it too hard and yet this language does suggest that we will want to pay attention to what follows.

Next, the author appeals to the example of Abraham:

The experience of Abraham implies that as long as the believers earthly life continues, perseverance In the state of justification (from which he can never fall, WCF, 11:5) is essential to his being justified (cf. J. Edwards, works (1974), 1:640–642).

The citation of Edwards is fascinating. As anyone who has studied Edwards’ doctrine of justification it is fraught with difficulties to say the least. A recent volume sought to exonerate his doctrine of justification but, so far as I was able to tell, it never made reference to the article that highlighted the great difficulty in the first place: Thomas A. Schafer, “Jonathan Edwards and Justification By Faith,” Church History 20 (1951): 55–67. It may not be possible to say exactly what Edwards’ doctrine of justification was or that he had a single, coherent doctrine of justification. For more on this see the relevant section in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

More significantly, the author appeals to Abraham’s perseverance (which was mixed at best) not as fruit and evidence of his faith (despite the manifold evidences to the contrary—he was a serial liar and doubter. Abraham was a perfectionist’s nightmare) as “essential to his being justified.” Now the picture is clearer. The Canons of Dort (1619) want us to think and say that perseverance is a fruit of our election not condition (to which the Remonstrants added the qualification “foreseen”; CD First Head of Doctrine, rejection of errors, para. 5). Nowhere does the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 60) include perseverance as essential to justification. The justified will persevere but they do so by God’s grace as an outworking or a consequence of election and justification. Obedience is essential to perseverance and if perseverance is essential to justification have we not made obedience essential to justification?

This formulation would seem to contradict the express teaching of WCF 11.1 that believers are justified

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 [emphasis added]

Perseverance is wrought in us but it is an “evangelical obedience” that attends justification, that gives evidence of justification but is no part of the ground, instrument, or even essence of justification.

The document continues:

Paul and James. The much-debated question of the relationship between James 2:14ff. and the relevant passages in Paul can be addressed briefly in the light of the preceding discussion, particularly in view of their common appeal to Genesis 15:6 and the experience of Abraham. The two are not in conflict. Paul looks at Abraham’s faith as it rests in the promise (the promised seed, righteousness) and so receives the forgiveness of sin. James looks at the same faith as it is active and working (2:22); out of trust in the same promise he offered up his only son (seed), Isaac (vs. 21). That James calls this “justification by works” is because he sees Abraham’s deed only as the manifestation and fruitage of his faith, the faith that continues to rest in the promised seed. The justification of which James speaks is not in place of nor a repetition of justification in Paul’s sense (the once-for-all imputation of Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness of sins). Rather, the former, with a view to the persevering of faith working through love, is the reconfirmation or revalidation of the latter. The one, no less than the other, is forensic and declarative, and both have God as their subject. It is not necessary to insist on a demonstrative, as distinct from or excluding a declarative, sense in James.

We should agree with this account right up to the penultimate sentence. “The one, no less than the other, is forensic and declarative, and both have God as their subject.” The author continues by denying that the justification to which James refers is “declarative” as distinct from Paul’s “forensic” (legal). If by these two sentences the author means to blur the distinction between a forensic (legal, declarative act) and justification in the sense of vindication, i.e., the recognition of what is the case, then we should dissent dissent strongly. James refers to our works as evidence of our claim to faith. This is vindication. Paul refers to God’s declaration that sinners are declared to be righteous on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received through faith alone. These are two distinct things that should not be muddled.

Justification and Sanctification. Justification and sanctification are different, yet they are inseparable (WLC, 77).

They differ in that they address distinctly different exigencies. Justification deals with the guilt and condemnation of sin and is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the pardoning of sin; sanctification deals with the corrupting power of sin and the production of righteousness and the subduing of sin within the believer by the power of Christ’s Spirit.

They are inseparable in that they both inhere and derive from the believer’s vital union with Christ (WLC, 69).

We should agree with the first paragraph and question and qualify the second. There is a double benefit of the covenant of grace, a double benefit of our vital union with Christ. Amen. There is, however, a logical order to the benefits. Without being too graphic consider the birth of twins. Ordinarily, apart from a C-section, twins do not emerge from the womb simultaneously. They emerge in order. Now, that is a chronological sequence. With the double benefit we do not have a temporal, chronological sequence but a logical sequence. It is the justified who are progressively sanctified. I contend that the denial of the logical order has contributed to the original controversy and continues to reverberate in the current confusion.

While it is equally important to distinguish justification and sanctification from each other as it is not to separate them, they are properly distinguished only as their inseparability in Christ is appreciated (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30). Although sanctification in its progressive aspect obviously follows justification in time, the distinction between them is not well expressed by saying, out of concern to safeguard the purity of justification, that it is the basis of sanctification, or by speaking of the priority of justification to sanctification. Much better is the model proposed by Calvin (institutes, 3:11:6): Christ, the sole source of righteousness, is the sun from which proceeds, without confusion or separation, or relative priority both light (justification) and heat (sanctification).

Here we should agree with the author as to what the issue is even as we disagree with his prescription and his analysis of Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ. Since this controversy there has been considerable historical work by Cornelis Venema, Todd Billings, and Richard Muller, to name but three who’ve reached quite different conclusions about Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ and the duplex gratia. My own research into Caspar Olevianus’ doctrine of the duplex beneficium reached similar conclusions regarding his teaching that parallels those of Billings, Venema, and Muller regarding Calvin. More recently, John Fesko has argued the historical case for the logical priority of justification to sanctification.

The temporal sequence is not in question. We should, however, affirm the logical priority of justification to progressive sanctification. ” We have prima facie evidence in Romans 8:30 for thinking this way:

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30; ESV).

It is the elect who are effectually called. It is those who are called who are justified. It is the justified who shall be glorified and glorification is the consummation of progressive sanctification in this life. In Paul’s brief order of salvation here sanctification is represented by and subsumed under glorification.

As the argument unfolds the connection to a two-stage doctrine of justification becomes clearer:

Justification and final judgment.

A pervasive strand of New Testament teaching is that at the end of this age, at Christ’s return all men, including believers, will appear before God (Christ) for judgment (e.g., Matt. 16:27; 25:31–46; John 5:27–29; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:6, 16; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27; 2 Pet. 3:7; 1 John 4:17).

While some of these passages neighbor for to the differing rewards granted to believers relative to each other, others unmistakably describe, not merely relative degrees a blessing for believers, but a judgment involving all men and in which the issue for all including believers, is the ultimate outcome of either internal life or eternal destruction (E. G. , Matt. 25,: 31ff.; John 5:29; Rom. 2:5–8).

While, in the case of believers, the final judgment is not called “justification” (although see Matt. 12:36, 37 and probably, too, Rom. 2:13; cf. Also the future “hope of righteousness,” Gal. 5:5), the essential features involved—a judicial transaction issuing in an irreversible verdict with eternal consequences—are precisely those at stake in Paul’s doctrine of justification. The positive outcome of the final judgment is in fact, if not in name, a justification.

What was implied and suggested above is now more explicit: a two-stage justification. In this case, however, we have observed that the distinction between them is not sharp. We have seen affirmations of the traditional Reformed doctrine of justification sola gratia, sola fide on the basis of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and significant qualifications of the definition of faith and justification which, if allowed to stand unchecked, would be fatal to the biblical and Reformed doctrine of justification.

The final justification envisioned in the section quoted above is distinct from the initial justification but continuous with it. Where the traditional doctrine has sinners justified once for all in this life and that justification vindicated at the judgment, this re-casting clear has them justified a second a second time.


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.”

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  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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