Some years ago, while explaining Heidelberg Catechism 114, on the moral law, I wrote, “Paul was not a Gnostic, a Valentinian, an Anabaptist, a Familist, nor an Antinomian. He was a sinner saved and justified freely through faith alone, a Christian living in union and communion with Christ, seeking to bring his life into conformity to all of God’s holy moral law.”
A reader wrote to ask what this paragraph means. It is a loaded with historical references that would take some time to explain but each of these represents some kind of over-realized eschatology. By that I mean someone who thinks that he has or can have heaven on earth right now. In order to have it each of these groups changed the rules of the game. In one way or another they got rid of God’s moral law, God’s grace, or God’s church.
The Gnostics (including the Valentinians) did by getting rid of God himself and by making themselves into gods. This is probably the dominant theology of our age. The Anabaptists certainly had an over-realized eschatology. They were not content to be mere Christians. They wanted to make themselves into apostles and fancied that they were super-spiritual—perhaps they were the Super Apostles of the sixteenth century?—who both mastered the law and were free from it. They did not need justification and salvation by grace alone, through faith alone and the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ alone—the first generation of the Anabaptists rejected the Reformation solas. They fancied that they had the apostolic gifts and powers including tongues, being slain in the Spirit, and continuing revelation. They were the true precursors of American evangelicalism from 1800 to today. The Familists was a movement founded in the 1540s, in Emden. They were precursors to the early Pietist movement of Jakob Boehme (1575–1624). They were radical subjectivists who rejected the sacraments. Their views were adopted by the Quakers. Again, this is a manifestation of an over-realized eschatology.
Each of these groups, in their own way, tried to change the rules of the game: we are humans made in God’s image and placed in God’s good world. In Adam’s fall we all fell into sin and death. The law is the irrevocable moral standard of God, grounded in his nature and revealed in nature and in grace. Christ is the Savior of sinners, who have transgressed God’s law and thus incurred the death penalty. He has given the ministry of Word and sacrament to his church. Believers and their children are incorporated into Christ’s visible church and the Christian life is one of being slowly, gradually, graciously conformed by grace alone, through faith alone, to Christ. The moral law is norm of the Christian life.
This is not heaven and there are no shortcuts. There is only Christ for sinners, divine favor, true faith, the law and the gospel, the sacraments, mortification of sin and vivification.
Paul knew this. This is why he was not afraid to be what he was, a sinner saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Read Romans 7 slowly and carefully. This is the pattern he left for us, who are not apostles, who have not seen the risen Christ, who are not receiving continuing revelations nor being slain in the Spirit. We are to be what we are: mere Christians redeemed and sanctified by grace alone, through faith alone, and seeking to live according to God’s moral law, in union with Christ, out of gratitude for God’s free favor in Christ—not in order to be justified and saved but because we have been justified and saved.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
- How To Subscribe To Heidelmedia
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Why I Am A Christian
- Support Heidelmedia: use the donate button
- Heidelcast Series: As It Was In The Days Of Noah
- Calvin: God’s Twofold Government Contra Over-Realized Eschatology
- Antinomianism Is The Fruit Of Over-Realized Eschatology
- The Presiding Bishop’s Over-Realized Eschatology
- Grace Neither Obliterates Nor Transforms Nature
- “‘Magic and Noise:’ Reformed Christianity in Sister’s America,” in eds. R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey (Escondido: Westminster Seminary California, 2010), 74–91.