My Pilgrimage From “Lordship” to Law/Gospel (part 3): Assurance

In part 2, we considered the case of the Rich Young Ruler. In this final installment, let us consider one of the most important passages in this debate: Romans 2:13.

Advantage #4–Giving Assurance to Believers

LS regularly calls into question a person’s profession of faith. Bluntly, it wrecks assurance. How? In the LS model, what if the professing Christian shows a lack of true submission and struggles with obedience? How much commitment is needed before someone questions his/her own salvation? How much disobedience is allowed before the professing believer wonders about their own salvation?

During an intense bout of Covid-19-induced pneumonia, my health was not improving. The doctor said three words which are difficult to forget, “acute respiratory failure.” While never put on a ventilator, I did require “Hi Flow” oxygen delivered at the rate of 60 liters per minute for many days. During the darkest times of the sixteen lonely days of “Covid Isolation,” my mind wandered to my possible impending death and what would happen after my last breath. I knew I was a sinner and that God the Creator was holy and righteous. I understood that payment must be made for my sins one way or another (on me or a Substitute). With all that my sick and oxygen deprived mind could muster, I mentally traversed all possible options of surviving Judgment Day: civil goodness, religious deeds, sincere worship and more–but I knew those options were worthless. God required perfection. God requires perfection.

Questions bombarded my weary mind. My thoughts were interrogating me with inquires that I did not seem to ask. I felt like the trial had begun.

  • Did I surrender to the Lord enough?
  • Did I obey God enough?
  • Am I yielding to God enough?
  • What if I am deceived?
  • What if I have a false faith?
  • What if…?

I had no answers, but only thoughts like, “Eternity is a long time.” “My Sin deserves punishment.” “I have earned judgment.” “Now what?”

Finally, a biblical thought flashed through my mind, “My only hope is sola fide. There is no other way I can stand before the Lord. I need an Advocate and Mediator. I need perfect righteousness from Another.” I said to the Lord, “Lord, I know I am tainted by sin and have fallen short of your standards, but Jesus said that if I simply trust Him, I will have eternal life. I trust you and I trust Him. I believe Jesus literally lived for me and died for every one of my sins. I believe Jesus conquered death and is literally returning. I want to live and see my family again, but I submit to your good and right plan. Thank you.” I fell asleep.

Experiences like mine are more common than we might realize. Many ask such eternal questions, not only on their deathbed, but while they are alive and are in their “right mind.” Eternity is a long time. Hell is real. Heaven is holy. If holy living was the ground of people’s salvation, and therefore their assurance was dependent upon righteous living, would Paul, the mature Apostle, question his faith because of his statements in Romans 7? Paul did not do what he wanted, but he did the very thing he hated (Romans 7:15). Should we question Paul’s profession knowing he wrote, “the evil I do not want is what I keep doing?” Was Paul questioning his own salvation in Romans 7? Of course not.

Sadly, Christians sin. Mature Christians rebel. Even Apostles of Jesus Christ fall short of God’s glory and disobey. The issue should not be, “how can you call yourself a Christian because you still sin against a holy God?” Rather, “When you sin against God, are you saddened? Do you desire to please Him? Obey Him?” Christians then answer, “Yes, yes and yes!” If I were to ask, “who put the desire to obey and to hate sinning in your heart?” would they respond with, “CNN,” or “Satan?” While some sins are instantly dealt with at initial salvation, other sin patterns linger. I have been a believer for more than 30 years and I still struggle with a variety of sins. Do you? The popular adage is true, “Jesus paid for the believer’s penalty of sin, the power of sin is vanquished, but the presence of sin in the believer will exist until glorification.”

We never want to be sin apologists, but we do want to be realists. And with that, we trust in God’s sanctifying work so that it is our desire to respond to the Father with quicker remorse and less of a lag time regarding repentance. Out of gratitude, we want to obey the Lord Jesus for being such a wonderful Savior. Since this article is on the Heidelblog, I am compelled to quote the Heidelberg Catechism. How do these questions (and answers) fit into the mold of LS?

114. Can those who are converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

No, but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with earnest purpose they begin to live not only according to some, but according to all the Commandments of God.

115. Why then does God so strictly enjoin the ten Commandments upon us, since in this life no one can keep them?

First, that as long as we are alive we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ; secondly, that without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God, until we attain the goal of perfection after this life.

Christians still, regrettably, sin. But are not the sins of Christians paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes, they are forgiven! No wonder Martin Luther used the Latin phrase, “simul iustus et peccator” (simultaneously justified and sinner). Christians are declared righteous but still sin and will sin all the way until glory. Christians are both justified and sinful at the same time.

LS advocates regularly, and rightly, expose a faith that is spurious. The Reformation also teaches that mere intellectual faith is not saving. Neither spurious faith nor intellectual faith should yield assurance. The difference between the Reformation and LS lies in the Law/Gospel distinction. That is to say, in lieu of directing people primarily to look to their own lives and examine to see if they are faithful, then they can have assurance by looking to the Risen Savior. Looking to the “done” instead of the “do” is critical. Martin Luther’s famous quote goes something like this, “When I look to myself, I do not know how I could be saved, but when I look to the Lord Jesus, I do not know how I could be lost.”

Misunderstanding the Law/Gospel distinctions, including the uses of the Law, assurance is not garnered, but evacuated. Show me someone who regularly sits under LS theology, and I will show you a person who recurrently asks:

  • Am I saved?
  • Am I a false convert?
  • Am I deceived?
  • Am I faithful enough?
  • Am I earnest enough?
  • Am I contrite enough?
  • Am I good enough?
  • Am I righteous enough?
  • Did I repent enough?
  • Do I pray enough?
  • Am I holy enough?
  • Have I read my Bible enough?

My response is from a wise Puritan, Thomas Wilcox (1549–1608), who boldly uttered, “You complain much of yourself. Does your sin make you look more at Christ, less at self?” Enough of the “enough” language. While I do not mind an internal look for evidence and fruit of salvation, I do mind if the looking ends there! The telos of self-observation must be with Christ, not personal motives, intentions, sincerity, works or love. Christian, did you know that?

  • Jesus seeks and thoroughly saves the lost.
  • Jesus was faithful enough on the earth.
  • Jesus was earnest enough.
  • Jesus was good enough.
  • Jesus prayed enough.
  • Jesus is holy enough.
  • Jesus is righteous enough.
  • Jesus read the Bible enough.
  • Jesus evangelized enough

And you, dear Christian, are “in Christ?” Union with Christ Jesus is a reality (Romans 6:1ff.). Looking to Jesus, does not your encouragement level skyrocket? Does not His great salvation prod you to obeying and surrendering out of thankfulness and gratitude? Rejoice that Jesus the Lord loves you with an everlasting love and nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:35 ff.). Is Jesus, “Lord?” Of course. Must people completely submit to His lordship in order to be saved? Absolutely not (faith alone). Should believers, responding out of gratitude, long to obey their heavenly Father? Yes! If a Christian’s obedience is wavering, waning and left wanting, should we immediately call them to “examine yourself?” No. Shall we question their salvation? No. A Christian needs the Gospel too. Jesus is not only for justification but for sanctification. Jesus is both for us and in us. Jesus for pardon and Jesus for power. Examine Jesus and His works ten times the amount of time you examine your fruit and evidence of God’s work in your life.


Though my love for many LS proponents remains, my desire for them is to move to a Law/Gospel paradigm. I truly believe if LS embraced a proper comprehension of Law/Gospel, it would cause their followers to rise up and call them (the leaders) blessed.

©Mike Abendroth. All Rights Reserved.


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  • Mike Abendroth
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    Mike Abendroth (MDiv, DMin) is Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Bible Church (West Boyleston, MA), where he has served since 1997. He is host of No Compromise Radio and author of Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers (2007), The Sovereignty and Supremacy of King Jesus (2011), Things that Go Bump in the Church (2014), Discovering Romans (2014), Sexual Fidelity (2015) and Evangelical White Lies (2016). He is married with with four children. When not enjoying his family he is often found on a bicycle.

    More by Mike Abendroth ›

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  1. Romans 5:1, Δικαιωθέντες, “those having been justified” — a passive perfect verbal participle, indicating it having been done — not ‘currently seems to be getting done’ — the Romans have been justified by the act of another agent, God upon them (Rom 8:33, “it is God who justifies”) — goes on to say, “ἐκ πίστεως”, describing further that category, that this group has become that through, ek, out from, faith. not an introspection, Paul includes his readers and himself, as the subjects just described, … “we … have peace.”

    People think that assurance can be arrived at only by checking my current state. Assurance is not conclusively arrived at just by a test of (current state of) self. However, it is for the benefit of the current state of ourselves. Assurance is not properly from checking selves for if we think sola fide is valid, or if we’ve ruled out all other possibilities, as if an times of doubt we have a mammoth inference checking ability to go through everything.

    Having present doubts about our faith which come from looking at ourselves right now, is just the reverse side of the coin of having conclusions only from looking at ourselves right now. The self-reference is an infinite regress, “right now,” always changing, moment by moment.

  2. Well said!
    Jesus is called the Prince of Peace because he brings us peace with God. He has provided the perfect obedience and satisfaction for sins that is needed for reconciliation with God, and imputes or credits it to us when we grasp it through faith and resting in Him. That is our perfect assurance that clears our conscience of any doubt that God will accept us on the last day. Oh death, where is your victory? Where is your sting? 1 Cor. 15:55
    When you truly understand this, sanctification will follow because you will love Christ. Love is the most powerful motive to obey, it will make it your desire to obey. Preaching the gospel provides the true incentive for obedience.

    • Amen, sister. I have enjoyed your contributions to the HB comments throughout the years. May the Lord bless you and channel the insights and giftings he’s given you for the benefit of the church (and just to be clear to others, I’m not advocating egalitarianism; just couldn’t help but recognize the clarity and insight in which is typical of her comments and pray that she’s able to put them to use to bless the body of Christ, especially in her local church).

  3. I truly loved this 3-part post. However, I was hoping Dr. Abendroth would unpack Rom 2:13 more directly in this post, as I assumed he would, given he brought it up at the beginning as a LS “proof text.”

    Interestingly enough, the Macarthur Study Bible’s note on this passage refers readers to see 3:24 for further explanation (good, keeping a Law/Gospel distinction) but then also directs them to James 2:20-26 as a cross-reference (not so good, reintroducing the LS paradigm, I think).

    And just for curiosity, I checked the ESV Study Bible’s note which in no uncertain terms teaches the LS view which Dr. Abendroth argues against: “Paul reaffirms the principle enunciated in vv. 6–11, that the doers of the law are the ones who are righteous before God, and that their justification will be pronounced on the last day.”

    I’m immensely thankful for the ministries of many within the LS camp and pray that we as well as them would come to see the Law/Gospel distinction more clearly when justification by faith alone is in view and to see the LS themes playing out in our gratitude (sanctification) for what God had done for us in Christ.

  4. In the article (the part 3 article), Pastor A. asks “If holy living was the ground of people’s salvation, …” and concludes assurance is not “dependent on righteous living.”

    Then, an alternative is offered! “The issue should not be, ‘how can you call yourself a Christian because you still sin against a holy God?’ Rather, ‘When you sin against God, are you saddened? Do you desire to please Him? Obey Him?’ Christians then answer, ‘Yes, yes and yes!'”

    How often so, how quickly so, how lastingly so, how increasingly so has to be used to measure “Yes, yes, and yes!” This, for the article here, is what the issue should be! The issue for having assurance!

    To make assurance of salvation by Christ dependent on our desires to please God and/or sadnesses over our sins is a replacement, a replacement of confidence in Christ Himself, by a confidence in things about us, however-much provided by Him. That this is what the article has in mind is there in that same paragraph, when he asks the question “who put the desire to obey and to hate sinning in your heart”?

    There are many justifications of sins that begin with “I didn’t want to” and “I hate it when it happens.” Tentativeness and self-hatred about sinning is not the “issue” that makes a difference between assurance and non-assurance. Those two things are characteristics of some more than others, about their sin, and such characteristics are part of the responses to sin of many many ethical systems. They are not infallible signs of Christ’s salvation. They are not the basis for the “issue” of assurance. To see this, how does Christ tell us to deal with sin? Far from commending mere tentativeness or sadness toward sin, He commends radical and immediate dealing with sin: the kind of thing that can truly come from having assurance in Him, not trying to get assurance by a confidence in feelings.

    • Great posts. I’m learning a lot, but this is where I always struggle. I think I was tracking with you until your last sentence, “Radical and immediate”. Isn’t that the part I can’t do? Cut it off, pluck it out – I’ve been trying for years. Isn’t that Law? Did I do enough, ad infinitum?

      Sanctification is something the less I look at the better. I only trust in Christ’s finished work, and do not place any safety in my feelings. In Christ, I know I am free and enabled to try without fear. I may not see it; the evidences may be small and from pathetic efforts, but Christ will provide in me and for me all He commands. Grace for justification, grace for sanctification. That’s my only assurance.

    • Mr. Ken Bissell thanks for the detailed comment. I think I understand the issue you expressed as not tracking with “me” (my last comment) about, some aspect of it.

      Compare two exhortations: 1) “cut it off,” or “pluck it out”, and 2) “cut them all off,” or “pluck them all out.” Two things we often confuse, are individual actions, and the measurement of the size of our individual actions, compared to the “total task” we think we can assess. As a trivial example, the cutting of a particular avenue that might lead to an instance of a particular failure.

      What we often find that we want to do is measure the progress in that “area.” For example, a doctor may remove cancerous cell, and also see if it “all” got removed — and the doctor may be wrong. Suppose a doctor (as has happened) never got it all out, after repeated attempts, wouldn’t that be “I’ve been trying for years ….did I do enough, ad infinitum?”

      But has Christ our co-worker given us the complete maps of where all our things to work on are? No, but should that prevent us in taking up a task at hand? There is a mental satisfaction in knowing the entirety of everything ahead. But are there promises, that tell us, we will know the entirety of our time of working together with Christ on the tasks? May the Lord help us to rejoice in the instance of building up what, by all accounts, has eternal ramifications! Thanks K.Bissell for the comment.

  5. Larry-
    Thanks for your kind and astute reply. I also agree with Brandon M. there are certain commenters on this blog that are really quite good. You’ve helped me bring things into better perspective. I don’t know “everything ahead. But are there promises…?” You bet ya!

    Now where’s that pesky coin for the coffer?

  6. These articles have been / are so helpful! I do have a question, please. How do we interpret Luke 14:25-35? Although there are no imperatives in that text (that I can see), the implication SEEMS to say that one must give up all (take up your own cross) of self BEFORE one can be a disciple of Christ. Help me out here, and thank you!

    • William,

      Here is the passage:

      (ESV) Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

      To get this right we must distinguish between two kinds of conditions: antecedent and consequent. The Reformation way of reading this passage and others like it is to understand our Lord to be speaking of consequent conditions. He is speaking here of what is true of his disciples. He is not saying that those who meet such and such a test will be disciples through meeting the test or because they have met the test. This is how the Romanists and other moralists read these passages. They turn these passages from being passages about what is (i.e., what is by grace and necessarily) to the ground or instrument of our salvation.

      Check out the resource page on the controversy over “final salvation through works.” See especially the essay distinguishing between is and through.

      See also Belgic Confession art. 24 for a wonderful and pastoral explanation of how sanctification necessarily follows justification but not such that sanctification becomes any part of the ground or instrument of our salvation or justification.

    • Dr. Clark, thank you for pointing out this vital distinction between antecedent and consequent conditions. When the Romanists, and moralists make consequent conditions the antecedent conditions, they turn the covenant of grace into a covenant of works. That is exactly the point of the Marrow Controversy, that you covered in previous posts. There Thomas Boston points out the error of making repentance a condition of salvation. While a true Christian will repent, he does so because he is regenerated, not in order to be saved. So it is with all other evangelical graces. They are the fruit of the Spirit following regeneration, just as a good tree produces good fruit because it is a good tree. Matthew 7: 17. Article 24 of the Belgic Confession explains this so clearly. Westminster XV and XVI

  7. I would think that it can be interpreted as: A true disciple of Christ *will* deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him.

    • A distinction between antecedent and consequent conditions may not enough to disentangle claims made by various users of various conditions to support the neonomist view of the Christian life. This is because we’ve lost the distinction between subsequent and consequent things. (For the Latinists, it’s the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.)

      The neonomist cannot distinguish just as Jonathan Edwards admits in his Treatise on Religious Affections, between fake post-conversion “good” deeds, and real post-conversion good deeds (deeds that are truly consequental from conversion) admitting that one looks exactly the same as another. But, when going for looks, looks satisfies the neonomist criterion. Why? Because they’re not interested in assurance, but in disqualification. The sensitive conscience (picturing Luther in the monastery here) knows that looks aren’t enough for assurance. But assurance is quite a different undertaking than disqualification.

      So Bob, let’s take the interpretation “a true disciple of Christ *will* deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him.” This would help in assuring a doubting person, if it’s taken as a promise about that person and the future. Take heart now, because of this your future. Sort of what Luther’s counselor was trying to encourage him about. This would help the nomist if interpreted as “if someone is not denying himself right now, taking up his cross right now, and following Him right now, that person is not a true disciple of Christ. Your future is proved by your present.”

      • Larry,

        There is more to it to be sure but we need to make this conceptual distinction to begin to clarify things. The distinction helps us avoid both nomism and antinomianism. The nomist thinks that he himself must meet the antecedent condition of the covenant. The antinomian doesn’t understand that there are consequent conditions that entail a profession of faith. Rightly understood, this distinction clears up a lot of confusion.

  8. Sure Dr. Clark, both the nomist and antinomist are advocates of false theories: as you said, “the nomist thinks …,” and the “antinomian doesn’t understand ….” And I do think that consequent conditions are very important, and highly misunderstood. With your continued response, I hope to say this.

    People confuse antinomians and “libertines,” people whose actions deliberately flout all or any moral law or obligation in the Christian life, because it’s there. Antinomians are not libertines: libertines think the thing they are flouting is there: antinomians don’t think there is law that applies to them (although they may actually be very conformant to the standards of the Christian life, except for the large problem that they think there are no standards of the Christian life!)

    In the same way, people confuse nomists with those who are self-righteous. Nomists are not always advocating the levels of their own achievement: they advocate a theory of how all righteousness must consists of a person’s level of moral achievement according to law (Ac 15:5).

    The consequent conditions are things that are consequent to actually being in the covenant. People confuse this with minimum things because they are looking for people telling them about a minimum that must be there at all times: but when Paul said he subdues his body, etc., lest he be disqualified, he was not talking about bare minimum standards, but about high standards from God — consequent conditions! — for continuing preaching.

    • All Libertines are Antinomians but not all Antinomians are Libertines. All Libertines are antinomians in practice. Fortunately, not all Antinomians reach their full potential, as it were.

      If only folk would grasp guilt, grace, & gratitude.

  9. Larry, you seem to have this idea that consequent conditions are things you need to do to stay in the covenant of grace. As though we now need to do our part to prove and maintain our final salvation. As though we get in by grace and stay in the covenant by our works for final salvation.
    As Dr. Clark mentions, the Heidelberg Catechism is divided into guilt, grace, and gratitude. It is based on the three uses of the law. First the law shows us our guilt, misery, and inability to do what God requires in His law which requires perfect obedience and death for transgression. This drives us to Christ who has obeyed perfectly and suffered the penalty of death for our disobedience. When we grasp this through faith, we are under grace because Christ has fulfilled the law and provided satisfaction for our transgression. This knowledge of what Christ has done, in fulfilling all the requirements of the law for us, make us grateful. That is the third use of the law and it leads to loving Christ for this great Salvation. The idea of a consequent condition is not that we now do our part for final acceptance with God, but that the law now shows us how to express our gratitude because Christ has done everything to ensure our acceptance now and at the last day when our acceptance with God, for Christ’s imputed righteousness, through faith, will be vindicated. As Jesus said, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. Jesus is not saying keep my commandments to do your part for final salvation by maintaining your place in the covenant, rather He is saying, because I have done all that is required for your acceptance with God, show your gratitude and love to me, by your obedience.

  10. Thank you Angela Werner, and I’m glad to say that what seemed to you to be the case (“you seem to have this idea that consequent conditions are things you need to do to stay in the covenant of grace”) is not at all what I think is true. If something I said implies that, that something, whatever it is, would be false. If something I said implies “we now need to do our part to prove and maintain our final salvation,” that something, too, would be false. Or, if something I said implies that “we get in by grace and stay in the covenant by our works for final salvation,” that, too, would be false.

    Now, on to the statements that are not related to any idea I seemed to have: 1) that the knowledge of what Christ has done “makes us grateful.” 2) That the third use of the law (for guidance of Christians) “leads to loving Christ.” Does lack of gratitude by the Christian, exist and need looking at as well? Does lack of love for Christ? Are they never assessed? Lord bless!

    • Larry: You said:” Does lack of gratitude by the Christian, exist and need looking at as well? Does lack of love for Christ? Are they never assessed?” I suppose so if one were trying to determine if someone were regenerate. Can we know men’s hearts? Does an unregenerate person ever make those assessments? But you specify these “lacks” in a Christian. If they are a Christian then we aren’t talking about justification anymore.

  11. I agree with you Dr. Clark, especially about Libertines, not even depending on any of the names, that Romans 3:8 is true, that such condemnation is just!

  12. Thanks Bob for interaction on the question, which, to lean back to the article, shows an underlying tenet in the article as well: In the article,

    “LS advocates regularly, and rightly, expose a faith that is spurious.”

    Let’s see if we can “expose” this effort, by combining a set of contrasting assertions brought up so far, that are somewhat similar:

    1. Knowledge of what Christ has done makes one grateful, but lack of gratitude might possibly be assessed if one is trying to determine if someone is regenerate.
    2. The third use of the Law leads to loving Christ, but lack of love for Christ may possibly be assessed if one is trying to determine if someone is regenerate.

    In each sentence, the structure is the same. The second clause, “but …” is the tautology of the first clause, in each one! In other words, each sentence is repetitve, by saying the same thing positively, and negatively.

    • Larry,

      I’m not sure I understand your point but to be perfectly clear for other readers, who might also be confused, the Reformed confess that

      1) We are saved (justified, sanctified, glorified) by grace (favor) alone, through faith alone.

      2) The same new life in which we are given the gift of faith also necessarily produces good works as fruit and evidence of true faith.

      3) The Christian life is governed by the moral law in its 3rd use (and, in so far as we are part of civil society, the 2nd or civil use).

      4) It is perfectly proper to expect Christians to produce good works (without setting some quantitative measure) and to question the profession faith of one is living impenitently in sin or who professes faith but shows no evidence of it (per James 2).

    • Hi Larry: I have to agree with Dr. Clark, but if he isn’t sure he understands your post then I *am* sure that I don’t. Just pretend that I am not at the same level as you in understanding philosophy. In fact, don’t pretend.

  13. Dr. Clark, my previous post was going step-by-step within the Reformed framework of works as evidence.

    Evidence, is not the same thing as, proof. This was Jonathan Edwards’ dilemma (but not the Lord’s, Matthew 5:16). Edwards in R.A. takes the reader through a quest for proof of election, and concludes that there is not a single good deed, of whatever manifestation, that can prove election, because of fakes, so we must “give the judgment of charity” on what we see people doing, suspending judgment on everyone and even ourselves until their/our dying day (denying Rm 5:1 and the whole possibility of a durative Christian life.)

    On the difference between evidence and proof, an unforgettable example is my friend who claims “I can tell you within 15 minutes of meeting anyone if they are saved.”

    Similarly, looking at the article we’re commenting on, which uses the term “profession of faith”:

    LS regularly calls into question a person’s profession of faith. Bluntly, it wrecks assurance. How? In the LS model, what if the professing Christian shows a lack of true submission and struggles with obedience? How much commitment is needed before someone questions his/her own salvation? How much disobedience is allowed before the professing believer wonders about their own salvation?

    As the article we’re commenting on says, LS wrecks assurance. How? By what it makes our salvation dependent on, and that is … consequent conditions! By which they really mean, subsequent conditions!

    An easy way to see this, is when nothing from yesterday, or the previous moment even, matters in the LS system and assurance (about someone, or about ourselves) is based on present works. (Cf. Rm 3:27-28). Evidence, in the Reformed tradition, is not the same as proof-on-demand of salvation, but points to it (imperfectly, and including the past).

    Every sin committed by the Christian is lived impenitently in, until repentance that reaches it. Older Christians can often predict the sins of those they’ve known for a long time; As the gospels teach us about Peter, and the various kings of Judah in the OT, there is sin that is there for years, the same sin. Using a bygone image for this, some people think the Christian life is a strobe-light life, periods of darkness illuminated for a split second by repentances. But Christ said that it is in the light, that we are given to walk, John 8:12. Our walking places have been transferred to His kingdom. Being careful how we walk, includes knowing where we’ve been transferred to walk in, Col 1:11-13. Using the governing image of the Heidelberg, using gratitude. Gratitude is a steadier light; it is not a strobe.

    • Larry,

      1. I think one reason we sometimes have difficulty communicating is that we are using terms differently.

      2. I’ve yet to see a case where Edwards has helped us in Reformed theology.

      3. It may be that there is a distinction to be made between “proof” and “evidence” but we use them synonymously. Any proof is composed of evidence. If what you are trying to say is that no one can know things as God knows them, well, amen. Classically, in Reformed theology, we distinguish between archetypal theology (what God knows, the way he knows it) and ectypal theology (our finite, analogical knowledge). This is one area where Edwards’ turn to Platonism corrupted Reformed theology and another reason to marginalize him.

      3. The Reformed churches confess that evidence is good and necessary.

      86. Since then we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why should we do good works?

      Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and also that He be glorified through us; then also, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof; and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.

      Good works are fruit and evidence that we have indeed been regenerated, that we do really believe, and that we are being sanctified. We do not rest our assurance on that evidence but the Reformed (before Edwards) used to believe in universal (shared) sense experience so that they assumed that we can observe fruit and evidence and draw an inference from it.

      4. One of the great problems of the Lordship Salvation system (as with Piper’s doctrine of final salvation through works) is that neither understands or accepts or is satisfied with the Reformation way of speaking about fruit and evidence. Piper calls the Guilt, Grace, Gratitude system of the Heidelberg Catechism a “debtor’s ethic.” In its place he wants to substitute Edwards’ system. No thank you. MacArthur wants to substitute Richard Baxter for the Heidelberg Catechism. Again, no thanks. The answer to Zane Hodges’ antinomianism was never Baxter’s nomism.

      5. As to impenitence, you’ve imputed to that term stuff that doesn’t belong to it. It’s just shorthand for Heidelberg 87.

      87. Can they then not be saved who do not turn to God from their unthankful, impenitent life?

      By no means, for, as the Scripture says, no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like shall inherit the Kingdom of God.

      By impenitent we simply mean someone who shows no inclination to to repent or, who, when confronted with his sin denies refuses to repent. We don’t mean that anyone who has sin of which he is unaware or who has not perfectly repented of known sin is “impenitent.”

      Again, this gets back to the distinction between antecedent and consequent conditions. For the Christian, Christ has met the antecedent condition of justification and salvation, i.e., perfect obedience. We Christians seek to obey the consequent conditions of the covenant of grace not as though we are in a covenant of works (“do this and live”) but as those freely, graciously saved, as those united to Christ, and those indwelled by the Holy Spirit. We seek to obey God’s holy law out of gratitude. We seek daily to die to sin and to live to Christ.

      This is what the catechism goes on to say in questions 88-90.

      No, we don’t mean subsequent. We mean consequent. We’re not talking about a temporal order but a logical order. This is part of our doctrine of the application of redemption (ordo salutes. We’re talking about what is true of those who believe. We’re not talking about a new instrument of salvation—that’s the moralist (e.g., Piper) way. This is one of the great concerns about MacArthur’s “Lordship Salvation,” approach.

      Rather than being content with the divine promises and the third use of the law and all that Reformation stuff, he put the Christian back on a works footing in his attempt to refute Hodges and to get the Christian to take the Christian life seriously.

      As Mike Horton and others have noted, MacArthur & co come at this not from within the Reformation theology but from within an alien, essentially Wesleyan system.

      Yes, we’ve always taught the judgment of charity. Again, we didn’t need Edwards to teach us that.

      As a pastor I can say that Lordship Salvation certainly does tend to wreck assurance because it does not point the believer back to Christ and his finished work as the fundamental basis of his standing with God but by pointing the believer first of all back to himself and his performance. That is the surest way to wreck the assurance of a believer. I deal regularly with tender reeds and smoldering wicks who have spent a lifetime under the Lordship Salvation system and who who lack any assurance that Jesus loves them and approves of them and has justified them. They lack that assurance because they’ve been taught all their life to look at their own obedience as the basis for their assurance.

      The antinomians, on the other hand, have no place for good works as confirming evidence and the third use of the law as the norm of the Christian life.

      A pox on both the nomists AND the antinomians.

      We’re not talking about individual, self-appointed fruit inspectors here. The catechism assumes an ecclesiastical system of pastors and elders, a consistory (ministers and elders) shepherding a congregation. It assumes a Reformed system of church government and pastoral care. Our process doesn’t occur in 15 minutes. It occurs in something like 15 months. Our church discipline system is patient and deliberate.

      If you’re saying that the Reformed are not perfectionists, Amen! We are not. We imagine the Christian life to be a pilgrimage in the communion of the saints, sinning, confessing our sin, receiving the promise of forgiveness, reconciling, and pressing on toward the goal.

    • The Belgic Confession says it so well in Article 24 on Sanctification.

      Moreover, although we do good works, we do not base our salvation on them;
      for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and worthy of punishment.
      And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work so we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Saviour.

    • Thanks Angela Warner for a great excerpt from the Belgic Confession. It helps us all. Especially here!

      Dr Clark, lots to discuss in your points, responding only to one, more as you have interest for here.

      Here’s more on what I’m thinking these days, such as it is, about consequent conditions. An example of a consequent condition is a rule that we’re under as a logical consequence of the of the truth of T. As Christians, we are to walk by Spirit, because we live by the Spirit (Gal 5:25).

      However, a consequent condition doesn’t have to be a rule; it can be a benefit. If you are Christ’s, for example, you have the Spirit (Rm 8:9). Those who do not have the Spirit, are not Christ’s. It is a consequent condition, a condition that is consequent on being Christ’s, in His covenant, in Him. Under that premise, the conclusion is binding: if it’s a fact, or promise, that fact or promise is true. If it is a command, the command is necessary to follow

      But subsequent conditions look not at logical consequence, but observe the necessity of an ordering of things being there. It is not necessary for there to be logical force to the subsequence, not even necessarily causality of the second, by the first. Enough, just the ordering. For a trivial example, Dickinson’s “after great pain, a formal feeling comes.” Did the great pain cause it? Will it always come? Does it happen the other way around too? Hence the poem’s interest.

      For our example, in Lordship Salvation (LS for short), and in Piper’s conception of the Christian life, all the virtues come after faith, and the longer any are missing at the present moment, the less “likely” salvation came, because of the sequence violation: something missing, that should have come after.

      For a fuller explanation of the Piper version of sequential conditions, see his chapter “How Many Conditions are there?” in FG. (Spoiler: there are a lot!) For a sentence from MacArthur admirably showing this, we have from the 1994 TGATJ, p. 39, “any experience that lacks any of them [“repentance, faith, sanctification, yieldedness, obedience, and ultimately glorification”] cannot be the saving work of God.” (Notice the extreme generality of this condition.)

      • Larry,

        Calvin spoke of the “twofold grace of God,” i.e., justification and sanctification (and impliedly glorification). Olevianus spoke of the “double benefit of Christ,” to refer to the same complex of benefits.

        In that double grace or benefit there is a logical order. Justification leads to sanctification but both are graces of God. The order is a logical, not a temporal order.

        The sanctification that flows from justification is. It is a consequent benefit or gift. We might say it is a condition insofar as one is in a condition of having received the benefits of Christ but it’s not helpful to use the term condition in two senses at the same time in this discussion.

        To help clarify things I like to distinguish between is and through, which the Federal Visionists and Piper cannot do. They, like the New Perspective folk, turn is into through. As Angela noted, however, in the Belgic Confession (art 24) the Reformed churches recognize the (super)natural outcome of the saving grace of God: good trees produce good fruit. Light/fire produces heat. These things, in the nature of the case, necessarily come.

        The abiding validity of the law is not in order to produce fruit. That is the Spirit’s work. The abiding validity of the moral law is to order the new Christian life graciously produced by the Spirit.

        It’s really not helpful to speak in chronological terms (e.g., “subsequent”). What matters to the Reformed is the logical order. It is the regenerated who produce fruit. That fruit does not save them but it does give evidence of the work of grace.

        You seem resistant to the Reformed doctrine of the third use of the law. Is that so or am I misunderstanding you?

        Whatever the case, it is the heartfelt conviction of the Heidelblog that the classic Reformed theology, piety, and practice summarized in the Reformed confessions is the Christian faith. I want readers to be clear on that. I don’t want to confuse them.

  14. Larry: I would be very anxious about my Christian walk if sanctification was *my* work. However, it is as much the Lord’s work as justification and glorification. The obsession with one’s Christian works is due at least in part to an unhealthy focus on oneself. I don’t worry about whether I am regenerate or whether anyone else is. As for myself: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that Day.” (1 Tim 1:12). As for others, I accept their professions unless there is just no evidence to support it. Even in that case, I should treat them with graciousness as I would a believer. The red line is whether they seek Church leadership.

  15. I love Q. 17 H.C.
    Why must He in one person be also very God?
    . . . SUSTAIN in his human nature the burden of God’s wrath; and might OBTAIN for, and RESTORE to us, righteousness and life.
    Isa. 53.8; 1 Pet 3.18; Acts 2.24; Jer. 23.6; 1John 1.2; 2 Tim. 1.10; Jn. 6:51

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