October 27, 2020

Passive or Passionate?: Francis Chan and the God of the Gospel Offer

youth2431.JPGUPDATE: Kiwi and an Emu has some thoughts.

UPDATE II: Frank Turk has some outstanding thoughts on this topic, plus a great Spurgeon quote. This is a dialog that will be very helpful to many SBC leaders wondering if Calvinism is the anti-missions theology they’ve been told it is. UPDATE III: Frank keeps it up at his blog. And continues with one final installment.

UPDATE IV: Read the comment thread.

UPDATE V: Gene Bridges hits a home run. Arminians aren’t your problem in evangelism. There’s some hyper-Calvinism around here, too.

[This post begins and ends with the assumption that you will take the time to watch Francis Chan’s video presentation of the gospel at Just Stop and Think.com. Invest the time to view the video (15 minutes) and/or read the gospel presentation at the web site.]

“But there is GOOD NEWS—GOD LOVES YOU, IN FACT HE IS CRAZY ABOUT YOU AND HAS DONE SOMETHING SO THAT YOU WON’T HAVE TO GO TO HELL. He has provided the way to be declared not guilty. This is why Jesus came….To know Jesus Christ personally and have your sins forgiven, you must acknowledge that you are a sinner separated from God and that your only hope is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came and died for your sins. To stop here, however, would be to stop short of salvation…There are two things you must now do to enter into a relationship with the God from whom you have been separated: 1) Repent….You see, there are some things only God can do and some things only you can do. Only God can remove your sins and give you the gift of eternal life, but only you can turn from your sins and receive Jesus as your Savior…..2) Believe in Jesus Christ and Receive Him Into Your Life.” Having seen the enormity of your sin and having decided to turn from it, you then must believe in and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Becoming a Christian, however, is far more than following a creed or trying to live by certain standards. Jesus said that you must be “born again,” or more literally, “born from above” (John 3:3). This spiritual rebirth happens when we personally believe in Jesus Christ, receive him by inviting him into our lives, and turn from our sins. In other words, we ask Jesus to come and take residence in our lives, making the changes he deems necessary. A person must take this all-important step in order to become a child of God. Notice that this offer is yours for the asking, and it is free. You don’t have to work for it, trying to clean up your life before you make this life-changing decision. The Bible says: “The free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23)…To hear God calling us, we must know how he speaks. One way in which God speaks to us is described in the Bible as a “still, small voice.” This could be described in another way as that tug you may have felt on your heart from the Holy Spirit showing you your need for Jesus. He may even be speaking to you right now! It is at that point that you must “open the door.” Only you can do that. Jesus will not force his way in.- Francis Chan, “Just Stop and Think”

This cross is not about you, but about God.

God does not passionately love you.

God has decided your eternal destiny, and no decision on your part affects that decision.

We must not make God out to be the passive Lover of our souls.

Somewhere along the way, those of us who communicate the gospel to others are confronted with some decisions regarding what we will say and how we’ll say it. If you have been influenced by reformed theology to any extent, these choices will be unavoidable, particularly as you become aware that many Calvinists believe the gospel is commonly shared in a way that is problematic.

If you are an evangelical of some kind, and if you are involved in evangelism or preaching, you are going to have to decide how you are going to make “the offer” of the Gospel. “The Offer” is the offer of salvation by grace, through faith, by Christ. When you evangelize, you are offering the message of Christ’s salvation as a gift to those who hear and believe.

For example, Paul said we are God’s ambassadors and we make God’s offer of reconciliation to the world.

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The most fundamentally sound summary of the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Is John 3:16 an offer of salvation? Is it the story of God’s love? Is this a verse about an active, pursuing love ? Does it mean God is, in some sense, awaiting your response? Or is this the story of your already determined eternal destiny, and no response from you does anything except reveal God’s predetermined choice of where you’ll spend eternity?

Once you start down this road, a lot of questions will follow you.

Perhaps there’s not an “offer” at all. Maybe there’s just Christ, and you believe in him, trust him, or not. In other words, “the offer” implies that something is incomplete, and salvation in Jesus is not incomplete. It’s a totally finished work of God done entirely for us.

We not only have to articulate the “offer,” we must explain faith, the human response to that offer. Some will say that faith in what God has done for us isn’t ever an offer to conduct a transaction for us if we do something. Faith is believing that God has done everything for those who are the elect.

Of course, that faith response doesn’t do anything but believe in what has already been done, so faith isn’t a necessary part of salvation in the sense of completing an incomplete offer. Faith is necessary in one way–it’s always present in those saved by Christ–but it’s not necessary in any way that makes salvation complete.

If you haven’t heard this or similar ways of discussing faith and salvation, you will. And you will need to make up your mind about how you are going to present the Gospel.

Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, has made that decision. A graduate of two Macarthur schools, an enthusiastic student of John Piper and recent speaker at Louie Giglio’s Passion ’07, Chan has made a 15-minute Gospel presentation called “Just Stop and Think.” You need to watch it, and you need to listen to how Chan presents the Gospel.

In particular, you need to listen to the language and the theology Chan uses. According to some reformed critics, it’s commendable for zeal, but Biblically way off base and an example of “the problem” in evangelicalism.

Chan’s presentation has much in common with evangelism teachers like Ray Comfort and Will Metzger. Chan talks about the wonder of creation. He uses the Ten Commandments to explain our relationship to God, our sin, and the certainty of judgment. He unapologetically says that God loves us, that God passionately loves the world, that Christ died for you, and that God is inviting you to say “Yes!” to a relationship of repentance, faith and God-glorifying obedience.

In the process, Chan says that the cross was the way a God of love saved sinners. He says that God passionately loves and pursues sinful people. He believes that sinners must respond and he urges them to do so in intense, emotional terms. He says that God wants the viewer, right now, as they watch the film, to pray a prayer of faith and surrender, and then begin living out what it means to appreciate a God who sends his Son to love, die for and save undeserving sinners.

Chan, like a lot of young pastors who are influenced deeply by John Piper, isn’t frightened by the language of traditional evangelical invitations, and especially isn’t afraid of the language of passionate, pursuing love. I can appreciate that, because in my encounters with Calvinism as a pastor and a preacher, this was a never-ending controversy: What could you say to unbelievers, and how would you say it?

Here are some very familiar sample comments and conversations, probably similar to conversations many of you have already had if you’ve been in reformed circles. They are typical of the reactions of some critics to language like Francis Chan’s:

“Jesus died for you.” Better not say that, because Jesus only died for the elect. You will confuse people.

“God passionately loves you.” Wrong. God is actually very angry with you, and people don’t need to hear about the love of God when the Bible says God is angry with the wicked every day. They need to hear about God’s wrath and anger. Don’t tell unbelievers that God loves them in their rebellion.

“God doesn’t want you to go to hell.” You don’t know that. According to Romans 9, God does want some people to go to hell. That’s why they go there. That we all don’t go there when we all should is the good news.

“Right now, God is inviting you to give your life to Jesus.” That makes it sound like God is passive and helpless, waiting on sinners. God doesn’t do that. He regenerates sinners and they believe on him.

“Give your heart and your life to Christ now. Don’t wait until tomorrow.” This is rather manipulative and emotional. You have nothing to give to God. You belong to him anyway.

“Pastor, your invitation today asked people to make a decision for Christ, and the Bible never says that. The Bible tells people to believe. Making a decision is something we do, and we do nothing in our salvation. You need to be Biblical in what you tell people to do.” I heard this a lot when I was a pastor, and I gave a very modest invitation.

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic here. I’m against the public invitation and have three essays on this site kicking it. I’m aware of the problems of non-Biblical language in evangelism and have written on that. I’m aware that romanticism and emotional manipulation are cultural idols that Biblical Christians can’t ignore or treat as neutral. I’ve written an entire essay on the problems with romanticism in worship music.

Many evangelical Calvinists have been able to use evangelistic language such as Chan’s without gagging or choking. Spurgeon was a master of direct, evangelistic invitations. Many of the Puritans were as well, in ways that would shock some of their contemporary promoters. D. James Kennedy is a Calvinist. Certainly John Piper, as serious a Calvinist as exists in evangelicalism, can use the language of passionate intensity in evangelism.

Notice Piper’s language in his presentation of the Gospel called “Quest For Joy.”

Do you desire the kind of gladness that comes from being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus? If so, then God is at work in your life.

What should you do?

Turn from the deceitful promises of sin. Call upon Jesus to save you from the guilt and punishment and bondage. “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Start banking your hope on all that God is for you in Jesus. Break the power of sin’s promises by faith in the superior satisfaction of God’s promises. Begin reading the Bible to find his precious and very great promises, which can set you free (2 Peter 1:3-4). Find a Bible-believing church and begin to worship and grow together with other people who treasure Christ above all things (Philippians 3:7).
The best news in the world is that there is no necessary conflict between our happiness and God’s holiness. Being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus magnifies him as a great Treasure.

Now it is clear to anyone who reads this that Piper is a careful Calvinist. He avoids things that would violate his reformed faith, such as implying Christ died for all persons or that faith precedes regeneration. At the same time, he commands sinners to repent, turn, call, start banking, have faith, obey and so on. He explicitly tells his hearers to find a desire to submit to Christ and to follow it. In no way do these commands imply that God is passive or that the sinner is completing salvation by his/her response.

This is solid, evangelical evangelism that one would have heard from Wesley or Whitefield.

But there is also a puzzle. Piper does demonstrates the reluctance of some Calvinists to speak of the love of God in personal terms. Nowhere in “Quest for Joy” does it say that God loves sinners or that God loves you.

Listen to Piper in point 5.

5) God sent his only son Jesus to provide eternal life and joy

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15)
The good news is that Christ died for sinners like us. And he rose physically from the dead to validate the saving power of his death and to open the gates of eternal life and joy (1 Corinthians 15:20). This means God can acquit guilty sinners and still be just (Romans 3:25-26). “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Coming home to God is where all deep and lasting satisfaction is found.

There are 326 verses in the ESV New Testament that use some form of the English word “love.” Most of them refer to our love for God or for one another. But a substantial number refer to God’s love for people and individuals.

In John’s Gospel, God loves the world. Jesus loves Lazarus, Mary, Martha, the disciples, the church and John himself. A typical Johanine use of love would be something like this in John 15: 6 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. From Jesus, to all those he met and ministered to, to those who believe.

We need to decide, did Jesus love Lazarus? The woman at the well? The woman caught in adultery? Did he love Pilate? Did he love the men he prayed to forgive at his crucifixion? Did Jesus command love for enemies but not love his enemies?

Can we talk about God’s love for the person in front of us? The person we are having coffee with and talking to about the claims of Christ on his/her life? Does God love them in the present? Is the death of Christ “for” them in the present? Is there a response on their part?

These are crucial questions, because Romans 5 says:

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Does the “us” in this passage–a limited group in some senses, but an unlimited group in others–mean that we cannot say to an ungodly world that God showed his love for each one of them by Christ’s life and death? No one can argue that New Testament language doesn’t eventually narrow down to an “us” that are believers only, but is the language of the coming of Christ for the world, the death of Christ for the ungodly world and “the offer” of salvation to the whole world appropriate for evangelism to every person or not?

This is not about buying the worst of evangelical language. It’s not about saying Chan’s presentation couldn’t be improved or Piper’s improved as well. (See the “Two Ways to Live” presentation.) It’s not denying the legitimate criticisms of many Calvinists. I’ve made many of these same criticisms. I’m not buying all that revivalism has done or taught. I’ve seen the results up close. Language does matter.

Ultimately, it is about whether you can look at the children that you see at the playground tomorrow and can say to them all, “God loves you and gave his only son Jesus so you can know and enjoy His love forever.” Can we say to all the people we meet this year, “Jesus passionately loves you?” Can we invite all people–not just all kinds of people–to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ because he loves them and he died to save them? Can missionaries go anywhere and say to everyone, “God loves you passionately and Christ died for you?”

The critics of Chan’s language say that we cannot portray God as a “passive Lover of our souls.” This is an odd phrase. The love of God in the Bible is not passive. It is active and pursuing in both testaments. But some reformed critics seem to be saying that unless God does everything, then he is passive.

As a classroom teacher, I do many things for my students, but I do not do everything for them. They make a response to my teaching. I would find it odd if someone said that giving my students the opportunity to respond means that I am “passive.” Is it possible to believe in depravity and regeneration and not condemn Chan’s gospel presentation as presenting a “passive” God?

Is it possible that in seeking to give God credit for all of salvation–as we must in all ways that pertain to the essence of what salvation means–some make the mistake of distorting obvious Biblical aspects of God’s genuine, bona fide invitation and offer? In saying that the cross is not about us, but about God alone, are we going too far in the way the New Testament presents the “offer?” It seems that the critics are attempting to theologically correct Biblical language and imagery so that we are always describing what was done for us and never offering a real invitation where our response is crucial.

I’m firmly of the belief that we have to find a way to be faithful to the Gospel and say exactly those things to the world that God gives us to reach and influence, whether it be a world of Muslims or a world of three co-workers.

The Bible portrays God’s love as creator, father, husband, mother, judge, redeemer, and many other ways. It uses the language of law, business, marriage and intimate sexuality. It tells stories and uses illustrations of marriage, families, courts, farms and judgment. The Bible is diverse and exhaustive in its language explaining the Good News.

The most basic Biblical words are Jesus’ first words: Repent. Believe. Follow. They are words of recognition of what is, and of a faith response to what must be. With due respect to Dr. Piper, “Delight yourself in the Lord,” is a good command, but it cannot replace the Bible’s call to repent, believe and follow.

And if our theology has brought us to the point that we are careful to not speak too extravagantly about the love of God, something is seriously wrong. If we can read the Prodigal Son or the woman at the well and not see the passionate Lover of our souls, we’ve simply gone too deeply into our own theological mazes.

At that point, whatever we’re defending simply doesn’t matter anymore. When we can no longer articulate an offer of salvation, we’ve lost what it means to evangelize.

I think this is a very important issue to many younger evangelicals. If “Just Stop and Think” is the wrong Gospel, then we need to have a much longer conversation.


  1. Rachel Robinson says

    Ok, I admit to being a little bit of a Calvinist myself. So When I am in Asia on assignment I live as boldly as possible for Christ. And some people are drawn to me and ask questions and those are the ones I tell about Christs love. If the situation presents I show ” the Jesus Video” if not I just talk about who Jesus is and why I follow Jesus.I ask if they believe what I have told them and I ask If they want Jesus to be their God if they reply yes I explain that they can have no other Gods if they follow Jesus….. I make a effort to hook them up with local believers if there are any! I try to get them Bibles. one lady joined me jogging every morning after she saw me going by for a few days and I sent the video home with her and we talked about it the next day and she prayed while we ran! actually it was not as simple as that I asked her about 1 mile out if she wanted Jesus to be her God and she said she needed to think about it and at five miles she turned to me and said she had Decided that she wanted Jesus as her God!!

  2. Larry - KY says

    The biggest problem new age Calvinist have with the Gospel is based upon a false idea that one will preach a man into hell by simply giving the Gospel. To preach the Gospel is simply to report the news of Christ crucified “for you”. Strict Calvinist get into a bundle and eventually communicate a non-gospel gospel that is something like, “I have good news for some of you” or a “I have good news if you DO certain things”. If one doesn’t keep the Cross center to their theology faith and repentance are almost always messed up, even in Piper’s efforts. One is always left with wondering that there is something one must DO in order to garner this so called free offer. IT’s not an offer it simply is what is, Good News. What they fail to see is that faith comes packaged IN the Gospel itself. None of us are to try to pick out ‘who the elect are’ or ‘who the regenerate are’ or ‘constitute by our clunky ways the regenerate church’. Because we cannot read hearts, evidences of faith are fickled and subjective at best, and Jesus’ made it clear that we are not to attempt this Gnostic high flying spirited thing. Because we cannot. But we insist on these clunky frankensteinish ways of making sure a believer is a believer. Preach the Law and Gospel in its full strength and TRUST that God’s word will do as He said it would do.

    Every single time, and Piper’s presentation shows it, we try to peep up into heaven and be like God to detect a convert we always end up changing the Gospel to another gospel subtle as it may seem. If you just “offer” the Gospel, as oppose to give it, you without a doubt begin to invent a price tag the hearer must DO in order to have eternal life. And we see it when repentance, contra Luther, begins to take on the flavor and color of an “active” thing I DO, rather than a passive GIFT given to me, just like faith. Faith is GIVEN IN the Gospel. When we repent we are repenting not of gross sins so as to ‘purchase’ the Gospel, but turning away from saving ourselves. Repentance is a “stop trying to save and justifying yourself”, trust, receive Christ, BE baptized, not DO baptism, not DO repentance, not DO faith. Luther had it right; when you are baptized what did you do except receive the gift of God. Hold out your beggars bag and receive.

    If folks, even new Calvinist, would preach a KILLING Law rather than just a harsher law you maybe able to do, like active repentance, then the hunger for the Gospel would be very natural. Nobody is going to ask, “Brothers what shall we do”, as long as your telling them something they CAN DO, like repent and believe. But you have to see what the Law is and what the Gospel is, what faith really is, what repentance REALLY is and what sin REALLY is. If you see sin as mostly gross sins and doings and not INWARD turning even unto doing the most wonderous of good things, then you’ll blow it.

    In short: There is NO Gospel being given if it is not GIVEN, not offered, but GIVEN. The Apostles NEVER OFFERED the Gospel, they PROCLAIMED IT as NEWS! Preachers today, even of so called reformed ilk don’t proclaim news, they make offers like infomercials. YOU CANNOT PREACH A MAN INTO HELL WITH THE REAL GOSPEL.

    You don’t SEEK God, HE seeks you. And HE does it in His Gospel and the Sacraments as Gospel. And God doesn’t give himself halfway, there is no “alarmed” sinner category. There are believers and unbelievers. When we create these non-biblical categories, we again ALTER the Gospel to another gospel. Faith comes WITH the Gospel, how this happens is NOT for us to understand. It’s the difference in doing what your told to do, proclaim news, AS IS, and trying to figure out why what your told to do works and selling something else when the One Who told you quite frankly didn’t tell you because that’s the way HE wanted it.

    At the end of the day the difference between an arminian who makes an offer for a decision and a calvanist who makes an offer for some kind of quasi-acquisition of Christ, that perhaps cost a bit more than a simple decision, is absolutely nothing. The key to unlocking the two’s similarity is that both are selling a gospel to you, one just cost more law dollars, something you must do, than the other. That’s entirely different than a killing Law that crushes the rock into pieces and an utterly costless free Gospel.

    Blessings in Christ alone,

    Larry KY

  3. Michael, I so appreciate the way you’ve handled this topic. You have reached for a balance here that I believe is not only possible, but absolutely necessary.

    Is it possible that in seeking to give God credit for all of salvation…some make the mistake of distorting obvious Biblical aspects of God’s genuine, bona fide invitation and offer?

    Yes, it is possible. And I fear that it happens way too often.

    And if our theology has brought us to the point that we are careful to not speak too extravagantly about the love of God, something is seriously wrong.

    Bingo! That sentence alone was worth the price of admission! 🙂

    And Rachel’s testimony above touched my heart, too. Thanks for sharing that, Rachel!

  4. I am a confirmed Calvinist. Yet, what you’ve said here hits home, and it’s pretty uncomfortable. I’ve been TR, and I regret that. Now, when asked, I tell people that I’m Christian before I’m anything else, theologically or otherwise. This past week, I had a young woman tell me of a conversation she had last May with someone she was dating over Calvinism. She’s Free Methodist, and so she doesn’t agree with many Calvinist ideas. The guy she was dating decided it was more important to debate the finer points of doctrine with her than to get to know HER. He apparently was attracted to her, but he was in love with his own knowledge of doctrinal truth. What was weird in having her tell me this was that I recognized myself in hearing her tell her story about this guy. That scared me. It scared me because I’m attracted to her. Can I believe what I believe, yet express it without being a bully? Can I know what’s true “and” be loving at the same time? Can I hold my doctrinal certainties loosely? Anyway, this is my own rant. So I’ll stop here. But there does seem to be a lurking fear of God’s overly-generous love in Calvinist circles. And that’s really scary.

  5. Larry - KY says

    I heard it best stated this way once:

    It’s neither free will nor election, but still justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

    This speaks to the communication and revelation given us TODAY, not in eternity.

    The Gospel is not an “offer” but a “giving”. To even categorize it as an offer is to miss it entirely. It’s like an ever flowing water fall of life giving water that flows down into the mouth of a dead body to give it life. Now a spiritually dead soul with a living mind and body is a little different than a corpse, but the analogy can help us see. The water of life is openly flowing but the old man, the worker and doer, will shut his mouth and try to get at the living water in other ways that are shear folly. He will remove his open mouth from the water being felled upon him and climb on top and try to get the water some other way by some effort of his own. He will try to lap at it from the sky by rededicating or rebaptizing or praying the prayer over and over again or following the instructions of many to some how “work faith within themselves”. All along he’s dying of dehydration or is dead of it already. Finally, he gives up falls back to the ground, exhausted of the fruitless working, underneath the falling free water of life and it falls on him. It finally dons on him as life begins to enter his mouth via the free falling water upon him, “hey, this is the gift of God.” And so he begins to drink deeply at this free falling Gospel and live. He finally sees that true life and true worship of God is to receive, not to engender from within and lift heavenward. He finally sees that the water of life is pouring out upon him freely, abundantly falling FROM heaven and he need not, yea dare not attempt to ascend into heaven for it or to the depths for it – it is near to him FROM God. This is the Gospel.

    The problem with the idea of “offering” the Gospel as opposed to “giving” it is an “offer” requires that we somehow “close the deal” by “getting” some purchase money from the buyer of the offer we make. That’s very different than giving life freely.


    Larry KY

  6. I-Monk, good analysis.

    It makes me sad to see Christians, who should know the most about God’s abundant love and mercy, fret over whether they should offer (or proclaim, if you like), God’s love to the world. And all because of theological positions that are, at best, speculations on the revealed word of God. Calvinism, Arminianism and all the other isms are not perfectly reliable explanations of God’s ways and word. They are human attempts to systematize and explain God’s mysteries. As such, however noble they might be, they are imperfect and are doomed to be lacking in one way or another. So, it is not wise for people to cling too closely to a theological system, especially to the point of delimiting or qualifying those things that God has made clear about himself (that he loves his creation, that he is love, and that he is slow to anger and quick to show compassion).

    It seems as though many Calvinists (and some of their opponents) force themselves into difficult and needless theological corners simply by attempting to fit God’s wonderous and eternal (outside of time) ways, thoughts and actions into the constraints of human conceptions and temporal sequences. “If God does not choose some, then he must not love them, or he must love them less, or …” Or, “first comes God’s grace, then comes our faith …”

    I heard one pastor say it’s not free will versus election. It’s both, and it’s a mystery. (This isn’t written to be contrary to what Larry KY mentioned above; I think it’s just a different wording of the same thing) Even Calvin, as I understand his doctrines of irresistible grace and personal responsibility for damnation, sought to include both in his theology.

    Rather than being die-hards for any theological summa, Christians do best when they limit themselves to what is clearly revealed about God and his ways, leaving the mysteries and paradoxes of salvation unresolved (because God saw fit not to resolve them for us). This doesn’t mean Christians are best when they are unthinking, or that they should not try to be precise in their theology. It only means that Christians look silly when they argue with certainty over things that they only see in a glass darkly. It also means that Christians should be more honest about what they don’t know. Being consistently honest about what is unclear to us in God’s economy results in a much more consistent theology that requires much less hedging, dodging and fretting, one that also helps to avoid arrogance.

    So, what are some clear points in God’s revelation? God’s abundant and impartial love for all of his creation is clear. His love for sinners is clear. It’s clear in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s clear in his word, which shows us that a slight motion of repentance mitigates God’s wrath and is met with God’s disproportionate mercies. The Calvinist, Arminian and other explanations for how this process takes place — how faith and repentance come to us (we know they come from God; every good thing comes from God), the limits of God’s election (we know God elects, but we don’t know how or why or much else about it), and in what sequence come God’s sovereign choice and man’s limited choice — are almost inconsequential.

    What matters more is that sinners can hear the word of God, hear God’s offer of salvation (or his effective call, if you like) to repent and follow Christ, and they can, in fact, repent and follow Christ. What matters is that we know that God does not desire that anyone should perish, but that many are perishing. We know that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, that we cannot boast. We know this, because it is revealed to us, but we don’t know much about how this is, because much is not revealed to us.

    God’s love is evident in the fact that we just took another breath.

    And what else is clear in God’s word? How about that his people are commanded to proclaim (or offer, if you like) the good news of Christ to all people indiscriminately? When we go and proclaim and love, we are God’s instruments of grace in creation. Let’s let our all-powerful God take care of the details.


  7. greg in Oregon says

    I would venture to say that Jesus’ presentations of the gospel in John and the apostles’ presentations in Acts can be considered fairly biblical. Yet by the standards of many Calvinists, they would be too overtly invitational and place too much emphasis on human response. Run them through all the theoloical machinations you wish, but the gospel presentations in Acts 2, 3, 13, 16, and 17 are clearly invitational. Is Scripture an inadequate guide for making a gospel presentation? Were the apostles misguided in the words they chose to present the gospel? Or are we placing our systematized theology over the plain teaching of Scripture?

  8. Larry - KY says

    “…clearly invitational…”

    I would use the same scriptures and say they are not invitational at all but proclamation and giving IN the proclamation. You must realize that faith comes IN the Gospel Word, the Spirit is never divorced from the Word and at that the Word of Christ and Him crucified. There is no invitation of the Word that awaits a preceeding state to be sought, the Word brings with it the gift it offers and it gives the faith it requires. It’s all from the Word, the Gospel Word. “Believe and be baptized” is not invitation, it is “here RECEIVE” and that proclamation brings the gift of faith with it, not apart from it. Again the Spirit is with the Word.

    Every time a man asks, “what must I do…” the answer is never “here do this”…”do repentance”. The call of repentance is not “do repentance” it is “stop doing and receive the Gospel”. In word it is a command being shouted, “OLD MAN DIE, NEW MAN COME FORTH”. It, the Gospel, is literally, “let there be light”, as Paul says in Romans. They are all the same way of GIVING the gifts of God, not inviting an action. That’s the sense of the language and the proclamation behind them.

    E.g. the Phillipian jailor in Acts is terrified by the earthquake, a threat of death and therefore an action of the Law upon his conscience. He asks Paul, “what must I do…” Paul replies, “repent…”. Right here is the difference between HEARING more Law or Gospel. Many read this and hear via the old man, “do repentance” the same way they render the Prodigal’s first turning around which was a farce, his real repentance was AFTER the father cloaked him (like baptism) and gave him the ring. The richness of God’s grace IS THAT RICH. Yet Jesus in similar parables says repentance is this, “the good shepherd going out for the lost sheep, the woman seeking the coin”, neither of which can “move toward” God (active false repentance), the shepherd and woman seek that which cannot do a thing. What has to be realized is that the Jailor is merely repeating what he knows religiously, he is in a society that worships many gods and they get from their gods by doing. He wants to be saved from death so naturally he asks, “what must I do…” the crux of ALL fallen religion. Is Paul saying in essence, “HERE DO THIS repent” as some hear the passage, the Law, the Old Man’s ears? No, not in the least, Paul is saying, “STOP DOING and trust Jesus and BE baptized” Biblical Repentance = stop doing/stop trying/stop trying to repent/stop trying to try to stop trying and RECEIVE the GIFT OF GOD. The new man hears Gospel, utterly receiving of the Gift. Yet the same passage can be heard two ways. Not mysticism, but Law Vs. Gospel, the old man can make a law out of anything, even a Gospel passage. This is the depth of the severity of the fallen man, he must literally die altogether and the Gospel kills his religious ‘doing’ by only being able to be received and had NO OTHER way.

    Thus, it is all proclamation and absolute GIVING, no invitation and these passages among numerous others prove it.

    Larry KY

  9. Thanks for this post. There is a lot to chew on here. I am a Calvinist, yet I struggle with some of these questions (having OCD with them doesn’t help). We must seriously ask ourselves these questions -all of us.

    I find it helpful to read a lot of the early Calvinists and Reformers for perhaps a bit more “balance,” not that I don’t love some of the more modern ones. I was just reading about the Marrow Men today, for example

    I have asked myself some of these same questions. Our pastor spoke on God’s love this past Sunday, and I was pleased that he did not focus solely on the electing love of God, for it seems there are many facets to this gem.

    To Larry: I agree with the Law/Gospel distinction stuff, especially about repentance, but technically Paul told the jailer “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.” 🙂 hehe Just giving you a hard time.

  10. Justin Buzzard says

    Good treatment of this central, hotly debated, and tediously intricate topic of how to faithfully/biblically preach the gospel of a God who’s appeased his wrath towards sinners through the blood of his Son.
    Spurgeon would nuance some phrases a bit differently, but he’d give Chan a high five for that message.

  11. Larry, please describe in more detail the difference between a Gospel “offered” and a Gospel “given.” I assume the difference is something along the lines of an offer can be accepted or rejected and the gift is, in a manner of speaking, implanted in the recipient and, therefore, comes automatically received.

    Somehow, though, not every Gospel hearer (in the purely practical and physical sense of hearing) is a Gospel receiver. I suppose that such a nonreceiver is not really considered a hearer. The Gospel gift has not been given to him or her, would you say?

    I would contend that nothing you have said precludes the Gospel proclamation from also being an invitation or an offer. When you say that “the Word brings with it the gift it offers and gives the faith it requires,” you have just described an offer, even if it is an offer that is not refused. You even use the word “offer.” It’s an offer that is received by those who hear spiritually and is rejected by those who do not hear spiritually, whose hearts remain hard.

    From the perspective of God and the theologian, everything might be exactly as you have described it. However, from the perspective of a believer with limited knowledge proclaiming the Gospel to an (assumed) nonbeliever, even the most straightforward proclamation plays out like an offer and an invitation that can be accepted or rejected. The proclamations of the apostles were accepted by some and rejected by others. I’m talking about perspectives and practical application here, not about the mysteries of God’s work in human hearts.

    With this in mind, there is no need to pounce on the concepts of an invitation or an offer as such. Neither concept forces one to adhere to a Gospel of “doing.” A Gospel that is not acquired but is simply received, however, automatically leads to a manifestation of “doing.” With this being so, not every mention of “do this” or even “please, do this” is automatically contrary to the Gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.


  12. Michael,

    Great, balanced post. Been pondering this one me-self.

    The great thing about being reformed is that you are assured of the following;
    a. The depth of your sin assures you of your own inadequacy for ANY fruit in ministry without Christ’s intervention and the Spirit’s power;
    b. Your need for grace from others, as well as God, for everything you do;
    c. The power of the gospel is in no way contingent upon your power as a rhetorician, but on God’s will;
    d. Your ability to proclaim the gospel contextually, biblically and faithfully is a chimera, but for the grace of God;
    e. Despite these first four, our poor, halting, sin-soaked, reputation-lusting, pride-and-fear mingled attempts at evangelism will bear fruit because of the stupendous, ridiculous, absurdly infinite grace of God who before the foundation of the earth decided to joyfully use the mess that I just called my best evangelistic presentation.

    So whatver mistakes Mr Chan may have made, reformed types like me can rest assured that, despite those, our reformed theology absolutely assures us that God will use such a presentation for His glory. Most of us reformed types, it should be addded, got saved through similarly ‘sloppy’ evangelistic presentations by non- reformed evangelical preachers that were convinced that Jesus loved us – and they were right. Somehow God worked around the faults of them non-reformed, gospel-preaching, Jesus-exalting sinners.

    Would I make that video differently? Sure- and in the process I would have made it much more poorly. Were there a few sentences I might tweak? Yes. Would I use it to teach systematics of soteriology? Not a chance. Will I show that video to an unsaved person for whom it would be helpful? In a heartbeat. Because babes should be fed milk, not meat.

    We forget the difference between God’s certain, holy, infinite, comprehensive knowledge of people and our lack of same, and the value of showing dignity to people in whatever stage of understanding of the gospel they hold.

    Paul , I am pretty sure, did not. It is true that he wrote Romans and told the (fairly mature) believers there about how people really were, ontologically, before God: rebels, non-seekers, wicked. Yet while in Athens he told pagan Greek people, skeptics and idolaters, that he noticed they were very religious and worshiped an unkown God, whose name he would now reveal to them. Their subjective sense of the world as they observed it – their phenomenologcal perception – was wrong. But Paul never corrected them in Acts 17 on that issue. He never explained ot them that in fact, the REAL truth was that they were miserable rebels and subject to the wrath of God. He did not deny it, but He did not emphasize it. Hmmm…

    So what changed in Paul between the writing of Romans and the meeting on Mars Hill? The normative, ontological truth that God alone is righteous, and we are rebels? The existential truth that we, each and every one of us, need to repent and believe? Neither.

    Rather, the situational truth that these Greek people saw themselves as spiritual seekers for truth, and that their self-understanding, though flawed from God’s perspective, was a good place to begin to bring them to the Cross. Read Acts 17 carefully. Paul metntions that God made people that they might seek God: Ah, here – let me get the verses for you:

    Acts 17: 26 – 31
    6 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ 29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

    Paul, I think, accepted that the journey to faith is filled, in the words of Tim Keler, with several mini-conversions: to the truth of right and wrong, to the truth of your sinfulness, to the truth of the Bible; to the truth of God’s law’s demands, to the truth of our need for grace and forgiveness, to the truth of our inability to save ourselves. At any given point, the sinner as seen by the view of God, is in need of all of those conversions before they can really convert to Christ. But seen from the vantage point of the sinner, these are all ‘conversions’ that happen in time, often sequentially, and not all at at once.

    This did not seem to bother Paul, though it bothers many of my reformed brethren. For some reason there is a suspicion that if you do not say EVERYTHING about salvation in your presentation, you have said NOTHING OF VALUE, and possibly have said something dangerous and corrosive of the faith. But the sermons in the book of Acts are all guilty of this: they all leave stuff out, they all emphasize certain things but hardly mention others – in fact, many of them would fail the preaching labs I took in seminary! But is that not the point? God used them anyway, in His sovereign grace, ar more powerfully than any of my sermons have ever been used.

    So I am here to say that, though I do not think God is on his knees beging us to accept him – that image probably makes even my Arminian brethren a little queasy at times – I do think that by and large Mr Chan is to be applauded for making an excellent and captivating attempt at a ROmans Road presentation.

    And since, to my recollection, the actual Romans Road presentation does not use any veres past chapter 8, why are we faulting Chan for not including the doctrines mentioined in chapter 9? Did Paul advocate giving meat to babes? I don’t think so. You wait for babes to be able to handle the meat, and then you give it to them. We don’t fault Gerber for not putting Outback- style steaks on the baby formula shelves;, why flog Chan for not putting tulips in his video?

    If Calvinism is right, and I think it is, then we ought to trust enough in God as the saver of our souls to allow a little more grace into our CSI-level scrubbing of every evangelistic presentation. Mr Chan, we who are about to evangelize salute you.

    God bless, Michael.

  13. Makes my head hurt….

    Ok, I’m not trying to sound as grizzled as Robert Duval in Lonesome Dove, but the whole “theological systems are attempts to fit the wondrous works of God into explainable ways that will never contain all truths contained therein” is ridiculous. That is like saying 2+2 can never contain the full beauty of 4. Are we saying that God’s is illogical and His truths are not coherent? Now we may not understand “why” God would save us, but if we cannot understand “how” He saved us, we are damned. If we cannot make succinct, accurate statements of God’s truths with non-contradictory human language we should stop speaking altogether because it is a limit that continues to trend towards complete skepticism.

    Second, I’m an unashamed 7 point Calvinist who believes one can say, “God loves you” to any person on the face of the planet. I believe you can say “Jesus died for you” to any person on the planet. Now, doesn’t that violate “Limited Atonement?” No…I’m not saying Jesus atoned for all people, but Jesus death was not only an atonement. It was a display of justice, mercy, wrath, love, etc etc etc. You can quote verses such as Ezekiel 33:11 where God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked right beside Romans 9 where it is said that He fits objects for wrath. And God can do that because He is complex and it is biblical so we can believe it. But it is not anti-logical and unsystematizeable (which I don’t think is a real word.)

    Spurgeon used to preach moral inability so much that men would feel destitute when he would come to the “invitational” part of his sermon. Then he would preach Christ’s work and God’s desire to change hearts. Faith is the response God requires to that message and that is the response that he would press for. This avoids two major pitfalls….1) moralism: where you preach the law as a checklist and the hearer starts thinking “all I gotta do is not do things” and 2) inactivity: where the person believes he is hopeless in sins so why repent. Spurgeon’s approach seems to fit the Sermon on the Mount model…build the wall of holiness so high that we can’t jump over it on our best day…exhaust all of our moral resolve…then hit us with God’s gracious offer in Christ. “Come to me all…who thirst”

  14. jmanning,

    I assume it was my comment that you suggest is ridiculous, but I can’t be sure because you didn’t feign the courtesy of quoting me correctly.

    If you had considered what I said a little more carefully, you would have realized that I never dismissed theological systems out of hand, and I never suggested that we cannot make succinct, accurate statements about God’s truths. I never said that God was illogical and that his truths are incoherent. I merely dared to say that God didn’t reveal to us all the facts and that there are limitations to the explanations offered by even the greatest theological minds and schools of thought. In my experience, there are Christians, Calvinists above all, who love to vaunt their theological system as though it were the 28th book of the New Testament. Their system is logical and is supported by Biblical texts, but somehow some of them find themselves stymied by certain clearly Biblical concepts, such as preaching the love of God to the world. This is what I-Monk’s post was addressing, and this is what I was commenting on. In response to this, I said that we must remember that our explanations, while they may be accurate (I used the term “noble”), cannot do justice to the wisdom and ways of God, who operates in a dimension and with a wisdom we simply cannot fathom. He deigns to reveal to us some things, especially what we need to know to be saved, but God did not choose to reveal everything to us. You’re only kidding yourself (and you’re not reading your Bible) if you think He did.

    Even with many of the things that God did reveal, Christians can’t agree on the precise meanings, so they argue. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. The apostle Paul said we see in a mirror dimly and that now we know in part. Paul did not hesitate to refer to the Gospel, our faith and godliness, and Christ himself (who is the whole truth) as “mysteries.” I could be wrong, but I think a mystery is something that we don’t fully understand. We don’t fully understand Christ or his Gospel; we don’t fully understand the faith within us; we don’t fully understand the operation of grace in our lives. We just don’t. These are facts, despite all of our succinct, accurate statements. This doesn’t mean we understand nothing. It just means we don’t fully understand. It’s OK to admit this, really.

    You say that “if we cannot understand ‘how’ He saved us, we are damned.” This, however, is false, and especially so for a Calvinist, for whom human understanding and action makes not a whit of difference in salvation (except, perhaps, after the fact). We do not need to know every detail of “how” in order to be saved. If we did, nobody would be saved. But we do know that Christ the God-man, the eternal son and logos of God the Father, has appeared on earth to reveal the Father to us, and that by believing on him, we will be saved. We know a little bit more than this, thanks to God’s revelation. We are encouraged to attempt to explain it, and we are even welcome to try to systematize it. But our systems will always be leaving out (or filling in with speculation) precisely the things that were never revealed or explained to us. So if we pretend that our systems are the last word, we’re just deluding ourselves. In light of this, I was making an appeal to Christians that we show some humility in not pretending to know things that we don’t know, our theological pedigrees notwithstanding.

    You mention a “trend toward complete skepticism.” Yes, there are some who might be skeptical of every theological statement because they know God is beyond human statements, but that’s not what I advocated. The fact that we see in part doesn’t mean that we see nothing, thank God. You also mention that “we should stop speaking altogether.” Well, if we know nothing about God, then we should be silent about him. If we know everything about God, then we should say everything about him. Correspondingly, if we know a few things about God, then we should limit ourselves to those few things. So, no, we should not “stop speaking altogether.” But maybe we should speak a little less than we do, or perhaps speak more about how little we know.

    I won’t lose any sleep if you disagree with me. If you want to continue to compare our understanding of God with our understanding of the most elementary mathematical equation, then go for it. If you want to believe that your theological system is the bomb and tells you the whole story, then more power to you. You’ll be all the more awestruck in the end when God reveals the tiniest of his hidden wonders.

    Just don’t tell me that what I’m saying is ridiculous. It’s even more ridiculous to believe we have the least bit of mastery over God’s unspeakable ways.


  15. Can someone answer me this…and I just want to make sure everyone knows tha I’m being totally serious here. From what I’ve read (from various comment sections at many blogs), it appears that some people think that God does not love everyone. Is this true? In its most simplistic and literal form: Does God love everyone?

    If not, do I have it correct that the only way to really know that you are one of the ‘elect’ is to be saved ‘again’ into Reformed Theology?

  16. To beerhallrevival:

    Yes, it is true that some (not all) Reformed Christians believe that God does not love everyone. They believe that he only loves the elect. Some even state that God hates the nonelect. One of their primary Biblical texts for this is Romans 9, which contains a quote from Malachi that says God loved Jacob and hated Esau. The Romans passage also describes vessels made for wrath and vessels made for honor. The reasoning goes that God would certainly not love vessels (people) that he expressly made for wrath, would he? If he loved them, he would elect them, right? That’s certainly what we humans would do. To declare that God loves everybody would be to declare universal salvation.

    This is one of the reasons why some Reformed people get bent out of shape about a Gospel message that says “God loves you.” As far as they are concerned, we don’t know if God loves a particular individual. He might actually hate them, so we must not potentially lie to somebody about God’s love.

    I remember when a Reformed friend back in college first introduced this idea to me, telling me with a shrug that God hates some people. “But,” I stammered, “God IS love.” I still stammer that same thing, despite the cold logic of the Reformed interpretation (and that’s exactly what it is, an interpretation).

    The thing about the word “hate” is that here it is taken literally as the opposite and exclusion of love, whereas nobody, Reformed or otherwise, seems to take Jesus literally when he uses the same word in Luke to tell us that, in order to be his disciple, we must hate our fathers and mothers, wives and children, brothers and sisters. If the hate that God has for some sinners is anything like the hate that we have for our families, then it seems as though that hate looks a lot like … love.

    The thing about the “vessels of wrath” passage is that what Paul never really says that all of the nonelect are specifically intended by God to be “vessels of wrath.” Paul points out that Pharaoh in his wickedness was raised up by God to demonstrate God’s power, so Pharaoh is an example of a specifically designated “vessel of wrath.” This is reinforced in the Old Testament, where it is said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It does not follow that all of the unsaved are necessarily specifically designated as vessels of wrath by God. What the passage does say is that God has the right to specifically designate vessels of wrath, that God has the right to have mercy on whom he wills and harden whom he wills, and that we do not have the right to question the righteousness of God’s judgment in this or any other matter. It does not necessarily follow that it is God who hardens the hearts of every unsaved sinner.

    Then, the passage goes on to say “What if” God endures vessels of wrath, “prepared for destruction,” with patience in order to show the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, “prepared beforehand for glory?” Paul is asking a question here, and the answer is that God is perfectly just in doing whatever he wills.

    Nothing in this passage from Paul is a delimitation of God’s love. In fact, in the larger context of Romans 9 as a whole, Paul is saying all these things to explain that God is just in showing mercy to the Gentiles, because God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and have compassion on whom he will have compassion. This passage, like everything else in the Good News, is about God’s great mercy, which is a component of God’s marvelous and extravagant love. Again, God makes his love known, but instead we focus on his wrath as it pertains to everybody but ourselves.

    The Bible says that God loves the world. The world is the cosmos, his creation. God loves that which he made. He declared it good when he made it. He made people. He loves them. Our sin incurs God’s wrath but does not lessen God’s love. Yes, God loves everyone. A theological system that can’t handle this is a theological system that needs modification.


  17. Thank you very much for the thoughtful post, Jeff. I appreciate all the information. This is a completely foreign concept to me…that God hates people. I can see where this would lead to a certain non-chalance towards missions. Aren’t we better off under the old testament system of sacrifice then? Better to have a chief priest and bring your offerings than to worry about if you’re not on the ‘A’ list. I mean, it seems like an awful waste of Jesus’ blood if it was just meant for some people rather than all people.

  18. tijefe,

    It was in a limited sense directed at your post, but it is much more directed at the same thing I hear over and over again anytime someone says something against Calvinism on this blog. Now I am not here as an advocate of Calvinism vs any other system, I was posting as an advocate for saying that Calvinists can tell people God loves them and an advocate against skepticism. So what I say next is not to make this a re-enactment of some 16th century slugfest…

    But I’m not sure you understand what you critique. (I’m sure somewhere along the line the same can be applied to us all) You misunderstand Calvinism if you say it makes not a “whit” of difference except after the fact if we understand. It is by understanding we are saved…faith is an understanding (read 2 Pe 1:3 on knowledge to see how important it is). You don’t need to know every fork in the road, but the general directions are of necessity. I’d venture 90% of people who detest Calvinism misunderstand it and 50% of people who profess it do too. And most people who believe it don’t translate it into the 21st century. The Puritans were groundbreakers in the area of “church methods” with their media avenues. Calvinists shouldn’t want to take us back to some dry stodgy New England environment where everyone gathers around the rector on Sunday for a three hour exposition.

    Now on to your next response…”A theological system that can’t handle this [the love of God] is a theological system that needs modification”

    What about Psalm 5:5 where God is said to “hate” evildoers? Or Psalm 11:5 where God’s soul “hates” the wicked? Either we must redefine “God is love” to be more than a blanket statement, or God is more complex than we might have imagined. Are we not evildoers? Or wicked? There is a very real sense wherein we can say that God hates us as much as He loves us. The cross was about love and hate. If it was just an expression of love, there was needless violence. If it was just an expression of hate, it was tastelessly too public. There’s room for both in my theology.

  19. Jeff,

    I commend you on this because this gets to the crux of the issue at hand without tinker around.

    Keep in mind I’m not beating up on “reformed”, I consider myself in that camp more towards Luther though. But rather the neo reformed of our day.

    And a point I’ll come back to again later is part of the fear of just proclaiming and giving the Gospel comes from a false fear, namely that one can preach a man into hell by the Gospel. This is impossible. If I don’t forget by the end I’ll come back to this.

    It’s not that the idea of “offer” is always wrong. However, one has to be acutely aware of how it CAN be perceived in the ear. If by offer we mean it is truly given and suffers to be rejected then we are speaking the same way. But if we mean by “offer” as is the majority report of today in both many neo-calvinist groups as well as “arminian” groups, you must do something or that is implied, then we’ve not really issued the Gospel at all. If it is given this way you end up with 1. Despairing folks or 2. Pharisees sure they did that one last thing. Proclamation makes it simple. It goes back to what I said about Paul saying for example, “repent and believe”. It is said in no more words than that but some will hear that legally and thus wrong. To spell it out they hear, “I must repent and actively believe” to gain or merit it, though a good protestant will not use the term “merit” but rather some psychological equivalent that even fools them. Or one hears, spelled out, “stop doing and passively receive the free gift”. Faith is passive, that is it suffers to receive. A christian’s faith is best expressed as Luther put it, a beggar, or even better in our day and time, a moocher. If you can understand we are moochers, then your getting the sense of it. But words make a difference in there ‘sense’ and use. They can be the difference between Law and Gospel, death and life. If your base understanding of God is he is really God when he’s giving orders of forbidding and doing, then you really have a pagan ideal of God. But if you understand He is in the business of purely giving, absolute forgiveness for Christ’s sake as revealed by Christ, “If you’ve seen Me you’ve seen the Father”, then you begin to have the Gospel of God and this begins to “flavor” passages you formerly heard as Law. Never forget that fallen man is religiously pious and legal by his nature. Our tendency is toward religious doing and that’s were our real hatred shows itself. But that’s another discussion.

    Here’s an example from Dr. Norman Nagel, few men speak the depths and riches, today, of God’s grace the way this man does. I tell you it bring joy. This is a similar example of how a word can be used/heard in a Gospel versus Law way. We ask the question, “Why do you go to church?” The response is often, “I go to church in response to Christ’s command”, or some variant of that. More often than not one hears implicitly a “legal” appeal to going to church, no small wonder at non-church churches who preach no Gospel at all.

    Dr. Nagel’s peeling apart of this is brilliant Gospel light:

    “Perhaps better than saying “commands” would be to say he invites us. Command is a word we have to look at very carefully. It can carry the weight of the sergeant major or carry a burden of compulsion or coercion to it, ‘you’d better do it or I’ll clobber you’, kind of ‘command’. Command in that way is a heavy compelling coercion kind of word and so in that sense it’s contrary to the Gospel. For Jesus as the one who gives gifts suffers his gifts to be rejected. He doesn’t get anybody in because He whips them in or puts a gun into there ribs. He invites them, here are the gifts that I’m most eager to give you. If we receive those words from Him as an invitation, understand ‘command’ as his bidding invitation, his gracious words draw us to where he would be giving out his gifts, then it is no longer a compelling word that the word ‘command’ that is now days so much, command obedience sounds a bit too much military, and that’s no way the Lord has Himself, His people and His family. He has them only in the way of gifts. But if you refuse his gifts, then that refusal turns them into Law and gift refused becomes curse as you had in 1 Cor. again when they were denying the body and blood of Christ. When the gift is refused it becomes the Law, the curse and of punishment and of that (law, curse, punishment) there is no refusal. So he deals with you in the Gospel he deals with you in a way of his giving out his gifts and there he suffers himself to be rejected, think of Calvary. But his gifts refused turn to judgment. So it is vital that we think of “he commands us to come”, that’s true when we hear those words as Gospel words and not as putting a whip to our backs and that if we don’t go we will be punished. We don’t go to church because he’ll be angry with us if we don’t, he’ll be disappointed because he’ll be giving out his gifts. That’s what he loves to do most of all. But if you won’t be dealt with that way in his gifts, you’ll get the other way, the way that you deserve and that way is the way to judgment.”

    The idea he speaks of hear is also similar to what Calvin, not many post Calvinist of our day, said concerning the emptying of the Sacraments and Luther earlier before him. If it becomes the badge of faith, based upon faith, which is another way of saying reward or merit for having faith – we receive badges of merit for the thing we have merited – then baptism becomes of no avail to that person even though it is suppose to be a gift. It then becomes indeed wrath to a person for then the person must assess what works or fruit, the hidden merit, one has to ‘prove’ faith whereby the badge can be truly had. This is the fundamental functioning of all rebaptisms point blank. Thus, Calvin and Luther were right, it becomes, of no avail to them, even worse a curse in and of its own self. It comports with the entire reality that the Good Shepherd comes to seek and save the lost, the lost coin, the lost sheep, the father giving his robe on the wayward son to CAUSE repentance.

    A familial example helps. If my daughter does something sinful to break the relationship I do not communicate to her, “If you’ll DO this penance you’ll be my daughter again for real.” NO. I communicate her to come back to me, give the gift, BECAUSE she’s mine. This causes true faith, hope and love. The other is just fear driven and shear hypocrisy.

    The problem we run into is when we attempt to ascend into heaven and try to “detect” with our asinine clunky ways who is a “real” believer, truly regenerate, truly born again and all those Gnostic ascensions to be like God, as if we can. Foolish!

    To finish up here. One CANNOT in any way preach a man into hell by the Gospel. The Gospel, justification by faith alone KILLS the old man point blank. It’s very nature is the death of the “religions doer”. To must nakedly passively trust in Another, is utterly antithetical to “doing anything”. You have to realize the new man is a “naked truster” in Christ alone and the old man is a “doer”. The “doer” cannot survive suffering and the final death for then he must face God. If the Gospel is in the man, the “truster” survives and the “doer” dies finally. If the Gospel is not there, the “doer” just dies and no “truster” arises. We have to remember that God is not in the renewal business but creation business. He calls ex nihilo into being the new man by the Gospel and this Gospel by it very nature crucifies the old man. The old man is not be renewed as some seem to teach concerning regeneration and rebirth.

    Just how different are “modern protestants” from Rome? Do they really and truly possess and teach the Gospel? With statements such as “justification without sanctification means no salvation”, as I’ve run into and continually do among SB. Do they really preach the Cross or stumbling over it? The answer is no they do not preach Christ and what is preached is another gospel.

    Rome’s traditional view is “Grace means that some real transformation is effected so that its MARK would be to say, ‘we are being transformed by the grace of God’. If this is not true, there is no reality to it at all.” These two statements and other similar “protestant” growth statements are EXACTLY the same. It must be remembered that Rome never denied justification per se, but over threw it with their idea of (false) sanctification which is NOW the majority view and preaching of protestants.

    However, for the continental reformers and particularly Luther, the MARK to be grasped by the grace of justification is specifically to be able to say at last, “I am a GREAT sinner, always have been, always will be, and am saved by faith alone and THAT IS THE REAL TRUTH and reality, that is the REAL GOSPEL and NOTHING else. It is not sufficient to affirm “justification by faith alone” then under cut it with false sanctification. For what did Jesus say? The poor in spirit, the GREAT sinner, has the kingdom of God.

    Are many professing “reformed” today REALLY reformed, that is to say biblical and truly giving the Gospel? Not as many as we’d like to think who carry the name, they like the TULIP because its “heavy” but they loose the Gospel, and the evidence abounds, their message is clear. Jesus sheep will not hear their false gospel, another shepherd they will not listen to.

    This is the bone and marrow demarcation between two utterly opposed religions and kingdoms, the devil’s and fallen man, and the kingdom of God. If the Gospel be the Gospel the war must be taken forward in face of all human appeals to something that must be done by me to save my soul even post conversion, for herein lies the devil’s core deception and the old man laps it up like sweet honey though it is really dog vomit. The old man never ceases to be seeking to save his life. If the old man cannot upfront garner grace then he will attempt to rob God on the back side, and say, “well at least I must have a changed life for it to be real”. Yet, herein lies the great praise of Paul over suffering, particularly of death. For even this devil’s sanctification, “justification without sanctification means no salvation”, cannot survive death, you need a naked Gospel. If not, the real Law will have its way in finality and crush into peaces this latent hold out of the old man. The Law will kill the old man, either unto his own in eternal wrath or already in Christ. Without the Gospel no new man CAN arise from this final death.

    Herein lies the Gospel, “you mean EVEN if I don’t get better, I can still get to go to heaven and hear ‘well done thou good and faithful servant’”. The resounding answer from Scripture is YES, the Cross SCREAMS it. This is why you are baptized INTO Christ. IF it be objected, “but what about a changed life, sanctification (as they mean it so)”, the Sword of the Spirit must not be sheathed here with soft ‘cave in’ language or all is lost, it must thrust forward with all due diligence, it must be pressed resoundingly and charged forward with an affirmative absolute, “NO, the Cross is it and NOTHING ELSE”.

    Does this offend? You bet it does. One then hears the offense and folly of the Cross and is being offended by it, stumbling over it. That’s the stumbling. It is nothing less than the child of the law laughing, that is persecuting, the child of the promise as Paul speaks of in Galatians? The old man is saying, “Ha you fool, the promise is not THAT good you must be making amendment to your life or it is false.” This is the old Adam with the voice of the devil attempting to roar like a line but it is in reality the old Adam’s death rattle, a miserable cough and gasping for air as his heart begins to stop, laughing at the child of promise. This is the devil’s fundamental, “hath God really said…”

    Christian growth NEVER means “I’m getting better”. “I’m getting better” is the devil’s religion no matter who preaches it. It doesn’t mean I’m justifying my sin, no, it means the filth of my sin is ever more before my eyes, for as it is the more I cling to the Cross and the Gospel. For if one progresses to be better and better over a time frame of life one needs the Cross less and less. Finally some years down the road the devil has led one out from the safe and narrow way into a dark wood to slay you and upon your death bed, when nothing is there to help, one doesn’t have or need the Cross anymore. Finally the reality comes crashing in and the devil reveals the real Law to you, and as one lay dying despair over comes and is lost to hell forever.

    Justification by faith alone guarantees that the old man dies, he cannot survive this death blow for he is a religious doer and self justifier when all is said and done. To be justified by Christ alone immediately kills the old man and the new man merely suffers in passion under merely trusting this. Faith is utterly passive. Faith thus if it is real faith only suffers, it does not realize its object yet, it suffers under the awaiting without footing. Faith is like trusting the strength of a person to hold you over a chasm, you suffer the trusting because you can do nothing else. The devil, world and flesh add to this suffering with forms of “hath God REALLY said…”

    Most of Protestantism’s teaching today in America is not going back to Rome, it is already there and they didn’t even have to “evangelize” us back.

    Why else do you think both rank sinners and “very” pious Christians rail at this very same thing. If I stand up and say from a pulpit or SS room, “We need to improve the way we love and serve the world”, it may be true but that’s merely law and everyone would rattle their heads in agreement. But stand up and really pound out the naked Gospel, press it, if someone ask, “but shouldn’t we be doing better”, press the Gospel and say no, in fact that will withhold God’s grace from you and you will go to hell. If they press harder, “but yes how about after conversion, surely improvement is needed.” Understand well that this is the old serpent’s tongue looking for some day light. Press it further, say, “No, not at all.” Then see what kind of reaction you get. For that presses the Gospel in a fresh way in our day in age, it awakens it from the old formulas of the reformation but sleepy in our time due to change in language and general use fatigue. You may be shocked just how many so called “called” pastors will rail against you.

    It is the glitz and fineness of “good works” that make them more deadly to us and withhold grace from us, not the gross sins. No fool before the judgment seat would say, “I killed many men, hated the world, lusted after and had many women, stole, lied, cheated…etc….so please let me into heaven with this list of works, I don’t any grace.” But many men will be pleased with their good works and try to slide the along side grace so as to over throw it ultimately saying, “Thanks for the grace and I did what I could.” It is as Luther said, “The Law of God is the most salutary doctrine of life, but it cannot help man toward life, in fact it hinders him.” Luther saw it point blank, he saw what the Law really demanded and that the old man is fundamentally trying to be pious, even more pious than God, true Satanic religion.

    That’s why the caution with the idea of “invitation”. You have to be ever aware of the day’s society and use of a term. The irony is that it will strike against both arminians and the newer Calvinist, especially the one’s more fond of the Puritans.

    I appreciate the question.

    Blessing to you and yours in the name of Christ,

    Larry KY

  20. OK, this comment is primarily for jmanning and beerhallrevival. Larry, you wrote a lot to digest, so I’ll have to catch up with you a little later.

    To jmanning:

    You and I most certainly agree far more than we disagree, so I’ll try to ditch any combative tone this time around. I praise God for Calvinists like you who do feel comfortable declaring the love of God to all people. I wasn’t really going after Calvinists per se when I talked about theological systems, it’s just that Calvinists are the topic of this thread, and Calvinists, in my experience, tend to be the most systematic of all Christians in their theology, and it is primarily (maybe only) in the Calvinist ranks where you find Christian advocates of the idea that God doesn’t love all people.

    One of the reasons you might, as a Calvinist, be tired of the “God is more wonderful and mysterious than our concepts of him” argument is simply that this is one of the natural and reasonable arguments in relation any theology that resembles a completely precise science, as Calvinism often does (at least in the discourse of some Calvinists). It’s just true that God is beyond our systems, so it needs to be said often when the theological air gets too thick with certainty in matters of longstanding dispute. To me, and to much of the Church through history, soteriology is an area of theology fraught with mystery. Reputable Christian thinkers have seen things differently on the matter, and many of them cannot just be tossed out because Reformed theology showed up to settle matters.

    When it comes to salvation, of course, we understand much, and I agree fully with you that “the general directions are of necessity,” but we also don’t understand much. The work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart is a mystery. You and I may or may not fully agree on this, but this is the crux of my position. I don’t see it as desirable for Christians to attempt to dissect the finest points of salvation, because when they attempt it, they don’t always know the implications of what they’re doing. A good example of this is the lambasting of a man of God (Francis Chan) who tells everybody who will listen that God loves them. This vehemence is all coming from quarters where the mystery of God’s salvation is considered to be fully explainable, or at least almost fully.

    You also have to believe me in that I’m not an advocate for runaway skepticism in the face of systematic theology. But I do favor a healthy amount of skepticism against the logical certainty of some systems. I’m not against logic, but logic requires all the facts to be at its best. Logic isn’t the rule of faith, revelation is, and when it comes to revelation, God hasn’t seen fit to give us all the facts yet.

    I’m not one of the people who detest Calvinism, or, better put, Reformed theology. I’m suspicious of it sometimes, but not outrightly against it. I’m not an expert in Calvinism, but I’ve been around a fair share of Calvinists, I’ve been somewhat of a student of Calvinism, and I once called myself a Calvinist for a few years, but now I no longer do. I even very briefly believed that God doesn’t love the nonelect. So, I don’t know how much, but I’m sure I misunderstand Calvinism at times, but I’m also not ignorant about it, and I know that not all Calvinists think the same things about every topic. I definitely had a strong feeling that you were going to take me to task for my “not a whit” comment, but I couldn’t resist it. However, I know there are many self-proclaimed Calvinists who believe that comment, even if they wouldn’t want to admit it in those terms. Maybe they misunderstand Calvinism, too, but they are out there, speaking in the name of Calvin. Hopefully you saw that the real point behind my “not a whit” comment was that we don’t need to understand everything about what God’s doing in our salvation in order to experience that salvation.

    But please don’t call me an Arminian. I deplore some of the Arminian conclusions about God just as much as I suspect some of the Calvinist logic. I don’t hold to the oft-uttered idea that those are the only two options. As I’ve mentioned before, Calvin and Arminius are latecomers in the 2,000-year-old Christian discussion. So I also do not wish to join in a 16th century rehash. It’s precisely some of the more controversial elements in the debate over Calvinism that I think are more matters of mystery than matters of perfect logical explanation. I guess I think Calvinists’ reliance on reasoning (admittedly with a foundation in scripture) sometimes takes them beyond the reasonable bounds of revelation. I could be more specific if you like, but that would probably be going beyond the scope of our exchange. In other comments, I’ve already mentioned some of the points I consider excessive. Again, I’m not at all challenging the use of reason. I try to be reasonable (and fail often, I’m sure), and I certainly wish more Christians applied reason to their discourse.

    I most certainly agree with you that faith is an understanding, and I honestly believe that I know what you mean by this statement. I think we’re in agreement. I followed your recommendation and again read and considered 2 Peter 1:3. This whole passage has long been one of my favorites in the Bible. I love it. Knowledge of God is vital, absolutely necessary, always growing. I would argue that this knowledge is not simply knowledge of doctrine or academic theology, though those have a vital place in the life of the church and the individual believer. I would argue that this knowledge of God is more experiential and relational than anything else, and that one of its results is greater doctrinal and factual knowledge. It is the result of the Holy Spirit given to us, whose power grants everything pertaining to life and godliness in knowledge of God. It is this Spirit who is the fulfilment and guarantee of God’s promises and who makes us participators in the divine nature. And it is because of all this that we diligently complement our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, perserverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. I love this passage.

    No, I absolutely am not against knowledge. But again, our knowledge cannot take us far beyond God’s clear revelation, and God’s revelation is not yet complete, except insofar as Jesus is the complete revelation of God the Father. Christ remains a mystery, however. He is not a total mystery, but a mystery nonetheless, as Paul affirms. He’s a mystery into which we penetrate more and more as we grow in him, but we will never, in this life (or in the next, I believe) exhaust the riches of knowledge contained in him.

    As for the discussion on God’s hate, I think I addressed my thoughts on that in my note to beerhallrevival, where I evoked Jesus’ comment in Luke that, unless we hate our families, we cannot be his disciples. No church or Christian leader that I’m aware of advocates that we despise our families in the way that “hate” is commonly understood. I’d be surprised if you or any other Calvinist understood this passage to mean we should literally loathe our families. So, when the Bible says that God hates some people, I can’t pretend to know exactly what that means, but I also have good reason to believe that it doesn’t mean he lacks love for those same people. In fact, I’m totally with you when you say “God is more complex than we might have imagined.” That’s what I’ve been trying to say all along. I think I’m also with you all the way when you say “there’s room for both (love and hate) in my theology.” I just think that God’s hate is not the same as our conception of hate, just as his love is so far beyond our most sublime notions of love. Jesus comment on hate for our families surely gives us some insight to what God’s hate might mean.

    In any case, I think “God is love” is a fine blanket statement that needs no qualification. I think besides God’s utter holiness, nothing is more clearly revealed in scripture about God than that he is loving and compassionate. I think God has revealed his love and compassion so often and so stupendously that all other references to God’s actions and “emotions” must be seen through the prism of his love. So, yes, the word “hate” confronts us a few times. But the word “love” far overshadows it and puts that hatred into a perspective that is quite foreign to the common human understanding of hatred. So, if there is a sense in which it can be said God hates sinners (us, as you say) as much as he loves them, we must be careful to say this with fear and trembling, lest we end up blaspheming God, who goes out of his way to make it quite clear that he loves sinners. I’m not sure if the cross was about love and hate. Maybe. But I’d more readily say it was about love and justice and wrath. But it’s more about love, because without the love, the justice and wrath could have been handled by wiping us out. I’m sure you basically agree, anyway, so I won’t belabor the point.

    So, I say, God loves everybody, and I’m glad you seem to be saying the same thing.

    Forgive me again for this excessive verbosity (a flaw I can’t seem to shake when I’m writing). God bless you richly.

    To beerhallrevival:

    I’ll keep this shorter. In a way, we still are under the Old Testament system of sacrifice. It’s just that Jesus, as both high priest and perfect sacrifice, has eliminated the need for any more sacrifices, and through his resurrection, he has given us what the old sacrifices never could: eternal life and freedom from the bonds of sin and law.

    Most Calvinists I know would probably tell you that you don’t need to worry if you’re on the A-list. Most of them would say if you called upon God in genuine faith, then you can be reasonably certain (a few would say absolutely certain) you’re on the list and that you’re never coming off.

    God bless you as well.


  21. Larry, I don’t think I’m ready to respond to your post yet. Some of your writing is a little difficult to understand at first read (please don’t be offended that I say that). But I would like to ask you to explain your thoughts about what sanctification is in the life of a believer and what is the role of good works (in the life of somebody who has already believed on Jesus).

    My reading of what you write leads me to think that you are suggesting that sanctification is (more or less) equivalant to justification. My reading also leads me to think that, once saved (by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone), the Christian is misguided to put any effort toward any good works (even if he recognizes that those good works are not what make him sanctified). It almost seems as though you are advocating pure passivity or quietism, but I have a feeling that that is not what you are trying to communicate.

    Thank you,

  22. Thanks all for the information. I have to admit, my knowledge of Calvinism amounts to what I’ve read surrounding the Chan video. I’m woefully ignorant of what Calvinism is all about. Thanks for letting me in on what the fuss is all about. Blessings everyone…even the non-elect!

  23. Hey Jeff,

    No contentiousness here either. Just discussing it. I’ve got your question and will try to expand a bit, it took me several years so you don’t offend at all asking me to clarify. I’d be a pretty sorry person just getting upset when asked to clarify. I’ll try to get back by sometime tonight, right now we’re busy taking the Christmas tree/decorations down. You know how it is.

    Just to clarify, I wouldn’t really call myself a “calvinist”, though I identify with some of that thought. If I had to “pin” down where I’m at I’d say about 90% Luther + 8% Calvin himself (NOT PURITAN or later day calvinist) + 2% my own pea brain struggling! I find later day calvinism inherently legal or at least it under pins it implicitly, especially the more puritan revival leaning folks and baptistic varieties of it.

    It’s kind of hard and I’ve not “put” my finger on it exactly, but there is a sense in which, ironically, some calvinist and arminians are both appealing to the will of man and in doing so end up compromising the Gospel and its not a gift, especially post conversion. We must remember that Rome never denied justification up front, rather via sanctification, their version of it and this is where MANY protestants, including neo-calvinist of our day. And I think its in the communication of the revelation. Which gets back to proclamation of the news verses appealing to a man’s will.

    It does boil down to one’s understanding of the Law. Is the Law primarily “legal” in its speech or love. It’s love, altruistic love as Jesus points out clearly. Seeing that one can see the REAL issue of sin, that inward turning whether it be outwardly evil or outwardly good looking. A man sins when he saves another man’s life with an eye toward his “salvation” or “sanctification”. It is as Luther said, good works more than any will keep a man from grace. Not because a real outward good work is inherently sinful in and of itself, but man’s selfish love for them and trying to ultimately draw all attention and fame to himself – fallen man is not altruistic about and hence an utter violation of the Law = Love. This is the real core of sin, NOT a legal violation. When you see this, things begin to be a bit more clear in the Scriptures and so will one’s understanding of real sanctification. More on that later I hope.

    Anyway, I’ve got your question and will try to reply back tonight sometime.

    Take Care In Our Lord Christ,


  24. Larry - KY says


    I actually got to it quicker than I thought. I hope this to be edifying and not confusing more!

    We could almost write a book on this very question, it is an excellent and profitable discussion for Christians. Let me just say at the outset that you are correct, I’m not advocating passivity or quietism, which I intend to address those false dilemmas as well, for at the end of the day the very groups that are most passive or quietistic are in fact the most legal in their theology, most out right in the end deny the Gospel. When the Gospel is REALLY being heard, it brings with it the accusations of licentiousness. This is merely the old man, the religious man opposing the rank sinner. Yet the rank sinner and the religious man are both in common, self justifying, self righteous and in biblical language that is just another way of saying unrighteous. The holy Law of God lays to waste both rank sinners and false saints, both those trying to work up front to be justified (e.g. Mormonism) and those actually working to be saved post conversion under the guise of sanctification, Paul lays the later to waste in Galatians.

    Let’s see if we can lay out some preliminary thoughts from a 50,000 foot level concerning language and discussion that I think will be helpful. There is a difference in talking about a thing and proclaiming/receiving something. We may find that we agree as to the same exact thing under the former as we (I use “we” here generically not necessarily you and me in particular) talk ABOUT it; and at odds when we are exchanging under the later if the old man is warring with the reality of the Gospel and not just its formulation. We have to be acutely aware of the old man’s reaction, the religious “doer” who holds out for something to survive either before “conversion” or “after”. This is why Paul for example shifts from a legal metaphor or language to a death – life metaphor when discussing the Christian life, the legal language is inherently problematic so death/life language comes up behind it to carry it through so that the Gospel thrusts the sword into the old Adam in finitude and leaves no “to do” to be “done”. But as to the difference of “talking about” or analyzing a doctrine/thing Vs. proclaiming/receiving the same here’s what I mean: If I responded to your question and all its similar forms in which it comes, “what is the role of good works”; “Well we are justified by faith alone and sanctified unto good works”. We’d agree with that analytical structure. However, if I said, “Nothing, period, ever, its Christ alone”, most would respond, “antinomian or quietism” or some other such nonsense. Because in the former response in which we agree, it’s an analytical agreement, a good protestant would always formulate the faith that way. In the later sense I’ve thrusted the Gospel forth in power and purity to slay a ‘hidden’ legal appeal, an underlying death cry of the old Adam, the religious doer. Thus, most protestants under the analytical speech agree, but under naked proclamation cry “foul”. This is because we deceive ourselves into affirming a doctrine in an analytical sense, all the while denying it in reality. This is why its been said well by Luther that damnation does not occur due to a failure to articulate the article of justification, but rather a failure to find for one’s self the gracious God in the time of suffering and accusation from the devil. To see only the wrathful God is to see that which you must flee and thus you will flee to Satan but he will look like god to you. If the Gospel does not come one is then doomed. For one in paradox must flee to the wrathful God which is unapproachable but can only do so when the merciful God who is both is shown in the Cross of Christ.

    However, back on point again: We agree, analytically in the articulation of the first and central article of the faith, justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ ALONE, but we can at the same time only be “mouthing” it so that we really don’t believe what we affirm or articulate. This is what James was getting at, he was not over throwing grace alone and against ‘antinomianism” but affirmation Vs. really trusting. The antinomian and the legalist are one in the same. For when all is said and done there is NO difference between an “antinomian” and a “legalist” both adhere to the fallen religion of “doing” but from reverse angles if you will. So we can understand that there is a difference in ‘articulating’ a common doctrine and actually “thrusting forth” the reality of that doctrine, giving its living reality. For if I just answered without further explanation, “NO, good works are out the door concerning the faith and salvation period”, the old man receiving that, hearing that, would then cry foul and offer forth a false defense from scripture concerning “sanctification” in order to ‘hold out’ a bit for himself in the end. When in the end it really is naked imputed righteousness without one iota of good works. E.g. The old man has absolutely NO grasp of this; “God may suffer a man to do NO GOOD WORKS his entire life, so that he may at last come to trust in Christ alone, nakedly and nothing else…thus saving his soul”. That is foreign and alien to the old man. IF true fruit does arise it must arise sufferingly from the naked Gospel not from a more appeals to DO something unto good works. In summary on this point we are looking at the difference of saying, “My good friend I love you so much I’d take a bullet for you”, and that day never expected to really come when I must actually TAKE a bullet for you. The former we all rattle our heads yes to and smile in concord, the later is altogether different.

    What lies behind the suspicion of “antinomianism” for this was what Paul was accused of even though the term is a later day term for the same principle?

    What is behind the fear of “quietism” or “passivity”? Those who assert it, not necessarily you because I can’t read your mind, I’m going for the general assertion of such when the Gospel is nakedly given in raw truth and proclamation. It is nothing more than the old man under the power of the devil reasserting something he is holding out for even post conversion. Because at the end of the day the GOSPEL is the power not the Law nor laws (little “l”). Most often times these assertions are really nothing more than the old man’s legal bone rising back up and he uses the antinomian, his spiritual twin, as the bouncing off point. Sure rank and outward sin such as theft or murder are damnable, but so is saving a man’s life and evangelism, neither of these works will save you nor gain you more post conversion. In reality a worthless sot of a man who does nothing his whole life but trusts in Christ alone because he’s a sinner and knows it will go to heaven, while the greatest missionary in the world before the eyes of men may be damned for the deadly hidden trust he put in what he did, even if with his lips he affirmed the article of justification. This is why suffering and death are gloried in by Paul. Because such are the actions of the Law that burn up all our ‘good works’ that we are most tempted to behold, for no man is so foolish to behold his rank evil, and with the Gospel comes faith, faith is thus purified and made perfect in these fiery trials for nothing remains but the clinging to the Cross of Christ.

    What is it to confuse justification and sanctification?

    It is to in some way to over throw justification with sanctification so that the confusion lies in not understanding or having “It is Christ alone”. If you cannot really say or trust in this way, “You mean EVEN IF I NEVER GET BETTER ONE SINGLE IOTA, I will still get to go to heaven for Christ’s sake”, then you’ve confused justification and sanctification. To be really be sanctified, growing IN Christ, is to have that back every day every hour. True sanctification is a growing in THAT reality and certainty of your justification, not works, this is to keep the two unconfused. And this growth into that reality, the increased certainty and assurance thereof, issues forth its own good fruit quite naturally without one’s aid. Like breathing, you need not be told to breath. If you are trying to do good works, even saying “but I shall not trust in them”, your not doing them at all but in fact working your way to heaven – but the subtleness of the deception is hidden from the old man. Only the new man, the naked truster, begins to see this for he trusts so nakedly he actually SEES the crux of the issue more and more clearly.

    What is it to be sanctified? What is true growth in holiness?

    If we understand the Law correctly as altruistic love, which Jesus makes most clear in the Gospels, then we must understand at the heart of the Law is utter humility. Not the kind of false humility that one “generates” or “shows” by acting, but a humility that COMES to you and is LAID upon you without your ability to handle it one way or the other. It is to be ‘under the Divine’ operation, to suffer, this is to have passion (suffer and passion are the same). We are not made humble by ‘our doing’ but are made humble by ‘being done to’. Thus, it is clear that sanctification is all of God too or as some would term “monergistic” just like sanctification. If you try to be humble, you’ve already failed. If you try to do “good works” especially FOR sanctification, you’ve failed because you are not doing it altruistically but FOR yourself. Thus, in aid or help you give “me” is really NOT FOR me but ultimately and in the end FOR yourself. This is what the Law slays if understood in its full strength. This is why Jesus could say that many will come to him in that day and say, “Lord when was it that we did not do for you”, and “I will say to them, ‘in as much that you didn’t do them for the least of them you did not do them for Me.” Meaning, not that they didn’t “do” anything at all for their cry betrays that they did, but rather that what they did they didn’t do for the least of them that needed though they DID DO them outwardly for them, fed them, ministered to them, but that in doing this they were really doing it FOR themselves in a way unto justifying themselves either immediately or under a ‘sanctification’ which is no sanctification at all. Conversely Jesus says to the others who say, “Lord when did we do anything for you? To them I will say, ‘in as much as you did them for the least of these you did them for Me.’” Meaning you attached no religious doing to and tried not to do so, not unto justification or ‘sanctification’. You still beheld what you did or didn’t do as sinful and worthless and what little you did in fact do for them you just did FOR THEM, in as much as you did this actually for their need with no eye toward doing ‘good works’, you actually did them FOR Me. Only the Gospel brings forth this type of fruit.

    This is why Jesus could say that the prostitutes and tax collectors, great sinners, would see the kingdom of God before the Pharisees, the pious sanctifiers of their life’s. For the beholding of good works, because of their fine appearance is what deceives us or rather we deceive ourselves by them…this with holds a man from free grace by its very antagonistic nature; working and FREE are utterly antagonistic which is Paul’s entire point in every Epistle he writes, especially the ‘good works’ under the guise of religion. The more ‘good works’ in this way are understood the closer they identify with the real faith the more dangerous they become to man. A good work by an atheist is one thing, but a good work by a general religions man is another ‘higher level’ thing in the eyes of men, and a ‘good work’ by a person in the pale of Christianity is yet another ‘higher level’ thing among the pale of Christians. Hence the danger of the “prettiness” of the good works as it climbs the religious scale and this withholds a man from the FREENESS of grace. A man can more easily deny the Gospel under sanctification in Protestantism than he can under the articulated article of justification coming INTO the faith initially. Beware of the devil’s subtle trickery, hence the warning to the faithful are primarily not warnings of another religion or a saviour named Buddha or a spirit from New Age thought, but of another christ, another gospel and another spirit. That is to say the greatest deceptions will carry the names “Christ”, “gospel” and “spirit”. “Here is Christ, there is Christ, but do not believe them”, Jesus warns. “Here is Christ in tongues, changed life, a conversion experience, a dramatic testimony, etc…” These are not Christ but false christ’s, Christ objective always to us. “The entire Gospel is out side of you” Luther told Phillip.

    We may look at it this way. What does it mean to be ‘born again’? Is it as much preached, taught and blustered about, a new beginning meaning the dawning of a changed life that thrusts itself forward in percentages of sanctification and growth? No, this is Rome and rankly taught by many protestants today, in fact it is taught by all the religions of man including secularism and the heathen religions, it is not Biblical Christianity AT ALL.

    Luther on the simul Justus et peccator comments on Galatians writing, “There is a double life, and an alien life…’the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God’. That is to say: ‘I do indeed live in the flesh; but this life that is being led within me, whatever it is, I do not regard as life. For actually it is not a true life but a mask of life, under which there lives Another One, namely, Christ, who is truly my life. This life you do not see; you only hear it as “you hear the sound of the wind, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes” (John 3:8)…”

    The rebirth that Jesus is speaking of to Nicodemas is NOT this beginning of renewal, which would have been EXACTLY what Nicodemas expected to hear being a Pharisee or pietist of our day, but the raising of the new man, the naked truster in Christ alone and NOTHING else, indeed in spite of all things else. Hence, Nicodemas’ surprise, “how can these things be” and Jesus’ immediate gentle rebuke, “you are a teacher of Israel and do not know these things”. Meaning, ‘you don’t know its by faith alone in Me’? Rather this rebirth, the Holy Spirit and water (baptism) revealing and giving Jesus as Redeemer, is only by faith, trust, you don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. Not knowing ‘where it is going’ is to not see a renovation.

    Faith is suffering passively in the certitude of the promise given by God, in fact in the face of great sin within. In fact the greater the sinner the greater he clings to Christ and the greater is his faith. Faith in a sense is a dare, daring to remain trusting when all else within and without remains unchanged, even more as it gets worse…this is faith that SUFFERS. The old man is not being renovated or changed in the way of ‘getting better’ but slain, and the new man is not being renovated or changed but raised into life. The old man is slain utterly and the new man is called into being and given life just as God alone opens and closes the womb and said, “let there BE light”. This new man’s life is a life of naked faith that suffers only to have the audacity to dare to believe what he has heard from God Himself and been given by God himself; namely the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. The new man is not a renovation, Rome, Pharisees, all reforms of any kind of religiousity, but is one who like the man only HEARS the sound of the Wind (the Holy Spirit’s revelatory promise and giving of Jesus, the Gospel), the Voice on the wind. You hear it (the Gospel Word and Sacrament) coming and going but do not know or see from whence it comes OR WHERE IT IS GOING. The rebirth is hidden in Christ BY faith which is not seen, this is why the Scriptures SAY our lives are indeed HIDDEN IN Christ alone. To look at ‘rebirth’ as ‘renewal’ is to look unto works and changes of life within and without, to live by sight and not faith, that is to say the flesh. This one sees from where it comes, conversion experiences per se or such, and where it is going, the improvement of life upon the one “converted”. This is not the Holy Spirit Who is unseen and lies in the raw suffering of an eschatological faith not realizing where it goes Who gives Jesus, but another spirit that walks where it sees it is going. And this “going” is along the path of the “clean side of the broad road that leads to hell”. Faith suffers blindly, per se, only beholding Jesus. It is most phenomenal and grand how God has chosen to hide in order to reveal Himself, wisdom and religion would never find Him, only faith given, thus God alone gets all the glory for salvation.

    What are ‘good works’?

    Herein lies another problem with false sanctification and looking unto commands and demands rather than the naked Gospel and trusting what will bear fruit will bear fruit without me “doing”. When we look and ask, “what is a good work”, we reveal yet again the old man’s death rattle. For only the fallen religion compartmentalizes good works in various buckets or “A” lists. “Over here, this list, is good works and that over there is the list of just mere secular life”. This monkery with a protestant label. The church yard piety or the big two “evangelism and missions” become the “only” good works. But this again is the devil in disguise using otherwise truly necessary works to deceive many. For even much evangelism will not garner a man one single drop of favor or sanctification. Evangelism or missions that does not arise from the Gospel itself is not evangelism or missions. It is a proof positive sign that it is false good works when we enumerate them and place a list or imply heavily a list of good works that are in essence ‘church yard’ piety and imply that at least ‘normal life’ is not holy. Yet God’s word, His holy law does not enumerate goodness but issues it forth as one amalgamated entity of love that can manifest or not manifest in many ways. This why Luther could say that a man that gives even his life for all men, even guised under the Christian religion could die into hell, while the milk maid milking a cow or the father changing a babies diaper glorifies God highly. Why? Was Luther beholding milking cows and changing diapers as “good works”. No. Because faith does not seek out what is and is not a good work, faith lives and does naturally. Faith says, “Christ is mine and I’m sure and certain even unto death for Christ’s sake…so I will find what is before my hands to do and do it and not worry that I’ve sin mingles with it, how poorly I do it, I will simple do what is needed to be done and is sovereignly set before my hands as I’m given means to do it. And at the end of time I am still an unprofitable servant which matters not for Christ has given me His name, Jesus, and His name is “he will save them from their sins.” This is faith in fruit producing, but a faith that does to produce faith, enumerates works, worries about how they are being done is false faith. It is the dead faith that James speaks of.

    Does this lead to quietism or passivity or antinomianism. No. You must remember that it is the legal, the old Adam, the doer who really leads unto these. An antinomian is really no more than someone who is justifying themselves just like a legalist does from a more religious point of view. The commonality of the two is the ‘religious justification’ of themselves, one is just cleaner on the outside than the other. One is a wet drunk despised by kind society and the other is a dry drunk respected of society, yet both are self-righteous and broken of the relationship from God. For at the end of the day the elder son wanted EXACTLY what the younger prodigal son wanted, his OWN WAY as is revealed at the end of the parable in his crying about having his own goat and party. The younger son was just more open and honest about his selfishness and seeking himself, while the later ONLY worked in hope that one day he would finally be rid of the father too and have it all himself too.

    Never forget Christ dwells in sinners not the righteous.

    I hope this is a bit more clarifying, but if not let me know you won’t hurt my feelings.

    In Our Lord Christ Together,

    Larry KY

  25. Larry,

    Once again, thank you for your comments. There is no way that any time soon I will be able to offer a correspondingly thorough response to either of your recent posts, so I figured that I’d just dash off a few thoughts in reference to all of this.

    Most of all, I think I grasp what you are saying because I agree with you on nearly every point, though what I end up writing here might lead you to believe otherwise. Where I diverge (only a bit, I think) is really in attitude and application, and I honestly don’t think my divergences are merely the death-rattle of the old man in me. But I will trust my Lord to eventually correct me where I am amiss or to preserve me by his power and mercy in instances where I stubbornly continue in error. In my weakness, he is strong. I won’t address point by point all that you said, because, as I said, I affirm just about everything you have written, though I probably would tend to word it differently. I’ll just address a couple of things and describe a bit my own view.

    To start, without any equivocation, I wholly affirm that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith, that we are saved entirely by grace through faith, that we are made perfect by Christ alone through the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is what sanctification is for us: the death and resurrection and life of Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, our paraclete, teacher, life and holiness. In no way do we earn our salvation. In no way do we sanctify ourselves. Our works do not make us righteous, nor do they supplement the righteousness that we receive freely in Christ. God will not be moved by any appeals we might make to whatever relatively good works we have done in our life. And yes, God may suffer that a man do no good works in his life, to illustrate the point.

    Where you and I might diverge is in the application of all of this. You appear to react strongly against statements from Christians exhorting themselves or others to doing good works. You have stated the rationale behind this apparent reaction, and I by and large agree entirely with the foundations of that rationale. But I can’t help but notice a great deal of exhortation to good works in scripture, including from the mouth of Jesus and the pen of Paul, who is the clearest biblical apologist against any works-based righteousness. Paul instructs his readers to “work out their salvation in fear and trembling;” to think of what is pure, holy, etc.; to be imitators of him as he is an imitator of Christ, to conduct ourselves with the awareness that our works will be tested “as through fire.” Jesus tells us to do what he has told us to do and to teach future disciples to do all he commanded. Peter tells us to, in our faith, supply virtue, knowledge, self-control, perserverance, godliness (which could be rendered piety, if we were in another age), brotherly kindness and love. Peter tells us that if we don’t practice these things, then we have forgotten our purification from former sins. He also says that as long as we practice these things, we will never stumble.

    And, of course, faith without works is dead, James states. There are several ways to explain this in light of grace. But one perspective I have challenges your assertion of faith as simply “suffering passively.” That’s probably the only statement you wrote that I openly disagree with. It’s not that I believe there is not a passive, receiving side to faith. But there is also a trusting, responding side to it. It’s the side that manifests itself in works. Not just works of righteousness for their own sake or for the sake of the doer’s status. They are works performed in trust and obedience. Obedience is at the heart of humility. However, I agree totally with you that “we are not made humble by ‘our doing’ but are made humble by ‘being done to’.” Faith in Christ leads us to humility, because faith leads to knowledge of Christ’s majesty and love. Perfect humility manifests itself in perfect obedience. Imperfect humility in imperfect obedience. It is the abandonment of our will in recogntion of his will. Our works are not done to earn anything or to put us in any kind of position of favor vis-a-vis the king of kings (a pathetic enterprise, indeed). The only position we can assume is that of a dutiful servant, in which obey our master’s voice when we hear it. Our disobedience, however, doesn’t negate the mercy of God, which we simply recieve, nor does it negate the righteousness we receive solely from Christ’s finished work. Our disobedience simply reveals the shortcomings in our faith and our humility. We are invited to cooperate in the changing of these shortcomings by sowing unto the Spirit.

    So, what am I to conclude? I already know that I cannot conclude that any of these works saves me or makes me right before God. This is an essential starting attitude, and you explain it well in all that you have written. But does this mean I should not attempt to do what I know to be right? Does this mean I should not exhort others to do the same, for fear that I will be teaching them to work their way to favor before God? No, I don’t think that is what it means. The biblical exhortations to works challenge it. I cannot avoid the conclusion at this point is that despite the fact that our works are not profitable in any way toward our salvation or our sanctification, they are still somehow recommeded to us as something to be practiced intentionally. They have a role in our transformation into conformity with Christ and in the renewing of our minds. They reflect our conscious willingness to submit to our Lord. Our intention is a reflection of our repentance, which is a reflection of our faith, which is founded on a position of passive suffering and is manifested in a humble desire to obey the word and wisdom of the lord. And desires result in works.

    So, any good work is authored by Christ in us, but does that mean we should not pursue or encourage such works. May it never be!

    This is about all I have time for right now. God be with you, Larry.


  26. Larry - KY says


    I appreciate your thoughts and I do understand where Paul exhorts. But I suspect on the finest point we disagree at a most crucial difference. It’s as Dr. Loyd Jones once said, “If you’ve never been accused of antinomianism just like Paul was, then you likely didn’t give the real Gospel.” (paraphrased) The Gospel will always bring that accusation, and I’m not saying you are accusing me of this.

    Concerning good works exhortation: However, there is always, without failure a way in which he does so verses the way many of today’s pastors do so. Paul does so in view of the Gospel, for Paul the GOSPEL, not the Law is the power even unto these exhortations. Paul exhorts thus in every passage of exhortation he makes, including James, “BECAUSE, you are Christs, saved, assured, certain, without loss of it, etc…SO live like this”. It is like this you are in the family and out of jail, now live like what you are, not so as to prevent your losing of, that you might go back to jail if not, proof of what you are and so forth. This is unfortunately the way many ‘blind’ pastors see it. It really does boil down to a clear distinction in law and gospel in those passages and how exhortation issues forth. E.g. my children are my children and can never “loose” their status in my family no matter what they do. I will never “exhort” them to do certain things to prevent being lost or proving they are “in”. Similarly a man is “in” Christ by virtue of a naked and passive faith that is singularly focused upon Christ. Faith, if it is real saving faith, is locked in upon the Cross of Christ. If it is not, if it veers to look at “itself” (do I have faith), if it veers to look at is progress or good works, THAT is NOT faith. Faith is purely passive and suffering in spite of what you may think. This passive suffering faith brings forth its fruits, fruit of the Spirit, but it does so passively like a plant producing fruit, it does so BY its virtue of its passive being in Christ. Again it goes back to truly understanding the Law.

    Peter’s passage you gave is an excellent example where a confounding of Law and Gospel and an overthrowing of justification with sanctification occurs. Herein lies a CRUCIAL Law/Gospel distinction. The interpretation of many of, “work out your salvation in fear and trembling” is an excellent example of confounding Law and Gospel at the most crucial point and an entire OVERTHROW of the Cross if done. A LAW preacher will present this thus: You are saved by Christ alone (an apparent upfront adherence to the Gospel and justification by faith alone), then present this is either explicitly or implicitly to the ear of his hearers thus, as a “better work it out or else you might not really be saved”. This is the most gross confounding of law and Gospel, justification and sanctification there can be. What Peter is saying is NOT, “Yes you are justified by Christ alone, but in the end analysis you better get to work to assure, prove and make it really really real to yourself.” If that is what Peter meant, and he did not, then it would be overthrowing the Gospel. What Peter is saying in saying, “work out your salvation in fear and trembling”, is NO different than what Paul is saying, “IN VIEW OF THE REALITY AND CERTAINTY of trusting passively and nakedly in the once and for ALL finished work of Christ, in view that not only did Christ die for all your sins thought, word and deed – past, present and future; Christ GAVE you HIS righteousness such that NOTHING of you is needed thought, word and deed – past, present and future. It is as He said from the Cross ‘FINISHED’. In view of THIS Gospel, work out your salvation in fear in trembling. Meaning go back a read the Scriptures in light OF THIS, it’s ALL about Christ not prescriptions for you to DO. In FEAR and TREMBLING of the temptation to fall back into the “DOER”, the old Adam, the temptation of the devil to understand it another way…take this Gospel and Work it out per the Gospel not your doing.” That is what Peter is saying. And it is very well founded for the temptation of fallen man, the old Adam is never to be accepting of free grace, but rather to begin working to be saved and kill the new man the believer/truster. It’s a difference in hearing a passage as Law (the old Adam’s base hermenuitic) and Gospel (the new man’s hermenuitic). It is as Jesus warned, “you search the scriptures (diligently) and think that by them you have life, but it are these that (continually) bear witness of ME.” Thus, it is with the old man.

    James is saying much the same thing with “faith without works is dead”. The old man pulls this one out in a most confounding of Law/Gospel. What James is saying in the ENTIRE epistle is this: Is A faith that believes in God saving faith? Even the demons believe in one God, this is merely a demons faith. Expanding on that “one God” faith; faith here is merely believing the reality of and ‘one God’ are all his attributes. Even the demons believe in one God, a sovereign God, a holy God (the Gospels show this), an omnipotent God, an omnipresent God, a pure God and etc…these things even demons affirm and believe as true and tremble at them. But what they cannot do is believe, that is TRUST for one in another FOR THEM as righteousness and specifically in CHRIST JESUS as that ONE. Why? Because they are more pious than God they thing, as does the old Adam believe. They cannot trust in naked free grace, passive suffering faith, TRUST without other, for the very fact they believe they must BE LIKE God by doing and conforming and transforming and like being like like. This is old old Roman Catholicism and Aristotelian thought. This is the wisdom of the world at its base, like must become like like, hence a worldly sanctification. James is saying THIS is nothing more than a DEMONS faith.

    Secondly, James CLEARLY says faith without works is dead. NOT meaning take a dead faith, which is another way of saying NO FAITH AT ALL, and vivify it with works. That would be straight forward works salvation and EXACTLY what Rome taught and teaches. James is NOT saying add to real faith to make it alive for a saving faith that is unloving is not saving faith at all, adding works to it would just make it dead dead faith. James is not exhorting at all to DO works to make faith real, true or alive, he’s just stating a fact, not a TO DO. Again, Law and Gospel distinctions are so very necessary. James is not calling on a “to do” but stating an indicative reality. “A body without a heart beat is dead”. Therefore the dead body can hardly start beating its heart, its simply a reality of fact and indication of reality, nothing more.

    Summing the two together he is saying a faith that believes in one God being holy and so forth is not faith, faith is nakedly trusting in Christ alone and thus lives by virtue of this gift of God. As it lives naturally, like the body with a beating heart, it automatically shows signs of this living, just as a body with a heart beat moves, breathes, eats and so forth showing signs of life. Yet that body doesn’t look to those signs of life to have life, it merely has it, life, given to it. Similarly is it so with true saving faith. It lives in suffering reality of the promise and LIVES, its movements, breath and so forth exude quiet naturally from this. In fact James WARS against those who most likely misinterpret him. James’ epistle is more against an “active type of sanctification” that confounds justification and sanctification MORE than Paul. The ENTIRE reason the rich in the beginning of the epistle are acting the asinine way they were acting is they took some idea of “doing well” in the eyes of God, hence James’ terse sarcasm of calling this a demons faith. The reason the rich were acting that way to the poor was they thought by their religious “doing” they had favor. They saw God as something to be reached up to by them sanctifying themselves by an active behavior and thus condescended to their lesser brethren so and thus James rebukes this as a demons faith. For if they had been fixed singularly upon the Cross FOR THEM, understanding growth or sanctification as growing in THAT reality, then they would have had absolutely NO cause for not being good to their brothers that stood by the same faith in the finished cross of Christ alone. Humility would have came forth automatically, not by trying to do it, but by having humility laid upon them. James is NOT the friend of ‘good works’ as so many use him, he is in fact blazing against that idea of ‘good works’ and saying if real passive naked trusting faith exists, then it will produce its fruits automatically such as true humility does. In fact if the rich had responded as the normal romish interpretation of this passage is, actively condescended because they could to religiously “do” something to “better their sanctification and own faith”, it would have merely threw gasoline on the false faith fire. Many of us recall a pre-christian time when “Christians” would condescend to “witness to you” or help you and you KNEW all they were doing was doing religiousness for their own benefit, sanctification or growth. NOTHING is more gross and mutilated than that. Nothing is more “in your face degrading” than a religious Christian doing his “duty” for himself be it unto a false justification or false view of sanctification. It’s merely a very hidden, “I’m better than you” and “I’m really not doing it FOR YOU without strings attached, but I’m doing it to be more sanctified”.

    Finally, Paul’s exhortations as I’ve mentioned already are within grace not outside of it NOR to prove it. These exhortations are ‘content’ to help us know what being a Christian is like and ironically to protect us from ALL the false church yard piety out there. Again, false faith demarcates good works, saving faith has NO such demarcation. False faith will extract from the Word this and that is a good work and this and that is secular. Saving faith does not demarcate good works. Love issues forth naturally from real faith. But to protect a man from a false monkery that says this is a good work, this church yard piety “over here” in the “church box”, Paul exhorts raise your children, love your wife. Church yard piety would eschew this as just ‘normal secular things’ and something like only missions or evangelism is the “work of the Lord”. Which is of course ENTIRELY asinine given the Ten Words of God. That’s not to say ‘evangelism or missions’ are not to be done but understanding that EVEN these can be made an idol to the old man as can anything. Paul’s exhortations also carry with them an indicative nature. That is like in Galatians he says these are the signs of the flesh and these are the signs of the Spirit. NOT a go getem boy and DO these things. A man is MORE falsely religious and sinning when he is DOING good works and trying to do them for his own so called sanctification. Which is of course false sanctification and a confounding of it with justification. Sanctification, especially as Paul exhorts AND James, is a growing in the certitude of the reality of objective justification. A sanctification which turns away from this and unto “doing” is a false sanctification just like a faith that does the same is a false faith. They are passive just like the heart is passively, not actively pursuing its beating, yet it lives and produces the fruit of living. This is about as close an analogy as I can come up with that may show the passive nature of faith that yet very naturally lives.

    It has been said well to ‘look at yourself one time and to the Cross 10,000 times’. Unfortunately, we tend to turn that upside down. Christianity is not a move from vice to virtue, but from virtue to grace. As Boice once said, “there are only two religions in the world today (by ANY name even those naming “christian”), one of DO and one of DONE.”

    Blessing to you and yours in Christ alone,

    Larry KY

  27. Larry,

    I am in near total agreement with you. As I read your comments, I repeatedly said “amen, amen.” Once I finish this comment, though, it will appear that I disagree with you greatly. The few divergences I have from your statements are significant, but perhaps mainly semantical. I seriously doubt that we disagree on the “most crucial difference” to which you allude. I understand and uphold the distinction between law vs. gospel that you describe, and I did try to make sure I upheld that distinction in the words of my earlier note. When I talk about works, I am not talking about anything that any Christian MUST do to be saved or to stay saved. I’m talking about works as they apply after salvation, as they apply within an already-accomplished sanctification, beyond the legal connotations attached to salvation and sanctification. I’m talking about works as opportunity in the Kingdom, not obligation in the Kingdom. This must be understood if I am to be understood here.

    I reject works as a way of maintaining salvation, improving salvation, proving salvation (to myself or others) or establishing holiness or sanctification in myself. I affirm that as Christ’s children we are under NO LAW, and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Christ has saved me and made me righteous, and that is finished work. But I don’t let this distinction turn me into a Christian who is afraid of talk about works and their importance in a believer’s life.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you stated: “BECAUSE, you are Christs, saved, assured, certain, without loss of it, etc…SO live like this”. We work from our salvation, not for it. But we do work. Works are clearly recommended to us throughout the New Testament (and the Old, for that matter). We are told to work intentionally. It’s not law and there’s no merit in it, but we are told to work, to do various things and to avoid doing various other things. We are free, but we are given commands. We are told to do that which is profitable, and we are told that “fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” 1 Cor. 3 goes on to say that “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” This is clearly telling us that our righteousness and salvation do not come from our works, but that our works remain quite important. This, I believe, puts “work out your salvation in fear and trembling” in the proper light. Knowing that my salvation is secure will not reduce the trepidation I will experience when my works are weighed on the day of judgment. While there are too many Christians who attach salvific or sanctifying importance to their own works, there are also too many Christians who flippantly think, “Oh, I’ll be saved, anyway, so I might as well be lax in my works.” They’re free to do so, but they’re foolish.

    Back to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” You suggest that the “fear and trembling” is of once again becoming a doer. But that reading of the verse seems to me to be a bit of a stretch. The verse in Phil. 2 comes on the heels of a description of Christ appearing in majesty and all the world bowing before him. This is where the fear and trembling come in. He is our loving savior, but he is also our awesome king, and all our talk of grace vs. works will not stop our knees from knocking (metaphorically speaking, perhaps) when we stand before him.

    Paul started the Philippians passage out by telling us not to merely look out for our own interests, but also for the interest of others, then he used Jesus as an example of obedience to the point of death, then he described Jesus’ exaltation and then he says “just as you have always obeyed … work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” So this suggests “working out my salvation” is obedience, just as Christ obeyed, and that it is also being in harmony with God who is at work in me. It also suggests to me that God’s work in me is to will and to work for his good pleasure. The “will” part suggests intention. The working that I am advised to do is not simply channeled through me as I am passive. It are done by me because God is at work in me and because I am at work with him because of his work in me. I do not mean by this a “synergy” in the sense of a synergistic salvation or sanctification. It’s not that at all. It’s God who is at work in me. But his work in me is for me to will and to work for him. It’s action together, a mingling of wills thanks to the presence of God in me. I work this out in fear and trembling because I can obey the Spirit or I can obey the flesh. God’s work continues whether I obey the Spirit or the flesh, but I’m much wiser to walk in the Spirit than to walk in the flesh. My own experience bears this out. A little common sense also bears this out. Again, this is not about salvation or sanctification. It is about the living faith of one who is born from above.

    You’re right when you say that James’ “faith without works is dead” is simply James stating a fact rather than telling his readers to inject their dead faith (which is no faith at all) with dead works. I agree there. You are right as you mention that even demons believe (though it’s possible that they believe because they’ve seen the glory of God, not because they have trust). In spite of this, you are not doing an honest reading of James if you believe that his words are proof of a faith as passive suffering. Everywhere in James is the firm exhortation to “prove yourself doers of the word, and not merely hearers, who delude themselves.” With all due respect to Luther, he had problems with the book of James, and the reason for this is because James is the loudest advocate in the New Testament for an active faith, a faith that does. It’s impossible to get around this. However, James doesn’t contradict anything Paul established. He just adds perspective. In fact James describes what it means to be a “doer” in light of the law of liberty. A man who is not a doer is like a man who forgets what kind of person he is. But a man who is is a doer is in fact “the one who looks intently at the law of liberty, and abides by it.” He is “not a forgetful hearer, but an effectual doer” who “will be blessed in what he does.”

    Why would James tell us to be doers if doing just comes automatically as a byproduct of passive faith? Perhaps he tells us to “do” because faith responds to a call placed upon it, and that response is in action. With no call there can be no faith. Christ calls us out of death, and in faith we come alive. Christ calls us to follow him, and in faith we follow him. The Spirit calls us to do his deeds, and in faith we do them.

    The biblical language has gone beyond all works as a means or proof of salvation, as a means or proof of faith, as a means or proof of righteousness or sanctification. We are in liberty, and that liberty, as Paul says, is not our opportunity to sin, but our opportunity to do good. This is what that liberty is for. Paul spends the first part of his letter to the Galatians completely dismantling all notions of righteousness or merit coming from the law. Paul firmly establishes our freedom in Christ. But then what does he do. He tells us “you were called to freedom, brethren, only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” He then says “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” He describes the enmity between the flesh and the Spirit, similarly to the way he does in Romans. Then he goes on to describe the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The term “fruit” leads so many Christians to believe that they just wait for it to “grow” in them, that they just wait, that they are totally passive. But what does Paul recommend? He says “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Perhaps, as some have explained, we tend to ourselves as helpless but diligent gardners, so that the fruit may grow to fullness. This is language of activity. This is just one example among scores.

    The passage in 2 Peter 1 instructs us to apply “all diligence” and to supply to our faith moral excellence, knowlege, self-control, perserverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Yes, if we look at the recommendations of this and other passages as means of salvation or even sanctification, then we are losing the point. But the passage tells us that the reason we diligently pursue these qualities is so that we will be “neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Christ Jesus” and so that “you will never stumble.” Verse 9 references the Christian’s “purification from his former sins,” which indicates that salvation or even sanctification is not the issue. Living usefully and fruitfully is the issue. It’s a way of telling us to sow unto the Spirit. Not because we are pushing God’s buttons, but because we are following God’s wisdom.

    Faith is receiving, but it is also a calling upon God, as Romans teaches us. Faith is assurance and conviction, as Hebrews teaches us. Hebrews 11 teaches us much about faith. Verse 6 mentions believing and seeking. Just about every other verse describes trusting that results in intentional action. All of the deeds of the Old Testament saints that are described here were not merely fruits that arose spontaneously out of godly people. They were decisions to act made by people who trusted God. “By faith” the great works of the Old Testament were done. Those saints had faith that was active, but they did not gain approval for their actions. They gained approval for their faith.

    I cannot find a passage in scripture that describes faith without action. Even when I attempt to do mental gymnastics around the passages I read, I do not find a passive faith. I only find faith that “does,” and the doing is with intention.

    I think I’ll end this muddled commentary, because I fear that everything I’ve said in defense of works has probably just lead you to assume that I subscribe to a religion of “do” not one of “done.” I subscribe to Christ’s religion of “done.” And I see that, now that it’s done, the Christian is taken beyond the realm of earning points with God into the realm of the Kingdom of God, in which the Christian is granted the freedom and opportunity to gratefully honor the gift bestowed upon him by putting to death the deeds of the flesh, walking in the Spirit and thereby participating in the work of the King of Kings. The Christian becomes a participating instrument of God on this earth. I think that I might just be giving the impression that I’m another one of these “works righteousness” people, but I’m talking about what we do with the righteousness and grace we’ve received freely. Where you and I diverge seems to be that you see faith as passive, producing works as a natural byproduct without any particular intention by the believer. I believe God can do amazing things with the faith of a passive believer, but I don’t see that we’ve been told to be passive. We’ve been told to be doers of the word and not hearers only.

    The very moment that salvation is accomplished and eternal life and the Spirit of God are granted to a believer, works are not “you must,” nor are they “you will,” but they are “you may.”


  28. It was a great comfort in my life when I learned that God didn’t love me just because I decided to believe the gospel. If I can paraphase Sally Fields (loosely), “He loves me; He really loves me.” People come to this conclusion all the time after they hear the gospel preached. We should preach the gospel because we love to see people come to the realization that God really does love them. It’s easy to come to a loving father who loves you.

  29. Jeff,

    I just thought of a couple of things last night that was very helpful to me once that may be helpful, at least I hope so. It kind of goes to the issues of “talking about” a doctrine versus “having it”.

    First, it is one thing to ‘think of the idea of Law and Gospel’ versus living under “Law versus Gospel”. This affects how we “read and grasp” scripture greatly. Law and Gospel is more than just merely going in and picking out command Vs. promise structures, but even more to the point is ‘how one is living’. Thus, in some passages one may affirm a Law/Gospel division but does one “read” as if living under the Law versus living under the Gospel? That’s a huge light into the Scriptures. That’s why some can still read law into a thing rather than Gospel. That’s why, for example, the old man in us is terrified by Romans 9, “what can I do”, we cry, “I’m doomed”. But the new man rejoices, “I’m glad its not up to me but God”. You see the new man trusts and it is comfort to him while the old man is still trying to do and sees his doom. And rightly so, the old man must die, that’s the death/life language, and the new man arises. So that the old man “reads”, living under the law, Romans 9 and is terror stricken. If the Gospel doesn’t then come he will deny God and at length be a rank atheist (Nitches own tail spin into atheism was driven by this very verse) because the old man cannot believe this. But the new man trusts God so that Romans 9 becomes the support and strength to that same belief/trusting. KEY: Contra to the neo-Calvinist of our day, especially the so called ‘reformed’ like rising out of the SB court, THE GOSPEL must already be thoroughly there and always there, else you drive a man to despair having been a dupe for the devil using “election” and “predestination” wrongly at the instigation of Satan.

    Second, keep in mind we ALL have the old man in us. It’s not a shame to know and admit this. We ALL STILL struggle daily with old man wanting to DO. And thus we ALL tend to gravitate as he pulls us back to a false version of sanctification of doing. This is why the necessity of the Gospel constantly being preached and given in Word and Sacrament to the ALREADY Christians. A category deplorably wanting among many “preachers” of our day. You need to hear constantly, “YOU ARE FORGIVEN FOR CHRIST’S SAKE AND HE HAS DONE IT ALL.” This is true growth in grace. Literally the phrase “growth in grace” is literally growing in THAT reality, not some injection to “do better”. Fruits will come and you may never “see” them yourself, which is a blessing if you grasp why you must more and more be clinging to the cross, but if they are real fruits they will come out of the Gospel. The paradox is, you yourself will most likely NOT see them and see yourself worse and worse – this blessing of worse and worse keeps you clinging to the cross, else you’d turn from God and back to self by way of improvement. This is in fact the very progressive confession of Paul who said, “I’m the least of the Apostles, the greatest sinner” and etc…

    Anyway, blessings again to you and yours. I really have enjoyed our discussion and appreciate your kindness. This is how I think sinner/saints help sinner/saints grow in the faith!

    Larry – KY

  30. Larry,

    My last note, as you can see above, was written before your last one. I just want to reiterate again that when I talk about works, I’m not talking about getting or keeping salvation, nor about proving or improving salvation. Same with sanctification. I’m also not talking about “doing better.” I’m talking about living in the freedom we’re granted, and I’m talking about our freedom being intentional, done by faith.

    I guess what I think I’m getting at is whether I, as a Christian, can tell myself or anyone else who is a Christian: Yes, seek Christ, do what is right, walk in the Spirit; and, no, do not walk in the flesh, do not sin, don’t follow your lusts. I’m not talking about law of any sort. I’m talking about living with intention in the freedom of the gospel. I think that the New Testament tells me that I can try to do what is right and I can recommend to others to do the same. I am warned, however, against attempting to put myself or others back under law or to deny the grace which has made us free in the first place.

    What I’m also challenging is the idea of faith as purely passive rather than as trust and belief that opens the way to action. As I said earlier, I always see faith in the Bible as connected to action, not contrasted with it, and it’s always the action of decision. Not that faith is action, but faith motivates action in the Spirit. This is why the Church has been the most active organism in history. There is dead action, and there is action done by faith.

    As you say, the old man remains in us (don’t I know it!) and the flesh continues to war against the Spirit. As you said, it’s for this reason that we cling desperately to the cross for the rest of our life and that we continue to see our sin looming ever larger before us. It is also for this reason that we have the moment-by-moment choice of whether we will walk in the flesh or walk in the Spirit. It is a lucid decision that we continually make in our freedom. The desire to do something right is not necessarily the desire of the old man to do for himself what God has already done for him. Rather, it can be the desire of one made free by God, one who is already saved and already made holy, yet in whom sin exists. It can be the desire to gratefully serve one’s master. I can also have a mixture of motives. But we should not assume that because someone wants to do right that this person is taking up the old law. Maybe he or she just wants to do what is right in accordance with the Spirit within himself or herself. Everything comes down to the Holy Spirit within us. We can walk in the Spirit or we can walk in our flesh.

    I write as a man in sin. I depend on God’s grace and mercy for my salvation, not my works. Yet I want to do good and I continue to try to do good when I think I know what good is. This is not law I’m describing. This is a desire to live according to the Spirit. I don’t trust in my works to sanctify me, rather I trust the Spirit, but nevertheless I want to work in accordance with that Spirit. I want to consciously choose, as Paul writes in Romans 6, to consider myself as dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. I think I’m advised to be intentional when Paul says: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of you body to sin as instruments of unrighteouseness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” I want to follow Paul’s advice in verse 19, where he says “present your members as slaves to righteousness.” As he says in Romans 7:19, “we have been released from the law, having died to that which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

    So what you wrote most recently, I concur with wholeheartedly. I second your statements about law vs. gospel.

    I forgot to mention in my last message that I, too, am enjoying our discussion. I hope you never interpret my cantankerousness as hostility. God be with you, and may he shower you with the riches of his grace and mercy.


  31. Larry - KY says

    “I hope you never interpret my cantankerousness as hostility”


    NOT AT ALL, I too have greatly GREATLY enjoyed our conversation, hope you’ve not detected that of me either and hope and know you feel the same.

    It’s a real conversation about the real Gospel and working it out among brothers in the faith for the purpose of strengthening each other. Not a “my law is better than your law” (I’m right and your wrong and vice versa) kind of appraoch. That’s a phrase a close close brother and friend (whose also a minister/elder) in the baptist church and I sort of come up with regarding the way too many “ministers” approach ministry.

    I’ve seen far too many ministers who think they are “reformed” come in and start “hammering away” by that approach to “clean up” a particular SB church to only get thrown out on their ears. The sad thing is they think they are being persecuted, but they never gave Gospel, so it’s a dream they are having about themselves. It was just a sad case of “my law is better than your law” and since we (the congregation) was here first you gotta go. If you are going to get thrown, at least get thrown out for the Gospel and not “my way or the highway”.

    It takes teaching and patience and a gentle yet firm hand. E.g., When my friend and two others were trying to reform a congregation they ran into what to do about “elders”. It was a typical SB church and if you approach that as a “my law is better than your law” (elders in this case), you just establish nothing more than a new legal system. The approach, and successful I might add, was to teach the fundamental reason for such. Not as Lord’s for issuing discipline, but protectors, shepherds, like a father figure, to guard the Gospel, THE GOSPEL not the generic word used. Once the congregation saw that, they wanted them to do this. Of course this presupposes that the elders KNOW THE GOSPEL they are protecting. I’ve seen this approach taken twice and worked, because it then becomes protection, not lording over with “my law is better than your law”. Unfortunately a lot of newly founded “reformed” coming out of Southern today are more Law driven and have lost the Gospel component, and I would argue the true Law.

    Oh well, I’ve gotten far a field. I really appreciate our discussion and thank you for your kindness in it!

    Yours IN Christ alone,


  32. Larry,

    Thanks. You say you went far afield with you last comment, but it does add some real life perspective to the topics we’ve been discussing. I’m glad we had our conversation, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around here on the Monk’s Web site.

    God bless,

  33. People just don’t study there beliefs of Calvinist teachings properly. If they would know that you preach to the world of Christ’s love because we as believers we don’t know who the elect are DUH!!!! But that leaves no room for un-biblical language either. THE WRONG WAY (Christ die for YOUR sins) That is not right b/c we don’t know that THEY ARE THE ELECT, the CORRECT phrase would be (While we were yet sinners Christ died for us) this clearly states from the scriptures that CHRIST ONLY DIED FOR REPENTED SINNERS! If your spiritual eyes have not been opened by God then you don’t feel the need to Repent b/c you are blind to your own bondage of sin.

  34. I dont know what to think. There were so many question marks and not really alot of periods. Maybe I missed it, but does Imonk agree or disagree with Chan?

    I saw the video and almost barfed. Jesus is not our girlfriend, he is NOT on one knee begging us to “marry him”. This is not the Sovereign God of the universe, I am sorry. There is a picture God used in the Bible to relate to us, so we can get a picture of what Love is, but it is not the same at all. God is not trying to marry us. We see that we are the Bride of Christ, but it is not anything like Chan puts it.

    The Bible Commands men REPENT. Then God awakens the dead human heart by his Holy Spirit, the person is regenerated or made “born again”. Upon the command to repent, and then God regenerating and giving the gift of faith and repentance, a person responds to the Gospel. However it is nothing how we see it in Chan’s Video. If anything, I was just upset.

    Is Jesus our girlfriend, or the Sovereign I AM?


  35. I wrote my exhaustive opinion on my blog.


    Please read it, and leave comments telling me what you think, or if I missed something.

  36. Anonymous says

    So much theology yet so little substance. From a personal experience, Pastor Chan has changed my life for the better and as a result I am now so much in love with Jesus more than ever before.




  38. My two cents worth:

    I believe we have confused Calvinism with true reformed theology. I believe you have a reformed theology if you believe in the five solasof the reformation – that’s it.

    To those who make a distinction between offered and given, my question is: How can a person be saved?

    blessings to you all.