The guys talk more on uses of the law–and how confusing the first and third use of the law is particularly damaging. Justin also offers thoughts on how some Puritan theology is unhelpful.
Giveaway: “Christ the Lord” by Michael Horton
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Semper Reformanda Transcripts
Justin Perdue: Welcome to the Semper Reformanda podcast.
Let’s pick back up on that part in particular, the first and third use of the law, and how they’re confused and collapsed. We may talk a little bit more about Paul Washer’s famous sermon as an example of this kind of frightening Christians to death.
Jon Moffitt: You can go read his sermon. It’s available online. You will see that a lot of the content is the first use of the law, and there is not a lot of gospel, and there is not a lot of grace in there. If he genuinely thought that those were unbelievers, then he should have concluded with Christ. But I think the way in which he approached it is that he approached it like they are believers, but they’re just not taking their faith seriously. He comes in and uses the first use of the law to get them serious, which is a very Puritanical way of using a sermon.
I know I’m gonna get myself in a lot of trouble because I know people love, love, love, love, love Paul Washer. I’m not impugning the man’s motives. The man wants people to love Christ. He wants them to obey Christ. So does John MacArthur. How do you impugn those motives? Those are not bad motives. I’m just saying that I think the way in which they have approached it has been demonstrated in the past as not being the accurate way of doing it biblically. They are not the first to make this mistake.
Justin Perdue: No, they’re not. And I’ll just speak very personally. I feel like this is something that I still am recovering from personally. My tendency so often, because of my conscience and the way I’m wired—and I’ve been pretty open about that in the past—I rededicated my life probably 150 times as a younger guy. I just have always been haunted by that idea of not being good enough for God. I think my default posture is to always revert back into this kind of economy of fear and dread—that God is not pleased with me, and there’s something not right between me and God. I think a lot of it has only been undergirded and that flame has only been fanned by preaching like we’re talking about. Because even as I encountered Calvinism, I was encountering this kind of stuff alongside the old good stuff, and it was confusing to me. So when I hear things like this, my immediate response is not, “I love Jesus and he loves me. I am safe and now I want to obey.” It is, “Oh my Lord. I’m afraid for myself.” Then Jesus and God don’t feel safe. The last place I want to go is the “throne of grace” when I sin. It’s just bad.
That’s just me personally, brother. And I have to fight that instinct even still and remind myself. That’s why I pray for mercy all the time, that God would take away shame and guilt and fear that I carry around all the time.
Jon Moffitt: For every podcast, that’s what we pray.
Justin Perdue: I pray that for myself all the time. And I pray for faith.
Jon Moffitt: Instead of running into the throne room of grace because mercy is waiting for you, there’s this need to get myself in shape or prepared or ready; it’s a penance type of Christianity. It is very confusing. Listeners that are coming out of a lordship context, they will contact us and they say, “For the first time in my life, I actually feel like a child of God and that I am safe in His arms,” versus wondering, “Have I done enough?” What do you mean? Done what? He’s done enough.
Justin Perdue: Amen. No, it’s the greatest news in the world. And this message of lordship salvation, like we said so many times, is at best confusing and at best throws some clutter on top of the gospel. We just don’t want to see that happen because it really does rob the saints of peace. And it hinders us, we would say, in real growth and sanctification. We might get really good at doing the right things and being disciplined in the right ways because we’re afraid, or because we think that somehow this is earning God’s approval, and that he’s like smiling upon us because we’re doing this stuff. But in terms of real growth in love of neighbor and in fighting sin from good motivation, it’s not happening when we have this kind of frame.
So don’t collapse the first and third use of the law. Don’t scare Christians into obedience.
Jon Moffitt: Can I say one thing, too? If and when you have Christians who are in sin, it’s interesting how you hear Paul use words like, “You who are spiritual, in a spirit of meekness and gentleness, go to such a one and restore them.” Even when Paul is dealing with the Corinthians—he says, “I’m coming to you to preach to you the gospel.” The tenor and tone of a Christian should always be with gentleness and meekness and patience. Even when Paul says in Romans 15, “You who are spiritual, bear with the weakness of those who are in sin.” So anger and frustration and malice and just brashness towards sinning Christians is not the tone that you see from the New Testament.
Justin Perdue: I’ll caveat that even more. I do think there’s a time and a place for stern warning to Christians who are living in obstinate, hard-hearted sin. But listen to the words I’m using: it’s stubborn and hard-hearted sin. It’s very much like, and you see it at a couple of points in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where people are being arrogant and comfortable in your sin, and we are now going to challenge that with the law. That’s clear. That’s not at all what we’re talking about.
We’re talking about people who want to obey the Lord, who find themselves having a hard time doing that, and they’re struggling against sin. Has anybody experienced that this week? I have. I am battling my flesh in my inner man. I want to obey yet I feel this very Pauline experience of there’s this other law waging war against me. And we’re talking to those people here where we want to preach Christ and guide one another with the law. But it’s not this fear and dread business and so, in condemnation and the like. That distinction makes all the difference in the world.
Let’s talk about Puritans. Like we said as a parting shot from the podcast, the real issue here is not that any historical category of doctrine has been denied, but that the emphasis and the accent has been moved from Christ to the Christian. So at the end of the day, what’s being done in the lordship camp is akin to what was occurring in some of the bad Puritan writing and theology where the sheep are effectively being pointed back to themselves. It’s not that justification is denied. And justification, being the declaration of righteousness from God upon us, it’s the judicial verdict that we are right and just, and we’re in a right relationship with God. Justification is not being denied. It’s just that the emphasis is on something else: it’s on moral transformation, it’s on the renewing of your mind, it’s on obedience, and those kinds of things.
This is why I think, as I read many Puritans… Now there are some who are really good, just to be clear—John Owen, John Cotton, Thomas Boston—I could keep going. These guys were great, but some of them were not so good. Why? And they can hardly be recognized as heirs of the Reformation because the emphasis is so much on moral transformation and obedience and introspection and holy living. Even though they haven’t denied justification formally, it’s sort of shoved off to the side or it’s pushed into the background, which is exactly what we talk about all the time with respect to pietism, and it’s exactly what we were pointing out today with respect to lordship salvation.
I would just say this: in reacting to antinomianism, which is what John MacArthur was doing in writing this book in the first place, what you don’t want to do is drive the sheep back to themselves and away from Jesus. That’s not effective. I think that our forebearers have gotten it right when they understand and have articulated plainly that we have to keep justification and sanctification distinct, even though we agree that sanctification flows out of justification, and we just have to continue to beat that drum with clarity. Also the fact that assurance of salvation has to be grounded in something objective. It can’t be grounded in performance.
A couple of quotes here. John Calvin says this from The Institutes: “The grace of God and the certainty of salvation and faith neither arise from nor depend on our obedience.” That’s really good. Then John Cotton—who is an American Puritan, who as a younger man was an Arminian and becomes a Calvinist, and has really, really good thinking and well-developed categories of covenant theology and these various things—says effectively this, paraphrased: “We do not build our justification on our sanctification. Doing so we enter into a covenant of works.” He’s exactly right. When we are building assurance of, of the fact that we are saved on how we’re living, we have effectively entered into a covenant of works. That’s a mic drop statement.
Jon Moffitt: At the very heart of what Piper has been confusing with the final justification is that you are building your justification based on your sanctification.
Justin Perdue: You’re building your salvation, in some sense, on your sanctification.
Jon Moffitt: Right. John Piper is not confessionally Reformed. He does not hold to a covenant of works. He does not understand a law-gospel distinction. He does not hold to the three uses of the law. And these are all categories that we draw from the texts that give us lenses to appropriately interpret the text. We aren’t using these to put them on the text—they come out of it, and then we use them for all of Scripture. For instance, the Trinity is one of these lenses that we pull up out of the text and then we use it to look at every port of Scripture. It prevents you from being a heretic. You want to use those lenses. You want to know what all of Scripture has to say about the Trinity so you don’t make inappropriate conclusions. All we’re saying is that all of Scripture has a lot to say about the law and the gospel, all of Scripture has a lot to say about how to use those. Now use that to interpret every single passage.
When it comes to guys like MacArthur and Piper in these particular instances, they aren’t using those categories, and because they aren’t using those categories, they’re collapsing them and they don’t even know it.
Justin Perdue: That’s a podcast in and of itself. I know we’ve talked about some of that stuff lately, but covenant theology and law-gospel distinction, for example, are two great illustrations of things that come up out of the text that we then can go back to the text with those frameworks, and it helps us understand the whole Bible. It’s so critical. It’s important.
This conversation today, if anything should encourage the listener to continue to grow in our understanding of these kinds of things—the distinction between the law and the gospel, to grow in our understanding of even confessional theology and the definition of what faith is, and to also grow in our understanding of covenant theology and the redemptive historical framework of the Bible—because so many of these errors can be seen pretty quickly and clearly when you have some of these categories in view. That’s really all we’ve done. We’ve read the book and interacted with the material. We’ve got alarm bells going off because it doesn’t seem right.
Jon Moffitt: This is the most accurate description. If he didn’t mean to say those things, he had the opportunity in his republication of the most recent one. And I understand things that Justin and I have said in our younger years as pastors, we’ve adjusted there. But you listen to recent sermons of lordship salvation guys, and the books that are being written; they definitely have adjusted their languages, definitely more Reformed and informed, I would say. So they don’t make the same mistakes that they’ve made in the past where it’s flat out Roman Catholicism.
So when someone tells me that Lordship salvation is another gospel, dispensationalism used to teach another gospel when they taught two forms of salvation: the old one and the new. But most dispensationalists reject that today. If you listen to the lordship salvation guys, a lot of them do reject a lot of the craziness that was taught back in the day.
Justin Perdue: That obedience is faith and these kinds of things. They’ve rejected those things full-stop.
Jon Moffitt: I’m glad conversations are being had and we’re moving more and more and more to this direction. Sometimes when I hear someone describe lordship to me, I don’t know what to call that, but historically that’s not lordship salvation, not according to the debate.
Justin Perdue: This is just me reacting to this on the fly. I think that really a lot of what this lordship stuff is a lot of Calvinistic Evangelical pietistic thinking.
Jon Moffitt: I would say lordship is pietism.
Justin Perdue: It’s pietism, which is what the bad Puritans were. They were pietistic. So a lot of this goes back to those same categories that we continue to talk about over and over again.
Thank you to the listeners and to all of our members.
Jon Moffitt: Jump in the app and talk to us. It’d be a great place to continue. The rule is we are going to practice sanctification in that app. We are going to practice on one another. Think about what you’re saying, give someone the benefit of the doubt, everyone’s in transition, everyone’s thinking through things differently, they come from a different background. The goal is to not be unified for the sake of unity, but the goal is to unify around Christ. Christ draws us in, and that’s where we find our point of unity.
Justin Perdue: I would even say that if you guys have thoughtful feedback on episodes, the SR app is a great place to give that. It’s a way better place to give it than the Facebook group just because that’s a broader audience. But for you guys and gals in particular, who are members and part of this ministry, we want to hear your feedback. What it may do is show us that we need to do another episode on lordship and clarify some stuff. Anyway, give us feedback.
We love you. We’re grateful for you. We will talk with you again next week.