Since our sanctification is every bit as much an act of God’s grace as is our justification, all those who have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, will (as the Catechism says) live according to all of God’s commandments. Since our efforts at obedience (like our sin) are covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ (making even the worst of our works pleasing to God), our heavenly father delights in our feeble efforts to do good.
Closely related to the doctrines of justification and sanctification is the subject of good works. One of the most common objections raised by critics of the doctrine of justification by faith alone is this: “If we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, what place does that leave for good works?” Even the apostle Paul had heard a similar objection raised among Christians in Rome. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1).”
Questions like this one arise from the concern that if God’s grace is stressed too much, Christians will become lazy and indifferent to the things of God and will not demonstrate a sufficient zeal for good works. After all, what incentive remains to do those works God commands us in his word, if our standing before God depends upon the good works of another–Jesus Christ? More importantly, as the critics contend, if the doctrine of justification is true, and we are justified sinners even after we become Christians, then why do good works at all, since they are still tainted by our sin?
Paul’s answer to these questions in Romans 6 is emphatic. In response to the charge that stress upon grace makes Christians indifferent about how they live, Paul writes, “by no means!” The apostle’s explanation is simple. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:2-4).
After arguing that sinners are justified by faith alone, and not by works (Romans 3:21-28; cf. Galatians 2:16), the apostle can make the point that those who are justified through faith have also died to sin. Christians no longer desire to live under sin’s dominion because they have been buried with Christ, and subsequently raised to newness of life.
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By Pastor Chris Gordon — 10 months ago
Discipleship should go far beyond a few weeks of membership classes. Great patience and effort is needed to love our neighbors and help them in honoring their membership vows before Christ. Ministering to those exiting evangelicalism will by no means be an easy endeavor, but it very well may be the unique mission field that Lord is calling us to serve.
What I am about to describe is something I’m quite sure every pastor has experienced at some point in his ministry. A visitor approaches immediately after the service and is ecstatic about what he just heard. “Pastor, that was the best thing I’ve ever heard. I found my new church home. Where do I sign up, and how can I jump in and begin to serve?” Within the next few months, that new visitor is welcomed as member of the church, and everyone is encouraged.
Then, however, seemingly out of nowhere, the new member is gone. The pastor is never consulted, but he is told by another member that the visitor was unhappy with something in the church, usually the friendliness of the people, and they are now seeking another church. Then begins the difficult and time-consuming process of sorting out what went wrong. Blame is placed on the church for her failures and discouragement filters to other members who hear the complaints.
I confess that after almost twenty years of pastoral ministry, I still do not learn lessons very well. After these many years, I should know by now that affirmations like this, significant pastoral time, and immediate responses that demand becoming a member of the church, typically have around a six-month commitment level, and then the silent departure follows.
The real issue, however, is rarely thought through: Did we really love the visitor with patient discipling, or was this a joint effort in personal and ecclesiastical narcissism?
Evangelicalism’s Seeker Problem
A basic internet search on church visitors will produce dozens of articles that address the different categories of approach. I particularly appreciated one website that categorized church goers as: testers, seekers, pleasers, jumpers, and investors. My purpose is not to outline the different types of church seekers, but to think through the larger problem in evangelicalism with regard to those church visitors who are actually seeking a more substantive church.
We see this constantly in Southern California with a frequent stream of visitors to our worship services. Evangelicalism is in a drastic state of decline, and I suspect in the years to come that we will see record numbers of people who are currently involved in a broader evangelical church identify as exvangelical. There are those, however, who are genuinely seeking something more substantive. Reformed churches offer a radical alternative to the theological shallowness of many evangelical churches. Visitors attend, often after hearing someone like RC Sproul on the radio, and they are mind blown.
The problem is that detoxification from evangelicalism is a very long process and transition to a Reformed church is not an easy one for former evangelicals. You can take an evangelical out of evangelicalism, but it’s far more difficult to take evangelicalism out of an evangelical. In other words, we have to appreciate that coming to a Reformed church really is a new kind of “experience” for evangelicals—and living with “experience” is all they’ve known. The Word of God is expositionally expounded, the sacraments are valued, and the community is serious about the Christian faith all in ways often not previously experienced.
The visitor turned new church member initially celebrated receiving the means of grace. This was expressed as the single great reason for their decision to join. Like anything in life, when the glamour wears off, then comes the hard work of commitment. The honeymoon is wonderful, but then comes the necessary work of sacrificial love. Anyone who is married knows this. And the connection is important, there is a direct parallel to commitment in the church as the bride of Christ and that of a husband and wife in marriage itself.
Review of Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s, “In the Fullness of Time: An Introduction to the Biblical Theology of Acts and Paul”By Harrison Perkins — 1 year ago
Gaffin’s most recent book is a searching exploration of how to apply New Testament eschatology to the unfolding sweep of redemptive history, particularly regarding how the ascended Christ has ushered in the end of the ages by pouring out his Spirit on his church.
Dr. Richard Gaffin, professor emeritus of biblical and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), is famous for his emphasis on redemptive history and the historia salutis, or the factors concerning Christ’s once-for-all accomplishment of redemption. Claiming the legacy of Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos, he has focused his scholarly efforts on the major redemptive-historical shifts that occurred in Christ’s first coming, also highlighting the eschatological flavor of New Testament, particularly Pauline, theology. Gaffin’s students have often lauded his course on Acts and Paul as his fundamental contribution to the field. His most recent book, In the Fullness of Time, preserves those lectures in published form, produced from transcriptions of his recorded lectures and edited by Gaffin himself.
This book is essentially a work on eschatology, arguing that the inbreaking of the last day in Christ’s advent is a primarily encompassing feature of New Testament theology, and tracing out its implications. It has two parts, the first exploring the theology of the book of Acts, and the second examining the Pauline corpus. Under each topical chapter, Gaffin performs careful and detailed exegesis on several passages related to the point he is considering, each focusing in some way or other on the already-not yet of New Testament teaching.
Part one on the theology of the book of Acts predominantly focuses on Pentecost’s theological significance. Gaffin argues, rooting his claims not only in the events of Acts 2 but also in a holistic consideration of Luke’s treatment of the Holy Spirit and God’s kingdom in both installments of his account to Theophilus, that Pentecost belongs to the historia salutis as a facet of the once-for-all accomplishment of redemption and a turning point in redemptive history itself. His target, of course, is Pentecostalism, which has often posed Pentecost—at least in the categories with which Gaffin is grappling, even if not their own—as part of the ordo salutis. That Pentecostal position entails that every individual believer should experience the same sort of phenomenon as occurred in Acts 2 because they see that tied to how salvation is applied to the believer. Gaffin, on the other hand, makes a strident case that the Holy Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost is not a normative experience as part of the ordo salutis but was a pivotal moment in redemptive history wherein Christ sent the Helper whom he promised to send, so that the church would be equipped for her kingdom-expanding mission of gospel ministry.
Gaffin’s exegesis is thoroughly persuasive on this point, demonstrating Pentecost’s age-shifting significance as the extension of Christ’s kingdom into this world by the power of the Spirit to be carried forward in the church’s means of grace ministry. As a convinced cessationist, I am glad for this thorough pushback against destructive understandings of the Christian’s experience of the Spirit. The presentation, however, does leave some questions unanswered. Gaffin convincingly outlines what Pentecost’s implications are not, yet never outlines what its implications are with much specificity. The dawning of the age of the Spirit is of course an exhilarating idea, prompting thanks for the Spirit’s presence with the church in our endeavors. This material’s value could be richly supplemented, however, by focusing also on what it means to live in the age of the Spirit and how the Christian experience of the Spirit should be understood. That is not to say this experience need be described all that experientially, but is to say that sometimes extended refutation (and even positive exposition that is nonetheless rightly but primarily aimed to circumvent error) can leave us with only half of what we need. What does the Spirit do in the church during this period of redemptive history?
Another question arises from Gaffin’s helpful case that Pentecost belongs to the historia salutis: namely, related to the difference, if any, that comes in relation to the ordo salutis compared to believers who lived prior to the Incarnation and Pentecost. This question is a necessary point to consider because the recent increase of Baptist reflection on the covenants and the unity of redemptive history has focused on the Spirit’s indwelling as the difference between Old and New Testament soteriology. In this respect, and to some degree in relation to the emphatic concern to preclude Pentecostal conclusions, this book could have used some slight updating as it seems to focus on matters that may be somewhat out of date in most recent discourse. That certainly does not diminish its value for what it does contribute, but leaves some important matters unclarified. It would have been a significant help to see Gaffin think Pentecost’s redemptive-historical shift all the way down to its specific applications for more precise systematic theological questions. This point in no way suggests that Gaffin’s answers to these questions would be deficient, just that it would have been most helpful to get to read those answers.1
Part two, which concerns the theology of the Pauline letters, likewise emphasizes Paul’s contributions to understanding the shifts in redemptive history that accompany Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. This section too, then, focuses on eschatology—namely, the inbreaking of the last days through Christ’s humiliation and exaltation. The survey of the history of interpretation for Paul’s letters is particularly helpful regarding the higher critical period, showing Gaffin’s familiarity with a host of literature, available only in the European languages when he would have been originally preparing this course, with which modern readers of Paul must in some way or other reckon. After framing the investigation of Paul’s letters in terms of the history of interpretation and the overall eschatological structure of his thought, the bulk of part two focuses on the significance of Christ’s resurrection for redemptive history and for the Christian life. The chapters here probe deeply into how Christ’s resurrection should reorient the way we think about eschatology, redemptive history, and salvation.
I am aware that readers of the Heidelblog will be especially interested in this book’s treatment of the doctrine of justification. Gaffin has made controversial claims about justification in his earlier published writings, particularly concerning an application of our already-not yet eschatology to justification itself, leaving some aspects of it to be completed in the future. Although valuing his emphasis on eschatology and his thoroughgoing amillennialism, I have disagreed with Gaffin on this point, especially his interpretation of Romans 2. Two points must be noted here: 1) This post is a review of a particular book, not an engagement with everything Gaffin has ever written, and 2) nonetheless I believe that there was a demonstrable shift in Gaffin’s thought on the ordo salutis in his 2016 essay “The Work of Christ Applied.”2
The second point may be worth elaborating. Whereas Gaffin had formerly criticized the notion of fixed relationships between Christ’s benefits within a truly ordered ordo salutis, this essay contains more resolute statements concerning a logical order. For example, he contended that the blessings of the ordo salutis “are not received as an arbitrary or chaotic mix but in a set pattern with fixed connections among them,” which prevents “misrepresenting individual aspects or acts and so distorting the work of Christ applied as a whole.”3 In another instance, Gaffin also affirmed the priority of the legal aspects of salvation:
While these two [forensic and renovative] aspects are inseparable, the judicial aspect has an essential and decisive priority. Because his [Christ’s] obedience unto death is the requisite judicial ground for his resurrection, his becoming the life-giving Spirit presupposes his being justified in the Spirit, not the reverse.4
It is possible that this suggested shift in Gaffin’s thought on the ordo salutis occurred while he edited the English translation of Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics, an invaluable contribution. Vos took positions that remarkably resemble Gaffin’s most recent arguments. For instance: “The subjective application of the salvation obtained by Christ does not occur at once or arbitrarily.” Rather, “there are a multiplicity of relationships and conditions to which all the operations of grace have a certain connection.”5 This point has bearing on how we must review In the Fullness of Time.
By Matt Boga — 1 year ago
If you’re willing to be patient, prayerful, and really persistent with your life and those in it, then you’ll find room for wisdom. God will give you wisdom in abundance if you ask him (James 1:5), and that wisdom will both save you from making mistakes that can be easily avoided and act rightly when the gray of life seems to offer opposing options.
Doing the dishes is one of my spiritual gifts. There aren’t many things I believe I’m excellent at, but the dishes are one of them. Efficiency. Stacking the drying rack. Maximizing space in the dishwasher. You name it. If it’s in the realm of dishes, I’ll happily label myself more than proficient. Yet even MJ had lousy shooting nights.
About a month ago, I was doing the midday dishes (as is my habit), and I found out I (still) have great reflexes, but I also realized that my wisdom could be improved upon. And great reflexes plus limited wisdom will equal bad outcomes.
Let me set the scene: it’s days after our third child has been born, which means we’re all running on a full 4 hours of sleep a night. I’m here washing a large knife and intricately stacking a drying pile because this is just what I do…then the knife falls off the pile. My reflexes told me to catch it, so I did. But if I weren’t just listening to my reflexes and instead yielded to common wisdom, I would have let the knife fall. Because wisdom says, it’s easier to clean the knife again than heal the gash catching it will cause. But I caught it, it cut me, and I’m pretty sure I’m wiser for it.
It’s been said that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But we all know that if wisdom were that black and white, then life would simply equate to only needing to know the right things.