Monthly Archives: December 2010

RePost: Earning salvation by being good enough?

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek (Galatians 2.1-3)

According to some, the issue in Galatians is whether or not one must earn his salvation by being good enough or receive it entirely by grace through faith with no other requirement. Paul here is claiming, on this view, that the leaders of the Church have agreed with him. They didn’t make Titus get circumcised. But on this reading, circumcision simply stands for any moral good work. So lets see if some paraphrastic substitution makes sense?

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to give up his boy lover, though he was a Greek.

Does that sound believable? I don’t think so. But if the issue is generic moral behavior then how can we escape it? Why would anyone expect Titus to be circumcised? Only because they considered it wrong for him to continue in uncircumcision. This interpretation is simply not tenable.

Further, it actually ends up condemning Paul. Paul told people to repent in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus preached this. It is also Reformed doctrine. Paul would tell a man keeping a boy lover that he must give him up in order to be a Christian (this is different, by the way, from saying that unless his same-sex attraction somehow stops, he must really be unregenerate). Obviously, this is not the issue in Galatians. The point is that things like circumcision are no longer needed and represent an old age that Christ has brought us out of.

Here’s another text. According to some, the issue in Acts 15 is merit legalism. The Jews are claiming that one must do enough good works in order to be saved. That is what lies behind the claim that, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (v. 2). But notice the result of their deliberations: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell” (vv. 28, 29). Now, again, lets change the terms: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements to earn eternal life: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will merit salvation. Farewell.”

Again, if the issue of merit theology is at root, we end up with an untenable result–a passage which teaches merit legalism as the apostolic doctrine.

Charles Hodge’s judgment of Charity for Roman Catholics

We must interpret language according to the usus loquendi of those who use it, and not according to our own usage. If a man defines justification so as to include sanctification, and says that justification is by works as well as faith, we must understand him accordingly. We may say a man is sanctified by love, hope, and other Christian graces and works; meaning that all these tend to promote his conformity to God; when we could not say, that he is justified, in our sense of the term, by these things.

via Theologia » Is the Church of Rome a Part of the Visible Church.

I find it fascinating that many claim that the fact that Roman Catholics confuse justification and sanctification means that they are hell-bound Galatian heretics. They are anathema.

But for Charles Hodge it actually gets them off the hook. They may have true faith precisely because their confusion gives them space.

By the way, his whole essay is excellent.

(One can only imagine how much it would pain Hodge to see an Anglican condemned for speaking of judgment “on the basis of works” when he plainly meant the same thing as judgment “according to works.”

A few more interesting statements from Charles Hodge.)

Machen gets to the point

The really serious error into which they fell was not that they carried the ceremonial law over into the new dispensation, whither God did not intend it to be carried, but that they preached a religion of human merit as over against a religion of divine grace.

via Modern Judaizers? – Feeding on Christ.

This statement by J. Gresham Machen is exactly not true. Paul says nothing about human merit in Galatians as the “really serious error” that lurks behind the attack on the Gospel that he exposes and rebukes. What he says is that it is wrong to separate Christians over “the ceremonial law” (which is not exactly how I think Paul would put it, but is close enough for the moment).

Paul doesn’t argue that “the ceremonial law” should not be misused as a merit system. He argues that it is over and done and should never separate Christians. He argues that the law has served its purpose so that the promise to the one seed (i.e. the one people represented by the one Christ) must no longer be divided.

As Tim Gallant put it in his excellent article:

The fact is, if Paul is directly concerned with dealing with “merit theologians,” then he never really explains anything. The redemptive historical argument, which comprises a good portion of the letter, and indeed is the very heart of his argument, makes little sense in that context.

Saint Paul should have argued differently. He should have said: “You foolish Galatians, don’t you know that good works cannot win you God’s favour? Good works are merely responses of thanksgiving; they cannot earn you heaven.”

But then, that would not address the concern of the occasion, would it? Such an argument would not refute the necessity of circumcision, any more than it would refute the necessity of baptism. The Judaizers could then still respond: “Yes, of course salvation is gracious, but the necessary response of thankfulness is circumcision and law-keeping.”

Paul’s actual argument works rather differently. He does not suggest that circumcision is okay, as long as it is done out of thankfulness, not of superstition, or out of some thought of earning one’s way. Rather, Paul argues redemptive-historically in order to prove that the Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised at all! He is not merely concerned that the Gentiles have a correct attitude toward circumcision – he doesn’t want them to practice it at all!

All of this suggests that Paul’s actual argument in Galatians strains our usual paradigms. If we are struggling mightily to see how the argument fits together, it probably means that we have not understood the argument.

Indeed we have not.

For what it is worth, here is something I wrote trying to promote rational discussion about what the Bible says on this and related issues.

Machen is certainly right that Galatians has boatloads of contemporary application. For some ideas, consider Rich Lusk’s “Getting the Galatian Heresy Right.”

Paul and Jesus on Faith and Humility verses Arrogance and Contempt

From Luke 18:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

From Romans 11:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

R2K and marriage

Here’s an example: If my marriage to my wife will not survive into the age to come, then why would I think her wedding ring will? Sure, it’s a nice ring and very well-made, but it’s hardly a higher example of human productivity than our marriage is.

via Creed Code Cult: Burn, Baby, Burn.

I think there might be some equivocation about how “products” from this world might “survive” to the next creation. Just a hunch.

But I do think this point is more revealing than the writer realizes. If we use this principle for a generalized defense of R2K, then we must state that there are no such things as Christian marriages or Christian families. Jesus does not want us wasting our time talking about how husbands and wives should behave or raising their children according to God’s word. This is all a compromise of the Gospel and a confusion of law and grace. We should leave family issues to secular family counselors just as we should leave the economy to Bernanke.

It is one or the other. Either you affirm that Jesus is “ruler of the kings of the earth” or you deny that it is “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Yet another great sentence Paul never wrote

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you by faith alone and not through the laying on of my hands or any other carnal ceremony; for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control, and he did so immediately, without using any physical means.

via Passage: 2 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV Bible Online).

Thanks to a commenter for the inspiration.

The burning of the heavens and earth? John Owen reads Peter with an eye to Isaiah

Then we must consider in what sense men living in the world are said to be the world, and the heavens and earth of it. I shall only insist on one instance to this purpose among many that may be produced: Isa. li. 15, 16. The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God was when He divided the sea (ver. 15) and gave the law (ver. 16), and said to Zion, Thou art my people; that is, when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a church and state; then He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth: that is, brought forth order, and government, and beauty from the confusion wherein before they were. This is the planting of the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth in the world. And since it is that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and government, it is in that language which seems to set forth the end of the world. So Isa. xxxiv. 4, which is yet but the destruction of the state of Edom. The like also is affirmed of the Roman Empire (Rev. vi. 14), which the Jews constantly affirm to be intended by Edom in the prophets. And in our Saviour Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. xxiv.) He sets it out by expressions of the same importance. It is evident, then, that in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by heavens and earth, the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, were often understood. So were the heavens and earth that world which then was destroyed by the flood.

4. On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state; for which I shall offer these two reasons, of many that might be insisted on from the text:-

(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews, some of them believing, others opposing, the faith. Now there was no particular concernment of that generation, nor in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general ; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation ; and, besides, an ample testimony both to the one and the other of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was the thing in question between them.

(2.) Peter tells them, that after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of (vers. 7-13), ” We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,’ etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. lxv. 17. Now, when shall this be that God shall create these new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness? Saith Peter, ” It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell.” But now it is evident from this place of Isaiah, with chap. lxvi. 21, 22, that this is a prophecy of Gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of Gospel ordinances to endure for ever. The same thing is so expressed Heb. xii. 26-28.

This being the design of the place, I shall not insist longer on the context, but briefly open the words proposed, and fix upon the truth continued in them.

From Works of John Owen, vol 9

Series guide: The Future of Jesus

The Future of Jesus 1

The Future of Jesus, 2: Few to be saved throughout (future) human history?

The Future of Jesus, 3: Are there earthly blessings to be expected in the future?

The Future of Jesus, 4: Will He Make a Difference in the World?

The Future of Jesus 5: So if Jesus Rules Why Isn’t Life Better?

The Future of Jesus 6: To three thousand-PLUS generations

The Future of Jesus 7: The Feast of Booze

The Future of Jesus 8: When is Jesus King of Kings?

The Future of Jesus 9: Who inherits the Land/Earth?


Rebirth = metaphor; resurrection = reality

My last post, based on a sermon I preached recently, ended with the following passage from the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

That is why it is of faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the one of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Paul is not simply inventing a metaphor here. Resurrection is rebirth according to a great deal of the Bible.

First of all, note that Paul’s main stage of argumentation (Romans 1-8, all of which is directed to a point about Israel in 9-11), begins and ends with resurrection as second birth. First Paul directly parallels birth in the lind of David to rebirth by resurrection. Paul writes of the Gospel:

concerning his Son, who was begotten from the seed of David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness from his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

This two-stage life applies to all believers who are born of the resurrection to a common fraternity with Christ:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies…. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

But it is not just Romans.

Jesus title is “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1.18; Revelation 1.5). Jesus was raised to new life because the (don’t believe the English muting of the point) “it was not possible for him to be held” by “the birthpangs of death” (Acts 2.24). Jesus himself taught this theology of the resurrection:

The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20.34-36).

Paul indeed preached that this was the prophetic significance of Psalm 2:

But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,

‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you.’

Hebrews 1-2 uses Psalm 2 to make the same point that Paul does in Romans 8 about our resurrection relating us to Jesus as brothers of a common mother.

The prophecy of Isaiah 26, promising a return from exile, gives us the same imagery:

They are dead, they will not live;
they are shades, they will not arise;
to that end you have visited them with destruction
and wiped out all remembrance of them.
But you have increased the nation, O Lord,
you have increased the nation; you are glorified;
you have enlarged all the borders of the land.

O Lord, in distress they sought you;
they poured out a whispered prayer
when your discipline was upon them.
Like a pregnant woman
who writhes and cries out in her pangs
when she is near to giving birth,
so were we because of you, O Lord;
we were pregnant, we writhed,
but we have given birth to wind.
We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,
and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead.

Jesus resurrection was the real return from exile, and our resurrections have already begun in him.

NOTE: see also Virgin Tomb.