Category Archives: “free offer” of the gospel

Does God Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin?

The short answer: yes.

I used to think this cliche was naive. After all, sins aren’t punished; sinners are.

On Judgment Day, we won’t see any love expressed toward unbelievers, only the penalty of their sins, which will all be left unforgiven.

This is true. And the expression “Love the sinner; hate the sin” should never be used to pretend otherwise.

But that is not the point.

God has established that, right now, before the Final Judgment, it is right and true to love the sinner and hate the sin.

To understand this, consider Genesis 1-3.

God promised immediate death for the eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were supposed to die the same day that they trespassed on God’s food.

But they didn’t die. Adam and Eve were exiled, and animals died to give them covering. But they were alive.

Because of God’s mercy, there was now a period of time in which Adam and Eve could repent and be saved. It was now possible to separate their selves from their sins.

In fact, the whole point was that they needed to love themselves truly by hating their sins.

And every time we present an unbeliever with the Gospel, we are revealing that they have a moment in history to take advantage of this temporary separation. Every unbeliever, when he hears the Gospel, should repent and trust in Jesus. He should love himself by hating his sin and trusting God to deliver him from it through Christ Jesus.

The horrible fact is that many chose to love their sin and hate themselves. If they continue in this, it will eventually be too late. Sins and selves will be forever one.

Unhappily, some Christians, believing in God’s complete fore-ordination of all things (correctly), infer from this truth that God’s future attitude toward unbelievers on Judgment Day is identical to his present and past attitude.

But this is simply a false inference. Just because God has decreed that something will happen doesn’t mean he views it as having already happened, or that every moment leading up to that eventual future is of no significance. As Paul writes in Romans 2.

 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:2-5 ESV).

The fact that wrath is building up does not change the fact that this is a time of God’s kindness and patience. In fact, it is precisely because God’s kindness of making a time of grace–when sins and sinners can be separated–that rejecting this opportunity is such a wicked act of ingratitude.

It would be totally wrong to use the fact of a Future Judgment to deny God’s present kindness and patience.

Love the sinner and hate the sin as long as there is still time!

What is the Gospel?

  • The Gospel is the announcement, promise, and warning that God has given the world a new king and that alliance with him is the only way to life in this world and vindication at the final judgment to come.
  • The Gospel is at once both “religious” and “political” since it is about God and his work but also about a new supreme earthly authority and protector.
  • The Gospel was and is specifically Jewish in orientation since the new king is the king of and the fulfillment of the promise made through and to Israel. When the Gospel was being announced by Jesus prospectively, this was quite explicit. Now it can be presented as explanation depending on circumstances and the needs of hearers.
  • The Gospel is the announcement of the death and resurrection and enthronement of Jesus of Nazareth.
  • The Gospel does not identify the hearer, but leaves the hearer to decide whether he or she will receive the Gospel as truly “good news” or else resist and come under bad new.
  • The Gospel is generic, not specific: It declares what God has done publicly for the world, not what God has done or plans to do for specific individuals in history, beyond how they can be identified by the way they respond to the Gospel.
  • The Gospel present’s the universal king as also the pioneer of the human race: the vindication of Jesus at his resurrection in the past points to the future resurrection and judgment of every member of the human race in the future.
  • The Gospel reveals that death is an enemy, but one who has been conquered and domesticated for those who submit to King Jesus.

Calvinism is true, but it is not the Gospel.

Zacharias Ursinus: Doctrine is important because God promises the visible church eternal life

Zacharias Ursinus was the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, which is considered substantially compatible with Westminster doctrine in the Presbyterian Church in America and elsewhere. Ursinus delivered lectures on his own catechism which were compiled in a book, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. In the very beginning of those lectures he addresses the issue of why “doctrine” (theology) is important.

…This doctrine is the chief and most expressive mark of the true church, which God designs to be visible in the world and to be separated from the rest of mankind… (1 John 5.21; 2 Cor 6.17; 2 John 10; Isaiah 52.11; Rev 18.4)

God will that his church be separate and distinct from the world, for the following considerations: First, on account of his own glory; for, as he himself will not be joined with idols and devils, so he will not have his truth confounded with falsehood, and his church with her enemies, the children of the devil: but will have them carefully distinguished and separated. It would be reproachful to God to suppose that he would have and acknowledge as his children such as persecute him; yea, it would be blasphemy to make God the author of false doctrine and the defender of the wicked, for “what concord has Christ with Belial (2 Corinthians 6.14).

Secondly, on account of the consolation and salvation of his people; for it is necessary that the church should be visible in the world that the elect, scattered abroad among the whole human race, may know what society they ought to unite themselves, and that, being gathered into the church, they may enjoy this sure comfort, that they are members of that family in which God delights and that which he promises everlasting life. For it is the will of God that those who are to be saved, should be gathered into the church in this life. Out of the church there is no salvation.


So not only is there (ordinarily) no salvation outside the church, to speak negatively, but the visible church is a “family” that delights God and to which God promises resurrection glory, to speak positively.

Question: So what happens to Reformed pastors in the PCA who agree with Zacharias Ursinus in their teaching and practice?

Answer: They get wrongly charged in the courts of the church and then vindicated.

John Calvin should not have been so stingy

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.

via Psalm 138 –

So Calvin comments on the first line:

Here he declares that the goodness he had experienced would be extensively known, and the report of it spread over all the world. In saying that even kings had heard the words of God’s mouth, he does not mean to aver that they had been taught in the true religion so as to be prepared for becoming members of the Church, but only that it would be well known everywhere that the reason of his having been preserved in such a wonderful manner was God’s having anointed him king by his commandment. Thus although the neighboring kings reaped no advantage by that divine oracle, the goodness of God was illustrated by its being universally known, by his being called to the throne in an extraordinary manner. Having uniformly during the whole period of Saul’s severe and bloody persecution declared that he raised his standard in God’s name, there could be no doubt that he came to the crown by divine will and commandment. And this was a proof of divine goodness which might draw forth an acknowledgment even from heathen kings.

The stuff about King Saul is completely beside the point. Calvin is just wrong here. David’s point is precisely that Gentile kings “had been taught in the true religion so as to be prepared for becoming members of the Church.” And we will see King Hiram of Tyre  at the glorious resurrection, and many others converted by Israel during the time of David and Solomon.

They are our brothers in Christ the High King.

What if Isaiah had been an experiential pietist?

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And the whole court grew strangely silent as I closed my eyes in prayerful meditation. Then finally I opened my eyes and noticed that all the seraphim were staring at me.

“What?” I asked. “Surely you don’t expect someone of unclean lips, from among a people of unclean lips, to presume to volunteer for a mission from the Lord of Hosts?”

And the Seraph hovering nearest to me shook the tongs that were still in his hands, and said, “Did I not just touch your lips with a coal from the altar?”

“But surely, sir, you cannot expect me to presume I am chosen, called, and/or forgiven on the basis of a visible sign!”

Refuting Hypercalvinism

Does the Bible teach a secondary way of salvation, a way of salvation that is experienced by the reprobate church member that is parallel but different in terms of duration than the way of salvation experienced by the decretally elect?

via It Comes Down to This « Green Baggins.

This way of putting the matter is slightly pejorative, but it is still worth thinking about.

In my opinion, this is simply a variation on the question as to whether there is any such thing as common grace.  As John Murray wrote:

2. Unregenerate men are recipients of divine favour and goodness.

The witness of Scripture to this fact is copious and direct. Attention will be focussed on a few of the most notable examples.

In Genesis 39:5 we are told that “the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake”. Truly it was for Joseph’s sake and for Joseph as the instrument through whom the chosen people were to be preserved and God’s redemptive purpose with respect to the world fulfilled. But, just as we found already in the case of Abimelech, the reason for the blessing bestowed does not destroy the reality of the blessing itself.

Perhaps the most significant part of Scripture bearing upon this phase of our subject is the witness of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra in Iconium. “Who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, doing good, and giving rains to you from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16, 17). The “generations gone by” of this passage are the same as “the times of ignorance” mentioned by Paul in his speech on Mars’ hill (Acts 17:30). Paul and Barnabas in this case are referring to the past of those who had served dumb idols. They expressly state that although God allowed them to walk in their own idolatrous ways yet God did not leave them without a witness to Himself. The particular witness mentioned here is that He did good and gave them rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. This is the most direct and indisputable assertion that men, left to their own ungodly ways, are nevertheless the subjects of divine benefaction. God showed them favour and did them good, and the satisfaction and enjoyment derived from the product of rains and fruitful seasons are not to be condemned but rather regarded as the witness, or at least as the proper effect of the witness, God was bearing to His own goodness. And it would be wanton violence that would /p. 14/ attempt to sever this “doing good” from a disposition of goodness in the heart and mind of God. Paul says that the “doing good” and “giving rain from heaven and fruitful seasons” constituted the witness God gave of Himself. In other words, the goodness bestowed is surely goodness expressed.

The testimony of our Lord Himself, as recorded in Matthew 5:44, 45; Luke 6:35, 36, establishes the same truth as that discussed in the foregoing passage. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.” “But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Here the disciples are called upon to emulate in their own sphere and relations the character of God, their Father, in His own sphere and relations. God is kind and merciful to the unthankful and to the evil; He makes His sun to rise upon evil and good, and sends rain upon just and unjust. Both on the ground of express statement and on the ground of what is obviously implied in the phrases, “sons of your Father” and “sons of the Most High”, there can be no escape from the conclusion that goodness and beneficence, kindness and mercy are here attributed to God in His relations even to the ungodly. And this simply means that the ungodly are the recipients of blessings that flow from the love, goodness, kindness and mercy of God. Again it would be desperate exegetical violence that would attempt to separate the good gifts bestowed from the disposition of kindness and mercy in the mind of God.

Finally, we may appeal to Luke 16:25, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art tormented”. The rich man was reprobate; but the gifts enjoyed during this life are nevertheless called “good things”.

It is without question true that good gifts abused will mean greater condemnation for the finally impenitent. “To /p. 15/ whom much is given, of the same shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). But this consideration, awfully true though it be, does not make void the fact that they are good gifts and expressions of the lovingkindness of God. In fact, it is just because they are good gifts and manifestations of the kindness and mercy of God that the abuse of them brings greater condemnation and demonstrates the greater inexcusability of impenitence. Ultimate condemnation, so far from making void the reality of the grace bestowed in time, rather in this case rests upon the reality of the grace bestowed and enjoyed. It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for Capernaum. But the reason is that Capernaum was privileged to witness the mighty works of Christ as supreme exhibitions of the love, goodness and power of God.

The decree of reprobation is of course undeniable. But denial of the reality of temporal goodness and kindness, goodness and kindness as expressions of the mind and will of God, is to put the decree of reprobation so much out of focus that it eclipses the straightforward testimony of Scripture to other truths.

So they have received good, but this good includes special good within God’s covenant people:

4. Unregenerate men receive operations and influences of the Spirit in connection with the administration of the gospel, influences that result in experience of the power and glory of the gospel, yet influences which do not issue in genuine and lasting conversion and are finally withdrawn.

There are a few passages in the New Testament which so plainly attest the reality of such influence and resultant experience that no detailed exegesis is necessary.

We have spoken of this experience on the part of unregenerate men as that of the power and glory of the gospel. In the parable of the sower those who are compared to the rocky ground are those who hear the word and immediately with joy receive it. This implies some experience of its beauty and power. Yet they have no root and endure but for a while. When tribulation and persecution arise they just as immediately stumble and bring forth no fruit to perfection. The passages in Hebrews 6:4–8; 10:26–29 refer to experience that apparently surpasses that spoken of in the parable of the /p. 19/ sower. At least, the portraiture is very much more elaborate in its details and the issue much more tragic in its consequences. The persons concerned are described as “those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:4, 5), as those who had received the knowledge of the truth and had been sanctified by the blood of the covenant (Heb. 10:26, 29). We shudder at the terms in which the experience delineated is defined.23 Yet we cannot avoid its import, nor can we evade the acceptance of the inspired testimony that from such enlightenment, from such participation of the Holy Spirit and from such experience of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come men may fall away, crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, put him to an open shame, tread the Son of God under foot, count the sanctifying blood of the covenant an unholy thing and do despite to the Spirit of grace. Here is apostasy from which there is no repentance and for which there is nought but “a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries”.

It is here that we find non-saving grace at its very apex. We cannot conceive of anything, that falls short of salvation, more exalted in its character. And we must not make void the reality of the blessing enjoyed and of the grace bestowed /p. 20/ out of consideration for the awful doom resultant upon renunciation and apostasy. As was pointed out already in other respects, it is precisely the grace bestowed in all its rich connotation as manifestation of the lovingkindness and goodness of God that gives ground for, and meaning to, the direful judgment that despite and rejection entail.

The teaching of such passages is corroborated by others that are to the same or similar effect. Peter in his second epistle devotes a considerable part to similar instruction and warning, and concludes with what is clearly reminiscent of the teaching of the epistle to the Hebrews. “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:20–22). And Paul in his first chapter of the epistle to the Romans portrays for us the process of inexcusable abandonment of knowledge and of worship by which the heathen nations had lapsed into idolatry and superstition. But the knowledge they had relinquished is plainly represented as good, as that which should have been jealously cherished and as that for which they should have been thankful.

By these arguments, Murray justifies levels of common grace. Remember, “common” here does not mean indiscriminately universal, but rather in principle experienced by both a regenerate and unregenerate person:

The best classification with which the present writer has become acquainted is that offered by Dr. Herman Kuiper in the work aforementioned. In classifying the various manifestations of grace recognised by Calvin he gives three groups. The first category is that of the “grace which is common to all the creatures who make up this sin-cursed world…a grace which touches creatures as creatures”.13 This Dr. Kuiper calls universal common grace. There is, secondly, the grace recognised by Calvin as “common to all human beings in distinction from the rest of God’s creatures…a grace which pertains to men as men”.14 This Dr. Kuiper calls general common grace. Thirdly, there is the grace common not to all creatures and not to all men but to all “who live in the covenant sphere…to all elect and non-elect covenant members”.15 This Dr. Kuiper calls covenant common grace. There is, of course, within each classification the general and the particular. For the gifts bestowed upon each group of creatures are not indiscriminately dispensed. In each group there are differing degrees of the favour bestowed. This classification is inclusive and it also provides us with necessary and convenient distinctions. In the order stated we find the circle becomes more limited, but just as the limitation proceeds so does the nature of the grace bestowed become higher in the scale of value.16

So, what does the Bible say about “secondary” salvation?

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

So if God is the “savior” of people who are not counted as believers, how can one condemn the claim that they have some form of “salvation”? It seems they clearly have a general salvation but not a special salvation. This gives rise to the theological distinction between common and saving grace.

And how does the Bible refer to professing believers who turn out to not persevere in the faith and thus demonstrate, as we Calvinists would say, that they never were truly regenerate?

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. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

From John 15:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

From Luke 8:

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

From Hebrews 2:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

From Hebrews 3:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

From Hebrews 10:

Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

From First Corinthians 12:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slavesor free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts,yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

So being grafted in the tree, vine, sanctified by the blood of the covenant, made a member of the body of Christ, is never in any sense to be considered “salvation” apart from some sort of revelation about whether a person in question is truly regenerate?

That makes no sense at all and it is not required by orthodox Calvinism. Quite the contrary.

By the way, is that excerpt from First Corinthians 12 referring to the Visible Church or the Invisible Church?

Baptism as God’s moat… not all that workable

It is really easy to think of the Church as God’s palace and, therefore, baptism as God’s moat.

(Especially if you realize that the record of Solomon building God’s “Temple” and then his own “Palace” is a somewhat arbitrary English addition to the text. In the Hebrew, Solomon simply first build’s God’s great house and then his own great house. So all the passages about the Church as Temple of God could just as easily be about the Church as Palace of God, even though the language is Greek rather than Hebrew at that point.)

Crossing a boundary marked by water is labeled a baptism: “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10.1, 2).

And if crossing the Red Sea was a baptism, then so was the crossing of the Jordan, which included memorial signs and circumcisions at the next camp site (Joshua 3-5). And lets not forget the transition at the crossing of Zered. From Deuteronomy 2:

And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the Lord gave to them.) ‘Now rise up and go over the brook Zered.’ So we went over the brook Zered. And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished.

So as soon as all the men of war had perished and were dead from among the people, the Lord said to me, ‘Today you are to cross the border of Moab at Ar. And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.’

So crossing over/through water seems to be the way one gets into the Kingdom. This is related to baptism and fits into our moat analogy…

But it doesn’t keep enough people out to really qualify as a moat. Frankly, baptism is more like the drawbridge. The whole point of baptism is how many people that it includes.

1 Corinthians 10:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

If someone wants to start a movement, it is easy to see benefits in raising “the cost of admission” to make sure you get committed people and entice coinverts by the prospect of being able to count themselves heroes. But God doesn’t ask us to swim through deadly waters. He just invites us with a bit of Spiritual moisture.

The heroic effort comes later, mainly in the form of the challenge of welcoming and loving one another, even the “least.”

Baptism and Assurance: Getting past the fallacies

Since not everyone who is baptized into the visible Church is predestined to heaven, and some who are not baptized are indeed predestined to heaven, many people are skeptical of the Christian claims about baptism and the importance of membership in the visible church.

But in many ways, their claims against baptism and church membership are also claims against professing faith in Christ.

I say “many ways” because there is a difference. For those who reach the age of maturity, I don’t believe anyone is predestined to heaven who is not also predestined to profess faith in Christ as a means of reaching that fore-ordained destiny.

But on the flip side, most of us know people who have professed faith and then later proven false, just as we know people who have been baptized and who have proven false, and who have been members of the the visible church, which is the house and family of God out of which there is ordinarily no salvation, and who have proven false.

If we are going to preach against baptismal efficacy, not only should we stop claiming to be Presbyterians, but we should also preach against professing faith in Christ as a basis for assurance.

Being skeptical of baptism means being skeptical of faith in the only form that it is publicly known.

And just so we are clear: who does and does not counts as a believer, is supposed to be a public fact, not a hidden secret. The Apostle Paul could not write “let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother,” (Romans 14.13) it who was a believer was some kind of mystery. Likewise, Paul said he knew who was a member of the visible church by who was baptized.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12.27

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” — 1 Corinthians 12.12-14

Here is a brief paper I wrote to present the teaching of the Westminster Confession, and Larger and Shorter Catechism, on the sacramental efficacy (which, in case this is not clear to you, includes baptismal efficacy). Naturally, this is not really as important as arguments from the Bible. But my concern at the time was a lack of knowledge among those who claimed to subscribe to Westminster.

The Westminster Standards and Sacramental Efficacy

Also here are some great things you can read about baptism:

Analogies to baptism by Peter Leithart

Baptism and the Church by Peter Leithart

Baptismal Efficacy and the Reformed Tradition: Past, Present, and Future by Rich Lusk

Finally, here is a great little piece about assurance in the context of all God’s public means of grace, and also the sufficiency of faith for salvation:

Overheard in a Pastor’s Study by Peter Leithart

God sent you because he loved the world

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

So try this as one application:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his son/daughter, [your name here] in and for His unique Son Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Jesus should not perish but have eternal life.

Blasphemous? Misleading? Lets look at it.

  1. First of all, Jesus doesn’t hesitate to make amazing claims for Christians that Christians themselves might be tempted to reserve for Jesus alone. One of my favorite examples:

    Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

    That’s Jesus speaking to the Church in Thyatira. Psalm 2 prophesies Jesus and you! Go figure.

  2. Jesus presented Israel with a calling that he took on himself as Israel’s King. Jesus’ self-designation, “Son of Man” was itself first used for Israel (Psalm 80). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explicitly called on hearers to be true Israelites (“sons of your Father in heaven,” “city set on a hill” [Jerusalem], “Do not even Gentiles do the same,”)by turning the other cheek–a path that he followed to the cross himself. He called on his hearers to take up their crosses and follow him.

  3. After his death and resurrection Jesus renewed this call on his followers to accept his own mission (albeit in a new and derivative way to his own work), “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

  4. And the work of the Church in going to the nations is described as Jesus going to the nations: “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” Thus we read in Ephesians 2 how Paul describes the Gospel going to those who never witnessed Jesus in the flesh. The evangelists going out is Jesus going out.

So God loves us and sends us in Christ’s mission. He gives us for the sake of the world–our part of it, at least.

Conditional promises (a repost from April 2002)

When people hear that God’s covenant with us in Christ is conditional they sometimes act like you’re trying to scare them. Yes, some aspects can be frightening. For example:

Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel? Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?’ Therefore the LORD God of Israel declares, ‘I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever’; but now the LORD declares, ‘Far be it from Me–for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will break your strength and the strength of your father’s house so that there will not be an old man in your house. You will see the distress of My dwelling, in spite of all the good that I do for Israel; and an old man will not be in your house forever. Yet I will not cut off every man of yours from My altar so that your eyes will fail from weeping and your soul grieve, and all the increase of your house will die in the prime of life. This will be the sign to you which will come concerning your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: on the same day both of them will die. But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always. Everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and say, “Please assign me to one of the priest’s offices so that I may eat a piece of bread”‘” (First Samuel 2.27-36).

So here God made a promises and now recants it. Eli doesn’t get to keep the privileges God promised him because he has violated the terms of God’s covenant. As I said: frightening. But there is another aspect that needs to be considered:

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it (Jonah 3).

God’s declaration through Jonah was that, in forty days, they would all be corpses. He doesn’t say that the destruction will come if they continue in sin or unless they repent, but nevertheless, the judgment is conditional. They repent and God spares them.

Would anyone have it any other way?

The condition, ultimately, comes down to faith. Eli showed an unbelieving attitude by his behavior (though I trust not entirely so). The king and people of Ninevah believed God by believing Jonah’s message.