There’s a reason why people are being confused about the Gospel today: confusing statements are being made about it.
There are those who add to the good news such things such as baptism, joining their church, the laying on of hands, etc. If you are wondering about his, remember, the Gospel is good news to be believed; not good works to be done.
Others are confused because of the recent revival of an old error: confounding Justification by faith with Sanctification by the work of the Spirit. The Spirit works His fruit in us by enabling us to understand the Word, by giving us the desire to obey it, and by enabling us to do so.
In the revival of this teaching, passages that speak of justification by faith are related to sanctification. As a result, instead of encouraging Christians to obey God’s admonitions in the Bible, they are told that they can’t do so, and that—in one way or another (not everyone agrees how)—God must do it to them, for them, instead of them.
When meeting up with those who have been taught this sort of thing in your counseling, and who are confused because it “didn’t work,” you should ask them to do something like the following :
List all of the commands in 1 Corinthians (for instance).
Write down how many times Christ, the Holy Spirit or the Father is the One Who is thus commanded.
The write down how many times you (or the Corinthians, if you will) are commanded to do them.
Let us know the results.
Doubtless, this idea seems strange to many Christians today, yet it is the rage in some circles. Such ideas as going deeper into the Gospel and that the Gospel is the means of sanctification, all bundled up together with a half dozen other such statements can be found—not in some backward-thinking, offbeat fundamentalist weirdo church—but in the preaching and writings of a number of big guns as well!
It seems as if one writer is attempting to outdo the next in getting in his licks on the subject, even though it is a denial of the Reformation doctrines of Justification by grace through faith and sanctification by the work of the Spirit in obedient cooperation of the believer with him in accordance to the commands of the Word of God. Philippians 2:13 (God gives “both the desire and the ability to do those things that please Him”) seems to have disappeared from their Bibles. Instead of a cooperative work brought about and sustained by the Spirit, it is an act where one immerses himself into the Gospel. When asked about the matter of biblical obedience, we are told such things as “Oh, it’s hard work getting into the Gospel more deeply.” Such “hard work” replaces biblical obedience to Scriptural commands.
There is a kind of Monkish mysticism in this idea. Think of all that Jesus did for you on the cross—over and over (“Preach the Gospel to yourself every day”)– and somehow or other you will be sanctified thereby. Sanctification no longer is a matter of becoming more and more like Christ by putting off sinful ways and replacing them with biblical ones. Though most mysticism is difficult to articulate, it seems that what is being said is that Gospel immersion automatically makes you a better Christian without learning and doing what God commands by His Spirit’s wisdom and power. No wonder members of formerly doctrinally sound congregations are becoming confused! Such efforts to get one’s self more into the Gospel every day, when it doesn’t work, and when it becomes impossible to articulate, can do nothing but discourage believers who want to become more like Christ. The sad part is that it is these sincere people, who know no better, who get caught up in the movement, only to be disappointed again and again—blaming themselves when it turns out that their lives don’t improve as was promised.
Some time ago I had some criticism about my book, Winning the War Within, in which it was alleged that no one had ever held such a maverick belief as the one that I set forth—that the sin remaining in a believer was habitual. One blogger recently referred to my view as “unique.” Thumbing through W.G.T. Shedd’s Commentary on Romans, (W.G.T. Shedd, Commentary on Romans, reprinted by Klock & Klock 1987 from the 1878 edition) I couldn’t help but notice that what I said was not really unique, as has been claimed by my detractors. While I’m not about to argue the case in this blog, I would like to note by a few scattered quotations that the view was held by John Owen and G.T.C. Shedd back in 1879, which, surely, means that it’s not a Johnnie-come-lately belief, as has been averred.
To begin, then, let me simply set forth a few lines from John Owen as he is quoted in Shedd. Here is the first, “This remaining corruption,” Owen asserts, “is sin in the heart with a constant habitual propensity unto evil.” Shedd approvingly comments, “This remaining corruption . . . Owen asserts to be of the nature of a habit. . . this sin in the heart hath a constant propensity to evil. . . . In other words, indwelling sin in the believer is of the nature of a habit or disposition, in distinction from an act.”
Our regular readers have noticed by now that we have added a column on the left side of this page where we are promoting various books that Dr. Adams has written over the years. I want to urge you to take special notice of the volume we have posted this week. While it was first published in 1989 it speaks to issues that have become widely misunderstood and erroneously taught in biblical counseling circles in recent days. There are some who claim that the church “forgets things” and we are to be grateful for those teachers who “rediscover” and promote “new important truths.” When you hear such things your antennae should go up and you should take a defensive stance.
In this book Jay examines the great old doctrine of sanctification as taught in the New Testament and clearly explained over the years by men like J. C. Ryle and Horatious Bonar. It is the foundational doctrine of all that transpires in the counseling room and the biblical counselor must not be confused by the current crop of teachers who would confuse and conflate justification with sanctification.
Invest in this book. Read it, understand it, and use it.
The word means “set apart.” When God saves someone, he is set apart for God as one of His people. He becomes a “saint” (set apart one). But sanctification in that sense is immediate, and once-and-for-all. There is, however, another sense to sanctification that we usually think of when we speak about it. It is that sense that I wish to discuss.
Sanctification is an on-going process in which one becomes more and more like Christ by putting off the old patterns that he has brought into the new life as a Christian, and in their place, putting on the new ways that God has commanded.
No one can do this in his own strength. According to Philippians 2:13, God gives believers the desire and the ability to do those things that please Him. It’s kind of like the little kid who wants to give his daddy a present for his birthday, and asks dad for some money to do so. He then uses the money to select and purchase that item and give it to dad as a present. God provides what it takes to please Him. But we must make the effort to do whatever it is that it takes to do so when we do it. It is not an either/or operation to please God. We must do those things that please Him—not apart from, but, by His strength.
Strangely, there are, today, those who believe that if we do anything to please God, we are acting by “the arm of flesh.” By that they mean we are doing something solely in our own strength. But, by making it an either/or matter, we upset the biblical balance of loving obedience and strengthening grace. We must remember that our Lord said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Moreover, the “Great Commission” ends by urging the apostles to teach converts to “observe” (that is, do) whatsoever I have commanded you.” Let’s get rid of this confusion in the church by going back to the Bible rather than following our own best ideas!
Revived once more, the old Higher Life view of “abiding” in Christ has raised its head. Essentially, what it says is that if you “abide” (never exactly defined, but some sort of spiritual super-state of existence), then you will automatically receive all the blessings of sanctification instead of working for them by the power of the Spirit. A careful reading of the passage (esp., John 15:6) show that all who don’t abide (lit., “remain”—the passage is talking about eternal security—perseverance of the saints) will be sent to hell (thrown into the fire). If one does abide, he is urged to obey (notice how often the word “commandments” occurs in the passage). He will be pruned to bear fruit; but if truly in the vine, united to Christ (and not spuriously seeming to be so), he will be with the Lord forever. This commandment to “love,” don’t forget, is backed up by Jesus’ words, “If you love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
I’ve heard that there are about 101 different kinds of cold viruses. When you catch a cold from one, you become immune to it; but that doesn’t help you with the rest. However, the older you get, the less colds you get because you’re already immune to so many of them. Now, I don’t know enough to verify or debunk this theory. And, for sure, I’m not going to research it for this blog. The important thing is that it illustrates the way that we can become immune to warnings about sin.
How’s that? Well, Paul used a different metaphor—branding. If your flesh is seared with a hot iron, you no longer are sensitive to pressure on the spot. Both illustrations stress the fact of insensitivity (or immunity) to your sinning. The branding is probably a better one because you certainly can sin the same way again and again. There are assuredly more than 101 different kinds of sin too!
So. remember when you get a cold that it’s not as good an illustration as is the branding iron. Or—is it too much of a stretch to think that you’d associate the two that way? But if you have a convoluted mind like mine, then you can also remember Paul’s warning about becoming insensitive to sin.
How do you brand yourself to become insensitive to sinning? By your frequent self-justification of it.
At any rate, don’t allow yourself to rationalize sin (of any and all sorts). If you do, you will find yourself becoming insensitive to the fact that you are sinning; that’s a bad condition—far more serious than the worst cold—to find yourself in. Why? Because you will soon stop finding yourself in it.
What are the Basic problems occasioned by the sin of Adam?
“Not sure. Trouble in the world?”
Sure is a problem—but, “basic?”
“I guess not.”
There are two; interested in knowing what they are?
Well, ready or not here they come:
There are two ways of looking at it.
At anything—or, if you prefer, at everything.
Pretty simple as a matter of fact.
Thought you’d never ask. There’s God’s way and there’s man’s way. Every issue in life can be viewed from either perspective. Indeed, we always do view things in one way or the other. The problem is, too often—even Christians—view matters from man’s, rather than God’s perspective.
“Don’t the two ever coalesce?”
Only when man accepts and adopts God’s view of life and how to live it. In Isaiah 55:8, God says “My ways are not your ways and My thoughts are not your thoughts.” That pretty well sums up the problem. We can’t expect God to adopt our ways and our thinking; the only way we can come to agreement is if we make the changes necessary to conform to His thoughts and ways.