Commands

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 :

  1. List all of the commands in 1 Corinthians (for instance).
  2. Write down how many times Christ, the Holy Spirit or the Father is the One Who is thus commanded.
  3. The write down how many times you (or the Corinthians, if you will) are commanded to do them.

Let us know the results.

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Preaching the Gospel to Yourself

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.

Putting It Together

Many sermons are preached from Romans 12:1:

I urge you then, brothers, because of these mercies from God, to present your bodies as living, holy pleasing sacrifices to God, which is the reasonable way to serve Him in worship.

“It seems to be a favorite verse of readers as well.  But is there, in the interest shown here, something that many miss?”

Definitely!

“Well, if that’s so, what is it?”

Let me answer by observing, first of all, that the verse is packed with truth and virtually tells us not to miss all that is it:

  1. The verse is the conclusion of something that went before—Paul is urging his readers to do something;
  2. He gives a compelling reason for doing it;
  3. He clearly explains what it is;
  4. He relates it to proper worship in a New Testament times;
  5. He draws what he urges from what he has said in previous chapters

In worship we “serve” God (Note that worship involves activity on man’s part).  The word for worship is latria—a term that calls one to give service of any and all sorts to another. Many want to know how to worship.  The answer is to be ready at all time to do God’s will. Worship is not singing a song, praying a prayer and listening to a sermon (though these things may be a significant part of it).  Worship is larger than what we do at a church “service.” It includes all of our service to God.

The aspect of worship that is “urged” in this passage is said to be the reasonable way to worship.  It is reasonable because it ought to be the natural outcome that stems from the “mercies of God’ that have been shown to us in chs. 1-11.

“ What are they?”

All of the gracious acts of God found in those chapters of Romans preceding this one. He bases his appeal for worship upon the way of salvation and sanctification that is explained there, and upon all to which such mercy ought to lead.

But further, note, Paul calls for worship that comes from bodies that are living sacrifices.

“That one has always troubled me.  How can a sacrifice be ‘living?’”

What Paul means, in contrast to Old Testament sacrifices, is that God requires our bodies to be “sacrificed.” In a physical sacrifice the very life of the victim is given up. That means, in worshiping God, our bodies are to be given up to His service.  That is to say, they are to be used fully in His service.

And, here is what is ordinarily missed—this is the reasonable outcome of what he tells us about our bodies in chapters 6 and 7.  There, he discusses sanctification—becoming more and more what God wants us to be; becoming more and more like Christ. That process (it does not come all at once) involves using the members of the body, that once were dedicated to serving sin, to serve God every bit as fully in His service as we did in serving sin (see 6: 13, 16, 19). In offering a “living sacrifice” the believer willingly submits of all aspects of his body to God to be used as He directs in His Word.

This transition verse is, therefore, the beginning of the conclusion to the whole argument of the book which is that God alone saves you by faith alone and expects us to serve him alone with all aspects of our bodies (including our brains!).

Will you worship God that way today?  Will you “conform” your ways so as to please God according to His perfect will?  If so, you will cease more and more to conform to the ways of this modern age. By renewing your mind you will more and more think as God does. And that will enable you to do the will of God.

“How can I know what His will is?”

In one way alone—by determining from His Word what “pleases” Him. And that takes the study of the Scriptures so as to transform our minds which, in turn, transforms the use we make of our bodies. We must wholly offer our bodies to Him in His service. That is worship in Spirit and in truth.

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Book Review

How People Change
by Paul David Tripp and Timothy S. Lane
Punch Press: Winston-Salem (2006, 2008)
Reviewed by Donn R Arms

The traditional view of the gospel’s relationship to change is that salvation is foundational to change. Once a person is justified before God by believing in Christ’s saving work on the cross, and made a new creature, he then begins the work of co-laboring with God in the growth process, also known as sanctification. The traditional view sees our role, after being made a new creature (born again), as many-faceted in regard to biblical instruction—the primary role being the learning of God’s Word and the application of it to life via obedience in how we think and behave (Matthew 7:24).

The traditional view makes a significant distinction between justification (redemption), sanctification (growing into Christ-likeness), and glorification (complete transformation). It sees justification and glorification as acts of God alone apart from human participation or monergistic, but sees sanctification as synergistic or a cooperative (but none the less dependent) work with God. Obviously, an accurate view and description of our participation is vital to affecting real and lasting change.

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Gospel Sanctification

There are many more people who have been affected by the latest Gospel Sanctification propaganda than you—or even they—might realize (if you don’t know about it, it’s time to find out!).

You hear it in little things that they say, and /or how they say bigger ones.

People are now writing not only about “idols of the heart,” but also about the really “deep idols” that we must deal with. How they make such non-biblical distinctions, let alone distinguish idols of the heart from plain, old idolatry, is hard to gather. They have no biblical support for doing such things, but what they say sounds pious, and many are swept aside by this fact, and, I suppose are out there trying to repent, “deeply.”

Actually, down through the years it has been the vague stuff like this that has captured the minds of the untaught and unlearned (2 Peter 3:16). That’s why mysticism stills holds a large segment of the Roman church in its clutches, why liberalism with its vague neo-orthodoxy still affects the thinking of many, and why post-modern anarchism is in vogue.

The thing that needs to be done is for the members of biblical congregations to be encouraged by their pastors to buy and study good theological textbooks like, AA Hodge’s Outlines, like Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, and—more recently—Reymond’s Systematic Theology. And, of course, these churches should regularly teach true doctrine clearly and persuasively.

People simply don’t know what they are being fed, and what they are swallowing, half the time.  Speaking of time, it’s high time that we got back to thinking theologically rather than reading Christian romances and pious-sounding froth. If we don’t, error—rampant at the moment—will take over leadership in the “Evangelical” church.

Do you know what the words “justification” and “sanctification” mean when used theologically? If you don’t it’s certainly necessary for you to “catch up.” The crux of the issue has to do with the unbiblical fusion of sancrification with justification. The latter is set forth not as “keeping” God’s commandments, but as bringing about change by concentrating on the cross. As one immerses himself in the cross of Christ, sanctifying growth occurs. The biblical truth is that we are to pursue fruit, which becomes a reality and the Spirit helps us grow in grace.

It’s time to read carefully about the meaning of justification and sanctification. But be careful that you read the classics, that you compare the definitions and concepts of these more “modern” texts with them, and that you are able to distinguish the error taught today.  Get, and digest, a copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Becoming a discerning Christian ought to be high on your list of goals.  Otherwise you, or some of your loved ones, will be taken in by the current wave of error that is washing over the church!

Winning the War Within

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.

Obey

This word today is taboo in some Christian circles. Why? Because it runs counter to the new trend that confuses sanctification and justification. And yet, why should this be? There is no valid reason for such a confusion except the desire to promote the new form of quietism that some have called Gospel Sanctification. This movement runs contrary to the Reformation and the Scriptures. It is dangerous and must be exposed and halted.

When people tell us that what you must “do” to be sanctified is to preach the Gospel to yourself, or to focus, marinate, or otherwise soak one’s self in the cross, they make a totally unbiblical case for their view. You find nothing of the sort in the Bible. Thinking “deeply” about the Gospel will not, in itself, bring on sanctification. Certainly thinking about what Jesus did for us on the cross ought to motivate us to become more set apart from sin and to righteousness (i.e., sanctified). But motivate us to do what? Meditate on the cross? No. What, then?

What Jesus told us to do in the Great Commission was “obey (KJV: “observe”) all that He commanded us.” Obey—that‘s what the Gospel hymn says: Trust and Obey.  And the writer got it right—we trust for justification (as Abraham did) and we obey (for sanctification). The Holy Spirit enables us to know from Scripture, and to do by His strength, the things that please God—we don’t obey in our own wisdom or power. John 14:15 is still in the Bible, though you’d never think so if you read GS materials (see also John 14:21, and see the warning of 4:24. Don’t miss John 15:17). One wonders whether he ought to ask GS people what Paul asks in Galatians 3:1.

Anyone who wants to think “more deeply” (a favorite term of the GS people), ought to concentrate on the Great Commission and on Philippians 2:12, 13. God gives us the desire and the ability to do those things that please Him. Doing is obeying (see John’s great phrase to “practice the truth” [1 John 1:6]). And be sure to read carefully John 17:17—there we learn that God’s truth believed and obeyed in one’s daily walk (2 John 6–not meditation or fixation on the Gospel) is what sanctifies.

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The Law

The Law was never intended to save. It was given to people who had from birth transgressed it and, therefore, could not be perfect—as it demanded.  Of course, God knew this when He temporarily set it up to demonstrate human sin and lostness, and (therefore) the vital need for a Savior. The cross is central to our faith.

Jesus was able to keep the law, since from birth, He was sinless and capable of doing so, and also could, therefore, die for lost sinners who had not kept it. Judaizers want to throw in the keeping of the commandments by sinners as a part of salvation which intention, as can be readily seen, is preposterous.

But there are some who think that instead of dying on the cross to justify us in God’s sight, which is what the Lord did for us, Jesus also kept it to sanctify us, and that this process of sanctification is now going on as a result of our focusing on the cross.

No one would deny that to focus on the cross from time to time is a good thing to do. But, that isn’t the way to become sanctified. This view has Jesus keeping His own commandments to sanctify us. But sanctification has to do with believers becoming more like Christ by “observing (obeying) whatsoever He has commanded” them (Mt 28:30). They, themselves, must obey; He does not do for us, instead of us, what He has commanded us to do. Indeed, observing His commandments is what the church ought to be “teaching” its members to do rather than mystically contemplating the death of Jesus. To teach this latter, new doctrine, is to boarder on Medieval mysticism. To teach this as the task of the believer, rather than to “observe” Christ’s “commandments” by the wisdom and power of the Spirit, is placing Christians on a pathway that leads back to Rome.

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What Is Sanctification?

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!

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