Category Archives: PseudoReformed Fallacies 101

The Bible is God’s fault, not Peter Leithart’s or anyone else’s

Lets stipulate that there are a bunch of superstitious, overreaching views about baptism that make it magic. OK. Lets stipulate we are not supposed to encourage such views but rather refute them.

That still does not get us out of the woods, in my opinion.

If you teach people that


means that baptism does not save you, I think Jesus is angry with you.

Or again, if you teach that,

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

means that some of those addressed are individually members of the body of Christ and some or not, then, I submit, God doesn’t think you are a trustworthy teacher of his Word.

Is this even debatable among Christians?

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!”

Satan blinds the world to the moral law

So I’ve heard via the twittersphere that Satan never hides the Law, only the Gospel.

It is a contextless statements, like any tweet, so I don’t know if there is some salvageable nuance that got lost in tweeting. But as it stands, it is utter nonsense.

  • Satan does not work to make people think that abortion is OK and should be legal?
  • Satan does not work to make people believe that marriage should include relationships between two people of the same sex?
  • Satan does not work to make people think that prison is civilized and execution is not?

OK, that last one might not be as self-evident to all Christians, but the point is still obvious. We all know quite well that Satan works to hide the moral law.

He does this for two reasons (at least)

  1. He doesn’t want people to feel sinful so that they can be convicted and begin to desire forgiveness.
  2. He wants people to refuse to submit to Christ.

You will notice that the first reason fits into a “law-gospel” paradigm. The second reason, however, is also true, and it points out that the Moral Law is commanded by Christ. Jesus is a King who forbids murder and homosexuality and many other practices. The Great Commission states that we are to teach all nations to obey everything Jesus commanded because he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. When Satan successfully disciples nations to go the opposite way, he is warring against Christ’s kingdom.


Corporate election is not in conflict with electing individuals to eternal life

And you shall make response before the Lord your God, “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.” And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.

Here we have an objective, past, corporate fact—the election and calling of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, and the conquest of Canaan.

But notice how it is all personal. God rescued me from Egypt and brought me into the Promised Land. This would be true of an Israelite even though it was generations later. It would even be true if his family had come in as Gentile immigrants and proselytes. As circumcised citizens they would have been required to make this same confession.

Corporate realities always have personal application. I tell my children that General George Washington led the continental army and won “our” freedom from the British—and that is true even though I have no idea if my ancestors came to colonial America or if they immigrated after the new nation was born. I can celebrate the Fourth of July regardless–just as an Israelite could celebrate the Passover regardless of whether his forefathers had been in Egypt or if he came from a line of proselytes who were adopted into a tribe much later. Each Israelite must confess God’s grace: the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

“‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt” (Ex 13.14-16).

“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’” (Deut 6.20-25).

Read Esther, which ends with all those Gentiles all over the known world becoming Jews. They all had to follow these laws and say these things. It happened to other people but they were included in it. Thus they had the obligation to trust in God and him only. The First Commandment applied to them complete with the Prologue: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

But other aspects of the Exodus also had direct implications for the Israelites. For example, Moses told Pharaoh to send his people away so that they could hold a feast to him. And thus, when God delivered Israel, he set up several feasts for the regular worship of God. Likewise, in delivering them from being foreign slaves in Egypt, we find God telling the Israelites to enjoy their Sabbath rest and to treat foreigners and slaves with justice and charity.

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today (Deut 7.6-11).

Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people (Deut 9.4-6).

So gracious election is fundamental to the OT story. And furthermore, it is an individual election. It is common to claim that the OT emphasizes corporate election and the NT emphasizes (or worse: alone teaches) individual election. But even without further exegesis or passages, we only need to think about it thirty seconds to know that is nonsense in the case of the OT. What was the attitude that Israelites were supposed to cultivate? Were they supposed to go around saying, “Wow, I sure am lucky to have been born an Israelite!”

Of course not! They were supposed to be grateful to God. He hadn’t just chosen a nation in the abstract. No, each Israelite, when he heard the story of Israel’s national deliverance, if he believed it, then he believed that God had loved and planned to reach him with his covenantal grace. Unlike the founding of America, which was done by finite creatures who only had a vague positive regard for future generations, Israel was formed by the sovereign and omniscient God. When Moses promised the people, “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today” (Deut 29.14, 15), God knew exactly who those future people would be because they were part of his plan as he superintended history. If the Israelites were supposed to be grateful, rather than feel lucky, then it could only be because that they knew In the land or in Abraham we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (c.f. Eph 1.11). They could sing: Blessed be God the Lord, who has blessed us in Abraham with every blessing in the Promised Land, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love (1.3, 4).

So, just as the story of national deliverance from the gods of Egypt, meant each Israelite individually was free to serve God and appointed to glorify him at his sanctuary, so the story of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, as the head of the Church, means that each Christian has been the object of God’s special, sovereign love. Just as the Israelite was to confess “and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” so Paul told Peter as recorded in Galatianins 2.20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

God’s love is not impersonal. He doesn’t love an abstract entity (“Israel” or “the Church”) and leave it up to individuals to clamber into it on their own efforts. No, he provides not only grace for the Church but he works by providence and by His Spirit to draw specific people into the Church.

The doctrine of personal, eternal, unconditional election is absolutely necessary to avoid reducing the Gospel to some sort of rescue vehicle which some are lucky enough to find and while others are accidentally left out. No, the entire story of salvation happened because God loved those who he brought and brings to believe the story.

If justification by faith alone is not an ongoing justification then it is not justification by faith at all (Part 3)

Here is the Belgic Confession, Article 22:

The Righteousness of FaithWe believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him.

For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.

Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God — for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior.  And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.” [Romans 3.28]

However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us — for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.

But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place.  And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits.

When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

So this is traditional Protestantism: faith keeps us in a justified state.

And then this from the famous American theologian of the 1800s, Charles Hodge, when he is writing about baptism:

…the benefits of redemption, the remission of sin, the gift of the Spirit, and the merits of the Redeemer, are not conveyed to the soul once for all.  They are reconveyed and reappropriated on every new act of faith…

The benefits of redemption would include justification.

The real question is: Why would anyone argue against this point? Why deny that the ongoing or continual state of being reckoned righteous is by the ongoing or continual faith?

Some people seem to think that justification is no longer “forensic” if it is continued by faith. I use quotation marks here because I don’t think the word is being used right to arrive at this conclusion. But set that aside. The argument proves too much. If ongoing faith cannot be the means of being continually justified, then why should initial faith be any different? We end up without any justification by faith at all.

It is true that I can think of no precedent for faith being required to receive a judicial verdict or status. Certainly God’s condemnation does not have to be received by faith.

The solution is found in the Belgic Confession, as well as in John Calvin and Westminster, and in John Murray and in John Gerstner

In other words, it is just Reformed Theology.

As I wrote a while back:

Have you ever known any official verdict pronounced by judge and jury that only applied to the person over whom the verdict was announced if he or she received it by faith?

When God condemns the wicked is that verdict received by faith?

The whole idea of receiving a forensic declaration “by faith”–if that is all we know about the situation–destroys the very idea of a forensic justification.

So how can justification be God’s judicial act and yet be received by faith?

Union with Christ is the only thing that keeps these two together.

God doesn’t pronounce an audible sentence every time a person is converted. Rather, he publicly justified Jesus by raising him from the dead. (1 Tim 3.16; Romans 8.1ff; See more here.)

All people who entrust themselves to God through Jesus–who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe God raised him from the dead–belong to Jesus and share in the verdict pronounced over Jesus.

Jesus got the verdict he deserved after suffering a condemnation he did not deserve so that we might receive a vindication we don’t deserve and escape a condemnation we do deserve.

Jesus is the incarnation of God and, by his resurrection, the incarnation of God’s verdict, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

All who are joined to Jesus (which is by faith alone) have his status as pronounced by his resurrection.

See also:

So justification by faith alone is really true, both at the first conversion and in ongoing faith.



RePost: John 3.16–Whom Does God Love?

Us calvinists occasionally get in debates about John 3.16. “Does God love everyone in the world?” some ask. And we get painful explanations about how “world” (kosmos) means world of the elect.

Well, I as strange as it may sound, I don’t think John 3.16 really refers to the whole world.

I think it refers to reprobate Israelites.

First of all, when the Gospel of John uses the term “world” we know it, at least sometimes, does not mean the whole world.

My most obvious example: John 15.18-16.4a:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also.

If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: “They hated me without a cause.”

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

So “the world,” here, are those who have witnessed Jesus’ miracles and witness, who have the Law of the Old Testament, who will cast the disciples out of synagogues, and who persecute in the name of God, not of Caesar or Diana of the Ephesians.

The world is the establishment of First-Century Judaism.

What about John 3.16? In context, is there any reason to think that Jesus is still speaking to Nicodemus? Despite the red-letters in many passages, we know John starts commenting without warning.  This reads to me like one of those instances.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

John is summarizing what happened, looking back on the outcome after the years have passed. Jesus came to bring salvation to Israel and Israel chose judgment.

John 3.16, then, would be pretty much the same message as Jeremiah 13.11:

For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

The whole point of John 3.16 is the tragedy of rejecting the Son. It isn’t dealing with the secret decrees of God but of His sincere offer, motivated by a love that sent His Son.

On the day of judgment, God’s not going to accept the claim from the reprobate, “You never loved me, anyway.” And I don’t want to hear any of them add, “At least that’s what I learned from internet calvinists.”

Related Posts:

For Further Reading:

Postscript: Is there a verse that says God so love the world (as we know it)?

Yes! Of course there is. It is found in Genesis 12.3:

Now YHWH said to Abram,

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse,
and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Abraham wasn’t chosen at the expense of the world but for the sake of the world! The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, identifies God’s message to Abraham as the Gospel itself:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Thus, postmillennialism is extremely important to the Gospel!

If justification by faith alone is not an ongoing justification then it is not justification by faith at all (Part 2)


Abraham is not alone in the story of his justification. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” By that definition, Cornelius was justified before Peter preached to him.

As I have written:

In Acts 10.1-4 we have the introduction to the story of the gospel being preached to the Gentiles:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.”

Obviously, Cornelius is already regenerate and justified as we define those terms in our theological parlance. As Francis Turretin observes:

Although a Gentile by birth, Cornelius was yet a proselyte by religion. Although he could not believe that the Messiah had come and was that Jesus whom Peter preached, yet he could believe with the Jews from the oracles of the prophets that he would come. Thus he is not to be reckoned among the Gentiles, but among the patriarchs who looked for salvation from a Redeemer nor yet manifested. Hence by the advent of Peter, he did not receive a beginning, but an increase of faith.

We find the same thing in the case of Lydia,

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16.13-15).

Lydia was, according to our theological definitions gleaned from the Bible as a whole, regenerate and justified before she ever met Paul. Paul worshiped with her because they worshiped the same God. God’s opening of her heart I think proves the necessity and reality of God’s effectual call by analogy and a forteriori argument, but the event shows first that even regenerate, justified, persons only pursue holiness and “increase of faith” by the Spirit’s monergistic work.

Just like Abraham was justified by faith before hearing about Christ, so was Cornelius. He needed to hear the good news but he was already a believer. Peter himself, by entering Cornelius’ house, was acknowledging that Cornelius was already right with God.

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection…. Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Nevertheless,  Peter describes what happened after he proclaimed the story of Jesus, thus

Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

Given the importance of this counsel to issues in Romans and Galatians, it is quite certain that “cleansed… by faith” is the same as justified by faith.  What Turretin calls not “a beginning, but an increase of faith,” Peter declares to have justified.

So, again, the similarity with Abraham is obvious. Both were justified believers. Both were given a message. Both believed that message. Both are described as justified by that believing in that instance.


If justification by faith alone is not an ongoing justification then it is not justification by faith at all (Part 1)

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

So we read in Genesis 15 that Abra[ha]m was justified by faith.

Just like he had already been justified by faith before this event.

Thus we read in Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Not only do we have here a clear statement that Abraham had the faith “counted… to him as righteousness” before the events in Genesis 15, but he and his son and grandson also had the same afterward.

No surprise here. Paul himself describes Abraham’s faith not as a moment of conversion but as the belief that characterized his life:

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is [exclusively] the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent 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.

The “footsteps of the faith” were the footsteps began at least when Abra[ha]m left Ur in response to God’s call (Genesis 12.1-3). Paul deliberately quotes from both Genesis 15 (“so shall your offspring be”) and and an event many years later in Genesis 17 (“I have made you the father of many nations”). Further, the “no distrust made him waver” does not seem to refer to only one event, but an ongoing trust. So too, “he grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God.”

So Abraham (I’m dropping the silly brackets) was justified by faith alone that night recorded in Genesis 15.6 and he was justified by faith alone before and after.


More Great Gospel Preaching and Reformed Orthodoxy from the First Jackson PCA Pulpit: on the Decalogue = “Grace Before Law”

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Exodus 20. Today we are beginning an exposition of what has been called in the English language for the last 500 years, the Ten Commandments. In the Hebrew Bible this section is known as the Ten Words or the Ten Pronouncements, but as begin to study them together it’s important for us to remember that we live in a day and time that doesn’t like law. We are very suspicious of law. We have an anti-authority spirit about us. We live in a day and time where the law is regarded as something impersonal, abstract, distant, tyrannical, restrictive and threatening and we need to realize how the mindset of the age impacts us in our thinking about biblical law. That’s one reason why we chose to study chapter 19 prior to our study of God’s law as it’s set forth in chapter 20, because chapter 19, and frankly the two verses we’re going to look at today, are devoted to setting the table, to giving the context, to explaining the situation and circumstance and relationship in which God’s law is being given and propounded. That context is a context of grace; it is a gospel context; it’s a context of redemption; it is a context of covenant relationship and realizing things will help you lose those suspicions about law and authority and rule and rights and wrongs which pervade the mindset and the psyche of those in our generation.

There’s nothing more relevant or more timely or more practical for us to recover now than a biblical understanding of the biblical description of infleshed love and righteousness. You could really define the law that way. The law is infleshed love and righteousness. It shows you what righteousness looks like in a specific circumstance. It shows you what love looks like in a specific circumstance. That’s what the law is. It is a reflection of the character of God and an authoritative expression of what it means to love and to be righteous.

And the subject of God’s law is vital. If you have carefully and prayerfully pondered the subject, the way that God’s law relates to the Christian you have done well, because a proper understanding of God’s law is essential for a healthy Christian life and experience. And we’ve been trying to give a background in order that we might understand the role of the law as we study it in Exodus 20. The law of God is founded in grace and is the expression of love both to God and man. The law of God is founded in grace. That’s a lesson that we learned very clearly in Exodus 19 and it is the expression of love. We learn that from the way Jesus Himself summarizes the law in the New Testament.

What does it mean to love? To keep his commandments he would say and yet we live in a day and time where there is a great deal of suspicion of that even in the church. If you are found in your prayer closet mumbling the words ‘how I love your law, O Lord,’ your wife may report you to the ecclesiastical authorities as a closet legalist. I mean, that’s not how evangelicals talk. Aren’t you a legalist if you talk about loving the law? And yet the Old Testament saint’s highest expression of his devotion to, and loyalty to, and love of God was, ‘how I love Your law, O Lord’ and you say, ‘yes, but that was the Old Testament.’ Well, think about that for a minute. On the night before His crucifixion, in the upper room to the only core of disciples He had left on planet earth, Jesus said to them, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The expression of love that He wanted to see from His disciples to Him was obedience to His commandments. In fact, if you sneak a peek at the last verse that Brister Ware read in Mark 3:35 today, you will see Jesus define His disciples as those who do the will of His Father. That’s a New Testament description of a disciple, of a believer, of a follower of the one true God, not just an Old Testament description but a New Testament description and therefore the subject of the law, the subject of obedience and how they relate to God’s call of grace and the gift of faith is vital for us to understand. So let’s look to God’s word in Exodus 20:1,2 and hear it attentively:

“Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Amen….

The whole sermon is great. Please read it. True “sonship” is spelled out in a way that reminds me of my reading in Proverbs. And it is totally confessional:

3. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant [of works], the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.

6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

Q. 100. What special things are we to consider in the Ten Commandments?
A. We are to consider, in the Ten Commandments, the preface, the substance of the commandments themselves, and several reasons annexed to some of them, the more to enforce them.

Q. 101. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?
A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is contained in these words, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.

Q. 102. What is the sum of the four commandments which contain our duty to God?
A. The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God, is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.

Q. 103. Which is the first commandment?
A. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Q. 104. What are the duties required in the first commandment?
A. The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything he is offended; and walking humbly with him.

Grace and faith: the Preface and the First Commandment.

As one wise pastor once said defending the Reformed Faith from its detractors:

It seems pretty clear to me that the first word of the decalogue (not commandments) has to do with trusting Yahweh alone. The language of “having” or “possessing” no other god is marriage language. Israel, the bride, is to cling to Yahweh, her Husband and Lord, in faithfulness. What is this but salvation by faith? How is that wrong?

Just ask the preacher at First Presbyterian in Jackson, Mississippi. It is not wrong. It is the Biblical message.

For more on this, see my: “Obedient faith is not threat to Protestant Doctrine; it IS Protestant doctrine.”

Too bad Randy Alcorn hasn’t delved into the Reformed Theology known as “the Federal Vision”

What is your view on limited atonement? – Resources – Eternal Perspective Ministries.

I really enjoyed this essay and also Pastor Doug Wilson’s excellent point about postmillennialism in response.

But in all this talk about “logic,” I want to point out that I think logic is being ignored.

In John MacArthur’s Study Bible, commenting on 1 John 2:2 he says, “Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.”

But that means no unbeliever who later is converted was ever under God’s wrath, a direct contradiction of Ephesians 2 and, for instance, the rest of the Bible. Unbelievers are not justified because they are elect and Christ died for them. They are justified because and when they are given faith in Christ–which is only because of God’s mercy and because Christ died for them.

This truth is safeguarded in the Westminster Confession, though I confess I was blind to the document thanks to the sloganeering of neo- (pseudo- sub- ?) calvinists. J. I. Packer had to wake me from my dogmatic slumbers. (There is now an excellent resource on the web that documents the Reformed heritage on this point.)

Also, Randy is acting like there are only two options: Christ died for the elect or Christ died for the whole world. Two points to make here:

First, what about statements that Christ died for the visible church? (Acts 20.28; I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that Paul is not demanding the watching of an invisible church). In that case, Randy needs to rethink his options:

Furthermore, 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of false teachers who bring swift destruction on themselves, and describes them as “denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” Either Christ died for all men, including those who aren’t elect, or the false teachers who bring destruction on themselves are elect. I just don’t know how else to interpret this passage.

Does “elect” only and everywhere in Scripture denote election to eternal life? There are simply more options than “died for the whole world,” and “died for the elect.” For example, not everyone hears the gospel. Those that do hear it have been given a gift from God and due to the death of Christ. When the non-elect (not chosen for eternal life) reject the Gospel they will be held accountable for rejecting a gift that cost God his Son to give them.

This brings me to my second point: How Christ died for someone or group is not mutually exclusive to other statements using the same language of “for.” First Timothy 4.10 should put this beyond doubt: “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.” This is especially compelling since, in the same letter, Paul wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

So Christ died for all but especially for believers. This is not a denial of the doctrine of limited atonement, but a glorious affirmation of it.

And frankly, the problems we have in seeing this are anything but logical. I don’t think they were ever driven by logic. I think the need to defend the truth of Scripture eventually degenerated into a desire to believe we are special because we obsess over “the five points” all the time, make it the key to all reading of Scripture, and an essential element in even professing the Gospel (in some extreme cases). Obviously, this made us develop a new language at variance with the language of the Apostles and Jesus and the prophets.

So the Bible suddenly sprouts up “problem passages” from the perspective of our new mentality, that we claimed as our piety. They were not “problem passages” because false teachers twist them–we will always have to deal with those. Now they had become “problem passages” because we would never permit ourselves to write or speak that way. We know better than God how to allow our congregations to talk and write. And our job as theologians and pastors became to protect our congregations from the Bible and teach them to focus on the “safe” passages.

And we actually imagine that this is faithfulness to Christ on our part.