Who is This Fellow? Is he an Arch-heretic? Let’s Hope Not…

Hello there, reader of Late Night Theology. I’m a new contributor here on this blog, and I’m grateful for any time taken by you to not only read this blog, but any tedious, meandering drivel I manage to produce for it. My prayer is that our Lord will open the foolish, sinful mind of this, the author whose article you are reading, and fill it with wisdom from above. May this writer pen (or type) the truth, unsullied by the falsehoods of uninformed teaching.

To be upfront and honest with you, my reader, I find it necessary to disclose a few things which, if found out after more than a couple readings of any future work, might shock you, and even cause you to have a bad taste in your mouth, fall ill, or find yourself in any number of stress related medical emergencies. Such emergencies may include, but are not limited to, toxic shock, gastrointestinal distress, hemorrhage, bursitus, or clinical depression.

  1. I am a Baptist
  2. I won’t agree with all of what the other contributors write (and they won’t always agree with what I write). 
  3. I’m not here to fight the culture. I’m here for the sake of the gospel. 

 

I am a Baptist.

Yes, I am a Baptist. (Insert gasp, spit-take, primal shriek etc. here) I am a member of a local church in the Baptist Missionary Association, thereby making me one of those types of Baptists known as “Missionary Baptist”. The local church I attend has adopted the BMAA Doctrinal Statement as well as the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, for guidance in interpreting the Bible, which we believe to be God’s only revealed word to His people.

To answer a few questions, yes, I believe in calling them ordinances. I’m not fond of baptismal regeneration doctrine. I believe in dunking folks (so long as they’re saved). I believe the principle of closed Communion. I think it’s weird and very romish to call it “Eucharist,” but I won’t give you a weird look for more than a few seconds should you call it that. No, I’m not an Armenian, but I wouldn’t call myself a Calvinist either. No, I’m not a Molinist. Yes, I’m aware of the organizational tie of the SBC, ABA, and BMA to the English reformation. Yes, I believe doctrines held by Baptists existed pre-reformation, but I don’t subscribe in whole to the landmarkist “Trail of Blood” line of thought. No, I’m still not a Calvinist. I jest in saying so, but where I’d consider myself mildly covenantal, I’d say my Presbyterian brethren are wildly covenantal. I believe in the Five Solas.

Conflict With the Brethren (and sister…en?)

Since I’m in a different denomination than the other contributors on Late Night Theology, conflict is sure to arise. I shall make a concerted effort to avoid such conflict, by focusing on the things I believe I have in common with my fellow contributors, unless prompted by the group to express views that could be considered uniquely “Baptist”. By focusing on what makes us different to an unhealthy extent, all we accomplish is division.

Where shall we then unite? Upon which hill shall we die? Despite disagreement on secondary and tertiary issues, may all the contributors continue in grace and love on this site.

Focus: The Gospel

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

– Ephesians 2:8&9

One thing I hope all here have in common is the doctrine of justification, that we are saved from wrath by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as revealed to us in the scriptures, for the glory of God alone.

It should also be known here, that not one of my articles will be geared to fighting or changing the culture. The apostles didn’t go about, decrying the society in which our God had placed them, calling for social change either from the conservative side, crying out for the false godliness of a nominal patriotism, nor from the liberal side, crying out in favor of the idol worship of social justice. They preached the gospel, planted churches, and discipled men to lead churches and plant more churches. Forcing the culture to follow our warped, godless sense of godliness was never the scriptural model for Christianity, and I won’t personally be a party to it here or anywhere else. Voting one way or the other never saved any person’s soul, but hearing the gospel faithfully taught from God’s word, and repenting before God, putting on faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ sure did, continues to do so, and shall continue, should Christ tarry in bringing that great day of judgement.

 

Dearest reader, I believe that is all I am able to produce for you at the moment. I hope that despite the meager effort on my part in this pitiful introductory article, something was gained in the reading of it. I look forward to the joys and discomforts of writing for your internet literary consumption, and I hope you take as much enjoyment in reading as I do writing. May you never experience the same discomforts, though.

Escape from Monkey Hill

Monkey Hill

It has been three years since Allyson and I honeymooned in New Orleans. We had a great time eating our way through the French Quarter, learning to drive in a city of only ways, and forgetting that real life existed for only a few days. But as the exhaustive planner and lover of my wife, I decided to really go all out and take her on Allyson’s All Day Animal Adventure. See, Allyson loves animals and the zoo. If she could, she would go every day. But in New Orleans, you can buy a day pass and go t the insectarium, aquarium, and zoo for a discounted price. This is a top notch zoo with live exhibits where you can see and even touch the animals. We’re newlyweds and so of course poor. But this, I’m all over this; Day 3 of Husband Jay is going to kill it.

We arrived, only to wait in line for our passes to get stamped. Now we weren’t in line for a long time, probably fifteen minutes. But it was summer and the humidity was getting to all of us in line as we patiently stood in our Purgatorial Sweat Box. As Allyson and I are joking and kidding around, I saw the family in front of us. It’s a typical touristy family parents, two kids, and a grandparent; our fellow members of the sauna like queue. But about halfway through the line the older child began getting fussy. He was probably no more than six or seven. Now would I say that he was acting bad. He wasn’t throwing a tantrum or crying. He was just a bored, hot, child ready to get in to see the animals. So he’s hanging onto the dad, and just complaining. “How long is it going to be? I’m bored? Are we almost there? It’s hot today? What can we see first? Can I play Angry Birds?” You get the idea. But then he said the thing that really piqued my interest: I just want to go to Monkey Hill. Please can we go?

And he repeated it. For about two minutes straight.

Now Monkey Hill is actually quite famous. They built it in the 1930’s so that kids in New Orleans would know what a hill looks like. There’s a five story tree house, a wading pool, and kids often roll down the grass of the hill. It’s been there forever and kids of all ages still go ape for it. It is right in the middle of the zoo and so for parents it’s a great midway point to rest while kids play. However, after a while the dad had grown impatient about the Monkey Hill subject. Then he said it.

This father bent down to his son, mustering up all the kindness and tenderness in his voice. He ruffled his hair and said, “Brandon, I’ll tell you what. If you’re good, we’ll go to Monkey Hill.”

My heart sank. Not because this guy is a bad father. I don’t think he is. I’ve heard many parents say similar things. I get that I don’t get parenting decisions because I’m not one. That wasn’t my issue. But because in it I heard the legalism I had so often struggled with as a teen and younger adult. I heard all the legalism in that moment of “quid pro quo”

I think so often, I view God as this type of Father: one who looks at me and says, “Now Jay, if you act right, then I will come and save you. But you have to make sure that you have your act together in order to get the reward.” I struggle with viewing God from a place that if when I sin, He’s coming after me and mine to get me back. Or He’s causing bad things to happen because I wasn’t as faithful as I should’ve been. So then, what do I do? I try to grit and grind my way to holiness. I study the Catechism more, I sing out of the Psalter, I make sure that I’m listening to religious podcasts. But not out of a heart longing to know God or to worship him, but because I have to make sure I’m crossing things off my list.

When I was at CBC, I made sure that I had whatever new book I was reading at the time in my backpack and read before class. Not because I just loved reading, but because I wanted people to see my Older Brother self reading it. I wanted people to go “that Jay Sawrie is just so dedicated”. I made sure all of my tweets were deep theological truths, because that’s what I thought would be God pleasing. That was the deal. I was good, so I get to go to Monkey Hill. I was good, so now God doesn’t have a reason to ditch me when I sin. I was faithful and pious, so God now owes me to never leave.

But God’s faithfulness to us isn’t “quid pro quo” but rather “it is finished” faithfulness. God’s promise to keep us is based on nothing that we have brought, are bringing, or will bring to the table. Christ died for future sins too; so that now whatever we do wind up bringing is still going to the trash heap. Our Pharisaical righteousness doesn’t earn us our place or earn our keep. We don’t get in by faith and stay in by faithfulness. When God looks at us, He sees Christ. He actively obeys and then gives us His obedience for our disobedience. He works, we get the reward. He takes the spanking, we get to go outside and play. Any attempt to add to the works of Christ by our own bootstrap pulled attempts, really just scream “Eh I’ll do it myself”.

But here’s the ironic thing. As we made the turn in the zoo and approached the Hill, right at the entrance was the sign: Monkey Hill Closed for Repairs. No one got into Monkey Hill that day. The promise of legalism is so empty, that even when we strive and work so that God will delight in us, all we find is the broken promise that this wasn’t the way after all. Legalism only leads to tears and disappointment. Because then we feel cheated. We believe that God now owes us something in return for all the merit that we brought Him. But God has not promised us anything that He has not already provided in Christ.

So then, let’s keep looking to Christ. Let us see Him and taste of Him in the Sacraments. Let us run to Him by faith. Keep hearing and believing the Gospel.

When Your Sin is Exposed, Run to Jesus

When Your Sin is

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
– Hebrews 4:12-16, NIV

Every pastor has a pastor – someone that they can talk with and go to for spiritual advice. If you’re a pastor, and you don’t have a pastor, then get one. You’ll go insane. At the very least, get a therapist. I don’t really recommend that option because therapists tend to charge by the hour and ask you about your feelings in a very unfeeling way, but I digress.

I was listening to a recent sermon my pastor (which can find at this link), and he briefly expounded on Hebrews 4:12-16, and I wanted to share with you my take away from his exposition.

Notice, first of all, that our passage tells us of the sharpness of God’s word, and how it is that sharpness that tears into the root of our being. And what is it that is at the core our being? Sin. We’re sinful, and the word of God exposes that sin before a holy God. The same holy God before whose presence Isaiah feared that he might die because he was a man of unclean lips. So, if this is the case, then what hope is there for us?

Our hope is that Jesus is a faithful high priest who has taken upon Himself the sins of those who run to Him for light and life. Because He always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25), we are able to approach the throne of grace and receive mercy in the time of need. And when do we need mercy? All the time, especially when we see our sin exposed before Him, and do you know what? We can rejoice because it has all been laid on Christ.

“Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid”
– Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend

“And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
– Revelation 5:9-10, NIV

Jesus paid for you, and He continually intercedes for you. Go in peace.

In Defense of Intinction: A Response to Joe Thorn

Intinction

I highly respect Joe Thorn as a preacher, and his podcast “Doctrine & Devotion” is one of the better Christian podcasts out there despite the some of the less than pointless banter between he and his brother in arms, Jimmy Fowler. However, I’m writing this article because Thorn published an article on the Doctrine & Devotion blog entitled, “Sip It, Don’t Dip It.

In his article, Thorn makes an attempt to dissuade Christians from practicing the Lord’s Supper via intinction.  For those of you who don’t know, intinction is the practice whereby you take the bread, dip it into the wine, and eat it. Apparently, this is an offensive practice within the ranks of the Reformed community, and until I read Thorn’s article and did the research, I didn’t realize that this was such a big deal.

Goals

First of all, I’m not writing this response to say that intinction is the only valid way to partake of the sacrament. That would be just as preposterous as saying that the only valid way to partake of the eucharist is by eating the bread first, and then drinking the wine. I’m simply defending the practice as being equally valid with the other ways in which the body of Christ has been known to partake throughout the ages.

Secondly, I’m going to kindly overlook the irony of a Baptist telling me that I shouldn’t ‘immerse’ the bread into the wine.

What I hope to accomplish is to start a conversation that might allow Joe Thorn and those who agree with him to reconsider their position of intinction as invalid. I could care less whether they personally practice intinction or not, but I feel holding to such a rigid position marginalizes brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to such a practice.

A Review of the Article in Question

Thorn starts out his article by saying that “rightly administering the Lord’s Supper is one of the marks of a true church.” Right out of the gate, Thorn is by implication stating that churches that practice intinction are not true churches because clearly he does not believe that this is a way to “rightly administer” the Supper.

As you continue reading the article you’ll find that Thorn has given us three reasons that he believes we should “sip it, don’t dip it” and I’ll examine all three of these reasons.

  1. The Command to Eat and Drink
    • Thorn brings up an interesting point that there seems to be a separation in distributing and partaking of elements, but we have to ask ourselves if our Lord’s thought process behind this was because He foresaw the alleged evils of intinction down through the annals of time, and He wanted to make sure to prevent such a catastrophe by keeping the elements of the meal separate, or are the authors simply giving unfolding the events as they happened?We have to be careful not to read into the text what is not there, and what Thorn seems to be reading into the Gospel accounts is a command to separate the elements. In his paper on Scripture’s Normativity, Grant Gaines shares with us a couple of thoughts from N.T. Wright concerning the use of Scripture which I find relevant.

      “As N. T. Wright reminds us, the Bible “is not a rule book; it is a narrative.” [1] To attempt merely to gather a collection of all the transcultural principles from Scripture is to “belittle the Bible” because it implies “that God has, after all, given us the wrong sort of book and [that] it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book by engaging in these hermeneutical moves.” [2]

  2. The Significance of the Blood Separated from the Body
    • Notice what Thorn says here:

      “Just as the Paschal lamb was sacrificed, its blood being poured out in death, so Jesus presents the Lord’s Supper as a separation of blood and body. This separation itself signifies death and points explicitly to the death of our Savior.”

      This is going to probably sound more flippant than how I intend for it to be, but if the Lord’s Supper is simply a representation (as most Baptists would assert), then why does it matter? I mean if we’re saying that when Christ said, “This is my body” he actually meant “This is a representation of my body” then why would it bother Thorn for someone to practice intinction?

      If we continue reading this section, we see Thorn again reading something into the text of Scripture that isn’t there. He argues that the Apostle Paul talks about the elements being separate and distinct in 1 Corinthians 10. If that’s the case, then let’s look at it. I’ll even play ball and look at it in the ESV.

      “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” – 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, ESV

      Paul certainly mentions the elements separately, but is this an explicit command for them to be taken separately? I’m not so sure. I think to say that this is a command for the elements to be taken separately is awfully akin to the Appalachian Pentecostals who believe that Mark 16 is a command to take up serpents and drink poison. I don’t see a command here. I simply see a statement about participating in Christ by partaking of the Supper.

      However, Joe Thorn is adamant that “each taken separately is a “participation” in Christ.” By implication, he seems to be saying that the elements taken separately is not a participation in Christ. So, if it’s not a participation in Christ, then what is it? Well, the Apostle Paul seems to tell us in the 21st verse of the same chapter.

      “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” – 1 Corinthians 10:21, ESV

      So, if the Paul is addressing intinction here (which he’s not) then that would mean that those who participating such a practice are eating and drinking at the table of Satan. I’m confident that Thorn did not mean to imply such a thing about well-meaning brothers and sisters, but that’s what happens when you read something into the text of Scripture that isn’t there.

  3. The Regulative Principle Cautions Us
    • This third and final reason that Joe Thorn gives us assumes that the Regulative Principle even works to begin with.For those of you who don’t know what The Regulative Principle is, the Westminster Confession of Faith defines it in these terms,

      “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

      This means that we are to worship God only in the ways in which He has prescribed and not “according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan.” Sounds good, right? The problem is that Jesus Christ Himself did not follow the Regulative principle, as David and Tim Bayly point out here:

      “Scripture tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue in Galilee on the Sabbath as was His habit, and there publicly read the Word of God, explaining Isaiah’s significance to the assembled people. In any Reformed church such action would be viewed as the the height of worship. Yet where in the Old Testament do we find express biblical warrant for synagogue worship? Where is routine public worship outside the realm of temple worship and public feast days positively commanded?”

      Seeing as how Jesus didn’t observe this Puritanical practice, I’m not so sure that it’s useful for us to observe it either. Therefore, it’s not a valid reason to keep the elements separate in the Supper.

Concluding Thoughts on the Article

Joe Thorn concludes the article by trying to say that we are commanded to (in his words to “eat” and then “drink.” I find it humorous how he puts the the word “then” in there. It’s kind of like how one might put “a representation of” in between Jesus’ words, “is” and “my” in His statement, “This is my body.”

The last paragraph concludes with Thorn telling that us that “thought this isn’t a practice over which one should break fellowship with a church, it is a practice that should be evaluated by the word of God and replaced with a separation of the elements.” So, basically he’s saying “don’t divide, just do it this way.” While I agree that it’s not issue to divide over (because my own home church doesn’t even practice intinction), I don’t think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in such manner as to imply that those who practice intinction are not “rightly administering the supper.”

Why Does it Matter to Me?

If you read Rev. Lane B. Keister’s paper, then you’ll see that intinction was a practice that was probably introduced in the 3rd or 4th Century as a way for those who were physically ill to receive the Lord’s Supper without great danger of spilling the elements.

When I get the opportunity to partake of the Sacrament at a congregation that practices intinction then I am reminded that I am sick and in need of a Savior. I am reminded there is healing for me when I “participate” in Christ because He has said, “This is my body” and “this is my blood.” He is there. He may not be there in the that our Romanist friends say that He is there. I do not believe that the broken bread and the poured out wine is a sacrifice as they do, but I’m driven to believe that Christ is there in a very real sense.

But, when I partake of the Supper at a congregation that doesn’t practice intinction, the Supper is equally valid and equally special for me because I’m reminded just as elements are given to me separately so too was the suffering of our Lord given to Him separately. First, His body was beaten and tortured, then His blood was spilled, and just as the natural eating of bread gives life the body so does the death and resurrection of Christ bring life to the soul.

____________________

  1. N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 10.
  2. Ibid., 13. Elsewhere Wright states that “biblicistic proof-texting” is “inconsistent with the nature of the texts we have.” See N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 140. Wright contrasts the problematic approach of principlizing with what he considers to be a better way forward: “Rather than trying to filter out the actual arguments that Paul is mounting in order to ‘get at’ the doctrines that, it is assumed, he is ‘expounding,’ I have stressed that we must pay attention to those larger arguments and to the great story of God, the world, Israel, and Jesus, giving special attention to the ‘Israel’ dimension, within which the cross means for him what it means for him.” See N. T. Wright, “Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture,” in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics, eds. Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 70.

I Still Need the Sacraments

Sacraments

Growing up, I dreaded the first Sunday of each quarter. Every time during the evening service we would have Lord’s Supper after the sermon. It was clockwork, without fail. I dreaded these services because they seemed to always have the same emphasis: if there is any sin in your life, you need to repent or not take the cracker and juice this time. Like a self barring of the table. Every instance I took communion, but if I’m honest; every time I just seemed to be reminded that I’m a sinner. It was a parade of guilt and pleading.

Flash forward to today. I am not looking forward to work this week  I like my job, but the weekend has rushed by far too fast. It’s been like that for years. Everything moves faster as I’m starting to get older. There are demands for me to always have my best foot forward. Everything must be regulated and perfect. You must always think that I’m strong and never know I’m a sinner. But every Sunday, for just a brief few minutes I can stop and openly, publicly confess that I’m not strong. That at the end of the day I am weak. When it comes down to it I am sloppy and sinful. Through the Sacraments, you and I are invited to publicly proclaim that we do not have it all together. These visible signs and seals of the Gospel aren’t dead rituals that we perform. They are not there for those who think they are worthy. Christ does not call His people to clean themselves up before they come to the font or the table. But rather, He invites us, saying “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink”. We still need the sacraments.

Because We Are Sinners…and Saints

Week after week I find myself still sinning. I still speak too harshly to my wife. I still hate that guy who cut me off in traffic. I still lie about if I’m angry. I still get angry about things that don’t matter. I still fight my wandering eye, and I still do the right thing with a bad attitude. Sanctification is progressive and slow. Laying at bed from time to time, I am faced again with the fact that I just can’t get right. I am reminded of past failures of arrogance and pride. But it is vitally important to remember the sacraments. We have every grace to look back to our baptism in faith and see once more that God has promised us: I will be your God. I will wash you. I will make you clean. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.” (1 Cor 6:11). God promises us through baptism that we are, by faith, truly forgiven.

That promise is extended again to us in the Lord’s Supper. In this sacrament he nourishes with His body and His blood. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life…Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6) If we are Christ’s, He calls us to come to the table and feast. Not because we are perfect or have it all together, but because we don’t. Not because we are worthy, but because He is gracious. Not because we are in some way righteous, but because He has given us His righteousness.

By coming to Communion we are reminded that by faith in Christ we are already clean, already promised to make it all the way. When Christ says that through his flesh and blood we “abide” he seems to indicate that this sacrament is beneficial for our sanctification. By that, I mean that Communion is a God ordained means whereby He shows us repeatedly His Gospel promises. Through Baptism and Communion, we are pointed to Christ through them, and thus, looking to Him by faith, are brought into a more perfect relationship with Him. We still need the sacraments because God has given them for us to abide in Him.

 

So fear not, dear Christian, that you do not belong at the font or table. Run to them. Bring your children to them, let them see what’s going on. Do not let your failures in the Christian walk cause you to hesitate or doubt your ability to come. This water is for you and your children. This table is for you to sustain you by faith. Come to the Sacraments, not as a dead ritual that just signals that the service is coming to a close. But come to it as a God given necessity for the Christian life.

The Marrow of the Matter: The Sanctification Debate Returns

Marrow Matter

It has taken me almost 27 years, and sanctification is still a tough subject to get around. It is, in my opinion, the doctrine where the rubber meets the road. The nature of good works and their relationship to sanctification is not a new debate. The Reformed tradition has come to this dispatch box for centuries, the Marrow Controversy has not died yet. Last week, John Piper lit the powder keg again saying,  These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven”. Of course, the Reformed community came back with either push back for affirmation.

But my effort in this is not to respond to either Dr. Piper or the responses to him. This of course may seem like I am dodging the war; but I want to respond to two things I myself have seen. I want to clarify the position of the “Free Grace” boys and give some push back to my New Law brothers. I think we have a serious discussion creeping up on us, and it has the potential to teach something that is contrary to the Scriptures.

What is sanctification? According to our Confession,

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,[97] whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,[98] and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[99] (WSC #35)

Right from the onset we must dispel some things about Sanctification. First, sanctification is a work of God’s grace. Man cannot please God apart from the Spirit’s work within him. He cannot merit for Himself any righteousness before God. The Confession leaves us no room to say that sanctification is our work. It is something that is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. The prophet Ezekiel tells us this when he says:

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

Second, sanctification is not passive. We are truly active in sanctification. We are equipped, by God’s free grace, to truly resist sin and to live according to God’s commands. Sin has no power over the Christian insofar that he cannot resist it. The believer is certainly given a new spirit that wills and wants that which is pleasing to God. We cannot deny this from the Confession either. By God’s grace we actively obey Him, and we break off the chains of sin.

I want to be very clear in these statements. Doubtless some will throw around the dread term antinomian for what I will say. However, I am not saying that the Christian should live in a state of unrepentance and passivity. Yes of course we should put to death the deeds of the flesh and chase after righteousness. We would not disagree on this.

However, my concern arises when we begin to treat good works as either the basis for our sanctification or the instrument by which the Spirit sanctifies us. Or that the Christian has a somewhat two fold justification: one that is given to us sola gratia, sola fide and one that is taken hold of per opera bona. This is utterly foreign to the Reformed tradition. Paul is clear that those who are justified and surely glorified.  (Romans 8:31) If these good works are Spirit wrought, how then can one obtain the promise of eternal life but never take it in actuality? However our Confession teaches that through good works believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God. But none of this speaks of good works being the instrument nor is it the means by which we take possession of eternal life.

Berkhof writes that good works, “do not have the inherit value which naturally carries with it a just claim to a reward.” This is because they are Spirit-wrought, not Christian-wrought. Whatever claim we have to them, we must be very quick to remind ourselves that they God working through us.

Good works then cannot be the instrument of sanctification. It is not that we are equipped to work and are thus sanctified. To argue this is to put the cart before the horse. It makes our sanctification (and thus our final salvation) dependent on our good works meriting God’s sanctifying work.

My fear is that there is a conflation in these discussions between justification and sanctification. Our New Law brothers at best are trying to ward off against anti-nomianism. I can appreciate that. However, they do a great disservice when they argue that our salvation is through good works and not unto good works. It is a dangerous place that this leads us to.

It leads us to a place that I saw one Southern Baptist seminarian go this weekend. Let’s call him Tim. Tim, in one of his many attempts to ignite the passions of his social media echo chamber, began to put a former Presbyterian minister on blast for an antinomian view. This pastor has not been on the stage for some time. But Tim likes to be heard and so attacked a formally ordained minister. However in doing so he makes the statement that it is “not enough” that we rest in our justification. My question is then: In whom then should I rest for my salvation? Jay? Jay is a terrible person to rest in. Jay is a sinner who daily has to repent. Do I have all that I need in Christ to be fully redeemed? Is it really finished? Or must I add to Christ’s work with my own sanctifying efforts as Rome tells me?

This is how serious the discussion is, it is the crux of the Reformation. Scripture clearly teaches that we are saved not by our works but by Christ. Our works are evidences of the faith and grace that has been freely given to us. But they are not the instrument of some final salvation. So to Tim, or anyone else who asks, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” I look to Christ who says, “Believe” and “come to me and take my yoke, for it is easy and my burden is light.”

The Proper Distinction Between Law & Gospel by C.F.W. Walther

Law&Gospel

Thesis I.
The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis II.
Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis III.
Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

Thesis IV.
The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.

Thesis V.
The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized — and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists, and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists.

Thesis VI.
In the second place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is not preached in its full sternness and the Gospel not in its full sweetness, when, on the contrary, Gospel elements are mingled with the Law and Law elements with the Gospel.

Thesis VII.
In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace.

Thesis VIII.
In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.

Thesis IX.
In the fifth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when thy are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace.

Thesis X.
In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.

Thesis XI.
In the seventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when there is a disposition to offer the comfort of the Gospel only to those who have been made contrite by the Law, not from fear of the wrath and punishment of God, but from love of God.

Thesis XII.
In the eighth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher represents contrition alongside of faith as a cause of the forgiveness of sin.

Thesis XIII.
In the ninth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help towards that end, instead of preaching faith into a person’s heart by laying the Gospel promises before him.

Thesis XIV.
In the tenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when faith is required as a condition of justification and salvation, as if a person were righteous in the sight of God and saved, not only by faith, but also on account of his faith, for the sake of his faith, and in view of his faith.

Thesis XV.
In the eleventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance.

Thesis XVI.
In twelfth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher tries to make people believe that they are truly converted as soon as they have become rid of certain vices and engage in certain works of piety and virtuous practices.

Thesis XVII.
In the thirteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times.

Thesis XVIII.
In the fourteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a manner as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins and are sinning purposely.

Thesis XIX.
In the fifteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher speaks of certain sins as if there were not of a damnable, but of a venial nature.

Thesis XX.
In the sixteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a person’s salvation is made to depend on his association with the visible orthodox Church and when salvation is denied to every person who errs in any article of faith.

Thesis XXI.
In the seventeenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the Sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act.

Thesis XXII.
In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person’s being awakened and his being converted; moreover, when a person’s inability to believe is mistaken for his not being permitted to believe.

Thesis XXIII.
In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.

Thesis XXIV.
In the twentieth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the unforgiven sin against the Holy Ghost is described in a manner as if it could not be forgiven because of its magnitude.

Thesis XXV.
In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.

You may read each of C.F.W. Walther’s lectures on these theses at this link.