Great Deal on Witsius

Long-lost Screwtape Letter Concerning Youth

The Verses That Changed Luther

Romans 1:16-17

8/22/2010

Audio Version

These verses in Romans 1:16-17 have a fair claim to be the most important verses in the entire Bible. I can think of only one other passage that might rival these verses in importance, and that is John 3:16. But for us, Romans 1:16-17 can easily make the claim that they are more important. We would not be Reformed Christians today without Romans 1:16-17, for these verses changed Martin Luther. Without Luther’s transformation, there would have been no John Calvin. And if there had been no John Calvin, then there would have been no Reformation in Holland. And if there had been no Reformation in Holland, there would have been no Dutch Reformed immigrants to the United States. In a way, we can well say that theses two verses are our origins. They are the reason why we are Reformed. I need hardly add, then, that this sermon might very well be the most important sermon I will ever preach, since it is a sermon on perhaps the two most important verses in the entire Bible. I will certainly say that what I will attempt to say in this sermon will be the most important thing I hope our churches will ever get from my ministry. You might think I am exaggerating. But I do not think I am. All of God’s Word is important. However, some verses are more central in importance. There can be no verses more central in importance than these two verses. These are the verses that changed Martin Luther. May they change us as well.

In these two verses, Paul is giving us an outline of everything that he is going to say for the rest of the letter. Here is the whole of Romans in a nutshell. Notice how many themes of Romans are present here: gospel, power of God, salvation, faith, Jew/Gentile, righteousness of God, revelation, righteousness by faith, and eternal life. That is a lot of themes!

Paul starts by saying that he is not ashamed of the gospel. There were plenty of reasons to be ashamed of the gospel. After all, who wants to believe in someone who was crucified? That is the very height of humiliation and shame! And who would believe in the resurrection from the dead? Everyone knew in those days that people don’t come back to life. When Paul preached the resurrection to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, many of them laughed and ridiculed what he said. But there is more. The gospel includes the idea that all people are sinners. How many people do you know who love to be told that they are sinners? And how often are we tempted to downplay those aspects of the gospel, because we are ashamed of them? But Paul did not fall into those temptations. He was not ashamed of the gospel, in spite of all the reasons why he could have been. I wonder if we are ashamed of the gospel? Do we fear to tell people about it, because of so many things that we are simply not comfortable telling other people? Well, fear no longer, for there is good reason not to be ashamed.

The main reason why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel is because it is the power of God for salvation. Notice that Paul does not say that the gospel tells us about the power of God. Nor does he say that the gospel introduces us to the power of God. Rather, Paul says that the gospel IS the power of God for salvation. We may think of it in terms of the power of the Word. Isaiah 55 tells us that the Word of God is powerful, always accomplishing that for which God sends it. Hebrews tells us that the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword. We must stop thinking of the power of God for salvation as if it resided somehow outside the gospel. God has infused His Holy Spirit into the gospel, as it were, so that the power of God resides in the good news itself. We can illustrate it this way: when we write a normal check, the money is not in the check itself. If we write a check, it is the same as a written promise that the money will be transferred from our account to the other person’s account. That is not what the gospel is like. Instead, the gospel is more like a cashier’s check. When you get a cashier’s check, the money is in the check itself. It does not take a day or two to clear the bank. The bank has invested the money in the check itself. It is possible to cash immediately a cashier’s check. That is what the gospel is like. The power is inside the gospel itself. God has put His Holy Spirit in the gospel of the Word of God just as a bank has put the money into the cashier’s check. When we give the gospel to other people, it is like having a cashier’s check in hand.

The power of God mentioned here is the power of God for salvation. The power of God is manifested in many ways throughout Scripture, but the most amazing form God’s power takes is the power of salvation. This is nothing less that God justifying the ungodly, resurrecting dead souls, bringing them from death to life, infusing His Holy Spirit into the person from the Word. The power that God has put into His Word is the same power that changes people.

How do we get that power? We get it by faith. Notice that Paul does not tell us that the saving power of God goes out to everyone. Rather, it goes to everyone who believes. Faith is the way we grab hold of God’s power. It is the conduit through which God’s power comes to us. The power is not in the faith. The power is the power of the Holy Spirit acting through the Word of God, the gospel. But we lay hold of that power through faith. Do we have that faith? Faith is here said to be belief. Belief in whom? We might notice that there is one major theme that is missing from these verses, and that is the theme of Jesus Christ. But Paul has already told us what the gospel is. Verses 2-3 of chapter one tell us of this gospel, which is concerning the Son of God, who was humiliated and exalted on our behalf. It’s that gospel that Paul is talking about in verse 16. We are supposed to remember verses 2-3 when we come to verse 16. This is another reason why it is helpful to preach through books of the Bible. Having already studied the first verses, we are in a better position to know what Paul means when uses the term “gospel.” He means what Christ has done on the cross and in the now empty tomb. The gospel then comes to us when we believe it. That is, when we believe that it is for us that Jesus did these things, that is when the power of God for salvation comes to us.

It is of faith from first to last. Notice that is how the NIV translates that part of verse 17. A righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. This is directly opposed to any idea that we can get this righteousness by works at any time in our lives. The righteousness which we acquire by our works is the righteousness of sanctification, which follows from our justification. But when we are made right with God, it is completely Christ’s righteousness. And it is always His righteousness that keeps us right with God. We do not start out by grace, and end with works. It is by grace through faith from first to last. Our sanctification is vitally important, but our justification never depends on it. It is rather the result of justification. We do not stay justified by our works. Rather, our works come because of our justification.

Now, it doesn’t matter what state or race or gender we are, salvation comes to all who believe. That is the point of saying “first for the Jew, then also for the Gentile.” Paul is not saying here that the Jews are more saved than the Gentiles. The Greek construction here plainly puts Gentiles on the same level as Jews when it comes to salvation. What Paul is saying here is that salvation came from the Jews, and came to the Jews first in time. It is a simple statement regarding time. Salvation came first to the Jews, and then afterwards came to the Gentiles. Paul will explain this more fully in chapters 9-11.

It is in verse 17 that we come to the real heart of our obtaining the gospel. This is the verse that plagued Martin Luther until he finally understood it. Particularly, it is this phrase “the righteousness of God” that was crucial to Luther. Luther was a monk. He desired to obtain salvation by what he did. Luther not only held to the rules rigidly, but he confessed all his sins. In fact, he confessed so much and for so long every day that his confessor told him to stop confessing until he had done enough sin to confess! It wasn’t enough for Luther. He asked this question, “how can I stand before the holiness of my Judge with works polluted in their very source?” When he looked at this phrase “the righteousness of God,” he understood it to mean the righteousness of God as judge, by which He condemns all sinners to everlasting torment. Now, the righteousness of God does do that to all who will not believe, but that is not what this verse is talking about. It was when Luther finally realized what this phrase meant that he was born again. Luther finally came to realize that here in Romans 1:17, the righteousness of God does not mean God’s condemning righteousness, but rather the righteousness of Christ that is given to us as a free gift when we exercise faith in Jesus Christ. Instead of being our condemnation, the righteousness of God is instead our salvation. He got there by looking at the last part of the verse, which quotes Habakkuk 2:4. The one who is righteous by faith will live. You see, it is not the righteousness of the law that will save us. Instead, it is the righteousness that we can have by faith in Jesus Christ that will save us. It is what Luther called “an alien righteousness.” What he meant by that is that it is a righteousness that is completely outside of us. It is not a righteousness to which we contribute at all. It is the righteousness which Jesus acquired throughout His life, and in His death. It is that perfect righteousness, answering in every respect to that righteousness which we need before an infinitely holy God. And it is just that righteousness which we can have as a free gift. That is what the righteousness of God means in this passage. We should probably translate the Habbakuk quotation slightly differently than the NIV. It should say, “The one who is righteous by faith shall live.” The meaning here is that we are righteous by faith, and not by works. The one who has that righteousness by faith and not by works is the one who shall live. When Luther came to understand this, he tells us that it was as if the very gates of heaven itself had opened up to him. He went and reread the whole Bible with this in mind, and everything was different. It changed everything for Luther. That transformation of his understanding is what sparked the Reformation. So we may say truly that this is not only Luther’s text, but it is the text of the Reformation.

This righteousness is continually being revealed to us. Here we have the theme of revelation. It is a continual revelation of God’s righteousness to us. Herein we see the love of God! For God did not hide this method of salvation, and tell us to search diligently for it as for an answer to a riddle. No, He revealed it and is revealing it now plainly in the Word of God. What is revealed is God’s righteousness in Christ, that is given to us as a gift.

However, the gift does not end there. The end is eternal life. Look once more at the quotation from Habakkuk. The one who is righteous by faith shall live. It is not just present life that Habakkuk is talking about. He is talking about eternal life. How do we pass from death to eternal life? By faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is then given to us. Then we have eternal life, when we believe that Jesus Christ is our salvation.

Of what practical value, then, is this gospel? It is difficult to know where to start, actually. For this gospel reaches out its tendrils into absolutely every aspect of our lives. It changes everything. It changes how we react to God and His work in our lives. It changes how we treat one another. It changes how we think, what we say, what we do. It changes our prayer lives. It changes our relationships. It changes our behavior. There is nothing more practical that this doctrine of justification by faith alone. How then can a person remain unchanged when they come to believe this gospel? For instance, how can a person remain enslaved to sin when they have died to sin, as Paul will say in Romans 6? How can we not offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God, as chapter 12:1-2 say? How will we not recognize that our freedom of conscience does not give us liberty to trample the consciences of others, as chapter 14 says? If we remember that these verses contain the message of Romans in a nutshell, then we will also realize that everything practical in chapters 12-16 is based on these verses. Not least of the applications that we can make is that we must connect practical things to doctrine. They must never be separated. For the reason why we live for God is because Jesus died for us. What I would encourage us all to do is to use our imaginations this week and see how this doctrine of justification by faith applies to us in so many different areas of life. It is almost limitless in its application. Even in most sermons, the applications are only suggestive, not exhaustive. But that is especially true here. The applications of this doctrine can never be exhausted, for they encompass all of life. Let us live our lives, then, knowing and holding firmly to what these two most important verses have to say to us: that the power of God in the gospel reveals the righteousness of God given to us freely and obtained by faith alone. That is a gospel of which we should never be ashamed.

You Need to Read This

My brother Jason Stellman has now written what I think is the very best article on the Strategic Plan available. Read it. He gets at the fundamental problems of how the SP views the church versus how we need to view the church.

Faith Strengthened

Romans 1:8-15

8/15/2010

Audio Version

It is a wonderful thing to have one’s faith strengthened by someone else. It could be a small or a big thing. Maybe it gives you that boost that you needed to start climbing your way out of despair. Or maybe you just needed a little pep in your walk, and someone gives you a word of encouragement. Maybe it’s a worship service that seemingly lifts you to heaven itself. Regardless of what it is, you know that God sent it to you at just the right time. That may well have been how the Romans would have felt on hearing these words from the apostle Paul. Of course, most of the Roman Christians had not ever seen the apostle Paul. However, most of them would have known that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Some of them might have wondered why it was that the apostle to the Gentiles had never visited the capital of the Gentile world: Rome. They might even have felt a little neglected by Paul. So Paul here reassures them that they are in his mind very often, and that he wanted to go see them, but had been prevented until then from going to Rome. For us, as we look at this passage, we will be focusing our attention on the ways in which faith can be strengthened.

First, faith is strengthened by Paul’s words of thanksgiving and encouragement that show that he is impressed with their faith, and thankful to God for their faith. Verse 8 shows us Paul’s attitude towards the Romans. He thanks God for their faith. Now, that in itself is a remarkable thing, for how many times have we thanked God for someone else’s faith? If we thank God at all for anything, usually it’s what He has given us, not what He has given our neighbor. But Paul is very unselfish here. He thanks God for the faith that has been given by God to the Romans.

Notice this small phrase “through Jesus Christ.” Paul never forgets that all our prayers (and thanksgiving is certainly one of those prayers) can only be heard through the mediation of Jesus Christ. He is our mediator, who is our advocate at the throne of God. He pleads with the Father that the Father should hear our prayers. God the Father hears our prayers because of Jesus Christ. In this case, it is the thanksgiving of Paul that is mediated through Jesus Christ, and is then heard by the Father.

Paul commends the faith of the Romans, saying that it is reported all over the world. I’m sure that Paul here means the known world, specifically, the Christians within it. It would be a great encouragement to many people to know that there were Christians at the very heart of the Roman empire. So, Paul thanks God and encourages the Romans by his words. We should encourage one another concerning their faith. We should mention to people that we thank God because of their faith, and the things that they have done for God. We should make it one of our missions in life to encourage other believers. Some of us are very good at this. You would hardly hear a word of criticism from them. Others of us, however, will only speak up to someone if they have a word of criticism. It might feel weird to some of us to encourage someone else, but we should seek to try to get used to saying those kinds of things. Goodness knows we need far more encouragement than criticism in our lives, although criticism has its place. But we should imitate Paul’s example here and thank the Lord for other people’s faith, and encourage them by saying so.

Secondly, faith is strengthened by prayer. And in this case, it is the prayers of other people, the prayers of Paul, that strengthen the faith of the Roman Christians. Paul wants them to know how much he prays for them. In fact, Paul swears an oath here that he has prayed for them many times. He calls God to witness, as in a court of law, that he has prayed for the Romans constantly. Notice in verse 9 that Paul desires the Romans to know that he is sincere in this. He says that he serves God with his whole heart. Paul’s religion is not some window-dressing that masks a heart full of hatred. No, he serves God with his whole being. It is one thing to hear that someone is praying for you. It is quite another to know that this person who is praying for you is a genuine, fervent Christian who is praying for you! It is that kind of assurance that Paul wishes to give to the Roman Christians.

This kind of Christian, in the form of the apostle Paul, is the one praying for the faith of the Roman Christians. And God uses that prayer of Paul to strengthen the faith of the believers there. Hear this truth, then: our prayers can strengthen the faith of other believers. This happens because God is the one who uses our prayers to accomplish His will. It is obviously God’s will that the faith of the saints be strengthened. Therefore, God will use our prayers for other people in order to strengthen their faith. How often do we pray for those Christians we know that their faith be strengthened? All too often, we have this idea that once they’re a Christian, we don’t really need to pray for them anymore. As if regeneration and conversion were all there was to the Christian life! If Romans itself is any indication, conversion is just the beginning. The rest of life is then a constant battle between the old sin nature that dwells within us and the regenerated part of us, which is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. We need to be growing constantly in the faith. And prayer is one of those things that is absolutely essential, both our own prayers, and the prayers of others on our behalf. One prayer isn’t enough, either. For notice Paul’s words here. He prays constantly for them at all times (verses 9-10). He does not simply pray for them once, and then forget about them. He prays for them all the time.

Prayer, however, can be a puzzle to us, can’t it, especially the connection between prayer and faith? Let us consider some errors in this area of doctrine before we consider what the truth of the matter is. Many people think that strong faith means prayer is answered, whereas a weak faith means that prayer might not be answered. Know this for a certainty: the prayers of all true Christians, no matter how weak their faith is, will be answered. God might answer “no.” But He answers “no” to strong Christians like Paul, as well as to weak Christians. Paul mentions in verse 13 that he planned to come to the Romans many times, but was prevented. There were good reasons for this, since God had other work for Paul to do. We must remember, then, that if God doesn’t not give us the answer we want, He will have His reason for saying no. Maybe it is to humble us, to help us realize that we are not as indispensable as we think we are. Maybe it is because God has other work for us. Maybe it is because the thing we pray for would not be a good thing for us to have or to do. Faith trusts in God that He knows better than we do. So it is not the power of our faith that fuels the power of prayer. The prayers of even the strongest saint needs the help of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, in order for God to hear it. This, by the way, is the reason why God does not answer the prayers of non-believers. They have no mediator.

Does prayer do anything? Yes, it does. It does two things. Firstly, prayer is what God uses to accomplish His will in our lives. That is the relationship between our prayer and the sovereignty of God. When our prayers line up with God’s revealed will, then God will use our prayers to accomplish His will. Furthermore, prayer changes us. Talking to God is always something that will change us. James Montgomery Boice told the story of a missionary who had served long and hard overseas, seeking to make converts to the Gospel. When he came home to America, he happened to be on the same boat as Theodore Roosevelt, who naturally got all the attention. There was, in fact, no one to welcome the missionaries home. The missionary was offended by this, until his wife told him to take the matter up with God. After praying to the Lord, the missionary felt much better. He said to his wife that he had told God how he felt, and it was as if God had laid His hand on the man’s shoulder and said to him, “But, my son, you are not home yet. When you come home, then I will give you a royal welcome.” Prayer changed him, and it changes us. It changes our attitude. It can be very useful, for instance, if we are having a dispute with someone, and our attitude is getting out of hand. We may not even realize it at the time, but if we can only remember to pray right then, we will find that our attitude will change in the circumstance. So prayer changes us, and God uses it to bring about His will. That is especially true with regard to other people. When we pray for others, that their faith will be strengthened, God will answer that prayer with a yes.

Praying for other people is therefore essential. However, sometimes there is simply no substitute for being with the other person. And that is our third point. Faith is strengthened by the communion of saints. That is one of the things we say in the Apostles Creed. We believe in the communion of saints. Here in verses 10-13, we have a beautiful picture of what the communion of saints looks like. It starts with prayer. That is how our second point leads to our third point. For Paul was praying that he might at long last, finally get to see the Roman Christians. He has been very eager to get there, but has been prevented until then. What good will the communion of saints do to the Roman Christians? Verse 11 tells us that there will be an impartation of spiritual gifts from Paul to the Romans, and that such a gift will help to make them strong.

Notice how humble Paul is here. Paul immediately corrects himself in verse 12. The Roman Christians might think that the strengthening might go only one way: from the great apostle Paul to the Roman Christians. But Paul wants the Romans to know that he needs encouragement and strengthening as well. So that is why he says in verse 12 that the strengthening goes both ways. Even the apostle Paul, one of the strongest Christians ever, still needs strengthening and encouragement. The faith of Paul and the faith of the Romans will strengthen each other’s faith. That is the beautiful thing about the communion of saints, isn’t it? It is like how geese travel. They travel in a V shape so that the air lift that comes from the one in front helps the goose that comes behind. And no one is at the front of the V for very long, before it is relieved of its post, so that it doesn’t get too tired. They help each other fly, and in that way, can cover much longer distances. So it is with the Christian faith. We all have something about our faith that will help someone else’s faith. It doesn’t matter how small we think our gift is. It will help someone else. Even if it’s just a small lift, that is important. Let’s ask ourselves this question: is my faith encouraging other people’s faith? It is one of the most important aspects about faith, the effect that it has on other people. Faith believes in the God who gives us the communion of saints.

Finally, faith has obligations. Paul says here that he is obligated, or under debt, to everyone, that he preach the gospel to them. To understand how this works, we need to look at two different kinds of debt. If person A borrows money from person B, then person A owes that money back to person B. That is one kind of debt, what we might call “direct” debt. However, supposing person A gave something to person B in order to give that something to person C. In that case, as long as person B has the item, he is in debt to person C in order to give it to them. This is what we might call “indirect” debt. It is the debt of having something entrusted to us, that we might give that in turn to someone else. That is the kind of debt Paul is talking about here. Paul was entrusted with the gospel in order that he might give it to all other people. He had never simply been given the gospel to keep it to himself. And here we see the last aspect of faith that Paul writes about here: the indebtedness of faith. When God gives us faith, He tells us that that faith is not ever meant to be kept to ourselves, but must also be given away to others. We are in debt to all other people to give them the knowledge of what faith is. Paul says he has to give this to Greeks and non-Greeks, to the wise and to the foolish. This is everyone in the world. He is in debt to everyone in the world. It is never wise to live in constant debt. Therefore, we must pay off that debt by sharing the gospel to everyone. We need to make sure that everyone has heard the gospel and knows what is the true nature of faith. Has everyone in Hague, Strasburg, Pollock, Linton, and Herreid heard what the gospel truly is? I think not. Our way forward is clear. Probably everyone in those towns is known by someone or other in our congregations. That means that we have the opportunity to reach every single person in those towns for Christ.

Our problem here is that we can tend to have the wrong idea about what faith really is, and it is on this point that I will close. Faith is not the same thing as sincerity, although we certainly want faith to be sincere. But people can be sincere, but sincerely wrong. We are not saved by sincerity. We are saved by faith. Faith is not the same thing as emotional feeling, either, although there again, faith includes our emotions. But emotional feeling can be just as wrong as sincerity. Muslims are sincere, and they can be very emotional! But that does not mean that they are saved. Faith is knowledge, assent and trust in Jesus Christ. Faith knows Jesus personally, agrees with the truths concerning Jesus Christ that are laid out in the Bible, and entrusts itself to Jesus Christ. That is true faith: knowing Jesus, agreeing with the truth, or believing the truth, and then entrusting oneself to Jesus, as the crucified and risen Lord. That is the only thing that will save. It is that faith that we need to seek that others should have. And it is that faith that needs to be constantly strengthened by encouragement, prayer, and the communion of saints.

Edited Larger Catechism Questions 144-145

Typically in recent FV controversies, we are treated to an edited version of the Larger Catechism Questions 144-145. It will look something like this:


Q 144 What are the duties required in the ninth commandment? A The duties required in the ninth Commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbour as well as our own…a charitable esteem of our neighbours; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging their gifts and graces; defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love, and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth, keeping of lawfull promises, studying and practising of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.


Q 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth Commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the ninth Commandment, are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbours as well as our own, especially in public judicature, giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses…passing unjust sentence…forgery…speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning…speaking untruth, lying, slandering, back-biting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring, misconstruing intentions, words and actions, flattering, vain-glorious boasting; thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of our selves or others, denying the gifts and graces of God, aggravating smaller faults…unnecessary discovering of infirmities, raising false rumours, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense, evil suspicion, envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy…fond admiration…neglecting such things as are of good report…

You’ll notice in both questions several deletions. These deletions are important for the critics of the FV. What we find is that the quotations of the ninth commandment questions are rather selective. Here is what is often left out (I only provide here what was left out in the above):


Q 144…appearing, and standing for, and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever… Q 145 wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and over-bearing the truth…calling evil good, and good evil, rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked…concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from our selves, or complaint to others…hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession…scornful contempt…breach of lawfull promises…and practising or not avoiding our selves, or not hindering, what we can, in others, such things as procure an ill name.

If folks wanted to do so, both sides can play the “edited version” quotation of the WLC. The point I wish to bring up here is that the parts that are usually edited out qualify the parts that are usually quoted. This means that the ninth commandment cannot simply be thrown in the face of the critics, as is usually done. The question is raised: are the critics simply trying to do what the edited parts direct us to do, and if so, does that make them innocent of breaking the other parts of the ninth commandment, the parts that are usually quoted? I would argue simply yes.

My Analysis of the “Instructional” Committee’s Report

Wes White and Brian Carpenter have both weighed in on their take of the committee’s report. I agree with their findings. What I wish to do here is to give my own thoughts on the matter, prefaced by a strong emphasis on the primary failing of the committee’s report. As Wes and Brian have both noted, the definition of salvation as “eternal salvation unto glory” does indeed allow the committee to miss the entire point of both investigative committees. Indeed, I believe it also involves a misrepresentation of the accusations, which is ironic, given how often Wes, Brian, and myself have been accused of misrepresentation in these matters. Let me stress once more how important this particular definition is. If salvation is only defined as “eternal salvation unto glory,” then anything less than that would not appear to fall under the stricture of the Westminster Standards, and this is precisely the point at issue. The issue is NOT what happens to those who are decretally elect. The issue IS what do the baptized non-elect receive? Moon and Lawrence have both said that these people receive benefits that use the same language as decretal benefits (justification, union with Christ, adoption), but are not the same as those decretal benefits.

This definition of salvation makes problematic their affirmations 4-5 under baptism that speak of baptism bringing various temporary benefits that are not sufficient for “salvation” (insert narrow definition here), and also their denial that baptism is ever accompanied by “saving” (again, read narrow definition here) operations of the Spirit. Nothing they have said there renders out of bounds an assertion that baptism brings temporarily saving (insert much broader definition of salvation here) benefits, that can still fall under the category of “common operations” of the Spirit. Here there is an ambiguity in the report. Would these temporary benefits like adoption, forgiveness of sins, and union with Christ (defined not in a decretal sense), which Lawrence has explicitly tied to the moment of baptism be labelled by them as common or saving operations of the Spirit? By their own definition of “saving” earlier in the document, these benefits would have to be labelled “common.” However, the word “common” here means common between believers and unbelievers, as in “common grace.” Baptism, therefore, cannot be the delineating mark of whether these benefits happen to baptized reprobate or not.

Under the “quotation a,” I noticed an unfortunate word choice in their discussion of faith related to justification. They call faith the “sole absolute requirement for our justification, and the requirement without which the full and saving benefits of baptism cannot be enjoyed.” One issue here is the with the word “absolute.” Why is that word needed? Would we lose anything by cutting it out, and reading “the sole requirement for our justification?” The word “absolute” might seem to suggest that other subordinate things are (normally) required, things like baptism. I am also uncomfortable with the phrase “full and saving benefits of baptism.” What does that mean? They told us that they were using the term “saving” in the sense of “eternal salvation unto glory.” In that case, baptism (if we are talking about the water rite) does not carry saving benefits. It is not instrumental in our justification, our obtaining of eternal life.

Under quotation b, again we have the problem mentioned above concerning the definition of “salvation.” For here, they all agree that the benefits of Romans 6 “belong finally only to the elect.” Why that qualifying word “finally?” These benefits of being buried with Christ, dead to sin (Romans 6:2) and rising with Christ to new life (Romans 6:4, 8), being freed from sin (Romans 6:7); can they belong temporarily to the non-elect? The report does not address this issue whatsoever. It only says that the saving (read narrow definition here) way of holding these benefits belongs only to the elect. But of course. No disagreement there whatsoever. Nor was there ever any disagreement on this point. It is somehow supposed to calm our fears when we are told that TE Lawrence believes that faith is necessary for salvation, and that baptism is not sufficient for salvation. These points do not address the issue at all. Everyone thinks that faith is necessary, and everyone believes that baptism is not sufficient for salvation. Would even the staunchest Roman Catholic deny these two points? These are a few of my thoughts. If I have time for more, I will write more.

Dear Roman Christians

Romans 1:1-7

Audio Version

Imagine yourself deep down in a dark cave. You brought a flashlight, but you accidentally dropped it and can’t find it again. You start to realize just how dark and deep and utterly quiet this cave is. It is not a cave that you know well. You start to panic, and you start calling out as loud as you can for help, but not really expecting anyone to come and help you out. Amazingly enough, however, someone does hear you, and shines down a powerful light. It is a light that reaches down far enough so that you can start to see your way back up. Slowly, foot by foot, you make your way back to the surface. As you go, it gets lighter and lighter, until when you finally come up out of the ground, you are in the full blazing light of day. The Gospel is a good bit like that kind of an experience. We are hopelessly lost in darkness until that light shines down upon us. Throughout history, more and more light has been given to us through the pages of Scripture until finally the promised Messiah Jesus Christ comes into full view, blazing with life and color. The gospel is Paul’s point in this salutation to his letter.

Letters in those days usually had much shorter greetings at the beginning. Usually it just had the name of the author, the name of the recipient, and some form of “hello.” But Paul wants to do so much more than that. As we can see, his salutation is seven verses long, certainly the longest of any salutation in any of Paul’s other letters. Paul includes nothing less than a miniature version of the entire Gospel in these 7 verses. It is, as John Stott says, the Gospel of God, according to Scripture, about Christ, for the nations, unto the obedience of faith, and for the sake of the Name. These six points help us to understand the true nature of the Gospel. When we understand these points, we will have the full light of day, having come out of darkness, and into His marvelous light.

Paul starts by describing himself in three ways. The first way is the word “slave.” The NIV translates it as “servant.” But the word “servant” sometimes means a paid servant. That isn’t what Paul means at all. He means someone who is bought and paid for. A slave in this case implies a master. Paul gives us the name of that master immediately: Jesus Christ. It is a miracle that Paul is even writing these kinds of words at all. You will remember that he used to persecute the church and attack its members. But on the road to Damascus, he was changed. He was bought and paid for by Christ. Paul could have boasted about himself here, but he chose what is simultaneously the most humble and yet the most dignified thing he could have said about himself. To the Gentile, a slave was a horrible state of servitude. It was a state of humility. Paul knows that his state is lowly. And yet, to the Jew, the idea of “slave” would have brought back memories of their Old Testament, where Moses, David, Abraham, and all the great heroes of the faith were also called “slaves” or “servants” of God. It is no hardship, however, to be the slave of Jesus Christ. For slavery to Christ is true freedom, because of the Gospel.

The second thing Paul calls himself is a “called apostle.” An apostle is someone who witnessed Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and was given his commission by Jesus Himself. Paul witnessed the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and simultaneously received his calling to be an apostle. The third thing he says about himself is that he is set apart for the Gospel of God. This word “set apart” is the word that describes the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the ones who were set apart for the law. That is what they called themselves. But Paul wants his listeners to know that he is set apart as well, except that he was set apart for the Gospel, not the law. He says in verse 5 that he received grace and apostleship. Not only was he saved from his sin on the road to Damascus, but he also received his calling from God to be an apostle on that same road and at the same time. It came all at once for Paul.

The word Gospel, then, means “good news.” It is the good news that Jesus Christ is crucified and raised from the dead. The good news is the news about Jesus. It is not first and foremost about us, although it has the most important implications for our lives. Indeed, it is all-important for our lives. However, when the NT uses the word “Gospel,” it means what Jesus did. We will see this very clearly in verses 3-4. What is important for us here to see is that it is the Gospel of God. And Paul describes himself completely in relation to that Gospel of God.

The Gospel is not something new. Verse 2 tells us that God promised it beforehand. There are many passages in the Old Testament where God promises that Christ will come. Genesis 3:15 is where it all starts: the seed of the woman will one day crush the head of the seed of the serpent. If we remember that Paul is writing to people who needed to be convinced that he preached the same thing that they knew already, then this is something that would be very important to them to know: did Paul preach the Old Testament or not? He is saying here that he preaches the same Gospel that the Old Testament preached. All throughout the Old Testament, there was more light given to God’s people through the Word. They were at the bottom of the cave, and yet the light was still shining down to them, so that they could eventually make their way up to the surface.

This Gospel concerns the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Verse 3 says this explicitly. That is what the good news is: Jesus Christ. Many people get this confused. They think that the Good News is primarily about something that they do, or a decision that they make. Now, let me be clear: the Gospel is very closely tied to what happens to us. However, the Gospel itself is the Good News about what Jesus did. That is the Gospel. Whether we believe the Gospel is something distinct from what the Gospel itself is. The Gospel is not walking the aisle, praying the sinner’s prayer, singing “Just As I Am,” or going to church. Those may very well be results of the Gospel in our lives, though we have to be careful about some of those things, as to whether they are really marking our conversion or not. But the Gospel itself is simply this: Jesus Christ came to earth, humbling Himself; He led a perfect life and died a cursed death in the place of His people, and was raised again from the dead on the third day, and is now raised into heaven. That is what Paul says the Gospel is. In verse 3, we learn that Jesus Christ was humbled. Literally, the text says “according to the flesh, He was born of the seed of David.” This refers to the time period of His humiliation. Christ entered into the old age of the world, so that He might bring in a new age. The new age is described in verse 4: through the Holy Spirit, Christ was appointed the powerful Son of God by His resurrection. You might notice a footnote in the NIV in verse 4. The footnote, I believe, is the better translation here. The words “in power” describe Jesus’ new state as the risen, powerful Son of God. He was always the Son of God. But in His humiliation, He was the Son of God in the weakness of human flesh. But now, in the resurrection, He is the Son of God in power. The resurrection is the time point at which God said that Jesus Christ was now the Messiah in power. It is at that point that the Messiah becomes Lord of all. We are not saying that Jesus became God. He always was God. However, what we are saying is that Jesus Christ ushered in a new age, an age of righteousness and holiness, the age of new creation that starts in the hearts of believers.

So the Gospel is God’s Gospel, it is according to Scripture, and it concerns Jesus Christ. Fourthly, we can see that the Gospel is for the nations. Verses 5-6 prove this point very clearly. The NIV has “among all the Gentiles.” The literal text reads “among all the nations.” Paul clearly means that the Gospel is for all people. It is for people of every tribe and nation. This will create a new people of the Gospel, a new people walking according to the light. Paul was called by God to do that very thing: to bring the Gospel to the nations. Paul’s point to the Romans is to include them in this also. That is the point of verse 6: “You also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” For us reading these words, even though we might think we are reading someone else’s mail, this is still God’s Word to us. We also are called to be among God’s people. That light shining down into the darkness of the cave is a call to come up into the light.

Fifthly, we can see also that the obedience of faith is what is required. Now, we have to be careful here, because it is easy to get confused. We cannot be saved by our works. So why does Paul use the term “obedience of faith?” The NIV translates it this way, “the obedience that comes from faith.” This is certainly one very legitimate way of translating it. If our faith does not result in obedience to God, then we must certainly question whether or not it is true faith. However, there is another way to see this as well. The older Puritans used to call this “evangelical obedience.” It wasn’t obedience to the law, but rather to the Gospel. The Gospel calls us to submit to the Gospel. Believing the Gospel is obedience to God’s call. It is not an obedience that earns us anything: God forbid! However, we can say that it is a submission to the call of the Gospel. The Gospel of what Jesus did for us calls us to put our trust in Him, and to submit to His Lordship over our lives. There are some people out there, and this is an old error, who think that Christ can save us from the guilt of our sins, but then He leaves us under sin’s power so that we can do what we like. We can’t have only part of Jesus Christ. If He is our Savior, then He is also our Lord. We are, like Paul, slaves to Jesus Christ, which is ironically true freedom. Oh that we would see that in our lives! Are we also among those called to belong to Jesus Christ? Are we loved by God, as it says in verse 7? Are we saints?

The word “saints” here is one that we don’t usually use of ourselves, for we tend to have the wrong idea of what a “saint” is. When we hear the word, we usually think of people who aren’t merely “Christians,” but also super-holy people. But that is not how Paul uses the term here. He means that all who are loved by God, and have been given the light of the Gospel, are saints. All Christians are saints. Although it might feel a bit odd to go around and say, “Hello, saint so-and-so,” this would not be wrong! Paul says that all who are loved by God (and he means in a saving way) are also saints. We are saints because the Gospel makes us holy. It keeps coming back to the Gospel, doesn’t it?

The Gospel is once more summarized for us in the last part of verse 7 with the words “grace and peace.” Grace is a beautiful word in the Bible. It puts the Gospel into a nutshell for us. It is not merely that we don’t deserve the saving favor that God bestows on His saints. It is actually that we deserve the opposite of favor. That is the amazing thing about grace. This grace is God reaching down His light into the dark deep cave of our sin, and shining His light upon us. When that light shines into the blackness of our hearts and changes us, it results in peace. When Paul says “grace and peace,” what he really means is that grace leads to peace. We are no longer at war with God, but at peace. This is the Gospel of peace. It makes us all saints.

New Commentary Series

This commentary is the first that WTS bookstore will carry of a commentary series that has been published fairly rapidly. It is based on the New Living Translation (it includes the complete text of that translation). My thoughts on the NLT are that it is a very idiomatic, periphrastic translation. It is very much in line with the “dynamic equivalence” method of translation, though it is not quite as far out in that direction as, say, the New Century Version, or even the Living Bible. This is a translation done by responsible scholars, at least. I would argue that it goes a bit too far in the direction of dynamic equivalence. However, the commentary series does have quite a number of reputable scholars contributing to it, and it would be an excellent addition to an expositor’s library. There are currently 15 volumes out a the moment, published from 2006 to the present, and covering already well more than half of the Bible, including most of the New Testament.

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