Do Not Give the Devil a Foothold

Ephesians 4:27

Audio Version

Dale Hays, in the periodical Leadership, 1989 says this: “On a recent trip to Haiti, I heard a Haitian pastor illustrate to his congregation the need for total commitment to Christ. His parable: A certain man wanted to sell his house for $2,000. Another man wanted very badly to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn’t afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one stipulation: He would retain ownership of one small nail protruding from just over the door. After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail. The Haitian pastor’s conclusion: ‘If we leave the Devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making it unfit for Christ’s habitation.'” I can think of no better illustration of the truth of this verse.

Now, the context of this verse is important. The previous verses have been talking about anger. So the first application of this command relates to our anger. As we saw last week, there is such a thing as righteous anger. However, it is so easily corruptible into sinful anger. If we let it go too long, then we have crossed the line into sinful anger. If we direct our anger at the wrong thing, then we are sinning. If we are too keen on standing up for our own rights, and we let anger show in that situation, we have also crossed the line. Anger lets down our defenses so easily. And when our defenses are down, then Satan strikes.

However, this command not to let Satan have a foothold can certainly be applied to more situations than just anger. Anytime we are contemplating sin, and we let that fantasy roam, we are giving the devil a foothold. This can be related to any number of sins. For instance, the sin of gossip is very prone to this kind of gradual slipping. We think that people have a right to know what is going on in other people’s lives, and so we share just one little juicy tidbit. That is giving Satan a foothold.

Pornography and lust very definitely works this way. It is a very slippery slope that leads down to darkness. One look is sometimes all it takes. And I don’t mean one look as in seeing a beautiful woman. I mean one look where the possibilities come to mind. That gives the devil a foothold.

Of course, all the sins that Paul mentions in this entire section can happen this way. Lying can start with “little white lies.” They aren’t little, and they certainly aren’t white. In the next few verses, we will learn about stealing. Just taking a little package of bubble gum can lead one to a life of crime. I remember one time I actually stole a package of bubble gum. I think I was about 8 at the time. My parents, thank the Lord, were very much aware what that meant. I really got tanned on that one! Then I had to go back to the store and apologize to the manager. My parents knew what it meant to give the devil a foothold. Jesus’ own words also point us in this direction: those who are faithful with little will also be faithful in much.

Our culture has the opposite attitude towards little sins. They don’t see small sins as being that big of a deal. Surely God will overlook such a small offence, says the world. But that is not the case. The smallest sin condemns a person to hell. And when Jesus came to earth to take on the guilt of our sins upon Himself, it was all the sins, not just the big ones. You need just as much forgiveness for the little sins as for the big ones.

The reason for this is that God is an infinitely holy God. To illustrate this, compare three situations: in the first, you slap your brother; in the second you slap a sheriff. In the third, you slap the President of the United States. I’m sure that you can recognize that the consequences change according to the dignity of the person you slap. And I picked slapping, because that is generally reckoned one of the smaller sins. But what is the consequence of slapping the God of the universe, who created you and sustains you? God is infinitely beyond the President of the United States. Therefore the least little sin is infinitely heinous in the sight of God.

One other point needs bringing out here. And that is that, over the course of the Christian life, our consciences become more and more tender. Things that didn’t seem like sins before are now sins. This is quite normal. Many Christians get discouraged at this point and think that they are going downhill fast. That may not necessarily be the case. It may be that the Holy Spirit is making your conscience more sensitive. You should desire this sensitive conscience, since it is a huge part of personal holiness. You should cultivate this tender conscience by reading the Word, which spells out all sins in excrutiating detail. You should pray to the Lord that He will tenderize your conscience. You should partake of the Sacraments. After all, how can we slap the Lord of the universe in the face, when we have just partaken of Christ’s body and blood?

So, are you leaving a peg for the devil to hang all his garbage on? I tell you, he will hang as much garbage as he can on the size peg you leave for him. You can count on that. Of course, none of us are sufficient for getting rid of the footholds. We all leave footholds for the devil. However, what we need to do is ask God for His help. He will give it, so that you can have increasing victory over that sin. In your own strength, you cannot even get rid of the foothold. But what is impossible with man is possible with God.

Fun Addition to the Blog

WordPress is allowing us to have snow on our blogs until Jan 2. Enjoy it while you can.

Grace Not as Amazing as Once Thought or “I once was Lost, then I was Found, But Now I’m Lost Forever”

Posted By Andrew Webb

In a recent reply to me entitled “The Demands of the System” Doug Wilson once again shows the FV tendency to attempt to set the Reformed Confessions against scripture, alleging that those opposed to the ever-developing Federal Vision theology use them as a “Procrustean bed for Bible verses” where “Verses are stretched or lopped off in order to fit their idea of the system.

He then produces bible verses he believes prove that I and my crusty old confessions are wrong and that some reprobates are genuinely united to Christ and saved “in some sense” and then later cut off. Presumably Wilson believes that I, and the Confessions, were unaware of these verses or that I simply chose to “chop them off” in order to make them fit my preconceived notions about salvation. I want to assure Pastor Wilson that both I and the men who composed the Reformed Confessions I was referring to had encountered those verses before. In fact, I’ve even had them produced triumphantly to prove that I am wrong to believe that all who are genuinely united to Christ and Justified will persevere in the faith. The only difference being that in the past the people producing them to prove that the “perseverance of the saints” was baloney did not for a moment claim to be Reformed, they were either Arminians or Roman Catholics (not that Arminians have never claimed to be Reformed, Arminius did not call himself an Arminian, he called himself Reformed, and he pastored Reformed churches and taught in a Reformed seminary.) I should be grateful to Pastor Wilson in that he didn’t produce other verses I’m used to seeing like Ezekiel 18:24-29 and Hebrews 6:4-6.

In any event, because Wilson isn’t impressed with Reformed Confessions which are supposed to express the agreement of Reformed believers regarding the teaching of scripture, nor is he impressed much with what Reformed theologians like Calvin and Owen have to say about the verses he brings out, I’m forced to go the same route one does when defending the the teaching of the scriptures to those outside the Reformed faith, i.e. a re-exegeting and explanation of the scriptures. I don’t mind doing that even though I don’t really have the time because I love the Word of God, but the sad fact is that nothing is likely to be gained from this, as I have no doubt Wilson will be no more likely to agree with my exegesis of the main scripture he refers to (John 15:1-2, 6) than that of Owen, Calvin, or the Westminster divines. Incidentally, I didn’t originally come to the conclusion that those truly united to Christ persevere from reading the Westminster Confession or from Calvin, I got it from reading the bible where I rejoiced in the assurance given by scriptures like Romans 8:29-39, John 10:27-30, and Phil. 1:6 For that matter I wasn’t raised in the Reformed faith, or the church at all, nor was I nurtured under the teachings of the Confession, but can honestly answer that although it was Sproul who first pointed out to me that what I was coming to believe about the teaching of the bible was Reformed, like Whitefield I got my Calvinism not from Calvin but from the Bible.

JOHN 15:1-6

This parable gives us the last of Christ’s many “I am” statements which include “the bread of life”, “the light of the world”, “the door”, “the good shepherd”, “the resurrection and the life”, “the way the truth and the life,” and finally here “the true vine.” Not to be forgotten in this list however, is Christ’s definitive statement from John 8:58 that He is the I AM (ego eimi), a clear statement of His Divinity hearkening back to God’s self-revelation of Himself to Moses in Exodus 3. Each of these statements couples Christ’s declaration of His divinity with a great truth about Himself and His mission. There is always a great danger of forgetting, however, that these statements are allegories and usually couched in parables, so in interpreting them we must ever keep his central point in view and not try to squeeze teachings out of the lesser details that Christ did not intend and which would contradict His teachings elsewhere. The great rule we must always apply is that scripture interprets scripture, and where a doctrine is uncertain in one portion of scripture, we should go to other areas where it that doctrine is more clearly taught on. Above all, we should strive not to atomistically interpret a verse so that it contradicts other clearer verses.

In these verses Christ declares that He is the True Vine, the emphasis on “true” almost certainly pointing us back to the fact that Israel in the Old Testament was frequently pictured as a Vine (Is. 5:1-7, etc.) and the father as the Vinedresser. A quick review of the vine texts in the OT however, reveals that the vine God planted and had hoped would be fruitful usually turned out to be faithless and fruitless, but now Christ the true Vine that Israel foreshadowed has come, and those truly in Him will never prove to be fruitless for they are vitally united to Him and He is the source of their fruitfulness. [Interestingly, the source of this union with Christ, is nowhere identified in the parable as baptism, rather if any explanation is to be had for its inauguration we would find it identified by Christ in verse 3 as being “because of the word which I have spoken to you.” And indeed in the gospel of John, union with Christ (being in Him) is always effected via regeneration (being born again from above) and faith, not baptism.] However, some of the branches in the parable are devoid of this power and therefore fruitless, there is no vital union between them and Christ, they are only externally in the vine but not part of it, they are “dead branches” that the Divine Vinedresser removes.

At this point, no doubt Pastor Wilson and the other FV men will insist that I cannot assert that these branches that were cut off never had a vital, or living union with Christ, because he says they were “in me.” After perusing no less than 12 Reformed commentaries on the passage dating from the 16th century to the 21st, I have found that they all essentially answer the objection by stating what should be obvious; namely that this is a parable, that it is clearly addressing the issue from the “man’s eye perspective,” that all true believers bear good fruit (John 15:16, Luke 6:43, etc.), that this would contradict clearer passages, and so on. But since it clearly isn’t obvious to Doug Wilson, I’ll go ahead and quote one of the many able commentators, D.A. Carson, on the subject:

“But the latter view, that these dead branches are apostate Christians, must confront the strong evidence within John that true disciples are preserved to the end (e.g. notes on 6:37-40; 10:28). It is more satisfactory to recognize that asking the in me language to settle such disputes is to push the vine imagery too far. The transparent purpose of the verse is to insist that there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity; the alternative is dead wood, and the exigencies of the vine metaphor make it necessary that such wood be connected to the vine.”

[D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1991, p.515]

Now, while I was unable to find any Reformed commentators who agreed with Doug Wilson’s take on these verses, that is not to say that there aren’t any commentators who don’t agree with him. For instance, this commentator appears to track perfectly with Wilson’s exegesis:

“Every branch in Me, &c., i.e., every Christian who by faith and baptism has been as it were a vine-branch grafted into Me, if he bear not the fruit of good works, God the Father will take him away, i.e., will cut off from the Vine the unfruitful and worthless branch. This He does both by secretly severing him from the communication of the Spirit and grace of Christ, and also by publicly separating him from Christ by means of excommunication, or by permitting him to fall into heresy. And thus in death He separates him from the company of Christ and His saints.” – CORNELIUS À LAPIDE

Even Arminian commentators like Wesley, while agreeing that the branches were once truly united to Christ, do not point to the sacrament of baptism as the means by which they were truly united to Him. To find that kind of agreement one must go back to the Roman Catholic commentators.

Apart from being able to counter the notion that John 15:1-2, 6 teaches that those truly united to Christ and enjoying the benefits of his redemption may be cut off with verses like the much clearer John 6:37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” or John 10:27-29 one can also appeal to Christ’s own words from Matthew 7:23 to church members who although they did many works in his name never bore good fruits (and that would be precisely those branches that are cut off in the parable) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Is Pastor Wilson really ready to support the notion although they were supposedly “really united to Christ” and thus “His Sheep” via their baptism and membership in the church, they were none-the-less NEVER KNOWN BY HIM? What then do we make of John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”

I could go on to note all the problems inherent in assuming that those for whom Christ died might someday be lost, for as John Owen reminds us “No person, therefore, whatever, who hath not been made partaker of the washing of regeneration and the renovation of the Holy Ghost, can possibly have any union with Christ.” and how those united and cut off would have a right to cry out “For what are we condemned? Was not the blood of Christ that cleansed us sufficient to atone for all our sins?” But I’ll leave that for another post.

Instead, let me leave with a comment from a genuinely Reformed commentator on the subject of apostates who makes a simple point that anyone who understands and affirms the true nature of Union with Christ can probably immediately grasp:

“There are myriads of professing Christians in every Church whose union with Christ is only outward and formal. Some of them are joined to Christ by baptism and Church-membership. Some of them go even further than this, and are regular communicants and loud talkers about religion. But they all lack the one thing needful. Notwithstanding services, and sermons, and sacrament, they have no grace in their hearts, no faith, no inward work of the Holy Spirit. They are not one with Christ, and Christ in them. Their union with Him is only nominal, and not real. They have “a name to live,” but in the sight of God they are dead.” – J.C. Ryle


Okay, this is what I currently have: transcripts of the 2002 AAPCPC, cd’s of the 2005 AAPCPC, and transcripts of Wilkins’s lectures in 2001 and 2003.

What I need are the other lectures of 2003 transcribed. Has anyone done this or know of anyone who has who would be willing to send them along? Also, if there are transcripts of 2004, 2006, and 2007 AAPCPC tapes, I would be very desirous of obtaining them. If there is anyone willing to lend me any and/or all cd’s of the AAPCPC starting in 2001-2007 minus 2005, I would be very grateful to have them.

Posted by Lane Keister

Important New Books on the Gospels

Bauckham has, in preparation for what will surely be a top-flight commentary, brought together his Johannine essays, modified them, and introduced them. His thesis is that John is (true!) history, narrative and theology. This is in conjunction with his recently-published book on all the Gospels. Bauckham is not free from all liberal bias. However, his works offer a breath of fresh air after all the form critics who always omit to mention what the text means.

Orthodox Reformed View of Covenants

Posted by Bob Mattes

Pastor Wes White has published an excellent essay in Merit & The Covenant of Works. Please don’t read another word here until you’ve read his short essay. Go ahead.

Done reading? Good. Wes does an excellent job of laying out the orthodox Reformed view on the covenants clearly and concisely. In doing so, Wes points out the errors that Federal Visioners make in their rejection of merit, the Covenant of Works, and how the Covenant of Grace fundamentally differs from the Covenant of Works. There’s no slight of hand used, just consistent exegesis of key Scripture sections.

As Wes eloquently shows, there is no need to create a mythical “objective covenant”, grant temporary saving benefits to the reprobate, or erroneously reject the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to explain or “fix” anything. Reformed theology as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards had the appropriate Scriptural answers long before Shepherd, Wright, and the Federal Vision folks came on the scene, and will continue contain the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture long after the fad theologies of these latecomers are forgotten.

Thanks, Wes, for taking the time to bring clarity to the discussion.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Really Great Book

I really cannot recommend this book enough. It is bound in signatures, parses the most difficult words, in addition to giving a quick definition of all words occurring fewer than 30 times in the NT, has non-italic Greek font (large!), has footnotes that are easy to find (contrary to the first edition) because they are listed in a footnote fashion rather than paragraph format, lists parallels in the Gospels at the beginning of each pericope, and has a handy dictionary in the back for all words that occur 30 times or more. If you want the easiest way to improve your Greek, while learning vocab in context, this is the book for you. You can even read the Greek NT as your devotions.

FV and Adult Baptism

Posted by David Gadbois

I’ve commented before that Federal Vision theology is a very baby-centered theology.  While the standing of our covenant children is a legitimate pastoral issue, I don’t think it makes for a sound animating force behind a theological system, rather than the biblical themes and exegetical issues that drive traditional systematic theology.  Pastor Tod Bordow made an excellent comment in the combox this week, and his points bears discussion:

Putting aside the fact that not all believers are baptized, and not all baptized are believers, if you look for a credible profession before baptizing, aren’t you assuming a man is justified apart from the sacrament? How could you possibly look for a credible profession before baptism if you did not assume that man wasn’t already justified and Spirit-filled? And if you believe he was already justified and Spirit-filled , and thus a proper receipient of the sign, how can the sign convey justification and the Spirit?

Pastor Bordow has hit on a point that I’ve brought up many, many times throughout this controversy. FV seems to have to marginalize adult baptisms, because it doesn’t fit nicely into what they view as the “norm” for baptismal efficacy.  Various manifestations of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (and, yes, I realize there is no uniform definition of this doctrine) seem to depend on making infant baptisms paradigmatic.But I am simply quite unwilling to consider infant baptisms to be “normal” while adult baptisms are not. Further, I am unwilling to believe that infant baptisms have an additional efficacy that adult baptisms do not. This simply cannot be supported by Scripture anywhere. Scripture never even directly talks about infant baptism, much less illuminates the nature of its efficacy on infants.

This all ties in to my comments from my previous post on baptism.   In Romans 4, we see that Abraham, an adult who was circumcised after his conversion, is the one Paul views as paradigmatic of the Covenant of Grace.  While the sign and seal of this Covenant was applied to his infant children, it was nonetheless a “sign and seal” of his righteousness which he had by faith.  Circumcision could not have had a causal relation (instrumental or otherwise) to his conversion, regeneration, or justification whatsoever.  And I would assert that the same is true of baptism, our sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace and the righteousness of Christ that we lay hold of by faith.

None of this is New Under the Sun

Posted by Andrew Webb

“Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us.”
(Eccles. 1:10)

Although the FV is sometimes presented by its advocates as something of a “new Reformation” a quick review of the history of the church will quickly indicate that movements emphasizing reliance on membership in the corporate church, ritual, and sacraments rather than personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ are nothing particularly new. We see it in Israel just prior to going into exile and again at the time of Christ’s birth. We see it abundantly manifested in the medieval church and we see it cropping up again and again in the Reformed Churches since the 16th century.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rescuing the Absolute Negatives

Posted by Bob Mattes

I believe it worthwhile pointing out how Federal Visionists dance around exact definitions and rely on unstated assumptions to try to sound orthodox or hijack the orthodox Reformed view. There’s an interesting Federal Vision assertion here:

It wasn’t too long ago that we were assured in the name of protecting the Gospel and the Reformed Faith that God was “in no way” the savior of any except those predestined to everlasting life.

For clarity, 1 Tim 4:10 is the verse in question and it says:

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. (ESV)

This first assertion about “the Savior of all people” was clearly answered in this post, including direct quotes from James Jordan giving the Federal Vision view and Calvin (and his translator) providing the orthodox Reformed view. Pretty straight-forward, so this first assertion has no basis.

The second Federal Vision assertion is:

Now we are hearing similar absolute negatives about being united to Christ. None of this is either Biblical or “Reformed.”

He attempts to use WLC Q.63 to assert that the unregenerate in the visible church are united to Christ.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

He then concludes his argument with:

The proof associated with “being uder [sic] God’s special care and government,” is First Timothy 4.10, which I quote above.

But notice that neither the WLC or 1 Tim 4:10 say that the unregenerate in the visible church are united to Christ! To read that in the catechism would require equating “being under God’s special care and government” with being “united in Christ”, something the catechism excludes, especially when reading the two later catechism questions:

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

Also see WSC Q.30:

Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

See that the catechisms specifically call out union with Christ as a benefit for the elect based on effectual calling, but specifically exclude it from the general visible church which is NOT effectually called. So it is only the Federal Visions unstated assumption that “being under God’s special care and government” means “united in Christ”, something contrary to both the Standards and Scripture. Hence, Andy Webb’s post United to Christ But Not Going to Heaven is right on target in its use of absolutes. So is my earlier extensive post on Union with Christ, which also covers the orthodox Reformed view and includes an excerpt from the PCA’s study report that starts out with:

The Westminster Standards only speak of a “union with Christ” as that which is effectual; or to say it another way, as that which is saving and belongs to the elect (LC 65, 66). This is the “work of God’s grace” whereby the “Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling” (LC 66; SC 30). This “thereby” of the catechism’s statement is important: it conveys that the Spirit uses faith to unite believers to Christ (cf. WCF 26:1).

The Federal Vision post ends with the usual intemperate language which I will not repeat here. Must be a manifestation of serrated edge theology.

Just thought that you’d like to know…the rest of the story.

Posted by Bob Mattes

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