Where in Paul?

I would like to reiterate my proposal of before: let’s get our exegetical hands dirty in Paul. Where does Paul speak of obeying the Gospel? I have found one instance of this form of expression: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8, which reads as follows:

English: This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Greek: ἔνδειγμα τῆς δικαίας κρίσεως τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰς τὸ καταξιωθῆναι ὑμᾶς τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ, ὑπὲρ ἧς καὶ πάσχετε, εἴπερ δίκαιον παρὰ θεῷ ἀνταποδοῦναι τοῖς θλίβουσιν ὑμᾶς θλῖψιν καὶ ὑμῖν τοῖς θλιβομένοις ἄνεσιν μεθ’ ἡμῶν ἐν τῇ ἀποκαλύψει τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ ἀπ’ οὐρανοῦ μετ’ ἀγγέλων δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ ἐν πυρὶ φλογός, διδόντος ἐκδίκησιν τοῖς μὴ εἰδόσιν θεὸν καὶ τοῖς μὴ ὑπακούουσιν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ,

The key phrase is ὑπακούουσιν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ. Nowhere in the context is there least mention of justification, or how to become right with God. The passage is talking about those who persecute Christians, and how they do not obey the Gospel. So, there is no bifurcation of obedience and works possible in the theology of justification in Paul, since all works are excluded from justification, including Spirit-wrought works of obedience. Besides this, Paul’s reference is to the entire Christian life and walk, not to that specific point of justification that occurs at the outset of the Christian life. This is evident by the contrast between those who continue to persecute those who live the Christian life. It is the ongoing nature of each opposite pathway, which is in Paul’s mind here. Let me ask this question, are all works excluded from justification, or are only some works excluded?   



  1. June 3, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Interesting that “gospel” is in the dative rather than the accusative.

    To answer your question, all (our) works are certainly excluded from justification–“to him who does not work, but believes… his faith is counted for righteousness.”

    But the FV’ist might reply that though “works” are excluded, obedience is not since it is Spirit-wrought.

  2. David Gadbois said,

    June 3, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    If FV could get this one question right (Shepherd still hasn’t after 30 years) we could probably work out the secondary questions (on paedocommunion, covenant, merit, etc.) somewhat peacably. But since it won’t get this right – in a clear, unqualified, unequivocal, and unanimous fashion – that can’t be.

  3. June 3, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Well, one could argue that the whole soteriological controversy is really an ecclesiological one in disguise. When you begin with a “head for head” view of baptismal efficacy, you immediately must explain how such elect and united-with-Christ church members can lose those blessings without devaluing the ex opere operato power of the sacrament.

  4. jared said,

    June 3, 2008 at 1:56 pm


    In response to your last question; how does excluding all works from justification remove or negate the necessity of obedience/works in the redeeming of God’s people?

  5. James Grant said,

    June 3, 2008 at 5:28 pm


    I realize it is Peter, but how about 1 Peter 4:17?

  6. Mark Horne said,

    June 3, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Any so-called theology that considers “obeying the gospel” to be a threat to the Gospel and justification by faith alone obviously understands neither the Gospel nor justification by faith alone.

  7. its.reed said,

    June 4, 2008 at 6:25 am


    I might be missing something here, but isn’t vs. 8, in the negative, directed specifically at the unbelieving persecutors of the Christian. The issue in view is not how does the Christian, ongoing in sanctification, obey the gospel. The issue is the lack of initial obedience to the gospel by the unregenerate.

    This seems pretty straightforward. The unregenerate are called to obey the gospel’s dual command, to repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. That they don’t, refusing to and instead persecute the lord’s messenger (the one announcing the gospel’s command), adds therefore to their judgment.

    Of course, we understand from passages outside this one that such obedience is only the result of the Covenant of Grace application by the Spirit of Christ to us. The obedience we offer to the gospel’s command is nothing more or less than the gift of God. Thus our works are excluded.

    Nowhere in this passage does the Bible speak of the Christian’s obedience to the gospel. All that is in view is the unbeliever’s disobedience. To infer the former is to engage in logical fallacy.

  8. Ken Christian said,

    June 4, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Ref. 7 – Which logical fallacy are you thinking about, Reed? Also, doesn’t the Christian have to continue to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and also continue to repent over sin? If so, what is that but ongoing obedience to the demands of the gospel? (Obviously, continual faith and repentance is just as much a work of God’s Spirit as one’s initial belief and repentance.)

  9. Ken Christian said,

    June 4, 2008 at 9:05 am

    oops, my last post (#9) is a reply to Reed’s comment in #8, not Mark’s in #7.

  10. Elder Hoss said,

    June 4, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Lane – If, as you say, we are getting our exegetical hands dirty (cerainly a worthy endeavor) Cranfield is most helpful in this regard. Many Presbyterian and Reformed guys don’t like him bc. he ostensibly reminds them of Barth and does not publish via Eerdmans or BOT, but nonetheless, his 6-7 renderings of “the obedience of faith” shows a depth of treatment that ought not readily be dismissed.

    It’s surprising that Thessalonians is the only place you can find Paul speaking of obeying the gospel.

    Paul actually uses “faith”, “believing the gospel”, “calling upon the Lord”, and “obeying the gospel” interchangeably in a section familiar to all of us:

    How then shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

    15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! Isa 52:7

    16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? Isa 53:1

    17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

    What the Romans passage demonstrates, contra your/Reed’s assertions is that for Paul, there most certainly is no hostility or antithesis between obedience and faith since, PRECISELY IN THE CONTEXT WHERE ITS RECEPTION or DENIAL is being spoken of. Paul goes so far as to speak of “obeying the gospel” and “believing” in the same sentence.

    To my utter amazement, Sean Gerety actually conceded this point to me as we discussed this over at Wilson’s blog months’ ago.

    It would seem that a take-away here, at least to my mind, is that when men preach “the gospel” in such a way as to describe repentance or the following after Jesus as merely the eventual FRUIT of faith, or when, for example, men can give nice essays on “the gospel” without preaching the resurrection as utterly central TO the gospel, indeed, the gospel is being recaste and undermined as to the core elements of the apostolic kerygma.

    I would suggest that DISTINGUISHING faith and works, or faith and obedience, or justification and sanctification, is a different matter than is SEPARATING them. Men may agree with that theoretically, or formally, only to deny it in a practical/de facto manner when they stand in the pulpit, or declare “the gospel” in other contexts. To guard against such error, a healthy self-criticism and distrust of our capabilities in these matters, is in order, rather than break-dancing in order to make texts conform to a standard which, I fear many times, would leave Paul (not to mention his 1st century listener) scratching his head.

  11. its.reed said,

    June 4, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Ref. 9:

    Ken, my point is simply that the passage in view does not address itself to the Christian’s obedience to the gospel. I’m not saying there is no such thing. All I’m observing is that the passage is directed at the non-Christian’s lack of obedience, and that there is nothing in the passage (or before or after) that at least requires a necessary inference to the Christian’s obedience.

    I’m not up on all the logic phrases, but I think this would be an example of:

    If a, then b
    Not b, thefore not a

    The second line is a logical fallacy. Applied here, affirming something about the disobedience to the gospel of the unbeliever is “not b”. Nothing in the passage requires “not a” (the Christian’s non-obedience) or “a” (the Christian’s obedience).


  12. greenbaggins said,

    June 4, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Elder Hoss, I am by no means suggesting that the Thessalonians passage was the only passage where such language could be found. I just took one and went with it. We should look at all the other passages as well. And I like Cranfield much better than most other Romans commentaries.

  13. Elder Hoss said,

    June 4, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I think though, you are asserting with Reed that for Paul, “obeying the gospel” is what is said of non-believers who FAIL TO, when in fact, Paul in Romans 10 is using these words interchangeably (“believing the gospel”, “calling on the Name of the Lord”, “obeying the gospel.” Perhaps Reed was seeking to make this point more definitively that you, in that you seemingly would agree with Cranfield? In other words, the sinner “obeys” or “believes” the gospel?

    Paul says just this, and unequivocally.

    It seems to me that even if one grants that “obedience of faith” means, “the obedience which comes from faith” (Cranfield offers that as a possible rendering as you doubtless know, but rejects the rendering) we still have the rather glaring white elephant of Paul’s interchanging “obeying the gospel” with “believing the report” in Rom. 10:16-17.

    Surely when a sinner “believes” or “obeys the gospel” he is justified, such that divorcing “obedience” (as PAUL uses the term, not Roman Catholics…) from justification would be something that we leave Paul and his first century listener in stark amazement where they to hear these things. Neither Paul
    nor his first century listener would consent to this kind of dissecting.

    Putting this in a historical-theological framework (obviously a penultimate concern to the exegetical spadework, as your post rightly points to), it is thus not surprising that a devout Lutheran such as Herman Sasse could charge the Reformed with what to his mind was “legalism”, for asserting just what I am here.

  14. Ken Christian said,

    June 4, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Ref. 12 – Thanks for the reply, Reed. I see where you’re coming from. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  15. Roger Mann said,

    June 5, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    7. Mark Horne wrote,

    Any so-called theology that considers “obeying the gospel” to be a threat to the Gospel and justification by faith alone obviously understands neither the Gospel nor justification by faith alone.

    If everyone would be honest enough to use the phrase “obeying the gospel” as equivalent to “believing the gospel,” as Paul clearly does (e.g., Romans 10), then there wouldn’t be any controversy. But, as you well know, there are many who “want to pervert the gospel of Christ” by teaching that belief in the gospel alone (apart from works of any kind) is not sufficient for one’s justification, but that one must also continue to “obey” the commands and moral precepts of the gospel in order to obtain “future” justification at the last day — which is justification by “works” no matter how you want to slice it. That’s why Lane asked the very simple question, “are all works excluded from justification, or are only some works excluded?” The answer is quite simple: we are justified before God once for all the very moment we simply “believe” the gospel; our past and future works of “obedience” do not contribute one iota to our justification in God’s sight. Do you believe this or not?

  16. Mark Horne said,

    June 5, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    The only ground of our standing before God is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to sinners and received only by faith.

    But I have a different view (you won’t be surprised to read) of what is happening. From where I sit, there is an obvious attempt to condemn those who believe what I wrote in my first sentence–to claim they “really” believe in works righteousness. The resulting rationalizations for why these people are beyond the pale lead the accusers into nonsense formulations, so that even the term “obeying the Gospel” becomes a threat.

  17. Roger Mann said,

    June 5, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    17: Mark Horne wrote,

    From where I sit, there is an obvious attempt to condemn those who believe what I wrote in my first sentence–to claim they “really” believe in works righteousness.

    Perhaps that’s because you rephrased your answer differently than either I or Lane did in answering the same question. After all, not everyone uses the terms “ground,” “standing,” “imputed,” and “faith” in the same way when discussing this issue. So, do you mean the same thing as what we wrote in our answers, or are you rephrasing your answer in an attempt to be ambiguous? That’s an honest question.

  18. June 5, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    There is a significant difference between saying (A) that by water baptism we are (covenantally and not necessarily savingly) united to Christ and, as such, we share in Jesus’ resurrection verdict for as long as we abide in him, and saying (B) that the obedience and satisfaction of Christ are granted and imputed to us by a faith that, though living, is passively instrumental in justification.

    And what makes matters more confusing is when proponents of both views claim to uphold the latter.

  19. markhorne said,

    June 5, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Roger, I offered clarity in the face of ambiguity. However, I’ll try to accomodate you: no works, including believing, contributes to our justification.

    This is open to the misunderstanding that it doesn’t matter if we believe or not, but hopefully readers will realize my intent by #17 if they have any doubts.

  20. Roger Mann said,

    June 5, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Ok, Mark, that seems clear enough to me. Thanks for the further clarification. And anyone who would understand you to be saying “it doesn’t matter if we believe or not” would truly be twisting your words.

  21. June 6, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    If faith is passive, it is dead. There is no such thing as a living faith that is passive.

    OOOOHHHHH! (hand slapping on forehead).

    Rey, how did you do that? With a mere nineteen words you have utterly undone 500 years of confessional Reformed exegesis! Pretty impressive for a layman. And how you manage to keep yourself humble amid such brilliance is beyond even the most accomplished among us.

    Do me a favor, willya? Now that you’ve solved all our debates in the Reformed world, head on over to some blogs about the oil crisis and lend your expertise to the fellows at OPEC, mkay? I’m sick of gas costing so much.

    Be sure to check back in in a couple years, though, we’ll be missing ya.

  22. Elder Hoss said,

    June 6, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    It’s rather amusing listening to various Presbyterian and Reformed braveheart warriors “standing for the true gospel” when many of them can’t recall the last time God used them in bringing “the gospel” to the lost in the power of the Holy Spirit, unto the salvation of even one.

    This applies to many Pastors, and not merely untrained laymen who love to parrot what they are gleaning from this or that soteriologic Calvinist: Their entire “ministries” consist in taking sheep from other Evangelical groups and perfecting them in a particular presentation of “the Reformed faith.”

    Drug addicts, sex addicts, white collar criminals bowing before King Jesus through repentance and faith (ie, “hearing”, “believing”, or “obeying the gospel”, per Romans 10, sorry friends, it’s right there), under their indefatigable efforts, OR, how about Liberal mainline “Christians” (many of whom blog, hint…) forsaking their anthropocentric and idolatrous profession of faith through the direct efforts of these Presbyterian and Reformed guys, present-hour? Heck no. The “gospel” must be polished and preserved in its cute little case, which gospel it appears many of our fellow Calvinists don’t seem to understand very well through all of the qualifying, asterisking, and special-pleading in the fact of very clear texts which undercut their presuppositions.

    Semper reformanda? Try semper deformanda, baby!

  23. its.reed said,

    June 6, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Ref. 24:

    Elder Hoss, I usually refrain from responding to such comments as yours, but I must admit I’m a little tired of listening to comments from you taking others to task – about things you have no basis upon which to make your uncharitable judgments.

    It’s quite fine to engage in debates about such things as whether or not the Scirpture teaches “obedience to the gospel” and what that means.

    It’s quite another to make the broad and sweeping accusations you do in this post about the (supposed) failure of some unidentified, but in context people on this blog, to be committed to taking the gospel to the lost.

    If you have evidence to this of individuals in particular, then the love of Christ should compel you to contact them privately, not blast them publicly.

    If you’re just making an observation, more care and judgment should be used on your part. Your rashness is unbecoming of someone who identifies themselves by the honorable office of elder.

    Rahter than lambasting unidentified layman and “many Pastors,” physican, heal thyself. Or, with me, seek the mercy of the Great Physician and seek his healing from such rashness and arrogance.

    Reed DePace
    TE, PCA

  24. Elder Hoss said,

    June 6, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    Reed – No basis, really? What are Presbies and the Reformed who typically engage in these imbroglios known for?

    Are we not known by our fruits?

    What is the fruit of endless Reformed and Deformed bickering? Heck, I interact regularly with Presbyterian men and both sides of the discursive aisle who confide, in saner moments, that they have not seen, in 10 yrs of ministry, A SINGLE PAGAN COMING TO FAITH IN THEIR MINISTRY. And yet, some of these men are the same ones sounding the alarm about “standing for the one true gospel”. Then also the untrained laymen compounding the problem with windmill thrusting at this or that “heretic” who believes 99.99% of what they do (ie, other five-pointists).

    Let’s save the bromides and the badge polishing, and – also – the sanctimony, and take a cold hard look at the utter wordliness, lukewarmness, and “misplaced antithesis war-waging” in our midst. I’m sorry to have to cite Van Til or Pelikan in some of my writings, since a number of our ministerial candidates in the PCA seem to be more conversant with Van Halen than Van Til, or “Pelikan Brief”, than say, Pelikan’s 5 volumes on the Christian Tradition.

    It appears that we simply disagree as to how severe the state of affairs really is. I would suggest that Semper Reformanda is not a moniker or an aphorism for the typical pop-Calvinist parachurch conference. From where I sit, a whole host of our PCA churches play fast and loose with the third mark of the church, presybteries allow neophytes under the fence into the office, who have no business there (I am a CEO and would not hire many of these young men as interns, let alone pastors), and yet, our Presby and Reformed brethren seem more concerned about obsessing over and picking at fellow five-pointists every bit as obscure and non-impactful as they are.

    This can all be dismissed with sanctimony, but then again, not really…

    And yes, may we seek Jesus daily in family worship, private devotion, establishing covenantal schools, orphanages, and hospitals where the Lordship of Christ is proclaimed, and in seizing every possible moment to advance kingdom endeavors. If Presbies and the Reformed did THAT, I suggest the blogosphere would be almost as silent as our old New England towns were when the Sabbath was honored.

    Thank you for this exchange.


  25. its.reed said,

    June 7, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Ref. 26:

    Yes Elder Hoss, we are known by our fruits.

    May we all grow in the grace and humility that adorn so beautifully our Lord and Savior. May he be merciful to us all.

    And no, please don’t thank me for this exchange. I’m rather saddened by it.

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