This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Monday, December 23, 2013

One More Quack!

Just in case some folks think that I fail to recognize that the action A&E took against Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" is not a free-speech issue, I will reiterate why I stepped in and spoke up. I reissue this statement from one I posted on one of my friend's pages. I do so here with some additions.

The issue is not a matter of free speech, constitutionally defined. Nonetheless, it is a matter of tyranny against the freedom of speech by a large sector of society in the public square. In fact that sector of society, Christians, which is routinely told to shut up, is vastly larger than the homosexual sector of society that screams loudly in the public square with the aid of their obsequious and fawning media advocates who freely give them access to their communication outlets which are protected by the Constitution as free-speech mouthpieces.

Why should anyone be outraged over these things? It is because what takes place in the public square shapes the laws of the land. When tyrannical minority groups, such as GLAAD, gain ascendancy in the public square because they have advocates who hold media positions that magnify their voices in vastly disproportionate ways so as to sound like a majority of Americans, they acquire vastly disproportionate influence upon the political and legal realms of our society to shape laws and judicial actions that have already and will increasingly alter the Constitution and the nature of our society and culture.

Laws follow the morality of society and the framework of culture. Thus, as our culture deteriorates with moral deviancy defined downward so that vile and sinful behavior are now openly celebrated, having been elevated from "alternative lifestyle" status, those who engage in vile behavior not only are celebrated in the public square but also become increasingly protected by laws until it will become impossible to violate the law of the land when we condemn those vile and wicked behaviors that are already being celebrated in the public square and area already being protected by activist legislators and activist judges.

This is why we cannot dismiss what has happened to a backwater elderly hick from the swamps of a Southern state, Louisiana (I write these words with tongue in cheek, of course, for such is the way the Robertsons are viewed by GLAAD and their elitist media advocates.) This is why I raised my voice in open and candid opposition to GLAAD and their media advocates but also to fellow Christians who want Christians such as I to hush up and lay down the weapons of the gospel concerning this latest public square debate.

Give GLAAD and their advocates an inch and they will be our rulers.

Being salt and light, as Jesus instructs us to be, requires us to condemn evil and to commend good. I prefer to heed the directives of King Jesus than to obey fellow Christians who tell me to hush until a more opportune situation presents itself, which, evidently, they will assess for the rest of us and tell us when we should speak in the public square. No thanks! Since King Jesus is also the one who will judge me in the Last Day, I will heed him and speak out against the celebration of evil wherever, whenever, and against whomever it is being done, including a "hayseed" from the swamps of Louisiana.

Also worth reading.

Brian Mattson, Duck!

Why I Give A Quack!

Someone asked, "What's your point in posting 'This Is Worth Quacking About!'? So, you disagreed with David Mathis, but you didn't offer an alternative prescription for action. What action are you suggesting that Christians should take?"
I offered responses initially on Here, I offer a couple of postings, this one and a follow-up, to explain why I offered a response to Mathis's blog entry and what it is that we are called to do and say as Christians. I'm not calling for radical activism. I am calling for well-balanced critical engagement of the culture and of our society that actually challenges and pushes back and refuses to be silent or to bullied into silence by activist elitist leftists and radicals who make their voices very loud because they own the mainstream media.
Did not the apostle Paul admonish us, as Christians, to be wary of the devil's wily ways, of Satan's devices?

It is that wariness that prompted me to write and to publish my piece yesterday concerning the imbroglio of disagreement among Christians that is centered upon the A&E's firing of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty for expressing his candid beliefs concerning the sinfulness of homosexuality when asked in an interview by GQ magazine. As I said yesterday, the issue is not whether A&E has a right to hire and fire. The issue is the tyranny of wickedness that spreads virally through society by exploiting speech codes imposed by the loudest sector of society, regardless how outnumbered that small sector actually is.

Well, today, Brian Mattson provides an excellent and insightful piece that explains the backstory to my piece in his blog entry, Duck!, though he and I did not converse about this matter. Nevertheless, because we both think biblically, he articulates precisely the thoughts that ignited my taking hold of my keyboard to write what I posted on FB and on my blog yesterday.

What Brian points out is how the devil schemes to impose his evil will upon all of us. If we do not resist those in the public square who feign offense at an outspoken Christian to accomplish their evil craving to bend our wills to do their will and the will of the devil, we will soon find that their exploitation of the tyranny of political correctness in the public square will become state-sponsored tyranny that will enforce the devil's evil will with the power of the sword.

This is why it is not only right but necessary to recognize that it is always seasonable to condemn sin and to uphold righteousness. Is it not? This seems to echo what the apostle Paul said to a young minister of the gospel in his own day.

As for being Christian citizens dwelling in the kingdoms of this world, if we wait until legislators and governors and presidents and judges add their full weight of the law to the cause of immorality, we will find ourselves ruing the day that we refused to engage evil when it was not yet in control of those who wield the sword. Have we not learned anything from history? Have we so quickly forgotten Martin Niemöller's famous quote?

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

If Christians in the USA wait until legislators and governors and presidents and judges determine what can and cannot be spoken concerning issues and sins that God's Word addresses and obligates us to address with candor and with love, then it will be too late. Will it not? Oh, wait, legislators and governors and presidents and judges already are making those determinations. Aren't they? They're doing it state by state.

When the President, who routinely imposes his kingly will upon us citizens by his edicts, speaks out in support of same-sex marriage, as he did in May 2012, what restrains him and those who prop him up from issuing an edict that moves his belief into law?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

This Is Worth Quacking About

I've restrained my pen many times over many embarrassing things that others with whom I've associated have said, taught, preached, or done. Today, I'm embarrassed again, and this time I'm not holding back. I am speaking out. My friend Dr. Peter Jones has also spoken out about this. In fact, it was his piece that brought the matter to my attention, including the piece I engage below.

Today, on the Desiring God blog (see below), David Mathis posted his response to the firing of Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty." See David's piece: "This Is Not Worth Quacking About." Oh, indeed the title is clever and David sprinkles a number of cute little sayings and barbs throughout his blog entry, including division headers: "No Time to Cry Fowl" and "Pass on This Decoy." He ends his piece by stating, "Let’s lay down the weapons on this one. There will be other ducks to shoot. Pass on the decoy. There are so many good avenues for expending our righteous energy. It’s time to change the channel."

Well, I don't need to change the channel because I have never watched "Duck Dynasty." I have no interest to watch the show, either. This is not about the cable television show. This is not about commercialism. This is about the truth. "Lay down the weapons on this one"? What? When is the right time to take up the weapons of the gospel, David? I'm quite astonished that you write the following.

"Here’s a call for sheep in the midst of wolves to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Wisdom isn’t picking a fight whenever we can, but picking the right fight. Yes, we must beware: “they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake” (Matthew 10:17–18), but this is not that day. This is not the issue.

"There will be real battles to fight — real courts and real judges and real presidents, governors, and legislatures that will continue riding the societal wave of the LGBT agenda. As the seemingly unstoppable train barrels down the tracks at us, we will continue to face excruciatingly tough decisions about when and how to hold our ground and when and if to dive out of the way and live to fight another day."

Hmmm! Many of us are wondering when the right time to engage the battle will be for many of us desired earnestly in 2012 for our pastors to engage the battle when the real battle was being fought with real legislators and with real voters in Minnesota when we had the opportunity to pass a Constitutional Amendment that would have defined marriage as entailing the union of one man and one woman. Yet obviously the time to take up the weapons of the gospel against the encroachment of the radical homosexual lobby was not then. No! That wasn't the right time to take up the weapons of the gospel, either, so you and John Piper told us and modeled for us by not engaging the battle. Instead of having that Constitutional Amendment endorsed by the citizens of the state, as soon as Leftist Activist Legislators and a Leftist Activist Governor took over the state government in January 2013, they picked up the cause of radical homosexual lobbyists and crammed down our throats their marriage redefinition law, so that now our state embraces their bastardized definition of marriage that includes the bastardized union of same-sex partners. And the fact that it is now the law of the land poses innumerable potential and plausible occasions of state-sponsored persecution of anyone who resists this horrendous law, including our church.

In this one matter you're right, David. If this were about the A&E show called "Duck Dynasty," it's not worth quacking about. But it's not about "Duck Dynasty." The issue is truth, truth indelibly imprinted by the Creator upon every male and every female. It's the truth of Romans 1:18-32. It's about the idolatry of our society. It's about the wrath of God upon humanity for their idolatry. It's about homosexuality as testimony of God's wrath against humanity for idolatry. Here is an occasion that cries out for solidarity among Christians to stand with a fellow Christian to cry out against wickedness and against persecution. So what if you and I do not spend any time watching "Duck Dynasty"? What does it matter that a Christian brother has been earning his livelihood by way of an entertainment contract with A&E? Would it be more to your liking if Phil Robertson were a plumber, a carpenter, a physician, or in some other vocation more to your liking? Would you then "quack about it"? Would you then "cry fowl"? Would you then not "pass on the decoy"?

"Lay down the weapons on this one"? No thanks, David. Your advice is wrong, and someone needs to say it. So I'm saying it, and saying it as a member of the same congregation. Step aside. Lay the weapons of the gospel down, if you so choose. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord by picking up the weapons of the gospel in this matter, because it's about the indelible truths imprinted upon us by our Creator.

Now, where's that petition? I'm going to sign it. Signed!

Now, you go sign the petition, but do be convinced in your own mind that it is the right thing to do.

P.S. David Mathis's, "This Is Not Worth Quacking About!", took quite a lot of heat from FaceBook readers who read John Piper's FB tweet of the blog entry here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gentle Reformation Interview on Warnings and Exhortations

Last week I sat for a podcast interview with Austin Brown and Barry York of Gentle Reformation.
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
Col 1:21-23
We are quite comfortable with the above verse, until, of course, we come to that little word “if.”  It jumps out at us like a bugbear, startling us, even disturbing us.  Why say that, Paul?  Why toss in an “if.”  It sounds like you’re positing a condition to salvation?  Isn’t our salvation secure?
Even more forceful passages could be gathered from the apostolic letters, exhortations warning us of the dire consequences of committing apostasy.  The book of Hebrews certainly comes to mind.
So what are we to do with such statements?  Brush them under the rug?  Explain them away?  Perhaps we should just flip the page quickly?
In today’s interview with Dr. Ardel Caneday, co-author of the insightful book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance, we’ll explore the biblical relationship between promise and warning, assurance and perseverance.

For myself, I am convinced that Dr. Caneday and Dr. Schreiner have provided the church with an invaluable resource, helping us understand how these two thorny and often polarizing concepts harmonize with one another.  If after listening to the interview, you’re interested in learning more, you can find the book online at Amazon.  Just click the picture below.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Rick Warren and the Apostle Paul

Recently, reports make it clear, by his own testimony, that Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, eats Iftar. In 2006 Warren and his wife began eating Iftar meals at the Mission Viejo mosque. What is Iftar. Iftar is the evening religious meal that Muslims eat after fasting all day during the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting.

Pastor Rick Warren has been asked about his eating Iftar. Warren explains,
It’s called being polite and a good neighbor. For years, we have invited Muslim friends to attend our Easter and Christmas services and they have graciously attended year after year. Some have even celebrated our family’s personal Christmas service in our home. So when they have a potluck when their month of fasting ends, we go to their party. It’s a Jesus thing. The Pharisees criticized him as “the friend of sinners” because Jesus ate dinner with people they disapproved of. By the way, one of my dear friends is a Jewish Rabbi and my family has celebrated Passover at his home, and he attends our Christmas and Easter services. I wish more Christians would reach out in love like Jesus.
Pastor Rick Warren receives praise from some outspoken Evangelicals, even concerning his eating Iftar.

Is Pastor Warren's eating Iftar permissible by Scripture? Do the apostle Paul's directives to the Corinthians permit a follower of Jesus Christ o eat the Muslim religious meal, Iftar? What does Paul say? Ponder carefully 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf. 
Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
Of course, I realize that the Iftar meal does not entail sacrifices offered to idols. Yet, anyone who dismisses applicability of the apostle Paul's instructions to the eating of Iftar because the foods eaten are not actually offered to idols exhibits a kind of "literalism" that the passage does not warrant. To skirt the prohibition by appeal to "literalism" is to violate Paul's instruction. Muslims regard Iftar as a religious meal, a sacred meal, for it is integral to their Ramadan fasting, which is expressly religious. Hence, Paul's apostolic instruction forbids the eating of Iftar by Christians. Does it not?
Now, of course, if we love our Muslim neighbors, we will not eat Iftar with them, as Paul's further instructions make it clear, for the sake of their conscience, not for our own conscience. If we truly seek the good of our Muslim neighbors, which is their salvation, then, according to Paul's directives, we must not eat their religious meal. For when a Muslim declares that a particular meal is "Iftar," does this not fall under Paul's instructions when he says, "But if someone says to you, 'This has been offered in sacrifice,' then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience"?
I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 
Paul's apostolic instructions seem counterintuitive, given Rick Warren's practice and the practice of many Christians who seek to evangelize Muslims. They eat Iftar in the hope that by doing so they will win their Muslim friends and neighbors to Christ. Paul directs us not to eat meals that are specifically identified as religious meals, whether in the shrine, temple, mosque or home, in order that non-believers might be saved. If Rick Warren desires the salvation of his Muslim neighbors and friends, should he not refrain from eating Iftar, in keeping with the apostolic Scriptures? 

As for me and my house, we will follow the apostle Paul's instruction and his example, not Rick Warren's example. As for me and my house, we will not eat Iftar with our Muslim neighbors, though we may eat ordinary meals with them. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ETS Paper Available

The following is from Credo blog.

To start off this week we would like to highlight the ETS paper of A. B. Caneday, who is also a weekly contributor to the Credo blog as well as a contributor to the January issue of Credo Magazine, “In Christ Alone.” Caneday’s paper is titled: “The Advent of God’s Son as Judgment in John’s Gospel-Justification and Condemnation Already.” Ardel Caneday (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Studies at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has served churches in various pastoral roles, including senior pastor. He has authored numerous journal articles, many essays in books, and has co-authored with Thomas Schreiner the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance (Inter-Varsity, 2001).

Caneday begins his paper:

Despite mistakenly construing John’s Gospel against the backdrop of second-century Gnosticism, skewing his interpretation of the Gospel, Rudolf Bultmann correctly identifies divine judgment as an important aspect of Johannine theology. He observes that Jesus’ activity as “Revealer of God,” whose unitary advent (John 3:19; 9:39) and departure (12:31), is the eschatological event, “the judgment of the world.” According to Bultmann, Jesus’ coming cast the whole κόσμος into κρίσις. Yet, this eschatological judgment “is no dramatic cosmic event, but takes place in the response of men to the word of Jesus.” He contends, “Thus the judgement is not a specially contrived sequel to the coming and the departure of the Son. It is not a dramatic cosmic event which is yet to come and which we must still await. Rather the mission of the Son, complete as it is in his descent and exaltation, is the judgement.”

Despite holding significant disagreements with Bultmann, New Testament exegetes do not miss the fact that divine judgment figures prominently in John’s Gospel. So, for example, Köstenberger observes, “in an important sense, God’s judgment was already brought about by the light’s coming into the world in the incarnation of the Son (1:14). This coming of the light into the world, in turn, confronts people everywhere with the decision of whether to embrace the light or to go into hiding and persist in darkness.” All who reject God’s Son incur divine judgment, but all who believe in him “escape judgment already in the here and now (5:24), though the final judgment awaits the end of time (5:28-29).”

True as this is, arguments to counter or to qualify Bultmann’s insistence that John’s Gospel contends for a “realized eschatology” versus the traditional Jewish end-time eschatology tend to overlook important ramifications of the Last Day’s advance arrival with the advent of the Son of God. The exclusive claim of Peter’s proclamation that “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) finds expanded expression in the Fourth Gospel.

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

The life of the Age to Come is resident in and mediated through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Hence, eternal life, which properly belongs to the coming age, is already present with the incarnation of the Word and is now being imparted to all who believe in God’s Son. Noteworthy as is the advance installment of eternal life, signaling resurrection’s encroachment into the present age, of equal significance is the announcement beforehand of God’s Last Day verdict of judgment, all who believe “are not condemned,” but whoever does not believe “is condemned already.”

With his advent, God’s Son already brings forward two correlated acts of God—resurrection and judgment—that belong to the Last Day which consummates the present age and ushers in the Age to Come. The mission of God’s incarnate Son sweeps forward both the wrath of God’s coming judgment now revealed in Christ’s sacrificial death and the gift of God’s resurrection life disclosed in Christ’s glorious resurrection from the dead. Because Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, the Father authorized him to have “life in himself” to bestow this life of the coming age to whomever he desires in advance of the day of resurrection and to set in motion execution of the coming judgment upon both those who believe and those who do not (John 3:16-19; 5:21-29). Johannine scholars affirm these emphases. Yet, lacking within discussions of the Fourth Gospel’s emphasis upon the present arrival of future resurrection and judgment in the person of Jesus Christ is development of John’s doctrine of justification, expressed with neither the verb δικαιόω nor the noun δικαίωσις but through less direct but no less emphatic expressions. In these expressions the affirmative is emphatically stated by negating its opposite so that “are not condemned” and “do not come into condemnation” bear the sense, “most assuredly justified.”

Read Ardel Caneday’s entire ETS paper.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Five Mottos from the Reformation

By A. B. Caneday

Deriving from the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century five Latin phrases— sola scripture, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria—have summarized the principal Christian teachings that the Reformers proclaimed in their endeavors to bring reform to the church. What do these five Latin phrases mean?

Sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”)

The English translation of the Latin indicates that the phrase is to be understood to mean the instrument by which God discloses himself gracious to redeem humanity is solely Scripture. The Bible is the Word of God, given through the Holy Spirit, the only authoritative source for teachings concerning Christian faith and practice. The Reformers used this expression, sola scriptura, to distill their firm conviction against the prevailing teaching of the church at that time. The phrase captures their affirmation that the Bible alone is the ultimate and final authority concerning God’s redeeming will. Neither the pope, nor the church, nor the traditions of the church, nor even the councils of the church are privileged to hold final sway over Christ’s church concerning what is to be believed and practiced as Christians. Scripture alone holds final authority concerning faith and the nurturing of faith. Whatever other authorities that God has established in this world—whether church, state, family, or any other—they are to be subject to Scripture. To whatever degree other authorities teach or practice contrary to the Scriptures, they are to be judged by the Bible and reproved accordingly.

Sola gratia (“by grace alone”)

Again, the English translation of the Latin, with the word “by,” shows that this phrase indicates that grace is God’s appointed instrumentality by which he saves sinners. Because salvation comes “by grace alone,” humans are powerless to lay any claim upon God’s gift of salvation. God is not moved to be gracious to sinners by their foolish and futile notions that they have power to accrue merited favor with him. Indeed, God does save sinners, but he does so as it pleases him. God is not moved to save anyone by anything external to his own gracious will. God alone acts to save sinners by grace alone. To confess that God’s salvation is received “by grace alone” is to deny that human stratagems, devices, methods, and techniques are, in themselves, powerless to give birth to faith or to bring about salvation. Grace alone brought to bear upon us through the Holy Spirit who brings us to Christ is God’s way of showing himself glorious in our salvation. Thus, by grace alone God calls forth from their spiritual tombs utterly helpless sinners who are as dead and senseless in their sins as was Lazarus’s stinking corpse in the tomb. By grace alone God breathes into sinners the breath of eternal life.

Sola Fide (“by faith alone”)

Of the five Latin catchphrases, perhaps the most misunderstood and disputed is sola fide. For the Reformers it was not sufficient to affirm that salvation is sola gratia, by grace alone, for many of their Roman Catholic contemporaries agreed. Martin Luther’s published debate with Desiderius Erasmus makes clear the Reformers’ insistence upon affirming sola fide. Erasmus contended against Luther by arguing that God’s offered “rewards” are merited, that the reward of eternal life is earned. He insisted that salvation is received not “by grace alone,” but because of “free choice,” human merit attaches to faith with the result that human worthiness in addition to faith receives the reward of eternal life. Against Erasmus, Luther reasoned from Scripture (sola scriptura) that eternal life as promised reward to everyone whose obedient faith in Christ perseveres indicates God’s gracious ordered sequence of salvation, not the merited cause of salvation. Luther contended that God established that belief and unbelief should have their fitting consequences.[i] Calvin agrees with Luther when he states, “Nothing is clearer than that a reward is promised for good works to relieve the weakness of our flesh by some comfort but not to puff up our heart with vainglory. Whoever, then, deduces merit of works from this, or weighs works and reward together, wanders very far from God’s own plan.”[ii]

Given Luther’s and Calvin’s shared belief, it is necessary to guard against a misunderstanding of sola fide that would eviscerate faith, virtually reducing it to a solitary act of naked assent.[iii] In order to avoid any perceived intrusion of merit into salvation, some Evangelicals take the word “alone” (sola), in the Protestant motto, “justified by faith alone,” as an adjective that describes faith itself.[iv] The result is that they contend that faith in its solitariness justifies. This is quite different from historic Protestant understanding which takes alone as an adverb to describe how we are justified rather than as an adjective describing faith as solitary.[v] Thus, to avoid mistaking alone as describing faith—“faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17)—it is not uncommon for Evangelicals to explain, “We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone.”[vi] By this, Evangelicals mean, “We are justified only by faith.” Naked or dead faith does not justify anyone (James 2:17). Only an active or obedient faith justifies (2:18; Gal. 5:6). Not faith itself but the one in whom faith is anchored justifies. Thus, sola fide is inseparably linked with solus Christus.

Solus Christus (“Christ alone”) or Solo Christo (“by Christ alone”)

God justifies believers not because of what faith is nor because of obedience that inescapably accompanies faith, but because of Christ Jesus in whom obedient faith rests with full confidence and assurance. It is not the reliability of faith itself that justifies. Only the reliability of faith’s object, Jesus Christ, grounds one’s justification before God (Rom. 3:21-26). Thus, the Reformers insisted upon solus Christus, that salvation comes to humans by Christ alone, the only mediator between God and humans. The resurrected Christ who was crucified, no human priest through the sacraments, serves as the mediator of God’s grace and forgiveness. Solus Christus, then, was the Reformation motto that repudiated errors that became attached to Christ’s sacrificial death. Solus Christus denounces the fiction that humans can accrue merits that add to Christ’s sufficient atoning sacrifice and the fallacy that earthly priests mediate God’s grace and forgiveness of sins. Christ’s substitutionary atonement is sufficient alone for our justification; any intrusion of human merit falsifies the true gospel of grace.

Soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”)

Each of the previous Latin mottos finds its summation in this, the fifth Reformation motto: soli Deo gloria, which means “to God alone be the glory.” Because the Reformers believed that salvation is all of grace, that salvation is initiated solely by God, that salvation is accomplished solely by God through his Son, Jesus Christ, and that salvation is received solely through faith brought to life by the Holy Spirit, they insisted that all glory is due to God alone. The Reformers agreed with the apostle Paul, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). Therefore, “to God alone be the glory.”

Soli Deo gloria

[i] “The reason why the future consequences of a good and bad life are declared in the Scriptures is that men might be instructed, disturbed, awakened and terrified. . . . [S]o by these promises and threats comes a warning of what follows upon the sin and impotence which the law has pointed out—but they do not ascribe any worthiness to out merit. Wherefore, as the words of the law serve their turn by instruction and illumination, to teach us both what we ought to do and what we cannot do, so the words of reward, signifying what is to be, serve their turn by exhorting and threatening, and animate, comfort and uphold the godly to press on, persevere and triumph, in doing good and enduring evil, lest they should be wearied, or their spirit broken.” (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer & O. R. Johnston [London: James Clarke & Co.; Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1957], 183).

[ii] John Calvin, Institutes,

[iii] This caution may seem like an exaggeration, but it is not, for some Evangelicals insist that saving faith is not actively trusting Christ Jesus. Charles Stanley affirms, “Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy” (Eternal Security, 74). Likewise, R. T. Kendall insists, “‘What if a person who is saved falls into sin, stays in sin, and is found in that very condition when he dies? Will he still go to heaven?’ The answer is yes” (Once Saved, Always Saved, 50-51).

[iv] The confusion seems to stem from Martin Luther’s translation of Romans 3:28 into German. Even though the Greek text of the passage does include any equivalent word, Luther inserted alone into his translation: “So we now hold that a man is justified by faith alone apart from the works of the law.” By translating the passage this way, he created what seems to be a contradiction with James 2:24, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” In James 2:24, alone is an adverb that describes how justification takes place; justification takes place not by faith alone but by faith that entails deeds. Luther explains that he added “alone” (allein, German), to make Paul’s argument clear (Steven Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], 158). Unfortunately, instead of clarifying, the addition introduces persistent confusion to the motto, sola fide (“justification by faith alone”).

[v] For example, the Westminster Confession affirms: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love” (XI, On Justification). It is noteworthy that The Westminster Confession includes Galatians 5:6 and James 2:17, 22 and 26 as biblical support, for these are passages that Roman Catholic scholars routinely used to object to the Protestant doctrine of justification, a teaching they misunderstood.

[vi] This clarifies that the accepted sense of alone is an adverb, describing how one is justified, and the rejected sense of alone as an adjective, portraying faith as naked and void, is precisely the kind of faith that James exposes as false (James 2:17).

First published at Credo Blog.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eighth Printing

 The Race Set Before Us is now in its 8th printing. Thanks to all our friends who have purchased, read, and promoted the book.

Click here for a succinct review.