Forum Class for November 9,2003
License, Liberty, Legalism and Holiness
There are two extremes in the Christian life. First, of course, we have to walk by faith doing everything in dependence on Christ within us. It is important to steer a mid-course between legalism and antinomianism (lawlessness).
True liberty in life is found when we choose to be slaves of Jesus. Christian liberty involves freedom from the law, but this does not mean the Law is of no importance. The Law reflects the character of God and this never changes. In Romans 7 Paul illustrates from his own experience how the law can bring to the surface hidden areas of sin in our hearts--and clarify our motives--thus driving us closer to Christ. When we are walking closely with Jesus, He fulfills the demands of the law in us.
But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ìYou shall not covet.î But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. (7:6-12)
Four Important Truths (James M. Boice)
There are four important truths about "holiness"
(1) Holiness is justification's goal. We could also say, since Jesus died to save us from and not merely in our sins, that the purpose of Jesus' incarnation and death was that all who are saved by him might live holy lives. God's sending his Son "in the likeness of sinful man" refers to the incarnation. "To be a sin offering" refers to Christ's death. Therefore, the incarnation and death of Jesus were so that "the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in" Christians. Stott says, "God condemned sin in Christ, so that holiness might appear in us. " We have the same idea in those important verses from Ephesians cited earlier, for there we are told that God has literally "ordained" or "appointed" us for good works. Ephesians is a great book about election, which is specifically taught in chapter 1. Then, in chapter 2, salvation is clearly said to be a result of God's choice and actions, rather than our own. So this is another case of God's appointing not only the ends but also the means to those ends. In this case, the end is good works. The means is our salvation by the work of Christ apart from human merit. In the language of Ephesians, God made us alive in Christ so that we might live for him. Or, as we can also say, he saved us by grace so that we might be gracious in how we treat other people.
(2) Holiness consists in fulfilling the law's just demands. There are two errors to be avoided at this point. One is the error of the Pharisees. The Pharisees thought of themselves as being perfect fulfillers of the law. The law said tithe, so they tithed. They tithed not only their money but their goods, too, even down to the spices on their shelves. The law said keep the Sabbath, so they kept the Sabbath. They would not lift a finger to do even the smallest thing that might be construed as work. Yet the Pharisees were not righteous. They were self-righteous. Many were filled with pride, even to the point of hating those who were not like themselves. Their Worst hatred was for Jesus, because his righteousness exposed their sin. Some of the most critical things Jesus ever said were about these people and their hypocrisy (cf. Matt. 23).
The other error is the exact opposite. It is a characteristic error of Our times, the error of hedonistic Antinomianism. This view says, "What really matters is not the law but what I feel in my heart. So even if the law of God says that something is wrong, as long as I feel it is all right, it must be right. Or at least it is right for me."
Have you ever heard anybody say that? I am sure you have. It is the response made to moral demands by thousands of Our contemporaries, many of whom want to be considered Christians but who really are not. They show they are not by their tragic disregard of God's requirements.
What, then, does fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law mean? The answer is in the word the New International Version translates as "live according to" but which actually means "walk" (peripateo). This word portrays the Christian life as a path along which we walk, following Jesus Christ who goes before us. The path has a direction, and it has boundaries. The direction is the character of God, which is expressed in the law but which we see fully in Jesus. The boundaries are the requirements God's law imposes. We must not cross over these requirements. If we do, we are not on the path. We are not following after Christ. On the other hand, if we do follow, our eyes are not fixed on the law primarily--that was the error of the Pharisees--but on Jesus, whom we love and desire to serve by our obedience.
Can Christians sin? Of course, they can--and do. We all do. But there is all the difference in the world between stumbling on the path, getting up and then going on, and not being on the path of discipleship at all. Those who are on the path may fall, but they are following after Jesus Christ and are never fully content unless they follow him.
(3) Holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is what we were studying at great length in Romans 7. Paul made two important points in that chapter. First, before his conversion he could not keep the law. He wanted to keep it, and at times he thought he had. But he actually could not. He was an impotent sinner. Second, even after his conversion he found that he was unable to keep the law of God by himself He describes his struggle in this area toward the end of the chapter, showing that what he wanted to do he could not do, and that what he did not want to do he did. Paul discovered that it is only by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that he or anybody else could or can be holy.
This suggests two obvious conclusions. First, if we cannot live a holy life apart from the Holy Spirit and yet must do so, then we must keep close to God in Bible study, where God speaks to us, and in prayer, in which we speak to God. We must seek the Spirit's blessing.
Second, we must work at this relationship. We must remember that in Romans 6 Paul developed the key to holiness by saying that we are to understand what God has done for us in Christ and then base our entire lives on it conforming our conduct to what we know to be true. He said, "Öcount yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness" (Rom 6:11-13).
Paul does not mention the Holy Spirit in Romans 6, but, as we now learn in chapter 8, it is only by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God that we can do this.
(4) Holiness is mandatory. Once I was asked to do a series of messages on Christian discipleship, and the first question I dealt with was this: "Is discipleship necessary?" I began by explaining the way the question needs to be interpreted. It should not mean, "Is discipleship necessary if we are to be obedient to Jesus?" That is obvious. Nor should it mean, "Is discipleship necessary in order to live a full and happy Christian life?" That should be obvious, too. What the question should mean (and the sense in which I treated it) is, "Is discipleship necessary for one to be a true Christian? Can you be a saved person without it?" The answer I gave, the answer that should be given by any true Bible expositor, is, "Yes, it is necessary! It is mandatory to follow after Christ to be a Christian."
We need to speak in exactly the same way about holiness. When we say that holiness is mandatory, We do not mean that it is merely good to be holy, and we certainly do not mean that we can be perfect or ever reach a point where we will no longer be in danger of sinning. We mean that we must be on the right path. We must actually be walking according to the Spirit of God, if we are Christians.
Unholy People and Churches
What does that say about us? What does it say about the state of Christianity in the United States today? If holiness is necessary, as we have seen it is, how do we account for the unholy state of so many alleged Christian people and their churches?
George Gallup, the founder and president of the American Institute of Public Opinion, asked this question several years ago and set out to find an answer. He had been struck by the fact that nearly half of all Americans can be found in a place of worship on a given Sunday and that high percentages have high levels of conservative religious belief. He found that:
* Eighty-one percent of Americans claim to be "religious," which places them second only to Italians, whose rating is eighty-three percent.
* Ninety-five percent believe in God.
* Seventy-one percent believe in life after death.
* Eighty-four percent believe in heaven.
* Sixty-seven percent believe in hell.
* Large majorities say they believe in the Ten Commandments.
* Nearly every home has at least one Bible.
* Half of all Americans can be found in church on an average Sunday morning. * Only eight percent say they have no religious affiliation whatever.
*Most say that religion plays an important role in their lives. One-fourth claim to lead a "very Christian life."
But although ninety-five percent say they believe in God and four out of five say they are religious, only one in five says that religion is the most influential factor in his or her life. Most want some kind of religious instruction for their children, but religious faith ranks far below many other traits parents would like to see developed in their offspring. Only one in eight says he or she would consider sacrificing everything for God or their religious beliefs. Gallup records "a glaring lack of knowledge of the Ten Commandments," even by those who say they believe in them. He observes "a high level of credulityÖa lack of spiritual discipline," and a strong "anti-intellectual strain" in the religious life of most Americans.
Gallup investigated this anomaly and found that those large numbers of people who claim to be religious--fifty to sixty million claim to be "born again "--are actually a terrible distortion. Those for whom religion actually makes a difference are about one in eight, or twelve-and-a-half percent But, and this is the striking thing, when he studied the life of these people, Gallup learned that they were much happier, had more stable families (there were noticeably fewer divorces), were less prejudiced, and were involved regularly, mostly on a weekly basis, in some kind of service work for other people. And this was all by substantial percentage margins. What does this suggest? It suggests that many who consider themselves Christians, even in exalted evangelical churches, are not Christians. They may profess the right things. They may lead seemingly acceptable lives, if we don't scratch too far below the surface. But they are not on the path. They are not following hard after holiness. They are not born again. Isn't it time we had a true revival of religion in our churches? If you have studied the revivals of the past, you know that they have had three characteristic stages. The first stage is an awakening. By that I mean an awakening on the part of alleged Christians to the fact that they are not really Christians.
This is why the great eighteenth-century American revivals under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, William and Gilbert Tennent, and George Whitefield were called the Great Awakening. What impressed those who lived through such times was how the Spirit of God worked first to awaken many professed but Counterfeit followers of Jesus Christ to their true condition.
The second stage was the revival itself, which meant the coming to spiritual life of these former mere professors. In England the corresponding movement was referred to as the Wesleyan Revivals. Finally, there was an impact on society in which many people outside the church pressed into it to find out what was happening and were converted also. We need such a revival in Our time. And what we need to see, as a first stage of this revival, is the awakening of many so-called evangelicals to the fact that they have been Christians in name only, which is proved by their lack of concern for Christian doctrine and their lack of holiness. They must awaken to their condition. Assurance? It is the theme of Romans 8 and a great doctrine for those who are truly saved. But it is deadly presumption if we are not growing in holiness by following after and obeying Jesus Christ. (Boice)
Norman Grubb has written extensively on Romans Chapters
5 to 8.
An extract from The Key to Everything is on my web site: http://www.ldolphin.org/grubb.html
See also, "The Fallacy of Having Two Natures," http://www.unionlife.org/GrubbTwoNatures.htm
His web site: http://www.theliberatingsecret.com/Authors/Grubb/grubb.htm
For audio sermons by Major Ian Thomas, http://sermons.christiansunite.com/Major_Ian_Thomas.shtml,
Legalism by Ray Stedman is relevant. http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/misc/legal.html
R.C. Sproul's six famous lectures The Holiness of God are available in MP3 audio format on my web site.
You may also get these messages in cassette for book form from Ligonier Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org/
My notes on these classes in Romans: http://ldolphin.org/romans/
William Barclay on Romans, http://ldolphin.org/barclay/romans.html
Ray C. Stedman on Romans, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/romans2/
Lambert Dolphin: email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Library: http://ldolphin.org/asstbib.shtml
A Golden Chain of Five Links (James M. Boice)
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
When I was writing about Romans 8:28 in the previous study, I said that for most Christians that verse is one of the most comforting statements in the entire Word of God. The reason is obvious. It tells us that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." That is, God has a great and good purpose for all Christians and he is working in all the many detailed circumstances of their lives to achieve it.
Wonderful as that verse is, the verses that follow are even more wonderful, for they tell how God accomplishes this purpose and remind us that it is God himself who accomplishes it. The last reminder is the basis for what is commonly known as "eternal security" or "the perseverance of the saints." Some time ago I came across an amusing but apparently true story. In 1966 the Hindu holy mall and mystic Rao announced that he would walk on water. This attracted a great deal of attention, and on the day set for the feat a great crowd gathered around a large pool in Bombay, India, where it was to occur. The holy man prayerfully prepared himself for the miracle, and then stepped forward to the pool's edge. A solemn hush fell over the assembled observers. Rao glanced upward to heaven, stepped forward into the water, and then immediately plummeted into the pool's depths. Sputtering, dripping wet, and furious, he emerged from the pool and turned angrily on the embarrassed crowd. "One of you," he said, "is an unbeliever. "
Fortunately, our salvation is not like that, because if it were, it would never happen. In spiritual matters we are all unbelievers. We are weak in faith. But we are taught in these great verses from Romans that salvation does not depend upon our faith, however necessary faith may be, but on the purposes of God.
And it is the same regarding love. The apostle has just said that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. But lest we somehow imagine that the strength of our love is the determining factor in salvation, he reminds us that our place in this good flow of events is not grounded in our love for God but on the fact that he has fixed his love upon us.
How has God loved us? Let me count the ways.
These verses introduce us to five great doctrines: (1) foreknowledge, (2) predestination, (3) effectual calling, (4) justification, and (5) glorification. These five doctrines are so closely connected that they have rightly and accurately been described as "a golden chain of five links." Each link is forged in heaven. That is, each describes something God does and does not waver in doing. This is why John R. W. Stott calls them "five undeniable affirmations." The first two are concerned with God's eternal counselor past determinations. The last two are concerned with what God has done, is doing, or will do with us. The middle term ("calling") connects the first pair and the last.
These doctrines flow from eternity to eternity. As a result, there is no greater scope given to the wonderful activity of God in salvation in all the Bible.
The most important of these five terms is the first, but surprisingly (or not surprisingly, since our ways are not God's ways nor his thoughts our thoughts), it is the most misunderstood. It is composed of two separate words: "fore," which means beforehand, and "knowledge." So it has been taken to mean that, since God knows all things, God knows beforehand who will believe on him and who will not, as a result of which he has predestined to salvation those whom he foresees will believe on him. In other words, what he foreknows or foresees is their faith.
Foreknowledge is such an important idea that we are going to come back to it again in the next study and carefully examine the way it is actually used in the Bible. But even here we can see that such an explanation can never do justice to this passage.
For one thing, the verse does not say that God foreknew what certain of his creatures would do. It is not talking about human actions at all. On the contrary, it is speaking entirely of God and of what God does. Each of these five terms is like that: God foreknew, God predestined, God called, God justified, God glorified. Besides, the object of the divine foreknowledge is not the actions of certain people but the people themselves. In this sense it can only mean that God has fixed a special attention upon them or loved them savingly.
This is the way the word is frequently used in the Old Testament, Amos 3:2, for example. The King James Version translates God's words here literally, using the verb "know" (Hebrew, yada): "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" But so obvious is the idea of election in this context that the New International Version sharpens the meaning by translating: "You only have I chosen" And there is another problem. If all the word means is that God knows beforehand what people will do in response to him or to the preaching of the gospel and then determines their destiny on that basis, what, pray tell, could God possibly see or foreknow except a fixed opposition to him on the part of all people? If the hearts of men and women are as depraved as Paul has been teaching they are-if indeed "'There is no one righteous, not even oneno one who understands, no one who seeks God'" (Rom. 3:10-1 I)---what could God possibly foresee in any human heart but unbelief?
John Murray puts it in a complementary but slightly different way: "Even if it were granted that 'foreknew' means the foresight of faith, the biblical doctrine of sovereign election is not thereby eliminated or disproven. For it is certainly true that God foresees faith; he foresees all that comes to pass. The question would then simply be: whence proceeds this faith, which God foresees? And the only biblical answer is that the faith which God foresees is the faith he himself creates (cf. John 3:3-8; 6:44, 45, 65; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 1:29; 2 Peter 1:2). Hence his eternal foresight of faith is preconditioned by his decree to generate this faith in those whom he foresees as believing. " Foreknowledge means that salvation has its origin in the mind or eternal counsels of God, not in man. It focuses our attention on the distinguishing love of God, according to which some persons are elected to be conformed to the character of Jesus Christ, which is what Paul has already been saying.
Foreknowledge and Predestination
The chief objection to this understanding of foreknowledge is that, if it correct, then foreknowledge and predestination (the term that follows mean the same thing and Paul would therefore be redundant. But the terms are not synonymous. Predestination carries us a step further.
Like foreknowledge, predestination is also composed of two separate words: "pre," meaning beforehand, and "destiny" or "destination." It mean to determine a person's destiny beforehand, and this is the sense in which it differs from foreknowledge. As we have seen, foreknowledge means to fix one's love upon or elect. It "does not inform us of the destination to which those thus chosen are appointed." This is what predestination supplies. I tells us that, having fixed his distinguishing love upon us, God next appointed us "to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." He does this, as the next terms show, by calling, justifying, and glorifying those thus chosen.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that the Greek word that is translated "predestined" has within it the word for "horizon" (Greek, proorizo). The horizon is a dividing line, marking off and separating what we can see from what we cannot see. Everything beyond the horizon is in one category; everything within the horizon is in another. Lloyd-Jones suggests therefore that what the word signifies is that God, having foreknown certain people. takes them out of the far-off category and puts them within the circle of his saving purposes. "In other words," he says, "he has marked out a particular destiny for them. "
That destiny is to be made like Jesus Christ.
Two Kinds of Calling
The next step in this golden chain of five links is what theologians call effectual calling. It is important to use the adjective effectual at this point, because there are two different kinds of calling referred to in the Bible, and it is easy to get confused about them.
One kind of calling is external, general, and universal. It is an open invitation to all persons to repent of sin, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved. It is what Jesus was speaking of when he said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). Or again, when he said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37). The problem with this type of call is that, left to themselves, no men or women ever respond positively. They hear the call, but they turn away, preferring their own ways to God. That is why Jesus also said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44).
The other kind of call is internal, specific, and effectual. That is, it not only issues the invitation, it also provides the ability or willingness to respond positively. It is God's drawing to himself or bringing to spiritual life the one who without that call would remain spiritually dead and far from him.
There is no greater illustration of this than Jesus' calling of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who had died four days before, Lazarus in his grave is a picture of every human being in his or her natural state: dead in body and soul, bound with grave clothes, lying in a tomb, sealed with some great stone. Let's call to him, "Lazarus, Lazarus, Come forth, Lazarus, We want you back. We miss you. If you will just get up out of that tomb and return to us, you'll find that we are all anxious to have you back, No one here is going to put any obstructions in your way."
What? Won't Lazarus come? Doesn't he want to be with us?
The problem is that Lazarus does not have the ability to come back. The call is given, but he cannot come.
Ah, but let Jesus take his place before the tomb, Let Jesus call out, "Lazarus, come forth," and the case is quite different. The words are the same, but now the call is no mere invitation. It is an effectual calling. For the same God who originally called the creation out of nothing is now calling life out of death, and his call is heard. Lazarus, though he has been dead four days, hears Jesus and obeys his Master's voice.
That is how God calls those whom he has foreknown and predestined to salvation,
Calling and Justification
The next step in God's great chain of saving actions is justification, We spent a great deal of time discussing justification in volume I of this series, so we need not discuss it in detail here, Briefly, it is the judicial act by which God declares sinful men and women to be in a right standing before him, not on the basis of their own merit, for they have none, but on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done for them by dying in their place on the cross. Jesus bore their punishment, taking the penalty of their sins upon himself. Those sins having been punished, God then imputes the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to their account.
What does need to be discussed here is the relationship of the effectual call to justification, Or to put it in the form of a question: Why does Paul place calling where he does in this chain? Why does calling come between foreknowledge and predestination, on the one hand, and justification and glorification, on the other?
There are two reasons.
First, calling is the point at which the things determined beforehand in the mind and counsel of God pass over into time, We speak of "fore" knowledge and "pre" destination, But these two time references only have meaning for us, Strictly speaking, there is no time frame in God, Because the end is as the beginning and the beginning is as the end, "fore" and "pre" are meaningless in regard to him. God simply "knows" and "determines," and that eternally, But what he thus decrees in eternity becomes actual in time, and calling is the point where his eternal foreknowledge of some and his predestination of those to salvation finds what we would call concrete manifestation. We are creatures in time. So it is by God's specific calling of us to faith in time that we are saved.
Second, justification, which comes after calling in this list of divine actions, is always connected with faith or belief, and it is through God's call of the individual that faith is brought into being. God's call creates or quickens faith. Or, as we could perhaps more accurately say, it is the call of God that brings forth spiritual life, of which faith is the first true evidence or proof.
Romans 8:29-30 does not contain a full list of the steps in a person's experience of salvation, only five of the most important steps undertaken by God on behalf of Christians. If the text were to include all the steps, what theologians call the ordo salutis, it would have to list these: foreknowledge, predestination, calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. The full list makes the point. After predestination, the very next thing is our calling, out of which comes faith which leads to justification.
The Bible never says that we are saved because of our faith. That would make faith something good in us that we somehow contribute to the process. But it does say that we are saved by or through faith, meaning that God must create it in us before we can be justified.
Glorified (Past Tense)
Glorification is also something we studied earlier, and we are going to come back to it again before we complete these studies of Romans 8. It means being made like Jesus Christ, which is what Paul said earlier. But here is one thing we must notice. When Paul mentions glorification, he refers to it in the past tense ("glorified") rather than in the future ("will glorify") or future passive tense ("will be glorified"), which is what we might have expected him to have done,
Why is this? The only possible but also obvious reason is that he is thinking of this final step in our salvation as being so certain that it is possible to refer to is as having already happened. And, of course, he does this deliberately to assure us that this is exactly what will happen. Do you remember how he put it in writing to the Christians at Philippi? He wrote, "I always pray with joybeing confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:4,6). That is shorthand for what we are discovering in Romans. God began the "good work" by foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification. And because he never goes back on anything he has said or changes his mind, we can know that he will carry it on until the day we will be like Jesus Christ, being glorified.
All of God
I have a simple conclusion, and it is to remind you again that these are all things God has done. They are the important things, the things that matter. Without them, not one of us would be saved, Or if we were "saved," not one of us would continue in that salvation, Do we have to believe? Of course, we do, Paul has already spoken of the nature and necessity of faith in chapters 3 and 4. But even our faith is of God or, as we should probably better say, the result of his working in us. In Ephesians Paul says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:9). When we are first saved we think naturally that we have had a great deal to do with it, perhaps because of wrong or shallow teaching, but more likely only because we know more about our own thoughts and feelings than we do about God, But the longer one is a Christian, the further one moves from any feeling that we are responsible for our salvation or even any part of it, and the closer we come to the conviction that it is all of God, It is a good thing it is of God, too! Because if it were accomplished by us, we could just as easily un-accomplish it-and no doubt would. If God is the author, salvation is something that is done wisely, well, and forever, Robert Haldane, one of the great commentators on Romans, provides this summary.
In looking back on this passage, we should observe that, in all that is stated, man acts no part, but is passive, and all is done by God, He is elected and predestinated and called and justified and glorified by God, The apostle was here concluding all that he had said before in enumerating topics of consolation to believers, and is now going on to show that God is "for us: or on the part of his people. Could anything, then, be more consolatory to those who love God, than to be in this manner assured that the great concern of their salvation is not left in their own keeping? God, even their covenant God, hath taken the whole upon himself. He hath undertaken for them. There is no room, then, for chance or change. He will perfect that which concerneth them.
(James M. Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary,
Baker Books, 1992)