The Logic of Comfort

The folks who like to draw attention to obedience in the Christian life do not seem to consider the source of believer’s comfort. Consider the following:

Since the Bible doesn’t restrict the word “gospel” to a very precise meaning, we shouldn’t either. This is not to say that we can’t use the gospel in its narrow sense and distinguish between the gospel (what Jesus has done) and our response to the gospel (what we need to do). To do so is to distinguish between redemption accomplished and redemption applied, and that is a very helpful and necessary distinction. The point is that we shouldn’t oppose or separate them. The Bible binds them together and includes both under the term “gospel.”

Paul summarized the gospel he preached in terms of the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-5). But that is not all there is to the gospel, or even to the work of Christ. A summary of the gospel is just that—a summary—and it shouldn’t be set in direct opposition to its broader definition or fuller explanation.

There are some rather large problems that may arise when people limit the meaning of the gospel to its narrow sense. One potential problem is the unjust accusation of legalism or of mixing law and gospel. It is not necessarily legalistic to use phrases such as “living the gospel,” “obeying the gospel,” or “the conditions of the gospel.” But if you see what we do as only “law” and what Christ has done as only “gospel” then you will likely interpret the broad but biblical use of the term “gospel” as legalistic. Another potential problem is the minimization or outright denial of the conditions of the gospel, which is what the puritans called antinomianism.

If you confessed, however, the Heidelberg Catechism, what would its first answer do to efforts to make the gospel something you obey?

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

It’s not as if that assertion lacks good works. But the Holy Spirit is the one to produce good works. Obedience inevitably springs from a true faith that receives and rests on Christ. To speak of the gospel requiring good works places the burden on believers who thought they had comfort.

That may explain why in Paul’s short summary (too short for some) of the gospel in 1 Cor 15:1-5, he goes on to talk about the comfort that believers take from Christ’s finished work:

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

So glad Paul did not write, “if Christ has not been raised, your obedience is futile and your good works don’t count for anything.”

6 thoughts on “The Logic of Comfort

  1. Some are born in the comforts of the covenant and abide in that covenant for a while but they were never elect?

    Body and soul. Some call it “confirmation bias”. Others name it “cherry-picking”. The Confessions signed by OPC clergy are not limited to the first answer of the HC.

    WCF 32–The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, arereceived into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.
    And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies,
    the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

    Selective “confessionalism” goes along with selective “biblicism” .

    I Corinthians 15: 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished

    According to the Confession, even if Christ had not been raised, we would all still have immortal souls. And by implication, this means that our souls never fall asleep or perish.

    But if we were to say that the authority of a Confession depends on interpretation, how would that be different from saying that the authority of the Bible also depends on interpretation? According to the Confessions, even those still in their sins (those who do not obey the gospel) nevertheless in the age to come continue to sin as immortal souls.

    As Satan has comforted, the soul that sins may begin to die but will never die.

    2 Thessalonians 1: 7 At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, the Lord will take vengeance with flaming fire on those who do not know God and on those who don’t OBEY THE GOSPEL of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of lasting destruction from the Lord’s strong hand and presence 10 in that day when the Lord comes to be
    glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed

    Romans 1:5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations

    Romans 10:16 But all did not OBEY THE GOSPEL . For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message?

    more from the pastor of Nashua OPC in Edinburg, Pennsylvania


  2. Machen, Notes on Galatians, p178–”You might conceivably be saved by works or you might be saved by faith, but you cannot be saved by both. It is ‘either or’ here not ‘both and’. The Scripture says it is by faith. Therefore it is NOT works.”

    Machen, 221 –“The works which Paul condemns are not the works which James condones…If James had had the epistles of Paul before him he would no doubt have expressed himself differently.”

    Norman Shepherd—I consider this statement of Machen to be an indictment of the Holy Spirit who inspired James.”

    I Peter 1: 17 You address as Father the One who judges impartially based on each one’s work,. You are to conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your temporary residence. 18 For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your covenant fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 Christ was chosen before the ages but was revealed at the end of the ages for you 21 who through Christ  are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave Him glory, in order that your faith and hope are in God. 22 By OBEDIENCE TO THE TRUTH


  3. Mark McC: Some are born in the comforts of the covenant and abide in that covenant for a while but they were never elect?

    Some receive the word and believe for a while (Luke 8.13), yet are never elect.

    So where do you find assurance that you belong to Christ?


  4. Southern Comfort is one of the least comfortable liquors I have ever known. Perhaps our friends to the south should contact our friends in Scotland to find out what true comfort tastes like.


  5. Gross! This reminds me of another drink that’s popular “down yonder” called a Jack (Daniels) and Dew. ‘Course, in the case of mixing toxic substances like Southern Comfort and Mountain Dew I suppose it doesn’t really matter – taste, etc. is definitely not involved. But in the case of a half way decent whisky like JD it’s an abomination.


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