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.”

319 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
    http://www.meetthepuritans.com/blog/ministry-of-condemnation

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  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.”

    https://theworldsruined.blogspot.com/2012/03/law-gospel-law.html

    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

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  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?

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  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.

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  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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  6. I would never mix anything with Mt. Dew, much less drink Mt. Dew. The kids like to get all hopped up on it, though. I can do a SoCo Hurricane in the summer, but that’s about it. As far as true comfort goes, Heidelberg 1 is my favorite Q&A of any confession or creed. Warm, pastoral, and full of grace. Much as people like to quote WCF 1, knowing that is well and good, but knowing HC 1 and affirming all that it embraces truly refreshes the soul. German comfort, and not Jagermeister.

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  7. Hebrews 10: 16 This is the covenant I will make with them
    after those days, says the Lord:
    I will put My laws on their hearts
    and write them on their minds,
    I will never again remember
    their sins

    My only comfort is that I now believe the gospel. I have no comfort in having been born or placed into any covenant (either one of the old covenants in the Bible or any non-biblicist invented “covenant” which includes both elect and non-elect ). I certainly do not think that it’s possible for those who never belong to Christ to obey the gospel for some while and then break the new covenant (of which Christ is the mediator) so that they will be judged according to their sins on the last day.

    Hebrews 10: 8 If anyone disregards Moses’ law, he dies without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as common the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the One who has said, Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay, and again, The Lord will judge His people. 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    For every sinner, for any sinner, there is only one sacrifice that can take away sins, and it’s Christ’s propitiatory death. This does not at all mean that Christ has died for every sinner. It means that every sinner needs Christ’s death. But only the sins of the elect the Father has given the Son were imputed to the Son, and the Son has only made a propitiation for those sins. Christ’s death is not enough for every sinner, because it was never intended for every sinner. But Christ is the only propitiation there is, and if you don’t trust the Christ revealed in the gospel, then there can be no propitiation for you.

    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 10:16 But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ

    Those who find assurance of justification in the works that God will enable them to do have not yet had God’s law written in their hearts.

    Q160. What is required of those that hear the Word preached?
    A. It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer;3 examine what they hear by the Scriptures;4 receive the truth with faith, love,6 meekness,and readiness of mind,as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

    Gaffin– Our new obedience is involved. The language of requirement is used to describe the relation of these things to escaping the wrath and curse of God, which is the issue in Justification.

    https://calvinistinternational.com/2019/11/18/a-federal-vision-history/

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  8. “ My only comfort is that I now believe the gospel. “
    Glad to hear you are working so hard at that.

    “ Those who find assurance of justification in the works that God will enable them to do have not yet had God’s law written in their hearts.“
    This is false. It is plainly inconsistent with1John.

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  9. I’ll serve the Southern Comfort/Mountain Dew cocktail to my Thanksgiving guests this year.

    They will taste it and they will look at me askance, not used to such swill from my home bar. And they will ask “What is this?”

    I will answer, “I was going to call it Law and Gospel, but instead I just call it Golawspel.” And I’ll be sure to hat tip Drs. Clark and Horton.

    Then they will say, “Verily, this tastes worse than the dung of which Paul speaks in Philippians.” But knowing the people with whom I commiserate, they will probably not say “verily” or “dung.” In fact, their statement will likely be much shorter and without the Pauline reference.

    And I will say, “Exactly.”

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  10. Why does the confessional Reformed form of piety get a pass from the label of pietism? You guys are much more concerned about the more and more of sanctification than you are about the content of the Gospel. Gospel reductionists is an apt label. In reading your confessions, the confessional Reformed books that get published, and your comments at this site, one could easily conclude that your focus is more on character development and restraint than it is on knowing and understanding the biblical Gospel. How does that align with the following meteor thrown from the Johannine sky:

    25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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  11. ^^ I hear ya.

    Seriously, let’s get conversation about the gospel going if that’s what you’d rather talk about.

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  12. Some more taste of the bitter honey:

    Christ suffered because he was a “light” who exposed “good deeds” as being “evil deeds”. John 3:18-20. People hated Christ because Christ told them that they could not keep the law even with grace. Christ had no respect for their law-keeping, even though they claimed to have done it by grace. Christ had no respect for their keeping the law by grace, even though they were careful to testify that what they did was not enough by itself. Those who claimed to keep the law by grace would have respected Christ as Messiah if only He had been partial to their good deeds, and factored these deeds into the assurance equation. But Christ was not.

    John 7: 7: “The world” HATES me,. The world that claims to keep the law by grace hates the true God who tells us that we must hate or come to hate our lawkeeping or else hate God. There is no “balance” here: no place for moderation, no “in between”. To not hate God, we have to take sides with God against ourselves, and not expect to ever by grace keep God’s law.

    John 7:7 “they hate me because I testify of the world that its works are evil.” Its good works are evil. John 7:24 “Do not judge by outward appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.” Judge yourself and others by knowing that God requires a perfect righteousness and that only those who submit to the gospel have that perfect righteousness.

    Why are the Galatians tempted to try to keep the law by grace? If they do, they will be respected for their sincerity and intention and THEY WILL NOT SUFFER PERSECUTION from others trying to do the same thing. To say that the cross is the only difference is to suffer. To add keeping the law by grace on to the cross will cause the suffering to go away.

    To say that those who add on are under the curse (as Paul says) is to make lots of enemies. It will not flatter the people who pay your salary if you tell them that paying your salary (by grace) plays no part in satisfying God’s law.

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  13. John,

    I would agree with your content in the above. Especially I would agree with the following:

    “Those who claimed to keep the law by grace would have respected Christ as Messiah if only He had been partial to their good deeds, and factored these deeds into the assurance equation. But Christ was not.”

    Although it is unclear to me whether the Pharisees thought of themselves as keeping the law by grace or simply keeping it. Perhaps the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector gets at the idea of keeping the law by grace?

    Regardless: The curse of the law falls on all who seek to be justified by the law, whether they “keep it by grace” or no.

    I also agree with this:

    “There is no “balance” here: no place for moderation, no “in between”. To not hate God, we have to take sides with God against ourselves, and not expect to ever by grace keep God’s law.”

    I think that Galatians is sufficiently clear that both law-keeping (Gal 3) and antinomian behavior (Gal 5) are fruits of the flesh. Thus, there is no moderation between legalism and license; both lie on a spectrum of fleshly behavior.

    And I agree with this:

    “To say that those who add on are under the curse (as Paul says) is to make lots of enemies.”

    Thus it has ever been. Saddest conversation I ever had with my neighbor is when he told me that the Gospel means that “God gives us a second chance.”

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  14. What is your take on this as a Reformed explanation of the law/gospel antithesis?

    1. Those whom God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth;a not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous: not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,b they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.c

    a. Rom 3:24; 8:30. • b. Jer 23:6; Rom 3:22, 24-25, 27-28; 4:5-8; 5:17-19; 1 Cor 1:30-31; 2 Cor 5:19, 21; Eph 1:7; Titus 3:5, 7. • c. Acts 10:44; 13:38-39; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:7-8; Phil 3:9.

    6. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.

    a. Acts 13:39; Rom 6:14; 8:1; Gal 2:16; 3:13; 4:4-5. • b. Psa 119:4-6; Rom 7:12, 22, 25; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:14, 16, 18-23. • c. Rom 3:20; 7:7. • d. Rom 7:9, 14, 24; James 1:23-25. • e. Rom 7:24-25; 8:3-4; Gal 3:24. • f. Psa 119:101, 104, 128; James 2:11. • g. Ezra 9:13-14; Psa 89:30-34. • h. Lev 26:1, 10; 26:14 with 2 Cor 6:16; Psa 19:11; 37:11 with Mat 5:5; Eph 6:2-3. • i. Luke 17:10; Gal 2:16. • j. Rom 6:12, 14; Heb 12:28-29; 1 Pet 3:8-12 with Psa 34:12-16.

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  15. Jeff,

    While you address John on the “law and gospel”, let me also ask a question which I think is also relevant to “law and gospel”. What do you think of the following passage? Do you agree with its view?

    “We found that God reveals himself as not taking pleasure in or desiring the death of those who die but rather as taking pleasure in or desiring the repentance and life of the wicked. This will of God to repentance and salvation is universalized and reveals to us, therefore, that there is in God a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom he has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, desire is expressed in the universal call to repentance.

    “The full and free offer of the gospel is a grace bestowed upon all. Such grace is necessarily a manifestation of love or lovingkindness in the heart of God. And this lovingkindness is revealed to be of a character or kind that is correspondent with the grace bestowed. The grace offered is nothing less than salvation in its richness and fulness. The love or lovingkindness that lies back of that offer is not anything less; it is the will to that salvation. In other words, it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his finished work whom God offers in the gospel. The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds its veracity and reality is the will to the possession of Christ and the enjoyment of the salvation that resides in him.”

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  16. Jeff,

    Paragraph 1) I think you know that I don’t think that paragraph is clear enough about three issues. First, I think the obedience and satisfaction of Christ is his propitiating, expiating and atoning death on the cross not his obedient law keeping. The death on the cross is what satisfied and fulfilled God’s law. Second, this death fulfilled and satisfied the law for the elect alone. Third, the paragraph is not clear on when and how, in the order of salvation, the imputation of Christ’s death becomes united to the elect individual.

    Paragraph 6) Again, I don’t think this paragraph is sufficiently clear about some important issues. First, the justified elect are still commanded to obey New Covenant law as directed from Jesus the New Covenant law maker. Do the elect have the ability to obey these commands? That question is worthy of debate but personally, I don’t think our mortal bodies have that capability until they are clothed with immortality.

    Second, the focus of the paragraph is on the “sinful pollution’s of our nature, heart and lives” and not on our imputed guilt from Adam and our guilt from our continual and habitual law breaking. This causes one to think that the main problem post justification and conversion is a pollution problem rather than a guilt problem. The perceived remedy to the problem then becomes the work of the Spirit rather than a continual reckoning of dying with Christ.

    Third, blessings can never come from obedience to the law because I personally don’t think we can obey God’s law perfectly. I guess it could be drbated if the Scriptures really teach that. I believe that blessings can only come to the elect because the elect alone are united to Christ’s death. Another worthy debate could be in regards to what those actual blessings are.

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  17. JY: Second, the focus of the paragraph is on the “sinful pollution’s of our nature, heart and lives” and not on our imputed guilt from Adam and our guilt from our continual and habitual law breaking. This causes one to think that the main problem post justification and conversion is a pollution problem rather than a guilt problem. The perceived remedy to the problem then becomes the work of the Spirit rather than a continual reckoning of dying with Christ.

    I don’t understand. Are you suggesting that post-justification, we are still guilty of Adam’s sin?

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  18. Jeff,

    No, the elect Gospel believers are not still guilty of Adams imputed guilt. The elect, at justification and conversion, are placed into Christ’s death and therefore are no longer in Adam but are in Christ. However, the elect never perfectly obey the law of God so they continue to be habitual law breakers while in these bodies of mortality. At least that is the way I understand the relevant biblical texts. I see two legal states in the biblical texts not two nature’s.

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  19. Tianqi:

    Good question. Your citation comes from the OPC report on the free offer, which is worth reading in full. It addresses the most difficult species in the family of questions: “Can God want something that does not come to pass?”

    At first blush, the answer is clearly No, since no one can resist God’s will. But on deeper look, is a wrinkle.

    God clearly and explicitly wills (thelei) some things that do not come to pass. This is usually referred to as the distinction between God’s decrees and God’s commands, His decreetal or secret will, and His revealed will.

    Two examples come from 1 Thessalonians:

    It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

    Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

    It might be argued that just because God commands something is not evidence that He wants it to come to pass (Hoeksema so argues). But in Thessalonians, He explicitly states that giving thanks in all things is His desire, as is refraining from sexual immorality.

    Consider further the fall of Adam. Did God want for Adam to resist the temptation? On the one hand, He did not so decree. On the other hand, He explicitly said “Do not eat the fruit.” His desire was clear, and had Adam sufficiently loved God, he would have refrained out of deference for God’s express desire.

    And again, Jesus’ words to his disciples: If you love me, keep my commandments. It would strain credulity to argue that Christ does not want the commandments kept.

    So it is clear that God desires — in some sense — things that He also decrees will not come to pass.

    The standard Reformed explanation is that God can properly said to will something by precept if He commands it, but to will it by decree if He purposes to bring it to pass.

    The OPC report on the Free Offer refers God’s desires for the salvation of all to His preceptual will, in connection with His commands to all to repent and believe.

    What would be the counterargument?

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  20. @JY & JC
    I hope I don’t lead this thread off the rails, but I do have a lot of questions in light of what JY has written. I’d be interested in your input to see what I am misunderstanding here.

    JY wrote, “However, the elect never perfectly obey the law of God so they continue to be habitual law breakers while in these bodies of mortality.” I agree with the first half of this sentence. The elect never perfectly obey the law, but I don’t see how the second half follows. There is a difference between occasionally breaking the law (i.e., not perfectly obeying it) and habitually breaking the law. Consider this from 1 John 2:

    My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

    Now earlier you were saying that if we believe that by keeping his commandments we gain assurance, then we are not of the elect. Yet this appears to be exactly what John is saying. I’d be interested in getting your take on this.

    Regarding the passages you provided above –

    25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    I think we all agree that no one can come to know the Father unless the Son reveals Him. I think we also all agree that believing the Gospel brings rest for our souls. Maybe you can explain what I’m missing here. My criticism of your stance is that you have replaced the demand for moral perfectionism advocated by the holiness tradition with a demand for intellectual perfectionism. The way I understand what you’ve been saying is that to misunderstand any aspect of the Gospel is to believe a false Gospel and thus not be one of the elect. Am I misreading you?

    Christ suffered because he was a “light” who exposed “good deeds” as being “evil deeds”. John 3:18-20. People hated Christ because Christ told them that they could not keep the law even with grace. Christ had no respect for their law-keeping, even though they claimed to have done it by grace. Christ had no respect for their keeping the law by grace, even though they were careful to testify that what they did was not enough by itself. Those who claimed to keep the law by grace would have respected Christ as Messiah if only He had been partial to their good deeds, and factored these deeds into the assurance equation. But Christ was not.

    John 7: 7: “The world” HATES me,. The world that claims to keep the law by grace hates the true God who tells us that we must hate or come to hate our lawkeeping or else hate God. There is no “balance” here: no place for moderation, no “in between”. To not hate God, we have to take sides with God against ourselves, and not expect to ever by grace keep God’s law.

    Any yet Paul tells us that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Perhaps the problem according to Paul is lack of faith. What is your basis for saying that those who claimed to keep the law by grace would have respected Christ as Messiah? I don’t see that juxtaposition anywhere in scripture.

    John 7:7 “they hate me because I testify of the world that its works are evil.” Its good works are evil. John 7:24 “Do not judge by outward appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.” Judge yourself and others by knowing that God requires a perfect righteousness and that only those who submit to the gospel have that perfect righteousness.

    Right. The world’s works are evil – everything they do is evil because it does not proceed from true faith. I agree that God requires perfect righteousness that only he can provide and those that believe the gospel have that perfect righteousness. What is the consequence of that? John tells us that we no longer walk in darkness. Earlier, you said that this means that we are no longer counted unrighteous, but that our behavior and nature does not change. Was I understanding you correctly? I don’t understand how to make that reading with John’s state purpose that he writes what he does so that we won’t sin.

    Why are the Galatians tempted to try to keep the law by grace? If they do, they will be respected for their sincerity and intention and THEY WILL NOT SUFFER PERSECUTION from others trying to do the same thing. To say that the cross is the only difference is to suffer. To add keeping the law by grace on to the cross will cause the suffering to go away.

    Who said that the Galatians were tempted to keep the law by grace or that such an attempt would save them from persecution?

    To say that those who add on are under the curse (as Paul says) is to make lots of enemies. It will not flatter the people who pay your salary if you tell them that paying your salary (by grace) plays no part in satisfying God’s law.

    Add on what? To say that those who are justified must run the race with endurance is also a way to make a lot of enemies evidently.

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  21. JY: No, the elect Gospel believers are not still guilty of Adams imputed guilt. The elect, at justification and conversion, are placed into Christ’s death and therefore are no longer in Adam but are in Christ

    Ok. So it’s fair to say that post-justification, guilt is no longer a problem.

    JY: However, the elect never perfectly obey the law of God so they continue to be habitual law breakers while in these bodies of mortality.

    Yes! Which is why even our good deeds are tainted in themselves. Here is where imputation becomes important: our deeds are evaluated *in Christ* and not on their own merits. This is why the author to the Hebrews among others can speak of God rewarding the works of believers (Heb 6.10)

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  22. What would be the counterargument?

    The minority report against the shibboleth was included in the report on “offer” above.

    http://reformedpresbyterianveritasdocuments.blogspot.com/2009/01/free-offer-of-gospel-dr-william-young.html#more

    “To combine these passages and to add texts like Matthew 5:45 which do not refer to the way of salvation, but common mercies like rain and sunshine, is hardly to present cumulative evidence for a thesis nowhere plainly taught in Scripture, and contrary to Scripture when intended to conflict with the immutability of God’s counsel. The accumulation of a series of zeros, however elaborated, is, after all, only zero.
    “The desire to avoid extremes in declaring the truth is no doubt commendable, but yielding to the tempting claims of the opposite extreme even in minor matters has proved repeatedly in the history of the Church to be a step in the downward path to apostasy. The rampant evils of Arminianism among Evangelicals and Amyraldianism among Calvinists are only encouraged by adopting and even stressing the pet slogans with which they attack or obscure the doctrines of grace. Strangely, one favorite text of those who have throughout the history of Christianity insisted that God wants all men to be saved is not appealed to at present by Calvinists who use such expressions. Can it be that they realize that to take 1 Timothy 2:4 in a universalistic sense requires understanding verses 5 and 6 to teach a universal atonement, even if the will in 2:4 were taken as simply the will of command? Exegetically, as well as systematically, the thesis of Amyraldian universal grace issues in the assertion of universal redemption.”

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  23. Mark, the minority report suffers two fatal flaws.

    First, it assumes without proof that God cannot desire things that He also decrees not to come to pass.

    But the passages above clearly show otherwise.

    OP alleges that this introduces a contradiction in God’s mentality. Nonsense. It might, for example, be the case that God has a hierarchy of preferences. Or it might be the case that God’s ways are beyond our understanding entirely.

    We do not have enough information about God’s psychology to declare with confidence that there is a contradiction in asserting that God desires things He decrees not to come to pass. We *do* have enough information to say that God desires that we abstain from sexual immorality.

    Second, and related, OP assumes without proof that God can command something be done without desiring that it be done. But this is absurd, and it leads to an antinomian conclusion: that God’s law is no reflection whatsoever of His will.

    So let me rephrase: where is any sound counterargument?

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  24. Sbd,

    The whole world is now under New Covenant law. The whole world is obligated to obey New Covenant commands. Obligation does not imply ability. Anyone who can read the Sermon on the Mount and then say they are only occasional law breakers in thought, word and deed is habitually blinded, deluded and in denial of his human condition before a holy God. The only hope for the elect and non-elect is the cross of Christ imputed. To add our Spirit enabled faith works to the work of Christ on the cross is to believe a false Gospel. Saying that, I think Tianqi makes a compelling case in how to reconcile faith and works from the book of James. I will defer to him to explain if he so desires.

    I think you badly misinterpret the book of 1 John because of your assumptions about regeneration, sanctification, and what the Apostle John meant by obeying the command of Jesus. The Gospel of John clearly explains that obeying the command is believing the Gospel. To walk in the Spirit is to continue to believe the Gospel. Your main assumption is that regeneration is an implantation of a new nature that breaches the power of sin and then enables the Spirit to progressively sanctify or mortify the old nature and grow the new nature. I don’t believe that assumption anymore. I did believe that before I was taught a different doctrine. Now I believe that the old man is the old legal state in Adam and the new man is the new legal state in Christ. When you start reading the Scriptures with that assumption you come to a whole different interpretive grid. That grid gives priority to the propitiating, expiating, and substitutionary atoning work of Christ as the breach over the power of sin. You don’t progress past the reckoning of that truth.

    Lastly, I think your accusation about a legalistic
    intellectual perfectionism is nonsense. I think the only thing we have been saying is that you have to include the following in the teaching of the Gospel: election, definitive atonement, and legal impuation into the death of Christ as the cause of the effectual call of the Gospel. Is that intellectual perfectionism? No, that is necessary content in order to understand what the Gospel is.

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  25. JY: Lastly, I think your accusation about a legalistic intellectual perfectionism is nonsense. I think the only thing we have been saying is that you have to include the following in the teaching of the Gospel: definitive atonement, and legal impuation into the death of Christ as the cause of the effectual call of the Gospel.

    I agree with sdb. You have not merely said that Gospel preaching must include definitive atonement and imputation as cause of effectual call. You have also said that whoever does not believe those things does not believe the gospel and is not saved.

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  26. Tru-dat, Jeff. If you don’t teach that Jesus was imputed with the sins of the elect alone during his incarnation and justly satisfied the law for those sins of the elect alone when he died on the cross than you are teaching a different Gospel than the Gospel revealed in the Scriptures. Teaching that Jesus died for everybody, either hypothetically or otherwise, ends up conditioning justification on something other or more than the outside righteousness of Christ. The object of saving faith then has to become something more than what Christ got accomplished at the cross for his elect people. To quote McMark: ”

    https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218190985943779&id=1163211513

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  27. I find it odd that any confessional Reformed person would take a stand against doctrinal precision, or, as Sdb calls it, intellectual perfectionism. I just finished reading DGH’s book,DEFENDING THE FAITH, and Machen was accused of the very same thing by the fundamentalists and liberals who were opposing him. What’s up with that? If I am remembering correctly he was also opposed to a Gospel reductionism that sought to find the least common denominators in defining Gospel issues in order to keep the peace within the denomination. He had no problem rocking the boat over critical theological issues and controversies.

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  28. @ JY:

    Your confusion stems from overlooking the difference between what should be taught and what must be believed to be saved. That was evident in our exchange above:

    JRC: You have not merely said that Gospel preaching must include definitive atonement and imputation as cause of effectual call. You have also said that whoever does not believe those things does not believe the gospel and is not saved.

    JY: If you don’t teach that Jesus was imputed with the sins of the elect alone during his incarnation and justly satisfied the law for those sins of the elect alone when he died on the cross than you are teaching a different Gospel than the Gospel revealed in the Scriptures

    You’re equating standards for teachers (which is also what concerned Machen) to what must be believed to be saved.

    But your confusion also stems from failing to attend to Machen’s central point: Scripture alone is the word of God.

    To Scripture, you have added a whole theoretical structure that includes several points that are debatable, and you have made those points tests of saving faith. Boo-hiss.

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  29. Jeff, then tell this confused one what should be taught and what must be believed to be saved. While you are at it you might want to inform me as to the theoretical structure I have added that is not a valid and necessary inference from the Scriptures.

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  30. @ John:

    Unsurprisingly, I think the Confession ought to be taught. But as to what is necessary to believe to be saved: What does the Scripture say? Let’s talk about the Gospel as taught in the Scripture.

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  31. “To add our Spirit enabled faith works to the work of Christ on the cross is to believe a false Gospel.”
    No one is adding to the work of Christ on the cross. The claim is that the work of Christ on the cross affects change in the believer. Not that the effected change merits anything.

    ”I think you badly misinterpret the book of 1 John because of your assumptions about regeneration, sanctification, and what the Apostle John meant by obeying the command of Jesus. ”
    No doubt. That’s why I asked the questions I asked.

    “The Gospel of John clearly explains that obeying the command is believing the Gospel.“
    Where?

    ”To walk in the Spirit is to continue to believe the Gospel.”
    Where does scripture say that

    ”Your main assumption is that regeneration is an implantation of a new nature that breaches the power of sin and then enables the Spirit to progressively sanctify or mortify the old nature and grow the new nature.”
    This isn’t an assumption. It is an inference. Namely that our heart of stone has been replaced with a heart of flesh enabling us to believe something we couldn’t believe before.

    ”I don’t believe that assumption anymore. I did believe that before I was taught a different doctrine. Now I believe that the old man is the old legal state in Adam and the new man is the new legal state in Christ. When you start reading the Scriptures with that assumption you come to a whole different interpretive grid.”
    And that is a problem. This assumption is just that. You’ve assumed your conclusion and done violence to the plain meaning of scripture.

    “That grid gives priority to the propitiating, expiating, and substitutionary atoning work of Christ as the breach over the power of sin. You don’t progress past the reckoning of that truth.”
    You don’t just give it priority, you give it exclusive place. Of course it is substitutionary work of Christ that accomplishes all for the believer.

    ”Lastly, I think your accusation about a legalistic
    intellectual perfectionism is nonsense. I think the only thing we have been saying is that you have to include the following in the teaching of the Gospel: election, definitive atonement, and legal impuation into the death of Christ as the cause of the effectual call of the Gospel. Is that intellectual perfectionism? No, that is necessary content in order to understand what the Gospel is.”

    Really? That is not all you’ve been saying. McMark just asserted that if you find assurance in your fruit, you aren’t saved. Secondly, your summary of the gospel does not include any of the elements that Paul taught was of first importance. No where in the NT are errors on these topics called out or clarified. They are your priority, not the NT’s. Your reference to Galatians that you use to support your stance on doctrinal perfectionism, is misguided. Paul has in mind errors over justification, not election, atonement, or proper definition of sanctification.

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  32. @ JY: As to the theoretical structure you (and McMark) have added, it consists in this. You seem to hold that:

    * Unless one believes that imputation is the cause of faith, one is not saved.
    * Unless one believes that the atonement was definite, one is not saved.
    * If one believes that the “new man” in Paul’s letters refers to a new nature bestowed upon justification, one undermines justification by grace alone.
    * If one believes in paedobaptism, one undermines justification by grace alone.

    There’s more, but that’s the center of the issue.

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  33. Sbd says:. “No one is adding to the work of Christ on the cross. The claim is that the work of Christ on the cross affects change in the believer. Not that the effected change merits anything.”

    John Y:. What I hear you saying is that faith is what unites the person to the work of Christ on the cross and after this uniting by faith there is change. Faith is thus the vital union. That is the main assumption that we have been disagreeing with for about 7 years now. What I am trying to communicate is that God the Father has to place the elect individual into the death of Christ before the Spirit can generate faith in the individual. God’s wrath on inherited guilt and sin has to be propitiated and expiated before the Spirit can change the Stony heart into a heart of flesh. Faith is thus not the vital union. The vital union is God the Father legally placing or baptizing the individual into Christ’s death and counting Christ’s death as the elect individuals death. The cross does not affect subjective change. The cross satisfies God’s justice by fulfilling the law. The Spirit then affects the subjective change on the mind.

    You also want to say that this change of mind is a change of nature. I’m saying that the change of legal state allows the Spirit to change the mind and will in order to believe the gospel.

    How do you think the cross affects change? What are the specific changes you think the cross affects? I don’t understand where you are coming from when you say the cross affects change.

    That is all I am going comment on for now.

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  34. This change of legal state (from in Adam, the old man to in Christ, the new man) is necessary for the Spirit to generate faith in the Gospel. If it is the Spirit that determines the elect and the non-elect then why would the atoning work of Christ be necessary? It is the atonement that is the determining factor not the work of the Spirit. The justice of the cross is really the only way one can gain any kind of assurance from the just wrath of God. Understanding the sufficiency of the cross for the elect alone is what separates the true gospel from the large variety of false gospels.

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  35. McCulley speaking to Calvinists who want to continue to believe that Arminians who believe in a universal atonement can be justified and saved from the wrath of God:

    “But if assurance is found in knowing and believing the gospel, why is this reactionary gospel error so determined to say that people already justified are still believing the false gospel that the flesh believes?
    What is the practical point of reacting to Arminianism by down-playing the significance of justification?
    If those already justified are still practically seen as unholy because of their not knowing the gospel yet, what is the day to day consequence of putting all the focus on regeneration (which happens now) and NOT on justification (which according to their error could not possibly happen now)? Why are these guys insisting on their view of the nature of justification, but in the day to day not bothering with any implications of their view? Do they want to speak only comfort and peace to everybody?”

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  36. “What I hear you saying is that faith is what unites the person to the work of Christ on the cross and after this uniting by faith there is change.”

    I don’t think I said anything about faith here. How did you hear that I was addressing the means by which one is united to Christ rather than the effect of the believer being united to Christ.

    “Faith is thus the vital union. That is the main assumption that we have been disagreeing with for about 7 years now.”
    I don’t think I was part of those earlier conversations, but whatever the case I don’t understand what you mean by “vital union”. Generally when we talk about causes we have in mind four interrelated concepts- material, formal, efficient, and final cause. Rather than clarify the relationship of the events that bring about union by organizing the relationship of these events into the proper class of causation, you set up these causes in tension as if one should take priority. But scripture never does this. Scripture describes the causes of our union in all these ways. But I really don’t see how this conversation advances our understanding of the question on the table… what changes when we are united to Christ?

    “What I am trying to communicate is that God the Father has to place the elect individual into the death of Christ before the Spirit can generate faith in the individual. God’s wrath on inherited guilt and sin has to be propitiated and expiated before the Spirit can change the Stony heart into a heart of flesh. Faith is thus not the vital union. The vital union is God the Father legally placing or baptizing the individual into Christ’s death and counting Christ’s death as the elect individuals death.”
    Fine. I agree. But so what? What does any of that have to do with what change is being described by the metaphor of a new heart.

    “The cross does not affect subjective change. The cross satisfies God’s justice by fulfilling the law. The Spirit then affects the subjective change on the mind.”
    Right. The Spirit is the efficient cause and the cross is the material cause. But how does that entail whether the change that the Spirit effects is only a change of legal state or a change of nature (I.e. the ability to do something you couldn’t do before). I gather that there is tension in your stance – you have said that all that has changed is one’s legal state. What you can do (e.g., follow the NT imperatives) doesn’t change. On the other hand, one can only believe the gospel if one is so changed, and one believes the gospel perfectly if one is changed. Why one can believe this NT imperative perfectly and no others remains unclear. What am I missing here?

    You also want to say that this change of mind is a change of nature. I’m saying that the change of legal state allows the Spirit to change the mind and will in order to believe the gospel.

    How do you think the cross affects change? What are the specific changes you think the cross affects? I don’t understand where you are coming from when you say the cross affects change.

    That is all I am going comment on for now.

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  37. John and Mark,

    If an Arminian is elect, he or she will be justified without needing to secure your approval.

    And that’s the point: You have become so certain in the necessity of your view that you have forgotten to ask whether the Scripture requires the same things you do. John, when I asked you where the Scripture teaches that imputation precedes faith, you responded with McMark.

    Cards on the table: I’m concerned that your ministry, Mark, has taken on some cult-like aspects.

    * You emphasize highly esoteric doctrines that are supposedly necessary for salvation, yet are practically unknown outside a very narrow circle.
    * You encourage distrust of the visible church.
    * You are evasive.
    * You observe that your proteges endlessly repeat your teachings, yet you do not discourage their adulation.
    * Behind the scenes, you create distrust by insinuations about the motives of others. You actively encourage your proteges to have contempt for others, to view them as purveyors of a false gospel and unsaved.

    God’s grace does not look like these things. Cults do look like those things. Whatever your original intent, where you have landed is unhealthy.

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  38. Jeff,

    1) “The standard Reformed explanation is that God can properly said to will something by precept if He commands it, but to will it by decree if He purposes to bring it to pass.”

    “The OPC report on the Free Offer refers God’s desires for the salvation of all to His preceptual will, in connection with His commands to all to repent and believe.”

    This is why I said the “Free Offer” is related to the Law-gospel distinction. God’s Law promises “do this and you shall live”. The preacher of Law pleads with the hearer: “I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life”.

    By refering the (alleged) “God’s desire for the salvation of all” to God’s *will of command* – and making this the basis of the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel – the “Free Offer” preaches a new law as the gospel. It preaches a promise of “do this and you shall live”, accompanied by a plea to “therefore choose life”. The “Free Offer” preaches a justification *conditioned* on the hearer’s *obedience to a command*.

    No matter what good and true things the preacher might say about “Christ and him crucified”, if the preacher ends with saying this “finished work” is offered to all and forgiveness of sins is *conditioned* on one’s taking the offer, then the message conveyed is that “Christ and him crucified” are some good raw materials for sinners to finalize into their righteousness by their response to the offer.

    To a person who sincerely believed the “Free Offer” (without having learned any “advanced theology” like God having another secret will and Christ only died for the elect), no matter how great the work of Christ is supposed to be, it can do nothing for me apart from my accepting it, thus implying my “coming with an empty hand” is even more important in my relationship with God than the Mediator’s cross-work.

    Thus, this message does not, in fact, preach a finished righteousness that is Christ and him crucified, but a righteousness still in the making by the sinner’s obedience to a command.

    2) I do not deny that God commands all to believe the gospel, but this command does not convey God’s desire to save the hearer. As explained above, connecting the command to believe with God’s desire to save, as “Free Offer” does, is a fatal move of turning the gospel into a new law, and a profane presentation of the Mediator’s offering as a pedestal to be topped by sinner’s evangelical obedience.

    The command for all to believe the gospel does not imply a universal offer of salvation, but is simply a universal obligation to honor God as he revealed himself. Just as God commanded all to honor him as Creator of all things, God also commands all to honor him as the Redeemer of his elect.

    Thus, the gospel never offers salvation to the non-elect, not even on a condition they won’t be enabled to fulfill. Rather, the gospel promises salvation to the elect only, with no condition on their part, not even a condition they will be enabled to fulfill.

    This also means “who are the elect?” is an unavoidable question, and indeed it is explicitly addressed by the gospel. The gospel claims itself to be the means of God’s gracious calling of his elect, so that as many as chosen by the grace revealed in this gospel will believe the gospel and as many as believing the gospel is justified by the righteousness revealed in the gospel, so that even their faith in the gospel is a part of the everlasting life resulting from this grace reigning through this righteousness.

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  39. Jeff,

    This is my second comment in response to your comments on OPC majority report on “Free Offer”. I make a separate comment because it will be from a different angle.

    “God clearly and explicitly wills (thelei) some things that do not come to pass. This is usually referred to as the distinction between God’s decrees and God’s commands, His decretal or secret will, and His revealed will.”

    While I do not dispute a distinction between God’s preceptive will and God’s decretal will, or between God’s secret and revealed will, but

    1) Some of God’s decretal will has also been revealed.

    2) God’s preceptive will, which is *nothing but God’s Law*, is not ultimately frustrated, because this is exactly what Jesus came to fulfill, as he declares himself.

    Matthew 5:17-18 Do not think that I came to annul the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to annul, but to fulfill. Truly I say to you, Until the heaven and the earth pass away, in no way shall one iota or one point pass away from the Law until all comes to pass.

    Obviously, men have broken the Law, so how can the Law – God’s preceptive will – be completely fulfilled?

    a) In regard to the legal retribution of God’s Law, it is fulfilled in Christ’s death for the elect, and in the judgment at Christ’s second coming for the non-elect;

    b) In regard to the moral vision of God’s Law, it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God brought about by the redemption in Christ, which begins now in justification by faith and will be consummated at the second coming of Christ.

    God’s Law, with its universal commands/obligations/threats, does not express God’s desire that a specific hearer to be righteous, but God’s desire that the righteous prosper and the wicked be destroyed.

    God’s preceptive will expresses *what God values in a human being*, but it does not show that God desires a particular human to be an honorable vessel. The complete fulfillment of God’s preceptive will does not depend on that every human being created by God shall be pleasing to God, but only that those who please God shall prosper and those who do not please him shall be destroyed.

    The revelation that God desires specific humans to be righteous is not from God’s Law (preceptive will) but from God’s promises (revealed decretal will), which is fulfilled in Christ, and most clearly announced in the apostolic gospel – unconditional election, particular redemption, justification by faith.

    In fact, God does not desire all humans he created to be righteous, to be an honorable vessel. To the contrary, he desires some humans he created to die in their sins, to be dishonorable vessels, in order to manifest his power and wrath. This is the flip side of double predestination.

    Proverbs 16:4 Jehovah has made all for His purpose, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

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  40. Jeff,

    I won’t make any more comments. Tianqi and McMark explain what you call “esoteric doctrines” and a “theoretical structure” more clearly than I do. Just because the doctrines and structure are in opposition to some of the doctrines and the theoretical structure of the Reformed confessions you are now claiming the doctrines and structure are functioning in a cult like manner. I quote McCulley because I think he has thought through the implications of the confessional Reformed doctrines a lot more thoroughly and with greater understanding and insight. I’m not venerating him or following what he is saying blindly and without question. He willingly answers questions and has even answered your questions with numerous quotes from the Scriptures. You still claim that your positions are more Scripturally sound. I have begged to differ over and over again. The accusation that you guys venerate the Confessional Statements in a cult like manner could be thrown your way too. Boo hiss.

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  41. TW,

    You are missing what are commonly called the evangelical conditions of the gospel. Christ’s work won’t save anyone without their fulfilling the conditions of faith and repentance. The specific work of Christ for the elect guarantees that they will fulfill those conditions, thus faith is not of us. Nevertheless those conditions remain. The gospel can be offered freely to all with a command of faith and repentance. After all, Jesus said “Come to me all ye who are weak and heavy laden…” That’s all people, though only the elect will recognize their need of Christ and that only because of divine election and the work of Christ only for the elect.

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  42. Tianqi: This is why I said the “Free Offer” is related to the Law-gospel distinction. God’s Law promises “do this and you shall live”. The preacher of Law pleads with the hearer: “I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life”.

    By refering the (alleged) “God’s desire for the salvation of all” to God’s *will of command* – and making this the basis of the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel – the “Free Offer” preaches a new law as the gospel.

    That’s one scenario, the Arminian scenario. And we agree that it turns the gospel into law.

    There are others that do not. Paul apparently believed one such, since he both stated that “it does not depend on the will of man, but on God who chooses”, and also told the jailer indiscriminately “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

    The difficulty with your analysis is that you conflate free offer with man’s will being the deciding factor in salvation. It should be fairly obvious that the OPC does not sign onto the second even as it embraces the first.

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  43. TW: God’s preceptive will, which is *nothing but God’s Law*, is not ultimately frustrated.

    Interesting shift in terms. I said “God clearly wills things that He decrees not to come to pass.” You respond with “God’s will is not ultimately frustrated.”

    Those do not seem to be equivalent phrases. Left unanswered are

    (1) Does 1 Thess indeed indicate that God wants all believers to rejoice and to abstain from immorality?

    If so, then your analysis is non-responsive. If not, then why does Paul use those words?

    (2) Should we not assume that if God commands something, He wants to be obeyed?

    You agree that God commands faith. Are you suggesting that He commands faith but desires disobedience? Why then was He displeased with David?

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  44. @Robert: yes. And further, faith saves not by fulfilling the command, but by instrumentally receiving Christ and His benefits.

    So the command to believe operates in a non-parallel fashion for the non-elect and elect. The non-elect are judged “because they have not believed in the Son of God.” The elect are justified through, not because of, faith.

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  45. Jeff,

    The issue with “free offer” is not merely a possible implication of “free will”. The Law-gospel distinction is not upheld simply by explicitly teaching that God chooses and enables a person to obey a command that is the (supposed) condition of life.

    Divine sovereignty does not remove human responsibility, whether in obedience or disobedience. This means even if it is God’s grace that enables me to do something, it is still me rather than God who is morally responsible (praiseworthy or blameworthy) for that act.

    The only way I can be “outside the picture” is by substitution, which involves two imputations, one that happened in Christ’s lifetime, the imputation of my guilt to him, and one that happens in my lifetime, the imputation of his death for my guilt to me.

    There can be no positive interaction between me and God until this death is imputed to me, not only because I haven’t been given the power to believe, but because there can be no positive interaction between a guilty man and the holy God – and this applies not only to the Father, but to the Son, and Holy Spirit.

    (Moreover, if there could be some positive interaction between me and God before the imputation of Christ’s death, even as a condition for the imputation of Christ’s death, then this interaction would be more fundamental than whatever is “imputed” to me in the establishing of my positive relationship with God. This is a denial of “Christ and him crucified” as the only righteousness of the elect. )

    Yet, the preaching of gospel is first of all towards such guilty men that cannot have a positive interaction with the holy God. How can this be?

    “Free Offer” is the *wrong* answer to this question, because it assumes guilty men can interact positively with the holy God, to accept or reject his offer. “Free Offer” assumes the gospel is a meeting place where the offended God is *negotiating* with his enemies.

    But this is impossible for reasons stated before. The right answer is that the preaching of the gospel is not an interaction, a meeting of negotiation, thus not a offer to be accepted or rejected by sinners, but a unilateral proclamation of God’s promise to justify as many sinners as he will call, for the sole reason that Christ died for them and he imputes that death to them at the time of calling them to the gospel.

    Thus, the obedience to the command to believe is not a condition of imputation or justification, but a result of imputation, along with justification. When Christ’s death is imputed to the elect, the result is the blessings of life, both legal life (justification) and spiritual life (regeneration and faith).

    Romans 6:4 Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also we should walk in newness of life.

    Romans 6:17 But thanks be to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered.

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  46. Jeff,

    “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

    This statement has both a command and a promise. However,

    1) it does not imply that the promise is *conditioned* on the obedience to the command, because the promise says the obedience to this command is a blessing given along with the forgiveness of sins, on account of the one act of obedience of the Mediator.

    To the unbeliever (elect or non-elect), the command to believe is just one more command that increases their guilt. To the believer (called-out elect), obeying this command did not cause their salvation, but their salvation (righteousness imputed giving right to life) caused their obedience to this command.

    2) the fact that this promise may be preached to anyone does not imply the benefits promised is offered to everyone to be accepted or rejected, because the promise is for as many as God will call.

    God is the one who has already decided to give eternal life to some and not others, a decision formed logically prior to any fact about their willing. God is the one who will give eternal life to these people, an act prior to their willing which makes them willing.

    “Does 1 Thess indeed indicate that God wants all believers to rejoice and to abstain from immorality?”

    Yes. When believers sin, this doesn’t mean this will of God towards us ends unfulfilled, but that it is fulfilled by Christ’s death for our sins, which has been imputed to us for our justification and sanctification.

    Ephesians 1:4-7 even as He elected us in Him before the foundation of the world, for us to be holy and without blemish before Him in love, predestinating us to adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace in which He favored us in the One having been loved, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of deviations, according to the riches of His grace

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that unjust ones will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be led astray, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous ones, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor plunderers shall inherit the kingdom of God. And some of you were these things, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.

    “Should we not assume that if God commands something, He wants to be obeyed?”

    “You agree that God commands faith. Are you suggesting that He commands faith but desires disobedience? Why then was He displeased with David?”

    God wants to be glorified in men, whether by blessing them in their obedience or by punishing them in their disobedience.

    God is pleased with obedience from men, whoever they are, but it’s not God’s good pleasure to cause obedience in all men.

    God desires the existence of obedient men, but God does not desire all men to become obedient.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. TW: The only way I can be “outside the picture” is by substitution, which involves two imputations, one that happened in Christ’s lifetime, the imputation of my guilt to him, and one that happens in my lifetime, the imputation of his death for my guilt to me.

    There can be no positive interaction between me and God until this death is imputed to me, not only because I haven’t been given the power to believe, but because there can be no positive interaction between a guilty man and the holy God – and this applies not only to the Father, but to the Son, and Holy Spirit.

    I understand that “outside the picture” and “positive interaction” are informal terms. But they are fuzzy. If God elects me before the foundation of the world for no reason other than His gracious choice, that is a “positive interaction”, and I am “in the picture”, it would seem. Likewise when the Father imputes my sin to Christ on the cross, that would also be a “positive interaction” where I am “in the picture.”

    So it may just be that precision is needed in terms. Or it may be that the imprecision reflects a conceptual fuzz.

    There’s a couple of reasons to suspect conceptual fuzz.

    The first is your description of the Free Offer as a “negotiation” between God and man. Negotiation is no part of the doctrine. That suggests a conceptual misunderstanding.

    The second is your description of JFBA:

    The Law-gospel distinction is not upheld simply by explicitly teaching that God chooses and enables a person to obey a command that is the (supposed) condition of life.

    Divine sovereignty does not remove human responsibility, whether in obedience or disobedience. This means even if it is God’s grace that enables me to do something, it is still me rather than God who is morally responsible (praiseworthy or blameworthy) for that act.

    God justifies through faith, not because of faith. And this matters a great deal. By failing to observe this distinction, by denying the difference, you end up lumping justification by faith in with justification by law-keeping even though Paul takes great pains to distinguish the two in Romans and elsewhere.

    Let me repeat that in different words: Paul upholds justification by faith as the antidote to justification by law-keeping. Your system treats justification by faith as a species of justification by law-keeping, and insists therefore that the essence of justification, imputation, must occur prior to faith.

    I think the root of the problem is the indiscriminate rejection of “condition” without distinction between meritorious, subsequent, and instrumental conditions.

    As a result, you move from faith-as-condition to faith that justifies by obedience to a command. And that is explicitly NOT what JFBA is.

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  48. JRC: “Does 1 Thess indeed indicate that God wants all believers to rejoice and to abstain from immorality?”

    TW: Yes.

    Well, there it is. If indeed we agree that (a) 1 Thess indicates that God wants all believers to abstain from immorality, and if we agree that (b) David was a believer, and that (c) he did not abstain from immorality, and that (d) God decreed that it would be so, then it is a necessary consequence that God can indeed want things that He also decrees will not come to pass.

    HOW this happens is murky. But THAT it happens seems certain.

    It does not mean, for example, that God’s will is frustrated. It could be that God has a hierarchy of desires, in which He is more glorified by David’s repentance than He would have been by David’s simple prior obedience.

    Nor does it mean that God’s desires are frustrated by human will. We agree, I think, that David’s sin was decreed by God (though authored by David himself).

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  49. Jeff: “If God elects me before the foundation of the world for no reason other than His gracious choice, that is a “positive interaction”, and I am “in the picture”, it would seem. Likewise when the Father imputes my sin to Christ on the cross, that would also be a “positive interaction” where I am “in the picture.””

    I assume you agree that God does not offer election or imputation of sin in the gospel, otherwise you would have to say something like (borrowing the language of OPC majority report on “Free Offer”)

    “it is Christ in all the glory of his person and in all the perfection of his that God offers in the gospel. The loving and benevolent will that is the source of that offer and that grounds its veracity and reality is the will to the possession of [election in Christ] and enjoyment of [imputation of sin to him].”

    If you agree God’s election of me in Christ and imputation of my sin to Christ didn’t happen through my response to God’s offer, then you should see my point: God’s imputation of Christ’s death to me also does not happen through my response to God’s offer.

    This is what I mean by “interaction between me and God”, in contrast of “God’s unilateral action”.

    Jeff: “The first is your description of the Free Offer as a “negotiation” between God and man. Negotiation is no part of the doctrine. That suggests a conceptual misunderstanding.”

    My contrast was between “negotiation” and “unilateral proclamation”, and my choice of terminology is because of the “diplomatic” language in the following text.

    2 Corinthians 5:20 Then on behalf of Christ, we are ambassadors, as God is exhorting through us, we beseech on behalf of Christ, Be reconciled to God.

    The gospel is proclaimed to those who have not been reconciled to God, who are presently enemies of God, not only subjectively at enmity towards God, but also objectively under his wrath.

    If a Sovereign offers peace to some rebels, promising a full pardon of their treason and all their crimes, on the condition that they would but trust the sincerity of this offer, then what is that but a negotiation?

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  50. Jeff: “Paul upholds justification by faith as the antidote to justification by law-keeping. Your system treats justification by faith as a species of justification by law-keeping, and insists therefore that the essence of justification, imputation, must occur prior to faith.”

    Indeed, Paul contrasts faith and works. But the real question is WHAT is the contrast? Saying “faith is not works” does not answer the question.

    In Romans 4 and Galatians 3, where Paul emphasized “faith-works” contrast, he also emphasized a “promise-law” contrast.

    Romans 4:14-16 For if those of Law are heirs, faith has been made of no effect, and the promise has been annulled. *For the Law works out wrath; for where no law is, neither is transgression*. On account of this, it is of faith, that it be according to grace, for the promise to be certain to all the seed,

    One crucial feature of the “promise” spoken of is that it *could not fail* due to the sin of its recipient, because it is not *conditioned on the recipient’s obedience to a command*.

    In contrast, “law” can fail to give blessings to its recipient due to the sin of the recipient, because its blessings are conditioned on the recipient’s obedience to its commands.

    In light of this, let’s hear what the “Free Offer” advocates say about their “gospel offer”.

    OPC majority report: “… in the free offer there is expressed … the disposition of lovingkindness on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace.
    … And the word “desire” has been used in order to express the thought epitomized in Ezekiel 33:11, which is to the effect that God has pleasure that the wicked turn from his evil way and live… in other words, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.
    …If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    In these paragraphs, the “free offer” advocates say that the gospel shows God desires the salvation of the reprobate by their “compliance with indispensable conditions of salvation”.

    Obviously, the “free offer” advocates also believe that the reprobate will fail to comply with these “overtures of gospel grace”, thus fail to obtain the salvation offered to them in the gospel.

    Without addressing the horrendous implications for God’s glory in Christ, this “gospel” already thoroughly betrays the marks of a “law” rather than the “promise” spoken of in Romans 4.

    You can talk all day long about how “faith” is not a “meritorious condition”, but the moment you say “faith” is a condition of salvation for the reprobate, and they fail to obtain salvation because they do not fulfill this condition, then you have turned the gospel into a law.

    While trying to enlarge the gospel to an offer to the reprobate, you also withhold the unconditional promise from the elect.

    (Indeed, what’s the practical difference between this message of “Free Offer” and the Lutheran or evangelical Arminian message of “universal atonement received by faith alone”? It seems there is not much and it’s intentional: the “Free Offer” advocates want to relegate election and limited atonement to “God’s secret will” and are bent on preaching the gospel apart from these doctrines, a gospel more nuanced but in continuity with a gospel of “universal atonement received by faith alone”.)

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  51. @Jeff I gather I have a more restrictive view by what is entailed by “the gospel”. What is your view on what is included in the gospel?

    Also, in these discussions, to what extent are different kinds of causes muddying the waters in these discussions? In my admittedly simplistic understanding of how one goes from being an enemy of God to an adopted son, I’ve found something akin to Aristotle’s four causes fairly helpful. The final cause is God’s degree. The material cause is Christ’s death. The formal cause is God’s acceptance of Christ’s death as the payment of sin for the elect. The efficient cause is essentially the ordo salutis (HS regenerates the unbeliever, then the unbeliever inevitably responds in faith and repentance to the gospel). What are your thoughts?

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  52. TW: One crucial feature of the “promise” spoken of is that it *could not fail* due to the sin of its recipient, because it is not *conditioned on the recipient’s obedience to a command*.

    In contrast, “law” can fail to give blessings to its recipient due to the sin of the recipient, because its blessings are conditioned on the recipient’s obedience to its commands…

    …You can talk all day long about how “faith” is not a “meritorious condition”, but the moment you say “faith” is a condition of salvation for the reprobate, and they fail to obtain salvation because they do not fulfill this condition, then you have turned the gospel into a law.

    While trying to enlarge the gospel to an offer to the reprobate, you also withhold the unconditional promise from the elect.

    The language of “conditional” and “unconditional” is very misleading.

    For one thing, it is literally false to say that the gospel is an unconditional promise. NO-ONE’s account of the gospel makes it genuinely unconditional. To be saved, one must

    * Be human
    * Be elect from the foundation of the world
    * Be effectually called
    * Have faith in Christ (whether before or after imputation)

    These are all conditions.

    But I suspect that you will say that they are not the kind of conditions intended by the word “unconditional.” Fair enough — but now the burden falls on you to describe what kinds of conditions are meant. The bare word “unconditional” does not help us understand why the covenant of grace is gracious.

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  53. TW: In these paragraphs, the “free offer” advocates say that the gospel shows God desires the salvation of the reprobate by their “compliance with indispensable conditions of salvation”.

    Yes.

    TW: Obviously, the “free offer” advocates also believe that the reprobate will fail to comply with these “overtures of gospel grace”, thus fail to obtain the salvation offered to them in the gospel.

    Not really. Or at least not essentially. And this is where you genuinely misunderstand the Free Offer, as evidenced by the fact that you cannot see a difference between it and the Lutheran or Arminian understanding.

    Pause and chew on that. If the majority of the OPC holds to predestination and election … and they clearly do, and in opposition to Arminianism, clearly expressed in a multitude of locations … and if the majority of the OPC also holds to the Free Offer, then that *ought* to be prima facie evidence that there is a difference between those two views.

    Whence, if you cannot tell the difference, that *ought* to be evidence to you that there is a difference you aren’t seeing.

    Here it is. The “free offer” advocates also believe that the reprobate are not elect, will not be effectually called, will be passed over by God. But in so doing, God experiences displeasure. Yes, His glory is maximized by his decree to elect some and pass others by. But at least one of His desires, which He does not decree to come to pass, is that all would hear and believe. To quote the OPC report,

    (2) We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious, and why he has not brought to pass, in the exercise of his omnipotent power and grace, what is his ardent pleasure lies hid in the sovereign counsel of his will. We should not entertain, however, any prejudice against the notion that God desires or has pleasure in the accomplishment of what he does not decretively will.

    That’s it. The entire point of Free Offer is not whether God’s will can be frustrated, nor is it whether the non-elect could somehow, hypothetically, be saved by making a different choice (they can’t). The point is whether God has good will in any sense towards those whom He does not elect.

    That’s it. To quote the first paragraph of the OPC report: “”God not only delights in the penitent but is also moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate”

    There’s no indication in the document that the reprobate frustrate God’s will. There’s no indication that they control the outcome of the offer. There’s no indication that their sins are atoned for by Christ.

    All of the additional propositions that you impute to the Free Offer document are not there. The one proposition that is there is that God is “moved by the riches of his goodness and mercy to desire the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate.”

    And since we have already seen that God can desire things that He also decrees will not come to pass, the rest of the objections fall away.

    To make it very clear:

    Arminian view: God wills all to be saved, offers salvation to all in the same sense, contingent upon their exercise of free will to accept or reject the offer. God has decreed only that those who believe, will be saved. Thus, the decree is subordinate to the offer.

    Lutheran (Formula of Concord) view: The universal offer and God’s election are an irreconcilable mystery. Thus, neither is subordinate to the other.

    OPC majority view: God elects and decrees the salvation of some, but out of general benevolence and lovingkindness also desires the salvation of all, which desire is subordinate to His decree.

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  54. @ SDB: I would say that the gospel is the content of Romans. It includes total depravity, election, imputation, faith, the mortification of the sin nature, the indwelling of the Spirit. All of those things should be taught.

    But what of that must be believed to be saved? Paul says, “But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

    John and McMark have a valid point that denial of election is inconsistent with the rest of the Gospel. The question is whether consistency is a condition for salvation.

    Interesting idea about describing the causes of salvation in terms of Aristotle’s scheme. It seems that final causes keep trying to drag you into teleology!

    I definitely resonate with viewing faith as an efficient cause. It seems to me that Romans 4.13 puts paid to the notion that imputation precedes faith.

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  55. Jeff,

    You state the following are “indispensable” conditions of salvation:

    * Be human
    * Be elect from the foundation of the world
    * Be effectually called
    * Have faith in Christ (whether before or after imputation)

    I assume you would agree to add the following as two other “indispensable” conditions of salvation

    * sins atoned for by Christ on the cross
    * imputed with Christ’s finished work

    You also agree “Free Offer” says “God desires the repentance and salvation of the impenitent and reprobate.””

    Moreover, the OPC majority report explains God’s desire of salvation of the reprobate and God’s desire of salvation of the reprobate are the same thing, because *God cannot desire the end apart from the means to that end*. Here’s the full paragraph:

    “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    Question:

    If it is inconceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of repentance and faith, how is it conceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation?

    If it is impossible to say God desires the salvation of the reprobate without saying God desires their repentance, how is it possible to say God desires their salvation without saying God desires their election in Christ, their sins be atoned for by Christ, their effectual calling, and their being imputed with Christ’s finished work? (which you would agree are also “indispensable conditions of salvation”)

    My analysis:

    The only possible explanation is that “Free Offer” advocates believe that for the God speaking in the gospel, “repentance and faith” are the only “missing ingredients” in the salvation of any human sinner, whether elect or reprobate. Indeed, this conclusion is confirmed directly by the OPC majority report, which states

    “[there is] inherent in the free offer to all, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.”

    In other words, according to “Free Offer”, God’s gospel announces that anybody, including the non-elect, could be saved by making the right choice – the only limiting factor is that the non-elect won’t be enabled to make that right choice.

    Certainly, this is incompatible with any idea of a “definite atonement” in which God imputed sins of some to Christ unconditional on their future repentance and faith.

    But the “Free Offer” advocates remind us that this doctrine of “atonement for the unconditionally elect alone” belongs to God’s secret will, which means it is not actually part of God’s announced gospel. This is their way of reconciling the “Free Offer” and “Limited Atonement”.

    For me, I not only do not accept this explanation, but consider this explanation a great blasphemy of God’s integrity as well as hiding the true gospel “behind the curtain” and replacing it with a counterfeit called “Free Offer” in actual preaching to guilty sinners.

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  56. TW: “(1) [there is] inherent in the free offer to all, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.”

    (2) In other words, according to “Free Offer”, God’s gospel announces that anybody, including the non-elect, could be saved by making the right choice – the only limiting factor is that the non-elect won’t be enabled to make that right choice.

    (3) Certainly, this is incompatible with any idea of a “definite atonement” in which God imputed sins of some to Christ unconditional on their future repentance and faith.

    Your observation in (3) helps point the way as to why (2) is an incorrect reading of (1).

    For you are (hypothetically) correct: IF free offer meant that anyone, including the non-elect, could be saved by making the right choice, THEN it would certainly be true that definite atonement would be out the window. As would election. And effectual calling.

    But think deeper: Since definite atonement, election, and effectual calling are still affirmed by OPC, one of two things must be true. Either the whole body is completely oblivious to the obvious implications of their view, or else (2) is an incorrect reading of (1).

    Entertain that possibility for a moment. Go back and think through what additional premises you must add in order to equate (1) and (2). Since (1) does not literally say that “anybody could be saved by making the right choice”, you have had to add premises to interpret (1) in that way. What premises? Make your argument more explicit.

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  57. TW and others,

    I see in your comments almost a complete refusal to view faith in Christ as being in any way a condition of salvation. But if faith cannot in any way be said to be a condition of salvation, then how does that not make it completely irrelevant? Seems to me that this position means that even the elect don’t have to believe.

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  58. Jeff,

    Your big assumption is that the doctrine of “Free Offer” advocated in the OPC majority report is consistent with the doctrines of Election, Limited Atonement, Effectual Calling.

    If you truly believe this, please address the question I raised over the following paragraph.

    OPC majority report: “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    In the paragraph above, the report explains God’s desire of salvation of the reprobate and God’s desire of repentance of the reprobate are the same thing, because *God cannot desire the end apart from the means to that end*. This leads to the following question.

    Question:

    If it is inconceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of repentance and faith, how is it conceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation?

    If it is impossible to say God desires the salvation of the reprobate without saying God desires their repentance, how is it possible to say God desires their salvation without saying God desires their election in Christ, their sins be atoned for by Christ, their effectual calling, and their being imputed with Christ’s finished work? (which you would agree are also “indispensable conditions of salvation”)

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  59. Robert,

    “I see in your comments almost a complete refusal to view faith in Christ as being in any way a condition of salvation. But if faith cannot in any way be said to be a condition of salvation, then how does that not make it completely irrelevant? Seems to me that this position means that even the elect don’t have to believe.”

    God justifies the ungodly (“impious”). God does not impute righteousness to a person in response to their faith, which is a human response that gives glory to God in salvation.

    Faith is spiritual life. Faith is a partaking of the promise in anticipation. Therefore, one must be imputed with righteousness in order to be granted faith.

    Faith is not a condition preceding salvation, but the start of a new life freely received. It is seeing light after being released from prison.

    There are no “justified unbelievers”. When righteousness (Christ’s death) is imputed to the elect, he immediately has the blessings of life – both legal life (justification) and spiritual life (faith).

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  60. TW: If it is inconceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of repentance and faith, how is it conceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation?

    It’s not. And there’s no indication in the OPC document that anyone thinks it is.

    You’re a math guy, so you understand this: the statement that salvation cannot be had apart from faith does not imply that it *can* be had apart from election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation. It is a logical fallacy to read it in that way.

    And in fact, since every single one of the writers has previously had to affirm adherence to the WCF, it is therefore a strong inductive conclusion (NOT “assumption” as you erroneously put it) that the writers are consistent with the doctrines of Election, Limited Atonement, and Effectual Calling. That should be the controlling assumption until shown otherwise.

    As I said above, it’s time for you to make your argument more explicit. The writers say “[there is] inherent in the free offer to all, a pleasure or delight in God, contemplating the blessed result to be achieved by compliance with the overture proffered and the invitation given.”

    You gloss that to read “God’s gospel announces that anybody, including the non-elect, could be saved by making the right choice – the only limiting factor is that the non-elect won’t be enabled to make that right choice.”

    It is not at all obvious that your gloss means the same thing as the original statement.

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  61. Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…”

    SDB–“No one is adding to the work of Christ on the cross. The claim is that the work of Christ on the cross affects change in the believer. Not that the effected change merits anything.”

    Mark—Nobody here says that the enabled change in us is “merit”. But you seem to think that, as long as our merit is denied, then it’s no problem to make “enough” change in us either the evidence or condition of assurance of justification. Since your covenant is conditional (not only for the elect), and since your gospel is not about election by God to be one of the sinners for whom Christ died, then you have the same gospel as any Arminian who also insists that “change in us” is not our merit but God’s grace .

    Your fellows don’t ever tell us what preachers you listen to. As you have time, send us some links in which your preachers are teaching that every sinner for whom Christ died (all the elect) will be justified. Are any of them teaching definite atonement as satisfaction of law? And why should they, if that’s not in the gospel? And how could Christ’s death be a strict satisfaction of law, if Christ died also even for those who perish?

    Once again, nobody here is teaching justification by works that are our merits. Like the Arminians, you give God’s grace the credit for enabling you to change enough to feel safe and sure before God.

    Nobody here is teaching justification before or without believing the gospel. Our questions are about the Christ who is the object of faith. If Christ died for everybody but not everybody will be justified, then it must be the Holy Spirit of Christ changing us that will bring us comfort and safety.

    God commands all sinners to believe the gospel. This includes those for whom Christ never died. God never intended that all sinners will believe the gospel . The promise of the gospel is only to as many as believe the gospel. There is no contradiction between God’s command and God’s promise. But the command is not the same as the promise.

    God has commanded all sinners to obey divine law. but God has neither predestined nor promised that sinners will obey divine law (disobey one, disobey all) . God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but God never had any “plan B” intention about which Son was to be given in sacrifice and just satisfaction. God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree. but God never promised Adam future immortality based on God giving Adam “grace” to meet conditions.

    Adam was under law already before Adam sinned and we are all born guilty by God’s imputation of Adam’s sin. Christ was under law by means of God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ. There was no grace for Christ, but Christ’s death satisfied the law. Romans 6:9,10,”We know that Christ being raised from the dead will
    never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death Christ died He died to sin, once for all time.”

    Justification through faith in the gospel is not justification through works. Neither our faith nor our works are satisfaction of divine law. God does not count our works as the righteousness. God does not count our faith as the righteousness.
    Our faith must have as its object Christ’s death as that righteousness which satisfied divine law.

    The Second London Confession (1689)– “Those whom God effectually calls He also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting them as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. They are not justified because God
    reckons as their righteousness either their faith, their believing, or any other act of evangelical obedience. They are justified wholly and solely because God imputes to them Christ’s righteousness. “

    2 Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ

    https://heidelblog.net/2013/06/is-faith-a-work-law-gospel-justification/

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  62. McMark: Since your covenant is conditional

    As is yours.

    McMark: and since your gospel is not about election by God to be one of the sinners for whom Christ died

    False.

    McMark: Your fellows don’t ever tell us what preachers you listen to.

    We do more: we tell you what confessions we subscribe to. Meanwhile, you have yet to answer a basic question: What church (denomination) are you a member of?

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  63. There is a strand of Reformed theology represented by Ursinus, AA Hodge, and somewhat Louis Berkhof, that places imputation as the ground of effectual calling. For those interested in pursuing it, here is Hodge:

    3 What is the order of grace in the application of redemption ? I. The two principles which fundamentally characterize Protestant Soteriology are–– 1st. The clear distinction between the change of relation signalized by justification, and the change of character signalized by regeneration and sanctification. 2nd. That the change of relation, the remission of penalty, and the restoration to favor involved in justification, necessarily precedes, and renders possible, the real moral change expressed by regeneration and sanctification. The continuance of judicial condemnation precludes the exercise of grace. Remission of punishment must precede the work of the Spirit. We are pardoned in order that we may be good, never made good in order that we may be pardoned. “It is evident that God must himself already have been secretly favorable and gracious to a man, and must already have pardoned him forum divinum (Divine pardoning), for the sake of Christ and his relation to human nature, to be able to bestow upon him the grace of regeneration. In fact viewed as actus Dei forensis there was of necessity that it should be regarded as existing prior to man’s consciousness of it, nay prior to faith.”–Dr. J. A. Dorner’s “Hist. Prot. Theo.,” Vol. 2., pp. 156, 160. II. Hence the apparent circle in the order of grace. The righteousness of Christ is said to be imputed to the believer, and justification to be through faith. Yet faith is an act of a soul already regenerated, and regeneration is possible only to a soul to whom God is reconciled by the application of Christ’s satisfaction.

    Thus the satisfaction and merit of Christ is the antecedent cause of regeneration, and on the other hand the participation of the believer in the satisfaction and merit of Christ (his justification) is conditioned on his faith, which is the effect of his regeneration. We must have part in Christ so far forth as to be regenerated, in order to have part in him so far forth as to be justified. This is not a question of order in time, because regeneration and justification are gracious acts of God absolutely synchronous. The question is purely as to the true order of causation; Is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us that we may believe, or is it imputed to us because we believe? Is justification an analytic judgment, that the man is justified as a believer though a sinner, or is it a synthetic judgment, that this sinner is justified for Christ’s sake ? III. The solution is to be sought in the fact that Christ impetrated the application of his salvation to his “own,” and all the means, conditions, and stages thereof, and that this was done in pursuance of a covenant engagement with the father, which provided for application to specific persons at certain times and under certain conditions. The relation from birth of an elect person to Adam, and to sin and its condemnation, is precisely the same with that of all his fellow–men. But his relation to the satisfaction and merits of Christ, and to the graces they obtain, is analogous to that of an heir to an inheritance secured to him by will. As long as he is under age the will secures the initial right of the heir de jure. It provides for his education at the expense of the estate in preparation for his inheritance. It determines the previous installments of his patrimony to be given him by his trustees. It determines in some sense his present status as a prospective heir. It determines the precise time and conditions of his being inducted into absolute possession. He possesses certain rights and enjoys certain benefits from the first. But he has absolute rights and powers of ownership only when he reaches the period and fulfills the conditions prescribed therefor in the will. Thus the merits of Christ are imputed to the elect heir from his birth so far forth as they constitute the basis of the gracious dealing provided For him as preparatory to his full possession. Justification is assigned by Protestant theologians to that final mental act of God as Judge whereby he declares the heir in full possession of the rights of his inheritance, henceforth to be recognized and treated as the heir in possession, although the actual consummation of that possession is not effected until the resurrection. Christ and his righteousness are not given to the believer because of faith. faith is the conscious trusting receiving of that which is already given. Our Catechism, Ques. 33, says, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight only for the righteousness of Christ (1) imputed to us, and (2) received by faith alone.” Regeneration and consequently faith are wrought in us for Christ’s sake and as the result conditioned on a previous imputation of his righteousness to that end. Justification supervenes upon faith, and implies such an imputation of Christ’s righteousness as effects a radical and permanent change of relationship to the law as a condition of life.

    — AA Hodge, Outlines of Theology Chap 34 Qn 3.

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  64. Mark—Nobody here says that the enabled change in us is “merit”.

    sdb: Then I misread jy’s comment I was responding to. Perhaps you can clarify what he meant?

    MM: But you seem to think that, as long as our merit is denied, then it’s no problem to make “enough” change in us either the evidence or condition of assurance of justification.

    sdb: I thought I was clear, but perhaps not. The change wrought by the holy spirit is not a condition of justification, but rather the fruit. That fruit brings assurance:

    Dort – FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 12. The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the [assurance] of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God – such as, a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.

    This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God, but springs from faith in God’s promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God;1 and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works.

    MM: Since your covenant is conditional (not only for the elect),

    SDB: Right. God makes covenants with the nonelect. You disagree?

    MM: and since your gospel is not about election by God to be one of the sinners for whom Christ died,

    SDB: I realize this is not such a popular view around here (and Jeff I would love for you to push back on this), but I remain unconvinced that the ordo, etc… is the gospel. The gospel is that God has become man in the person of Jesus, died for our sins, rose again, and is coming back. Theological questions about the nature of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, how the benefits of Jesus’s sacrifice are applied to those who are saved, etc… are all important and should be carefully taught. But they are not the gospel. That being said I hold to election and the definitive atonement. I see no reason to disagree with Dort.

    MM: then you have the same gospel as any Arminian who also insists that “change in us” is not our merit but God’s grace.

    SDB: This is a non sequitur. Not every view that isn’t yours is Arminian. Secondly… Dort is Arminian??? Really?

    MM: Your fellows don’t ever tell us what preachers you listen to.

    SDB: you wouldn’t know my small town PCA pastor, and he doesn’t have a web presence. What I will say is that I don’t see any reason to diverge from the Westminster standards or three forms of unity.

    MM: As you have time, send us some links in which your preachers are teaching that every sinner for whom Christ died (all the elect) will be justified. Are any of them teaching definite atonement as satisfaction of law? And why should they, if that’s not in the gospel?

    SDB: Well, the Trinity is not the gospel, but my pastor teaches on it. Eschatology is not the gospel, but my pastor teaches on it.

    MM: And how could Christ’s death be a strict satisfaction of law, if Christ died also even for those who perish?

    SDB: no idea. You would have to ask someone who thinks Christ died for the non-elect.

    MM: Once again, nobody here is teaching justification by works that are our merits. Like the Arminians, you give God’s grace the credit for enabling you to change enough to feel safe and sure before God.

    SDB: Great!

    MM: Nobody here is teaching justification before or without believing the gospel.

    SDB: Great!

    MM: Our questions are about the Christ who is the object of faith. If Christ died for everybody but not everybody will be justified, then it must be the Holy Spirit of Christ changing us that will bring us comfort and safety.

    SDB: This is another non sequitur. Christ died for the elect. How do you know you are among the elect? It is because you are doing something you weren’t doing before. If I understand your claim that something is believing the gospel. But that isn’t what scripture teaches.

    MM: God commands all sinners to believe the gospel. This includes those for whom Christ never died. God never intended that all sinners will believe the gospel . The promise of the gospel is only to as many as believe the gospel. There is no contradiction between God’s command and God’s promise. But the command is not the same as the promise.

    SDB: yep

    MM: God has commanded all sinners to obey divine law. but God has neither predestined nor promised that sinners will obey divine law (disobey one, disobey all) . God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but God never had any “plan B” intention about which Son was to be given in sacrifice and just satisfaction. God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree. but God never promised Adam future immortality based on God giving Adam “grace” to meet conditions.

    Adam was under law already before Adam sinned and we are all born guilty by God’s imputation of Adam’s sin. Christ was under law by means of God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ. There was no grace for Christ, but Christ’s death satisfied the law. Romans 6:9,10,”We know that Christ being raised from the dead will
    never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death Christ died He died to sin, once for all time.”

    Sdb: true, but I don’t see where you are going with this.

    MM: Justification through faith in the gospel is not justification through works. Neither our faith nor our works are satisfaction of divine law. God does not count our works as the righteousness. God does not count our faith as the righteousness.

    SDB: And yet… And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, – Romans 4:5

    MM: Our faith must have as its object Christ’s death as that righteousness which satisfied divine law.

    SDB: Right, but again who disagrees? Are you going to get a thoughtful RC to disagree the the object of our faith is the work of Christ?

    The Second London Confession (1689)– “Those whom God effectually calls He also freely justifies, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting them as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone. They are not justified because God
    reckons as their righteousness either their faith, their believing, or any other act of evangelical obedience. They are justified wholly and solely because God imputes to them Christ’s righteousness. “

    2 Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ

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  65. @ SDB: It is sometimes taught that Scripture may be partitioned into Law or Gospel. If we take that framework, election is definitely Gospel and not Law.

    WRT Romans 4, the food fight concerns the phrase “faith imputed as righteousness.” Does that literally mean that God receives the faith as a righteous act that is reckoned as merit to the ungodly? Or is it an idiom that means “the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the ungodly through faith”? Catholics hold the former, Lutheran and Reformed Protestants the latter.

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  66. Thanks Jeff. I wasn’t thinking along those lines. That helps. So if we partition scripture into Law or Gospel, where do topics like the attributes of God, Christology, etc… fit in? For the purposes of this discussion, I gather that Mark et al. are arguing that getting something wrong about the gospel means that one believes a false gospel. So if one is wrong about say, the hypostatic union (which going to the nature of Christ I presume would fall under the gospel heading rather than the law heading), does that mean one believes a false gospel? I asked this before, and I never got a clear answer (at least clear to me). Perhaps they thought I was asking facetiously. I’m sincerely confused about their stance.

    WRT to R4, I see. Yes, I agree that we are saved through faith. We are given the gift of faith and are justified. It is not a merit on our part. I thought Mark was suggesting that justification was independent of faith.

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  67. Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod of Dordt rejects the errors of those
    Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.
    For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them” (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: “When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).
    rejects the errors of those
    Who teach that what is involved in the new covenant of grace which God the Father made with men through the intervening of Christ’s death is not that we are justified before God and saved through faith, insofar as it accepts Christ’s merit, but rather that God, having withdrawn his demand for perfect obedience to the law, counts faith itself, and the imperfect obedience of faith, as perfect obedience to the law, and graciously looks upon this as worthy of the reward of eternal life.
    For they contradict Scripture: “They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ, whom God presented as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Rom. 3:24-25). And along with the ungodly Socinus, they introduce a new and foreign justification of man before

    mcmark: And how could Christ’s death be a strict satisfaction of law, if Christ died also even for those who perish?
    SDB: no idea

    mcmark–There was no grace for Christ, but Christ’s death satisfied the law. Romans 6:9,10,”We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him
    SDB: Not denied, but where you are going with this?… And yet…  his faith is counted as righteousness.

    mcmark—I am trying to write about what gives us comfort.  Therefore I am trying to say that my comfort is in Christ’s death.  God does not count faith “as if” it were the righteousness. God counts Christ’s death as the righteousness (satisfaction of God’s holy justice). Our faith must have as its object Christ’s death as the righteousness revealed in the gospel.
    Bidding all men to repentance
    Since the Kingdom now is here.
    Tell her that her sins I cover

    mcmark—-1. This debate is not mainly about order of application (or who’s in the best named denomination)  I do not agree with Berkhof or others who put (“eternal?) justification before regeneration and faith in the gospel. Rather, I see being placed into Christ’s death (imputed in history with Christ’s death) as the basis of regeneration and faith in the gospel and deny that God has declared “justified” anyone who has not believed by the power of the gospel.   Jeff can assert that “imputation is in essence justification and therefore the same–if you put imputation before, then you put justification before”.   I don’t agree with that, but it’s not what’s important here.  Understanding the order or the word “imputation” or the history of  “Reformed theology” is not the gospel.   The debate is about “what is the righteousness”. Why waste time on the imputation of the righteousness until we know that Christ’s death is the righteousness?  Why waste time on “faith vs works” until we know that the object of faith is the righteousness of Christ’s death?

    2. The gospel is that Christ’s death is a strict satisfaction of law for all the elect. Christ died for the elect because God already loved the elect. God did not begin loving the elect because Christ died for them. The elect are as many as God calls effectually by this gospel, which is as many as believe by the power of this gospel.

    3. Even if you happen to believe that the extent of Christ’s death is only for the elect, that is not the gospel, if you still believe that the righteousness is the faith that God gives you, or if you believe that God credits the faith that God gives you as the righteousness. The gospel excludes not only our enabled works but also our enabled faith as the righteousness.  Thus the antithesis.  The “idea” stated positively—those who don’t perish are those for whom Christ died, and Christ’s death is the reason not only that they believe the gospel but also that the propitiation has been legally imputed so that they will not perish.  Again, to clarify, I am not insisting that certain words or phrases be used.  But neither the Confessions nor our own words should make any compromise with the Arminian IDEA that Christ died for those who perish  or that God will count faith as the righteousness.  Besides its magisterial character, Dordt may have certain other problems  (the Lombard suffiency formula) but we can learn much from Dordt’s different sections about “errors” .

    Leaving aside the question of  “obedience to the covenant of works”  (Christ doing what Adam might have done), since some in your own denominations (not only Norman Shepherd and the anti-federal “federal vision”)  deny that Christ’s faith or law-keeping is imputed to us (some without denying the law-gospel divide), can we agree that Christ’s death is (at least part of) the righteousness (and that our faith and works are no part of the righteousness)?  

    While Jeff likely disagrees with Arminians who think God given faith is the righteousness (or is counted as the righteousness), he writes as if he’s only smarter or better taught than Arminians.   God-like in his condescension, Jeff thinks we show “contempt” for sinners if we tell them they have a false gospel. When people think that  the Arminian gospel (which is another gospel, not the gospel) still honors God and is divinely used sovereignly as a means of regeneration, those same people often don’t bother too much with ideas about the nature of Christ’s death being under law as a satisfaction by God to God.  If the nature of Christ’s death according to the Scriptures is not necessary to the gospel, then confusion about the righteousness is sure to follow. But Scripture is clear that not only God’s attribute of righteousness is revealed (in law and gospel) but also that God’s gift of Christ’s death as righteousness for the elect is revealed to those who are called and who believe. Even though there is no perfect believing (another reason God does not count believing as the righteousness), the object of God given faith is truth, not the opposite of truth. What parts of the Arminian five points are true? Since Arminianism is false, Arminianism gives false comfort.

    Romans 1: The gospel is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes… For in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed

    God does NOT count our faith as the righteousness.  The righteousness is about sins being imputed to Christ  so that it is necessary for Christ to die under law . The righteousness is about THAT KIND OF DEATH being imputed to the elect

    “What church (denomination) are you a member of”?
    1. You first, what congregation are you a member of? Is it a congregation in which the Gaffin/ Tipton view of future justification through works is taught?

    2. I ask for the preacher’s sermons, tapes, because I have listened to and visited many reformed (those who accept Roman Catholic water baptism) “churches” which are “confessional” at least for the elders, but not even election is ever mentioned, let alone God’s imputation to Christ of only the sins of those God loves.

    If you believe that the gospel is believed by all for whom Christ died, why doesn’t your preacher preach that wonderful confessional truth?
    Or maybe some of you disagree about what the Confessions teach….

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  68. McMark,: What congregation are you a member of? Is it a congregation in which the Gaffin/ Tipton view of future justification through works is taught?

    Mt Airy PCA. The pastor is very far away from Gaffin, more of an old Princeton type, to the point of being tagged with “too much gospel and not enough application.” And in that, he has my full support.

    Your turn.

    McMark: If you believe that the gospel is believed by all for whom Christ died, why doesn’t your preacher preach that wonderful confessional truth?

    I do, and he does.

    McMark: Again, to clarify, I am not insisting that certain words or phrases be used.

    Then you need a different copy editor, because the current one lets the wrong impression slip through.

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  69. Mark,

    Can we agree that Christ’s death is (at least part of) the righteousness (and that our faith and works are no part of the righteousness)?

    I don’t see anyone here teaching otherwise. This is standard Reformed confessional teaching.

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  70. Apologies for the long post. Hoping to clear the fog.

    The question of whether imputation precedes effectual calling has several wrinkles, with serious arguments to be made on both sides. What is notable about Hodge and Ursinus above is the absence of sarcastic invective concerning other positions.

    To first argue the position I do not hold, the logic behind “imputation priority” is that God must first be reconciled to us before change takes place. We can call this the Necessity of Imputation First (NIF).

    Hodge argues it well:

    …the change of relation, the remission of penalty, and the restoration to favor involved in justification, necessarily precedes, and renders possible, the real moral change expressed by regeneration and sanctification. The continuance of judicial condemnation precludes the exercise of grace. Remission of punishment must precede the work of the Spirit. We are pardoned in order that we may be good, never made good in order that we may be pardoned.

    The strong pull of this argument is precisely what Calvin argued against Osiander: God does not justify us because of changes made in us, but solely because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. This is the JBIA (justification by imputation alone) principle, which all Reformed and Lutheran Protestants (should) agree to. Thus, there is a fear that if effectual calling precedes imputation, then we are abandoning JBIA. The stronger the fear, the louder the accusations of “false gospel.”

    But this reasoning creates a circular problem: how to get imputation before faith, when justification is by faith? Ursinus and Hodge solve the problem by considering imputation and justification to be two sides of the coin, with effectual calling and faith wedged between.

    First, God imputes, which is a God-ward satisfaction of the law’s demands. Then effectual calling, regeneration, and faith. Then God justifies, which is a man-ward declaration of righteousness.

    So why don’t all Protestants (eg Calvin!) take this position? Primarily, because the argument is theoretical, without direct Scriptural evidence. One searches in vain for any passage that teaches that imputation precedes faith.

    I will now argue for a different position, seemingly the WCF position, that effectual calling precedes faith precedes imputation which is identical to justification. Consider Romans 4, in which I trace some of the ideas in Calvin’s commentary.

    If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

    Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works

    We observe in the passage that Paul contrasts justification by works over against “faith credited [imputed, logizomai] as righteousness.” It is taken as read in Protestant circles that this means “righteousness imputed through faith” rather than “faith counted as if righteousness.” The key is that for Paul, what preserves the graciousness of justification by faith is the contrast between receiving what is due, by works, over against receiving righteousness, by faith.

    This chips away at the argument for NIF. If the contrast is between faith and works, then the contrast is not between imputation first, and works second. Paul shows zero concern to place imputation before faith for the simple reason that receiving by faith *is* the characteristic that makes justification by grace and not works.

    Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

    Paul emphasizes and reiterates: righteousness was credited [Gr.: imputed] to Abraham through faith.

    More chipping: It is important to Paul not simply that Abraham was justified by faith, but that righteousness was imputed through faith.

    It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

    Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

    Now Paul makes the phrase unmistakably pointed: The righteousness comes through faith. It could not be more clear: faith precedes imputation.

    So the argument for effectual calling => faith => justification / imputation is not, as is scurriously insinuated by McMark, some underhanded scheme to sneak works into our justification.

    Rather, it is to uphold the Scripture: the righteousness comes by faith. The end. What makes the covenant of grace gracious is that the righteousness is received by faith, not that it is applied apart from or prior to faith. The former is what Paul teaches; the latter is not.

    OK, but what about a clear account of the ordo salutis? Hodge’s argument still carries weight here — if regeneration precedes imputation, then is God not justifying us, in some sense, on the basis of a change He has made in us? If Hodge must avoid a circle, Calvin must avoid crypto-Osianderism.

    I would argue two points, and then suggest a possible solution to satisfy Hodge and Calvin at once.

    (1) Justifying through faith is not the same as justifying because of faith.

    God’s creation of faith in us is not creating some kind of righteousness that is then credited to our account. Rather, it is creating a faculty that receives Christ’s righteousness. That’s it. In one stroke, we avoid Osiander’s trap. We are not justified on the basis of a change. Rather, a change is made that enables reception of righteousness.

    (2) Likewise, the regeneration in effectual calling is not sanctification itself. It is merely the enabling of reception, nothing more.

    The points (1) and (2) will not satisfy the die-hards. But this might:

    Consider that both the Imputation First and the Faith First accounts have God choosing His elect. And at the cross, the sins of the elect are imputed to Christ.

    What if … God’s election is sufficient grounds for regeneration and effectual calling? That is: God effectually calls because of the prior forensic act of election. And further, election looks forward to both the atonement and to the moment of imputation. As a result, the forensic elements are considered, God-ward, to be anticipated in the “prophetic future” sense: A done deal, in the future. This would mean that all changes in the elect, even regeneration, are because of forensic events foreseen.

    We know this is not entirely far-fetched. Abraham was justified by Christ’s righteousness before Christ ever lived, died, or rose again. His justification was accomplished by the forensic event of the atonement before that event ever occurred in time.

    And it is the election of Abraham that guaranteed those events to take place.

    If we take this view, election (the anticipation of a certain justification) is sufficient ground for regeneration: Because God *will* justify by faith, He therefore creates the faith needed.

    Maybe that helps break the logjam, maybe not.

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  71. Since our inherent sin still negatively influences our ability to reason soundly and think logically may I make a suggestion to help clarify everyone’s comments. If you are going to point out logical informal or formal fallacies, define the fallacy you are pointing out and then point it out again in the person’s comments you are accusing of commiting the fallacy. I think that will help bring more clarity to the arguments being presented in the comments. This will also help those who are not as well trained in the fields of logical thinking and sound reasoning. Saying that, how important is this all to the Holy Spirit illuminating minds to the truths of the Gospel?

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  72. McMark: I am trying to write about what gives us comfort. Therefore I am trying to say that my comfort is in Christ’s death.
    sdb: how do you know Christ’s death is doing you any good?

    McMark: The gospel is that Christ’s death is a strict satisfaction of law for all the elect.
    sdb: Paul writes that, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
    Two observations… First, the gospel preached by Paul saves *if* you continue to believe. Second, the key elements of the gospel he preached are that Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose again, and appeared. According to Paul, these are the essential elements of the gospel. According to you, the essence of the gospel is that Christ’s death is strict satisfaction of the law, and this satisfaction is only for the elect. I don’t see how your summary of the gospel is consistent with Paul’s.

    McMark: Christ’s death is the reason not only that they believe the gospel but also that the propitiation has been legally imputed so that they will not perish.
    sdb: It looks to me like you are setting up different kinds of “reasons” against one another. We might translate “reasons” into the efficient cause, material cause, formal cause, and final cause. The final cause of our salvation is that God decreed it. The material cause is that Christ died for our sins. The formal cause is that Christ is at once God and Man, and he was sinless. The efficient cause is that we believe the gospel (faith). Given the influence of the understanding of four causes in Greek thought, it is inconceivable to me that Paul didn’t have this in mind as well.

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  73. Jeff:”TW: If it is inconceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of repentance and faith, how is it conceivable that God could desire the salvation of the reprobate apart from the means of election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation?

    It’s not. And there’s no indication in the OPC document that anyone thinks it is.

    You’re a math guy, so you understand this: the statement that salvation cannot be had apart from faith does not imply that it *can* be had apart from election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation. It is a logical fallacy to read it in that way.”

    My question was highlighting an inconsistency I perceive in the OPC report’s reasoning. Let me quote the relevant passage again:

    OPC majority report: “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    It seems to me the OPC report is making the following argument:

    (P1) God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation apart from desiring the necessary means to their salvation in the gospel invitation.

    (P2) Repentance and faith are necessary means to salvation.

    (C1) God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation apart from desiring their repentance and faith in the gospel invitation.

    I then ask: but surely the OPC report would also agree

    (P3) Election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation are necessary means to salvation.

    Then (P1) and (P2) together imply

    (C2) God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation apart from desiring their election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation in the gospel invitation.

    Now, if the OPC report also holds to

    (P4) God does not desire the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation in the gospel invitation

    Then the OPC report must accept

    (C3) God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation

    which would contradict its own stated position of “Free Offer”.

    Now, if we *insist* the OPC report is consistent, then it must have rejected one of the premises (P1)-(P4).

    (P1) and (P2) are clearly stated in the passage quoted above, so it must have rejected (P3) or (P4).

    I think we both agree they accept (P3).

    This leaves only one possibility: the OPC report rejects (P4). Let’s take a closer look at (P4).

    (P4) God does not desire the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation in the gospel invitation.

    What is the Negation of (P4)?

    (~P4) God *desires* the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation in the gospel invitation.

    But this is surely unacceptable. It seems the conclusion of inconsistency stands.

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  74. @ Tianqi: Much clearer, thank you. Where we differ is on the move from (P4) to (C3). You argue that if God does not desire to elect, atone, etc., then “God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate in the gospel invitation”

    But we have already seen that God desires things that He also decrees do not come to pass. In particular

    (S1) God desires believers’ sanctification, that they abstain from sexual immorality, and
    (S2) To abstain from sexual immorality requires a work of the Spirit that is both necessary and sufficient for obedience, yet
    (S3) Some (many) believers do not abstain from sexual immorality, notably David. From the fact of their disobedience, we infer that
    (S4) God at times does not desire to work obedience in the hearts of believers.

    IF your move from (P4) to (C3) were legitimate, then (S1) and (S4) would also give the same contradiction (which, by the way, would lend to the same kind of “free will” argument — that believers are able to resist God’s will).

    Instead, we recognize that (P4) to (C3) is an equivocation. With respect to decrees, God does not desire the salvation of the non-elect. With respect to commands and common grace, He does. Clearly, the first desire in some sense “trumps” the other; but both desires are present.

    Happy Sunday!

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  75. @ Tianqi: to make the response more clear, you have

    TW: (P4) God does not desire the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, or imputation in the gospel invitation. And this is true with respect to His decrees.

    TW: (~P4) God *desires* the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation in the gospel invitation. And this is true with respect to His commands.

    The contradiction is avoided by disentangling the senses of the word “desire.”

    Note that the OPC report says as much the preamble: It must be admitted that if the expression were intended to apply to the decretive will of God then there would be, at least, implicit contradiction. For to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate and also that God wills the damnation of the reprobate and apply the former to the same thing as the latter, namely, the decretive will, would be contradiction…

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  76. Matthew 5.43 – 48

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    The OPC report brings out the analogy: Jesus commands us to love our enemies (lesser) because God also loves His enemies (greater). And this alone should be sufficient to show that God loves the reprobate in some sense.

    But more can be said. For in order for us to love our enemies, the Spirit must supply that love. And how could He give that which He does not have?

    So unless Jesus is giving an empty command, one that He not only knows will never be obeyed in any degree, it must be the case that God Himself has love for His enemies.

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  77. TW: (~P4) God *desires* the reprobate’s election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation in the gospel invitation.

    Jeff: And this is true with respect to His commands.

    How does God desire the things mentioned here “with respect to His commands”? There is no command to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness.

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  78. Jeff: “The OPC report brings out the analogy: Jesus commands us to love our enemies (lesser) because God also loves His enemies (greater). And this alone should be sufficient to show that God loves the reprobate in some sense.”

    There is an analogy between God’s sustaining the life of ungodly men (rain and sunshine) and our loving our enemies, but the point of similarity is not “we should love our enemies, just as God loves his enemies”, but rather that “our duty to love our neighbor continues in the face of hostility and persecution, just as God’s faithfulness as a Creator continues in the face of evil and unrighteousness.”

    There was a time God destroyed all his enemies – the flood. Afterwards, God promised that he will not do this again but will preserve the life of mankind as long as the earth remains.

    God keeps this promise, despite all the evil that men have accumulated afterwards. So we too should do our duty of loving our neighbor, even if they are our enemies.

    But God’s bearing with the ungodly is not necessarily an indication of mercy – it is mercy to the ungodly elect, but not mercy to the non-elect.

    If God is kind to a person, this will cause them to repent. What does this imply about those who die lost? God was never kind to them. Their temporary life or even prosperity was not God’s kindness to them but God’s wrath to them. (Read Psalm 73)

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  79. Tianqi: How does God desire the things mentioned here “with respect to His commands”? There is no command to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness.

    Fair point. The phrase “to desire with respect to His commands” indicates that if He commands something, there is a desire that it be done. In this case, the command to “repent and believe the gospel” indicates a desire that it be done; that desire would then apply equally and in the same hypothetical sense to the necessary conditions prior to the action, including election, atonement, calling.

    That desire in question, whatever it may be, is essentially the desire that the conditions be met so that the command is obeyed.

    The alternative is that God gives the command without any desire that the command be obeyed, or even attempted.

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  80. I think you might be flattening the eschaton with your appeal to Psalm 73. When Christ returns, the wheat and chaff are separated and the wicked get theirs.

    Until then, God makes the sun shine on everyone.

    You say that’s God’s faithfulness as Creator, and you’re not wrong. But anything short of Hell is merciful, for now.

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  81. Tianqi: “How does God desire the things mentioned here “with respect to His commands”? There is no command to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness.”

    Jeff: “The phrase “to desire with respect to His commands” indicates that if He commands something, there is a desire that it be done. In this case, the command to “repent and believe the gospel” indicates a desire that it be done; that desire would then apply equally and in the same hypothetical sense to the necessary conditions prior to the action, including election, atonement, calling.”

    It seems you are not getting my question.

    I’m talking about a *specific argument* the OPC majority report used to argue that God desires repentance and faith of the reprobates.

    *Please* read the following passage carefully and consider its reasoning. I’m quoting this passage *the 3rd time* now.

    OPC majority report: “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end.

    It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.”

    If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.””

    Here’s my analysis of the argument in the passage above:

    (P1) God desires salvation of the reprobate *in some sense*.

    (P2) God cannot desire the end apart from desiring *all* of the necessary means to that end.

    (P3) Repentance and faith are *necessary means* to salvation.

    Conclusion from (P2), (P3): God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate apart from desiring their repentance and faith.

    Conclusion from (P1), (P2), (P3): God desires repentance and faith of the reprobate *in some sense* – the same sense in which God desires their salvation.

    This type of argument is fundamentally self-destructive to the position of “Free Offer”. What if we consider the following premise in place of (P3)?

    (P4) Election, atonement, effectual calling, imputation are *necessary means* of salvation.

    Conclusion from (P2), (P4): God cannot desire salvation of the reprobate apart from desiring their election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation.

    Conclusion from (P1), (P2), (P4): God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation of the reprobate *in some sense* – the same sense in which God desires their salvation.

    The *BIG problem* is there is *NO sense* in which God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation-of-righteousness of the reprobate, even if you were to make a distinction between “will of decree” vs “will of command”.

    Why? Because there are *NO commands* to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness, so it makes *NO sense* to say God desires these things “with respect to His commands”.

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  82. And yet Jesus cries, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” Perhaps one way to square this puzzle is to understand that there are different kinds of causes (means). The efficient means of salvation is faith and repentance. The formal means is election, etc… God desires the efficient means, but perhaps not the formal means.

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  83. That still does not explain Jesus saying “how often I have wanted.”. I’d like to know what the Greek words are in that sentence.

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  84. @jy
    I don’t follow. Where is the nonsequitor?

    To think about different kinds of causes, maybe it is helpful to think about the question, “why did the car stop”. I’m just thinking as I write, so no guarantee that this is the best example. In answering the question, one might say “because the light turned red”. Fair enough. Someone else might say, because we are conditioned to stop at red lights. Also true. Another might answer, because the driver hit the brakes. True as well. Now of course the car won’t stop unless you hit the brakes. But you can imagine someone wanting to stop to check directions and desiring a red light and not desiring to hit the brakes. Both are causes of cars stopping. One can desire one without desiring the other.

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  85. ποσάκις ἠθέλησα ἐπισυναγαγεῖν τὰ τέκνα σου

    Literally – How often/I have intended (desired, purposed, wanted)/to gather up (together)/the offspring/of you (your children)

    Pretty much the same thing as the translation you’re using. And knowing the Greek doesn’t actually help with the dilemma. Context is king in this one, as it most often is. The wording is such that it seems reflective of God’s “desires” as he often spoke through the OT prophets.

    The word you seem most interested in is the second word in the Greek – Morphology: VIAA–1S Strong’s: 2309 Transliterated: ēthelēsa Root: θέλω. 1) to will, have in mind, intend 1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose 1b) to desire, to wish 1c) to love 1c1) to like to do a thing, be fond of doing 1d) to take delight in, have pleasure Synonym : See Definition 5915

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  86. Tianqi: We’re getting close.

    This is like debugging faulty code. One or the other of us, perhaps both, are importing a hidden assumption that is causing mischief.

    You say

    Conclusion from (P1), (P2), (P4): God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation of the reprobate *in some sense* – the same sense in which God desires their salvation.

    Yes.

    The *BIG problem* is there is *NO sense* in which God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation-of-righteousness of the reprobate, even if you were to make a distinction between “will of decree” vs “will of command”.

    How do you know this? Ah, next line.

    Why? Because there are *NO commands* to get elected, get sins atoned for, get effectually called, get imputed with righteousness, so it makes *NO sense* to say God desires these things “with respect to His commands”.

    That does not follow. I think we’ve identified the hidden assumption: You seem to assume that unless there is an explicit command for *each* condition, there is no desire for said condition. What you overlook is that a command may entail conditions, such that a desire for obedience to the command logically entails desire for those conditions to be met. An explicit command for each condition is not necessary.

    Going back to our well-worn example: There is a command for believers to abstain from sexual immorality. That entails a desire on God’s part that believers do so; in fact, this desire is explicit in the language of 1 Thess.

    A necessary condition for obedience to that command is the work of the Spirit. Hence, IF God desires obedience to the command, THEN He also desires to work by His Spirit *in the same sense* For if He does not desire fulfillment of the necessary conditions, then He does not desire the outcome either.

    So in saying that God desires repentance and faith, one is entailing God’s desire for all of the necessary conditions for repentance and faith to also be fulfilled.

    That desire is subordinate to His decrees, which explains why the desire goes unfulfilled.

    Command implies desire for obedience, which implies desire for conditions to be fulfilled that are necessary for obedience. That is what is meant by “desire with respect to the commands.”

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  87. Sbd,

    This is a simple answer:

    “Your children” and “you” refer to different groups of people. Jesus desires to gather “your children,” (His people), but “you” (the Scribes and the Pharisees) were unwilling.

    Thanks to Mitch for pointing that out to me.

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  88. On second thought, why would Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, allow the Scribes and Pharisees to “not let me?” Unless not let me is a poor translation.

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  89. @johnyeazel,
    I agree with your second thought. I don’t understand how Mitch’s reading of the text helps. Why would the scribes and pharisees frustrate Christ’s attempt to gather the elect? I think you run into the same puzzle when we read 2 Peter 3:9 (not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance) and 1 Tim 2 (First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Indeed, In Acts 17:30, we see that God commands all people everywhere to repent.

    So how does this make sense if God has purposed some for salvation and some for damnation (i.e., election) which is also clearly taught in scripture? I think the source provided by SteveD is really helpful:

    [While God has only one will there]… have arisen various distinctions of the will of God. The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19 ). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37 ).

    There is certainly mystery here, but I don’t see a contradiction. How is God Sovereign over all creation yet members of his creation have the ability to make free choices so that He isn’t the author of evil? I have no idea, but I am confident that scripture teaches both.

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  90. @johnyeazel
    Just to clarify, I am confident that scripture teaches both (God is Sovereign and man is culpable for his decisions) and that both are true.

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  91. @ John:

    You are correct: Jesus expressed a desire to gather up their children, but the leaders of Jerusalem were unwilling. That true observation doesn’t solve the problem. Jesus has a desire that goes unfulfilled because of God’s decrees, which included the hardness of hearts of the leaders.

    We might ascribe that desire to Jesus’ human will / nature. Then the desire to gather the children is like the desire in the garden for the cup of suffering to pass Him by.

    But it would be weird, wouldn’t it, if Jesus in His human nature had love and compassion for the children of Jerusalem, but only hatred for them in His divine nature? It’s one thing to posit two wills in Christ; it’s another to ascribe polar opposite motives to those two wills.

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  92. Jeff,

    Tianqi: “Conclusion from (P1), (P2), (P4): God desires the election, atonement, effectual calling, and imputation of the reprobate *in some sense* – the same sense in which God desires their salvation.”

    Jeff: “Yes.”

    Jeff: “[…] So in saying that God desires repentance and faith, one is entailing God’s desire for all of the necessary conditions for repentance and faith to also be fulfilled. That desire is subordinate to His decrees, which explains why the desire goes unfulfilled.”

    So you say: God *in some sense* desires to ELECT those whom He decided NOT TO ELECT in His decree – in the same sense He desires their salvation.

    Am I reading you correctly?

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  93. sdb: “And yet Jesus cries, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” ”

    It has been correctly pointed out that “your children” and “you” are two different references.

    But the more important question is this: does the desire of Jesus expressed here go unfulfilled?

    No. Jesus is rebuking “you” for their opposition to his will. This does not imply that their opposition succeeded.

    Rather, God is actually using their opposition to accomplish redemption – just when they seemed to have succeeded by killing Jesus, redemption was accomplished.

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  94. “This does not imply that their opposition succeeded.”
    Your reading does not make syntactical sense. When someone says, “How often would I have X, and you were not willing!” do you conclude that what they really mean your opposition did not keep X from happening? Imagine an instructor saying, “How often would I have curved your exams, and you were not willing”. Would you conclude that the instructor was using the opposition of “you” to accomplish the curving of the exams?

    I stand by my previous response to Johnyeazel – the way to understand Jesus’s lament in light of what the scripture teaches about election is understand the distinction between the kinds of will of God.

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  95. Tianqi: So you say: God *in some sense* desires to ELECT those whom He decided NOT TO ELECT in His decree – in the same sense He desires their salvation.

    Am I reading you correctly?

    Yes, I think that’s fair. Obviously, this opens us up to a charge of abandoning God’s simplicity. I would argue that it is likely the case that His desires have a hierarchy, and are resolved in the larger plan of His will.

    We see this happening in the testing of Abraham: God desired and decreed for Abraham to earnestly try to sacrifice Isaac. He also desired and decreed that Abraham’s attempt would fail. And the two desires were resolved in the larger desire for Isaac to serve as a type.

    However, the Scripture doesn’t give us enough to say exactly what is going on with God’s psychology. So I think it safest to leave it at:

    * We know that God elects some and passes over others (Rom 9)
    * We know that God desires all to repent, since He commands that all repent (Acts 17.30).
    * We know that God’s comprehensive will is consistent rather than self-contradictory.
    * And we know that we do not fully understand His will at all points.

    It seems to me that you have two alternatives — either adopt the understanding above, or else argue that if God commands X, He may not actually want X in any sense. That places verses such as “If you love me, obey my commands” in a parlous position.

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  96. sdb: “Your reading does not make syntactical sense. When someone says, “How often would I have X, and you were not willing!” do you conclude that what they really mean your opposition did not keep X from happening? Imagine an instructor saying, “How often would I have curved your exams, and you were not willing”. Would you conclude that the instructor was using the opposition of “you” to accomplish the curving of the exams? I stand by my previous response to Johnyeazel – the way to understand Jesus’s lament in light of what the scripture teaches about election is understand the distinction between the kinds of will of God.”

    Jeff brought up God’s testing of Abraham, and I think this is a good example to show the problem of your method of interpretation.

    Genesis 22:12 And He said, Do not lay your hand on the boy, nor do anything to him. For now I know that you are a God-fearer, and you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me.

    If we apply your method of interpretation, we should say something like:

    “When someone says to you, ‘now I know that you are faithful to me’, after you obeyed their command, do you conclude that what they really mean is that they were never uncertain about your faithfulness? The way to understand God’s word to Abraham in light of what the scripture teaches about God’s omniscience is understand the distinction between the kinds of knowledge of God – he is omniscient according to his decree, but has limited knowledge according to his personal relationship with men.”

    Do you see the problem? We must understand what God says in a way fitting His deity, not by what appears the most “natural reading” in our experience with other people.

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  97. Jeff: “So I think it safest to leave it at:
    * We know that God elects some and passes over others (Rom 9)
    * We know that God desires all to repent, since He commands that all repent (Acts 17.30).
    * We know that God’s comprehensive will is consistent rather than self-contradictory.
    * And we know that we do not fully understand His will at all points.

    It seems to me that you have two alternatives — either adopt the understanding above, or else argue that if God commands X, He may not actually want X in any sense. That places verses such as “If you love me, obey my commands” in a parlous position.”

    If God commands X, this means *what God considers X to be the right thing to do for a human being*, but it does not imply God desires that a particular hearer should do that right thing.

    Why does God consider X to be the right thing to do for a human being? Because X is part and parcel of giving glory to God.

    When God commands all to repent and believe the gospel, this means God considers repentance and believing the gospel the right thing to do for all, because repentance and believing the gospel is part and parcel of giving glory to God.

    This is all there is to the command to repent. It does not imply God desires the non-elect hearer to repent.

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  98. “Do you see the problem? We must understand what God says in a way fitting His deity, not by what appears the most “natural reading” in our experience with other people.’

    Your example of Abraham is not parallel to Jesus’s lament over Jerusalem. For starters, Jesus was really, truly human. He really wept, he was really hungry, etc… By taking on humanity he acquired attributes that do not apply to the diety – God neither slumbers nor sleeps, Jesus slept through the storm. He didn’t *seem* like he was sleeping – he really was. When Jesus spoke, you seem to think his language was anthropomorphic in the same way God’s was in the OT. I disagree.

    TW: This is all there is to the command to repent. It does not imply God desires the non-elect hearer to repent.
    Peter: The Lord…is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
    Paul: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

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  99. Tianqi: If God commands X, this means *what God considers X to be the right thing to do for a human being*, but it does not imply God desires that a particular hearer should do that right thing.

    Why does God consider X to be the right thing to do for a human being? Because X is part and parcel of giving glory to God.

    I think we’ve reached a point of clarity about our differences. I would argue that God desires that which brings Him glory, and his desires are ordered according to what brings Him the greatest glory. So if X gives glory to God, then of course X is desired by God.

    You would argue, seemingly, that God might not desire that which brings Him glory (presumably if something else brings Him greater glory). It would seem on your account that God might *not* want people to do the right thing, in any sense of the word “want.”

    I find that weird, but I also don’t have an argument that will be persuasive. So I will leave it there. Have a merry Christmas!

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  100. Verse 37

    37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered YOUR CHILDREN (the remnant or elect) together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and YOU (the Pharisees and Scribes) were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

    DB: “How often I would have gathered the remnant from among you by sending My prophets to them with the good news, but you killed those prophets and brought suffering upon My remnant.”

    Luke 19
    41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you AND YOUR CHILDREN within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

    DB: “Had the nation followed the advice of God’s remnant and obeyed the Lord, then everyone within, the nation and remnant alike, would have remained at peace with its neighbors. Why did Assyria, the rod of His anger, punish Jerusalem? And the remnant, being part of the nation, suffered right along with the nation in this punishment.”

    DB: “The elect in Jerusalem like Peter, James and John were the children. They were physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    Jesus says gather like a hen. A hen gathers her chicks to her to protect them. She covers them with her wings.

    Remember the Dispersia Peter talks about in his epistles? This is a reference to the dispersia all the Jews suffered in AD 70.

    How often I would have gathered Peter, James and John (and all the elect) to Myself in Jerusalem. Kept them safe there like a mother hen. But you Pharisees and scribes would not. And so look now, they’re dispersed everywhere, having suffered the destruction of their home.”

    That the desire is not simply meant as an anthropomorphic mode of emphasizing the revealed will becomes evident when the assertion is made that it is an instance of a deep paradox or antinomy not resolvable by logic. In the fact that God has decreed to save only some, but has commanded the gospel to be proclaimed indiscriminately to all, there is no contradiction, but SIMPLY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOD’S DECREE AND GOD’S PRECEPTIVE WILL. To search behind the revealed will in the gospel offer for a divine inclination to save those who have been foreordained to everlasting wrath, can only appear to be ascribing a real contradiction in the will of God.

    It has been claimed that the alleged desire is actually revealed in Scripture. Those who fail to find it there have been accused of having their minds made up and ignoring the analogy of Scripture. May it not be retorted that a person with universalistic prejudices comes to the Bible determined to prove that God wants all to be saved and either ignores the passages that teach divine sovereignty in salvation, or explains them away or seeks refuge in Irrationalism? Certainly the whole teaching of the Word is to be listened to, and listening means first the use of reason in understanding what God has said, while the limits of that understanding are recognized. The real question here is whether Scripture actually teaches the universalistic view in texts such as 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 33:11 and Matthew 23:37.

    That the Lord is not willing that any should perish, if understood of all men can only be taken of the will of command, and teaches nothing as to a desire or wish. The verb often, as the related noun, signifies, however, the determinate counsel of God. The context also, strongly supports a restriction of “any” and “all” to the elect. The long-suffering of God is to us-ward or to you-ward, i.e., those addressed as beloved in a judgment of charity. Longsuffering is not only toward the reprobate in Romans 9:22 (cf. 2:4), curiously cited to support a love toward salvation directed to such as have been indicated to have been hated (verse 15). That these verses may not legitimately be cited as providing a parallel to 2 Peter 3:9, is clear from the explicit reference to the elect as objects of the divine longsuffering in Luke 18:7. The broader context of 2 Peter 3 confirms the particularist view of the passage. Why does the second coming of Christ seem to be delayed? Because in the longsuffering of God the elect, who sometimes long resist the gospel, must all be made willing in the day of God’s power before they stand before the throne on the great day.

    In Ezekiel 33:11 as in 18:23,32, the rendering “have no pleasure” gives the proper sense, i.e. the Lord is pleased when the wicked repents, and is not pleased when he does not. The text does not assert that the Lord is pleased that the wicked should repent even when he does not. If the latter is given the sense that repentance as such is always approved by God, this truth could imply that God is pleased that the devil should repent. But surely no sober Christian would want to say that God desires the salvation of Satan. The general remark that the non-literal anthropomorphic ascription of desire is unobjectionable in itself applies also to these passages. But the widespread representation of this desire as an intention aiming at the salvation of all renders the expression undesirable, especially when the desire is viewed as an irrational urge. These passages powerfully present the sinner’s DUTY, while they do not treat of his ABILITY to obey or of the Lord’s secret counsels. Nor is there a valid reason for supposing a contradiction implied between the will of decree and what is pleasing to God.

    Matthew 23:37 is commonly misquoted as if it read, “how often would I have gathered you … and ye would not.” The text does not make a contrast between the Lord’s will and the wills of those whom he would gather, but between his compassion for Jerusalem’s children and the opposition of their leaders who have been denounced in the preceding passage. The sympathy of the Saviour is the expression of his humanity which he assumed in order that he might become a High Priest that could be touched with a feeling of our infirmities. To draw inferences as to what his divine nature might be in back of this distinctive feature of his sacred humanity is surely unwarrantable speculation into what has not been revealed.

    To combine these passages and to add texts like Matthew 5:45 which do not refer to the way of salvation, but common mercies like rain and sunshine, is hardly to present cumulative evidence for a thesis nowhere plainly taught in Scripture, and contrary to Scripture when intended to conflict with the immutability of God’s counsel. The accumulation of a series of zeros, however elaborated, is, after all, only zero.

    The desire to avoid extremes in declaring the truth is no doubt commendable, but yielding to the tempting claims of the opposite extreme even in minor matters has proved repeatedly in the history of the Church to be a step in the downward path to apostasy. The rampant evils of Arminianism among Evangelicals and Amyraldianism among Calvinists are only encouraged by adopting and even stressing the pet slogans with which they attack or obscure the doctrines of grace. Strangely, one favorite text of those who have throughout the history of Christianity insisted that God wants all men to be saved is not appealed to at present by Calvinists who use such expressions. Can it be that they realize that to take 1 Timothy 2:4 in a universalistic sense requires understanding verses 5 and 6 to teach a universal atonement, even if the will in 2:4 were taken as simply the will of command? Exegetically, as well as systematically, the thesis of Amyraldian universal grace issues in the assertion of universal redemption.

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  101. Revelation 21: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 The angel then carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down OUT OF HEAVEN

    2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
    3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:

    Look! God’s dwelling is with humans
    They will be His people,
    and God Himself will live with them
    and be their God.
    4 God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
    Death will no longer exist;
    grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
    because the previous things have passed away.

    To have an actual bride, of course, you have to be moderate on what the gospel is, and not insist on everybody being specific about the nature and extent of Christ’s death—-if you can reduce the gospel to two words, that leaves room for wiggling…..
    2 Corinthians 11: 2 For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure[ devotion to Christ. 4 For if a person comes and teaches another Jesus, you put up with it

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  102. sdb: “Your example of Abraham is not parallel to Jesus’s lament over Jerusalem. For starters, Jesus was really, truly human. He really wept, he was really hungry, etc… By taking on humanity he acquired attributes that do not apply to the diety – God neither slumbers nor sleeps, Jesus slept through the storm. He didn’t *seem* like he was sleeping – he really was. When Jesus spoke, you seem to think his language was anthropomorphic in the same way God’s was in the OT. I disagree.”

    In the context of Matthew 23:37, Jesus is speaking *for* – in fact, *as* – the God of Israel, who sent His servants to gather His children (elect).

    Thus, the “humanity of Christ” does not detract from my point that we need to understand the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:37 as fitting deity.

    Jesus’s lament in v. 37 comes at the end of a litany of woes beginning with this one:

    Matthew 23:13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of Heaven before men; for you do not enter, nor do you allow those entering to go in.

    Would anyone say the scribes and Pharisees actually succeeded in “not allowing those entering to go in”? God forbid.

    Jesus is accusing and condemning the apostate religious leaders. The sentiment expressed here is not some unrequited, frustrated love towards these false shepherds, but a righteous indignation on behalf of the sheep under their rod.

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  103. sdb: “Peter: The Lord…is not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord of the promise is not slow, as some deem slowness, but is long-suffering toward us, not having purposed any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

    The keyword here is “toward us”. The Lord is long-suffering toward “US”, not having purposed any of “US” to perish, but all of “US” to come to repentance.

    The immediate context of this verse is Peter addressing what “some deem slownesss” of the Lord in fulfilling His promise. Peter’s answer is that the Lord is not returning yet because not all of “US”, whom the Lord purposed to save, are saved yet. The Lord is in the business of saving those He purposed to save, and He will not abandon any of them in their lost state before He returns.

    Far from teaching an unfulfilled desire in God to save those he did not predestine to life, this text reinforces that if God desires to save someone, he WILL accomplish it.

    sdb: “Paul: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

    1) First, if your interpretative method forces you to understand this as teaching God desiring to save all people, then you would be forced to the conclusion of universal substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation, since there are also texts that use “universal” language like this in regard to the scope of substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation (e.g. 1 John 2:2, Romans 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:14, Colossians 1:20).

    “Universal” language does not always mean “absolutely everybody”. Moreover, there are texts that clearly teach God intentionally blinds some people from knowing the truth so that they will not be saved (e.g. John 12:40). This would be a direct contradiction if 1 Timothy 2:4 means God desires absolutely everybody to be saved and know the truth.

    2) In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul calls for prayers on behalf of “all men, for kings and all those in authority” and went on in verses 3-7 to explain the rationale behind this exhortation:

    “For this is good and acceptable before God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth. For God is one, also there is one Mediator of God and of men, the Man Christ Jesus, the One having given Himself a ransom on behalf of all, the testimony to be given in its own time, to which I was appointed a herald and apostle (I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie), a teacher of the nations, in faith and truth.”

    God’s desire for “all men” to be saved and know the truth, AND Christ’s giving himself a ransom on behalf of “all”, are taken as the rationale behind the exhortation to pray on behalf of “all men, for kings and all those in authority”.

    These three “all” must have the same meaning for this explanation to make sense. Since we have agreed that Christ did NOT die for absolutely everybody, the “all” does NOT refer to absolutely everybody. Rather, the phrase “for kings and all those in authority” in verse 2 suggests an explanation that fits both the immediate context of this passage and the larger context of Paul:

    “All” means “all kinds of men”. Christ died for all kinds of men, God desires all kinds of men to be saved and know the truth, therefore we should pray on behalf of all kinds of men, including kings and rulers. The “all” is an “all without distinction” rather than “all without exception”.

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  104. Jeff: “I would argue that God desires that which brings Him glory, and his desires are ordered according to what brings Him the greatest glory. So if X gives glory to God, then of course X is desired by God.

    You would argue, seemingly, that God might not desire that which brings Him glory (presumably if something else brings Him greater glory). It would seem on your account that God might *not* want people to do the right thing, in any sense of the word “want.””

    I make a distinction between “man giving glory to God” (human duty) and “God being glorified in men” (divine will/desire).

    It is not true that God would be, hypothetically speaking, glorified in the repentance of the non-elect. To the contrary, it would falsify God’s words and thwart God’s plan.

    Jesus said to some people, “you do not believe because you are my sheep”. If some of these people went on to believe in Jesus anyways, it would prove Jesus to be a liar.

    God has his trustworthiness at stake in the hardening of the non-elect. God promised to save everyone believing in the gospel, but God only sent his Son to die for the elect. Thus, if any non-elect were to believe in the gospel, then God would be forced to either save sinners apart from Christ’s death for them, or God would be forced to condemn sinners who trusted in his gospel.

    John 12:39-41 Because of this they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, “He has blinded their eyes” and “has hardened their heart,” “that they might not see with the eyes” and “understand with the heart,” “and be converted,” “and I should heal them.” Isaiah said these things when he saw His glory, and spoke about Him.

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  105. @TW I don’t find your reinterpretation of this language compelling. You are changing the meaning of words to fit your system. Turretin’s description of the two senses of what desire means and the different kinds of causation make much better sense of the scriptures. Your insistence on simple causation implies fatalism.

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  106. sdb (in reply to my interpretation of Matthew 23:37, 2 Peter 3:9, and 1 Timothy 2:1-4): “I don’t find your reinterpretation of this language compelling. You are changing the meaning of words to fit your system. Turretin’s description of the two senses of what desire means and the different kinds of causation make much better sense of the scriptures. Your insistence on simple causation implies fatalism.”

    1) “You are changing the meaning of words to fit your system.” – I interpret the words in context, both in the immediate context of the surrounding passage and in the larger context of the whole counsel of the scripture.

    As someone who holds to limited atonement, you cannot simply use the “all means all” argument, if you are to be consistent. I raised this point when I was addressing 1 Timothy 2:1-4, and you did not respond to it, so let me repeat them here:

    “If your interpretative method forces you to understand this [1 Timothy 2:4] as teaching God desiring to save all people, then you would be forced to the conclusion of universal substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation, since there are also texts that use “universal” language like this in regard to the scope of substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation (e.g. 1 John 2:2, Romans 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:14, Colossians 1:20).”

    “[In 1 Timothy 2:3-7] God’s desire for “all men” to be saved and know the truth, AND Christ’s giving himself a ransom on behalf of “all”, are taken as the rationale behind the exhortation to pray on behalf of “all men, for kings and all those in authority”. These three “all” must have the same meaning for this explanation to make sense. Since we have agreed that Christ did NOT die for absolutely everybody, the “all” does NOT refer to absolutely everybody. ”

    2) “Turretin’s description of the two senses of what desire means and the different kinds of causation make much better sense of the scriptures.”

    Here’s the Turretin passage you quoted earlier:

    “[While God has only one will there]… have arisen various distinctions of the will of God. The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19 ). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37 ).”

    Source: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/two_wills.html

    In the passage above, Turretin misquoted Matthew 23:37 as “How often would I have gathered *YOU* together, and ye would not.”

    Interestingly, I found some other quotations by Turretin, in which he did not make this mistake, and taught against a certain type of “twofold will” in God.

    “This twofold will cannot be proved from Matthew 23:37: (1) because it is not said that God willed to scatter those whom he willed to gather together, but only that Christ willed to gather together those whom Jerusalem (i.e., the chiefs of the people) nilled to be gathered together, but notwithstanding their opposition Christ did not fail in gathering together those whom he willed. Hence Augustine says, ‘She indeed was unwilling that her sons should be gathered together by him, but notwithstanding her unwillingness he gathered together his sons whom he willed’ (Enchiridion 24 [97] [FC 2:450; PL 40.277]). Therefore, Jerusalem is here to be distinguished from her sons as the words themselves prove (and the design of the chapter, in which from v. 13 to v. 37, he addresses the scribes and Pharisees and rebukes them because ‘they neither went into the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffered those that were entering, to go in’); (2) the will here alluded to is not the decretive, which is one only and simple, but the preceptive, which is referred to calling and is often repeated by the preaching of the word—’How often would I?’; (and so Christ here speaks as the minister of circumcision)” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1 [Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R, 1992], p. 228).

    “Although Christ professes that ‘he had wished to gather together the children of Jerusalem, and they would not’ (Matt. 23:37), it does not follow that grace is resistible. (1) Jerusalem is here openly distinguished from her children and by it are denoted the elders, scribes, priests and other leaders of the city (who are gifted with the better name of city [as Matt. 2:1, 3] and who wished to be considered the fathers of the people). Nor does Christ say that those whom he wished to gather together were unwilling to be gathered together. But only that Jerusalem was unwilling that her children should be gathered and ‘thou wouldst not’ (to wit, ye leaders). And thus Christ does not so much complain of those who being called had not come, as of those who resisted the calling of others as much as they could (the key of knowledge being taken away); not entering as to themselves and prohibiting others who entered (i.e., who desired to enter) as much as in them lay, as we read in Luke 11:52. But still Christ did not cease, notwithstanding the resistance of the leaders of the city, to gather whom he wished, as Augustine has it” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2 [Phillipsburg, NJ; P&R, 1994], p. 556).

    Source: https://cprc.co.uk/quotes/matthew23v37/

    Turretin’s comments on Matthew 23:37 here are almost the same as what I said about Matthew 23:37, except for one difference:

    “(2) the will here alluded to is not the decretive, which is one only and simple, but the preceptive, which is referred to calling and is often repeated by the preaching of the word—’How often would I?’; (and so Christ here speaks as the minister of circumcision)”

    However, in this instance, Turretin did NOT use this “precept vs decree” distinction to teach that Christ’s desire “to gather your children” was thwarted by the opposition of “you”. Rather, he said:

    “Christ does not so much complain of those who being called had not come, as of those who resisted the calling of others as much as they could (the key of knowledge being taken away)… But still Christ did not cease, notwithstanding the resistance of the leaders of the city, to gather whom he wished”.

    In the same webpage above containing the two quotations of Turretin, there is also a quotation of Robert Dabney, commenting on Turretin’s argument against “Hypothetical Universalists”:

    “The attempt of the ‘Hypothetic Universalists’ was to reconcile all the scriptures by ascribing to God two acts of will concerning human salvation–one general and conditional volition to send Christ to provide expiation for all men, and to receive them all to heaven, provided they would believe on him; the other, a special and unconditioned volition to call the elect effectually, and thus insure that they should believe and be saved. Then they supposed that all the texts in question could be explained as expressions of the general and conditioned volition. But Turretin’s refutation (for instance, Loc. IV., Qu. 17) is fatal. He urges that the only merciful volition of God in Scripture is that towards the elect; and ‘the rest he hardeneth’ [cf. Rom. 9:18; 11:7]; that it is inevitably delusive to represent an omniscient and omnipotent Agent as having any kind of volition towards a result, when, foreseeing that the sinner will certainly not present the essential condition thereof–faith–he himself distinctly purposes not to bestow it; that the hearing of the gospel (Rom. x. 14) is as means equally essential, and God providentially leaves all the heathen without this; and that it is derogatory to God’s power and sovereignty to represent any volition of his, that is a volition, as failing in a multitude of cases. It is significant that the Reformed divines of Turretin’s school seem usually to conduct this debate on the assumption, sometimes tacit, sometimes expressed, that as God had no volition towards the salvation of the non-elect, so he could not have any propension or affection at all towards it … [Turretin] urges the inconsistency of ‘an ineffectual and imperfect will’ (in the Almighty) ‘which doth not bring to pass the thing willed’” (Robert Lewis Dabney, Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney (Edinburgh: Banner, 1982), vol. 1, pp. 283-284).

    It seems Turretin is *against* the notion of an ineffectual, unfulfilled desire in God – quite at odds with the doctrine of “Free Offer” of OPC majority report.

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  107. @TW
    Here are a few responses to your posts.

    Would anyone say the scribes and Pharisees actually succeeded in “not allowing those entering to go in”? God forbid.

    Jesus is accusing and condemning the apostate religious leaders. The sentiment expressed here is not some unrequited, frustrated love towards these false shepherds, but a righteous indignation on behalf of the sheep under their rod.

    While I agree that this comes at the end of a list of woes directed at the religious leaders of the people, the Jerusalem, O Jerusalem is a lament. God desired for his people to repent, but he did not bring it to pass and he used the religious leaders to bring about what he had predetermined.

    First, if your interpretative method forces you to understand this as teaching God desiring to save all people, then you would be forced to the conclusion of universal substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation, since there are also texts that use “universal” language like this in regard to the scope of substitution/propitiation/justification/reconciliation (e.g. 1 John 2:2, Romans 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:14, Colossians 1:20).

    Not all general language is universal, but when the scriptures tell us that because God love the Cosmos, he sent his only son that whosoever believes in him… or that he is the propitiation for the “entire cosmos”, you get into trouble if you want to say the entire universe really means just the elect. In the case of 1 John 2:2, it makes much more sense to me to retain the universal language used by John and align it with John’s other clear language that only the elect are saved (e.g., John 6) by understanding this passage telling us that the atonement is sufficient for the entire cosmos. I’m not expert in Greek, so I will happily stand corrected if I am mistaken, but I gather that the *is* in 1 John 2:2 means “to be/exist/is possible/is proper”. The option of understanding *is* as *is possible* implies potentiality – Jesus’s atoning sacrifice is not just sufficient for the elect, it is sufficient for the entire cosmos.

    In Romans 5:18, 2 Cor 5:14, and Col 1:20 the *all* is “pas” which can mean “in all respects” which does sound like “all kinds”. I don’t see that these verses create any interpretative challenges in light of what scripture teaches about election.

    So what about 1 Tim 2:1-4? Well, the “all” here is also “pas”, so it could mean all kinds, but does that make sense. You wrote, “In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul calls for prayers on behalf of “all men, for kings and all those in authority” and went on in verses 3-7 to explain the rationale behind this exhortation:” You are slightly mistaken here. Paul gives his rationale explicitly in verse 2: pray for everyone including kings “in order that (so as that) we might live out our lives in tranquility and calmness with complete reverence and godly dignity.” So given the context in which Paul lived, the people they would be praying for in order to live a peaceful and quiet life would include the non-elect. Now we can move onto vs 3ff. What do we see? praying for non-elect leaders so that we may live in peace and quiet is pleasing to God because he wants all the elect to be saved? How does that make sense? It doesn’t. It is pleasing to him, because he wants all people to be saved. So far so good, but what do we do with verse 6? This is trickier. On the one hand, it is tempting to conclude that now Paul has switched to using “pas” to mean all kinds. But it is part of a chain with the previous three uses of “pas” that only makes sense to include the non-elect. Furthermore, in vs 8ff Paul switches from “hyper pas anthropos” (for/of all men) to wanting the men (ho aner) to pray. Here he has switched from universal language to particular language, so clearly we lose something if we assume that the universal *all* really just means the particular elect as in the case in verse 8 forward. That strikes me as a very odd construction. Curiously, this is the only place in the NT that this word translated ransom is used in the NT. Could it be that what Paul is describing here is value of the mediator – namely the value of the sacrifice is sufficient for all people. So the point of this phrase in verse 6 is not to describe the scope of the atonement, but instead the worth of the atoner.

    “Turretin…taught against a certain type of “twofold will” in God….It seems Turretin is *against* the notion of an ineffectual, unfulfilled desire in God – quite at odds with the doctrine of “Free Offer” of OPC majority report.”

    As you noted, Turrentin retained a notion of two *kinds* of will in God – decree and precept. But so what. The question is whether this distinction helps us make sense of what scripture teaches. In my decidedly non-expert understanding, I would say:
    1. God chooses to save some and not others
    2. God desires that everyone would repent of their sins and trust Christ and for that matter not sin in the first place.
    3. No one will do so on their own accord, so only those God has chosen to give a new heart will receive the benefit of Christ’s death by responding in faith and repentance at the hearing of the gospel.
    4. This isn’t because Christ’s death was only good enough to save some. Christ’s death would be sufficient to save any number of people, but it is only effective for those whom the blood has been applied.
    5. God uses means to accomplish his ends: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” So in a real sense, someone was saved because they heard the gospel and responded in faith and repentance and others are not saved because they either never heard the gospel or they heard it and did not respond in faith and repentance. These are the means by which God brings about his election established before the cosmos was created. This is where the different kinds of causation are helpful to understand how it is simultaneously true that we are saved because we were chosen and because we responded in faith at the hearing of the gospel.

    I understand that you disagree. Fair enough, but nothing you’ve written here has given me reason to change my stance on these points. I do see that your fixation on the doctrine of the limited atonement has caused you to flatten your reading of the scriptures and frankly miss important truths embedded in the texts.

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  108. sdb: “Not all general language is universal, but when the scriptures tell us that because God love the Cosmos, he sent his only son that whosoever believes in him… or that he is the propitiation for the “entire cosmos”, you get into trouble if you want to say the entire universe really means just the elect.”

    What “trouble” do I get into, if I say “God loved the cosmos” in effect means “God loved the elect only”?

    David Engelsma: “The world of John 3:16 (Greek: kosmos, from which comes our English word, cosmos, referring to our “orderly, harmonious, systematic universe”) is the creation made by God in the beginning, now disordered by sin, with the elect from all nations, now by nature children of wrath even as the others, as the core of it. As regards its people, the world of John 3:16 is the new humanity in Jesus Christ, the last Adam (I Corinthians 15:45). John calls this new human race “the world” in order to show, and emphasize, that it is not from the Jewish people alone, but from all nations and peoples (Revelation 7:9). The people who make up the world of John 3:16 are all those, and those only, who will become believers (whosoever believeth”); and it is the elect who believe (Acts 13:48).”

    I basically agree with Engelsma’s interpretation. “Cosmos” is a holistic term and when it is said God loves the “cosmos”, it is not about God’s love for every individual in the “cosmos”, but about God’s love for the “cosmos” as a whole. This is similar to the OT passages about God’s love for Israel – it does not mean God loves every individual Israelite, but God loves Israel as a nation. In John 3:16, the scope of God’s love is revealed to exceed Israel, but to the whole world, i.e. the entire human race. Yet, this still does not mean God loves every individual human being, no more than the OT passages mean God loves every individual Israelite.

    Consider this analogy: The human race is like a plant that has been infected by a deadly disease, and God the gardener is rescuing this plant from this disease. This does not mean He has to rescue every individual plant cell, but He only needs to rescue a “core” of the plant – some from every part of the plant. In fact, part of His “surgical operations” involves the cutting off some of the plant cells.

    The point of this analogy (which bears some similarity to John 15) is to show that “God has (some degree of) love for every human being” is not a necessary reading of John 3:16, but one could read it naturally and consistently with “God only loves the elect”.

    Engelsma went on to provide some quotations of other Reformed theologians.

    Frances Turretin: “The love treated of in John 3:16. .. cannot be universal towards all and every one, but special towards a few… because the end of that love which God intends is the salvation of those whom He pursues with such love.. . If therefore God sent Christ for that end, that through Him the world might be saved, He must either have failed of His end, or the world must necessarily be saved in fact. But it is certain that not the whole world, but only those chosen out of the world are saved; therefore, to them properly has this love reference… Why then should not the world here be taken not universally for individuals, but indefinitely for anyone, Jews as well as Gentiles, without distinction of nation, language and condition. that He may be said to have loved the human race, inasmuch as He was unwilling to destroy it entirely but decreed to save some certain persons Out of it, not only from one people as before, but from all indiscriminately, although the effects of that love should not be extended to each individual, but only to some certain ones, viz, those chosen out of the world?” (Theological Institutes)

    Abraham Kuyper: “For if there is anything that is certain from a somewhat more attentive reading of Holy Scripture, and that may be held as firmly established, it is, really, the irrefutable fact, that the word, world, in Holy Scripture, means “all men” only as a very rare exception and almost always means something entirely different.”

    Engelsma quotes Kuyper: “In explanation, specifically, of the “world” of John 3:16, Kuyper went on to say that the reference is to the “proper kernal” of the creation, the elect people of God, “which Jesus snatches away from Satan.” out of this kernal, out this congregation, out of this people, a “new world,” a “new earth and new heaven,” shall one day appear, by a wonder-work of God. The earth does not merely serve to allow the elect to be saved, in order then to disappear. No, the elect are men; these men form a whole, a collection, an organism; that organism is grounded in creation; and because now this creation is the reflection of God’s wisdom and the work of His hands, God’s administration of it may not come to nothing, but in the Great Day God’s will with this creation shall be perfectly realized. (Dat De Genade Particulier Is (That Grace is Particular). My translation of the Dutch.)

    Arthur W. Pink: “Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted that this verse will not bear the construction usually put upon it. “God so loved the world.” Many suppose that this means, The entire human race. But “the entire human race” includes all mankind from Adam till the close of earth’s history: it reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, then, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Savior came to the earth, lived here “having no hope and without God in the world,” and therefore passed out into eternity of woe. If God “loved” them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares “Who (God) in times past (from the tower of Babel till after Pentecost) suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). Scripture declares that “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Rom. 1:28). To Israel God said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). In view of these plain passages who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind! The same applies with equal force to the future . . . But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world. “True, but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way.. . Now the first thing to note in connection with John 3:16 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus, a man who believed that God’s mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God’s love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to “regions beyond.” In other words, this was Christ’s announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles as well as Jews. “God so loved the world,” then, signifies, God’s love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen the term “world” is general rather than specific, relative rather than absolute. . . the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis refer to the world of God’s people. Must we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned limits it to His own people — search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His time was come, that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since them.” (The Sovereignty of God)

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  109. “What “trouble” do I get into, if I say “God loved the cosmos” in effect means “God loved the elect only”?”

    You enter Humpty Dumpty land:

    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. ‘ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things. … ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

    If “cosmos” means just the elect, then you have radically redefined the meaning of the word. In an effort to rescue the doctrine of election, these writers are misreading scripture. Did God cease loving the Son when he poured out his wrath upon him? Of course not. Similarly, there is no contradiction between God loving the reprobate, desiring that they should come to repentance, and electing not to give them the new nature necessary for responding in faith and repentance to the gospel. God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. He provides the blessing of love, family, and prosperity to evil doers even though they are his enemies. We are called to love our enemies, and God does not require of us anything less than he himself does. Your analogy of the plant doesn’t work – you can love the entire plant including the parts that need to be pruned and thrown into the fire. This necessity does not imply that one doesn’t love the plant. Or to take a different analogy – my son could commit a heinous crime, say mass murder. I would still love him even as I believed that the correct consequence would be the death penalty.

    What’s curious is that among all the biblical texts that describe God’s love, nowhere does it say that God loves the elect only. Inclusive language is used throughout scripture. If God intended us to believe that He only loved the elect and hated the non-elect, He would say so (or else you have to toss the perspicuity of scripture). In Romans 9, when Paul quotes Mal – and notes that he loved Jacob and “hated” Esau, the word there can be translated a variety of ways including to “regard with less affection, love less, esteem less”. This is the same word used in Luke 14 where we are told that we must “hate” our parents to be his disciple. That God loves everyone does not entail that he loves all equally. Clearly, he loved Israel more than Egypt and loves the elect more than the non-elect. But that fact does not entail that God thus “hates” the non-elect.

    Furthermore, taking such a belief as a necessary consequence of being among the elect is a form of gnosticism. The words of scripture don’t mean what they ordinarily mean – rather there is a secret meaning only discernible by the initiated (in this case McMark and his disciples).

    I don’t doubt that some conclude (including many from my own theological tradition) that God loves only the elect. I find that view mistaken, but not a test of orthodoxy.

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  110. Tianqi,

    It is odd that you rely on Dabney’s read of Turretin when you have access to the source itself. In the very first sentence of Turretin’s “Are there Two Wills in God?”, we find

    May the will be properly distinguished into the will of decree and of precept, good purpose (eudokias) and good pleasure (euarestias), signified, secret and revealed? We affirm.

    So when you go on to argue, using Dabney, that

    It seems Turretin is *against* the notion of an ineffectual, unfulfilled desire in God – quite at odds with the doctrine of “Free Offer” of OPC majority report.

    you are badly misreading both Turretin and the OPC report, which makes the same distinction as Turretin. The key point is that God takes good pleasure in the repentance of the evildoer, and that good pleasure goes unfulfilled in the case of unrepentant evildoers.

    Your system is making it hard to see that point, which is causing you to argue many dubious things, such as that God would be both glorified and not glorified by the hypothetical repentance of the non-elect.

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  111. sdb: “If “cosmos” means just the elect, then you have radically redefined the meaning of the word. ”

    Consider the following verse.

    John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him, yet the world did not know Him.

    Is this verse teaching *every human being without exception* did not know Christ? No. When this verse says the “cosmos” did not know Christ, the “cosmos” that did not know Christ refers only to the unregenerate part of the human race.

    This is a case of figure of speech called “synecdoche” – the whole stands for the part or vice versa.

    My claim is that in John 3:16, “cosmos” is also a synechedoche – the “cosmos” that God loved only refers to the elect part of the human race.

    At the least, you should acknowledge my reading as an interpretive possibility, and not simply pull out “world means world” and think this settles the question.

    The question remains whether it is in fact the author’s intended meaning. This is to be determined by the whole counsel of scriptures.

    In the case of John 1:10, we know it is not saying no human being knew Christ, because scriptures clearly taught some human beings know Christ.

    What about John 3:16? The key is that God’s love is described as “gave his only-begotten son”. How did God love the “cosmos”? By giving his only-begotten son for them.

    Now consider the following verse:

    Romans 8:32 Truly He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up on behalf of us all, how will He not freely give ALL things to us *with Him*?

    If God loved someone that he gave Christ for them, then God will give that person both Christ himself and all other things. In particular, God will give them the free gift of righteousness (i.e. “apply the blood”) as well as the gift of faith (through the Spirit’s work of regeneration).

    The case of 1 John 2:2 is the same. If Christ is the propitiation for the sins of someone, then Romans 8:32 assures us God will apply that blood to that person as well as give faith to that person.

    Thus, the “cosmos” in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 can only mean the elect part of the cosmos. It is an example of synecdoche.

    sdb: ” God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. He provides the blessing of love, family, and prosperity to evil doers even though they are his enemies. We are called to love our enemies, and God does not require of us anything less than he himself does. ”

    I suppose you made a typo and meant “God does not require of us anything *more* than he himself does” and meant to argue that if God commands us to love our enemies, this implies he loves his enemies.

    I disagree with this idea.

    God commands every human being to love him with *ALL one’s heart and might*.

    However, God does not love every human being with *ALL his heart and might* (else every human being would be saved in the end).

    Thus, just because we are called to love our enemies, this does not imply that God loves his enemies.

    God’s relation to man, man’s relation to God, man’s relation to man – these are not symmetric, because of the Creator-creature distinction/inequality.

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  112. Jeff,

    1) Do you think Dabney is misquoting Turretin?

    “[Turretin] urges the inconsistency of ‘an ineffectual and imperfect will’ (in the Almighty) ‘which doth not bring to pass the thing willed’””

    2) OPC majority report: “The question then is: what is IMPLICIT in, or LIES BACK of; the full and free offer of the gospel to all without distinction? The word “desire” has come to be used in the debate, not because it is necessarily the most accurate or felicitous word but because it serves to set forth quite sharply a certain implication of the full and free offer of the gospel to all. This implication is that in the free offer there is expressed NOT SIMPLY the bare preceptive will of God but the disposition of LOVINGKINDNESS on the part of God pointing to the salvation to be gained through compliance with the overtures of gospel grace. In other words, the gospel is not simply an offer or invitation but also implies that God delights that those to whom the offer comes would enjoy what is offered in all its fullness.”

    This is intentionally GOING BEYOND “will of command vs will of decree”.

    The OPC “free offer” theologians are NOT SIMPLY saying God is pleased with a hearer’s repentance in the sense of a “bare preceptive will”, but they are saying God has a disposition of *lovingkindness* in which he *desires* that every hearer *would enjoy* the salvation offered in the gospel through meeting its conditions.

    Turretin did not say this, but is quite careful to deny such “desire” on God’s part that the non-elect would receive salvation under some condition:

    “XII. Although to the will euarestia [good pleasure] belong also the promises of giving salvation to believers (which are proposed with the gospel precept), it does not follow that it ought to connote any condition, decree or volition (properly so called) concerning the giving of salvation to all. For such a decree cannot consist with the decree of reprobation, or with the wisdom of God, to which *it is repugnant to WILL anything under an IMPOSSIBLE condition (and which God, who alone can give it, has himself decreed to WITHHOLD from the creature)*. But from this we can only gather that there is an inseparable connection between faith and salvation, constituted by God himself so that no one can obtain salvation who does not possess faith, and no one can have faith without most certainly obtaining salvation. Thus the promises added to the precepts signify only what God will grant to believers and penitents, not what he wills to grant to all those to whom the precept is proposed.”

    “XXII. To that external word which is a sign (for example, every believer in Christ shall be saved) some internal word or thing signified ought to answer (viz., the will of God to connect inseparably faith in Christ with salvation and to propose to man such an order and way of salvation). But it CANNOT BE the conditional will to *save each and every individual under that condition* because God would testify that he wills what in reality he does not will towards those passed by (from whom he withholds the condition).”

    Here we perceive a difference between the thinking of Turretin and the thinking of OPC “free offer” theologians:

    For Turretin, it is inconceivable that God has some sort of will for the salvation of non-elect under an impossible condition (because God withholds from them).

    But for the OPC “free offer” theologians, it’s their entire thesis that God has a sort of desire for the salvation of the non-elect under the “conditions of gospel offer” (which God withhold from them).

    3) However, there is also a big problem with Turretin’s own view on the promise of salvation to believers:

    Turretin: “XX. The will of sign which is set forth as extrinsic ought to correspond with some internal will in God that it may not be false and deceptive; but that internal will is not the decree concerning the gift of salvation to this or that one, but the decree concerning the command of faith and promise of salvation if the man does believe (which is founded both upon the connection established by God between faith and salvation and the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation).”

    For a clearer view of what’s going on, let me unpack this passage:

    (i) “The will of sign which is set forth as extrinsic ought to correspond with some internal will in God that it may not be false and deceptive”

    (ii) “but that internal will is not the decree concerning the gift of salvation to this or that one”

    (iii) “but [that internal will is] the decree concerning the command of faith and promise of salvation if the man does believe”

    (iv) “[This decree is] founded both upon

    (a) the connection established by God between faith and salvation, and

    (b) the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation”

    Take a close look at (iv/b). THIS is a bald-faced statement of turning faith and repentance into *works of righteousness* (“God’s image…shining”) that *morally qualify the sinner for salvation* (“God…so much pleased with…as to grant it salvation”).

    This confirms a point I made earlier in this comment thread:

    “By refering the (alleged) “God’s desire for the salvation of all” to God’s *will of command* – and making this the basis of the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel – the “Free Offer” preaches a new law as the gospel. It preaches a promise of “do this and you shall live”, accompanied by a plea to “therefore choose life”. The “Free Offer” preaches a justification *conditioned* on the hearer’s *obedience to a command*.”

    Of course, Turretin did not teach the same sort of “Free Offer” as OPC majority report taught – he did not see a disposition of “lovingkindness” in which God desires that EVERY hearer would enjoy the salvation offered in the gospel through meeting its conditions. However, he had this in common with the OPC majority report: he still made the faith and repentance into “conditions” of salvation.

    OPC majority report: “Still further, it is necessary to point out that such “desire” on the part of God for the salvation of all must never be conceived of as desire to such an end apart from the means to that end. It is not desire of their salvation irrespective of repentance and faith. Such would be inconceivable. For it would mean, as Calvin says, “to renounce the difference between good and evil.” If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it amounts to the same thing to say “God desires their salvation” as to say “He desires their repentance.” This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other.”

    A summary so far:

    Turretin: faith is the “condition”, God withholds faith from non-elect, so there is not even a conditional will towards their salvation, since God does not will something under an impossible condition.

    OPC “free offer” theologian: faith is the “condition”, God desires the non-elect to enjoy salvation, so God desires the non-elect to enjoy salvation through faith, even though God does not decree this to happen.

    Now, *you*, Jeff, have been trying to make this argument: God commands the non-elect to have faith, so God desires the non-elect to have faith, so God desires the non-elect to have salvation (election, atonement, etc).

    I disagree with your argument. But I also think your argument is not the same as the argument made by OPC “free offer”, or Turretin. I’m not sure why you think you, OPC majority report, and Turretin are saying the same thing.

    (As for me, I think faith is not a “condition” and moreover, imputation precedes faith, the gospel is not an offer with conditions but a unilateral proclamation. )

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  113. “Is this verse teaching *every human being without exception* did not know Christ? No. When this verse says the “cosmos” did not know Christ, the “cosmos” that did not know Christ refers only to the unregenerate part of the human race.”

    That’s a curious reading. I would take that to be all inclusive – when Christ came into the world, no one knew him (knew meaning having a relationship with). Everyone is non-regenerate by nature – he came to his own, but his own did not accept him. To those who did accept them, he gave the right of sons. In other words, not a single person in the whole cosmos knows him on their own. Rather, only those who are born of the spirit. So yes, I take the cosmos here to mean all without exception.

    I get the role of a synecdoche. But consider this… If I say Germany won the World Cup, obviously I don’t mean that the entire nation of Germany won the World Cup. Rather I mean the German national team won the World Cup. But if I say that the entire nation of Germany won the World Cup, then it is hard to see how this is a synecdoche. Similarly for 1 John 2:2 – it is holos kosmos (entire cosmos). I agree that John doesn’t use “holos” in his gospel, but neither does he use pas. Reading it context with his other writing really is consistent with universal language. Your interpretation doesn’t have the whole representing the part. Rather the whole includes the parts explicitly excluded in your reading. That is a very strange use of a synecdoche (the nations won the World Cup really means that the team from one nation won the World Cup and everyone else lost).

    “Romans 8:32 Truly He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up on behalf of us all, how will He not freely give ALL things to us *with Him*?

    If God loved someone that he gave Christ for them, then God will give that person both Christ himself and all other things. In particular, God will give them the free gift of righteousness (i.e. “apply the blood”) as well as the gift of faith (through the Spirit’s work of regeneration).”

    No. Your assumption is that because God loves someone, he elects them. That is incorrect. The “us all” is the elect. Christ died only on behalf of the elect and it is to the elect that God gives us ALL things. I don’t see what the problem is here.

    “I disagree with this idea.

    God commands every human being to love him with *ALL one’s heart and might*.

    However, God does not love every human being with *ALL his heart and might* (else every human being would be saved in the end).

    Thus, just because we are called to love our enemies, this does not imply that God loves his enemies.

    God’s relation to man, man’s relation to God, man’s relation to man – these are not symmetric, because of the Creator-creature distinction/inequality.”

    Right, God commands us to love him just as he loves Him. This makes the most sense within the context of the Trinity – We are to love the Father just as the Son loves the Father and so forth.

    What follows is what we are debating – God can love a fallen people, desire their repentance, and not elect them. God is love. What can I say? I have no idea why God chose to elect some and not others – his will here is inscrutable. But I don’t see any reason that I have to conclude that God loves some and not others and thus elected them. Or that God hated everyone, saved some anyway and then changed to loving them.

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  114. TW: Do you think Dabney is misquoting Turretin?

    “[Turretin] urges the inconsistency of ‘an ineffectual and imperfect will’ (in the Almighty) ‘which doth not bring to pass the thing willed’””

    Dabney and Turretin both are taking aim at something different, the Amyrauldian understanding of the atonement. No-one here is arguing for that, nor is the OPC. Yes: Turretin denies that God decrees contrary things, as have I, and as did the OPC report.

    But when it comes to the contrast between decrees and precepts, he says.

    The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will. The former means that which God wills to do or permit himself; the latter what he wills that we should do. The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action. The former cannot be resisted and is always fulfilled: “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom. 9:19 ). The latter is often violated by men: “How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not (Mt. 23:37 ).

    And about their consistency

    Hence it happens that although these wills may be conceived by us as diverse (owing to the diversity of the objects), yet they are not contrary. For as was just said, they are not occupied about the same thing.

    And about the two wills with regard to the salvation of all:

    When the will of pleasure is contradistinguished from the signified will, the word “beneplacit” is not taken widely to denote the simple complacency and approbation of the thing or the decree of its injunction. In this sense, the will of sign can also be called the will of beneplacit because it is occupied about things approved by God and things which he decrees to enjoin upon the creature. But it is taken strictly to denote the placitum or decree of God concerning the effecting or permitting of a certain thing, just as the decrees of courts are called Placita (”decisions”).

    XVIII. There cannot be contrariety between these two wills because they do not will and nill the same thing in the same manner and respect. The will of purpose is the will of event and execution. The signified will is the will of duty and of the obligation to it. Thus God willed the immolation of Isaac by a will of sign as to the preception (i.e., he prescribed it to Abraham as a test of his obedience), but he nilled it by a beneplacit will as to the event itself because he had decreed to prohibit that slaughter. Now although these two acts of the divine will are diverse (”I will to command Abraham to slay his son and “I do not will that immolation”), yet they are not contrary, for both were true–that God both decreed to enjoin this upon Abraham and equally decreed to hinder the effecting of it.

    Hence God without contrariety willed Isaac to be offered up and not to be offered up. He willed it as to the precept, but nilled it as to the effect. The whole will of God about this affair was not either only to command Abraham to make that sacrifice or to hinder it, but ought to embrace those two diverse acts (the former of which is affirmative, occupied with the injunction of the thing; and the latter negative, respecting the hindrance of it). Nor does it follow from this that man is ordered to believe what is false. For we are ordered to believe what is revealed just because it is revealed. However the event is not already revealed by a command of this kind, but only the duty and the obligation to it.

    XIX. Although God may be said to will the salvation of all by the will of sign and to nill it by the beneplacit will, yet there is no contradiction here. Besides the fact that the universal proposition is to be understood not so much of the singulars of the genera as of the genera of the singulars, the former will relates to the mere approbation of God and the command of duty, while the latter is concerned with its futurition and fulfillment. The former denotes what is pleasing to God and what he has determined to enjoin upon man for the obtainment of salvation, but the latter what God himself has decreed to do. But these two are not at variance: to will to call to faith and salvation, and yet to nill to give that faith and salvation; to will (i.e., to command man to believe) and to nill (i.e., to decree not to give him faith in order that he may believe).

    I know that you accept that God’s precepts are different from His decrees. What you still lack is to see that God is pleased by obedience to His precepts, whence it follows that He would be hypothetically pleased by the (impossible) repentance of the non-elect.

    In this, Turretin, OPC, and Cagle are on the same page.

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  115. sdb: “That’s a curious reading. I would take that to be all inclusive – when Christ came into the world, no one knew him (knew meaning having a relationship with). Everyone is non-regenerate by nature – he came to his own, but his own did not accept him. To those who did accept them, he gave the right of sons. In other words, not a single person in the whole cosmos knows him on their own. Rather, only those who are born of the spirit. So yes, I take the cosmos here to mean all without exception. ”

    If by “coming into the world” you mean the Incarnation, it is clear that some already trusted in Christ before he came in the flesh and moreover they accepted him when he came in the flesh.

    Luke 2:25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. And this man was righteous and devout, eagerly expecting the Consolation of Israel. And the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it happened to him, having been divinely instructed by the Holy Spirit, he was not to see death before he would see the Christ of the Lord.

    In any case, my point is that John uses “cosmos” to materially refer to a subset of the human race. Here’s another example:

    John 17:9 I pray concerning them; I do not pray concerning THE WORLD, but concerning the ones whom You gave to Me, because they are Yours.

    sdb: “But if I say that the entire nation of Germany won the World Cup, then it is hard to see how this is a synecdoche. Similarly for 1 John 2:2 – it is holos kosmos (entire cosmos).”

    No, adding “entire” does not exclude synecdoche. Consider the following verse.

    Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of in ALL THE WORLD (holo to kosmo).

    sdb: “Your interpretation doesn’t have the whole representing the part. Rather the whole includes the parts explicitly excluded in your reading. That is a very strange use of a synecdoche (the nations won the World Cup really means that the team from one nation won the World Cup and everyone else lost). ”

    If the majority of the population of a people group were killed, leaving a small number of survivors, one can still say that people group survived.

    For example, the human race survived the Flood, even though only 8 people were saved.

    The word “entire” (holos) is to remind us the proper perspective of things: even though not every human person will be saved, this does not mean the human race will only be “partially” saved, but the human race is “entirely” saved when the elect are all saved.

    sdb: “No. Your assumption is that because God loves someone, he elects them. That is incorrect. The “us all” is the elect. Christ died only on behalf of the elect and it is to the elect that God gives us ALL things. I don’t see what the problem is here.”

    But the love of God in John 3:16 is manifested in the giving of Christ. It is YOU who insisted that text is talking about God’s universal love, thus a universal offer of Christ’s death, even interpreting 1 John 2:2 as saying Christ’s death is a universal “potential” propitiation. But when it comes to Romans 8:32, you turn around and insist this text is only talking about Christ died on behalf of the elect.

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
    “And He Himself is the propitiation relating to our sins, and not relating to ours only, but also relating to all the world.”
    “Truly He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up on behalf of us all, how will He not freely give all things to us with Him?”

    There is nothing in these 3 texts that suggest 2 different senses of “God loves you”, 2 different sense of “Christ died for you”, a universal “potential”/”free-offer” sense and a particular “effectual”/”election” sense. This is a false, imaginary partition of God’s love manifested in Christ’s death.

    The combined import of John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, and Romans 8:32 is that if God so loved the world that he did not spare his only-begotten son, but gave him as the propitiation concerning their sins, then God will freely give all things to them with his son, including the gift of faith.

    sdb: “What follows is what we are debating – God can love a fallen people, desire their repentance, and not elect them. God is love. What can I say? I have no idea why God chose to elect some and not others – his will here is inscrutable. But I don’t see any reason that I have to conclude that God loves some and not others and thus elected them. Or that God hated everyone, saved some anyway and then changed to loving them.”

    Well, let’s look at the passage that tells us “God is love”:

    1 John 4:8 The one who does not love has not known God, because GOD IS LOVE.
    9 By THIS the love of God was revealed in us, because His Son, the Only begotten, God has sent into the world that we might live through Him.
    10 In THIS is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation relating to our sins.

    “God is love” is manifested in the propitiatory death of Christ. (Just to be clear, I never said Christ’s death causes God to love the elect. I always say God sends Christ to die for the elect out of a love that’s already in God. )

    The extent of God’s love is the extent of Christ’s death is the extent of propitiation is the extent of justification of life.

    There is no other kind of divine love known to us in addition to this unconditional, unfailing divine love revealed in the gospel of Christ and him crucified.

    The scheme that there is a universal love revealed in “free offer of gospel” and then there is another more secret, particular love known through “reformed theology” is a DENIAL of this true revelation of God’s love. It’s a pretentious concoction of blind men that think they “know better” about what to “proclaim” to the “sheep” and what to keep to their wise and prudent selves.

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  116. Jeff: “I know that you accept that God’s precepts are different from His decrees. What you still lack is to see that God is pleased by obedience to His precepts, whence it follows that He would be hypothetically pleased by the (impossible) repentance of the non-elect.”

    No, because God cannot be pleased by the sacrifice of the wicked.

    Unless righteousness is imputed to a sinner, nothing he does pleases God.

    God is only pleased with the believer because God imputed righteousness to him.

    If we talk about the hypothetical repentance of the non-elect in terms of God’s pleasure of obedience, then we must evaluate this strictly according to Law, which frowns upon one unless he is without sin.

    We cannot apply the promise of the gospel to believers to the non-elect, even hypothetically, lest we mix grace and works.

    Turretin himself, despite all the “nuance”, ended up saying something as crassly works-righteousness as this:

    Turretin: “XX. The will of sign which is set forth as extrinsic ought to correspond with some internal will in God that it may not be false and deceptive; but that internal will is not the decree concerning the gift of salvation to this or that one, but the decree concerning the command of faith and promise of salvation if the man does believe (which is founded both upon the connection established by God between faith and salvation and the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation).”

    Highlight: “the internal disposition of God by which, as he loves himself, he cannot but love his image wherever he sees it shining and is so much pleased with the faith and repentance of the creature as to grant it salvation””

    Remark: THIS is a bald-faced statement of turning faith and repentance into *works of righteousness* (“God’s image…shining”) that *morally qualify the sinner for salvation* (“God…so much pleased with…as to grant it salvation”).

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  117. “In any case, my point is that John uses “cosmos” to materially refer to a subset of the human race. Here’s another example: John 17:9 I pray concerning them; I do not pray concerning THE WORLD, but concerning the ones whom You gave to Me, because they are Yours.”

    I understand what your point is, but it is mistaken. Your reference to John 17:9 makes my point. Jesus explicits says that he is not praying for the everyone (cosmos), but for a subset. He doesn’t make this distinction with Nicodemus. Your interpretation of these texts is simply untenable.

    “If the majority of the population of a people group were killed, leaving a small number of survivors, one can still say that people group survived. For example, the human race survived the Flood, even though only 8 people were saved.”
    Right. Everyone would know what you meant if you said that humanity was drowned in the flood. But wouldn’t it be strange to say that the entire cosmos was spared in the flood in referring to the 8 on the ark? That’s what you are doing with these texts.

    “The word “entire” (holos) is to remind us the proper perspective of things: even though not every human person will be saved, this does not mean the human race will only be “partially” saved, but the human race is “entirely” saved when the elect are all saved.”
    But the human race is not entirely saved. The elect – a very small subset of the human race – is saved.

    “But when it comes to Romans 8:32, you turn around and insist this text is only talking about Christ died on behalf of the elect.” Right because “us all” is not “entire cosmos”.

    “There is nothing in these 3 texts that suggest 2 different senses of “God loves you”, 2 different sense of “Christ died for you”, a universal “potential”/”free-offer” sense and a particular “effectual”/”election” sense. This is a false, imaginary partition of God’s love manifested in Christ’s death.”

    Nothing? Really nothing at all? The text literally says in one place that God loves the entire kosmos but only gives the gift of faith to the elect. This is not nothing and it suggests two different senses of “God loves you”.

    “Well, let’s look at the passage that tells us “God is love”:

    1 John 4:8 The one who does not love has not known God, because GOD IS LOVE.
    9 By THIS the love of God was revealed in us, because His Son, the Only begotten, God has sent into the world that we might live through Him.
    10 In THIS is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation relating to our sins.

    The extent of God’s love is the extent of Christ’s death is the extent of propitiation is the extent of justification of life.
    That’s not what the text says. That is your assumption, and it is not necessitated by the text. Indeed to get here, you have to assume that the text doesn’t mean what it says.

    “There is no other kind of divine love known to us in addition to this unconditional, unfailing divine love revealed in the gospel of Christ and him crucified.”
    Sure there is. It flows through the OT as God is described as long-suffering, patient, kind, etc… He need not cause the rain to fall on the wicked as well as the just. There is a common grace showered on everyone because God loves all of his creation. Even those he does not elect to save.

    “The scheme that there is a universal love revealed in “free offer of gospel” and then there is another more secret, particular love known through “reformed theology” is a DENIAL of this true revelation of God’s love. It’s a pretentious concoction of blind men that think they “know better” about what to “proclaim” to the “sheep” and what to keep to their wise and prudent selves.”

    Excuse me? This is utter nonsense. The scripture teaches God’s general care of all humanity (i.e., his love). It also teaches that God loves the entire cosmos. Recognizing those things is not a concoction. Insofar as I can be said to proclaim anything, it is that Christ died for our sins, rose again, and is coming back (cf. 1 Cor 15). I don’t know about your experience in reformed churches, but in mine – every baptismal service notes Peter’s statement at the end of his sermon that “this promise is for…as many as the Lord our God will call to himself”. This is election, and it is taught from the pulpit by my pastor regularly. So I don’t know what the basis is for your calumny about blind men who think they know better about what to proclaim to the sheep and what to keep to themselves. That you would make such a baseless accusation says a lot about your lack of character.

    This conversation has gone on long enough. You continue to make the same claims that I don’t find compelling. If you don’t have anything new to bring to the table, I don’t see any reason to continue.

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  118. I was reading a little bit of American history and found out Mt. Dew was originally crafted in Tennessee to mix with bourbon. Some argue that it was because certain brands of regional bourbon were too bad to drink without a mixer. Thus Mt. Dew, named as a hat tip to the nickname for whisky in Scotland. It seems mixing it with Southern Comfort, then, isn’t really too much of a stretch, as Dr. Hart suggested, and since Southern Comfort is so horrific it needs a mixer to mask the flavor. The Logic of Comfort, indeed. If only I had fully embraced that I am not my own . . .

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  119. @TW: The problem with speaking of hypotheticals is that it is hard to specify all the things that must change when one thing changes. Can we hypothetically speak of the largest prime? We must, if we are to pull off a proof by contradiction. Yet there is no largest prime.

    So it is with the non-elect who hypothetically repent. Are we thinking of them as also being effectually called? The repentance entails the entirety of salvation, so that it makes it difficult to speak of hypotheticals.

    Therefore, the point is not to detach one part of salvation from the rest, nor is it to say that repentance is the ground of justification. It is rather to affirm: When God commands something, that command corresponds to a positive good that He is pleased with. God cannot command that which is abhorrent to Him.

    So if you wish to show, by contradiction, that the non-elect are incapable of pleasing God by their repentance, I’m right there with you.

    But if the conclusion that you draw is that therefore God is displeased with repentance, you’ve lost the plot. We know that God is pleased with repentance because He says so: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” The reason that the non-elect are incapable of pleasing God by their repentance is that they cannot actually repent.

    Nor is this to say that repentance, if possible, would be the ground for justification. God does not trade justification for repentance (or faith).

    Your comments about Turretin making faith into a righteous work suggest that you might not have read very much of the Institutes. I highly commend them to your attention. He has an excellent exposition of the covenants of works and grace, and he does a good job at distinguishing types of conditions.

    It’s time for me to take a break.

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  120. sdb: “Your reference to John 17:9 makes my point. Jesus explicits says that he is not praying for the everyone (cosmos), but for a subset. He doesn’t make this distinction with Nicodemus. Your interpretation of these texts is simply untenable. ”

    First, your interpretation of John 17:9 is off. The “world” here does not mean “everyone”, such that the ones for whom Jesus is praying is a SUBSET of the “world”. Rather, the “world” is contrasted to the ones for whom Jesus is praying, such that they are two MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE sets, as can be seen from the context:

    John 17:14 I have given them your word, and the world hated them because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world.

    Second, is your claim here that unless explicitly stated, “world” means “everyone”? This claim does not hold, in light of the verse cited above: Jesus is not saying “everyone” hated the disciples.

    In regard to John 3:16, you should consider the next verse as well:

    John 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the WORLD that He might judge the WORLD, but that the WORLD might be saved through Him.

    This verse speaks of the *intention and purpose* of God in sending the Son: to save the WORLD.

    However, it is not God’s intention and purpose to save “everyone”, but only the elect. The “salvation of the world” means no more or less than the “salvation of the elect”.

    sdb: “Everyone would know what you meant if you said that humanity was drowned in the flood. But wouldn’t it be strange to say that the entire cosmos was spared in the flood in referring to the 8 on the ark? That’s what you are doing with these texts. ”

    Wouldn’t it be strange for Paul to say the faith of believers in Rome is spoken of in the ENTIRE cosmos?

    Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of in ALL THE WORLD (holo to kosmo).

    sdb: “But the human race is not entirely saved. The elect – a very small subset of the human race – is saved. ”

    It is true that few (only the elect) are saved. Yet, Paul sees it fit to describe this salvation using a language of UNIVERSAL reconciliation.

    Colossians 1:20 and through Him making peace by the blood of His cross, to RECONCILE ALL THINGS to Himself; through Him, whether the things on the earth, or the things in the heavens.

    This again shows universalistic langugage does not mean “all without exception”.

    (I marvel that I’m arguing for this point with someone who belongs to a *Reformed* church. )

    sdb: “Right because “us all” is not “entire cosmos”. ”

    Interesting that you focus on the pronoun “us” in Romans 8:32, when you ignored that same pronoun in 2 Peter 3:9 earlier:

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord of the promise is not slow, as some deem slowness, but is long-suffering toward US, not having purposed any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

    sdb: “Nothing? Really nothing at all? The text literally says in one place that God loves the entire kosmos but only gives the gift of faith to the elect. This is not nothing and it suggests two different senses of “God loves you”. ”

    If you focus on the “literal”, the passages in question explicitly say God loves the “cosmos” and Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the “entire cosmos”, but they do not explicitly say God only gives the gift of faith to the elect.

    The conclusion “God only gives the gift of faith to the elect” is inferred. Many people would disagree with that inferred conclusion on the ground of what Bible “literally” says elsewhere:

    John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I will DRAW ALL to Myself.

    John 16:8 And having come, that One will CONVICT THE WORLD concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment.

    For me, I simply say the “all” in John 12:32 and the “world” in John 16:8 refer to the elect only, as well as the “world” in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

    There is no occasion for positing two kinds of love in God. It’s one and same love in the giving of Son to propitiate and in the giving of Spirit to convert.

    sdb: “Sure there is. It flows through the OT as God is described as long-suffering, patient, kind, etc… He need not cause the rain to fall on the wicked as well as the just. There is a common grace showered on everyone because God loves all of his creation. Even those he does not elect to save. ”

    First, let’s recall a simple fact from the Bible that God’s justice does NOT require an *immediate, full* punishment/reward for the wrong-doer/obedient servant. There are immediate partial effects of curse and blessings, and there will eventually be full recompense of curse and blessings – but the system of divine retribution does not require BOTH *immediacy* and *fullness*. Even Christ waited in the tomb for the resurrection to glory after he finished the work at the cross. Even the justified elect still have to wait for the future coming of Christ to receive resurrection to glory.

    This overthrows one specious argument for “common grace”, which is that God’s justice required sinners to go straight to hell, but sinners in general get to live for a while on earth, so this shows God has some common grace for sinners. As shown above, the premise for this argument is false. God’s patient endurance of the vessels of wrath (non-elect), preserving their life on earth for some number of years, before the day of judgment, is not out of and does not indicate any grace towards them.

    Instead of seeing “common grace” in the temporal life of non-elect, one should see that the non-elect are spiritually cursed, even in their prosperity, and will end in eternal punishment. In the same way, one sees the true grace of God in the life of the justified elect, that they are spiritually blessed, even in their afflictions, and will end in immortality and glory.

    —-

    One reason that there cannot be “common grace” is that there is no righteousness to back up that grace. God’s grace for the elect is backed up by a righteousness, the propitiatory death of Christ.

    Romans 5:21 that as sin ruled in death, so also grace might *rule through righteousness* to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Accordingly, many theologians of “common grace” also teach a “multi-purpose” atonement in which Christ also died to purchase benefits “falling short of salvation” for the non-elect. But this is profaning the blood of the Son of God, attributing to it a lesser quality of righteousness, a lesser value of redemption that falls short of salvation.

    The “purchased benefits” they speak of can be classified as two types: the first type are things that do exist but are simply God’s providence rather than grace, and the second type are things that are imagined to exist but do not. Of the first type are the “rain and sunshine”, i.e. preservation of this life. Of the second type is the “Free Offer”, a hypothetical opportunity for the non-elect to get saved by accepting an offer (that they will not be enabled to accept).

    1 Peter 5:12 I wrote to you by a few words by way of Silvanus the faithful brother, as I reckon, exhorting and witnessing this to be the TRUE GRACE of God, in which you stand.

    sdb: “Excuse me? This is utter nonsense. The scripture teaches God’s general care of all humanity (i.e., his love). It also teaches that God loves the entire cosmos. Recognizing those things is not a concoction. Insofar as I can be said to proclaim anything, it is that Christ died for our sins, rose again, and is coming back (cf. 1 Cor 15). I don’t know about your experience in reformed churches, but in mine – every baptismal service notes Peter’s statement at the end of his sermon that “this promise is for…as many as the Lord our God will call to himself”. This is election, and it is taught from the pulpit by my pastor regularly. So I don’t know what the basis is for your calumny about blind men who think they know better about what to proclaim to the sheep and what to keep to themselves. That you would make such a baseless accusation says a lot about your lack of character. ”

    1) It’s not enough to regularly teach election/limited atonement, if you teach it only as an supplement to the gospel, as something that you do not break fellowship over. What would you call a church that confesses and teaches the Trinity but also regard some Arians/Unitarians as doctrinally weaker Christians?

    2) My target is those who teach the “Free Offer”, whether they are reformed or not.

    Personal anecdote: I met a pastor who professes doctrines like predestination, election, limited atonement, penal substitution, effectual calling, justification by faith, etc.

    I approached him and went straight to the point: I said one big problem with many churches today is that even when they profess limited atonement, they still think one can believe in universal atonement and be Christian.

    His reaction? He laughed and says nobody in history has used this doctrine as a standard. He says I’m a wolf and says he will warn the people under his care not to listen to me. His language reminded me of John 10 and then I realized the irony: this “shepherd” wants to warn the “sheep” not to listen to someone who would dare tell them about the fact that the Good Shepherd did not die for the goats and will not lose a single sheep.

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  121. TW: I approached him and went straight to the point: I said one big problem with many churches today is that even when they profess limited atonement, they still think one can believe in universal atonement and be Christian.

    His reaction? He laughed and says nobody in history has used this doctrine as a standard. He says I’m a wolf and says he will warn the people under his care not to listen to me.

    That’s a pretty strong statement. Did some additional conversation take place in between your approach and his declaration?

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  122. “What would you call a church that confesses and teaches the Trinity but also regard some Arians/Unitarians as doctrinally weaker Christians?” I would call them (c)atholic. I don’t believe that one has to have a perfect understanding of the trinity, etc… to be a Christian.

    “He says I’m a wolf and says he will warn the people under his care not to listen to me. ”
    Sounds like a wise pastor.

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  123. Jeff: “That’s a pretty strong statement. Did some additional conversation take place in between your approach and his declaration?”

    I forgot to mention the connection between “Free Offer” and this personal anecdote.

    1) I said I believe that the gospel to be proclaimed to all sinners is that Christ died for the elect alone.

    In response, he said that to require preaching this fact in the gospel is to deny the “open and free” preaching of gospel.

    This is a significant remark. He is saying that the *nature* of the gospel message is such that it must be possible to be preached *apart from* preaching limited atonement.

    2) He went to Acts 17 as an example where the apostles preached to Gentiles without mentioning limited atonement.

    I was surprised by this move, and pointed out that this sermon only talked about creation and resurrection, and did not even talk about the deity of Christ. I said that this sermon was not the gospel.

    He disagreed and said the gospel is not a formula but the “power of God of salvation to those who believe” and I’m denying this power by putting restriction to the content.

    3) He asked me if I knew limited atonement when I was saved. I said I was not saved when I believed in universal atonement. He concluded that I believe in justification by works, the work of understanding theology.

    4) Before I talked to the pastor, I first talked to an associate of him. (In fact, it was this associate who suggested that I should talk to his pastor.) After the conversation with the pastor, I contacted the associate again. This is what he (the pastor’s associate) said:

    “My pastor’s concern is the necessity you place in limited atonement. For we both understand that Christ’s sacrifice atones for the sins of those who believe (Rom. 3:22) and only those who believe. Now to say that it is absolutely necessary to preach limited atonement as part of the Gospel is a tad extreme for me, mainly because God’s grace in the Gospel is extended to all who hear, but is salvific for only those who believe. (Rom. 10)”

    Again, one sees in this statement a connection between a belief in “Free Offer” and a denial of the necessity to preach limited atonement as part of the gospel.

    My response to this:

    “I think it is “absolutely necessary” to preach THE atonement as part of the gospel. Do you agree? (It seems your pastor does not agree, since he points to Paul’s sermon on Areopagus in Acts 17 as an example of a gospel preaching.)

    “I think so, not because this is my “favorite doctrine”, but because the apostle Paul says that in THE gospel, a righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. We have not preached THE gospel unless we have preached the God who is just in justifying the ungodly by faith apart from works. A person has not been converted until he obeys this form of doctrine delivered by the apostles.

    “I dare not being vague/equivocal on the doctrine of atonement, because this is exactly where the righteousness of God is shown forth, and the justice of God’s forgiveness of sinners is vindicated.

    “God’s grace cannot be understood apart from the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. Romans 5 says, grace reigns through righteousness unto everlasting life. This is the true grace of God. It is always effectual, because it is grounded in the atonement, which is satisfaction of God’s retributive justice by Christ’s substitutionary punishment for as many as God chose to save by grace. This is the grace declared in the gospel.

    “The gospel does not declare a conditional grace for all who hear, but declares an unconditional grace for all who believe – the gospel says even their belief in it is a result of the grace that reigns through righteousness.

    Acts 2:39 For the PROMISE is to you and to your children, and to all those afar off, AS MANY AS the Lord our God shall call.

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  124. “but because the apostle Paul says that in THE gospel, a righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.”
    That’s your basis for insisting that the limited atonement is an essential part of the gospel? How about this… the gospel is the good news that God became man, died for our sins, rose again, appeared, and is returning. This good news reveals God’s plan for imparting righteousness…a process that begins and ends in faith. The good news is not a particular model of the Trinity, model of the atonement, the scope of the atonement, or the order of salvation. All of these are important things for the Christian to know, getting them wrong can lead to problems, and the gospel entails many of these things, but it isn’t the Good news.

    By demanding theological perfectionism, you have fallen into the same trap as the holiness folks. Where they think true salvation entails moral perfection, you think true salvation entails theological perfection. This is just an intellectualized version of works righteousness.

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  125. @TW:

    (1) Was this purely a private conversation, or were you saying these things to other church members as well?

    (2) Which passages are examples of gospel preaching?

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  126. sdb: “That’s your basis for insisting that the limited atonement is an essential part of the gospel? ”

    First, the connection between atonement and justification is an essential part of the gospel.

    If someone allows the possibility that there are some people for whom Christ died who will not be saved, then they do not believe in the gospel. They are ignorant of, or opposed to, the justice of God in the penal substitutionary death of Christ and the justification of the sinners he died for.

    However, this alone is not the reason “limited atonement is an essential part of the gospel”, since it’s conceivable that a universalist could also affirm all for whom Christ died will be saved.

    I suppose the claim “Universal Salvation is a false gospel” is less controversial than the claim “Arminianism is a false gospel”.

    I will argue that if you agree that Universal salvation is a false gospel, then you should also agree Arminianism is a false gospel (for a reason quite independent of what I said above about the connection between atonement and justification).

    Why is Universal Salvation a false gospel? The reason cannot simply be the doctrine of “justification by faith”. Some forms of Universal Salvation do deny this doctrine, but it’s conceivable that a universalist could also affirm “all will be effectually called and converted before they die (perhaps in ways unknown to other human observers)”.

    What is the crucial, fundamental distinction between the message of Universal Salvation from the gospel of grace, even in the case that it affirms Trinity, incarnation, penal substitutionary atonement, effectual calling, and justification by faith?

    The answer is that the gospel of grace proclaims a God who loves some but not others revealed in a Christ who died for some but not others. This is the truth that Universal Salvation rejects.

    This is also the truth that Arminiansim – and all “gospels” based on some kind of Universal Atonement – rejects.

    Thus, even before addressing the justice and efficacy of atonement (which are certainly ESSENTIAL parts of the gospel), the *non-universal* extent of atonement is itself something necessary to know about the gospel, because this is the revelation of *God’s heart* towards mankind.

    This is part and parcel of the offense of the cross.

    In summary, Universal Atonement is a false gospel, and Universal Atonement without Universal Salvation is a doubly condemned false gospel – first on account of Universal Atonement, then on account of its denial of the connection between atonement and justification.

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  127. sdb: “By demanding theological perfectionism, you have fallen into the same trap as the holiness folks. Where they think true salvation entails moral perfection, you think true salvation entails theological perfection. This is just an intellectualized version of works righteousness.”

    1) No, I’m not demanding “theological perfection”. Demanding “theological perfection” means demanding correctness on the answer to every theological question. I know of no one who demands that. You are caricaturing my position.

    2) I’m demanding *some* theological knowledge. You are also demanding *some* theological knowledge. We also both agree that whatever knowledge is needed, it is the Holy Spirit who gives that knowledge.

    The difference is we disagree about the *extent* of that requisite knowledge. You think I’m demanding too much.

    If you are to charge me of “intellecutalized version of works righteousness” for demanding too much knowledge, then you are not exempt from your own charge unless you get rid of all demand of knowledge, because when it comes to “works righteousness”, it didn’t matter whether it’s a lot of works or just a little bit works.

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  128. Jeff: “Was this purely a private conversation, or were you saying these things to other church members as well?”

    At the time I had the conversation with the pastor, the only other person from their group I talked to was his associate. Because the associate’s initial reaction to what I said was not immediate rejection, I had some hope that I could have some in-depth discussion with his pastor. However, the pastor (who mentioned that he has a doctorate in theology) got quickly offended by my view (he called it “judging by a tertiary implication”) and said he doesn’t want to talk to me about this week after week (besides calling me “wolf” and saying he will warn others not to listen to me). After that, I contacted his associate one more time, at the end of which I invited him for further discussion, but he didn’t respond back.

    Some weeks later, I ran into their meeting (it just ended) by chance. The pastor greeted me and then went to talk to other people. As I stood there, someone came by and greeted me. I introduced myself, explained my disagreement with the pastor on the importance of the doctrine of limited atonement, and offered to exchange contact information for further discussion, but he declined. I then left.

    That’s the sum of my interaction with them so far.

    Jeff: “Which passages are examples of gospel preaching?”

    In a broad sense, the sermons in the Acts are all examples of gospel preaching, but (1) many of them are spoken to a first-century Jewish audience who has different background knowledge than, say, first-century pagan Greeks, or 21st-century Americans; and (2) sometimes the preaching was not always completed due to the situations of the preacher, such as in the case of Acts 17, Paul was preaching to pagan Greeks about the doctrine of creation and judgment (the content of Romans 1-2), but didn’t go on the doctrine of atonement and justification because the audience ridiculed him; and (3) sometimes the preaching is not recorded in full, such as Philip’s scriptural exposition of the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, or Paul’s preaching to the Philippian jailer and his household.

    In other words, Acts recorded many examples of gospel preaching, but these examples are not necessarily explicit, complete listing of all the things that a person with NO background knowledge needs to come to know. For example, when Peter preached to the Jews in Acts 2, he didn’t preach the doctrine of creation as Paul did in Acts 17, because this is already part of their background knowledge.

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  129. “First, the connection between atonement and justification is an essential part of the gospel.”
    I disagree. That Jesus died for us our sins and that this benefit is received by faith are essential parts of the gospel. The inner workings of this and how it all fits together is not an essential part of the gospel.

    “If someone allows the possibility that there are some people for whom Christ died who will not be saved, then they do not believe in the gospel. They are ignorant of, or opposed to, the justice of God in the penal substitutionary death of Christ and the justification of the sinners he died for.”
    The penal substitutionary death of Christ is not the only model of the atonement taught in scripture. Someone can believe those elements of what Paul taught about the gospel that are of first importance: That Jesus died for our sins according the the predictions of the OT, that he rose again, and that he appeared to his followers and be ignorant of how Jesus dying for our sins satisfies God’s justice and the scope of who Jesus died for. You are adding to the gospel.

    However, this alone is not the reason “limited atonement is an essential part of the gospel”, since it’s conceivable that a universalist could also affirm all for whom Christ died will be saved. I suppose the claim “Universal Salvation is a false gospel” is less controversial than the claim “Arminianism is a false gospel”.

    Neither is necessarily a false gospel. Certainly they are wrong, but they do not contradict the essential elements of the gospel.

    I will argue that if you agree that Universal salvation is a false gospel, then you should also agree Arminianism is a false gospel (for a reason quite independent of what I said above about the connection between atonement and justification).

    Why is Universal Salvation a false gospel? The reason cannot simply be the doctrine of “justification by faith”. Some forms of Universal Salvation do deny this doctrine, but it’s conceivable that a universalist could also affirm “all will be effectually called and converted before they die (perhaps in ways unknown to other human observers)”.

    What is the crucial, fundamental distinction between the message of Universal Salvation from the gospel of grace, even in the case that it affirms Trinity, incarnation, penal substitutionary atonement, effectual calling, and justification by faith?

    The answer is that the gospel of grace proclaims a God who loves some but not others revealed in a Christ who died for some but not others. This is the truth that Universal Salvation rejects.

    Where does the NT teach that God loves some and not others? I’m sure you won’t make the mistake fo referencing Romans 9 in support of this errant position. We have numerous references to God loving the “whole world” and no examples of a gospel sermon in the NT highlighting this purportedly most important fact. You are adding to scripture. You shouldn’t do that.

    This is also the truth that Arminiansim – and all “gospels” based on some kind of Universal Atonement – rejects.

    And yet it isn’t what Paul considered an essential element of the gospel. Curious no?

    Thus, even before addressing the justice and efficacy of atonement (which are certainly ESSENTIAL parts of the gospel), the *non-universal* extent of atonement is itself something necessary to know about the gospel, because this is the revelation of *God’s heart* towards mankind.

    No, no, and no. Theories about justice and inferences about the extent of the atonement are not part of the gospel.

    This is part and parcel of the offense of the cross.

    No it isn’t. The cross is offensive because it suggests that 1. Jesus is the only way (it rules out pluralism) 2. It suggests that you need saving (you aren’t good enough), 3. You’re saved because of a guy who died the cursed death of a common criminal, and 4. This salvation is open to Gentiles as well as Jews – as many as will receive him.

    In summary, Universal Atonement is a false gospel, and Universal Atonement without Universal Salvation is a doubly condemned false gospel – first on account of Universal Atonement, then on account of its denial of the connection between atonement and justification.

    Repeating yourself doesn’t make your errors more compelling.

    1) No, I’m not demanding “theological perfection”. Demanding “theological perfection” means demanding correctness on the answer to every theological question. I know of no one who demands that. You are caricaturing my position.

    So where can one go astray and still believe the true gospel. So far, we’ve gotten that one’s christology must be correct, one’s trinitarian theology must be correct, and one’s soteriology must be correct. Can one be wrong about the second coming and believe the gospel? Paul certainly seems to think that the resurrection of the dead is an essential part of the gospel.

    2) I’m demanding *some* theological knowledge. You are also demanding *some* theological knowledge. We also both agree that whatever knowledge is needed, it is the Holy Spirit who gives that knowledge.

    The difference is we disagree about the *extent* of that requisite knowledge. You think I’m demanding too much

    No. For starters I’m willing to allow that one can have no knowledge and be saved. John the Baptist was filled by the Holy Spirit in the womb and new nothing. Indeed, he still wasn’t sure that Jesus was the Christ when he was at death’s gate. Knowledge is not an essential element of salvation.

    .

    If you are to charge me of “intellecutalized version of works righteousness” for demanding too much knowledge, then you are not exempt from your own charge unless you get rid of all demand of knowledge, because when it comes to “works righteousness”, it didn’t matter whether it’s a lot of works or just a little bit works.

    While I agree that faith demands some content, I’m willing to allow ignorance on any particular piece of that content. Indeed, one’s understanding of that content may wax and wane through the Christian’s walk. There is no single fact that one must know to be saved. Rather there are a constellation of ideas that add up to the content of saving faith. This is the difference. Peter was wrong about the gospel of grace post pentecost and had to be corrected by Paul. The blind man who was healed did not even know who the Christ was. The thief on the cross knew he was a sinner and Jesus wasn’t. There was no single fact that all three held in common. But what little each knew was enough… why? Because we are not saved on account of our knowledge. We are saved on account of God’s grace shown to us.

    This isn’t to say that theological reflection is not helpful and that we should not strive for truth. But just as no single sin can disqualify one from being a Christian, the fruit of the Christian’s life is still made manifest. We should strive to live a life worthy of our calling, and the extent to which we are successful will wax and wane. Our knowledge is not a different kind fo category. Claiming that no true Christian will ever be wrong about the limited atonement is akin to claiming that no true Christian will ever commit murder (the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, and peace, so how could one be a murderer as well?). This is why I am convinced that you are guilty of the same flaw as our holiness friends. Just as they believe that the Holy Spirit will make us sinless this side fo glory, you believe that the Holy Spirit will give us perfect knowledge this side fo glory (at least as it pertains to what you include under the rubric of gospel). This is an error, and the pastor who warned this congregants under his care to avoid you, was very wise. As I said before, unless you have something new to present, I don’t see any reason to continue this conversation. I am utterly unconvinced by your claims. I find them naive and harmful to the gospel of Christ.

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  130. SDB: Where does the NT teach that God loves some and not others? I’m sure you won’t make the mistake of referencing Romans 9 in support of this errant position.

    Why would that be a mistake? Even though I would argue that God loves all in the sense of common grace, I would not argue that He loves all salvifically. Right?

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  131. @jeff
    Thanks. I should have been more clear. Yes – he loves all his creation in a common grace sense even though he does not elect all (which is what R9 is referring to).

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  132. sdb: “That Jesus died for us our sins and that this benefit is received by faith are essential parts of the gospel.”

    “For starters I’m willing to allow that one can have no knowledge and be saved.”

    “While I agree that faith demands some content, I’m willing to allow ignorance on any particular piece of that content.”

    “There is no single fact that one must know to be saved.”

    Do you think it’s not even necessary to know “Jesus died for our sins and that this benefit is received by faith” to be saved?

    Do you think a person who believes in justification by works may also be saved?

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  133. I think John the Baptist was saved before he was born and was filled with the Holy Spirit. I don’t think that he knew anything as an embryo.

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  134. @sdb: You are either teaching justification apart from faith, or you have redefined “faith” as something that could exist *without knowledge*.

    Either way, your view means a person can hold to any kind of doctrinal errors (e.g. docetism, Arianism, Nestorianism, justification by works, universal atonement, decisional regeneration, etc) and be “already saved”.

    According to your view, someone who professes the following could be “already saved”:

    “Knowing God as I do through the revelation He has given me of Himself in His Word, when I am told that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, I know it means that the Triune God has done, is doing, always will do, all that the Triune God can do to save every man, woman, and child on this earth.

    “If it does not mean that, then tell me I pray you, what does it mean?

    “What is hell? It is infinite negation. It is infinite chaos. And it is more than that. I tell you, and I say it with profound reverence, hell is a ghastly monument to the failure of God to save the multitudes that are there. I say it reverently, I say it with every nerve in my body tense; sinners go to hell because God Himself cannot save them. He did all He could. He failed.”

    (According to an article by John G. Reisinger, the above was “part of a Christmas sermon preached and printed over forty years ago by a man named Noel Smith”, who “was a professor in a Bible Baptist seminary in the mid-west”, and who “hated Calvinism and embraced universal atonement”. )

    Contrary to your view, scriptures emphasize the doctrinal knowledge of God and His gospel as an essential element of salvation and a strict criterion for fellowship.

    2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 in flaming fire giving full vengeance to those *not knowing God*, and to those *not obeying the gospel* of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will pay the penalty: everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord, “and from the glory of His strength,”

    John 17:3 And this is everlasting life, that they may *know* You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.

    1 John 5:19-20 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the evil. And we know that the Son of God has come, and He has given to us an *understanding* that we may *know* the true One, and we are in the true One, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and the life everlasting.

    2 John 1:9-11 Everyone transgressing and not abiding in the *doctrine* of Christ does not have God. The one abiding in the *doctrine* of Christ, this one has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bear this *doctrine*, do not receive him into the house, and do not speak a greeting to him. For the one speaking a greeting shares in his evil works.

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  135. Jeff: “I think this question got buried. Are there examples of gospel preaching in the gospels?”

    What I said about Acts largely transfer to the Gospels, except there is one more factor that one should consider: due to the fact Jesus had not yet accomplished redemption, he did not speak as explicitly and systematically about his death as the apostles would later do.

    Moreover, given the Pharisaical corruption of the interpretation of the Law, a more urgent task for Jesus was setting the record straight on that. (It is not possible for one to understand the gospel apart from knowing what sin is, and it is impossible to know what sin is apart from knowing God’s standard of righteousness. )

    God’s revelation for us in this age is not the Gospels or Acts (which are both historical narratives) *apart from* the apostles’ doctrinal exposition in their letters. Jesus said to the disciples that they would do greater works than him, by the Holy Spirit who glorifies him.

    The scriptures are not to be chopped into disconnected passages, and then one look for isolated “gospel passages” and then draw a circle around it and say “that’s it”. This approach inevitably fails because the passages are to be understood as part of the whole counsel of God.

    For example, in 1 John, the apostle John says in one place the confession of “Jesus Christ came in the flesh” is the litmus test. Does this mean a person who believes Christ was God and was born of a woman, but does not believe this God-man actually died on the cross – is a brother in Christ? Surely not!

    When John says “Jesus Christ came in the flesh”, or “Jesus is the Christ”, “Jesus is the Son of God”, he is not singling out some theological/historical fact over the other facts, but in this way he signifies the irreducible whole of the Person and Work of Christ, as witnessed and expounded by the apostles.

    When one considers all the existing deviations from the truth, they are manifold and complex, so the rejection of all these deviations seem a long list of things to know. But the truth itself is simple. “1+1 is not 1, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, …” may seem a very long list of things to know, but “1+1=2” is a simple truth to know, and if one is convinced “1+1=2”, he will reject “1+1=1”, “1+1=3”, “1+1=4”, etc.

    My impression is that many Reformed (and certainly Lutheran) people seem to think the gospel is mainly (only) about giving COMFORT to sinners, but not about revealing the sovereignty and JUSTICE of God in salvation to sinners.

    Accordingly, any truth that seems inconvenient for giving “comfort” to sinners – for example, that Christ did not die for all but died only for those God unconditionally chose – is downplayed or muted in the preaching.

    However, if the gospel is not only about comfort for sinners, but also about sovereignty and JUSTICE of God, then such approach is a terrible mishandling as well as fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel.

    John 17:25-26 *Righteous* Father, indeed the world did not *know* You, but I *knew* You; and these have *known* that You sent Me. And I *made known* to them *Your name*, and will make it known, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.

    Romans 1:17 for in it [the gospel] the *righteousness of God* is *revealed* from faith to faith; even as it has been written, “But the just shall live by faith.”

    Romans 3:21 But now a *righteousness of God* has been *revealed* apart from Law, being *witnessed* by the Law and the Prophets, even the *righteousness of God* through faith of Jesus Christ toward all and upon all those believing; for there is no difference, for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a *demonstration of His righteousness* through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, for a *demonstration of His righteousness* in the present time, for *His being just* and justifying the one that is of the faith of Jesus.

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  136. @sdb: You are either teaching justification apart from faith, or you have redefined “faith” as something that could exist *without knowledge*.

    Hmmm…. I guess I should be more careful here. I would like to go back to John the Baptist who was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb. He was saved prior to having any knowledge. I don’t think that is the ordinary means by which one is saved, but it was in his case. Those who are never born have no knowledge either, but I believe that there are elect among them.

    “Either way, your view means a person can hold to any kind of doctrinal errors (e.g. docetism, Arianism, Nestorianism, justification by works, universal atonement, decisional regeneration, etc) and be “already saved”.”
    I think we are working with different understandings of the connection between faith and knowledge. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I gather that you see the connection between faith and knowledge as like a chain – the chain of faith is comprised of links of knowledge. If one of the links is broken, then there is no saving faith. This is why I see your position as akin to the holiness idea that if one is truly saved, one has moral perfection. In your scheme, one must have the correct idea about humanity of Christ (lest one be a Docetist), the divinity of Christ (lest one be an Arian), the hypostatic union (lest one be a Nestorian), justification by faith alone (lest one be an arminian), the atonement (lest one be a universalist), regeneration (lest one be an evangelical), etc… if you are truly saved, you get all of those things right lest the chain of saving faith be broken.

    I see the link between faith and knowledge more like a web where the strands comprise the content of saving faith. There is no critical strand, but neither does that mean you can believe anything and be saved. The publican who beat his chest and cried God have mercy on me a sinner and was justified, may have had incorrect views on the nature of the Messiah, the inner workings of how one is justified, or how the atonement works. Once we are saved, we grow in our knowledge of the faith moving from milk to meat, but we grow at different rates and by different amounts. There is a difference between being wrong about a matter of the faith and being obstinate (just as there is a difference between falling into a sin out of weakness and being a “notorious sinner”). I doubt very much that the thief on the cross had a true understanding of the hypostatic union. I doubt that the publican had true knowledge of the limited atonement. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians and emphasized the aspects of the gospel that were of “first importance” he noted that Christ died for our sins as prophesied in the OT, was buried, raised on third day, and appeared to his followers. It’s not that this is all that matters in a mature faith, but one can have saving faith without knowing all the other stuff. Obviously you disagree.

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  137. @ SDB, Tianqi: Historically, Reformed orthodoxy has defined faith to include the elements of knowledge, assent, and trust (eg.: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/faith-defined/).

    In observing the back-and-forth, I gather that you have pushed each other into extremes that you probably don’t actually hold: No knowledge whatsoever, over against perfect knowledge. That raises the question of what you do hold?

    Tianqi, you have yet to address the clear salvation of John the Baptist in the womb, despite any possibility of knowledge on his part. And in fact, as SDB points out, even his later knowledge was severely defective. He questioned whether Jesus was the Christ *after* Jesus had already declared him a part of the kingdom of heaven.

    Also Tianqi, you have yet to clearly explain how knowledge is not a condition for justification, given that you hold that some knowledge is required for faith. (recall that you reject the distinction between meritorious and non-meritorious conditions!). It will not do to plead that knowledge comes after imputation, since the issue at hand is how we are *justified* – by faith and not by works. You seem to have painted yourself into a corner: Justification is through faith; justification must be unconditional; faith requires knowledge, thus has a condition. Contradiction. Positing imputation as a prior for justification does not solve your problem (whether true or false).

    SDB: If I’m hearing you, knowledge is required, but any given element of knowledge might be defective. Are there any sine-qua-nons? Could one deny the divinity of Christ? the resurrection? (thinking here of “if Christ is not raised, you are still in your sins” — would that principle extend to *belief* that Christ is not raised?) It seems hard to believe that one could believe literally anything and still be saved, so what’s the limiting principle? (thinking here of WCF 14 and 10.4).

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  138. @ Tianqi: I’d like to share an experience that illustrates where I think our disconnect lies. Extreme nerdiness follows.


    Last week, the robotics team that I mentor upgraded their navigation sensors. They immediately improved position reading to about 0.2% error (Woot!). We ran the robot (“Lexanne”) around under joystick control and got superprecise precision in terms of X, Y, and rotational angle.

    So we ran a simple program: Run 20 inches forward. Literally,

    while(deltaY < 20) go forward;
    stop.

    Lexanne ran for 21.5 inches. And reported back to us, "I ran 21.5 inches." This caused great consternation. If the robot knows that it is going 21.5 inches, then it must know when it hits 20. Why doesn't it then stop?

    In fact, the code itself is provably correct: Given that distance = 20, the robot must stop.

    The underlying problem turned out to be a faulty model about how “distance” was working. It turned out that computing distance required multiple sensor readings. Each subsequent sensor read is expensive, so that our assumption that distance was current was wrong. It took about 50ms for the distance to be fully updated.

    We could not have discovered this fact by deduction alone, since the assumption that distance was current was an axiom in our code. (We have since improved matters but not fully fixed the problem to exacting standards)

    Your theological system rests on a particular axiomatic understanding of how belief and human cognitiion work. That understanding arranges beliefs in logical sequences and traces their implications. In one sense, that is very satisfying to me as a mathematician.

    But as a teacher and observer of teenaged (and older) thinkers, I am very unconvinced that people actually think in that way. In fact, I am sure that unless trained, people do not naturally think deductively very well at all. And *even if trained*, people are imperfect in their deductions. All thinkers, no matter how well trained, have inconsistencies and blind spots, especially in areas that touch on strongly felt emotions. The deductive model of thought is aspirational, not a genuine description of how beliefs are held in the mind.

    Here’s one place where your understanding becomes problematic. In Galatians, Paul says “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Historically, churches have taken that anathema to rest upon false teachers. Dort is typical:

    “Having set forth the orthodox teaching concerning election and reprobation, the Synod rejects the errors of those who teach that the will of God to save those who would believe and persevere in faith and in the obedience of faith is the whole and entire decision of election to salvation…”

    The entire rejection is directed at teachers.

    You’ve decided to up the ante. In your telling, anyone who *believes* something contrary to the true gospel is damned. So an individual who believes in hypothetical universal atonement actually believes in a gospel of works.

    BECAUSE

    In your model of belief, what people “really believe” is the consistent logical implications of their other beliefs. And since *consistent* HUA entails faith as a work (and it does!), therefore all who hold to HUA also hold to faith as a work.

    This is a mistake. It rests on a faulty understanding of how people think. And in so doing, it claims knowledge of the salvation of individuals that is nowhere granted in Scripture.

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  139. SDB: If I’m hearing you, knowledge is required, but any given element of knowledge might be defective. Are there any sine-qua-nons? Could one deny the divinity of Christ? the resurrection? (thinking here of “if Christ is not raised, you are still in your sins” — would that principle extend to *belief* that Christ is not raised?) It seems hard to believe that one could believe literally anything and still be saved, so what’s the limiting principle? (thinking here of WCF 14 and 10.4).

    Great questions. I don’t think one could *deny* the divinity of Christ, but could one in principle, be ignorant of that fact? Thinking of the thief on the cross, I tentatively think that the answer could be yes. Now of course, I don’t think that is the ordinary situation – especially today now that we have the scriptures. That being said, I don’t think one could believe anything and be saved. But I’m not sure if there is some sine qua non. I’m also not sure that it is helpful to think of what the bare minimum one has to be cognizant of in order to be saved. Fortunately, it isn’t our job to figure out who is saved and who isn’t. We should teach the truth (all of it) in love and be patient with those who take longer to come to understand the truth. We should also be wary of false teachers and be prepared to separate from those who lead people astray.

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  140. sdb: “I would like to go back to John the Baptist who was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb. He was saved prior to having any knowledge. I don’t think that is the ordinary means by which one is saved, but it was in his case. Those who are never born have no knowledge either, but I believe that there are elect among them.”

    I disagree with such a view. There is no exception to 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, John 17:3, 1 John 5:19-20, 2 John 1:9-11.

    What about John the Baptist? There are two possible explanations:

    1) “Filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb” does not imply regeneration in the womb,

    2) He was regenerated AND had knowledge. After all, regeneration in *any* human being is a *supernatural miracle* already (it is compared to the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the dead raised). The Spirit of God who can create a *new heart* surely can also impart knowledge to that new heart.

    sdb: “Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I gather that you see the connection between faith and knowledge as like a chain – the chain of faith is comprised of links of knowledge. If one of the links is broken, then there is no saving faith. ”

    The gospel is a spiritual portrait of Christ and him crucified (Galatians 3:1). One might look at the portrait from a distance, or closely, or even with a magnifying glass, and one would be looking at the same person, with different levels of details. However, one cannot hide a portion of the portrait, or mix it with some other drawings, and still be looking at the same person.

    The important question, then, is what features *characterize* this portrait? Your answer to this question are the features you would require a person to know in order to count him as someone who recognizes the same portrait as you know.

    sdb:”In your scheme, one must have the correct idea about humanity of Christ (lest one be a Docetist), the divinity of Christ (lest one be an Arian), the hypostatic union (lest one be a Nestorian), justification by faith alone (lest one be an arminian), the atonement (lest one be a universalist), regeneration (lest one be an evangelical), etc… if you are truly saved, you get all of those things right lest the chain of saving faith be broken. ”

    These are some of the ways one could falsify the portrait of Christ and him crucified, into “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:4) and “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6).

    sdb: “This is why I see your position as akin to the holiness idea that if one is truly saved, one has moral perfection.”

    My position is that if one is truly saved, one knows the truth about salvation. This is the sanctification by the Spirit.

    In particular, the doctrine of “salvation by grace” does not mean a person can be saved apart from knowing the doctrine of “salvation by grace”, because the package of “salvation by grace” includes the knowledge of “salvation by grace” as one of its immediate benefits.

    A person who is ignorant of God’s way of justification is not only ignorant of this particular truth, but also not yet justified, and his ignorance of this particular truth is the evidence of his not yet being justified.

    The best thing a believer can do for such a person is clearly explaining the gospel to him, exposing his present state, that perhaps God may grant him repentance (i.e. change of mind) and knowledge of the truth.

    Galatians 5:1-4 Then stand firm in the freedom with which Christ made us free and do not be held again with a yoke of slavery. Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man being circumcised, that he is a debtor to do all the Law, you whoever are justified by Law, you were severed from Christ; you fell from grace.

    sdb: “I see the link between faith and knowledge more like a web where the strands comprise the content of saving faith. There is no critical strand, but neither does that mean you can believe anything and be saved. ”

    If “there is no critical strand”, then it would be possible for two “saved” people to have no knowledge in common.

    One person might believe in Jesus is God’s manifestation and everyone believing in Jesus has lasting life, but does not know his true humanity or his work on the cross. Another person might believe Jesus is a man appointed by God to be a penal substitute for God’s people, who is then elevated to reign on God’s right hand side, but does not know his true deity or his promise to the believers.

    Are these two people are both “saved”? No. They are both lost.

    sdb: “The publican who beat his chest and cried God have mercy on me a sinner and was justified, may have had incorrect views on the nature of the Messiah, the inner workings of how one is justified, or how the atonement works. […] I doubt very much that the thief on the cross had a true understanding of the hypostatic union. I doubt that the publican had true knowledge of the limited atonement. […] When Paul wrote to the Corinthians and emphasized the aspects of the gospel that were of “first importance” he noted that Christ died for our sins as prophesied in the OT, was buried, raised on third day, and appeared to his followers. It’s not that this is all that matters in a mature faith, but one can have saving faith without knowing all the other stuff.”

    How do you know the publican or the thief on the cross knew less than you? It’s a bit condescending for you to assume that.

    In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is reminding the Corinthians that the gospel is grounded in the historical event of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This does not mean all one needs to know is this historical event. One also needs to know the *theological meaning* of this historical event.

    Let me quote someone who has addressed this very issue in regard to 1 Corinthians 15:

    “The gospel is a spiritual truth. It can only be apprehended and understood by those who are spiritual-those who have been born again. The Holy Spirit does not teach a false or incomplete gospel. He always teaches the truth to the people of God.

    “There is no kindergarten gospel. There is no beginner’s gospel. There is no “stripped-down” version of the gospel. There is no “gospel for dummies.” There is only one gospel, it has no variants, it has no shortcuts, it has no propositions which can be left out and still be called the gospel.

    “I need to clarify one thing-the Bible, in various places, does use shorthand. Paul, at times refers to the gospel as “Christ and Him crucified.” Or the popular but misused passage from 1 Corinthians 15-“that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.”

    “This should be obvious-when are shorthands used? When the longform is ALREADY KNOWN and UNDERSTOOD. This is true in mathematics-there is longform division, which is what every school child learns BEFORE learning the shorthand.

    “The same is true in language-you learn complete words and sentences before you start learning abbreviations and contractions. The same is true in social studies/history-you learn the event and what happened at length and in detail before you employ a shorthand.

    “When someone refers to “Pearl Harbor,” they are referring to December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese attacked the US Military Navy at Pearl Harbor, which was the event which drew us into World War 2. The only way you can understand what people mean when we are remembering “Pearl Harbor” is by knowing the background. You can’t understand what they mean when they use the shorthand “Pearl Harbor” without knowing the background. In fact, the phrase “Pearl Harbor” as used in reference to a historical event is meaningless to anyone who doesn’t know the history of that event.

    “The Bible, even when using various shorthands, never puts forward the idea that there is some minimum standard of knowledge which will “get you there.” The use of shorthands assumes the underlying foundational knowledge. “Christ and Him crucified” is meaningless without the underlying knowledge of what that means according to the Bible. The 1 Corinthians 15 text makes this point clear-Christ died for OUR sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES. The phrase “according to the scriptures” is a signal back to the underlying knowledge. Without the proper underlying knowledge, the claim that Christ died for sin, or even our sins is meaningless. What does it mean to die for sin? Why does sin require death? Who is the our? All of these questions are answered by the underlying knowledge. If you don’t have the underlying knowledge, then you either don’t have the answers to those questions, or the answers you have are wrong.

    “Those who believe false gospels naturally know that shorthand signals back to a larger body of knowledge. They naturally understand that there is context to the claim that “Christ died for sin.” Whether you’re a Calvinist or an Arminian, that phrase is colored by a background of belief. For the Arminian it is the false belief that a christ not described in scripture died for all men everywhere, and that their salvation depends on their cooperation with him. For the Calvinist, it could be the belief that Christ died for everyone but only the elect will come. In either case (both of which are wrong) the phrase “Christ died for sin” is informed by a background. They all inherently know that whatever they think the gospel is, it must be explained. It’s not enough to simply believe that Christ died for sin.

    “Here is what we are saying. In order to believe the biblical saving gospel, the correct gospel must be explained. This statement in no way detracts from the foundational truth that no one can believe the gospel without regeneration. Regeneration is required, but the gospel itself must be explained.

    “The gospel isn’t some 5 minute presentation, at the end of which you need to make some decision. The gospel is a declaration of news which has moving parts, all of which need to be explained. To believe means to agree. If you don’t understand something, then you can’t really agree with it. If you agree with something without understanding it, that is akin to foolishness. To say yes to something you don’t understand is foolish. That’s like signing a document in Japanese when you can’t read Japanese. What if you just agreed to have your family killed? Did you really agree to that? Or did you just shake your head, assumed you would agree and signed the document? See the issue?

    “The biggest opposition to the preaching of the gospel are those who have been taught false gospels and have not yet been granted repentance from dead works-those who are familiar with certain historical facts about Jesus while not yet believing His gospel. These are those who make the claims that I mentioned above. They say we are conditioning salvation on perfect knowledge. ”

    sdb: “Once we are saved, we grow in our knowledge of the faith moving from milk to meat, but we grow at different rates and by different amounts. There is a difference between being wrong about a matter of the faith and being obstinate (just as there is a difference between falling into a sin out of weakness and being a “notorious sinner”). ”

    If a person believed in universal atonement and later comes to the view that the limited atonement is true, but insists that he was already a Christian when he believed in universal atonement, then he is still obstinate and refuses to repent of his former religion as false.

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  141. “I disagree with such a view. There is no exception to 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, John 17:3, 1 John 5:19-20, 2 John 1:9-11.”
    Says you. 2T is referring to those who are oppressing the believers. John 17 doesn’t entail that knowledge comes prior to salvation or immediately following regeneration. 1 John 5:18-20 does not entail perfection of behavior (believers don’t sin) or perfection of understanding. This passage illustrates my point perfectly. You insist on perfect understanding of gospel as a fruit of salvation, but understand that perfect behavior is not a fruit of salvation. Yours is the flip side of the holiness error. 2John is referring to those who reject Christ’s teaching. There is a difference between obstinate rejection of the truth and a simple misunderstanding.

    “1) “Filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb” does not imply regeneration in the womb,

    2) He was regenerated AND had knowledge. After all, regeneration in *any* human being is a *supernatural miracle* already (it is compared to the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the dead raised). The Spirit of God who can create a *new heart* surely can also impart knowledge to that new heart.”
    You’re reaching here. First, the spiritually dead are not filled with the Spirit. Second, even in prison just before his death, he was ignorant of the Messiah. He had some knowledge as a prophet, but he was wrong about a lot as well. His understanding was imperfect.

    “My position is that if one is truly saved, one knows the truth about salvation. This is the sanctification by the Spirit.”
    No it isn’t.

    “How do you know the publican or the thief on the cross knew less than you? It’s a bit condescending for you to assume that.”
    The context of the description of these men is that they were ignorant about many things others knew about.

    Your long quote by someone is incorrect. The author of Hebrews alludes to the milk they were still stuck on and needed to grow beyond:
    11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.

    “If a person believed in universal atonement and later comes to the view that the limited atonement is true, but insists that he was already a Christian when he believed in universal atonement, then he is still obstinate and refuses to repent of his former religion as false.”
    This is not what scripture teaches. You deeply misunderstand the gospel. The pastor you met with was wise to warn his flock to avoid you. You’ve latched onto a framework and squeeze and do violence against God’s Word to make the scriptures fit with your framework. Your view is an (intellectual) works based righteousness that turns trust in the good news that Jesus came to save sinners into a burdensome matter of theological perfectionism. Those who cannot articulate an orthodox understanding of the trinity or the doctrine of the hypostatic union are not saved in your view. This is absurd. You still have not presented anything new. You keep banging the same drum repeating your reliance on your theological acumen as the source of your assurance. I see no reason to continue.

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  142. Jeff: “Also Tianqi, you have yet to clearly explain how knowledge is not a condition for justification, given that you hold that some knowledge is required for faith. (recall that you reject the distinction between meritorious and non-meritorious conditions!). It will not do to plead that knowledge comes after imputation, since the issue at hand is how we are *justified* – by faith and not by works. You seem to have painted yourself into a corner: Justification is through faith; justification must be unconditional; faith requires knowledge, thus has a condition. Contradiction. Positing imputation as a prior for justification does not solve your problem (whether true or false).”

    This is easily answered: knowledge is part of faith, but faith itself is not a condition for justification. Justification is not conditioned on faith, thus not conditioned on any part of faith.

    If “justification by/through faith” means justification is conditioned on “faith”, then whether or not faith includes knowledge, justification is already conditional on a human mental act/attitude/characteristic/state. We would be merely debating what conditions are involved.

    This is exactly why I emphasize “imputation prior to faith”, which clarifies that “faith” is a spiritual gift given to a person on account of the prior imputed righteousness.

    Now, I surmise that your real objection (as well as sdb’s, and of the pastor I mentioned) is that in regard to the “faith-works” dichotomy,
    1) you consider “knowledge” to be a “work”, or
    2) you consider *the knowledge of a definitive body of information* to be a “work”, or
    3) you consider *the knowledge of (say) limited atonement* to be a “work”

    View (1) means that knowledge is not essential to “faith”. If one holds to this view, then one should in principle allow that an obvious pagan e.g. a Hindu to be a true worshipper of God at his heart. (In fact, there are some people who would agree with this conclusion.)

    View (2) means that while some knowledge is needed for “faith”, there is no one particular piece of knowledge that is essential to “faith”. This is sdb’s stated position.

    View (3) means that while some pieces of knowledge, like the deity of Christ, are essential to “faith”, other pieces of knowledge, like limited atonement, are not essential to “faith” but are rather non-essential knowledge that may be added to a basic faith. This is perhaps your view.

    I do agree that some pieces of knowledge are essential to faith, while others are not. I’ve thought *this* is not a controversial point, and thought the real disagreement is about *which pieces of knowledge* are essential to faith.

    Surprisingly (for me), in reaction to my insistence that limited atonement is essential knowledge, some people end up arguing *no particular piece of knowledge* is essential for faith – e.g. by arguing that certain believers in the scriptures wasn’t sure that Jesus is the Christ. In other words, I thought they would argue for view (3), but they end up arguing for view (2) and even view (1).

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  143. Jeff: “In your model of belief, what people “really believe” is the consistent logical implications of their other beliefs. And since *consistent* HUA entails faith as a work (and it does!), therefore all who hold to HUA also hold to faith as a work. This is a mistake. It rests on a faulty understanding of how people think. And in so doing, it claims knowledge of the salvation of individuals that is nowhere granted in Scripture.”

    (Hypothetical) Universal Atonement changes God’s love in Christ’s death by universalizing it.

    It changes the accomplishment of Christ’s death by reducing it to a potential for salvation that may or may not be fulfilled.

    This also destroys the nature of atonement as a satisfaction of God’s strict justice.

    In turn, it changes the form of the gospel preached from an unconditional promise to a “Free Offer”.

    As a result, it also changes faith into a work, as what activates the potential for salvation in the (hypothetical) universal atonement.

    In sum, (hypothetical) universal atonement is an attack/counterfeit of the true gospel.

    Some important implications:

    1) Those who believe in (hypothetical) universal atonement are unbelievers of the gospel. They are lost.

    2) If you do not believe in (hypothetical) universal atonement but you think it does not essentially deviate from the gospel, then this shows you are unable to tell the true gospel from the false, which means you do not understand the gospel, and therefore you are also an unbeliever of the gospel.

    3) If you see it as a false gospel but think a saved person can believe in it, then this shows you do not judge saved and lost by the gospel. This shows you are also an unbeliever of the gospel, because the gospel includes the truth that only believers in the gospel are justified.

    In regard to (2) and (3), one important scripture is John 16:11

    “and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

    Part of the conviction by Holy Spirit is that believers will judge by the gospel, rather than by human religious credentials. Believers are in the kingdom of God and know the difference between the kingdom of God and kingdom of darkness from which they have been delivered. An effectually called elect knows the true God and his Christ and can tell the difference between the true God and his Christ and idols/false christs.

    Jeff, you seem sound on many doctrines of the gospel, yet when it comes to the *standard of judgment*, you have little regard for these doctrines of the gospel, but instead you appeal to some solidarity with some human historical tradition/consensus. This can only mean that for you, being in the kingdom of God is less about the adherence to the doctrines of the gospel, than about continuity with the “historical church”. Here lies the great chasm between us.

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  144. The tradition is just peer-review. It’s there to let you know when you’ve run off the rails. Your peers could be wrong, but you have to overcome a high burden of proof to show that.

    The Scripture is the standard. So far, we have

    * Belief in limited atonement necessary for salvation? Not taught in Scripture.

    * Imputation preceding justification? Not taught in Scripture. Possibly contrary to Romans 4.

    * Faith not a condition for justification? Contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.

    * Individuals who err on essentials automatically not saved? Contrary to the example of Scripture, in which Peter was the Spirit-filled, justified apostle of Christ, yet erred on works and ceremonies and had to be rebuked more than once (Acts 10.15, Gal 2.11)

    Your whole teaching about limited atonement and imputation is built upon inference, not direct teaching. And the argument for those inferences is thin at points, especially when you speculate about who is or is not saved. The visible church in its creeds and elders exists in order to give us feedback on our inference. Thus Peter:

    To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

    In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

    Listen to the Reformed tradition. Not blindly or in place of Scripture, but as the collected wisdom of the Church.

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  145. Jeff,

    I suppose you would think the following “tradition” are wrong:

    The Athanasian creed: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: […] This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved. ”

    Second Councile of Constantinople (the “Fifth Ecumenical Council”): “If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their heretical books, and also all other heretics who have already been condemned and anathematized by the holy, catholic and apostolic church and by the four holy synods which have already been mentioned, and also all those who have thought or now think in the same way as the aforesaid heretics and who persist in their error even to death: let him be anathema.”

    If so, how did you “overcome the high burden of proof” to determine that?

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  146. The quoted passage from the Athanasian creed asserts that the it is necessary to believe in the doctrine of Trinity (as stated in this creed) in order to be saved.

    The quoted passage from the 5th ecumenical council anathematizes everyone who holds to certain Christological errors AND who “does not anathematize” those who hold such errors.

    In contrast, you do not think individuals who err on essentials are automatically not saved. This is why I said you are in disagreement with these statements from “tradition”.

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  147. Tianqi,

    (1) You err in assuming that limited atonement is an essential in the same way that the divinity of Christ is an essential.

    The divinity of Christ has been repeatedly upheld by the entire church as a sine-qua-non of salvation. So if an individual came to me (say, LDS or JW) and wanted my opinion about the state of their soul on the basis of their profession, I would regretfully tell them that their profession is incompatible with salvation. I am not “in disagreement” with the Athanasian Creed.

    Meanwhile, limited atonement as a sine-qua-non is held only by a few Internet theologians such as yourself. Out of curiosity, I checked the publishing arm of the PRC, here: https://rfpa.org/pages/protestant-reformed-faith-limited-atonement. The PRC is of course the denomination founded by Hermann Hoeksema on the occasion of his ouster from the CRC for his teaching on strict limited atonement and for his rejection of the Free Offer.

    Even the PRC repudiates a part of your view:

    On the other hand, those who believe in limited atonement do not teach that the power and value of Christ’s death are in any way limited. The only thing limited is the number of those for whom Christ died, and the limitation is not due to any defect in the work or death of Christ, but to God’s sovereign decree to save some and not others.

    So that leaves you and a small band of confederates, telling the whole world that Christ’s death was limited in value, and that to believe otherwise OR even to tolerate those who believe otherwise, places one outside of salvation.

    It’s no reflection on your intellectual ability, but the personal opinion of Tianqi Wu, Internet Theologian, is not the voice of the church. It’s literally just your opinion. You have zero authority to declare who is or is not saved.

    (2) 2nd Constantinople is no sterling example of “church tradition.” The original text is lost, its acceptance was highly contested, and its anathema of Origen may or may not have happened. If Origen was anathemetized by the council, it certainly didn’t stick.

    Thus the Catholic encyclopedia:

    Were Origen and Origenism anathematized? Many learned writers believe so; an equal number deny that they were condemned; most modern authorities are either undecided or reply with reservations. …

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  148. Jeff,

    1) Though LDS and JW are easy targets, it’s still refreshing to hear you making *some* judgments based on doctrine. There has been at least one Reformed theologian, Richard Mouw, who thinks Mormons worship the same Jesus Christ as he does, after a study of Mormonism.

    Question for you: do you think a person is a Christian, if he knows what Mormonism is and still thinks Mormons are Christians?

    2) The Athanasian creed asserts not merely that you need to believe in the “divinity of Christ”, but you need to believe *everything* said in the Athanasian creed, in order to be saved.

    For example, this includes the belief in “eternal generation/procession” as defined by the Athanasian creed:

    “The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. ”

    In fact, this is something I *disagree* with the Athanasian creed. I do not think the doctrine of “eternal generation/procession” is a test of faith in the gospel. (Here’s an example of a “secondary doctrine”! I do, however, think that “eternal sonship” is essential to the gospel. There have been some people who believe that Jesus is God, the second person of Trinity, but denied he is always the Son of the first person of Trinity, and instead teach the Word only became Son in the incarnation. I reject them as non-Christians. )

    Question for you: Do you *agree* with the Athanasian creed that “eternal generation/procession” is a test of faith in the gospel?

    3) If you are in agreement with the ecumenical creeds, then you judge saved and lost not only by the doctrine of Trinity but also by Chalcedonian Christology. Here’s a contemporary example.

    Unknown Questioner: “Are you saying then that when Christ was on earth, in a sense God, the second person of the Trinity, and Jesus Christ were separate?

    John Robbins: “No. He’s incarnate in Christ. He’s incarnate in Jesus. But he’s also in heaven, the Logos is. You cannot, he did not lose his divine attributes at the time of the incarnation. It’s not like somehow the Second Person was squeezed down into one person. The Trinity remains, the Second Person, the Logos as John calls him in Chapter 1, remains, has all, retains all the properties, the attributes of divinity, of deity. But at the same time he’s united with the man Christ Jesus in such a fashion that he is incarnated in him. We talk about our being united to Christ. We’re united to Christ by believing his doctrine. Paul says at one point we have the mind of Christ. But that is nowhere near the union that there is between the Second Person of the Trinity and Jesus of Nazareth. Because as the angel explained to Mary, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of God will overshadow you, and what will be born of you is the Son of God. He’s conceived totally without any human agency. And there you have something unique in human history.”

    John Robbins: “An individual is something or some being that cannot be divided. The Trinity is three persons in one individual. You cannot divide the Trinity. It’s not three separate Gods. And Christ is two persons, one individual. You cannot separate Jesus of Nazareth from the Logos. He was conceived by the action of the Holy Spirit two thousand years ago, indwelt by the Logos, and remains in heaven today in the same condition, and will forever remain as that individual in heaven.”

    This is a denial that Christ is one person – not merely a verbal difference, but a real difference in understanding. For this reason alone, I reject Robbins as a non-Christian. (I benefited from reading his website “the Trinity Foundation” and was quite shocked to discover that he had such a heretical Christology. I was not saddened by this discovery, because I was saddened earlier when I discovered that he spoke peace to Arminians and already had to reject him as a Christian. )

    Question for you: given what Robbins says above, would you also reject Robbins as a non-Christian?

    4) Jeff: “Meanwhile, limited atonement as a sine-qua-non is held only by a few Internet theologians such as yourself. ”

    Jeff: “So that leaves you and a small band of confederates, telling the whole world that Christ’s death was limited in value, and that to believe otherwise OR even to tolerate those who believe otherwise, places one outside of salvation.

    It’s no reflection on your intellectual ability, but the personal opinion of Tianqi Wu, Internet Theologian, is not the voice of the church. It’s literally just your opinion. You have zero authority to declare who is or is not saved. ”

    We are back to the issue of “authority”.

    It is the gospel that defines “the church”.

    It is not “the church” that defines the gospel. If this view is true, then we should convert to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

    The Catholic apologist asks how do you know these books are scriptures and how do you know what these texts mean, if not by the authority of the Church Magisterium?

    Jeff asks, how do you know these doctrines are gospel essentials, if not by the authority of the “voice of the church”?

    In fact, Jeff’s case is less convincing than the Catholic apologist: the Catholic apologist can at least point to a well-defined “Church Magisterium”, whereas Jeff’s “voice of the church” is quite nebulous.

    My response to such “appeal to authority”:

    Don’t hide behind “the voice of the church”, as if that somehow obviates the need of your *individual* interpretation. You are still doing individual interpretation, it’s just that instead of interpreting scriptures, you are interpreting other people’s interpretations of scriptures.

    There is no Mediator but Christ, not only for righteousness, but also for wisdom. He is the Rabbi/Teacher and all believers are brothers. I do not learn the gospel of Christ through the mediation of the “voice of the church”. Rather I discern the “voice of the church” by the gospel of Christ once delivered in the scriptures.

    From your point of view, the “voice of the church” may be right, I may be wrong, but this should not be settled by an “appeal to authority”, otherwise the RCC/EO would be automatically right, in spite of any “protest” based on Bible. If you say the RCC/EO do not represent the “voice of the church”, then how did you know who the “voice of the church” is? By your own expertise in “church history”? By the authority of a denomination founded 1600 years after the scriptures were completed?

    I hope you do not think the Reformation is only legitimate because “enough number of” people protested. As the apostle Paul says, let God be true, and every man a liar.

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  149. TW,

    Where does Scripture anathematize those who deny limited atonement. In anathematizes those who deny Christ’s deity (Jesus makes it a condition of salvation in John 8). It anathematizes those who deny JBFA in Galatians 1. I don’t know where it curses or damns those who deny limited atonement. Forget the creeds for a moment; shouldn’t that give you pause in writing off those who deny limited atonement as unsaved?

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  150. “It anathematizes those who deny JBFA in Galatians 1”
    I would be a bit careful here. Paul anathematizes those who *teach* a different gospel. I don’t think he has in mind people who have misunderstandings or gaps in their knowledge. I certainly wouldn’t say that one can believe *anything* and be justified, but I would be very, very careful about suggesting that there is any critical doctrine one must know perfectly to be saved. That’s not to say that faith has no content – surely it must! But the extent of the content may vary quite a bit from believer to believer – the thief on the cross probably didn’t have complete knowledge of the the hypostatic union (for example).

    As var as the Athanasian Creed goes – there are two elements. One is the doctrine it promulgates, and the other is the consequence of denying that doctrine. The creed was originally composed as a hymn and has not had universal consent of the church (the east rejected it). That being said, the trinitarian and christological doctrine has had quite a bit of agreement throughout history. If one wants to dispute those on the basis of one’s understanding of scripture, one has a very high bar to cross. The anathemas are not in the same category.

    Whatever, the case, it doesn’t seem right for believers to try and judge who is in and who is out. That isn’t so helpful.

    But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

    Whether one should be disciplined by the church or whether a teacher should be removed from his post is not the same as declaring whether one is truly a Christian or not.

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  151. Sdb,

    But excommunication is declaring that someone is not a Christian, at least insofar as we can tell.

    It also seems odd to condemn those who teach another gospel but not those who believe another gospel. If that’s the case, then the polytheistic Mormon layperson is my brother in Christ and doesn’t need the gospel.

    Perfect knowledge, no. Imperfect but adequate knowledge, yes.

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  152. TW: “The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. ”

    In fact, this is something I *disagree* with the Athanasian creed. I do not think the doctrine of “eternal generation/procession” is a test of faith in the gospel.

    Well, that’s it. You’re not a Christian.

    Kidding, but with a real point. My (humorous) declaration about your salvation would be pretty well meaningless, if meant seriously. It would take the invisible work of God and His election, and reduce it to my imperfect subjective assessment of your imperfect expression of your imperfect understanding of doctrine.

    There’s a reason I worded the conversation with a JW it like this: their profession is incompatible with salvation. I was focusing on the *words*, which I can see and evaluate, and not judging their understanding, which I cannot see, nor judging their salvation, which I also cannot see. It is a pragmatic judgment — which is appropriate for my participation in the visible church.

    The same would apply wrt to evaluating Mouw. Even after I read his analysis, assuming I disagreed with him, there would be too many unknowns to evaluate whether he is (a) a Christian, confused; or (b) a nonChristian, lost. I can’t know that — and I don’t need to know. God has not called me to the office of infallibly determining salvation for others. He has called me to the office of shepherding His church, and admitting into and excluding from that church on the basis of profession and conduct.

    You likewise are not actually able to judge whether a person who asserts unlimited atonement is (a) a Christian, confused or (b) a nonChristian, lost. And God has not called you to that office. I can say that confidently based on the complete absence of such an office in Scripture, added to several Scripture passages such as John 3.8, Heb 6.9, etc. We may *suspect* with varying confidence that an individual is unsaved, but we have no ability to know it.

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  153. “But excommunication is declaring that someone is not a Christian, at least insofar as we can tell.”
    I don’t think so. Excommunication is to deny assurance of salvation and bar from the table. We don’t necessarily *know* whether that person is actually among the elect or not.

    “It also seems odd to condemn those who teach another gospel but not those who believe another gospel.”
    Teachers are held to a higher standard.

    Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

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  154. TW: given what Robbins says above, would you also reject Robbins as a non-Christian?

    Not necessarily. He might be mightily confused. Given that he seems to follow G. Clark in his trinitarianism, that seems very likely.

    Question: Why is it so important to you to determine who is In and Out of the kingdom of God? Is it not enough to identify false teachings on the one hand, and teachers whose fruit is bad on the other?

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  155. TW: We are back to the issue of “authority”.

    It is the gospel that defines “the church”.

    It is not “the church” that defines the gospel. If this view is true, then we should convert to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Yikes. Seems like a false dichotomy to me. Does the gospel define the church? Yes. Did God appoint apostles and elders to teach and discern sound doctrine within that church? Yes. Are said elders infallible? No; they need one another to provide the wisdom of many counselors. That is the role of the authority of the church.

    So it is NOT “The church defines the gospel; therefore, the magisterium is infallible.” Nor yet is it “the gospel defines the church, so any random Tianqi or Jeff can single-handedly discern who is saved or unsaved.”

    There is a fallible reasoning process operating on an infallible Scripture. That requires our utmost effort in both deductive and inductive reasoning skills.

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  156. SDB,

    I don’t think so. Excommunication is to deny assurance of salvation and bar from the table. We don’t necessarily *know* whether that person is actually among the elect or not.

    Sure, we don’t “know” know for sure or not. But if a church bars someone from the table, it is saying, “You, as far as we can tell, are not a Christian.” It’s not merely saying, “Your behavior is not in line with a Christian profession.” It can say that to all Christians because we all act in ways that are not in line with that profession.

    We never know if someone is elect or not. The atheist who lives next door might be elect but has not yet professed faith. Excommunication isn’t a description of election, its a description of whether or not one’s profession of Christian faith is genuine. And if a person’s profession of Christian faith is not genuine, the church is saying, “You are not a Christian, as far as we can tell.”

    If excommunication is not telling me that I have no good reason to believe I’m a Christian, there is no point to it.

    Teachers are held to a higher standard.

    Sure, but are you really saying that you can be saved AND believe another gospel? My JW neighbor believes Jesus is the Savior but she still refuses to believe that Jesus is God incarnate even after being taught patiently about it. Does that mean I can count her as a Christian sister? What about Joseph Smith’s third wife who isn’t a teacher, but believes that Jesus is the Savior AND that he is Satan’s brother and one of many, many gods?

    Seems like in the rush to counter TW’s too restrictive definition of the gospel, you might be not drawing any lines at all.

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  157. Jeff,

    He has called me to the office of shepherding His church, and admitting into and excluding from that church on the basis of profession and conduct.

    You likewise are not actually able to judge whether a person who asserts unlimited atonement is (a) a Christian, confused or (b) a nonChristian, lost. And God has not called you to that office. I can say that confidently based on the complete absence of such an office in Scripture, added to several Scripture passages such as John 3.8, Heb 6.9, etc. We may *suspect* with varying confidence that an individual is unsaved, but we have no ability to know it.

    Yes, but if the church excludes a person based on profession and conduct, it is saying, “We have a reasonable degree of certainty, though we are fallible and therefore could possibly be wrong, that said person is not saved.”

    The church can’t know the heart. It can only make fallible and prudential judgments based on behavior, but those judgments are still making a declaration about a person’s soul insofar as it is possible, fallibly, to make that judgment based on behavior and profession. Otherwise, why do I care if the church excommunicates me?

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  158. I’m not convinced. For example, Paul tells the church in Corinth to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” I think the assumption here is that he is a believer even though he has fallen into grave sexual immorality. Again, in his second letter to the Thessalonians he says, “Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.”

    Excommunication is not a declaration that you are not a Christian. It is a declaration that you have no assurance of salvation.

    Regarding your hypotheticals about your mormon or JW friends…just because a Mormon or JW comes to recognize the need for Christ as their savior does not mean that they immediately shed all of their loony beliefs. If they are truly justified, then they will grow in grace and knowledge of the truth. If they are recalcitrant and insist on holding onto error, then they should not be given any assurance of being saved and eventually should be barred from the table. But I don’t think they aren’t saved until they shed all of their incorrect beliefs. There is an analogy here with immorality. Is someone who is sleeping with his girl friend an unbeliever. If someone hears the gospel and responds to it, they may be saved and not realize that their situation is sinful.It may take time to internalize that and repent. That is different from someone who flat out refuses to turn on their sin. I suspect that most pew-sitters could get quite twisted into knots if you scratched too deeply into what they can articulate about the relationship between justification and sanctification. My guess is that a non-negliglble number of them who profess JBFA hold other beliefs that are inconsistent with that. You can call that “another gospel”, but I don’t think that is what Paul has in mind. His aim is teachers who are seeking to undermine the truth.

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  159. @Robert:

    “We have no confidence that you are Christian”

    Vs

    “We have confidence that you are not a Christian”

    Vs

    “You are almost certainly not a Christian”

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  160. SDB,

    Excommunication is not a declaration that you are not a Christian. It is a declaration that you have no assurance of salvation.

    Since only professing Christians are admitted to membership, then if you excommunicate someone, you are saying that their profession is invalid, and if a profession is invalid, you are judging that person not to be a Christian. Otherwise you wouldn’t excommunicate them. Otherwise you would say, welcome to the table, you are clearly repentant and thus clearly in Christ (insofar as we can tell).

    I’m not convinced. For example, Paul tells the church in Corinth to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” I think the assumption here is that he is a believer even though he has fallen into grave sexual immorality. Again, in his second letter to the Thessalonians he says, “Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.”

    In the specific Corinthian example, it’s hard to tell. I don’t see any assumption on Paul’s part that the man is a Christian. Why are you handing over God’s children to the devil? The assumption looks more like: This guy isn’t living in line with the profession. I have no reason to believe he is. Maybe he is, and if so, handing him over to the devil will sort it out. Certainly he is not literally saying, my brother in Christ now belongs to Satan.

    The Thessalonian example is difficult. It’s not clear if this is talking about a full on excommunication or some step between admonishment and excommunication. But Paul can’t be talking about “warn him as a Christian brother” because he also says “don’t associate with him.” And it’s a sin not to associate with Christian brothers.

    Jesus says treat the excommunicated person as a tax collector—ie, as one outside of God’s saving grace who needs the gospel.

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  161. Jeff,

    Excommunication means:

    “We have no confidence that you are Christian”

    “We have none of the confidence appropriate to fallible human beings who can’t read the heart that you are a Christian.”

    “We have confidence that you are not a Christian”

    “We have the amount of confidence appropriate to fallible human beings who can’t read the heart that you are not a Christian.”

    “You are almost certainly not a Christian”

    This is what I’m arguing for. The church is saying, “From everything we can tell, we have no good reason to believe you are a Christian.” It’s not an infallible declaration, but unless you are actually telling the excommunicated person that you do not believe he is a Christian, excommunication is absolutely pointless.

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  162. Jeff,

    “We have no confidence that you are Christian”

    Vs

    “We have confidence that you are not a Christian”

    Vs

    “You are almost certainly not a Christian”

    Excommunication means:

    We have no REASONABLE confidence that you are a Christian.

    We have REASONABLE confidence that you are not a Christian.

    Judging by your behavior, you are almost certainly not a Christian.

    I fail to see how those are not equivalent statements.

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  163. SDB and Jeff,

    Let’s consider an analogy.

    1. In the court of law, a person is assumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
    2. If the person is proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the court regards him as guilty.
    3. Is it possible that the person, in fact, committed no crime. Sure. In fact, sometimes people are wrongly convicted even though the evidence considered does eliminate all reasonable doubt. New evidence can come to light to exonerate the person. Nevertheless, until that happens, the person is guilty in the eyes of the court.

    1. In the church, a professing believer is considered to be a Christian and entitled to all the privileges associated with it until by his behavior, he proves his profession wrong beyond a reasonable doubt.
    2. When elders do their job right, they do not excommunicate anyone until that person proves their profession wrong beyond a reasonable doubt. Once that happens, the person is cut off from the privileges associated with being a Christian. It is a grave sin to do this without reasonable/just cause because you might otherwise be cutting off a christian from the privileges attendant to his status and from the means of grace. In fact, a good elder would never excommunicate someone if he had reasonable doubt that his profession is invalid. A good elder would never cut off the means of grace to someone with whom there was reason to believe his profession and thus that he is a Christian.
    3. Is it possible that the excommunicated person, in fact, is truly a Christian. Sure. In fact, more evidence might arise to demonstrate it—the person might come to repentance. Nevertheless, until that happens, the person is not a Christian in the eyes of the church. If that person is a Christian in the eyes of the church and the church does not extend to him the means of grace, then that church is in grave, grave, grave, sin.

    This is why excommunication is not the first step of discipline, typically. You want to make sure you get it right. You want to make sure that there is no reasonable evidence that the person is a Christian.

    Lines can be drawn too narrowly, as TW seemingly wants to do, but let’s not pretend that the church isn’t saying, “As far as we can tell, excommunicated Bob is not a Christian.”

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  164. The “beyond reasonable doubt” understanding seems right in light of Matt 18.17.

    Two things I wanted to guard against above. (1) declaring people “not Christian” willy-nilly. (2) Going beyond the visible and making *absolute* pronouncements about the invisible.

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  165. I love this….

    “ 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. “

    With much liberty comes much responsibility…

    But the ultimate peace & comfort trumps all.

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  166. @Robert & Jeff
    Isn’t excommunication just a statement about one’s status in the visible communion? So we treat them *like* an unbeliever – not declare that they are an unbeliever. Of course, the confession says that *ordinarily* there is no salvation outside of the church. “Ordinary” is key here I think. Following Paul, we don’t judge the heart of others and decide who is saved and who is not. We judge the behavior and determine if removal from the body is appropriate.

    “Since only professing Christians are admitted to membership, then if you excommunicate someone, you are saying that their profession is invalid”
    I’m not sure this is right. Not all professing Christians are admitted to membership in what I think we would agree are true churches. For example, the SBC would not admit someone who had not undergone believer baptism by immersion even if they thought that person were a Christian. The PCA requires submission to the session (vow #5). I could imagine that a convinced congregationalist would have a problem with that. The LCMS requires belief in the real presence to be admitted to the table or join their church, though I’m pretty sure that they would still consider presbyterians believers.

    Now imagine a member of a PCA church who became convinced that one must believe in the limited atonement to be counted as a believer and that person became divisive. Upon warning by the session and a call to repent of their divisiveness, this person proved to be incorrigible. They really believed that by remaining silent on this matter put others salvation at risk. Upon gentle recommendation that this person attend a church elsewhere, he persists. I could imagine that this could get to a point where excommunication becomes the right path forward to protect the peace of the church even if one doesn’t doubt his salvation. Am I mistaken?

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  167. Jeff and SDB,

    And of course the threshold for a credible profession of faith is quite low. Person must know he’s a sinner, that the God of the Bible is the one true God, and that the only way to be reconciled to god is to trust only in Christ. People can do all that and still not get imputation, election, limited atonement, etc 100 percent right.

    I believed that only Jesus could save me and none of my works long before I knew any of those things. Was I a Christian? Of course I was.

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  168. @sdb, wrt “It (excommunication) is a declaration that you have no assurance of salvation.” Can you clarify. How does (and why would) a church declare such a thing?

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  169. Sdb,

    The issue with those denominational considerations is that in the PCA you don’t have to submit to the elders to take the Supper. We admit anyone to the table who trusts in Jesus and who isn’t under discipline of an evangelical church. I think it’s possible to never formally join a PCA church and yet take the supper. Maybe Jeff knows otherwise, but presumably, one could attend a PCA church for decades, live a holy life, never join formally, and still take the supper.

    We would view the SBC and Missouri Synod as true churches, but I don’t think they return the favor. Certainly they’re not hostile and do think we’re Christians, but I think they’re being (happily) inconsistent. One of the key ways I know I’m a Christian is if a gospel preaching church receives my baptism as an infant and admits me to the table. An SBC church that follows its polity cant do either. The MS will receive my baptism but not admit me to the table.

    Evangelical Presbyterians (evangelical in the good historic sense) really are the most catholic Christians of all.

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  170. Re: “it’s possible to never formally join a PCA church and yet take the supper” – yes, that would be my personal anecdotal experience fwiw.

    But also fwiw, re SBC churches. My personal anecdotal experience is that the communion table is ‘open’ to all believers, and no attempt is generally ever made to dissuade anyone.

    The MS, on the other hand, is very closed. For that matter, if strict MS folks were in a non-MS church on a given Sunday, they would not partake.

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  171. @Petros
    I’m not sure what you mean. Are you asking, what is the basis for the church to declare you have no assurance of salvation?

    This section from the Westminster Confession might help:

    1. The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of his church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate.

    2. To these officers the keys of the kingdom of heaven are committed; by virtue whereof, they have power, respectively, to retain, and remit sins; to shut that kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures; and to open it unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel; and by absolution from censures, as occasion shall require.

    3. Church censures are necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honor of Christ, and the holy profession of the gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the church, if they should suffer his covenant, and the seals thereof, to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

    4. For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the church are to proceed by admonition; suspension from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season; and by excommunication from the church; according to the nature of the crime, and demerit of the person.

    In reformed churches (and others I presume) part of the liturgy is the assurance of pardon. As part of the service, the pastor will declare something along the lines of,

    “In the Name of Christ and by the authority of His Word I declare to you that God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved you, even when you were dead in your transgressions, made you alive together with Christ and raised you up with Him, and seated you with Him in the heavenly places. Your sins are forgiven you.”

    By being excommunicated, you are being denied the assurance of pardon. Additionally, with excommunication you are denied access to the sacraments. The Belgic confession notes,

    [God] has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith….confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.

    Denial of the sacraments (which comes along with excommunication) is to deny access to the means of grace by which our faith is nourished and our salvation is confirmed.

    In particular, the Lord’s supper…

    …is a spiritual table at which Christ communicates himself to us with all his benefits. At that table he makes us enjoy himself as much as the merits of his suffering and death, as he nourishes, strengthens, and comforts our poor, desolate souls by the eating of his flesh, and relieves and renews them by the drinking of his blood….The wicked certainly take the sacrament, to their condemnation…He is communicated only to believers.

    In a sense, excommunication is a form of mercy that stops the unrepentant sinner from taking ” the sacrament,
    to their condemnation…”

    Excommunication is the act of saying that one is no longer part of the visible church outside of which there is no ordinary means of salvation.

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  172. SDB, ok, thanks. Fair enough, I thought it might have been an inside-presby-baseball comment, and I guess it was. I just don’t have as lofty a view of confessions, of church authority, or of the sacraments, nor do I think assurance of salvation is located in any of them.

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  173. @ Robert, Petros: We admit anyone to the table who trusts in Jesus and who isn’t under discipline of an evangelical church. I think it’s possible to never formally join a PCA church and yet take the supper. Maybe Jeff knows otherwise, but presumably, one could attend a PCA church for decades, live a holy life, never join formally, and still take the supper.

    The BCO service, which we follow, welcomes all those who are “communicants in good standing in a gospel-preaching church”, which is not the same as “not under discipline” — specifically excluded are those who are not members anywhere.

    So in Robert’s scenario, one *might* be a member elsewhere for decades, but the session ought to be nudging you to either be a member where you are, or else be where you are a member.

    Like

  174. SDB: Isn’t excommunication just a statement about one’s status in the visible communion? So we treat them *like* an unbeliever – not declare that they are an unbeliever. Of course, the confession says that *ordinarily* there is no salvation outside of the church. “Ordinary” is key here I think. Following Paul, we don’t judge the heart of others and decide who is saved and who is not. We judge the behavior and determine if removal from the body is appropriate.

    It’s stronger than that. The visible communion is “the church as man sees it”, a proxy measurement of the church as God sees it.

    We guard against the view that excommunication makes one unsaved (as the Catholics would have it), since the actions of man cannot sever a person from Christ.

    But in saying that we treat someone like an unbeliever, we are *regarding* that person as outside the faith, with the understanding that our regard is fallible. Thus the language about “handing over to Satan” in 1 Cor 5.5. There is a hope that the individual may be saved in the future, but also a declaration right now that, as far as we can tell, he is outside the faith (1 Cor 5.11 – 13).

    Having said that, it is interesting to note in the BCO that when someone repents and returns, he is treated as a repentant believer, not as someone coming to faith for the first time, which compares with 2 Cor 2.5 – 11.

    So the declaration is that their determined continuance in sin (“contumacy”) compels us to regard them as (likely) unsaved, with the understanding that such determination may be in error, and that true believers may still experience a long period of being taken in by sin.

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  175. Petros: I just don’t have as lofty a view of confessions, of church authority, or of the sacraments, nor do I think assurance of salvation is located in any of them.

    Assurance isn’t located there, excepting that the sacraments preach the same promises (washing of sin, feeding on Christ) as the gospel. The assurance is found in the promises.

    But excommunication should, under typical circumstances, disturb the assurance of salvation! Not because the church has the power to remove salvation, but because your elders are telling you that your obstinacy in sin is incompatible with being led by the Spirit. It’s not that assurance is located in church authority, but rather that elders have the authority to tell you that you’ve gone off the rails.

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  176. @Petros
    “I thought it might have been an inside-presby-baseball comment, and I guess it was. ”
    My understanding is that this is the historic view of classical protestantism held in common by Presbyterians, continental reformed, and Lutherans.

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  177. “So the declaration is that their determined continuance in sin (“contumacy”) compels us to regard them as (likely) unsaved, with the understanding that such determination may be in error, and that true believers may still experience a long period of being taken in by sin.”
    Fair enough.

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  178. Jeff, “Assurance isn’t located there” – yes, agreed, that was my point to sdb. “excommunication should, under typical circumstances, disturb the assurance of salvation” – as far as I can tell, excommunication happens so very rarely, it probably depends upon what is viewed to be ‘typical”. (My sense is that Luther thought his excommunication was a badge of honor!)

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  179. Jeff,

    The BCO service, which we follow, welcomes all those who are “communicants in good standing in a gospel-preaching church”, which is not the same as “not under discipline” — specifically excluded are those who are not members anywhere.

    So in Robert’s scenario, one *might* be a member elsewhere for decades, but the session ought to be nudging you to either be a member where you are, or else be where you are a member.

    Thanks. That is helpful.

    Question: What do you do with someone, let’s say a college student, who was baptized by a lawfully ordained Baptist minister in the ocean but who has not joined a church and then comes to your church? Do you wait to give him the Supper until he becomes a member there or elsewhere?

    I’m just curious. I wasn’t familiar with the BCO service wording. I’ve only ever heard “not under discipline.” The BCO wording seems superior to me.

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  180. Petros,

    I think the best thing to say regarding discipline and assurance is that a church’s declaration is never absolute about the state of one’s soul (for we cannot see the heart), but that I have little to no external, objective grounds for believing myself to be saved if wise and godly church leaders/elders have excommunicated me. I think assurance has to come through a mix of objective and subjective factors:

    Objective factors would include: baptism, affirmation by a gospel-teaching church, the Lord’s Supper, deeds of love done for other brothers and sisters in Christ, knowledge and affirmation of the biblical gospel, etc.

    Subjective factors would include: inner testimony of the Spirit that I am a child of God, feeling of affection for other believers, a desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, the presence of some, albeit imperfect, spiritual fruit, etc.

    One doesn’t really have legitimate assurance unless one has elements from both of those categories.

    My experience in a church that attempts to practice discipline according to Scripture and the PCA BCO is that excommunication is and should be rare. Often it is because the elders are working with someone who repents before they show evidence of impenitent contumacy, in which case the congregation never knows the person was under discipline. It is also because the elders don’t go after every possible sin but, in keeping with Scripture, only those of a public and heinous quality—adultery, public disavowal of one’s Christian profession, living in sin, etc.

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  181. Robert: “Where does Scripture anathematize those who deny limited atonement. In anathematizes those who deny Christ’s deity (Jesus makes it a condition of salvation in John 8). It anathematizes those who deny JBFA in Galatians 1. I don’t know where it curses or damns those who deny limited atonement. Forget the creeds for a moment; shouldn’t that give you pause in writing off those who deny limited atonement as unsaved?”

    I think you are referring to John 8:24 and Galatians 1:8.

    John 8:24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that *I am he*, you will die in your sins.”

    Galatians 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you *a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you*, let him be accursed.

    Your question assumes that Christ’s proclamation “I am he” includes his deity, but does not include limited atonement, and “the gospel we [apostles] preached to you” includes justification by faith alone, but not limited atonement.

    1) Christ’s proclamation of “I am he” cannot be reduced to the bare assertion of his deity apart from his humanity or his mediatorial office and work. It is a declaration that he is the only-begotten Son of God who came in the flesh to do his Father’s will, which is to save the ELECT from their sins.

    After Jesus declared the necessity to believe “I am he”, this is the conversation that followed:

    John 8:25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that *I am he*, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

    In response to the Jews’ inquiry of his true identity, Jesus emphasized he did not come on his own, but on a mission of God the Father, as he has already told them. Well, this is how Jesus speaks about *his mission*, just a few chapters earlier in the same book:

    John 6:37 *All that the Father gives to Me* shall come to Me, and the one coming to Me I will in no way cast out. For I have come down out of Heaven, not that I should do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of the Father sending Me, that of *all that He has given Me*, I shall not lose any of it, but shall raise it up in the last day. And this is the will of the One sending Me, that everyone seeing the Son and believing into Him should have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

    In this passage both ELECTION and JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH are mentioned, related by EFFECTUAL CALLING, as what defines the *scope* of Christ’s redemptive mission: the scope is defined by election as the cause of calling, and the scope is defined by faith as the result of calling.

    Then unless one denies what Jesus says about his mission and believes that Jesus “does his own will” rather than the Father’s will, one cannot believe in an atonement with a scope more or less than the scope of election and calling. He must believe in LIMITED Atonement: Christ only died for the elect, and only those for whom Christ died will come to faith.

    If Justification by Faith is essential to the gospel, then so is Election.

    If Election and Justification by Faith are essential to the gospel, then so is LIMITED Atonement.

    2) Paul’s anathema in Galatians is not restricted to the specific error that he was dealing with, but to anything that is “a gospel contrary to” what he was committed to preach.

    What is so bad about the error of requiring circumcision for Christians that Paul calls it another gospel? Well, Paul says that justification is by faith, not by works. Circumcision is a work, so requiring circumcision for Christians is teaching justification by works.

    This is the explanation that’s often given. But it is incomplete, to say the least.

    For one thing, it raises another question: what’s the difference between faith and works? Isn’t faith also a work? Is Paul’s point that justification is by a specfic type of works, namely “faith in Christ”, rather than other types of works, such as circumcision? Et cetera.

    The real answer is in the following verse:

    Galatians 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness is through Law, then Christ died without cause.

    The apostle sees a *competition* (rather than *cooperation*) between two righteousnesses: “righteousness through Law” vs Christ’s death. He says that if the former is possible, then the latter is unnecessary.

    This logic is contrary to the thinking of many people who profess Christianity, who believe there could and should be a combination of one’s works and Christ’s death for one’ sins. These people see that they need an atonement for their sins, but also think this is not enough on its own and they need to have a certain type of works in addition, in order not to be condemned.

    Instead of a strict dichotomy of righteousness of works of Law and righteousness of Christ’s death, these people have a “tertium quid”: a righteousness fused from both. By this fusion, they deny both the strict justice of God and free grace of God.

    Romans 2:11-13 For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as sinned without Law will also perish without Law. And as many as sinned within Law will be judged through Law. For not the hearers of the Law are just with God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified.

    Romans 3:23-26 for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the one that is of the faith of Jesus.

    Romans 11:5-6 So then, also in the present time a remnant according to election of grace has come into being. But if by grace, no longer is it of works; else grace no longer becomes grace. But if of works, it is no longer grace; else work is no longer work.

    Moreover, in this fusion of the works of two parties (both the sinner’s and the Mediator’s), they also denied the *substitutionary nature* of the Mediator’s atoning work of death.

    Galatians 2:19-20 For through Law I died to Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I live; yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God, the One loving me and giving Himself over on my behalf.

    One common example is that they think the atonement (can) cover all sin except one sin, the sin of unbelief. They say Christ died for all sinners and all (but one) sins, but for many sinners this is not enough to escape from the wrath to come, because they lack faith.

    Thus, “justification by faith (alone)” is twisted into a denial of the efficacy of Christ’s death, and ends up promoting a righteousness of works.

    But when asked, these people will vehemently deny they are promoting a righteousness of works, by appealing to “faith is not works”. Some of them might even say “we are saved by Christ alone”, while holding that some sinners for whom Christ died will not be saved due to their lack of faith.

    If someone is intent on killing me and also keeps saying that he “really loves” me, I must regard him as a liar or he has no idea of what “love” means. I will not say they really love me, just inconsistently.

    I do not doubt the religious sincerity of many of those who believe Christ died for all sinners. Instead, I think they do not understand the gospel in the scriptures, and reject it when it is shown to them.

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  182. Jeff:”Question: Why is it so important to you to determine who is In and Out of the kingdom of God? Is it not enough to identify false teachings on the one hand, and teachers whose fruit is bad on the other?”

    My main concern is not about which particular persons, historic or contemporary, are Christians, but *what the gospel is*.

    If someone, after an introduction to what Hinduism teaches, concludes Hindus essentially worship the same God as the God of the Bible, then the problem with him is not merely getting wrong about the spiritual status of particular Hindus, but he is getting wrong about God of the Bible.

    A person who sees Hinduism and Christianity to lie on a continuous spectrum, who sees Christianity as a more perfect version of the kernel of truths contained in Hinduism, has an essentially different view of God, Christ, and the gospel.

    If you get this, then you know why I insist that those denying limited atonement are not Christians. It’s because I consider Universal Atonement to be “another gospel”. If I were to draw a line, then a message of “Christ died for all (and not all will be saved)” will be on the same side as Hinduism, and on the opposite side of the gospel.

    Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

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  183. “If someone is intent on killing me and also keeps saying that he “really loves” me, I must regard him as a liar or he has no idea of what “love” means. ”

    I wonder what Isaac would say about that?

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  184. TW: My main concern is not about which particular persons, historic or contemporary, are Christians, but *what the gospel is*. …

    A person who sees Hinduism and Christianity to lie on a continuous spectrum, who sees Christianity as a more perfect version of the kernel of truths contained in Hinduism, has an essentially different view of God, Christ, and the gospel.

    If you get this, then you know why I insist that those denying limited atonement are not Christians. It’s because I consider Universal Atonement to be “another gospel”.

    Your analysis still fails to deal with Peter. We know for a fact that Peter was saved prior to Acts 2. We know for a fact that twice thereafter, he was rebuked for Judaizing tendencies. He was saved yet still erred on an essential.

    And again, you need to reckon with the silence of Scripture in regard to anathemetizing unlimited atonement. Not only is there no condemnation for that view, but Peter and Paul both use language that is easily misconstrued as hypothetically universalist (at least out of context).

    And yet again, you need to reckon with the history of the church. Sound doctrine and the understanding of the gospel did not *poof* come into existence with Peter and Paul, then continue in pristine form from Polycarp to McCulley. Rather, it took a long time for the Spirit to guide the church into a clear understanding of JFBA, limited atonement, etc.

    As a part of that reckoning, you need to understand the intellectual debt you owe to men whom you now revile as “not Christian.” For example, Ursinus, whom you have previously excommunicated from the church of TW, was an early proponent of the view that imputation precedes faith.

    It seems to me that you have no room for faith being stronger or weaker, no room for faith to be flawed in its understanding. You seem to assume that because kingdom identification is binary, therefore saving faith is also binary. This is not necessarily so.

    Like

  185. Jeff: “Individuals who err on essentials automatically not saved? Contrary to the example of Scripture, in which Peter was the Spirit-filled, justified apostle of Christ, yet erred on works and ceremonies and had to be rebuked more than once (Acts 10.15, Gal 2.11)”

    Jeff:”Your analysis still fails to deal with Peter. We know for a fact that Peter was saved prior to Acts 2. We know for a fact that twice thereafter, he was rebuked for Judaizing tendencies. He was saved yet still erred on an essential.”

    1) There is no evidence Peter erred in Acts 10:15. He merely did not immediately get the point of the vision the Lord showed him – which is not to tell him to eat ceremonially unclean animals from now on, but to accept the Gentile converts into the church. Once Cornelius showed up at his door, he then understood the point of vision and accepted him.

    Peter was still in a “transition period”. He knew that God also saves Gentiles (“the promise is…to those far off, as many as God will call”, Acts 2:39), but he himself had only been preaching to Jews until Acts 10. Though OT prophecies have foretold the salvation of Gentiles, they did not make clear the *specific manner* of their inclusion into the community of God’s people. The apostle Paul, who was specially assigned the task to preach the gospel to Gentiles, called it “a mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, as now it was revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, for the nations to be joint-heirs, and a joint-body and joint-sharers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)

    Just as it was not necessary for the OT elect to know that Christ’s name is “Jesus” and will die on a Roman cross, because these things have not yet been revealed in God’s time table of progressive revelation, it was not necessary for Peter to know the specific manner of Gentile inclusion, until the time God actually brought up Gentile converts to him, preceded by a vision of the Lord.

    2) Peter did err in Galatians 2:11. What was his error?

    “For before some came from James, he ate with the nations. But when they came, he drew back and separated himself, being afraid of those of the circumcision. And also the rest of the Jews dissembled with him, so as even Barnabas was led away with their dissembling.” (Galatians 2:12-13)

    Notice his error was not one of doctrine, but one of conduct. His misconduct was not due to a Judaizing doctrine of his own, but out of “being afraid of” those who held that error.

    As an apostle, his misconduct has serious consequences: it led the other Jews to “dissemble” with him. Instead of opposing the Judaizing party, Peter’s cowardly actions lend credence to their false gospel.

    For this reason Paul confronted Peter and rebuked him:

    “But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before all, If you being a Jew, live heathen-like, and not as the Jews, why do you compel the nations to Judaize?” (Galatians 2:14)

    Paul’s judgment is Peter did not “walk uprightly with the truth of the gospel”, not that Peter was preaching or followed “another gospel”. This is a *big* difference.

    Peter didn’t preach that Gentiles must become Jews for salvation, or he would have fallen under the anathema of Galatians 1:8-9.

    Nor was Paul implying that Peter himself believed Jewishness was a requirement for salvation, or he would have fallen under the anathema of Galatians 5:2-4.

    Rather, out of fear of men, Peter was failing in his duty to combat this error, and was contributing to the confusion by his actions.

    Jeff: “And again, you need to reckon with the silence of Scripture in regard to anathemetizing unlimited atonement. Not only is there no condemnation for that view, but Peter and Paul both use language that is easily misconstrued as hypothetically universalist (at least out of context).”

    According to your church’s confession, “the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or *by good and necessary consequences may be deduced* from Scripture…” (Westminster Confession, Chapter 1, Section 6)

    The rule of faith has nothing do with what “may be easily construed from the language used in scriptures”, nor restricted to only what is “expressly set down in scriptures”, but also includes “what may be DEDUCED from scriptures”.

    This is how new, subtle, destructive errors like adoptionism, Arianism, monophysitism, Nestorianism, justification by faith working through love, etc were condemned by men of conviction in the past, who saw the incompatibility of these errors with what they consider to be the gospel. Many of these errors were not explicitly condemned in the scriptures because they haven’t yet appeared at the time of the writing of scriptures. Moreover, all these errors had some plausibility as an interpretation of scripture – at least to the promoters and followers of these errors – and that’s how they gained traction.

    Jeff: “And yet again, you need to reckon with the history of the church. Sound doctrine and the understanding of the gospel did not *poof* come into existence with Peter and Paul, then continue in pristine form from Polycarp to McCulley. Rather, it took a long time for the Spirit to guide the church into a clear understanding of JFBA, limited atonement, etc.

    “As a part of that reckoning, you need to understand the intellectual debt you owe to men whom you now revile as “not Christian.” For example, Ursinus, whom you have previously excommunicated from the church of TW, was an early proponent of the view that imputation precedes faith.

    What you said, similar to the Roman Catholic theory of “development of doctrine”, is a denial that THE FAITH was *once delivered* to the saints (Jude 1:3). You are also misapplying the verse about Spirit’s guidance to “the history of Christian doctrine” rather than to the conversion of elect individuals to the gospel.

    The understanding of the essentials of the gospel is not the intellectual achievement of theological research, but the Spirit causing the elect to understand the Word. God’s grace is that every elect in every age will repent and come to the truth of the gospel. God saves individuals, who comprise the church, not some organization called “church”.

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  186. Jeff: “It seems to me that you have no room for faith being stronger or weaker, no room for faith to be flawed in its understanding. You seem to assume that because kingdom identification is binary, therefore saving faith is also binary. This is not necessarily so.”

    1) Do you think this guy has “a flawed but saving faith”?

    The Creed of Ulfilas: “I, Ulfila, bishop and confessor, have always so believed, and in this, the one true faith, I make the journey to my Lord; I believe that there is only one God, the Father, alone unbegotten and invisible, and in His only-begotten Son, our Lord and God, creator and maker of all things, not having any like unto Him. Therefore there is one God of all, who is also God of our God, And I believe in one Holy Spirit, an enlightening and sanctifying power. As Christ says after the resurrection to his Apostles: “Behold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) And again: “And ye shall receive power coming upon you by the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:8) Neither God, nor Lord, but the faithful minister of Christ; not equal, but subject and obedient in all things to the Son. And I believe the Son to be subject and obedient in all things to God the Father.”

    Auxentius of Durostorum on Wulfila:”… [Wulfila was] of great propriety, verily a confessor of Christ, a teacher of piety and a preacher of truth. He never hesitated to preach quite openly and very clearly to willing and unwilling alike the one true God, the Father of Christ, and the second rank of this same Christ, knowing this one true God to be alone unbegotten, without beginning, without end, eternal, exalted, sublime, excellent, most high creator, epitome of all excellence, better than all good, infinite, uncontainable, invisible, immense, immortal, incorruptible, incommunicable, an incorporeal being, uncomposite, simple, immutable, undivided, immovable, lacking in nothing, inaccessible, undivided, not subject to rule, uncreated, unmade, perfect in singular existence, incomparably greater and better than all. Who being alone, not to the division or diminution of His divinity, but to the display of His goodness and power, by His will and power alone, passionless Himself impassible, indestructibly Himself indestructible, and immovably Himself unmoved, did create and beget, make and establish the only-begotten God.

    “He never concealed that, according to the authority and tradition of the Holy scriptures, this second God and Author of all things existed from the Father, after the Father, for the Father, and for the glory of the Father; rather he always set forth according to the Blessed Gospels that He was both great God and great Lord and great King, and great Mystery, great Light and great Pontifex, the Lord who is Provider and Law-giver, Redeemer, Savior… born before all ages, Creator of all creation, just Judge of the quick and the dead, having a greater God, His Father, for he (Wulfila) despised and trampled on the odious and abominable, depraved and perverse confession of the Homoousians as a devilish invention and doctrine of demons. He himself knowing and handing down to us that, if the indefatigable power of the only-begotten God is reliably said to be capable of having made all things celestial and terrestrial, invisible and visible, and is believed rightly and faithfully by us Christians, why is it not believed that the passionless power of God the Father might create His only-begotten Son? But he also deplored and shunned the error and impiety of the Homoiousians, being himself most carefully instructed out of the Holy Scriptures, and confirmed earnestly therein in many councils of saintly bishops, as he spread abroad by his sermons and tracts, the difference of divinity between the Father and the Son, between the unbegotten and the only-begotten God, that the Father was Creator of the Creator, that the Son was truly Creator of all creation; and the Father was the God of the Lord, that the Son was then God of all creation.

    “He also subscribed to the concept that the Holy Ghost was neither Father nor Son, but created by the Father through the Son before all things, that he is not first nor second, but placed by the first through the second in third rank; that he is not unbegotten nor begotten, but created by the Unbegotten through the Begotten in the third rank, according to the evangelical preaching and apostolic tradition of St. John, who says: “All things were made by Him and without Him not any thing was made;” (John 1.1) and by blessed Paul who asserted: “[there is] but one God the Father, of whom are all things … and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom all things are.” (1 Cor. 8.6)

    “For since there exists one unbegotten God, and there subsists one Lord the only-begotten God, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, can neither be said to be God nor Lord, but is fixed by God through the Lord to be: not the creator nor the author; but the illuminator and sanctifier, teacher and leader, helper and postulant, … and informer, minister of Christ and dispenser of grace, the pledge we have been sealed with for the day of redemption, without whom no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, as the apostle says: “No one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12.3) and as Christ says: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6)”

    2) What about this guy?

    Michael Sudduth on his conversion to Hinduism: “I have spent twenty-five years as a Protestant Christian, a tradition that I came to through my reading of the Bible and personal experience of the Lord Jesus Christ in my early 20’s. For most of these twenty-five years I have been an adherent of the Reformed theological tradition, though with an appreciation for both Catholicism and Protestant traditions other than my own. As a professional philosopher of religion since the mid 1990’s, I have devoted much of my work to bringing as much clarity as possible to important questions concerning the nature of religious knowledge, the concept of God, and the project of natural theology (i.e., rational arguments for God’s existence). I have regularly streamlined these interests in the philosophy of religion with their relevance to and development in the context of Reformed philosophical theology.

    “Despite my long-standing adherence to the Christian tradition, my spiritual journey has now moved me eastward and outside the framework of Christian theism. For the past few years I have been increasingly drawn to the Indian philosophy of Vedanta, specifically the bhakti tradition of Vaishnavism. By being “drawn” to Vedanta I mean both a philosophical attraction to the ideas of Vaishnava Vedanta (and GV in particular) and an experiential attraction to the person of Lord Krishna in my spiritual/devotional life. This began with my readings in the Bhagavad Gita over the past several years (including a reading of Ramanuja’s Gita Bhasya), dramatically intensified in 2011, and culminated in a powerful religious experience of Krishna in the fall of 2011. It was this personal experience of Krishna that inspired me to visit Audarya, a Gaudiya Vaishnava ashram in northern California, during Thanksgiving of last year. There I discovered what I had in a sense known for quite some time: the depth of my love for Lord Krishna as the person who now reveals God to me in a way essential to my spiritual life.

    “I should add, and I think this is very important, that I felt I was experiencing the same God that I had experienced on many occasions throughout my Christian life. However, I felt like this being was showing me a different face, side, or aspect to Himself, or – better yet – a different mode of my relationship to Him. I felt a certain validation of my spiritual journey, both past and present. I had gone so far in my Christian faith, but it was now necessary for me to relate to God as Lord Krishna.

    “After my journey to Audarya in November 2011 (See my facebook note Reflections on Audarya), I had further confirmation that my heart had taken root in the soil of the eastern bhakti traditions. I can only describe my experience as one of being irresistibly drawn to Sri Krishna, overwhelmed with His power and beauty, convinced of his Godhead – in short overflowing with love for Him as the Supreme Personality of the Godhead, and through him love for all beings, as He resides in the hearts of all beings.

    “Krishna is the all-attractive Absolute who is manifested in the different religious traditions of the world. There is merging into impersonal Brahman. There are also distinctly theistic experiences in which the self encounters a personal God. Some experience the personal God under the name “Yahweh,” others “Allah;” and others “Jesus.” The names are many; God is one. Of these experiences, some are awe and reverence experiences; some are more unitive experiences with varying degrees of sensed intimacy between the self and God. Some are combinations of separation and intimacy. GV acknowledges that transcendental consciousness (the aim of nearly all religious traditions) is in fact variegated in nature. There are different modes or degrees of penetration into transcendence. For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the transcendental experience of impersonal Brahman is not the ultimate religious experience, however, it is a legitimate one and need not be discredited. It occurs when the individual spirit soul, the jiva, merges into the brahma-jyoti, (something akin to the aura or effulgence radiating from the body of Krishna himself). Similarly, those who worship Lord Jesus experience a mode of transcendence through a particular divine incarnation.

    “Just as there are different practices that produce these different experiences of God realization, GV acknowledges that how we experience God depends on different aspects of our own personalities. This seems supported by a substantial body of literature in western psychology extending back to William James. The religious impulse is deep in human nature, part of the imago dei (according to the Christian tradition), but it takes on various forms (not merely because of sin – as Christians would say), but because of features of our individual psychology and local culture. God doesn’t override this in the scheme of salvation, but works through it. Otherwise put, given human nature, it is not surprising that God should manifest Himself to human persons in diverse ways.”

    “I think it’s important to underscore, mainly for the sake of my Christian friends, two points relevant to the relationship between my adherence to the principles outlined above and Christian theism. I do not perceive myself as worshipping a different God than I did as a Christian. It’s the same God under a different (and for me fuller) manifestation. Krishna reveals himself in diverse ways across culture and time, personality and life circumstance. Christians and Muslims are also bhaktas, though they cultivate love of God in a different way.

    “Secondly, the basic principles of Gaudiya Vaishnavism are logically compatible with a number of fundamental Christian beliefs: the deity of Christ, virgin birth, his resurrection, and the soteriological importance (even necessity of) his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. In converting to Vaishnavism I do not relinquish these beliefs but simply situate them in a different philosophical and theological context. That being said, I intend in the future to write on the subject of the relationship between the above aspects of GV and Christian theism.”

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  187. Final thoughts.

    (1) TW: My main concern is not about which particular persons, historic or contemporary, are Christians, but *what the gospel is*

    Yet you keep trying to pin down whether Ursinus or Robbins or Ulfilas was or was not saved. I think you are more concerned than you are letting on.

    Trying to discern salvation is asking the wrong question. If you were to ask, “Should we admit Sudduth to the Lord’s Table?” the answer is no.

    But to discern whether he is “saved yet mired in sin”, or “unsaved having talked a good game for years” is impossible. We aren’t given to know that, and especially not on the basis of a few paragraphs or even a book.

    Private judgments of that sort are unwise.

    (2) Your response concerning Peter is mostly reasonable – and completely undermines your earlier unreasonable position. Back on Feb 3, you wanted to excommunicate everyone believing the false gospel of universal atonement, along with everyone who did not excommunicate them.

    Today, you hold that Peter’s reception of the Judaizers was a mere error, not indicative of lack of saving faith.

    It is good that you allow that Peter was saved by a faith that did not fully understand the truth that gentiles were fully included, and that did not immediately recognize the threat to the gospel posed by Judaizing.

    Now just recognize that others may make similar errors without being unsaved. Saving faith does not include full understanding of all implications.

    (3) TW: What you said, similar to the Roman Catholic theory of “development of doctrine”, is a denial that THE FAITH was *once delivered* to the saints (Jude 1:3).

    Nonsense. You seem to be unaware of Protestant discussions of doctrinal development. The faith was indeed delivered once for all to the saints, in the Scripture, to which no new revelation may be added. It does not follow that the church immediately understood that faith.

    It is historical fact that doctrine developed as problems arose.

    In particular, there are to my knowledge no creedal statements of limited atonement prior to Dordt.

    This shows beyond doubt that limited atonement was not considered a sine qua non from the patristics through the Refornation. In fact, your “men of conviction” who opposed Arianism and moniphysitism and Pelagianism, also mostly held some incipient form of hypothetical universal atonement.

    By your criteria, the entire church was unsaved until Dordt, either by belief in hypothetical unlimited atonement, or by failure to anathematize those who did.

    That’s not reasonable. Your presuppositions about how humans think are getting in the way of big obvious points.

    Like

  188. Jeff: “Yet you keep trying to pin down whether Ursinus or Robbins or Ulfilas was or was not saved. I think you are more concerned than you are letting on. Trying to discern salvation is asking the wrong question. If you were to ask, “Should we admit Sudduth to the Lord’s Table?” the answer is no. But to discern whether he is “saved yet mired in sin”, or “unsaved having talked a good game for years” is impossible. We aren’t given to know that, and especially not on the basis of a few paragraphs or even a book. Private judgments of that sort are unwise.”

    The standard of judging saved and lost is directly related to what the gospel is.

    You cannot believe in the gospel while believing in Arianism or Hinduism.

    Ulfilas believed in Arianism and Sudduth believed in Hinduism.

    Therefore, they do not believe the gospel.

    Since they do not believe the gospel, the gospel tells us they are not saved.

    Which of these points do you deny?

    Do you think it’s possible to believe in the gospel while believing in Arianism, or Hinduism?

    Do you think it’s possible that Ulfilas didn’t believe in Arianism or Sudduth didn’t believe in Hinduism (in spite of what they said)?

    Do you think it’s possible to be saved without believing the gospel?

    Your response, which regards “trying to discern salvation” based on one’s confession as “wrong question”, “impossible”, and “unwise private judgment”, is contrary to the clear teaching of the apostle John. He links *salvation* with abiding in the *doctrine* of Christ, and uses this as a *practical criterion* for discerning whether someone is a brother (2 John 1:9).

    John opposes your attempt to muddy the waters and blur the line between saved and lost, believers and unbelievers – on the pretense of intellectual humility – in order to render this spiritual dichotomy irrelevant in practice. He emphasizes that it is possible to discern who are brothers and who are not, according to a clear standard: do you believe the gospel, and do you love those who believe the gospel? (1 John 3)

    This is because John is not interested in a formal organization whose unity is maintained through “cutting some slack” for each other’s views on the gospel, but in a fellowship of individuals in the true God and his gospel, whose unity comes from the sameness of truth to which they have been converted (1 John 1:3); not a result of the intellectual attainment of these individuals, but by the power of the same Spirit (1 John 2:26).

    Jeff: “Back on Feb 3, you wanted to excommunicate everyone believing the false gospel of universal atonement, along with everyone who did not excommunicate them. Today, you hold that Peter’s reception of the Judaizers was a mere error, not indicative of lack of saving faith.”

    My position is the same as before on the false gospel of Universal Atonement.

    In regard to the Judaizers, Paul said they were false brothers who “crept in” and they “came from James”, which suggests the covertness of the manner they bring in their particular error.

    When I exclude people who include those who believe in Universal Atonement, there is nothing covert or unclear about such beliefs. The religious masses boldly declare that “Jesus died for everybody” and the Reformed sages understand this clearly and say “peace to you, my brother in Christ, let me make a correction…”.

    For example, I would not reject someone merely on the ground that they say XXX (where XXX erred on some “essential” of the gospel) is a believer. It’s possible that they have no idea what XXX actually said, especially when XXX is some famous guy in “church history” that everyone has heard about but few have read. Also, it’s possible that XXX has written things in a subtle/ambiguous/complicated way that it is not immediately clear he erred in that way. Also, XXX may have written contradictory things and the person “harmonized” away that particular error.

    But if they know XXX erred on that “essential” and then still think XXX is a believer, then this means they are unbelievers, because they do not consider this “essential” to be essential.

    To give a more concrete example, I think both Luther and Calvin are lost because I think both taught (hypothetical) universal atonement, based on their writings. (That Luther taught universal atonement is generally uncontroversial and there are debates on whether Calvin taught universal atonement.) However, I would not automatically reject someone who says Luther and Calvin are Christians. In fact, I’ve encountered some Reformed people who say universal atonement is a false gospel while insisting Luther (and Calvin, of course) taught limited atonement. But if they know Luther taught universal atonement and still think Luther is a Christian, then this means they are lost.

    Jeff: “Nonsense. You seem to be unaware of Protestant discussions of doctrinal development. The faith was indeed delivered once for all to the saints, in the Scripture, to which no new revelation may be added. It does not follow that the church immediately understood that faith. It is historical fact that doctrine developed as problems arose. ”

    You seem to confuse the doctrine with its articulation.

    The *doctrine* did not and could not develop but is the same old one understood, believed, confessed, taught by the apostles and evangelists from 1st century, who received it from the Lord Jesus through his Spirit. If it’s not the same old one, then it’s an deviation.

    What could and should be developed is the *articulation* of doctrine, to counter the misunderstandings of the doctrine that developed. This is apologetics, a defense of what’s already been known, rather than a discovery of something previously unknown.

    But this DOESN’T mean that some saints in 1st century would have believed in some early form of Arianism or Arminiansim through misunderstanding, due to lacking the benefit of the clear insight provided by later creeds. Those who did were NOT saints.

    Jeff: “In particular, there are to my knowledge no creedal statements of limited atonement prior to Dordt. This shows beyond doubt that limited atonement was not considered a sine qua non from the patristics through the Reformation. In fact, your “men of conviction” who opposed Arianism and monophysitism and Pelagianism, also mostly held some incipient form of hypothetical universal atonement. By your criteria, the entire church was unsaved until Dordt, either by belief in hypothetical unlimited atonement, or by failure to anathematize those who did. That’s not reasonable. ”

    First, does it matter *for you* whether limited atonement is “sine qua non”? You say the deity of Christ is “sine qua non” and you say you agree with the Athanasian creed, yet you refuse to judge Robbins (Jesus is a man indwelt by another Person, the Logos), Ulfilas (Arian bishop, Son is a creation of Father, condemned Homoousios), Sudduth (Hindu convert, Jesus and Krisha are manfiestations of the same God) to be lost.

    Second, why is this not reasonable? Do you think God’s truth is held hostage to the religious credentials of some elders? Do you think getting some important thing right gives you a pass on getting some other important thing wrong? (Can a person live if they are missing their liver, as long as they are not missing their lungs?) Are you objecting that the “wrong people are being lost”?

    It is not a priori given that what you call the “church” is in fact the church of Christ or the kingdom of God as opposed to the synagogue of Satan or the great Babylon that persecutes the saints and glories in its own imaginary security.

    This must be decided by the gospel of Christ, which the apostle Paul regards to have a higher authority than his own credential as an apostle, or even the angels.

    As for why I think limited atonement is false gospel, I have said many times. The most recent explanation is given in my latest response to Robert in this thread. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.

    Finally, some sobering remarks from Christ and the apostles for you to consider.

    Matthew 3:9 And do not think to say within yourselves, We have a father, Abraham. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

    John 5:44 How are you able to believe, you who receive glory from one another, and the glory which is from the only God you do not seek?

    Romans 3:3 For what if some did not believe? Will not their unbelief nullify the faith of God? Let it not be! But let God be true, and every man a liar; even as it has been written, “That You should be justified in Your words, and will overcome in Your being judged.”

    Galatians 1:10 For do I now persuade men or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I would not be a slave of Christ. And, brothers, I make known to you the gospel preached by me, that it is not according to man. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but by a revelation of Jesus Christ.
    For you heard my way of life when I was in Judaism, that with surpassing zeal I persecuted the assembly of God and ravaged it. And I progressed in Judaism beyond many contemporaries in my race, being much more a zealot of the traditions of my ancestors.
    But when God was pleased, He having separated me from my mother’s belly, and having called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the nations, immediately I did not confer with flesh and blood, …

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  189. Sdb,

    Even though you are an Astrophysicist, you are extremely confused about the Gospel. Is it possible that Einstein, Newton, Calvin and Luther were confused about the Gospel too? Your response to TW was off the rails.

    Like

  190. sdb says:
    February 20, 2020 at 9:34 am

    TW wrote, “I think limited atonement is false gospel”
    You are obviously lost.

    TW: 1) that sentence is a typo. It should be “I think unlimited atonement is false gospel.”

    2) What’s the reason that you think I’m “obviously lost”?

    Like

  191. TW: (1) Ulfilas believed in Arianism and Sudduth believed in Hinduism.

    (2) Therefore, they do not believe the gospel.

    (3) Since they do not believe the gospel, the gospel tells us they are not saved.

    Which of these points do you deny?

    I deny that (1) is certain (though highly likely, esp for Sudduth).

    (1) is uncertain because humans are horrible at expressing their thoughts in words. To be critical, you seem to be overly optimistic about your semantic competence, your ability to discern meaning and belief based on words.

    Words are *evidence* of belief. The process of interpreting beliefs from words is an inductive one, not a deductive one. By contrast, the process of drawing implications from words is deductive.

    So if you say “unlimited atonement is a false gospel”, I can deduce that if this is so, then all who believe in unlimited atonement believe a false gospel. That’s deductively certain.

    But I cannot *deduce* from that statement that you actually believe that all who hold to unlimited atonement are lost.

    You might be deceiving us about your beliefs. Or you might be posing for your friends. Or you might be overstating your actual view. Or you might have made a typo and actually believe that limited atonement is a false gospel (joke!). Or you might be confused as to what “unlimited atonement” means. Or you might believe that unlimited atonement is a false gospel, but there are degrees of belief in it. Or … there are number of ways in which those words might not perfectly encode your actual beliefs and the implications that you draw from them.

    Linguists actually have a term to describe the gap between words spoken and meaning understood: semantic competence, the ability to decode meaning from sentences. That ability is imperfect in all humans.

    Nevertheless, your statement does provide evidence of your belief. Words are not blank slates into which we may pour any old meaning. Based on your statement, I can reasonably expect that you would go on to say that “all those who believe in unlimited atonement are lost.” And, you do not disappoint!

    Using your words, I can draw an inductive conclusion about your beliefs, one that gets stronger with each additional statement and clarification.

    Sudduth provides a really interesting example of the difference between words and belief. Prior to 2011, he subscribed to orthodox statements of faith. Now, he spouts Hinduism. If we were to naively map his words to his beliefs in a 1-1 fashion, we would have to conclude that he was a believer prior to 2011, and now he is not. This contradicts what we both know, that none who truly believe can be lost.

    Analyzing logically either

    (a) his words prior to 2011 did not reflect his real beliefs, or
    (b) his words after 2011 do not reflect his real beliefs, or
    (c) his beliefs changed.

    And if (c), then either his beliefs changed from one type of non-saving faith to another – which collapses to case (a) – or his beliefs changed from saving faith to unbelief, in which case perseverance and election are incorrect (!!) – or his current beliefs are intellectual sin, but not indicative of total apostasy, which collapses to case (b). So (c) is out.

    And frankly, the evidence to help us distinguish (a) and (b) is thin enough that we must say that

    * We don’t know the state of his soul, but
    * If his current words reflect his true beliefs, he is lost.
    * If not, then he is mired in intellectual sin.
    * If not those, then you and I are both badly mistaken about perseverance and election. Let us agree that this is not the case.

    That’s the most we can say without evidence that falsifies (a) or (b). There is no particular reason that we should consider his *current* statements to be more reflective of reality than his *prior* statements.

    Thus, we cannot conclude with certainty that he is lost. We can conclude with overwhelming confidence that he should not be a member of a church nor admitted to the Lord’s Table.

    Where you and I differ is not on the content of his words. We agree that they express unbelief. Rather, we differ on whether his words represent with certainty the state of his soul. They don’t, because words are an imperfect vehicle for thought AND because humans are capable of being mired in intellectual sin.

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  192. TW: (1) Ulfilas believed in Arianism and Sudduth believed in Hinduism.

    (2) Therefore, they do not believe the gospel.

    (3) Since they do not believe the gospel, the gospel tells us they are not saved.

    Which of these points do you deny?

    (2) does not follow, though belief in falsehoods is evidence against belief in the truth. (2) commits the fallacy of the excluded middle by assuming that humans cannot believe contradictory things.

    But they do, all the time. Peter did, in Acts 10.

    If you have spent any time teaching math, you have seen your students hold contradictory beliefs about order of operations, field properties, etc. Most major math confusion arises from hidden assumptions that contradict other known facts, leading to confusion. AND, it is frequently the case that students do not notice these contradictions until confronted with them either by a teacher or else by a vexing problem.

    Human cognition is messy and imperfect.

    So it is possible that someone could believe that Christ is fully God and yet also believe that the words “only-begotten of the Father” mean that He was created by the Father.

    That’s a contradiction. But unless that contradiction is understood to be a contradiction, it will not be confronted and corrected.

    Nevertheless, belief that “only-begotten of the Father” entails that Jesus is created counts as evidence against possessing saving faith. So hear me clearly: Arianism is a non-Christian belief. Someone who consistently holds to it is not a Christian. Someone who inconsistently holds to it might be a Christian, with likelihood inverse to strength of belief in Arianism. So anyone who professes Arianism should not be admitted into the church.

    You reply, “But the Spirit wouldn’t allow someone to believe a contradiction while imparting saving faith to them.”

    That’s a faulty assumption. We know that Peter prior to Acts 10 believed in a contradiction: That God justifies by grace through faith, and that Gentiles were inherently unclean. That second belief was contrary to the gospel; it was a false gospel by adding a condition of Jewishness to justification. Yet he was saved.

    Above, you waved your hands and denied that Peter’s belief was actually contrary to the gospel. TW: There is no evidence Peter erred in Acts 10:15.

    But the evidence is right there in the passage. He was rebuked by God: Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. And he listened and was corrected thereby: But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. He admits to a change in belief.

    And his old belief was the the same error condemned in Acts 15. He was viewing Gentiles as unclean because they were Gentiles. He needed to repent.

    Any beliefs that we have that contradict the truth are intellectual sin. Peter was in sin in the early part of Acts 10. And as with all types of sin, intellectual sins persist until the Spirit chooses to address them via sanctification.

    Your whole approach conditions justification upon complete intellectual sanctification in the areas you deem “essential.” You require a believer to be clean from intellectual impurity (cleaned by the Spirit, to be sure); else, they cannot be saved. You even acknowledged above that pure belief in the gospel is a matter of sanctification.

    TW: My position is that if one is truly saved, one knows the truth about salvation. This is the sanctification by the Spirit.

    I didn’t point it out at the time, but you were explicitly acknowledging that you make justification conditioned upon sanctification. In your telling, justification is through faith. That faith must consistent of knowing and believing the truth, and knowing the truth is sanctification by the Spirit. Your words say that justification is caused by sanctification.

    Isn’t that a false gospel?

    So: Should I assume based on your words that you believe a false gospel? Or should assume that you mis-spoke? Or should I assume that you, like all sinful human beings, hold some views that are in contradiction to the gospel, views that are addressed by the Spirit in His own time?

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  193. Jeff: “We know that Peter prior to Acts 10 believed in a contradiction: That God justifies by grace through faith, and that Gentiles were inherently unclean. That second belief was contrary to the gospel; it was a false gospel by adding a condition of Jewishness to justification. Yet he was saved. He was rebuked by God: Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. And he listened and was corrected thereby: But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. He admits to a change in belief. And his old belief was the the same error condemned in Acts 15. He was viewing Gentiles as unclean because they were Gentiles. He needed to repent.”

    You are confusing progressive revelation with repentance of error.

    Peter was in a transition period from Old Covenant to New Covenant and the vision/event of Acts 10 is part of progressive revelation.

    There is no evidence that Peter thought the Gentiles are “inherently” unclean, rather than “ceremonially” unclean. This is what Peter said:

    Acts 10:28 And he said to them, You know how unlawful it is for a man, a Jew, to unite with or to come near to one of another race. Yet God showed to me not to call a man common or unclean.

    Peter was referring to the Law of Moses, which operates in the Old Covenant, which declared the Gentiles are *ceremonially* unclean.

    In the vision, God declared to him this *external* division has now gone. It is not a rebuke to Peter, but the formal announcement of this “change of law” (Hebrews 7:12).

    But it is the SAME God, who gave the SAME gospel since the Fall, who declared Gentiles ceremonially unclean in the Law of Moses, who then abrogated this external division in the New Covenant.

    To say Peter’s old belief that Gentiles are ceremonially unclean is a false gospel amounts to condemning all the saints who lived in the Old Covenant – which made this ceremonial distinction – as believing in a false gospel and never got corrected while they were alive. Such criticism of Peter commits an error in the fashion of Marcionism.

    Jeff: “I didn’t point it out at the time, but you were explicitly acknowledging that you make justification conditioned upon sanctification. In your telling, justification is through faith. That faith must consistent of knowing and believing the truth, and knowing the truth is sanctification by the Spirit. Your words say that justification is caused by sanctification. Isn’t that a false gospel? ”

    As I repeatedly explained, justification is not CONDITIONED on faith, but rather faith (or the work of Spirit producing it) and justification are CONCURRENT results of imputation. Here’s an explanation I wrote against a similar charge by some people who teach the false gospel of “eternal justification / justification at cross”:

    “Justification is not conditioned on faith, but God justifies the previously-unbelieving elect and makes them believers AT THE SAME TIME. The pre-condition for both justification and the gift of faith is a “baptism into Christ’s death”, which is God legally uniting the elect to Christ and His finished work, such that the righteousness that belongs to Christ now is also charged to the elect’s account. This legal act is unconditioned on any work of Holy Spirit in the elect, but the Holy Spirit is given to the elect to produce life in them because the righteousness is now in elect’s account. Thus, when the elect are “baptized into Christ’s death” in this sense, God justifies them because He now sees a righteousness in their account, and simultaneously He sends the Spirit into them to convert them to the gospel. We can equally say, justification occurs in conversion, and conversion occurs in justification, they are two simultaneous releases, one in heaven and one on earth.

    “In other words, Justification is not God’s response to the Spirit-produced faith of the elect sinner. Rather, Justification comes with faith together to the unbelieving elect who has been legally united by God to the Christ who had died for them. Thus, “Justification by faith” is the “raised with Christ” that immediately follows the “baptized into Christ’s death”. In this way, the elect are justified in the name of Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of God.” (Vindication of Justification by Faith from the charge of “faith-conditonalism”, Tianqi Wu)

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  194. Jeff,

    When you write a program, you also write some test cases.

    If the program fails some test cases, then it is certainly incorrect. If it passes all tests, it may or may not be correct, because it might fail in some other test cases that you didn’t write.

    Of course, you have to make sure the test cases are correctly designed as well.

    The relation between faith and profession is like the relation between program and test cases. A sound profession does not infallibly prove faith, but an unsound profession may infallibly prove unbelief, assuming there is no misinterpretation in the communication.

    The reason a sound profession does not infallibly prove faith is because an unbeliever may mimic a sound profession out of some misunderstanding, like an incorrect program may mimic the behavior of the correct program. But eventually (not necessarily in this life) it will be exposed by a well-chosen test case, or some controversy. After you passed the creed of Trinity, you also have to pass the creed of Christology, and then the creed of “doctrines of grace”, etc.

    On the other hand, an unsound profession may infallibly prove unbelief, because a true believer understands the true gospel and is able to distinguish it from false gospels, so a genuine profession of false gospel is sufficient evidence that the person is an unbeliever, no matter what he professed in the past. A correct program cannot fail a test case, so if it fails, it is incorrect.

    There is a fundamental asymmetry here, because while the unbeliever is in the darkness and does not know where he’s going, the believer is in the light and there is no offense in him.

    This also means the believer’s own personal assurance is not in his subscription to any creeds, but rather creeds are simply the common profession of a group of believers, who have passed the tests of each other.

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  195. TW: If the program fails some test cases, then it is certainly incorrect. If it passes all tests, it may or may not be correct, because it might fail in some other test cases that you didn’t write. Of course, you have to make sure the test cases are correctly designed as well.

    The relation between faith and profession is like the relation between program and test cases. A sound profession does not infallibly prove faith, but an unsound profession may infallibly prove unbelief, assuming there is no misinterpretation in the communication.

    This is precisely intellectual perfectionism. A garden-variety perfectionist judges the salvation of others on the basis of their behavior; you do it on the basis of defects in their profession.

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  196. TW: As I repeatedly explained, justification is not CONDITIONED on faith, but rather faith (or the work of Spirit producing it) and justification are CONCURRENT results of imputation.

    You affirm that IF someone believes, THEN they are justified; IF they do not believe, THEN they are not justified. Yes?

    That’s a condition. If, then.

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  197. TW: There is no evidence that Peter thought the Gentiles are “inherently” unclean, rather than “ceremonially” unclean.

    You have posited that Peter believed that Gentiles were ceremonially unclean, but not inherently unclean. This is crucial for the defense of your system, for if Peter erred in the slightest way in his understanding of the gospel, he would be lost according to your teachings; and it is clear that by Acts 2, Peter is most definitely not lost.

    Let’s look at the Scripture together.

    Acts 10.28: [Peter] said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.

    10.34: Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

    Already, we see that Peter’s realization does not concern ceremonial uncleanness, but acceptance by God. He is talking about justification.

    10.44: While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

    Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

    The astonishment of the “circumcised believers” had nothing to do with ceremonial uncleanness. It had to do with the Gentiles’ acceptance by God. This is why Peter follows up the miracle with a command that the Gentiles be baptized. The evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work was evidence of justification, and baptism was an appropriate response to that evidence.

    Then when Peter relates this event to the Jerusalem council, he connects it to a dispute over justification and not ceremonial uncleanness.

    Acts 15.1: Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

    15.7: After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.

    Peter’s prior state of mind at the beginning of Acts 10 was not “Yes, the Gentiles are justified by faith and accepted by God, but they are still ceremonially unclean.” Nothing in the text indicates that this was so.

    Rather, Peter saw Gentiles as not accepted by God, meaning *unsaved*, and it required a vision and the demonstration of the power of God for him to repent of his understanding. God had to *show* him that He accepts Gentiles (Acts 15.8).

    In short, there is no reason to believe that Peter’s error in Acts 10 was limited to ceremonial uncleanness; there is every reason to believe that Peter’s error went to the heart of the gospel: Contrary to Peter’s understanding, God did not discriminate between Jews and Gentiles, but accepted all on the basis of faith.

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  198. Jeff: “You affirm that IF someone believes, THEN they are justified; IF they do not believe, THEN they are not justified. Yes? That’s a condition. If, then.”

    You are confusing logical implication with causality. (As a math teacher, you should know the difference very well!)

    When I affirm the “if, then”, I do not mean causality, but logical implication.

    Thus, I can equally say: IF someone is justified, THEN they believe; IF they are not justified, THEN they do not believe.

    So I affirm “justified IF AND ONLY IF believing”.

    Equivalently, what I affirm is the set of justified persons is equal to the set of believing persons.

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  199. I’m not “confusing.” I’m observing. In the past, you rejected any distinction between conditions. All conditions were excluded, because justification is “unconditional.” Now, you want to distinguish causal and non-causal conditions. That’s a healthy development – but you might want to revise your terminology.

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  200. Acts 10:34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

    Jeff: “Already, we see that Peter’s realization does not concern ceremonial uncleanness, but acceptance by God. He is talking about justification.”

    1) “I now realize how true…” does not necessarily mean Peter didn’t know this or wasn’t sure before. It may simply be a way of emphasizing how striking this truth shines in the present example.

    God himself said to Abraham “now I know you fear me…” after Abraham went to kill his son. Does that mean God didn’t know or wasn’t sure about this fact before?

    2) “God accepts…” does not necessarily or exclusively mean justification or salvation. Unless you are bent on proving Peter is a hard-core Judaizer (e.g. those in Acts 15 or Galatians 2), it does not make sense to think Peter previously thought a Gentile who “fears God and does what is right” is still unsaved.

    Far more plausible is my explanation: the change of mind in Peter is about ecclesiology rather than about soteriology. Peter already believed, as all the OT saints believed, that the “righteous Gentile” had a part in eternal salvation, but Peter hadn’t been revealed the mystery of their FULL, UNCONDITIONAL inclusion into the commonwealth of Israel. This is something that was not revealed in the OT, but only just revealed now to Peter (and later to Paul).

    Ephesians 3:3-6 that by revelation He made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief, by the reading of which you are able to realize my understanding in the mystery of Christ, which was NOT MADE KNOWN to the sons of men in other generations, as NOW IT WAS REVEALED to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, for the nations to be joint-heirs, and a joint-body and joint-sharers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,

    Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

    Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

    Jeff: “The astonishment of the “circumcised believers” had nothing to do with ceremonial uncleanness. It had to do with the Gentiles’ acceptance by God. This is why Peter follows up the miracle with a command that the Gentiles be baptized. The evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work was evidence of justification, and baptism was an appropriate response to that evidence.”

    You are now sounding like a charismatic who thinks “receiving the Holy Spirit” in some externally visible way is evidence of justification!

    No, since the “coming of Holy Spirit” is something others can see or hear, e.g. “for they heard them speaking in tongues”, it refers to an external gift of the Spirit, rather than internal regeneration. This is something even an unregenerate person like Simon the sorcerer could see and desire to have.

    Acts 8:17-20 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. But Simon having seen that the Holy Spirit is given through the laying on of the hands of the apostles, he offered them money, saying, Give to me also this authority that to whomever I may lay on the hands he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said to him, May your silver be with you into perdition, because you thought to get the gift of God through money.

    Therefore, this “receiving of Spirit” is not evidence of justification, but only evidence of external inclusion in the church. (You are probably familiar with texts that say those who received the Spirit in some way may still be lost, e.g. Matthew 7:22-23, Hebrews 6:4-6)

    This confirms my explanation of Peter’s vision. The external gift of the Spirit to these Gentile believers was God’s way of showing the Jewish believers that *ecclesiologically* there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. This full-fledged equality was not the case in the Old Covenant, in which the descendants of some nations were barred from entering into Lord’s assembly for generations after they joined Israel. (Deuteronomy 2:3, 7-8)

    Jeff: “Then when Peter relates this event to the Jerusalem council, he connects it to a dispute over justification and not ceremonial uncleanness.”

    Acts 15:1 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”

    15:7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.

    Jeff: “Peter’s prior state of mind at the beginning of Acts 10 was not “Yes, the Gentiles are justified by faith and accepted by God, but they are still ceremonially unclean.” Nothing in the text indicates that this was so. Rather, Peter saw Gentiles as not accepted by God, meaning *unsaved*, and it required a vision and the demonstration of the power of God for him to repent of his understanding. God had to *show* him that He accepts Gentiles (Acts 15.8).”

    Here’s a verse in between that you did not quote which is important.

    Acts 15:5 But some of those rose up from the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, saying, It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.

    THIS view is what Peter was directly addressing in Acts 15:7, not the view stated in Acts 15:1. The view in Acts 15:1 is straight-in-your-face false gospel of salvation by works. In contrast, the view in Acts 15:5 is more ambiguous. It could be a clear soteriological error just like Acts 15:1, or it could be strictly an error on “what is Christian’s rule of life” that is still stuck with obsolete ceremonial laws (like the Sabbatarians in our day), or it could be something in between (which is most likely the case).

    Peter’s answer to this view was appealing to the vision and event of Acts 10, which clearly showed that the Jew-Gentile distinction made in the Law of Moses has now been set aside by God in this new age, and faith alone is the distinction between God’s people (both Jews and Gentiles) and the world.

    Jeff: “In short, there is no reason to believe that Peter’s error in Acts 10 was limited to ceremonial uncleanness; there is every reason to believe that Peter’s error went to the heart of the gospel: Contrary to Peter’s understanding, God did not discriminate between Jews and Gentiles, but accepted all on the basis of faith.”

    In short, there is no reason to think Peter erred AT ALL in Acts 10.

    The issue is ecclesiological in nature, and there is a (great) change in ecclesiology. At worst, Peter didn’t immediately respond to this change of covenants, and got reminded of it by God in a vision. More likely, God’s vision was precisely given to Peter to implement this change, since Peter didn’t get any Gentile converts before this.

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  201. Jeff,

    You are a teacher. You draw a line between pass and fail. But no matter where you draw the line, some student could always ask you to move the line just “a little” lower. Is it “perfectionist” of you to insist on that *exact* line and not make room for him? Is the only way to be non-perfectionist to draw no definite line at all?

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  202. I do indeed set standards for my students. That’s the way law works: Do this and you shall live. Or in this case, your GPA shall live.

    Why do you continually use illustrations that portray belief in the gospel in terms of the law? I know that you intend, at one level, to defend justification by grace alone. But your defenses, paradoxically, always seem to portray salvation as a matter of passing tests.

    Your explanation here shows part of the problem: TW: This also means the believer’s own personal assurance is not in his subscription to any creeds, but rather creeds are simply the common profession of a group of believers, who have passed the tests of each other. – emph add

    You might want to consider the import of that phrase “passed the tests of each other.” You have presented your view as “letting the gospel determine who is in the church.” But the way the mechanics work, it is people who are continually judging each other on the basis of their understanding of the gospel, applying ever-refined tests of salvation to determine who is in and who is out. So Tianqi Wu looks back through history and determines that the entirety of the church fathers were unsaved. Calvin didn’t really believe in limited atonement, (despite being the poster child whose name is attached to that doctrine!), so he was lost. Etc.

    That feels noble as long as you are in the driver’s seat. “I’m just applying the gospel standard.” But one day you may be on the receiving end, and you might see the folly of it. The solo scriptura method, rejecting the collected wisdom of God’s church in favor of one’s own interpretations, is perilous in general. When combined with tests for salvation based on private judgments, it is deadly.

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  203. With regard to your exegesis of Acts 10 and 15, you have some basic elements right. It is true that there was progressive revelation. And it is also true that there was a ceremonial separation between Jews and Gentiles. It is further true that Peter’s error was one of misunderstanding occasioned by the mystery of God.

    But you err in asserting, without evidence, that this was the whole of the matter, as if the most important thing in Acts was whether Peter would become ceremonially unclean by visiting Cornelius. And you err in failing to observe that Peter would not have been forbidden *by the law* to visit Cornelius — but only by the traditions of the Pharisees. And you err also in scoffing at the giving of the Spirit as evidence of salvation. And mostly, you err in failing to observe that Peter’s understanding was literally contrary to the gospel, even though it was excusable on the ground of progressive revelation. Your exegesis desperately tries to deny this fact because you feel it necessary to save your system. And you dabble in absurdities: “I now realize how true…” does not necessarily mean Peter didn’t know this or wasn’t sure before. Come on, man. He just had a vision telling him not to call “unclean” what God calls “clean.” You really want to assert that Peter didn’t change his mind here?! And again your treatment of Acts 15 wants to drive a wedge between 15.1 and 15.5, based on no evidence other than being convenient for your system.

    Scripture is more important than your system. Don’t twist Scripture around to make it fit.

    Calvin does a much better job coordinating these elements.

    Now the difference between living creatures being taken away, he teacheth by the consequent that there is no such disagreement among men any longer as there was in times past, and that there is no difference between the Jew and the Grecian. Hereby Peter is admonished that he do not abhor the Gentiles as being unclean. Undoubtedly, God meant to encourage Peter to come to Cornelius without fear; but he had separated one people to himself from the rest, as saith Moses in his song, when as the Most High did distribute the nations, he put his lot in Jacob, etc., (Deuteronomy 32:9;) therefore he called it his inheritance and peculiar people.

    According to this order, it had not been lawful to Peter to bring the covenant of salvation unto the Gentiles; for that was to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs, (Matthew 15:26,) unless, peradventure, they would be circumcised, and embrace the Jewish religion; for it was lawful to receive such as did yield themselves. Wherefore, when as the apostles were sent before to preach the gospel, they were forbidden to turn in unto the Gentiles, (Matthew 10:5.) And forasmuch as the preaching of the gospel is a most holy and weighty matter, Peter ought not to have attempted any thing therein with a doubting and wavering mind. Therefore, to the end he may be assured of his calling, God showeth manifestly, as in a picture, that the legal difference between the clean and unclean is abolished; whence he may gather that the wall which was heretofore between the Jews and the Gentiles is now pulled down…I said even now that there was no time wherein it was not lawful to admit the Gentiles unto the worship of God, so they were circumcised; but so long as they continued in uncircumcision they were strangers with God. But now God made the covenant of life common to all the whole world, which he had shut up in one nation, as in a treasure…

    Furthermore, whereas he said that it was wickedness for the Jews to go in unto the Gentiles, we must know that this came not so much from the law, as from the observation of the fathers. God had forbidden, indeed, that they should (not) entangle themselves with marriages or covenants, (Deuteronomy 7:3;) they were never forbidden to eat with them, or to use the common businesses of life. But lest that familiarity might entice them into that which was forbidden, they observed the custom delivered by the fathers, so that they did not company together. It is to no end to dispute here whether that tradition did bind men’s consciences; for Peter doth not teach what is lawful according to God, but what was commonly used…

    He calleth them [believers who were with Peter] faithful who were as yet possessed with a wicked error. So the Lord doth not by and by wipe away all clouds of ignorance from his, and yet they do not darken the praise of faith before God, because he pardoneth errors and doth vouchsafe to favor it, as if it were pure and plain. And yet it is a wonder, that seeing they knew that Peter was sent of God, they would now be amazed, as at some strange and new thing, because God giveth the grace of his Spirit to those to whom he would have Christ now preached; but the sudden change is the cause of this, because, whereas God until that day had separated the Gentiles from his people as strangers and aliens, he doth now favor them both alike, and lifteth them up into the like degree of honor. Although we be also taught by this example, how hard a matter it is for us to wind out ourselves out of our errors once conceived, especially when they are of any continuance. — Calv Comm Acts 10.

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  204. Jeff: “Why do you continually use illustrations that portray belief in the gospel in terms of the law? I know that you intend, at one level, to defend justification by grace alone. But your defenses, paradoxically, always seem to portray salvation as a matter of passing tests.”

    No, salvation is not a matter of passing tests.

    The function of a program is not passing a bunch of test cases, but to actually do useful work. However, test cases can expose that the program is still broken and its output is therefore still “dead works”. Nor is the program truly fixed just by adding stuff to deal with these failed test cases, but rather the internal logical structure of the program needs to be changed. A God-given repentance of false religion and knowledge of the true gospel is needed, not merely adding more stuff to one’s existing system.

    I do not deny there is much room for growth, but one cannot grow from a LIE INTO truth, but must BEGIN in the truth and grow IN it. There is a discontinuity in the beginning, from darkness to light, from error to truth, on the foundation of which there could be more brightness and more knowledge. The difference in knowledge between the most ignorant new convert and the most knowledgeable unbeliever SURPASSES the difference in knowledge between the most ignorant new convert and the very apostles of Christ, who are brothers under one Teacher. One is binary / qualitative (true God/Christ/gospel vs false God/Christ/gospel) and the other is quantitative (more in-depth understanding and applications).

    You are blurring this DISCONTINUITY, in the name of “being humble and gracious”, and complain that testing a person by their doctrine is legalism. But this is exactly what the apostles said to do to tell who is a brother and who is not.

    1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone forth into the world. *By this* know the Spirit of God: every spirit which *confesses* that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. And every spirit which *does not confess* that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God; and this is the antichrist which you heard is coming, and now is already in the world.

    Now, you might say you agree with these scriptures, but the problem is that you say a person could believe in the truth while also believing in its opposite, e.g. a person can believe Christ is fully God while also believing he is a creature, or a person can believe in Christ while also believing in Hinduism, etc.

    Sure, a person could believe Christ is “fully God” according to their own idea of what “God” means, such that he could also believe Christ is a creature. But that means his idea of Christ’s deity is not the truth revealed to him by the Father, but a false, carnal imagination.

    God in Christ speaks clearly of his gospel, and the Spirit causes the elect to hear clearly and understand it truly. God is determined to get his gospel message across to the elect, and he is able to do this, no matter how many stumbling blocks and subtle deceptions are placed in between, because God promised to give the elect eternal life and eternal life is *knowing* the true God and his Christ.

    1 John 5:19-20 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the evil. And we know that the Son of God has come, and He has given to us an *understanding* that we may know the true One, and we are in the true One, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and the life everlasting.

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  205. Jeff,

    First, a consistency check: don’t you find yourself a little “overly optimistic in your ability to discern belief and meaning based on words”, when you quite adamantly say Peter must have believed in a particular way when he spoke the words in Acts 10 and 15?

    Moreover, what drives Jeff the hesistant-to-judge to such dogmatic pronouncements on “what Peter was thinking” on these particular occasions? Could it be that “your exegesis eagerly tries to affirm this view [that Peter had a false gospel] because you feel it sufficient to overthrow my view [which threatens your way of life]”?

    Jeff: “Calvin does a much better job coordinating these elements.”

    I read Calvin’s exegesis and I don’t find him to imply what you said:

    Jeff: “We know that Peter prior to Acts 10 believed in a contradiction: That God justifies by grace through faith, and that Gentiles were inherently unclean. That second belief was contrary to the gospel; it was a false gospel by adding a condition of Jewishness to justification. Yet he was saved.”

    1) I didn’t point out this earlier, but your deduction here doesn’t follow. In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul says not to associate those who are called brothers but are actively engaging in an immoral lifestyle. Does that mean Paul is teaching a false gospel by adding a condition of refraining from immoral lifestyle to justification? No. Law is law, sin is still sin for the justified believer.

    Thus, even if someone thinks Gentiles are “inherently unclean”, that does not necessarily mean he believes justification is conditioned on Jewishness, that would just mean that in his (obsolete) view of Law, being Gentile is “unclean” like some immoral lifestyle (remember in the Law of Moses there is no hard distinction between the moral and ceremonial; homosexuality and eating pork are both “abominations”). He could believe Gentile believer’s uncleanness is *pardoned* by God but still refuse to associate with them, just as he would not associate with believers with an immoral lifestyles.

    This is certainly a wrong view of Law in the New Covenant, just like Sabbatarianism is a wrong view of Law. I’ve heard some “hard-core” views on marriage that say civil marriage is not divinely sanctioned and it is an act of sexual intercourse that creates the “one-flesh” bond of marriage for life, with the implication that a lot of married people today are actually living in adultery (because they should have married the first man/woman they had sex with instead and even if they divorce, they cannot remarry until the other person died!). Now such views on law might be wrong, but as long as they don’t make meeting such standards (right or wrong) as a condition of justification, it is still not a false gospel on that ground.

    2) Back to the question of whether Peter thought Gentiles were “inherently unclean” (vs “ceremonially unclean”), the only evidence you gave to point in the former direction is the observation that the Law of Moses didn’t forbid Peter to visit Cornelius, but this is only forbidden by the traditions of the Pharisees. Calvin agrees with you in this observation.

    I think I agree with this observation too, though I haven’t looked too deeply into it. But what does this observation imply? Does the fact that Peter conformed to a stipulation of Pharisees mean he agreed with the whole ideology behind it? That’s quite a leap. If a believer swears allegiance to the state, does that mean he agrees with the whole state ideology? There are many reasons he might do so, perhaps just out of social conformity or inertia.

    It does show that Peter hasn’t fully understood the “wall of partition” is now broken. But I don’t see how you can press this to definitively prove that he in fact think they were “inherently unclean”, and even “unsaved/unjustified/unforgiven”.

    Jeff: “And mostly, you err in failing to observe that Peter’s understanding was literally contrary to the gospel, even though it was excusable on the ground of progressive revelation.”

    This is impossible unless you think the OT had a different gospel than the NT.

    Jeff: “And you dabble in absurdities: “I now realize how true…” does not necessarily mean Peter didn’t know this or wasn’t sure before. Come on, man. He just had a vision telling him not to call “unclean” what God calls “clean.” You really want to assert that Peter didn’t change his mind here?! ”

    The word “now” actually isn’t in the Greek.

    Acts 10:34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,

    Also, I didn’t assert that Peter had no change of mind. I said that Peter had a change of mind not about the gospel (soteriology), but about a change of covenants – the full, unconditional, equal inclusion of Gentile believers into the Lord’s assembly (ecclesiology). Peter is seeing the fulfillment of ancient prophecies before his eyes that nations are joined with the remnants of Israel, in a manner these prophecies didn’t exactly disclose (e.g. Isaiah 66 still has ceremonial elements in the “new heavens and new earth”), but is reasonable and fitting once it is disclosed – this is the mystery of Christ revealed in Ephesians 3:3-6.

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  206. Tianqi,

    I read Calvin’s exegesis and I don’t find him to imply what you said:

    Jeff: “We know that Peter prior to Acts 10 believed in a contradiction: That God justifies by grace through faith, and that Gentiles were inherently unclean. That second belief was contrary to the gospel; it was a false gospel by adding a condition of Jewishness to justification. Yet he was saved.”

    You might have missed this:

    Cornelius was a Gentile born, yet God heareth his prayers; he vouchsafeth to show him the light of the gospel; he appointed and sendeth an angel to him particularly; thereby doth Peter know that, without respect of persons, those do please God which live godly and innocently. For before, (being wholly possessed with this prejudice, that the Jews alone were beloved of God, as they alone were chosen out of all people,) [nations,] he did not think that the grace of God could come unto others. He was not, indeed, so gross that he thought that godliness and innocency of life were condemned because they were in a man that was a Gentile; but, seeing he did simply snatch at that, that all those were estranged from the kingdom of God, and were profane, which were uncircumcised, he entangleth himself unawares in that so filthy an error, that God did despise his pure worship and an holy life, where there was no circumcision; because uncircumcision made all virtues unsavory to the Jews. By which example, we are taught how greatly we ought to beware of prejudices, which make us oftentimes judge amiss. – Calv Comm Acts 10., emph add.

    TW: Moreover, what drives Jeff the hesistant-to-judge to such dogmatic pronouncements on “what Peter was thinking” on these particular occasions?

    I’m acting out of my office, which involves among other things exegeting and teaching the Scripture. That doesn’t make my exegesis dogmatic, which would imply a whole-church decision.

    Do you have a calling to pronounce who is saved and who is not? Can you point to such an office in the Scripture? My objection to your pronouncements is that you are making private judgments about something known only to God, and there is no Scripture that authorizes doing so. Note that 2 John is speaking not of one individual believer judging the salvation of another, but of the “Lady” judging false teachers. And that’s consistently encouraged in Scripture, from Moses up to the Sermon on the Mount up through Revelation.

    TW: Back to the question of whether Peter thought Gentiles were “inherently unclean” (vs “ceremonially unclean”), the only evidence you gave to point in the former direction is the observation that the Law of Moses didn’t forbid Peter to visit Cornelius

    Here are seven points of evidence adduced above that you somehow missed.

    (1) Peter had a change of mind. This is seen (a) by the fact that he had a vision telling him not to think according to his current way of thinking; (b) by Peter’s address in v 27: You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.; and (c) by the Greek in v 34 Καταλαμβανεσθαι, which is to take in (Mounce: to grasp, understand, realize, find out). It is a verb indicating reception of an idea, not merely comprehension of it.

    (2) Formerly, Peter’s mind had been that he should not associate with or visit a Gentile (v 28), and this mindset was precisely what God was correcting (v 28). We have already noted that Peter’s belief was addition to the Law. But,

    (3) the correction to his mindset was understanding NOT that Gentiles were acceptable to Peter, BUT that Gentiles were acceptable to God. Peter does not say “But God has shown me that I must eat with you.” Rather he says

    Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. – ESV, Gr.: δεκτὸς αὐτῷ ἐστιν, “acceptable, favorable”

    Notice that it would be impossible for anyone to fear God and do what is right unless they are justified persons, and it would likewise be impossible for anyone justified to not be accepted. Peter is speaking of those who are justified, and the word “acceptable” is used as a synonym for “justified.”

    (4) God validates Peter’s understanding by giving a visible sign of justification: the possession of the Spirit. To be sure, the tongues were a sign not repeated today. But the possession of the Spirit is given to believers (Rom 8), and God gives this sign at this time to emphasize that Cornelius is justified.

    (5) The circumcized believers with Peter showed the same misunderstanding as he did by being amazed at Cornelius’ reception of the Spirit (v 45)

    (6) And Peter’s response to God’s action is to order Cornelius and friends to be baptized, administering to them the sacrament representing justification.

    Summing up Acts 10, Peter had a change of mind. Where before he saw Gentiles as unacceptable to God, and unjustified without becoming Jewish, he now understands that God finds people of all nations acceptable.

    (7) Later, when Peter is called on in Acts 15 to refute the view that “unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved”, he refers back to this incident. He appeals to the giving of the Spirit (15.8) as evidence that (a) God made no distinction (echoing “God shows no partiality” from 10.35) and (b) that He cleansed their hearts by faith. His speech in Acts 15 interprets for the council what happened in Acts 10.

    What Peter shares with the council is what God showed him in Acts 10; what God showed him is exactly what he changed his mind about: That He cleanses hearts by faith, so that there is no need to be circumcised to be saved.

    So, that’s the argument. To refute it, you would need to show that either Peter did *not* change his mind about Gentiles being accepted by God, or that being accepted by God is somehow different from being justified.

    JRC: And mostly, you err in failing to observe that Peter’s understanding was literally contrary to the gospel, even though it was excusable on the ground of progressive revelation.

    TW: This is impossible unless you think the OT had a different gospel than the NT.

    The diligent student can show that TW has committed a fallacy of false alternative. Hint: an excusable error is an error nonetheless.

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  207. Jeff,

    There are two questions here:

    Q1: whether Peter had thought Gentiles were “inherently (morally) unclean vs ceremonially unclean”

    Q2: whether Peter had thought “Jewishness” (whether viewed as a moral or a ceremonial cleanness) is a condition of justification.

    A positive answer to Q1 does not imply a positive answer to Q2. An immoral lifestyle is inherently (morally) unclean, but this does not imply staying away from an immoral lifestyle is a condition of justification. Law is not gospel.

    I answer in the negative to Q2, because when Peter preached justification by faith on the day of Pentecost, he included both Jews and Gentiles.

    Acts 2:39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those AFAR OFF, as many as the Lord our God shall call.

    You answer in the positive to Q2. Your argument is hinged on the meaning of one word, “δεκτὸς” (“acceptable, favorable”), which you insist to mean “justified” in Acts 10:35.

    As I have repeatedly said, this fails to take into the account of the GREAT change of covenants that’s taking place. Acts 10 is about a change of covenant status, not justification. You are making the opposite error as the “New Perspective on Paul”: while they only see change of covenant status and mistake it for justification, you are ignoring/downplaying the change of covenant status and only seeing justification.

    As a result, you mistake Peter’s change of mind in Acts 10 as a change of mind on how a person is justified before God, and come to the absurd conclusion that Peter was believing in a false gospel prior to this event.

    Peter’s change of mind here may be compared to a person changing his mind on whether Christians have the obligation to keep the Sabbath, or whether Christians are to build a theocratic society. It’s coming to understand the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God in the New Covenant, with earthly types and shadows passing away.

    Btw, do you also think Peter preached a false gospel of justification conditioned on Jewishness prior to this event?

    If not, then you are saying that a person believing in a false gospel could still preach a true gospel, in which case I don’t see why it is an issue at all to say Peter was unsaved, since his own personal salvation wouldn’t affect his apostleship.

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  208. Jeff: “You might want to consider the import of that phrase “passed the tests of each other.” You have presented your view as “letting the gospel determine who is in the church.” But the way the mechanics work, it is people who are continually judging each other on the basis of their understanding of the gospel, applying ever-refined tests of salvation to determine who is in and who is out. So Tianqi Wu looks back through history and determines that the entirety of the church fathers were unsaved. Calvin didn’t really believe in limited atonement, (despite being the poster child whose name is attached to that doctrine!), so he was lost. Etc.”

    My judgment is *conditional*: IF anyone (whether they are “church fathers” or “reformers” or others) believed in (hypothetical) universal atonement, THEN this means they were lost as long as they were not delivered from this error; IF they died believing this error, THEN this means they were eternally lost.

    This *criterion* is not dependent on “church history”, but only on the gospel.

    You seem to find the idea that “the church fathers were unsaved” too drastic to be acceptable. But do you realize the idea that “the church fathers were WRONG about the gospel” is just as drastic?

    If they are wrong even on the most basic thing, the gospel, how could they be called “church fathers”? In this case, how could the “church”, of which they are “fathers”, be God’s church?

    If the “church fathers” are WRONG about the gospel, then they are no better than the “sages” of Judaism. Their devotion and influence mean nothing but more guilt, as they not only believed themselves but taught others a false gospel. They are the builders of a false religion, who rejected the true gospel as the rock.

    Romans 10:2-3 For I testify to them that they have zeal to God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God.

    This is the implication that many people are unwilling to accept. As one modern Protestant theologian put it,

    “The Protestant doctrine calls into question the salvation of millions of Christians throughout history. This group would include, we are informed, such church fathers as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas who as sacerdotalists believed in baptismal regeneration and, because they confused justification and sanctification, believed also in the necessity of deeds of penance for salvation.

    “This argument however is aimed not so much at Protestantism’s “rigidity” as it is against Paul’s insistence that there is only one gospel, and that any other “gospel” is not the gospel, that those who teach any other “gospel” stand under God’s anathema (Galatians 1:8-9), and that those who rely to any degree on their works for salvation nullify the grace of God (Romans 11:5-6), make void the cross work of Christ (Galatians 2:21, 5:2), and become debtors to keep the entire law and are under the curse of the law.

    “It is neither my nor their defenders’ place to assure the Christian world that surely God justified them by faith alone even though they themselves did not hold to a faith alone view of justification. I will not speculate but I will say that our attitude should, with Paul, ever be: “Let God’s truth be inviolate, though EVERY man becomes thereby a liar. ” (Romans 3:4) The clear teaching of the Word should be upheld and we should not look for reasons to avoid it, even if the alternative would force us to conclude that these fathers–and all others like them—were not saved.”

    Jeff: “That feels noble as long as you are in the driver’s seat. “I’m just applying the gospel standard.” But one day you may be on the receiving end, and you might see the folly of it. The solo scriptura method, rejecting the collected wisdom of God’s church in favor of one’s own interpretations, is perilous in general. When combined with tests for salvation based on private judgments, it is deadly.”

    What does “collected wisdom of God’s church” mean? Who decides what belongs to the “collected wisdom” rather than “dustbin of history”? Does it boil down to your current denomination making a “balanced” evaluation on everybody before you?

    The “church fathers” that you seek to defend sound far more intolerant than you:

    https://catholicism.org/eens-fathers.html

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  209. TW: You seem to find the idea that “the church fathers were unsaved” too drastic to be acceptable.

    Drastic? No. Absurd? Yes. You’re trying to disappear your own family tree.

    All of your “gospel essentials” — trinitarian theology, Christology, JFBA, predestination, limited atonement, imputation — all of it was developed and articulated by people you believe to be lost. In fact, the canon you accept was recognized by multiple assemblies of people that you hold to be lost.

    So by taking their ideas and using them for your own, you’re essentially admitting to following in the theological footsteps of false teachers. Wherever you learned your theology, it was from people whose influences included Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin.

    Yet somehow that “bad” root produced a theologically perfect gospel!

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  210. TW: Q2: whether Peter had thought “Jewishness” (whether viewed as a moral or a ceremonial cleanness) is a condition of justification. I answer in the negative to Q2, because when Peter preached justification by faith on the day of Pentecost, he included both Jews and Gentiles. Acts 2:39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those AFAR OFF, as many as the Lord our God shall call.

    Does not follow. Peter did indeed preach justification by faith. That does not preclude a positive answer to Q2; he might well have thought that “all who are far off” would still have to become Jewish as they trusted in the Messiah of the Jews. Or he might not have thought it through at all. Up to that point, indeed up until Acts 10, Peter could preach a pure gospel of JFBA without ever addressing the status of Gentiles.

    Again to be clear: Justification by faith is in contradiction to the belief that one must become Jewish to be saved. But the fact that Peter believed one does not automatically shield him from believing the other. And until Acts 10, there was no opportunity for him to see a contradiction in his beliefs.

    You have two implicit assumptions in your argument.

    The first is that in effectual calling, the Holy Spirit preserves the believer from believing contradictions.

    You also have an assumption that if someone believes A and ~A at the same time, then he or she does not “really” believe one of those things.

    But in fact, it is routine for people to believe contradictory ideas, UNTIL the contradiction is made clear.

    By way of analogy. Many a student walks into linear algebra with a false, but understandable, belief that all multiplication of any objects is commutative.

    Then they learn how to multiply matrices and come to believe, as a matter of definition that AB_ij = sum (A_ik B_kj)

    They now believe two things that are in opposition to each other. And until they make some blunder like (AB)^2 = A^2 B^2, and understand why that is a contradiction, they continue to believe those two contradictory things.

    So it is neither surprising nor absurd that Peter believed both in justification by faith and some kind of judaizing principle, until the contradiction was pointed out by God in Acts 10. And it is clear, from the way that Peter so easily let go of his judaizing, that he in fact truly believed in justification by faith and simply needed to see its implications through to the end.

    TW: You answer in the positive to Q2. Your argument is hinged on the meaning of one word, “δεκτὸς” (“acceptable, favorable”), which you insist to mean “justified” in Acts 10:35.

    As I have repeatedly said, this fails to take into the account of the GREAT change of covenants that’s taking place. Acts 10 is about a change of covenant status, not justification.

    Yes, I have noticed that you have said that. However, it is a vague statement and does not (yet) seem relevant. Which covenant? What is “covenant status”? What in the text of Acts 10 leads you to believe that it is about “a change of covenant status, not justification”? How can one have a “covenant status” and not be justified? Without more details, your counterproposal doesn’t rebut the basic facts:

    * Cornelius is said to be “accepted by God” – which is an obvious logical equivalent to being justified
    * Cornelius receives the sign of justification
    * Peter in Acts 15 uses this experience to rebut the claim that one must become circumcised to be saved.

    So please provide the argument, with special attention to the point “about a change of covenant status, NOT justification.” Why is it an exclusive or?

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  211. Jeff: “Drastic? No. Absurd? Yes. You’re trying to disappear your own family tree. All of your “gospel essentials” — trinitarian theology, Christology, JFBA, predestination, limited atonement, imputation — all of it was developed and articulated by people you believe to be lost. In fact, the canon you accept was recognized by multiple assemblies of people that you hold to be lost. So by taking their ideas and using them for your own, you’re essentially admitting to following in the theological footsteps of false teachers. Wherever you learned your theology, it was from people whose influences included Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. Yet somehow that “bad” root produced a theologically perfect gospel!”

    1) The false prophet Balaam also preached some important truth about God’s plan of redemption. God used unbelieving scribes and Pharisees to preserve the scriptures and expound the Law. Paul cited the words of pagan poets to witness a fundamental truth about God in his sermon. Why couldn’t God use unsaved “Christian” theologians to preserve the scriptures and expound some points of the gospel?

    2) Moreover, they didn’t develop these points, as if the meaning of God’s message needs development by human thinkers. They merely expounded these points *in their particular contexts*.

    By their articulation of these doctrines, they did not clarify the Bible, which is ALREADY CLEAR, but merely clarified *their own confession* in contrast to the similar-sounding confession of others that they deem false. It was simply their “statement of faith”.

    The same is true for the canon. The canon was not authenticated by the recognition of “church councils”, but God’s word is self-authenticating.

    The discerning Christian can sometimes benefit from critically reading their works. God can use their works to deliver his elect from some types of errors and to draw them to a serious consideration of his message in the scriptures. Yet the same could be said for many other authors with far less “Christian” veneer.

    However, one does not need to have read any theologians after the close of the canon, in order to know the *true things* that have been articulated by these theologians, because these things are in the Bible.

    What they might not know is the *form of speech* used by these theologians, which is not necessary to know. For example:

    A person might not know the term “trinity” or “hypostatic union” yet knows the one true God of Israel has revealed himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the sending of Jesus Christ into the world for the salvation of his people; that Jesus, the infant born of a virgin, the man that died on the cross, is the Word of God creating and sustaining all things, the only-begotten Son in Father’s bosom; and perceives in this man of sorrows, through his speech and acts, the heavenly Father is in him and he is in the Father; and recognizing his voice to be the voice of a Good Shepherd who is one with the Father, who casts out the kingdom of darkness by the power of Spirit and who lays down his life that his sheep may live and live more abundantly.

    A person might never heard of the “5 Points of Calvinism” yet knows the sovereign justice and grace of God; that God is good, and we are evil, under his wrath for our sins, unable to please him by any means, so corrupted that we do not even know God is good and we are evil, but nourish our evil hearts in a day of slaughter and walk on the broad way of destruction; but God for his glory had chosen a multitude of sinners for a wonderful salvation, reserving the rest for damnation, without respect to any favorable or unfavorable distinction in man; namely, God out of his love sent his Son Jesus Christ to bear their guilt and receive their sentence of death, bearing the full retribution of their offense against God, so that he completely satisfied the demand of God’s justice against these sinners, and thereby permanently secured their salvation from all guilt, corruption, and death; which he applies to them through the calling of his gospel.

    3) I do not follow in the theological footsteps of any church council, “father” or reformer. I do not accept the canon or the doctrines of Trinity, Christology, TULIP, imputations, JBFA, etc because “so and so” said it. Why? Because Jesus says:

    “But do not you be called Rabbi, for One is your Leader, the Christ, and you are all brothers. And call no one your father on earth, for One is your Father, the One in Heaven. Nor be called leaders, for One is your Leader, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:8-10)

    A commonality of all these doctrines mentioned above is that they glorify God in Christ, rather than men. It is a gross perversion to view the disclosure of this God-glorifying knowledge as a discovery through man’s intellectual effort. No, God does not need anybody to help explain him more clearly. His Christ has explained him and his Spirit causes his elect to understand that explanation.

    “And the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone teach you. But as His anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and as He taught you, abide in Him.” (1 John 2:27)

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  212. Jeff,

    1) In Galatians, Paul says those who believe justification is conditioned on Jewishness is lost.

    Galatians 5:2-4 Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man being circumcised, that he is a debtor to do all the Law, you whoever are justified by Law, you were severed from Christ; you fell from grace.

    On the other hand, Paul also says everyone believing in the gospel is justified. This implies that it’s impossible for someone to believe in the gospel and also believe justification is conditioned on Jewishness.

    Therefore, if Peter was saved in Acts 2, or if he believed in the gospel he preached, then this implies he did not believe justification is conditioned on Jewishness.

    If he believed justification is conditioned on Jewishness, then this implies he wasn’t saved and didn’t believe in the gospel he preached.

    Contrary to what you might expect, my position does not depend on this argument about what Peter believed prior to Acts 10. The gospel that the apostles preached is greater than the apostles themselves.

    Galatians 1:8 But even if we, or an angel out of Heaven, should preach a gospel to you beside the gospel we preached to you, let him be accursed.

    2) Here’s another example that rules out “believing contradictions”.

    John 5:46-47 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father; there is one accusing you, Moses, in whom you have hoped. For if you were believing Moses, you would then believe Me; for that one wrote concerning Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My Words?

    How did Moses write concerning Jesus? Did Moses write about Jesus explicitly, as the New Testament did? No. It was *implied*.

    But according to Jesus, it is impossible that a person who believed in the writings of Moses could miss the *implication* that he is the Christ due to some “lapse in logical deduction”. The REASON a person does not believe in this *implication* of the Torah is NECESSARILY that the person does not believe in the Torah *itself*.

    Paul, a former Pharisee himself, explains the nature of their unbelief:

    Romans 10:2-4 For I testify to them that they have zeal to God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of Law for righteousness to everyone that believes.

    The fact they had “zeal to God”, zealously reciting, studying, teaching, and following the Torah, does not prove they believe what the Torah says to them, because that zeal is not according to *knowledge*.

    What is this *knowledge* they are missing? It is the knowledge of the *righteousness of God*.

    Because they were ignorant of what truly satisfies God’s demand for man, they sought to contribute something of their own to their righteousness before God, and thus rejected the Christ who tells them that he alone pleases God and through his sacrifice alone is God’s demand for man satisfied.

    The ignorance of this truth *vitiates* the entire profession of these Jews, and shows they do not believe in what the Torah says, even though in their own minds they sincerely adhere to it.

    One cannot say these Jews believed in the Torah, but merely did not “think through the implications” to reach the conclusion that Jesus is the Christ. They do not reach this conclusion BECAUSE they do not believe what the Torah says about God’s demand, man’s condition, and Christ’s mediation.

    [begin sarcasm] But isn’t this a demand for “perfect knowledge”? After all, these Jews are so zealous for the Torah, which even Paul admitted. They just didn’t realize God’s demand is *perfect and inflexible*, man’s condition is *totally incapacitated*, and Christ’s mediation is *thoroughly substitutionary and efficient-in-itself*. Why insist on such precision? Isn’t it enough to know that God is “holy”, man is “sinful”, and salvation depends on God’s “grace” through an “atonement” for guilt which he will provide in his “Christ” for those in his “covenant”? [end sarcasm]

    3) If Peter at any time believed that “justification is conditioned on Jewishness”, then at that time he too would be ranked among these unbelieving Jews who were ignorant of the righteousness of God censured by Paul in Romans 10.

    If you find it problematic to say this of Peter in Acts 10, then you should reconsider your interpretation of Acts 10, because you present interpretation has that God is telling Peter to repent of the error of thinking that Jewishness is part of the justifying righteousness. But this is precisely the error for which Paul censures the unbelieving Jews (Romans 10), for which he anathematized the Judaizers and sternly warned their followers (Galatians), and from which he repented in his own conversion:

    Philippians 3:4 Even though I might have trust in flesh; if any other thinks to trust in flesh, I more; in circumcision, the eighth day, of the race of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; according to Law, a Pharisee; according to zeal, persecuting the assembly; according to righteousness in Law, being blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss because of Christ. But, no, rather I also count all things to be loss because of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them to be trash, that I might gain Christ and be found in Him; not having my own righteousness of Law, but through the faith of Christ, having the righteousness of God on faith,

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  213. TW,

    How do you know that you are saved? It seems you are placing the bar for saving faith awfully high. Perhaps there is something about the gospel that you don’t know or that you inaccurately believe, and don’t know about it. Ergo, based on your standards, it seems that even you might not be saved or know the gospel.

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  214. Tianqi,

    I notice that you didn’t answer my questions.

    * Which covenant?
    * What is “covenant status”?
    * What in the text of Acts 10 leads you to believe that it is about “a change of covenant status, not justification”?
    * How can one have a “covenant status” and not be justified?

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  215. For all the theological foppery and soteriological wranglings over the past 238 replies to this post, what seems to have gotten lost in the milieu is comfort. To read so many here, comfort is to be found in logic, rather than the gospel. Which is a sad state of affairs.

    Perhaps reflection over a bottle of Red Breast is required this St. Paddy’s Day, and a return to the true comfort of the Scriptures, regardless of one’s ability to parse the parsing of the last person who parsed the other guy’s parsings. Here’s to belonging with body and soul, both in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who has fully paid for all our sins with his precious blood, and has set us free from all the power of the devil. Slainte!

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  216. How many Irish car bombs or how much Soco and mountain dew can be consumed before comfort turns into license? In other words, the comfort given with one hand in some definitions of the Gospel, is taken away with the other hand. This should not be the reality when defining the Gospel.

    The underlying point of all the “theological foppery and soteriological wrangling” from those of us who are opposing some of the content of the Reformed Confessions is that the inherent contradictions of those confessions destroy the comfort you are wanting to defend. There is no comfort in false Gospels that are inherently broad and not clearly defined. Not only the Sovereignty of God has to be defended in the Gospel but the justice of God in the Gospel too. And you can’t defend the justice of God in the Gospel without the theological foppery and soteriological wranglings.

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  217. “ Not only the Sovereignty of God has to be defended in the Gospel but the justice of God in the Gospel too. “

    I disagree. This is a category error. The gospel may have implications for theodicy, but theodicy is not part of the gospel. This is the problem with your inflationary gospel. As far as I can tell from what your gang has written, the gospel is all the theology you think is essential to believe to be counted as saved. But the gospel is not a theological system, it is a basic proclamation. A subset of theology. This leads to your misreading of Galatians. Here Paul was dealing with a direct opposition to the gospel message not a misunderstanding of an implication flowing from the gospel or an erroneous theory to rationalize the justice of the gospel. Just as our salvation does not make our behavior perfect on this side of glory, our salvation does not make our thoughts perfect on this side of glory…including our thoughts about the gospel.Obviously you disagree which is why I find your position an intellectual perfectionism akin to Wesleyan moral perfectionism.

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  218. As I think I stated in one of my first comments in this post, this all has to do with one of the major disagreements between Van Til and Gordon Clark. Is our knowledge of God only analogical knowledge (Van Til) or are there points of contact between God’s knowledge and created creatures knowledge that are univocal (Gordon Clark)? To say it another way, does God make the knowledge of the Gospel univocal to His elect people? That has to be considered as a possibility and I think there is Scriptural evidence that supports this univocal position between God’s knowledge and His elect people’s knowledge in reference to the content of the Gospel (eyes to see and ears to hear, etc.). The following quote seeks to further explain this position:

    https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10218796226074404&id=1163211513

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  219. @JYI can’t access your facebook link. Do I need a facebook account to do so?

    By univocal do you mean unambiguous? Thinking back to Paul’s famous statement that for now we see through a glass darkly, it seems that our knowledge is imperfect. If knowledge of all of the concepts you include under the mantle of “gospel” were known perfectly, it would be quite odd for Paul to say that when the perfect comes that the partial will pass away. But being on the right side of an esoteric debate about analogical versus univocal knowledge about God as a sign that one is truly justified strikes me as unjustified. Am I misunderstanding you?

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  220. @SteveD: I’m trying to disturb Tianqi’s confidence in his own logic. I don’t think it’s helping, so … TAG – you’re it.

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  221. Sdb,

    It links fine for me so maybe you do need a Facebook account to let you in. I think Paul is talking about something different when referencing that verse than when Paul calls down curses upon those who preach a different Gospel from the one he was commissioned to proclaim and teach. So, to answer your question, I think you are misunderstanding what I am trying to communicate. The following is the copied and pasted text I was linking:

    The way that John Calvin talked to papists in his sermons on Galatians is simply unacceptable—-

    “Our sin effects our judgments about truth, even spiritual truth. The perfect gospel is therefore, known only to God. We may have a good understanding of God’s grace (if we have read enough of Turretin and Meredith Kline) , and that understanding may continue to grow until we die; but our understanding will never be perfectly complete until the resurrection. ”

    “With this in mind, we should not be quick to throw people out of the kingdom simply because they have an Arminian understanding of the gospel. Just because we may have accepted the doctrines of grace does not give us the right to believe that those who have not are not our brothers. In fact, there may be some matters of truth they see more clearly than we do, and so we should be willing to learn from them, as well as share the more consistent understanding of God’s grace that we have been fortunate enough to have learned.”

    “It would be arrogant to claim some kind of infallible certainty that assumes perfect knowledge of the truth. Those people who imply Arminians are not “true Christians” need a good dose of humility, and should take the log out of their own eye, before they try to remove the doctrinal speck from their brother’s eye.”

    An argument begs the question when it assumes the conclusion it is trying to prove. —

    “Our sin affects our judgments about truth, even spiritual truth.”

    If this statement is true, if our sin affects our judgments about truth, then the statement may, in fact, be false, for our sin affects our judgments about truth.

    The argument assumes human sovereignty in the matter of knowledge and truth, for it assumes that our sin does not affect our judgment about our sin nature or our judgment.

    The Bible opposes this self refuting line of reasoning, for the Bible judges truth not by the ability of man to know it, but rather by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Truth does not depend on us or our ability to judge it or know it. Rather, truth depends on whether God has said it. We do not affect truth by our knowledge of it, therefore, our sin has not one wit of affect upon truth. We can know God is able to reveal Himself clearly and unambiguously to his creatures, not because we have judged we can know this, but rather because He has said it.

    John 18:37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice

    1 John 2:20-21 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

    John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    John 16:13-15 When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.

    The basic skepticism of the sneering at TRs and “cage stage folks” assumes human sovereignty in the matter of knowledge and truth, and calls this assumption ‘humility’…..since one can not have an infallible conviction about truth; therefore, one should temper the judgments he makes about the doctrinal claims of someone else with the understanding that “nobody’s perfect”.

    This line of reasoning is consistently opposed in the Bible. Skepticism about truth is only possible if the assumption is granted that “truth” depends on us, and our interpretive faculty makes truth what it is: ” We own our lips; who is our master?” (Psalm 12:4).

    According to the Bible, we do not understand and submit to the truth of the gospel by the power of our own minds. Rather, truth depends on the revelation of God, and he has created all reality by His own Word. God is able to reveal himself clearly and unambiguously to his creatures, and God will judge according to the standard of his truth . Christ’s sheep know his voice and follow Him…

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  222. While I appreciate the nod, Jeff, I have found convincing anyone of anything on an internet chat board is usually pointless. Look through all the threads on Old Life and show me one where someone actually changed his mind because of something that was said in a comment. There may be one or two, I suppose, but I can’t recall them. I don’t mind throwing in some food for thought here and there, but to take up the mantle you are offering me is something which I will respectfully decline.

    I will say this, however – if the comfort of the gospel is found in my ability to understand the nuances of it or my erudition in defending the sovereignty or justice of God (of which there is little need, as God defends himself quite adequately), then I have no comfort. But if my comfort is found in the words of the Savior, “It is finished,” then I have all the comfort I need. And if a pastor or elder or teacher cannot, will not, or does not offer THAT comfort to the flock under his care on a continual basis through the preaching and teaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments, then five PhDs and six-thousand blog posts and the ability to write an online dissertation on the particulars of justification are of little use.

    And after everyone’s circled their own wagons five or six times (apologies, I live in the West), one wonders when they will start to run out of bullets. Or get tired of pulling the trigger. Perhaps they might consider a cease-fire and maybe, just maybe, rest in the full comfort of the gospel in a way that is actually restful, and not stressful, and find themselves refreshed, not by the comfort of their own logic, but by the foolishness of the cross.

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  223. Thanks for pasting your quote.

    “ The basic skepticism of the sneering at TRs and “cage stage folks” assumes human sovereignty in the matter of knowledge and truth, and calls this assumption ‘humility’…..since one can not have an infallible conviction about truth; therefore, one should temper the judgments he makes about the doctrinal claims of someone else with the understanding that “nobody’s perfect”.

    This line of reasoning is consistently opposed in the Bible. Skepticism about truth is only possible if the assumption is granted that “truth” depends on us, and our interpretive faculty makes truth what it is”

    I don’t understand this reasoning:
    1. One claims our knowledge of the truth is fallible
    2. Therefore we should not be quick to dismiss those with different understandings of the truth.
    3. This stance is consistently opposed in scripture
    4. The claim that our knowledge of the truth is fallible depends on the assumption that truth depends on us and our interpretive faculty makes truth what it is.

    Is this a fair outline of your stance? It is how I understand the passage you quoted. It strikes me as a non-sequitur. The claim that our knowledge is fallible does not entail anything about the existence of truth. Of course God *could* make us omniscient (or give us perfect knowledge of the gospel, all it depends on, and all it entails) just as he could make it impossible for the regenerate to ever commit a sin. God can do all his Holy will. The question is an empirical (in this context exegetical) one – does the Bible teach that our knowledge of the gospel is perfect as a result of our salvation, does it teach that our knowledge is imperfect, or has God chosen not to reveal the answer. If the question is exegetical, I don’t see why allowing that our exegesis is fallible entails anything about the truth of scripture.

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  224. Let me add this too, there is a lot of misunderstanding in the comments between the antagonist parties because the parties are defining the critical concepts being debated with different meanings and different ways and means in regards how the concepts are applied. For example, some “Calvinists” believe in a “limited atonement” in that they say that “”Jesus only died for those He knew He would enable to ask Him to die for them”
    ie, if you ask Jesus to die for you, He will

    That is “limited atonement”, but it’s not what the Bible teaches about the nature of propitiation for the imputed sins of the elect.

    The same could be said for how the doctrine of election is understood and how imputation is understood and applied. To say that these theological concepts are important but not part of the Gospel is to rip the book of Romans out from what the New Covenant teaches what the Gospel is. Paul explains what the Gospel is and what Christ’s atoning death meant most clearly in the book of Romans. You don’t need an IQ of 140 or better to understand where the required righteousness is found, that Jesus only died for his elect people and that the legal declaration of justified by imputation at the hearing of the true gospel results in the giving of the Spirit, regeneration, and faith. This does have to be taught with the light given in Scripture or the true Gospel has not been heard and understood. That is all that we have been saying.

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  225. Sdb,

    The quoted text I copied and pasted does need some further explanation to become more clear. The three paragraphs following the sentence about Calvin and the Papists are what is being criticized and disagreed with. You hear those 3 paragraphs, or something similar to them, repeated often by the confessional Reformed. The criticism is that the thinking is a self refuting argument. God’s truth is God’s truth and the noetic influence of sin on the mind is irrelevant when God reveals the truth of the Word to the mind. In other words, the noetic influence of sin keeps the mind blinded to the light of Scriptural truth until God opens the mind to know and understand it by revelation. The truth does not depend on the fallen minds ability to search it out and find it. God reveals it. So, I think you were misunderstanding the copied text without the further explanation that I just supplied. Does that help? I might be misunderstanding what you want to be communicating.

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  226. JY: God’s truth is God’s truth and the noetic influence of sin on the mind is irrelevant when God reveals the truth of the Word to the mind.

    How is this different from arguing that sin nature is irrelevant when God sanctifies the person? The similarities to moral perfectionism are uncanny.

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  227. “To say that these theological concepts are important but not part of the Gospel is to rip the book of Romans out from what the New Covenant teaches what the Gospel is.”

    Not everything taught in Romans is part of the gospel declaration. The basis of the gospel and the implications of the gospel are not the gospel.

    “Paul explains what the Gospel is and what Christ’s atoning death meant most clearly in the book of Romans.“

    I disagree. I find Corinthians far more clear, but that’s just me. There are many metaphors in scripture for understanding how one is made right with God. I don’t see a good justification for privileging one over the other. Together they paint a full portrait of the economy of salvation. A monomaniacal focus on just one part of the picture leads to a distorted view.

    “You don’t need an IQ of 140 or better to understand where the required righteousness is found, that Jesus only died for his elect people and that the legal declaration of justified by imputation at the hearing of the true gospel results in the giving of the Spirit, regeneration, and faith.”
    Well Peter disagrees as he says Paul is hard to understand. But more to the point, I find it interesting that your summary of the gospel does not contain any of the elements that Paul says are the most important and his summary does not contain any of the elements that you think are essential. You keep insisting that this particular metaphor for how salvation works is assumed elsewhere, even though different metaphors are used throughout the NT. I remain unconvinced that Paul’s summary of the gospel in Corinthians is other than the essentials of the true gospel that one must confess to be saved. It is not so different from Paul’s shorthand in Romans 10:

    9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
    10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
    11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” – Romans 10:9-11

    1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
    2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain.
    3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
    4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, – 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

    This is the gospel. The implications of the gospel go well beyond this. As we grow in grace, we develop a fuller understanding of these implications and thus the comfort we are promised in scripture.

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  228. SDB,

    In the main I agree with you here, but it is worth noting that as far as I can tell, the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions seem assume that Roman Catholicism doesn’t preach the gospel, at least not after Trent, although Rome would affirm Rom. 10:9–11 and 1 Cor. 15:1–4. There’s also no reason to think that the Judaizers in Galatia denied those texts or that faith in the resurrection is what saves, and Paul curses them.

    All of that is to say that I think there has to be a place for saying the gospel includes the pronouncement that we are saved by trusting in Jesus alone. I don’t think that necessitates a full understanding of imputation or limited atonement or anything like that. Lots of people in non-confessional traditions have a simple trust in Jesus and know that their good works are not a part of their salvation but they live and die without ever knowing about imputation.

    It seems that the true proclamation of the gospel involves saying that Christ died for sinners according to the Scriptures and rose from the dead, and that the way that we as sinners benefit from this is by trusting only in Him for salvation. The gospel, I don’t think, has been preached unless we give the facts in the passages you list from Romans and Corinthians AND tell people that faith alone is the means to benefitting from those facts.

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  229. Jeff: “Cornelius is said to be “accepted by God” – which is an obvious logical equivalent to being justified”

    If you are right that “justified” is the “obvious” reading of “accepted by God” of Acts 10:35, then the “most obvious” reading of this verse would be that “God justifies those who are godly and do works of righteousness”.

    The fact that Peter brings up the piety and good works of Cornelius and praise God’s impartiality should caution against the reading of “accepted by God” as “justified”. (In my discussions with some salvation-by-works people in the past, this is one text offered along with Romans 2 to show that people are ultimately justified by their works.)

    In fact, Romans 2-3 helps clarify the point of difference between our readings of Acts 10. You think Peter’s change of mind is that “Gentiles could be justified without becoming Jews” (Romans 3), as in

    “Then where is the boasting? It was excluded. Through what law? Of works? No, but through a Law of faith. Then we conclude a man to be justified by faith without works of Law. Or is He the God of Jews only, and not also of the nations? Yes, of the nations also, since it is one God who will justify circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.” (Romans 3:27-30)

    On the other hand, I think Peter already knew that and his change of mind is rather that “Gentiles does not need circumcision to do works acceptable to God” (Romans 2), as in

    “For there is no respect of persons with God. […] If, then, the uncircumcision keeps the ordinances of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? […] For he is not a Jew that is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that outwardly in flesh; but he is a Jew that is one inwardly, and circumcision is of heart, in spirit, not in letter; of whom the praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:11-29)

    Both Romans 2 and Romans 3 teaches a kind of ethnic universality of God’s attitude towards man. But the rationale for that universality is different. The universality of Romans 2 is that of Law, of God’s impartiality in judgment of human thoughts and deeds. The universality of Romans 3 is that of grace, in which no human distinction (whether works or ethnicity) at all is factored into consideration.

    If Peter’s “epiphany” in Acts 10 was about the gospel, about God’s justification of Gentiles by faith, then it would be irrelevant or even misleading to bring up Cornelius’ piety and good works and praise God’s impartiality, since when Paul teaches God’s justification of Gentiles by faith, he emphatically excluded all human works in order to exalt God’s unconditional grace.

    However, if Peter’s “epiphany” in Acts 10 was about a change of Law, about God’s abrogation of the Jew-Gentile difference enshrined in the Law of Moses, then it makes sense to bring up Cornelius’ piety and good works and praise God’s impartiality.

    Peter’s realization was not that Cornelius’ uncircumcision is now forgiven to him, but that Cornelius’ uncircumcision is no longer a sin. It is not about justification from a certain type of sins, but a change of Law that abrogates a certain type of requirements that used to be part of Law.

    Previously, even though Cornelius was pious and worked righteousness, his uncircumcision still excluded him from the commonwealth of Israel. This exclusion is not merely on a human level, but that God did not yet accept him as a member of His covenant with Israel, though God had justified him by faith. On the flip side, many who were in God’s covenant with Israel were not justified by faith: they were Christ’s own people but they did not receive His word of grace. There is no necessary implication between membership in Old Covenant and Justification by Faith in either direction.

    It is only after the cross that this changed, because now the New Covenant was established and the Old Covenant was done away with. This radically changes the definition of “Israel”: it’s no longer defined by physical descent, circumcision, land, etc, but defined by justification by faith. Thus, those Jews who does not have faith in Christ are NOW excluded from “Israel”, but those Gentiles who has faith in Christ are NOW included in “Israel”.

    This is because Israel is a nation of priests. When the priesthood changes, there is also a change of Law. The uncircumcised Cornelius is unclean in the Old Covenant, but he is a spiritual priest in the New Covenant, in which his piety and good works are acceptable sacrifice without the need of circumcision.

    This is the “accepted by God” that Peter speaks of. It is not “justification” (which is not dependent on piety and good works), but a result of THREE FACTS: 1) justification by faith, 2) good works done from faith, 3) the great historical change from Old Covenant to New Covenant.

    In contrast, a believer who is lacking good works would fail to be “acceptable” in the sense Peter says about Cornelius, yet still justified. For example, when King David was busy committing adultery and murder cover-up, one could not say “he was fearing God and working righteousness”; indeed, God was displeased with him that he greatly chastised him. But he did not lose justification.

    In short, Peter’s “epiphany” was that “good works” no longer need to be “Jewish” in order to be truly “good works”, because of a change of Law (due to the change from Old Covenant to New Covenant).

    Jeff: “Cornelius receives the sign of justification”

    The gift of Holy Spirit – not in the sense of regeneration, but in the sense of indwelling – is a uniquely New-Testament phenomenon for ordinary believers. As such, it certainly can signify justification, but for those who are transitioning from an Old-Covenant faith to a New-Covenant faith, like Cornelius, it rather signifies this transition into the greater glory of New Covenant.

    Jeff: “Peter in Acts 15 uses this experience to rebut the claim that one must become circumcised to be saved.”

    Yet James in Acts 15 still tell the Gentiles to refrain from “idol sacrifices, and blood, and that strangled, and from fornication.” Does that mean James think one must refrain from these things in order to be saved? The matter directly being addressed here is not condition of justification, but about the Law that Christians should obey – these are two distinct issues because obeying the Law is not the condition of justification.

    Peter uses his experience from Acts 10 to show that Gentile believers are under no obligation to be circumcised, opposing the view raised in Acts 15:5. This of course also implies that one does not need to be circumcised to be saved, since if uncircumcision is no longer a sin, then it certainly cannot be a barrier to salvation. So Peter was directly addressing a wrong view about Christian’s rule of life (Moses), which also undermines the foundation of the false gospel of Acts 15:1.

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  230. @Robert
    You are probably right. I would argue that asserting that Jesus died for our sins is different from saying that Jesus died so that we can sacramentally atone for our sins, Jesus died so that our good works can atone for our sins, Jesus died so that keeping the law can atone for our sins, or that Jesus died so that our theological acumen can atone for our sins.

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  231. Interesting discussion. Eternally grateful – and this is comfort – the elect cannot be mislead and lead astray in the end (according to the Lord). [btw, SteveD, even “it is finished” is used to mislead and does (and no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light)]

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  232. Sdb, says: “Not everything taught in Romans is part of the gospel declaration. The basis of the gospel and the implications of the gospel are not the gospel.”

    John Y: What I said are a necessary part of the Gospel declaration are taught in the book of Romans.

    1) Paul said the righteousness of God is found in the Gospel (see Romans chapter 1 verses 16 to 17, I believe, off the top of my head). Paul then explains and defines what the righteousness of God is in chapters 2 and 3 and that fallen man cannot produce it. He also explains in chapter 3 that Christ did produce it and his blood propitiated God’s wrath. None of that is explained in 1 Cor. chapter 15 where you say all that is needed to know about the Gospel is found there.

    2) In Romans chapter 4, Paul explains the forensic nature of the Gospel in the concepts of reckoning, declaration and transfer of the righteousness of God to the ungodly. What particular ungodly people Paul is talking about has not been clearly defined yet but it can’t be everybody or the atonement would be universal in it’s application. That is not mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. chapter 15 either.

    3) That the righteousness transferred results in the giving of the Spirit, regeneration and faith can easily be extracted by necessary consequence from verses and concepts in chapters 5, 6 and 8. You can do the homework there.

    4). That all of these benefits of Christ’s propitiary death are intended only for the elect is easily extracted from chapters 8, 9, 10, 11. Again you can do the homework. Faith is what receives the work of Christ but it is the legal declaration and transfer that is the cause of the union with the elect people. You can’t come to any other conclusion from the logical Iprogression of the book.

    My main point, you can’t comprehend 1 Cor. 15 without the background teaching of the book of Romans. You can’t separate the part from the whole. The righteousness of God is found in the Gospel and Paul clearly explains this righteousness that is the gospel in the 11 chapters of Romans.

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  233. Jeff,

    John Y rephrased: God’s truth is God’s truth and the noetic influence of sin is irrelevant when God overrides this influence by the Spirit illuminated Word to the elect individual at the hearing and understanding of the true Gospel.

    Jeff: How is this different from arguing that sin nature is irrelevant when God sanctifies the person? The similarities to moral perfectionism are uncanny.

    John Y: It isn’t any different because God overrides the sin nature when God sanctifies the elect individual by the Spirit illuminated word at the hearing of the Gospel. God sanctifies the ungodly just like he justified the ungodly. We have already had this discussion though. Not two natures, two legal states is what the book of Romans clearly teaches.

    The role the Scriptures play in effectually calling the elect sheep and sanctifying them:

    “The entrance of thy word gives light” — Psalm 119:130.
    “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” — Ephesians 6:17.
    “Is not my word like as fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer, that breaks the rock in pieces?” — Jeremiah 23:29.
    “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” –John 6:63.
    “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” — 1 Corinthians 4:15.
    “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures” — James 1:18.
    “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever” — 1 Peter 1:23.
    “He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” — 2 Thessalonians 2:14.
    “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” — John 15:3.
    “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” — John 17:17.
    “That they also might be sanctified through the truth” — John 17:19.
    “God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed, from the heart, the model of doctrine into which ye were delivered” — Romans 6:17.
    “The gospel, which is come unto you, as it is in all the world, and brings forth fruit” — Colossians 1:5, 6.
    “The word of God, which effectually works in you that believe” — 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
    “You have purified yourselves in obeying the truth, through the Spirit” – 1 Peter 1:22
    “The gospel of Christ — is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believes” — Romans 1:16.
    “The gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved” — 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2.
    “The word, or doctrine of the cross, is to us who are saved the power of God” — 1 Corinthians 1:18.

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  234. TW: To summarize your argument,

    (1) C’s uncircumcision excluded him from the commonwealth of Israel.
    (2) This exclusion is not merely on a human level, but that God did not yet accept him as a member of His covenant with Israel, though God had justified him by faith.
    (3) There is no necessary implication between membership in Old Covenant and Justification by Faith in either direction.
    (4) The New Covenant radically changes the definition of “Israel”: it’s no longer defined by physical descent, circumcision, land, etc, but defined by justification by faith. Thus, those Jews who does not have faith in Christ are NOW excluded from “Israel”, but those Gentiles who has faith in Christ are NOW included in “Israel”.
    (5) The uncircumcised Cornelius is unclean in the Old Covenant, but he is a spiritual priest in the New Covenant, in which his piety and good works are acceptable sacrifice without the need of circumcision.
    (6) This is the “accepted by God” that Peter speaks of. It is not “justification” (which is not dependent on piety and good works), but a result of THREE FACTS: 1) justification by faith, 2) good works done from faith, 3) the great historical change from Old Covenant to New Covenant.
    (7) In contrast, a believer who is lacking good works would fail to be “acceptable” in the sense Peter says about Cornelius, yet still justified.

    Leaving aside issues about the Old Covenant, your account of the New Covenant raises some serious questions.

    * Are you saying that Cornelius is acceptable in the New Covenant because he is justified AND because of his good works?
    * Are you further saying that one can be justified, but not accepted by God?
    * And are you saying that Peter’s words in Acts 15 are referring to something other than justification?

    “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”

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  235. It’s so weird that you, on one hand, want a detailed Reformed creed which teaches so many wonderful truths about who Christ is, but then, on the other hand, want a “least common denominator” any Jesus will do, when it comes to the gospel. At the end of the day, it sounds to me like you not only think “the enough for everybody” gospel is true and enough, but you DO NOT want to talk to us sinners about what God has revealed about election. it’s as if you think our talking about Christ actually one day saving all for whom He died will get in the way of God’s effectual call.

    Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, volume 3, Reformed Dogmatics, 2006, p 469—-”The center of gravity has been shifted from Christ and located in the Christian. Faith (not the atonement) has become the reconciliation with God.”

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  236. John

    So, are you demanding a perfect view of who Jesus is and what He has done for you do be declared righteous before God?

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  237. JY: on one hand, want a detailed Reformed creed which teaches so many wonderful truths about who Christ is, but then, on the other hand, want a “least common denominator” any Jesus will do, when it comes to the gospel. At the end of the day, it sounds to me like you not only think “the enough for everybody” gospel is true and enough, but you DO NOT want to talk to us sinners about what God has revealed about election.

    Please talk about election as much as you wish. It is balm to the soul.

    Where I draw the line is in adding to the Scriptures, and especially in adding to the gospel.

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  238. Robert asks me:

    So, are you demanding a perfect view of who Jesus is and what He has done for you do be declared righteous before God?

    John Y:. Since God is a God of truth, I find it hard to believe that God would use lies about Jesus to justify and convert his elect sheep. I don’t buy into the dichotomy that the person of Jesus is different from the propositions about Jesus revealed in the Word of God. They go hand in hand.

    I also think Bavinck is right in the quote above. It is the placement into the death of Christ that unites to Christ. Faith is just the result of the forensic union. And j think that is very critical ok n getting the Gospel right.

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  239. Jeff,

    You cannot get the nature and extent of the atonement right without talking about election. The Jesus who died for the elect alone is not the same Jesus who died for everybody. So, election has got to be part of the Gospel. If you don’t talk about election when you teach about the Gospel then a different gospel is going to end up being preached.

    Tom Nettles on Andrew Fuller’s notion of “sufficient for all”.—–Error one: it’s tantamount to identifying the doctrine of effectual calling with atonement. What one really means by definite atonement is that the difference is not in the atonement but in the Spirit’s work of calling. A second error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son–when the idea of the sufficiency of the death of Christ arises, the emphasis shifts from the Son’s death to what he accomplished by his infinite divine nature.” This creates complexities and confusion into the atoning work of Christ.

    The Arminian gospel turns out to never be that simple. Hypothetical universalism is not simple either. “Christ died for everybody” is a complex falsehood, very commonly believed. It’s not like most people have not already heard that lie.

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  240. John,

    Since God is a God of truth, I find it hard to believe that God would use lies about Jesus to justify and convert his elect sheep. I don’t buy into the dichotomy that the person of Jesus is different from the propositions about Jesus revealed in the Word of God. They go hand in hand.

    But why do they have to be lies? Perhaps you have a preacher who is just poorly studied or something. Is the Word of God not able to convert people unless it is preached and taught with 100% accuracy? Which pastor or teacher has ever accomplished that except Jesus?

    What about someone who for some reason doesn’t have access to the entire canon of Scripture? It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at the doctrine of limited atonement from 1 John if that is all you had. Without the entire canon, how is anyone going to read 1 John 2:2—”He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” as anything other than hypothetical universalism?

    Countless people throughout history have not had the benefit of access to the entire canon of Scripture. Others have not had the benefit of being able to read or to be well schooled in hermeneutics. You seem to be defining the gospel in such a way that would have made it impossible for anyone to be saved before the fourth century and then for millennia after that when people didn’t have the Word of God in their own language. Did God really just abandon the human race between the death of the last Apostle and the recognition of the canon?

    And then you have people of below average IQ who are only capable of a very simple faith that will be unable to understand certain things no matter how much they are explained. Some people, simply because of intellectual capacity, are just never going to get something like limited atonement, which requires an understanding of many biblical passages, logic, and an ability to synthesize various teachings. The best they’ll ever get is an awareness that they do bad things, God doesn’t like it, and that Jesus will allow them to be forgiven. Are those people not saved? To my knowledge, regeneration doesn’t automatically grant an increase in IQ.

    And where is room for growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Peter commands that of us. But the stuff you are making a part of the gospel almost never comes right away for anyone. You seem to be limited salvation to the tightly intelligent who have the benefit of sound theological training. So what, like 5 percent of the world’s population throughout history?

    I also think Bavinck is right in the quote above. It is the placement into the death of Christ that unites to Christ. Faith is just the result of the forensic union. And j think that is very critical ok n getting the Gospel right.

    OK, but what happens when a preacher who believes this somehow forgets to mention it, or is unclear about it. Is God unable to save someone through that? If so, it seems no one could ever be saved under anyone’s preaching except Jesus’.

    No one here is advocating for doctrinal minimalism. We’re just trying to point out that not everyone is capable of coming to the right theological view on every topic related to Jesus. Some don’t have the whole Bible. Some are intellectually incapable. Some only get a very basic message on their deathbed.

    In the book of Acts, people aren’t converted without an explanation of forensic union or limited atonement. Presumably, instruction in those matters came later. I don’t see forensic union or limited atonement preached at Pentecost, for example, or to the Philippian jailer prior to their conversion.

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  241. Jeff:”Are you saying that Cornelius is acceptable in the New Covenant because he is justified AND because of his good works?”

    No, I’m not saying Cornelius’ membership in the New Covenant depends on his good works.

    I’m saying Cornelius is “accepted by God”, *in the sense that his works are acceptable service to God*, because he is justified AND has good works AND New Covenant has come.

    This “acceptance by God” is, first of all, in the form of God sending an angel to him to bring him to hear Peter’s gospel sermon, and then in the form of gift of Spirit.

    Cornelius had been justified by faith in the hope of Israel, in the OT prophecies of Christ. His prayer and alms were done in this faith. But NOW (after the New Covenant was established), God responded to his prayer and alms by showing him the fulfilment of these prophecies.

    Acts 10:4 And he was staring at him, and becoming terrified he said, What is it, Lord? And he said to him, Your prayers and your alms went up for a memorial before God.

    Acts 10:31 And he said, Cornelius, your prayer was heard and your alms were remembered before God.

    Jeff:”Are you further saying that one can be justified, but not accepted by God?”

    Yes, if “justified” is taken in the Pauline sense (e.g. Romans 3), and “accepted by God” is taken *in the sense of Acts 10:35*.

    In fact, this sense of “accepted by God” is essentially what the apostle James calls “justified by works”.

    James 2:20-26 But are you willing to know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is dead? Was not our father Abraham justified by works offering up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith worked with his works; and out of the works the faith was made perfected. And the Scripture was fulfilled, saying, “And Abraham believed God, and it was counted for righteousness to him;” and he was called, Friend of God. You see, then, that a man is justified out of works, and not out of faith only. But in the same way Rahab the harlot was also justified out of works, having received the messengers, and sending them out by another way. For as the body is dead apart from the spirit, so also faith is dead apart from works.

    Some comments on this passage: First let’s remember that Abraham was justified (by faith alone) long before he had a son to offer and that was permanent. That justification could not be gained, improved, marred, or lost by his good works or sins.

    Still, when Abraham in faith obeyed God’s command to offer his son (Genesis 22), God positively responded to that particular act of obedience, by showing him a picture of Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection (cf. Hebrews 11:19), praising him for his fear of Him, and confirmed the blessings He already unconditionally promised to him when He first called him out of darkness.

    James describes this as “justified out of works”. It is, quite simply, God’s public acknowledgment of some particular work done by a person AS an acceptable service to God. The focus is on what a person DID in a particular situation. For this purpose it’s a necessary prerequisite the person had been justified by faith, AS WELL AS he actually obeyed rather than sinned in that particular situation.

    The “justification” that Paul speaks of is between God’s law court and our conscience. Here the believers have nothing to show but stand as offenders of God who need their own sins to be forgiven by the blood of Christ. They are baptized into Christ’s death for their sins, and released from the wrath of the Holy One. Here faith is viewed as a Spirit-produced effect of seeing and hearing, in contrast to any works of Law, and there is no rebuke but only promise. It is impossible to affect this justification by anything the believer does or does not do, and thus is unchangeable.

    The “justification” that James speaks of is between God’s kingdom and this present evil age. Here God comforts and rewards those doing His will in a hostile world, and God will praise their faith in Him at the last day and vindicate them before those who opposed God’s truth. Here faith is viewed as an act of obedience on the part of the regenerate elect, and is the principle of the obedience demanded by the Law of Christ. Accordingly, James rebukes those Christians who treat each other with partiality. This justification is dependent on what the believer does, and thus is changeable. The believer’s failure incurs God’s displeasure, but never amounts to “sin unto death”, does not bring the believer under God’s wrath, and is cleansed by the blood of Christ.

    Jeff:”And are you saying that Peter’s words in Acts 15 are referring to something other than justification?”

    “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”

    See answer to previous questions.

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  242. TW: No, I’m not saying Cornelius’ membership in the New Covenant depends on his good works. I’m saying Cornelius is “accepted by God”, *in the sense that his works are acceptable service to God*, because he is justified AND has good works AND New Covenant has come.

    Hm. Earlier, you said “Acts 10 is about a change of covenant status, not justification.” Now, you seem to be backing away from a change in covenant status and talking more about “justification in the sense of James.”

    So in your system, you have

    * Pauline justification, being right before God, which happens by imputation prior to faith, and
    * Jamesian justification, being accepted by God, which happens by works. According to you, this is what Peter finally understands in Acts 10 and speaks of in Acts 15.

    That’s amazingly complex and not at all obvious in the text.

    It would be much simpler to read Acts 10.34-35 NOT as “acceptance because of works”, but rather as “works giving evidence of acceptance.”

    Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

    In other words, Peter appeals to Cornelius’ works as evidence that helps him understand that God accepts even Gentiles.

    This reading fits better also with the development in Acts 15. Peter mentions nothing of the acceptance of the Gentiles on account of their works. Rather, he connects it to their faith.

    And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

    This reading takes away the supposed irrelevancy in mentioning works.

    Further, you have posited a distinction between the Judaizers in 15.1 and the Judaizers in 15.5. (“…the view in Acts 15:5 is more ambiguous. It could be a clear soteriological error just like Acts 15:1, or it could be strictly an error on “what is Christian’s rule of life””)

    Accordingly, you deny that Peter is talking about being saved in Acts 15, but rather about being accepted by God in the Jamesian-justification sense.

    However, Peter is clear that what he is arguing for is soteriological, and not acceptance by works.

    Acts 15.10 – 11: Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.

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  243. @JY I’m curious as to why you feel the need to probe my motivations. I’ve stated here many times that I think the doctrine of election is true and that it should be taught clearly as part of executing scripture. Nothing I’ve seen thus far has led me to believe that the reformed confessions are in anyway deficient in their teaching on election.

    My stance is not that these things matter – they do! The fuller one’s understanding of the nature of Christ, the relationship of the trinity, etc… the fuller one’s understanding of the gospel and the comfort it brings. Where we differ is that while we agree that the righteousness of God is revealed by the Gospel, I disagree that the righteousness of God is the Gospel. While the way that the benefit of the Gospel is applied to the elect is by the “declaration and transfer of the righteousness of God to the ungodly”, this isn’t the Gospel. That this “results in the giving of the Spirit” is absolutely true. But it isn’t the Gospel. That this is only for the elect is true, but it isn’t the gospel.

    My problem is not with the doctrine of election, my problem is with the perfectionism you advocate. The more we’ve discussed, the more certain I’ve become that you are teaching an intellectual version of works based righteousness at worst and an intellectual perfectionism at best. This is false teaching that robs people of the assurance and comfort that the gospel brings. Your error is to take the simple declaration that is the gospel, and load it up with all the theology you care about and call that the gospel. If you get hypostatic union wrong, you believe in the wrong Christ and thus the wrong gospel and are lost. If you get the forensic nature of justification wrong, you believe in a false gospel and thus are lost. If you misunderstand how atonement works, you are lost. And so it goes.

    I think of the gospel like Euclid’s postulates. There is a lot of background information you need to know to fully appreciate Euclid’s postulates like what the word congruent means. But this background information is not Euclid’s postulates. The postulates also imply a lot of things. The logical conclusions one can draw from the postulates are not the postulates though. Indeed, one can know the postulates and believe the postulates, and simultaneously hold beliefs that are a logical contradiction to the postulates. That doesn’t mean that you really hold a belief in a false geometry. The problem with the Galatians is that they did not believe that Jesus died for their sins. The false teachers believed that Jesus died so that they could atone for their sins by keeping the law. This is a false gospel. Not every misunderstanding about any implication of the gospel is belief in a false gospel though.

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  244. “The Jesus who died for the elect alone is not the same Jesus who died for everybody.”

    Let’s say my wife bought lucky charms for the kids. I mistakenly thought she got them for all of us. Am I loving the wrong wife? I don’t think so. Similarly, one can love Jesus and misunderstand some of the things he did.

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  245. Jeff: “Earlier, you said “Acts 10 is about a change of covenant status, not justification.” Now, you seem to be backing away from a change in covenant status and talking more about “justification in the sense of James.””

    TW: I’m not backing away from a change of covenant, since the change of covenant CHANGES the acceptability of works.

    Peter was learning that with the coming of New Covenant, the LAW has CHANGED, so that uncircumcision is no longer a hindrance to the acceptability of a person’s otherwise good works.

    Jeff: “That’s amazingly complex and not at all obvious in the text. It would be much simpler to read Acts 10.34-35 NOT as “acceptance because of works”, but rather as “works giving evidence of acceptance.

    “‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’ In other words, Peter appeals to Cornelius’ works as evidence that helps him understand that God accepts even Gentiles.”

    TW: Why would the “works giving evidence of acceptance” reading be simpler? This idea is *not at all obvious in the text*.

    What Peter says:

    Anyone who has certain spiritual qualities (“fears God and does what is right”), irrespective of their nationality, is acceptable to God; THIS demonstrates that God shows no partiality.

    My reading is that Peter is saying the “acceptance” is God’s approving response to the spiritual qualities Cornelius had, and Peter is praising God’s impartiality in that EVALUATION of man’s spiritual qualities. Whatever objection you might raise against this reading, my reading is not “complex” but rather natural.

    Let me now consider your alternative reading of “works giving evidence of acceptance”. First, since you read “acceptance” as “justification” and thus place it before “works”, you are interpreting Peter as saying

    “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right HAS BEEN JUSTIFIED BY him.”

    Now, “impartiality” characterizes some EVALUATION. What is the evaluation BY GOD that is deemed “impartial” by Peter here?

    Is it God’s justification of sinners?

    Then the “impartiality” could not be evidenced by any works, because God’s justification does not take any works into account.

    Instead, the “impartiality” would be evidenced by the perfect satisfaction of Christ for the elect sinner, showing that God did not compromise on his Law in the justification of the elect sinner. This “evidence of God’s impartiality” is taught by Paul:

    Romans 3:23-26 for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood, as a demonstration of His righteousness through the passing over of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God, for a demonstration of His righteousness in the present time, for His being just and justifying the one that is of the faith of Jesus.

    Yet, when Peter praises God’s impartiality, he did not mention the satisfaction of Christ but the personal qualities of Cornelius.

    If you say, the good works of Cornelius are the RESULTS of the imputation of Christ’s death to him and therefore EVIDENCE that imputation, then you are now the one who is making the text *amazingly complex*, by introducing “two levels of evidence” into the text:

    “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right HAS BEEN JUSTIFIED BY him [because these good works are the results of Christ’s death imputed and is the EVIDENCE of that imputation, so what I’m really saying is in every nation anyone who has been imputed with Christ’s death has been justified and this is the EVIDENCE God shows no partiality].”

    Jeff: “Further, you have posited a distinction between the Judaizers in 15.1 and the Judaizers in 15.5. (“…the view in Acts 15:5 is more ambiguous. It could be a clear soteriological error just like Acts 15:1, or it could be strictly an error on “what is Christian’s rule of life””) Accordingly, you deny that Peter is talking about being saved in Acts 15, but rather about being accepted by God in the Jamesian-justification sense. However, Peter is clear that what he is arguing for is soteriological, and not acceptance by works.”

    Acts 15.10 – 11: Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.

    TW: I posited a distinction between the *views expressed* in 15.1 and 15.5. The two errors are related and could both be called “Judaizing”, yet only one of them is necessarily a false gospel.

    However, the two errors are still RELATED. The corresponding truths are also RELATED: gospel (soteriological truth) has *implications* for Law (Christian’s rule of life), especially in the background of the change of covenant. The insistence on keeping the Law of Moses as a rule of life was absolutely right in the Old Covenant. But continuing to insist that way of life *in the New Covenant* shows a misunderstanding of its tutorial function to bring one to Christ.

    The apostles often argue from the gospel indicatives to how Christians should behave. Paul does this. John does this. Even James does this. Peter is also doing this here.

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  246. SteveD:”I will say this, however – if the comfort of the gospel is found in my ability to understand the nuances of it or my erudition in defending the sovereignty or justice of God (of which there is little need, as God defends himself quite adequately), then I have no comfort. But if my comfort is found in the words of the Savior, “It is finished,” then I have all the comfort I need. And if a pastor or elder or teacher cannot, will not, or does not offer THAT comfort to the flock under his care on a continual basis through the preaching and teaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments, then five PhDs and six-thousand blog posts and the ability to write an online dissertation on the particulars of justification are of little use. ”

    It is true that the gospel alone brings true comfort, yet many false messages bring comfort to sinful men while they cannot find comfort in the true gospel. The sinfulness of man means subjectively perceived “comfort” could not be the criterion for what the true gospel is.

    When I believed in the “gospel” that teaches many for whom Christ died will be lost, I could find no comfort in the gospel that teaches everyone for whom Christ died will be saved. Conversely, after I believed the gospel that teaches everyone for whom Christ died will be saved, I can no longer find comfort in the “gospel” that teaches many for whom Christ died will be lost. These are two different messages that bring comfort to different sets of people. But only one message is true, and only one set of people has true comfort.

    The simple proclamation “You are forgiven of all sins” is not the gospel, even though there is no comfort apart from the knowing this.

    The gospel does not simply “jump to the conclusion” of comfort. The gospel is, first of all, a message that reveals/glorifies the true God and the Christ that he sent. Any comfort in a message that does not reveal/glorify the true God and his Christ is comfort in a lie.

    This is why I insist on doctrines, as well as on jugding by these doctrines. Because these doctrines *identify* the true God and his Christ from the counterfeit ones. Which doctrines you deem “essential knowledge” is also what you deem *identifying characteristics* of God and Christ.

    I’m saying Arminians worship an idol and follow a stranger. I’m saying those who consider Arminians believers in the gospel are people who can’t distinguish Jehovah and Baal, Christ and Antichrist. I’m saying those who think one can be justified apart from believing the true gospel are people who deny the gospel promise of justification BY FAITH.

    If this takes away your comfort, then it is a false comfort, and it will be taken away if God has mercy on you. When I first learned that double predestination and limited atonement is true, I lost all my comfort I had when I believed in “God loved all and Christ died for all”. I realized I had not known the true God but had trusted in an idol. I realized all those who believed in this false gospel, including my former self, were still in their sins and have not yet been justified by faith.

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  247. Robert,
    It is amazing how far you confessional types will go to keep your nebulous and incognito Jesus alive and well. That Jesus needs to be put to death and not resurrected ever again. I think if Paul found someone preaching like your examples dictate he would usher him out of the pulpit and if he was feeling generous that day maybe invite them to make some tents with him so he could set them straight on what the gospel is. God will communicate the true gospel to His elect sheep- no doubt about it. None of the examples you gave will hinder the Almighty One. Your Acts examples are not relevant because we have no way of knowing what God has revealed to these people besides what the short blurbs of Scripture provide.

    An old formula from Lombard is used in the political compromise of the Synod of Dordt, “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect”. Or for those who don’t want to talk about the word “elect” at all: sufficient for all, efficient for the believer.

    But the truth is that Christ’s death is not sufficient for the non-elect. What we really need to see is not simply the extent of the atonement but its nature. What do we mean by sufficient for the elect?

    If we don’t understand how Christ’s death is enough for the elect, denying that Christ’s death works for the non-elect will not explain the gospel. Why did Christ need to die for the elect? Because the regeneration of the elect does not satisfy God’s justice.

    It is not the Holy Spirit’s application of benefits from Christ’s death which appeases God’s wrath. God’s wrath has already been appeased or not, and justification is what happens when the elect are joined to that death.

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  248. Sdb,

    You have drunk deeply from the confessional koolaid. I’ll keep repeating myself as an antidote to the koolaid. You can name call all you want but you are obviously not seeing the critical issues we keep hounding about. It is no big deal to you. I remain unconvinced by the confessional koolaid while you remain unconvinced by our objections.

    Waddington—“Dr. Fesko offers a fascinating discussion of hypothetical universalism . It is a fact that there were members present in the assembly who held this view, and the author notes the complexity of the matter and the various views that fall under the label of hypothetical universalism. However, beyond doing us the favor of reminding us that at the time of the assembly hypothetical universalism was a live option, one gets the sense that there is also at work here a theological agenda. The contemporary view is too narrow perhaps. Church history hopefully involves an increasingly more precise and improved understanding of the Scriptures and theology.

    Waddington–Would it be right to judge earlier formulations by later standards? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that if a later development actually is an improvement and refinement and correction to earlier views, we would not want to revert to the earlier formulations. No, in the sense that we will recognize earlier formulations as defective but not necessarily erroneous or heretical.

    https://opc.org/os.html?article_id=529&cur_iss=Y

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  249. Robert: “What about someone who for some reason doesn’t have access to the entire canon of Scripture? …Countless people throughout history have not had the benefit of access to the entire canon of Scripture. Others have not had the benefit of being able to read or to be well schooled in hermeneutics. You seem to be defining the gospel in such a way that would have made it impossible for anyone to be saved before the fourth century and then for millennia after that when people didn’t have the Word of God in their own language. Did God really just abandon the human race between the death of the last Apostle and the recognition of the canon?”

    You sound like the indigenous people objecting to the foreign missionary: my forefathers did not have the benefit of access to ANY of your scriptures or your preachers, do you mean to say God just abandoned all of them?

    This sort of “plea” merely exposes a humanistic pride that says, the gospel can’t mean “all these people” are lost!

    God does not compromise his truth. God’s word is true, even this implies all these people are lost.

    Robert: “It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at the doctrine of limited atonement from 1 John if that is all you had. Without the entire canon, how is anyone going to read 1 John 2:2—”He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” as anything other than hypothetical universalism? ”

    This “concern” is irrelevant/misleading, just as the following “concern” is irrelevant/misleading:

    “It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works from James if that is all you had. Without the entire canon, how is anyone going to read James 2:24 – “You see, then, that a man is justified out of works, and not out of faith only” as anything other than justification by works?”

    Robert: “And then you have people of below average IQ who are only capable of a very simple faith that will be unable to understand certain things no matter how much they are explained. Some people, simply because of intellectual capacity, are just never going to get something like limited atonement, which requires an understanding of many biblical passages, logic, and an ability to synthesize various teachings. The best they’ll ever get is an awareness that they do bad things, God doesn’t like it, and that Jesus will allow them to be forgiven. Are those people not saved? To my knowledge, regeneration doesn’t automatically grant an increase in IQ.”

    This is also irrelevant/misleading. You might as well point out that some people – infants, comatose, severely mentally disabled – can’t even get to an awareness that “they do bad things, God doesn’t like it, Jesus will allow them to be forgiven”. The logical conclusion of your objection is that NO KNOWLEDGE is necessarily granted in regeneration.

    This whole objection is based on the assumption that the knowledge of things of God is conditioned on a person’s “IQ”, some sort of the power of the flesh, a concept not in the Bible but from secular psychology. This naturalism is opposed by the Bible, which says the knowledge of the things of God is never the result of man’s natural powers, but the result of the Spirit of God working in man.

    Thus, in regard to the knowledge of the doctrines of the Bible, whether of the gospel specifically or of Christian life in general, there is no difference between the “lowest IQ” and “highest IQ” people, both are incapable of this knowledge by their natural powers, and Spirit is able to cause both to understand and believe these doctrines, both in initial conversion and in continual growth.

    Robert: “And where is room for growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Peter commands that of us. But the stuff you are making a part of the gospel almost never comes right away for anyone. You seem to be limited salvation to the tightly intelligent who have the benefit of sound theological training. So what, like 5 percent of the world’s population throughout history?”

    There is much room for growth – e.g. first of all, how Christians should live in light of the gospel. But even this growth is still not a result of man’s natural powers, but of Spirit’s ongoing work through the Word. One does not grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ by being “tightly intelligent” or having “sound theological training”.

    But before we get to growth, we first need to have the right foundation, which is faith in the gospel, otherwise there is no growth, just unrepented dead works.

    Faith in the gospel ALREADY involves *knowledge*. Contrary to the general anti-knowledge stance of many modern professing Christians, the Bible considers a *particular type of knowledge* as BASIC for a person’s spirituality. This knowledge is the *knowledge of Christ/gospel*.

    This BASIC knowledge is not gained by being “tightly intelligent” or having “sound theological training”. It’s not even gained by the Spirit’s ongoing work in Christian growth, because this BASIC knowledge is ALREADY gained by regeneration. This knowledge is not vague but has a definite content – definite enough to reject every false Christ/gospel as the voice of a stranger.

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  250. John Y: You have drunk deeply from the confessional koolaid. I’ll keep repeating myself as an antidote to the koolaid. You can name call all you want but you are obviously not seeing the critical issues we keep hounding about.

    Your hands aren’t exactly clean from name-calling and kool-aid-drinking and avoiding critical issues. Get that log out first.

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  251. Jeff,. We can let God and the true biblical Gospel be the final determiner of all that. From where I sit, you confessional types are full of paradox and even contradictions. You even seem to glory in that. I don’t see that you have caught Tianqi (or myself) in any koolaid drinking. You want to blame big bad McMark for leading lesser lights like me astray. As far as I can tell, McMark, Tianqi and myself have all submitted to the form of doctrine that Paul taught in the New Covenant. He exhorts all the elect to do so in the book of Romans (chapter 6, I believe).

    The following is an example of a confessional head scratcher. How can Scott Clark say what he does in the following post and then support the theology behind the free offer of the Gospel?

    https://agradio.org/canons-of-dort-19-unconditional-atonement

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  252. @JY When you aren’t understood, repeating what you’ve already said is not a particularly effective way of making yourself understood. I’m sorry you’ve decided not to respond to my comments and questions. Thanks for the Scott Clark article. I found his summary of the Socinians an appropriate cap to this conversation:

    Their method of interpretation and theology has been correctly called “biblicism.” It was not that they followed Scripture but that they proposed to read the Bible as if no one had ever done it before. They rejected the ancient ecumenical creeds (e.g., the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, the Athanasian Creed) and they rejected the Protestant confessions. Further, underneath their biblicism lay rationalism, the elevation of reason over Scripture.

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  253. sdb: “The problem with the Galatians is that they did not believe that Jesus died for their sins. The false teachers believed that Jesus died so that they could atone for their sins by keeping the law. This is a false gospel. Not every misunderstanding about any implication of the gospel is belief in a false gospel though.”

    In other words, if someone subscribes to the statement “Jesus died for our sins”, but also thinks that one must get circumcised to be justified, you would say they don’t really understand or believe “Jesus died for our sins”, but are really believing that “Jesus died so that we can atone for our sins by keeping the Law.”

    Now, come the Arminian, who believes

    (1) “Jesus died for our sins” in the sense that “Jesus died for everybody’s sins”, and

    (2) many people will be lost because they don’t believe.

    For a starter, let’s assume he also explicitly thinks that

    (3) many people for whom Jesus died will go to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus.

    Then shouldn’t you also say that this Arminian believes

    (4) Jesus died so that we can atone for our sins by believing in Jesus.

    and thus does not really understand or believe “Jesus died for our sins”?

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  254. We should not say (4) unless we additionally probe said person to see if he affirms (4).

    Once again: Humans do not believe or know the implications of their other beliefs. Just because my student believes that a + (-a) = 0 and that a+b = b+a and that (a+b)+c = a+(b+c) and that a+0 = a does not mean that he or she will believe that (2+3)+(-2) = 3.

    He or she *should* believe it, based on the other beliefs. But *people don’t think things through to the end.*

    Likewise here: (4) is a logical outcome of (1)-(3). But that doesn’t mean that someone holding to (1)-(3) *does in fact* believe (4). You actually have no sound argument that gets you there.

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  255. “In other words, if someone subscribes to the statement “Jesus died for our sins”, but also thinks that one must get circumcised to be justified, you would say they don’t really understand or believe “Jesus died for our sins”, but are really believing that “Jesus died so that we can atone for our sins by keeping the Law.””

    No.

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  256. John, it doesn’t surprise me at this point that you see yourself entirely in the right.

    However, I think to an outside observer, there are some seriously worrying signs about your theology and your online behavior.

    Theology

    (1) You three have put forward a theological novelty: Anyone who does not believe in limited atonement and imputation preceding faith is an idolator, and is damned.

    Novelties are not automatically wrong, but they require the highest level of scrutiny and the very best arguments. To be honest, the arguments you guys have put forward so far are very lacking in coherence, method, and exegesis.

    (2) You three reject in toto the authority of the visible church to make theological determinations from Scripture. Instead, you ascribe to yourselves the Spirit-given ability to determine without error the content of the true gospel. Tianqi appeals to the “annointing” of 1 John as proof for this, ignoring the large number of Scriptures that speak to the role of the church and its elders in shepherding and guarding the flock from error.

    This “solo Scriptura” method, in which the believer + the Bible + the Spirit is enough for theological perfection, is a classic sign of sectarianism.

    (3) As we have probed your belief system, a number of ancillary beliefs have popped out.

    Tianqi proposes that there are two kinds of justification, one by imputation prior to faith, and one by works, the first being salvific and the other being the believer’s acceptance before God.

    This is a huge red flag, and suggests that a theology of works-sanctification lurks in the background.

    Additionally, you and Tianqi have proposed that the elect are granted total and perfect knowledge of the gospel in effectual calling.

    And, you have proposed that in sanctification there is no “new nature”, only a new legal relationship of the believer to God (though confusingly, you admit that there is Spirit-wrought change over time).

    (4) Your theological method is to use a couple of core ideas (“the true gospel”) as the hermeneutical key to the entirety of Scripture, which allows you to overrule and rationalize away clear passages of Scripture (for example, Romans 4, in which imputation is clearly received by faith, rather than prior to faith, or Acts 10 and 15, in which Peter clearly is rebuked for failing to understand that the Gentiles could be justified by faith – notwithstanding Tianqi’s dizzying rationalizations).

    This method, heavily informed by Clarkian views on the theory of knowledge, is known to produce spurious results. It is a kind of theological dead reckoning, where an individual starts with a known truth (eg: limited atonement) and then reasons and reasons and reasons his way into absurdities (eg.: Calvin didn’t really believe in limited atonement, and was thus a nonChristian).

    Behavior

    You three have put yourselves forward as guides to the blind. Do you therefore put forward a simple declaration of the truth, along with clear appeals to Scripture?

    By no means. Your method has been to

    * Post endless cryptic quotations from random, unrelated sources (Mark)
    * Insert sly insinuations about the lack of salvation of Reformed Christians (all three of you)
    * Make assertions about motives that have little foundation in fact (all three of you)
    * Respond to simple questions with rhetorical questions (Mark, sometimes John).
    * Make arguments with no clear grounding (all three)
    * Be non-transparent about your theological sources and motives (all three)

    Thus Tianqi: “I do not follow in the theological footsteps of any church council, “father” or reformer.” (What, you just sat in a room with your Bible and it came to you?)

    Thus McCulley, who *four times* has ignored a simple question: “Where do you go to church? What is your denominational affiliation?”

    Dodging this question makes it seem like there is something to hide.

    This behavior, together with the theological red flags, is warning sign that you three are not what you portray yourselves to be. You are not engaging in theological discussion for the sake of sharpening and bringing forth gospel truth. You aren’t an “antidote to a false gospel.”

    Rather, the best inference taking all evidence into consideration is that you are using Old Life as a platform to troll for converts, taking advantage of the “comments are open” policy.

    I could be wrong about this. I would like to be wrong. But the burden of proof is on you to show that you are here in good faith rather than trying to bad-mouth Reformed theology in order to create an opening for your own sect. You have years’ worth of bad behavior to reckon with.

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  257. sdb,

    I said: “In other words, if someone subscribes to the statement “Jesus died for our sins”, but also thinks that one must get circumcised to be justified, you would say they don’t really understand or believe “Jesus died for our sins”, but are really believing that “Jesus died so that we can atone for our sins by keeping the Law.””

    You responded: “No.”

    Then I’m curious on what basis you said:

    “The problem with the Galatians is that they did not believe that Jesus died for their sins. The false teachers believed that Jesus died so that they could atone for their sins by keeping the law. “

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  258. Jeff,

    What if someone says “1+1=2” and “1+1=3” are both true? Do you think he believes both propositions?

    Do you think that if a person explicitly affirms a proposition, that means he believes this proposition?

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  259. TW,

    You’re giving all sorts of non-sequiturs. Apollos wasn’t preaching the full truth, but the book of Acts doesn’t say He wasn’t preaching the gospel. Priscilla and Aquila had to explain the way of Jesus more accurately. That assumes that there is at least the possible of having sufficient but incomplete accuracy in knowledge and preaching.

    My examples assume those who have access to Christian preaching, so your point about indigenous people is irrelevant.

    My comments don’t logically imply NO KNOWLEDGE is given. But there is certainly different levels of knowledge that people receive, otherwise there is no possibility of growth. The more simple-minded, if I may use that term, may never grasp the intricacies of limited atonement, the timing of justification, etc. Do little children get that? Even infants? Yet Jesus tells us not to forbid them to come to him. You’re standing there with a “Whoa, buddy. First you’ve got to make sure you understand all the intricacies of limited atonement and when imputation occurs.” If I had to guess, you have never worked with children.

    You and JY are preaching an intellectual perfectionism. You are finite. So, you have no way to be certain you have thoroughly understood everything God has revealed and therefore can have no assurance of salvation. You’re putting a huge stumbling block before people.

    This naturalism is opposed by the Bible, which says the knowledge of the things of God is never the result of man’s natural powers, but the result of the Spirit of God working in man.

    Agreed. Now tell me where the Bible says that the Spirit imparts perfect knowledge of everything he has revealed about the person and work of Christ at the moment of regeneration.

    When were you saved? The moment you understood limited atonement? Are you sure you aren’t missing anything? Maybe you really aren’t saved at all. How would you even know?

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  260. JY,

    But the truth is that Christ’s death is not sufficient for the non-elect. What we really need to see is not simply the extent of the atonement but its nature. What do we mean by sufficient for the elect?

    So are you saying that the death of the God-man is not of infinite value? How can anything that God does not be of infinite worth. All the sufficient for all formula is saying is that if God had decided to elect one more person than he actually did, Christ wouldn’t have had to spend one more minute on the cross than he did.

    I’m going to repeat my assumption about TW with you. I strongly suspect that you have never had to deal with passing on the faith to children. Do you want to tell my 5 year old daughter, who confesses that Jesus died for her sins, that she won’t be accepted by Jesus until she understands the full ins and outs of double imputation and precise efficacy of Christ’s work, the latter of which is a particularly abstract concept. And little children aren’t abstract thinkers.

    Jesus says let the little children come and forbid them not. You’re effectively saying, forbid them until they can get everything about imputation, the extent of the atonement, and Lord knows what else exactly right.

    I don’t think you mean it, but there is a certain cruelty to your thinking. The ability to deeply ponder the depths of theology is a luxury that has not been possible for the vast majority of human beings in history, most of whom have had to work day and night to eke out a subsistence level of living. You’ve taken what is a luxury and made it a requirement for salvation, cutting off billions of people, even millions of professing Christians, from the possibility of salvation.

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  261. Jeff:

    “You three reject in toto the authority of the visible church to make theological determinations from Scripture. Instead, you ascribe to yourselves the Spirit-given ability to determine without error the content of the true gospel. Tianqi appeals to the “annointing” of 1 John as proof for this, ignoring the large number of Scriptures that speak to the role of the church and its elders in shepherding and guarding the flock from error.”

    Which organization is the “visible church”? </