1 John Justification or Sanctification

September 17, 2015 Leave a comment

1John 1:1-4 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life –and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. [NET Bible]

I appreciate the New English Translation Bible (NET) and their effort for a clear and accurate interpretation. Their notes are extensive and often helpful. They provide Biblical commentary on bible.org where I found a detailed exegesis of 1 John. The following quote from that writing caused me to pause:

In contrast to v. 6, which reflects a claim of the opponents, the present verse introduces the counter-claim of the author of 1 John. However, does the author’s statement the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin refer to initial justification or to ongoing sanctification for the Christian? Since this cleansing from sin is something that follows when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, it must refer in this context primarily to ongoing sanctification. This means that fellowship with one another is also something shared between believers and is a result of a righteous lifestyle (“walking in the light”). The author is not worried about the initial justification (salvation) of the people to whom he is writing. Rather he is reassuring them about forgiveness of sins committed after having become Christians. (Click here for the full article.)

This argument is repeated and augmented when the commentary approaches verse 9, a much abused verse on sin. 1John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

The exegesis referred to above promotes the idea that a Christian must keep a short leash on his sins, confessing them on a regular basis in order to prevent sins from diminishing his access to God and disrupting fellowship with fellow believers. 1 John 1:9 is the key verse in this requirement. There cannot be a once-and-done forgiveness of sins, but there is a need for continuous confession of sin is the typical interpretation of this verse. To support this position the commentator requires that John’s epistle be about sanctification, not justification. We are cleansed of sins as we confess them and walk in the light and as we work to reflect Jesus in our lives. This is a saved by grace, sanctified by works understanding of Scripture.

To my mind, the commentator misses the radical demarcation between walking in the Light versus walking in darkness. I would argue that the following key statement is presumptive and not supported by the text: “Since this cleansing from sin is something that follows when we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, it must refer in this context primarily to ongoing sanctification.”

I believe the prologue (verses 1:1-4 above) sets the tone for what is to follow. What happens to the darkness when you turn on the light? Does any darkness remain? Jesus is the light of the world. One comes to Him and finds life, or one stays in the darkness and suffers death, eternal separation from God. John leaves no room for being partly saved, or somewhat in the Kingdom. You are in or you are not. His readers are questioning this reality. Those who have come to the light are being challenged by those who have not come to believe in Christ. The opponents, those in the darkness, distort who Jesus is and what it is to be in fellowship with Him. John paints a picture of what it is to be in the light or to remain in the darkness. The discussion of sin arises because at its essence, Sin is rejection of God. Sin is the free human choice not to accept Jesus, a refusal to come to the Light. John’s joy will be complete when those in opposition come to the light, accept the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, and enter into true Christian fellowship. The epistle turns then on this struggle between light and dark, between the refusal to accept justification in Christ and its consequences, or to accept justification in Him with all its subsequent positive attributes. John is writing about the stark dividing line of justification, not an ongoing progressive sanctification.

I will try to support my thesis by looking at the sin verses from 1 John interspersed with my comments:

1John 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

What happens when we walk in the light? We have fellowship and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. When did this cleansing happen? When did we enter into this fellowship, this transition from darkness to light? This clearly occurs when one personally accepts the work of the Cross where Jesus in his death and by His shed blood took away the sins of the world. When we accept Christ, God promises to remember our sins no more. We are cleansed white as snow. Our sins are put as far from us as the east is from the west. Which of our sins are not forgiven? All our sins occur after the Cross and it is there that all our sins are forgiven. Note what we have in the light. We have fellowship and cleansing. We have those things, we do not produce them. We walk in the reality of being cleansed and in fellowship with one another.

1John 1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

This is what walking in darkness is like. To have the truth is to have Christ. Those who will not come to the light deceive themselves and Christ is not in them. They deny God. Don’t let the use of “we” mislead you. It is the unbeliever who is described here. This is not “we Christians.” It is like saying “If we as human beings say…”

1John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

Notice the result of this confession; one is cleansed from all unrighteousness? At the Cross we died with Christ and rose with Him. Through our faith in Him we have His righteousness. This is justification language. This is once-and-done language. This is that single moment when a seeker recognizes his sin of rejecting Christ, confesses that sin and accepts Christ into his life.

1John 2:1,2 (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 One, and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

Even if we sin as Christians we have an advocate with the Father. Notice that we do nothing, Jesus does it for us. If we sin, Jesus tells the Father, my blood is sufficient for that and the Father remembers that sin no more. There is no special pleading on our part. It is Jesus our advocate on view.

1 John 3:4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness.

Jesus came to fulfill the law, because mankind could not keep it. The standard of the law is far too great for our human effort to achieve. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. No amount of contrition can atone for our sin. No amount of self effort will sanctify us.

1John 3:5 And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

Jesus did not come to judge us. He came to set us free. He takes away the sins of the world. He takes them away. He does the work we cannot do. On the Cross, Jesus has done all that is needed to deal with the issue of sin.

1John 3:6 Everyone who resides in him does not sin; everyone who sins has neither seen him nor known him.

A very strong statement that describes being in the light or remaining in darkness. And here we have the crowning statement on sin. Jesus who has no sin has made it possible for us to be His temple, His dwelling place, pure and holy as He is. In our death and resurrection in Christ we have been circumcised from the sin that dwells in our flesh. We are no longer a part of the old, and we have been made new. This is the gospel John is preaching. Let me emphasize, this is an “in the light or in the darkness” statement. It is one or the other, no mixture of the two is possible. We are born from above and are in Christ. We do not sin. We do not oscillate in and out of Christ. Our actions do not change who we are in Christ. We are born of Him and that is an eternal reality that will never change. Christians reside in Christ and according to John they do not sin, period.

1John 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you: The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous.

Is righteousness something we practice? Righteousness is right standing with God. It is not something we produce, it is a standing granted to us by God in Christ. We practice, or do righteousness by walking in its reality. We abide in the righteousness that Christ has provided to us. We are righteous just as Jesus is righteous. That is startling. Our standing before the Father is just as pure and holy as that of Jesus. You are as righteous as God’s Son is righteous. What deception are we vulnerable to? We can be robbed of the truth that we have the same standing before the Father that Christ has. It is not a matter of sanctification, our producing righteousness by our concerted effort to please God, it is a matter of who indwells you, the righteous One who assures your right standing before the Father. Don’t be deceived that that is not a reality in your life.

1John 3:8 The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.

If you are in the light you practice righteousness. The presence of God is reflected in the way you walk in this life. If you reside in the darkness you practice sinful things. What we do depends on who’s influence we are under. The source of sin is Satan, not man and certainly not God. God’s wrath rests on Satan not on believers. Remain in the darkness and you remain under Satan’s influence. Come to the light and you are guided and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.

1John 3:9 Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin, because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God.

Adam’s seed has been replaced by the Father’s seed. Adam sinned. The Father cannot sin. Our true selves, our new nature, does not practice sin because God’s seed dwells in us. We are born of Him. Our new nature is who we truly are. We are no longer identified with the flesh. This is a once-and-done event. As soon as we exercise faith in Christ we are born from above and the Father’s seed is implanted in us. The moment we are justified that seed is implanted and we no long practice sin. We cannot sin, we no longer have the sin nature in us. We have God’s love nature in us.

Conclusion: John is very clear about sin. God dealt with sin on the Cross. It is no longer an issue that stands between the believer and his relationship with God. We are new creatures in Christ made for the indwelling of God with the same standing of righteousness held by the Son. We are His holy temple. John does not hold to a weak view of the Cross and all it has accomplished for us. The Cross dealt with the problem of sin completely. It is surely once-and-done. Placing our faith in Jesus brings to us all the benefits of Christ’s shed blood. Any suggestion, in my view, that our sanctification requires our continual confession of sin diminishes the work of the Cross and distorts what John is saying. The good news really is GOOD NEWS! By faith in Christ we have stepped from darkness into Light and that ends our relationship with sin and sin’s standing in the way of our fellowship with the Father. We have the seed of the Father in us, we no longer practice sin, and we are not the source of sin. We walk in the righteousness that Jesus provides to us. John warns us not to be deceived. God has done a mighty work, walk in His light, don’t even imagine that the darkness has not been dealt with. In Him there is no darkness at all and He dwells in you.

The commentators get it wrong when they promote a progressive sanctification that depends upon our ability to continually recognize and confess our sins. They fail to recognize how completely Jesus dealt with sin when he shed His blood on the Cross. Walking in the light is not a progressive growth in Christ. It is the absolute quality of life that begins when we are born again of the Spirit and the Fathers seed, His very nature, is placed in us. Walking in the light is an eternal truth for the believer because he has turned from rejecting Christ to walking in faith with Him. These turning points are associated with justification not sanctification. John warns us not to be deceived.

Categories: Justification, Sin


July 24, 2015 Leave a comment

We value our freedom. We will die for our freedom. We declare our autonomy. We have a deep desire to make our own decisions free from coercion. I can do what I want to do as long as it does not hurt anyone else we argue. Don’t tread on me. I live in the home of the brave and the land of the free. Don’t judge me. Don’t lay your moral code on me. I will judge for myself. I will follow my own sense of moral right. Only I can decide what is right for me.

I think our autonomy is God given. We are unique persons with our own characteristics, abilities, desires, needs, goals, etc. We are made in God’s image. We can reason. We have emotion. We recognize beauty. We desire to create. We sense moral good and evil. We love. We freely make decisions and act on them.

But something is terribly wrong with our exercise of autonomy. If when applying our autonomy to real life situations we abandon what is true about ourselves, then we have a serious problem. Examples abound. When a man decides that he is not male, but female, something is seriously wrong. When a society decides that certain human beings, Blacks, or Jews, or Catholics for example are in fact not human then something is seriously wrong. In the name of personal freedom we now turn the definition of marriage on it head to the point that it has no meaning left in it. In the name of personal freedom we say that a baby in the womb is nothing but tissue suitable for harvesting or careless disposal. In the name of autonomy we lower our borders to any who would come into this country, many, not all but many, bring evil intent with them including murder, rape, robbery, and terrorism. In the name of autonomy we are destroying the very fabric of society. I have a right is our rallying cry with anarchy only a breath away.

Man is free, but dependent. Man does not create, he derives. God has placed us in a universe that uniquely supports us. Plants grow and can be harvested to our benefit. Animals can be domesticated to provide nourishment, clothing, even companionship. Within the world God has created for us we are free to eat vegetables, or meat, or both. We can seek our own kind of labor and profit from it. We can breathe the air around us and drink the water that fills our rivers. We can go and come as our whims lead us. Yet in our freedom we depend on what God has provided at every moment of our lives. I am not free from God’s natural law. Gravity wins every time.

There is another dependence that we pay little attention to as we extol our autonomy. We are made in a way that makes us respond to an external spirit. Our human spirit responds to a spirit that is apart from ourselves. God designed us to respond to the Holy Spirit. In our exercise of freedom we were to have God guiding us by His Spirit. We were not made to be robots, but we were made to depend on God to show us what was good in our lives. In the Garden of Eden we decided to assert our autonomy and be like God. We would decide for ourselves what was good or evil for us. In that moment we abandoned our dependence on God’s Spirit and we allowed Satan’s spirit to have sway over our free choices.

What we see today is the consequence of that decision. We are dependent, derivative beings. We depend on spirit to guide us. That is how we are made. We will follow the leading of spirit. We cannot avoid this truth anymore than we can avoid the effects of gravity. What we see in the world is the product of an evil spirit influencing mankind.

Most of us don’t think about the impact of a spirit on our lives. The presence of that spirit is hardly perceived. We only recognize what spirit is guiding us by the fruit that it produces. At the root of the relativism that surrounds us man insists on his autonomy. This includes his absolute freedom from God. He turns his back on God in ways that are beyond rational. In doing so the father of lies places his intent in them and manifests evil through them.

The evidence for man’s need to return to his dependence on God is vividly clear. We are not facing simply political, moral, or ethical issues that a consensus will cure. There is no political solution for our present state. We are facing a spiritual issue that can only be addressed by dethroning Satan’s spirit and replacing him with God’s very presence, His guiding Spirit. In a word, mankind needs to be saved. He needs to be saved from his own autonomy, from his own self-serving living under Satan’s influence.

People need to know the power of the Cross and the Spirit that flows from it. There and only there rests our hope. Christ in you the hope of glory.

Categories: flesh Tags:

How perfect are you?

June 11, 2015 Leave a comment

The writer of Hebrews makes clear what Christ has accomplished for the believer:

Heb 10:14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy.

Grace teaching makes the point that we are made perfect, i.e. complete in Christ. The argument goes like this. God cannot associate with sin, yet God indwells the believer. There must be a real state within the believer where we are literally made clean in order for God to indwell us. We are born from above, born anew, and given a new nature, a new heart. The inner man is circumcised from our mortal bodies. We are made righteous and sanctified in Christ. Christ would not dwell in a sinful person, so he makes us a clean and a fitting dwelling for a righteous God. We are perfect, made complete, in the inner man even though we continue to live in a mortal body that drags us into acts of sin.

Paul writes to the Philippians (my emphasis):

Phil 1:3-7 I thank my God every time I remember you. I always pray with joy in my every prayer for all of you because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners in God’s grace together with me.

Verse 1:6 (underlined) is highly controversial. It is a proof text for Reformed theology and is used to support progressive sanctification. Most interpretations overlook the context for this verse. The church at Philippi had given financial support to Paul’s ministry. They have partnered with him in disseminating the gospel. The good work of verse 6 is the outflow of Paul’s proclaiming the gospel through the Philippians and into the world. God began that work in the church of Philippi and it will see completion in the day of the Lord’s return.  See Grant Richison’s commentary on this verse for a fuller argument. Make sure to read the comments section where he reinforces his argument greatly. This verse has no direct connection to sanctification, or to our growing into perfection.

The key is that Paul and the Philippians have partnered in promoting the gospel message. That process will see completion at Christ’s return. The church at Philippi shares in Paul’s joy in what God is doing. Later Paul writes:

Phil 1:9,-11 And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Phil 2:12, 13 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.

Phil 3:8-10 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death,

Paul makes it clear in these verses that the life of a believer rests in Christ. Our willing and our doing come from God. Our righteousness is from God and rests on Christ’s faithfulness. Paul longs to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Thus he longs for the day when he too will be resurrected with Christ in heaven. These verses are looking forward. They have an end in mind.

Paul writes Philippians from prison. His future is uncertain. He does not know if he might be put to death in Rome, or be set free to once again visit Philippi.  In either case he rejoices because the gospel goes forth no matter the circumstances.

With Paul’s possible impending death and future physical resurrection in mind (last verse in bold above) he says this:

Phil 3:12-16 Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.

How has Paul not been perfected? He is righteous and sanctified in Christ. What does he lack? He has yet to die. He has yet to share in Christ’s resurrection. Paul is not yet perfected in this way and he strives to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of him. Christ calls Paul upward towards Paul’s heavenly resurrected body.

Speaking to those who are perfect, Paul says have this same view in mind. In your sufferings look forward to the your heavenly calling, and your new spiritual body. Yes you are perfect here and now, but in this one sense you are incomplete. You will be made perfect when you die and receive your immortal bodies.

Paul says live up to the standard already attained. No view of progressive sanctification in that phrase. Paul is saying that while we are yet in our mortal bodies we should live in the reality of who we are in Christ. The standard  Paul is talking about is Christ in you. Paul is saying in the meantime before our dying let us live in the reality of  our completeness in Christ.

For Paul, the Philippians, and Christians generally there is a joy in this life despite our suffering, because we have something better coming. Paul says that the gospel goes forth no matter what our circumstances. Paul is not telling us to strive towards some idealized perfection in this life. He spends much time in this letter describing how futile, crap he calls it, his extensive portfolio of human produced and measured righteousness was. He soundly rejects such an approach to his life in Christ. Paul’s striving is part and parcel to Christ’s call on his life. Paul senses that he might soon die. The Philippians could suffer the same fate. Keep moving forward with joy, says Paul. As we give up our imperfect bodies we will soon obtain perfect ones. In the meantime live in Christ. Live in the reality of His perfection within you and the gospel will go forth to His glory and that gospel will go forth until His return.

If you read commentaries on this passage, you quickly find a spiritualization of Paul’s “upward call” and you find the insertion of process sanctification built upon Paul’s “striving” and his use of the word “perfect.” When Paul says, ” Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view.” some commentators say that he is using the word “perfect” here with some irony because of course none of us are perfect. They then give various arguments why Paul can’t be saying what he is saying.  In essence their understanding takes Paul’s strong stand against “crap,” against his former life of striving for righteousness with zeal and with strict adherence to the law, and reintroduces that striving into Paul’s Christian life. They also deny the truth of the Hebrews verse quoted at the beginning of this blog.

I think the intensity of Paul’s situation is sinking in and he sees his last days unfolding very quickly. He has run a race. It is time to refocus and to forget what went before and to set his sights on the finish line. When he crosses over that line he will win the prize, he will receive his physical resurrection in Christ.

When Paul uses the Greek word for “perfect” he has in mind a specific meaning. It is not our understanding of perfection, but rather the connotation of being complete, being fully functional. Believers are fully functional in Christ. They have the very presence of God in them actively acting in and through them. In this way they are perfect. Paul along with all believers are not fully perfect in one crucial way, we are temples of God, but those temples are made of clay. Our flesh, emotions, mental state all lack the same redemption that our inner man experiences. The flesh must die for us to be complete as we receive our spiritual bodies in heaven. That is what Paul’s upward call is about.

Notice how upside down the gospel becomes when we read into these passages the need for Christians to press on to some idealized upward call of perfection. We reintroduce the very legalism, the works righteousness that Paul so forcefully and graphically rejects.





Categories: flesh, Grace

Allegorical Interpretation

May 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Should Scripture be read allegorically? The answer will make a huge difference in your theology.

Reading Scripture allegorically goes way back in Christian history.

Clement of Alexandria, wrote:

The two fish Jesus used to feed the five thousand represent Greek philosophy.

The Mosaic Law prohibitions against eating swine, hawks, eagles and ravens (Lev. 11:7, 13-19) represent respectively unclean lust for food, injustice, robbery and greed.

Allegory often takes a passage and makes a moral statement out of it. Many preachers allegorize by painting a broader picture with a Scriptural passage then what is directly in the text. Allegory is an effective tool when you want to engage a reader in a way that puts the story in their hands. It has been said that allegory draws the story into the reader.

Allegory always requires an interpreter. This can be the reader, the text, or an authority such as an expert on the subject or a belief system. Notice that what Clement of Alexandria drew from the scripture may or may not be true. People might easily reject his allegorical findings as not supported by the text. It is his interpretation.

When we write precisely we avoid allegory like the plague. A legal or scientific document cannot be read allegorically. A will states that a son can inherit on his twenty-eighth birthday. The son walks into court on his nineteenth birthday and claims that he is now entitled to the inheritance. The judge asks on what basis is he entitled. The son argues that he is mature enough to handle the responsibility. The judge says but the will states that you must be twenty-eight. The son replies that that only indicates a level of maturity, not a specific age. Do you think the judge will allow the son’s allegorical interpretation of the will? I doubt it.

Scripture is written using a wide range of literary styles. In the following verse taken from John we know that Jesus is not a literal door. He is speaking metaphorically. We understand and easily recognize this style of communication.

John 10:9-10 I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.

There is a common rule to follow when interpreting Scripture: “We should understand it in its plain, normal sense of meaning. We should interpret the Bible according to the rules of grammar and take into consideration the historical context in which it was written.” I would add that we need to read with careful attention to the Scriptural context of the passage we are reading. This is saying that we treat poetry like poetry, fables like fables, and so on. You read historical segments of Scripture in a different way than you read prophecy, the Psalms, or Paul’s  complex arguments.

When a theology begins to allegorize in order to sustain its system, you can be certain that that system requires an interpreter that stands outside of Scripture. That interpretation can come from a necessity to maintain the logic of the theological system, or it might come from a proponents personal view. The interpreters claim will be that “he is rightly dividing Scripture.”

Take ten competent readers and present to them “God so loved the world…” and see if any of them would understand the word “world” to be “the elect.” If one of the ten made that substitution, you would not hesitate to ask if they hold a Reformed view of election. They are using their Reformed theological view of election to interpret Scripture. You would challenge this interpretation because they are not reading words naturally. Nothing in the text supports using “the elect” for “world.” Calvinism is ripe with an allegorical approach to reading Scripture. Why? Because the theology wobbles badly in light of the plain reading of the Word.

Covenant Theology, Calvinism, or Reformed theology holds a view called supersessionism. Supersessionism is a fancy word that means that the Church has replaced, i.e. superseded, Israel. God’s prophecies for Israel are fulfilled, or are now accrued to the Church. The blessings promised to Israel are now experienced by the Church. There is nothing special, in God’s eyes, about the Nation Israel, its land, or the present day Jewish race. In order to hold this view the Scripture must be interpreted properly. When one reads “Israel” in the New Testament one substitutes “Church.” What does this do to the plain, normal reading of Scripture?

In Romans 10:1 “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”

How does this read allegorically where Israel becomes the Church: Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Church is that they may be saved. So Paul makes it a point to pray for the Church, the Body of Christ, the Saints, the Saved, so that they might be saved. No normal reading of that verse would allow such a substitution. We might also ask why is Paul praying at all for Israel if God no longer has any special regard for them. Why pray for Israel if that entity is now the Church. Why not simply pray for the Church?

Have you ever had a pair of jeans with holes in the knees. You pull a thread and soon you are wearing shorts. Theology is like that. You think you are in comfortable clothes, but soon you find you are naked as can be. Our approach to Scripture has consequences. You try to patch a theological hole and that works for a while until another one appears and then you find yourself patching again and again. Take an allegorical approach to Scripture and you soon have a patchwork of interpretation that hardly reflects the simple reading of God’s Word. Understanding Scripture becomes very complex and you are constantly studying, not Scripture, but the interpretation of Scripture in order to comprehend it. The interpreter becomes more important than the words they are interpreting.

Many supersessionists are preterists. Preterist hold that most or all the Old Testament prophecies were ended in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple. Supersessionists are often a-millennial meaning that there will be no future millennial Rule of Christ on earth. They hold that we live today in a spiritual kingdom where Christ reigns through His church. This is a spiritual and unseen kingdom. A-millennialism teaches that we are in the millennium now . But what do they do with these verses from Revalation:

Rev 20:1-10 Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon – the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan – and tied him up for a thousand years. The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.) Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea. They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.

If we are in the millennium now, then we are well past a thousand years for its existence. Faced with an ever lengthening millennium the supersessionist must deal with the six times “a thousand years” is presented in Revelation 20. Their solution is that a thousand years, a millennia, is not a thousand years, but rather it is interpreted to be “a very long time”. If it doesn’t fit allegorize.

The only Scriptural warrant given for this interpretation is found in 2 Peter 3:8: Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. Peter is simply saying that time means nothing to God when He expresses patience toward the ungodly. He is using a metaphor to describe God’s patience. He is not making a statement about time or the interpretation of time. So based on a metaphor and with that one verse the supersessionists have warrant, whenever the need arises, to change the meaning of a plain, exact number of years, a thousand years, to some vague duration of a very long time. That is how the allegorist deals with the fact that his thousand year millennia has already stretched well beyond two-thousand years. Without this external interpretation we would never know.

When you depend on an allegorical interpretation of Scripture you make yourself dependent on those who do the interpreting. You cannot discern what Scripture means for yourself. You must rely on those who know when allegory begins and ends and how it must be applied. You must rely on those who know what words really mean, because if you rely on the plain meaning of words you will get it wrong.

When your theology forces you to allegorize an essential point of an entire chapter of Scripture, you might want to question your theology.


April 29, 2015 Leave a comment

In Compatibilism we find a wonderful land where words don’t mean what you think they do. Compatibilism is a position held by some Calvinists.

Here is what Compatibilism holds: 1) Determinism is true in that all human behavior is caused and determined, 2) voluntary behavior is nonetheless free to the extent that it is not externally constrained, 3) the causes of voluntary behavior are conditions within a person like acts of the will.  Compatibilism does not combine libertarian and determinist positions. It does not hold that humans are “a little bit” free or that they have “limited free will” or some free will. Compatibilism is determinism with a position taken to preserve the idea that man is responsible for his behavior.

At the risk of oversimplification, I will restate what is implied in the definition. A person is free if he is not externally constrained. He is free to chose to do what he wants to do. God does not constrain a person from making those choices. However, God determines what a person wants to do.

In Calvinism God saves some and he doesn’t save others. Some are elected and others not. He accomplishes this by issuing an effective call to the elect and an ineffective call to those He does not elect. Those not called have a fallen will that will always reject God. Those called are regenerated and given a will that will always accept God. God determines what a man wills, while man chooses to act based on that determined will.

Calvinism has a serious problem. To preserve God’s sovereignty, all things must be determined by Him. This creates an issue concerning moral responsibility. A person cannot be held responsible for something he cannot avoid doing.

The issues faced by the determinist can be expressed logically.

Hard determinism creates a situation where the person is not morally responsible:

Premise 1: If we are morally responsible for our actions, then we must be free.

Premise 2: We are not free. (determinism)

Conclusion A: Therefore, we are not morally responsible for our actions.

                                modus tollens: If P, then Q. Not Q. Therefore, not P.

Libertarians make the following argument against determinism claiming we are indeed free (rejecting the second premise above):

Premise 1: If we are morally responsible for our actions, then we must be free.

Premise 2: We are morally responsible for our actions.

Conclusion B: Therefore, we must be free.

                                modus ponens: If P then Q. P is true therefore Q is true.

The Calvinist doesn’t like the logical consequences of these arguments. The Calvinist wants to hold mankind responsible for his actions, even while preserving God’s control of his actions. Conclusion A must be rejected, we are responsible for our actions. The Calvinist now must find a way within determinism to assert that conclusion B, man is a free agent, is true in order to continue to hold man responsible for his actions. How can man be free, God be sovereign in that He determines all things, and humans be responsible for their actions

The response to this dilemma is varied and complex, but the prevalent move is to redefine freedom. It is said that God does not constrain man externally, but he determines our willingness to act. Man is free in the sense that he is not externally constrained in any way from acting freely as his will or wants dictate. Man chooses to do what he wants, what he wills to do. At the same time man cannot do other than what his will demands and God determines what that will is. We are externally free while we are internally constrained. In order to hold free will and human responsibility as true, the determinist changes the plain meaning of freedom and a number of other key concepts.

The following is one persons expression of Compatibilist freedom:

Although a man is considered unable to choose against his desires, which are caused by his sin nature or God’s intervention, the moral responsibility of sin lies with him. He chose to do it, therefore he is held responsible. Not what caused him to choose, but he that chooses is held responsible. Compatibilsim

We are free to choose to do what we want and thus are responsible for what we do. God determines what we want, what we are willing to do, but He is not responsible for causing our actions. Determinism has not been abandoned, the definition of free will has been changed. We are free because there is no external constraint against our action, while at the same time we have a willingness to act that is determined by God. There is no room here for our normal concept of free will where one can chose either A or not A. Libertarian free will is the unencumbered ability to do otherwise.

As a side note, notice what is said, “…man is considered unable to choose against his desires, which are caused by his sin nature or God’s intervention…” This is a distinction without a difference. God leaves some men in their “sin nature” thus God is responsible for their sin. Saved or not saved, God is determining the state of a person’s will. Again the Calvinist doesn’t want to deal with the plain meaning of his determinism.

One writer exposes the tortured word play that is involved in compatibilism:

Ultimately, theistic compatibilism can only be logically consistent by redefining certain very key terms such as “free will,” “goodness,” and “sin.” Outside of these radical redefinitions there can be no logical consistency. In order for free will and Divine determinism to be compatible, one needs to understand “free will” as “free action in accordance with a determined will;” “goodness” as “anything that occurs;” and “sin” as “that which God chooses to call sin.” All of these redefinitions, though necessary for the logical consistency of compatibilism, are in themselves, illogical. “Free will” that is not free is nonsensical. “Goodness” that manifests as evil is illogical. “Sin” that is in accord with the will of God is spurious. Compatibilism, theistic or otherwise, is a logically untenable position. In order for freedom to be, determinism cannot be. The freedom of compatibilism is determinism under the guise of free will. Fundamentally, compatibilism is a determinist view which is, by nature, contrary to the concept of human freedom. Compatibilism a Critique by Brandon Canning

“In order for freedom to be, determinism cannot be.” The Compatibilist says that we are free to do what we want to do. We are free with no external constraint to choose to act based on our willingness. God determines what that willingness will be. Because there are no outside constraints, we are therefore free. But the reality is that I cannot do other than what my determined will allows. I cannot chose to do otherwise and I can do nothing to change my willingness. This is not freedom, thus Compatibilism fails to change the logical conclusions stated above. Under determinism God is the cause of all our actions, sinful or otherwise and man cannot be held responsible for what he does because he is not free.

Compatibilism is word play. It does not accomplish what the Calvinist wishes to accomplish.

Categories: Calvinsim, Compatibilism

The Legalist’s Red Herring

April 9, 2015 2 comments

He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:14 [NET])

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about [was realized] through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17 [NET])

Grace did not begin until Christ. Christian grace will not be found in the Old Testament.

For Christians the law ended at the cross.

Law is the knowledge of good and evil and is most often found in written form. In man’s hands, the law is never static, always subject to interpretation, amelioration, and addendum. The law always punishes and never rewards. Keep this in mind as we talk about law and grace.

Christians avoid the reality of grace and in doing so miss the joy and freedom of the Christian life. They impose God’s moral law as a mandate for Christian living. They assert that Christians will rampantly sin if taught grace without the law.

One writer has this insight: “It seems that our vigilant efforts to prevent anyone from “turning grace into license to sin” has resulted, ironically, in our managing to turn sin into a barrier to accepting grace.”

“License to sin” is a red herring. It ends the discussion about grace and turns it into a discussion about the law. As soon as you introduce the law, you are no longer talking about grace. Grace and law do not complement one another despite the rigor the legalist applies to make them compatible. Law and grace are completely different systems and they oppose one another. One eliminates the need for the other. You live in the reality of grace or you live with the consequences of the moral law. The choice is either/or, not both/and. Grace produces life while the law produces death. Injecting law into a discussion about grace chases a red herring that cannot lead back to grace.

Only grace effectively deals with sin in our lives. The legalist refuses to come to terms with this Scriptural truth. They do not allow the discussion about grace to get that far. They offer their red herring and demand that we mix law with grace in order to have a balanced Christian life. They cling to the law not understanding what a terrible burden it is. Paul warns Christians about reintroducing the law into their lives:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)

He is talking about the moral law, the Ten Commandments. Yes, the Ten Commandments will enslave us. God’s moral law does not set us free, nor does it produce life or righteousness. It offers a righteousness we can never achieve because we can never keep the whole law. By contrast, Paul makes it absolutely clear what grace accomplishes in the Christian life:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14).

It is argued that obeying the law will help us accomplish what those verses promise. Paul says it will not. Follow the law and sin the more. Follow the law and suffer the only thing it offers which is death. Grace, on the other hand, teaches a believer to reject ungodliness and makes him eager to do what is good. The law condemns us and excites us to deeper expressions of sin. Grace sets us free from the hold sin has over us producing life. At the Cross, the very nature of sin was broken and it is only by accepting God’s grace (Christ alive in us) that we can benefit from Christ’s work. Christians need to stop chasing a red herring and take a hard look at what grace is and what it accomplishes. They need to move beyond the law to something far more powerful. [Grace is not what Christian’s generally think it is. A place to explore grace can be found here where Jim Fowler writes in detail about grace.]

Looking hard at grace is intimidating to the legalist and he changes the subject by pulling out his obey the law red herring. He says we will take advantage and sin the more without the law. Without the law, how can we know how to be pleasing to God? It is only under that law that we can discern good and evil.

The legalist presents us with a hypothetical, a red herring. He speaks of a born again Christian looking to sin as much as he possibly can because he is now free from the law. I have never met such a person. The overwhelming testimony is that lives change for the good when Christ comes to dwell in a new believer. Those new lives move forward demonstrating the ever-weakening hold of sin. It is not always easy or pretty, but Christ joining Himself with a person has an undeniable and positive impact on lives. The Titus verse above makes it very clear that Grace instills in the believer a longing to do what is good.

Why do legalists pose the hypothetical? Why do they want to change the subject? Why do they refuse to explore what grace really is, or admit the negative impact of the moral law in the life of a Christian? Before I answer let me make it clear that we all suffer from this. We all struggle to come to a place where we are more focused on Christ than on our own human efforts. The problem resides in our flesh.

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5 [ESV2011])

We cling to the law because it feeds our desire to be like God. We hold up the law, saying that is good and that is evil. We do this in our own life and for the lives of those around us. We pick and chose the laws we like and those we do not. We provide interpretations that make the law easy to comply with for us and hard for others. We use the law to judge ourselves righteous while we judge others unrighteous. In a word, we act like gods.

Hold fast to Satin’s lie that man can discern good and evil and miss the joy of our freedom in Christ. Hold fast your effort to be like God and you will never be free for you cannot possibly do what only God can do for you. Only God is good and only God knows what good is.

I am speaking to a systemic problem in the Church. Talk about grace in depth and you excite a range of emotions and responses that tells us something about ourselves. We become defensive. We sense fear. We express anger. We resist intellectually (red herrings, and many Bible verses). That is because grace attacks the last stronghold in us. It attacks the “me”, the “I”, the self-sufficiency that we cling to for our security.

Grace takes our self-control and joins it to another. Grace exposes the mortality of the flesh and denies that the flesh can be redeemed. Grace attacks our ingrained desire to decide for ourselves what is good or evil in our lives. Grace attacks the principle of sin in us. The flesh will always resist grace.

By grace, we have died to the flesh in Christ on the cross. Yet the battle rages in the Church and in our very being. God has won that battle in Christ. He has set us free to live our lives abundantly with Him apart from the law. Grace is the living dynamic of Christ in us expressing God’s purpose and character through us. New Testament grace did not begin until Christ rose from the dead and entered into the very being of man.

Grace is Christ Himself.

Categories: Grace, Legalism


March 24, 2015 Leave a comment

I like simple solutions that work. Occam’s razor states, “pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, ‘plurality should not be posited without necessity’.” This means that the simplest answer is probably the correct one. Discussions about Faith trigger my Occam’s razor meter. They seem unnecessarily complex.

Problems exist in reading the Bible today when we encounter the word faith. The modern use of the word has drifted from the meaning of the original Biblical Greek word pistis. Additionally, there is disagreement on how we get faith. Is faith a gift? Is faith the result of regeneration? Is it something else?

A verse in Ephesians is used to support the idea that faith is a gift that comes after regeneration.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emp. added).

If you believe the “that” and “it” in this verse refers to “faith” then you are reading this in English and not Greek. In English, the “it” and “that” would refer to the closest preceding noun, which is indeed “faith.” However, this is not the referent in Greek. In Greek, you look for a word having the same gender. “That” and “it” in this verse are neuter while the suggested referent “faith” is feminine. This disagreement in gender identifies a special case where one must obtain the referent from a broader context. I will let Eric Lyons make the argument for us here. He concludes that the gift in this verse is salvation not faith. Even Calvin agreed with this conclusion.

Faith is not a gift nor will you find a single verse in Scripture where it clearly states that faith follows regeneration. Faith is something else. Something that is very human and very accessible to everyone.

If faith is not a gift, then how do we get it? The root for the word faith is “believe” and the root for believe is the primary verb for persuade, peitho. Strongs gives the following definitions:

 Peitho (verb) translated persuade means, be persuaded, to trust, have confidence, be confident.

Pisteuo (verb) translated believe means, to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in.

Pistis (noun) translated faith means?

Our word faith is derived from the Latin fides which is close in meaning to pistis. However, the word faith has, over time, changed in meaning and taken on a lot of baggage. The word has become a magic word that we use to manipulate God to do our bidding. It is suggested that our faith opens the door to God’s spiritual gifts. Faith is described as equivalent to holding a set of prescribed beliefs, a belief system. When talking about faith in God, some say it is a leap, implying that we must allow our minds to grasp something well beyond our capacity to know or understand, or that is beyond our senses.

Faith has taken on a power and mystique never intended.

Pistis is an abstract noun. Nouns often describe tangible things, a person, place or thing, but a noun can also describe an abstract, like honesty, or truth. These are things not detected with our senses, but are concepts that often describe a state of mind, or of being. Pistis describes a state of mind. This state is arrived at rationally after careful consideration of facts, thus it is a state of mind in which we are persuaded, in which we are confident, in which we have a belief. Often, Pistis is a state of mind in which we are persuaded to take an action.

I look at a ladder and I read the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings. I set the ladder against the wall and check that it is properly aligned. I consider the situation and come to a state of mind where the instructions and descriptions convince me that the ladder is safe to climb. In this settled state of mind and confidence, I climb the ladder. I return to the ground having put my trust in the ladder.

The ladder did not make me trust it, nor did my trust in the ladder do anything to make the ladder function as it was designed. My climbing the ladder was not a leap into the unknown. In fact, just the opposite is true. The qualities of the ladder make it trust worthy and reading about those qualities convinced me to place my trust in the ladder and to climb it.

Our understanding of faith is often upside down. We think we can influence the object of our faith if our faith is strong enough. The opposite is true. The trust worthiness of our faith object changes us and when our faith object is God the potential for that change is well beyond our own doing. Our faith object strengthens our trust. My understanding the ladder caused me to be confident enough to use it. Pistis means trust. This is consistent with its related words belief and persuade. In Greek mythology, Pistis was the personification of trust.

It fascinates me that the Gospel of John never uses the noun pistis where as Paul uses it extensively. John uses the verb pisteuo, believe. It is difficult to think that the two writers have something completely different in mind as though believing in God and trusting Him are two different things.

(John 20:30, 31 [ESV2011]) Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(1John 5:13 [ESV2011]) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

John clearly links the one who is believing to one who is saved. He presents his gospel so that the hearer, or reader is informed, persuaded to believe, producing salvation. John uses a verb to emphasize the act, the process of coming to and maintaining a relationship with Christ while Paul by using a noun emphasizes a believer’s state of being in trust, which saves. The object of both men is trust in Jesus Christ and the totality of who He is.

You hear both writers in the following well-known verses written by Paul:

(Rom 10:15-17 [ESV2011]) And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Coming to know Christ, coming into salvation is a rational process. A sovereign God does not force it on us. He offers salvation to us by His revealing Himself to us. He speaks the Good News to us. The Holy Spirit is very active in that process, but in the end, it is a process of persuasion. We hear what God is saying and we have the capacity to respond positively to His good news. He forces no one into the Kingdom. He calls everyone to trust, to believe and we are persuaded to accept His saving grace into our lives.

Trust is a simple concept that we can all grasp. As I use my ladder repeatedly, I grow in my confidence in it. I grow to trust it more and more. We grow in trust relationships with other people as we get to know them and they over time earn that trust. In our relationship with Christ, we have as our trust object the most trustworthy person who ever lived, God Himself. He will not lie to us, or deceive us. His promises are sure. He is truth.

Why then is it so hard for us to put our trust in God and in His good news? The answer is simple. We place more trust in ourselves more than any other thing in our lives. How sad that is. This is even true for Christians who walk with the Lord on a daily basis. How do I know that? I watch my fellow Christians hold dearly to their own works as the basis for their standing before God. Teach them the freedom of grace, the rest found in grace, the inner perfection of grace, and they say yes that is all very nice, but then they cling dearly to their works as markers for their standing before God. Doesn’t grace and freedom from the law set me free to do what I want and sin to my heart’s content, they ask? The answer is no. The fact is that their clinging to the law, to a performance based life before God, makes them more susceptible to sin not less. Even so, they trust their own efforts more than the work of the Spirit of Christ in them.

It takes time to grow in grace. It takes time to learn that Christ is not just a concept, a grand ideal, a hypothetical that is nice to believe in, but a scary place to trust for anything real in our lives. We trusted Jesus for our salvation and now God asks us to trust Him for our sanctification. That is what we hear from Scripture. That is what God is telling us. Trust comes by hearing and that by the word of Christ. We need to allow God’s word to persuade us once more.

Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith [trust], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, we have also obtained access by faith [trust] into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Trust is not a complex idea. It is simple enough for any of us to grasp and to do. The benefits are beyond our imagining. The promise is Christ in you the hope of glory. We place our trust in the Lord and receive His glory. We do not need to fully understand to respond to God’s grace. We simply have to understand how trustworthy our God is and to place our trust in that reality.

Categories: Faith, Grace