A Chapter Summary of Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
Chapter Nineteen – The Application of the Benefits of the Cross Work of Christ
By application of the benefits what is being asked is three fundamental questions. How does the elect sinner come to partake of what Christ’s cross work accomplished? How is the purchased redemption applied to the elect sinner? And, why does one sinner believe and another remain in unbelief? [Aside: Consider the wonderful hymn, “How Sweet and Awful”.] The New Testament thoroughly answers these questions and from this we conclude that “salvation is of the Lord” and it is not of a single act but of a series of acts that follow a definite order – the “ordo salutis”.
This “order of salvation” is not expressly stated in any single verse of scripture however it is explicitly contained in the New Testament writings which a careful examination reveals. The skeletal framework from which our understanding is built is found in Paul’s teaching regarding effectual calling, justification and glorification in Romans 8:29-30. Paul sets the stage for this teaching in 8:28b when he states that these acts were “according to his (God’s) purpose” and, in 8:29, predicated upon the foreknowledge of those he “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (italics mine). This logical order, foreknowledge preceding predestination is also found in Eph. 1:4-5. This purpose of God, being “fore” and “pre”, is understood as preceding creation. The later acts of God, namely, effectual calling, justification and glorification then are sequential postcreation acts with the first and third respectively representing the initiating and consummating acts of salvation.
So, where on this skeleton (in what logical order) do the spiritual graces that are active in salvation – repentance, faith, adoption, regeneration, sanctification and perseverance in holiness – reside anatomically? As for the first two, repentance and faith, Peter and Paul both emphatically teach that these graces are interdependent and occur concomitantly (Acts 2:38; 16:31: 20:21; 1 Thess. 1:9) as the initial conscious activities in salvation, following God’s effectual calling, which precedes justification. According to Gal. 2:16 (also Rom 1:17; 3:22, 26, 28; 5:1; Gal 3:24; Phil. 3:9) faith is the necessary prerequisite of justification. So then John tells us in 1:12-13 of his Gospel that all of those that received Christ were given the “right (exousian: power, authority) to become children of God.” This legal authority then refers to adoption, not to regeneration (which is more related to ability). Therefore, given that faith (as has been shown) must precede belief and belief is required to receive Christ and receiving Christ is the condition by which adoption is authorized, it then necessarily follows that faith logically precedes adoption. Further, since we have seen ample evidence that God would not adopt such a one whose sins have not been forgiven and has not been “counted as righteous” by God, we must also conclude that this adoption must logically follow justification.
Having shown that the right bestowed through receiving Christ does not refer to the salvific act of regeneration but rather adoption, where then does regeneration lie in the ordo? John speaks of those who believe in Christ, in contradistinction to those who do not, in 1:13. Immediately following his teaching on adoption he tells us that those adopted “were born (also translated begotten), not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (italics added).” The “begetting” then is explicitly taught as the prerequisite to faith in Christ, the latter being the effect of the former. Jesus further confirms this when he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see (a faith act) the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, see also 3:5). Again in John’s first epistle he repeats, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten by God.” In 3:9 he goes on to further affirm the cause and effect relationship between regeneration (being born again) and faith, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him.” Again in 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (see also 5:18). If this were not sufficient to establish the cause (regeneration) and effect (faith in Christ) relationship, Paul tells us that God, “who is rich in mercy, because of the great love by which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive (synezoopoiesen) with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5). Therefore repentance and faith, being concomitant responses to God’s effectual calling, follows regeneration.
Sanctification (to make holy or to cleanse) is easily demonstrated in Scripture to indicate a punctiliar, definitive act occurring concurrently with justification and adoption (Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11) it is also spoken of as a process (2 Pet. 3:18; Phil. 3:13-14). This ongoing work of salvation, also known as progressive sanctification is inaugurated necessarily at the moment of regeneration, permitted by justification and driven forward through the adoptive union with Christ. The one so united with Christ then has been made holy (definitive sanctification), is being made holy (progressive sanctification) and is simultaneously enabled to persevere in holiness.
In sum, the ordo salutis is initiated by the divine, irresistible, effectual call of those God then regenerates from spiritual death. Out of this regeneration the elect is enabled to repent and believe in Christ and is by this declared righteous (justified) in God’s sight. Simultaneous with justification the believer is definitively sanctified and adopted into God’s family. The adopted child is from that point forward progressively sanctified and by the power of the Holy Spirit preserved in holiness until the time of glorification at the return of Christ. We should be careful to note that the first two acts are solely of God (effectual calling and regeneration). The next 2 acts (repentance and belief) are by divine-human cooperation, enabled by God and manifested in man. The next 3 acts (justification, definitive sanctification and adoption) are again solely divine. Progressive sanctification and perseverance in holiness is again cooperative finally leading to the consummating solely divine act of glorification of the believer. [Aside: Monergism is a term commonly used to refer to those activities solely of God while Synergism is said of those in which divine and human activity cooperate).
Having laid the foundation for a broader understanding of the biblical warrant for the ordo salutis we may now turn to a discussion of the doctrines of the individual processes contained therein. God’s effectual calling – the initiating, monergistic, solely divine activity – can be described as heavenly in its origin and destination (Heb. 3:1; Phil. 3:14), holy (2 Tim. 1:9) and irrevocable (Rom. 11:29; 1 Cor 1:8-9; 1Thess. 5:23-24). God calls the elect sinner (1 Cor. 1:26-30) into fellowship with Christ (1 Cor. 1:9), out of darkness (1 Pet. 2:9), into his kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12;2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Pet. 5:10), to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9) and to eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12). Distinct from the effectual call is the “general” or “universal” call by which all mankind, presently spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) and corrupt (Ps. 14:1-3) and without any inclination or ability (Rom. 8:7) to submit to God, are summoned to repentance and faith (Isa. 45:22; 55:1; Matt. 11:27; Acts 17:30-31; Rev. 22:17). It is typically by this means, save for some special exceptions, that the effectual call comes to be applied to the elect. Indeed, all of those effectually called, by means of the general call or any other, will experience this call to be irresistible and will be justified (Rom 8:30). Those so called (effectually), given their spiritual deadness – [Aside: Notice Paul does not say in Eph. 2:1 that the unbeliever is somehow spiritually sick or temporarily incapacitated as if time alone or some exertion on the part of this individual could do anything to permit spiritual activity. No, that person is spiritually dead with no greater ability to act spiritually than a physically dead person has to act physically or he, by definition, would not be dead – trust me on this, I’m a doctor!] – remain entirely passive at this point in the process of salvation. It is at this point that the elect is “born again” (1 Pet 1:23) by the will of God (James 1:18). Those elect having been predestined in the mind of God to be in union with Christ from all eternity have always, in that sense, been “in” Christ. However, it is at the moment the elect trusts in Christ that he actually becomes a partaker of Christ which results from being “in” Christ and now regenerated (born again). Prior to this “partaking”, though in one sense the elect has been united with Christ, they are as much under the wrath of God as the unbeliever (Eph. 2:3) and only pass into his grace at the moment of placing their trust (full confidence that he is their only hope for salvation) in Christ (Rom. 5:10; 6:5, 6; 8:17; Eph: 1:13; 2:10; 1 Cor. 1:5; 1 Thess. 4:14, 16)
By this regenerating work of the Spirit – and not of man (Titus 3:5), the elect sinner is made spiritually alive with Christ (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:5), convinced of his sin, enlightened as the to all-sufficiency of the Savior, renewed in his will (see 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:23; James 1:18), cleansed of defilement (Ezek. 36:25-26; John 3:5; Titus 3:5), enabled to believe in Jesus (John 1:12-13) and that he is the Christ (1 John 5:1), to see and enter the kingdom (John 3:3,5), to love others (1 John 4:7; 5:1) and turn from sin to righteousness (1 John 3:9; 5:18). This work of regeneration, as with effectually calling, is monergistic. Jesus declares that “No one can come to (him), unless the Father who sent (him) draws him” (John 6:44). In addition, harkening also back to the efficacy of the divine call, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to (Jesus)” (John 6:45). In John 3:7 Jesus affirms the necessity of being born “from above” however he never does so in the imperative sense as though his hearer could in any way or to any degree effect his own regeneration. If we are tempted to allow that man’s regeneration is dependent upon his own cooperation with God’s grace we must consider Jesus’ own illustration of the analogy of the wind (John 3:8). The Spirit’s work in regeneration has a sovereign course and purpose and though its effect is felt, its origin and ultimate destination remains mysterious and unmolested by any actions or intentions of men. [Aside: Man may indeed redirect the wind but only as a decreed means to its decreed end.] Consider Lydia. She “was listening, whose heart the Lord opened to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Consider also Charles Wesley’s [Aside: Interestingly, an Arminian] God-exalting hymn:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
In contrast to the monergistic activities of effectual calling and regeneration we are brought to two synergistic activities, vis, repentance and faith, often summarized in the term “conversion”. It is not sufficient to profess faith in Christ to effect the forgiveness of sins. The repentance of sin is an essential corequisite thereby refuting any biblical basis for a doctrine of “easy believism” (Isa. 55:7; Joel 2:12-13; Eze. 33:11; Job 42:5-6; Jer. 8:6). According to Christ, “repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47). Similar admonitions were given by John the Baptist and the New Testament authors (Matt. 3:2, 8, 11; Mark 1:4; 6:12; Luke 3:3-8; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22 13:24; 19:4; Heb. 6:1). This repentance, consciously employed by the regenerate person, is a gift of God (Ps. 80:3, 7, 19; Jer. 31:18; Lam 5:21: Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). Paul warns in 2 Cor. 7:10 that this repentance must be a true repentance and not simply “worldly sorrow” as demonstrated by the demise of Judas (Matt. 27:3) and illustrated by Christ in the parable of the “rich young ruler (Luke 18:23). True repentance requires a change of understanding, emotion and purpose and it is only true repentance that leads to the truth (2 Tim. 2:25), life (Acts 11:18) and salvation.
Faith also has its requirements to be considered a “saving” faith. Its necessary elements are cognition (understanding), conviction (belief or assent) and confidence (trust). Contrary to the ironically unenlightened modern understanding that faith is by definition “blind faith”, Scripture is emphatic that to be a saving faith it must be a reasoned faith – for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), one must love the truth to be saved (2 Thess. 2:10) and repentance leads to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). The Scriptures know nothing of a salvation grounded in ignorance or simple sincerity. One must know the propositional truths on which his faith is founded and must be convinced of their truth otherwise his faith is mere mysticism. On the other hand, one can know the propositional truths of the Gospel and yet fail to have developed the necessary conviction and confidence that it will meet his deepest spiritual needs. Like him, those with cognition only are like the demons who believe (James 2:19; Matt. 8:29) without affection or trust. It is clear from Scripture as well as common human experience that such faith is not the natural human reaction to the Gospel; indeed most of humanity in all times has rejected it, often hostilely. While faith is a gift of God to his elect it is and must be employed as a volitional human act of the regenerated person in order that they would be saved. This is not to say that it is faith that does the saving. Rather, it is Christ who does the saving but through the instrumentality or the means of faith. Said another way, salvation power is contained not in the act, attitude or nature of faith but rather in the object of faith – Christ Jesus.
As with every other spiritual blessing, faith is a gift that is divinely provided (Eph. 1:3-4) to those appointed (predestined) to eternal life (Acts 16:14; 18:27; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil 1:29). Another characteristic of saving faith is its opposition to law-keeping. Unlike law-keeping, faith turns attention from all human effort to, and only to, the cross work of Christ (Rom. 3:20-22; 3:28; 4:5; 4:14; 10:4; Gal 2:16; 3:11; Phil 3:9). Many, including Rome, have rejected the “alone” aspect of sole fide arguing that Paul does not use the term himself and that James explicitly states, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (2:24). This conclusion however betrays a flagrant example of proof-texting and a misunderstanding and contradiction of the clear teaching of Scripture. In the citations noted above (as well as Rom. 4:16; 11:6 and Gal. 5:4) Paul quite perspicuously and emphatically demonstrates his understanding repeatedly that justification is by the instrumentality of faith alone. While he never applies the actual term “alone” he also never ascribes works to anything related to salvation which speaks far louder of his intention than if he had used the term “monos” (alone). Further, the two Apostles were using the word “justified” with differing connotations to make a completely different point. Peter was not addressing his theology of salvation but rather practical Christian living as he was arguing for the objective evidence of true faith which necessarily results in good works. Good works [Aside: And not “good” works in the estimation of the one doing but rather “good” as judged so by God] prove the existence of true faith. Paul, on the other hand, was engaging in theological and doctrinal pedagogy, arguing specifically for the legal means by which justification is applied to the regenerated elect.
The synergistic nature of regeneration and faith, once employed, are then logically followed by three further divine, monergistic acts: justification, definite sanctification and adoption. Justification, another gift of God, is judicially applied to the elect sinner who has been effectually called, regenerated and has employed the gifts of repentance and faith. It is by justification through faith that God can, based on the cross work of Christ, pardon the sinner and look upon him as righteous, clothed in the spotless garb of Christ. From this point forward, this sinner (in himself) is completely and forensically counted righteous (in Christ) before God as he stands before the law. This concept is succinctly captured by Luther, “simul iustus et peccator” (simultaneously righteous and sinner). The entire law is summed up in the command to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). It is vicariously in Christ and not in the believer, in heaven at the right hand of God and not on earth, that the sinner is counted, judicially and not experientially (as if infused in the believer by the Holy Spirit), as perfectly abiding by this command. Justification then speaks to an objective forensic judgment and not a subjective transformation (Deut. 25:1; Job 32:2; Prov. 17:15; Luke 7:29); and its antithesis is condemnation (Deut. 25:1; 1 Kings 8:32; Matt. 12:37; Rom 2:19-20; 5:16; 8:33-34).
It is this doctrine upon which Luther declared the church would stand or fall. In Rome’s rejection of it they have fallen into “another gospel” against which Paul emphatically warns us (Gal. 1:8-9). There are six primary objections erected against the doctrine of justification by faith alone. First, it has been rejected as promoting licentious living and permitting a lack of impetus for ethical conduct. In Rom 3:8 Paul anticipates this very objection. I would submit that one whose theology engenders the same objections Paul anticipated is in good company and solid theological footing. Paul knows the proclivity of natural, fallen man toward unrighteous living (Rom. 3:10) however he also knows that salvation by anything other than grace will lead to legalism and self-righteousness and that the sinner united to Christ is no longer in a natural, fallen state; no longer a slave to the desire of sin (Rom. 6:1-14). Poignantly noted by J.I. Packer, “Christian morality is law-keeping out of gratitude to the Savior whose gift of righteousness made law-keeping needless of acceptance” (Rom. 7:1-6; 12:1-2). Second, is the objection noted above regarding the presumed contradiction between Paul and James as related to sola fide.
Thirdly, Rome also holds that because Scripture teaches a merit-based system of heavenly rewards that a person cannot achieve right standing before God by faith alone but it must also be accompanied by good works. While the initial syllogism is true, the conclusion does not logically follow and is in this case false. Scripture does indeed teach that the final judgment will be a judgment based upon works and that degrees of reward will also be merit-based. However, neither of these truths contradict justification by faith alone. Murray counters this notion pointing out that the future reward 1) is not itself justification, 2) is not salvation, 3) refers to the already justified person’s station in glory, not the gift of glory itself and 4) though good works is the criteria for the degree of reward to be bestowed, it is God’s gracious good pleasure that is the basis for any reward being given at all.
As the details can be somewhat confusing, let us pan-out a bit and consider the broader implication of all of this. Aside from the argument above, how is it if Paul and the others are bent on teaching a justification by faith alone doctrine that they so willingly affirm the necessity of good works as it relates to the final judgement? This is answered satisfactorily in that such works are done in faith by those accepted as righteous by God through Christ, which proceeds from his Spirit, motivated by love toward God in obedience to his revealed will and for his glory. In light of the teaching that unregenerate man’s works are “detestable to the Lord” (Prov. 15:8), and the like, it is only Christians that have the capability, indeed even the possibility, of manifesting such deeds. It is the consistent Gospel motif that what is in view is the exaltation of God (not man) and the humility of man. The reward to be given is in the form of blessedness foreign to this world not for the purpose of elevating man’s glory but for the relief of his weakness, comfort for his flesh, and even greater humility (see “casting the crowns” in Rev. 4:10-11). In the end we must conclude that God accomplishes even these works in and through his elect and yet is pleased to reward them for it (see Phil 2:12-13).
Fourth, is the accusation that if in the act of justification God forgives his elect of all sins past, present and future (Rom 4:6-8), it is then contradictory to require the forgiven believer to seek forgiveness of sin in the future as required by Matt. 6:12, Luke 11:4 and others. This objection fails to distinguish between God’s wrath toward the unregenerate unbeliever and the displeasure of a father toward his regenerate, justified child. That the child of God has been justified and definitively sanctified, he remains until the judgment on a course of progressive sanctification which will require repeated, daily course correction meted out through his Heavenly Father’s providential care and discipline. The fifth objection is related. Rome and others have held that if justification refers to a strictly judicial rather than an actual righteousness then God is merely treating the actually unrighteous as if they were righteous making the basis of the Christian life a fiction. The error here is that for the elect who is in Christ, God is not treating the unrighteous “as if” they were righteous, rather they are in fact righteous in his sight by virtue of their standing “in Christ” [Aside: By way of example, if the convicted criminal’s penalty, let’s say it’s a monetary penalty, is paid in full by another, the criminal is truly no longer indebted though he remains guilty of his transgression of the law. He doesn’t somehow instantly become innocent of the charges but no longer bears any debt related to his guilt.] Finally, this doctrine is repudiated, even by some Protestants, for its requirement that justification requires one to consciously renounce reliance on anything but Christ’s vicarious cross work. It is argued that this would cast doubt on the salvation of millions of Christians throughout history including many prominent church fathers and leaders. As we have belabored, Paul does indeed proclaim that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone, that there is no other Gospel, that any who teach another gospel are to be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9) and to rely on any of one’s own works nullifies the grace of God (Rom 11:5-6). That understood, it is also to be understood that the judgment of an individual’s salvation resides alone in God’s jurisdiction and we have every reason to believe that God’s predestinating grace includes many whose understanding of this doctrine differ.
Moving to definitive sanctification, this is the understanding that there is some degree of holiness imparted to the justified believer at a specific point in time simultaneously with his justification (Rom 6:2,6; Rom 6:18; Rom 7:4-6; 1 Pet 2:24; 4:1-2) at the moment he trusts in Christ (Acts 26:18). This represents a release from slavery to sin. Just as the basis of justification is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, definitive sanctification is a result of the believer’s spiritual union with Christ resulting in newness of life. By this it is not intended to convey that the Christian has or even can achieve sinless perfection (1 John 1:8). [Aside: An error known as “perfectionism”.]
The next logical step in the ordo is adoption. All as a consequence of saving faith, having now been justified by God as the Lawgiver and Judge, and as a result definitively sanctified by God as his new Master through his union with Christ, the elect sinner is now legally adopted, monergistically by God through an act of free grace, into the family of God as his Father. Paul belabors this concept of adoption quickly and frequently throughout the epistle to the Ephesians. From the outset he proclaims the source (predestination) and ultimate end (sonship) of our salvation (1:2, 4-5) and continues to refer to God as Father (1:3, 17; 2:18; 3:14; 4:6; 5:20; 6:23). Combined with Gal. 4:4-6 and Rom. 8:15-16, 23, Paul provides an outline of the doctrine of adoption: God predestined the believer’s adoption in Christ (illustrating God’s love from all eternity), away from the more didactic Mosaic framework to full sonship (illustrating redemption from slavery), providing assurance of this adoption by the Spirit of his Son in the heart of the believer (illustrating a new life) as its firstfruits – a down payment while awaiting the final stage of adoption in the Eschaton (illustrating a future expectation of glory). As with definitive sanctification, adoption does not constitute a subjective transformation of the character of the adoptee. Rather, at “the apex of redemptive grace and privilege”, it marks an objective, legal change of status with regards to the sinner’s relationship to God. As a consequence of full sonship, the believer now carries the Father’s name (Eph. 2:19; 3:14-15), is sealed by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13), becomes siblings with all those previously adopted (Rom. 8:29), has an inheritance awaiting (1 Pet. 1:4), and is assured to come into the inheritance as he being “kept” by God (1 Pet. 1:5; 2 Cor. 1:21-22) having been sealed (indwelt) at the point of adoption by the Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 2 Cor. 5:5). The indwelling of the Spirit is not synonymous with the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” which is the regenerating work of Christ that precedes faith (discussed previously). Of note, the four “Spirit-baptisms” described in Acts carried with them a revelatory function with the purpose of demonstrating baptism as the sign and seal whereby all kinds of people, irrespective of race or culture, are regenerated and brought into the body of Christ, and is not to be viewed as normative for the Church as revelation has ceased [Aside: So long as you are not Mormon]. In contradistinction to the baptism of the Spirit, the indwelling is a perpetual state which serves the believer’s progressive sanctification (Eph. 5:18-21; Col. 3:15-17) more clearly understood as the ongoing act of “filling” rather than having been “filled” with the Spirit. While the benefits of adoption are indeed numerous they carry with them also responsibilities. The adopted child is expected to walk in love (Eph. 5:1-2), expose the deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:8-11) and encourage the members of God’s family (1 John 4:20-21; 5:1-20; Rom. 15:14). As a child, he will experience his Father’s chastisement for failing in these responsibilities (Heb. 12:6-8).
Following the solely divine salvific activity of adoption we come to consider two more synergistic activities: progressive sanctification and perseverance of the saints. The former is used to classify those teachings of Scripture that speak of putting to death the deeds of the flesh and growing in the saving graces. By numerous passages the people in all ages have been called to this expectation. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). “God did not call us unto impurity but unto holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7). Repeatedly we are exhorted to be in the process of growth in Christ-likeness and, negatively, to more and more be shedding those fleshly actions and characteristic which would hinder such growth. “May the Lord cause you to increase and to abound in love for one another…, that your hearts may be established unblamable (blameless) in holiness (hagiosyne) before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes” (1 Thess. 3:12-13). “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). So, what specifically is meant by “growth in Christ-likeness”? What was Christ like that we are called to emulate? First, having been created in the image of God, man is called to emulate the ethical holiness of God – “Be holy for I am Holy” (Lev. 11:44-45). Secondly, the believer is called to live in conformity to God’s preceptive will, vis, the Ten Commandments (or, in effect, the two “greatest” commandments). The third standard of holiness is Christ himself as he fulfilled and embodied the characteristics of the first two perfectly. Progressive sanctification in light of these standards of morality is not to promote or condone legalism in its negative sense. There is however a positive connotation of the term legalism that is not much in use in our day. The law’s threefold purpose is to serve as a rule for civil righteousness, a schoolmaster for the work of convicting sinners and a law for Christian ethics (the so called, “third use of the law”). The negative connotation is necessary to serve as a warning that any appearance of spiritual growth not born out of our union with Christ does not equate with conformity to the command that we be sanctified. The Westminster divines were correct in stating that progressive sanctification is marked by “the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done” (XIX/vii).
There are those, such as Lutherans and Dispensationalists, who reject the third use of the law for an honest fear of “Galatianism”, that is violation of Paul’s warning against the preaching of “another Gospel” (Gal 1:6-8) as, they argue, such an understanding violates the precept that “we are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:15; Gal 3:24-25). Of concern here is the antinomian error that teaches that Christ has “done away with the law” and it is no longer normative for Christian living. Paul himself, whom those who assert this employ to support their conclusion, knows of no such teaching. In his epistle to the Romans Paul states that in fact all men are in a specific sense “under the law” and far from it being nullified, the Gospel itself upholds the law (3:31). He goes on to honor the law of God as holy, just, spiritual and good (7:12, 14, 16) and, being made known by God to his image-bearers, is to be used as the normative standards of Christian conduct. Elsewhere in the same letter Paul credits the law for revealing to him his own sinfulness (7:7) and that it is redemption through Christ that enables the believer to obey it (8:4-13). In chapter 12 he employs the term “the will of God” synonymously with the law and again displays reverence for it as he calls it “good and acceptable and perfect.” Specifically respecting the second half of the Decalogue in the very next chapter he calls the believer to obedience by its summary command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (13:9), proclaiming that “love is the fulfillment of the law (13:10). Contrary to the antinomian view that the Christian is to serve Christ rather than obey the law, Paul clearly instructs that the Christian is to serve Christ by obeying the law and that the power of this obedience is found in the new life in Christ and its expression is love. Paul confirms this later in Galatians when he states that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6).
So, in what respect has the law been fulfilled? Paul makes a distinction between the ethical and ceremonial functions of the law (1 Cor. 7:19) and in 1 Tim. 1:8-11 affirms that the purpose of the law under which the Christian abides is ethical, for the purpose of restraining that which is contrary to the Gospel. He often assumes that the Christian will view the ethical aspect of the law as abiding (Eph. 6:2-3). He explicitly declares that the believer is “not free from the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:20-21), the implication being that the Gospel and the ethical import of the law are one-and-the-same. It is not only Paul who holds this view; James exhorts the keeping of the “whole law” (2:10-11) and John declares that “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). Rather than the “third use of the law” placing the Christian under a covenant of works, which is to say being “justified” by their obedience to the law, it provides the critical function of a tutor to direct the already justified believer away from corruption and into ever greater conformity to the image of Christ to the glory of God which is the end goal of the sanctified life (Rom 5:2; Phil. 1:11; 1 Thess. 2:12; 1 Pet. 5:10).
As it is with the entirety of salvation, sanctification is a work of God. However, in the case of sanctification man is not passive, rather the work is synergistic with man’s conscious efforts being divinely enabled (Phil 2:13) that he might “work out (his) salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). It is because God works that the believer works. The Scriptures then also detail the work of man that is to be done in pursuit of sanctification. These activities include the reading and preaching of the Word of God (John 17:17; Acts 20:32), engaging in the sacraments of the Church (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3, 11; 1 Cor. 11:24-25), Prayer (Phil. 4:6; 1 John 5:14; James 4:2), fellowship with the believers (Acts 2:42, 46; Heb. 10:24-25), and all to the purpose of the chief act, namely, conformity to the image of Christ (Rom. 8;28-29, 35-39).
Finally, we come to the doctrine known as the perseverance of the saints, perhaps better entitled “preservation” of the saints. To begin to understand the intent of this doctrine it is important at the outset to avoid a misunderstanding. This doctrine does not teach that the “keeping” work of God is extended to all who profess faith or even all who have been confirmed to be “in the faith” by a church and perhaps partaken of the church sacraments. The preserving work is operant only in the life of the true child of God. That is to say, by divine enablement, every person chosen by the Father in Christ from the beginning, effectually called to Christ, quickened to repentance and faith in Christ, justified, adopted, sanctified and being sanctified, will never, ever fully and finally fall or experience final corruption.
We are given a plethora of biblical evidence to support the teaching of the perseverance of the saints (Psa. 37:23-24; 73:1-2, 23; John 10:28-29 and other). Possibly most poignantly is Jesus’ promise, “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and whoever comes to me I will never drive away (or cast out, in some translations)” (John 6:37). He goes on to explain the foundation and surety of this promise which is based on nothing less than his own character and inviolable relationship with the Father. “For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (6:38-40). Christ explicitly expresses the will of God and purposefully divulges the mission to which he is bound, and being the Son of God, must obey. Were Christ to fail to initially save or bring to final consummation the salvation of even one given him by the Father he would be guilty of violating God’s will for him. This guarantee is as solid as the Rock on which we place our faith.
It has commonly been argued that this perseverance is applied to only those sheep who continue to follow Christ. Consider that Christ states he gives his sheep “eternal life…and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28-29). In the preceding verses we are told also by Christ that one does not become a sheep of Christ by believing, rather the reverse is true. “You do not believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (10:26-27). Note that his sheep hear his voice (believe) and follow him expressly because they are his sheep already. The hard words in 10:26 are to those not his sheep and thus unable to believe and follow. Conversely, those who do believe and follow have, as we have discussed, activities to be performed to be sure but these activities are enabled by the fact that they have been purchased by Christ while they were “yet sinners” and enemies of God and thereafter interceded for by Christ himself at the right hand of God in glory. How can we in any way question that these will be brought to final salvation? Proleptically and rhetorically, regarding this question Paul asks in Rom 8:31-39: If God is for us, who is against us? Having given us his Son, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? Who is he who condemns? What shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Based on passages such as Matt. 24:13, John 15:6, Col 1:22-23 and others it is argued by those opposing Reformed thought in general and the doctrine of perseverance in particular that the Christian is secure only if he perseveres to the end. To this proclamation, and to the surprise of some, the Calvinist responds with a hearty “Amen”! For any who do not finally persevere will not be brought to final salvation but in reality we must rephrase the previous conclusion. The professing Christian (“let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12)) who does not persevere to the end will not be finally saved. That is to say, one who does not persevere only proves he was never one of God’s chosen, purchased, justified, adopted, sanctified sheep irrespective of his “Christian” activities. The one that has been “bought with a price” whom Christ will “never cast out” is not a Christian because he perseveres, rather he will persevere because he is a true Christian, the perseverance being the necessary means to the end that is assured by God. The pensive Arminian at this point may wonder why the exhortation to persevere is so emphatically taught in Scripture at all if the true Christian will in fact persevere by the decree of Almighty God. Paul answers this concern by way of the shipwreck illustration in Acts 27. Paul was told that by the decree of God there would be no loss of life but the ship would perish. However, he was also told that a means of the salvation of those aboard was their remaining on-board. God ordained the end (salvation of all on the ship) but also ordained the means (all would remain aboard). The latter condition, if not met, would result in failure of the end being accomplished. So what were the means preceding the obedience? One of the means was God’s (Paul’s) warning to those on the ship that they would perish if they did not stay on the ship. It is the same in regards to the salvation of the Christian.
Still another objection is based on passages that appear to teach of the possibility of Christians losing their salvation (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11). We previously discussed the admonition for the stronger brother not to cause a weaker brother to stumble and that in this case the “ruin” falls short of a loss of final salvation but rather a more hindered Christian life. Further, the “shipwreck” illustration can also be brought to bear here. The warning is that the ends depend on the means and God secures the ends by securing the means. If indeed the true Christian fully and finally fell away then their perishing is absolutely certain. However, in the words of Hodge, “this is precisely what God has promised to prevent.”
Similar to this is the line of objection that seems to teach of true believers losing their salvation in the past tense (Matt. 24:10.12; 1 Tim. 1:19; 2 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 6:4-6 and others). [Aside: Because of the teaching of the preponderance of the New Testament one should be loathe to conclude such an interpretation. Which is more ghastly, that man is not ultimately sovereign over his own final salvation or that the explicit teachings of the Apostles and Christ himself related to man’s salvation are in error?] All of the passage here mentioned simply concur with the parable of the soils (Matt. 13:20-21) in which Christ teaches that there is a vigorous but temporary faith sown on the “rocky ground” as it has “no root” and it shrivels when “persecution arises”. It is possible, indeed likely, when such a one comes in such proximity to the kingdom of God that the effects in his life may be virtually indistinguishable from the true believer to the human observer and yet this person having never been adopted as an heir with Christ. How do we know this? Simply by the fact that they fell away! Consider John’s teaching in his first epistle, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (2:19).
The question raised at this point, and quite logically so, is how can anyone, in light of our current understanding, have any meaningful assurance of salvation? To understand this we must first agree that there is such a thing as false assurance. In the context of false assurance will lie some lack of spiritual fruit or other evidence of genuine salvation. In the foregoing verses, those who fell away the missing fruit was a lack of growth in even the “elementary teaching about Christ” (Heb 6) and an absence of any holy religious affections (Pet. 2). Secondly, we must also agree with Scripture and the Westminster divines that just as there is false assurance there is indeed true assurance. Paul tells us emphatically that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28) and “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). He teaches a similar lesson in his second epistle to Timothy (1:12) and John affirms the truth that we may “know” as well throughout his first epistle (2:3; 3:14; 4:13; 5:13). Such assurance is beautifully captured by the hymn writer Augustus Toplady:
The work which his goodness began, The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen, And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now, Nor all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forgo, Or sever my soul from his love.
My name from the palm of his hands Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on his heart it remains, In marks of indelible grace.
Yes, I to the end shall endure, As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure, The glorified spirits in heav’n. (italics added)
The surety of the believer is God himself who will not allow his true children to remain in sin or spiritually immature and at the same time maintain a joyous, peaceful conscience in the Holy Spirit. Rather these he will chasten (Heb. 12:6-8) and progressively more vigorously as needed for their good (Rom. 8:28). True believers who do seem to fall away are in what is often called a “backslidden” state but never fully and finally fall out of the state of grace – consider David (Ps. 51:11) and Peter (Luke 22:31-32 and others) – whereas those self-deceived by a false assurance are permitted to persist in their ignorance and bondage to sin and will cling to all manner of carnal presumptions on which they ground their assurance. In the final analysis, denying “eternal security” as it has been described leaves us with a horrifyingly grim soteriology utterly bereft of any comfort or hope making final salvation dependent upon the fickle, inconsistent, weak and wounded will and effort of those vainly attempting to keep themselves faithful. If there is no eternal security there can be no assurance as no man is capable through sheer force of will to bring themselves to final salvation.
Thus far we have discussed at length the past, present and, to a point, the future tense of salvation. We now consider the final, divinely monergistic act of salvation, vis, glorification. While the believer at present is delivered from slavery to sin he remains exposed to, in the presence of and himself capable of sin (in the words of Augustine – posse non pecarre, posse pecarre). There is coming a definite day however when the Christian, as a result of their justification by faith alone and in Christ alone, will be brought to final salvation – a state in which he will be rescued from the possibility of sinning and even the presence of sin (Rom. 5:9-10; 13:11; 1 Cor. 3:15; 1 Thess. 5:18; 1 Pet. 1:5). Not only at this time will man be glorified in body (Rom. 8:23), so too will creation be renewed (Rom. 8:19-21) and God’s promise of land to Abraham and his offspring will be finally fulfilled. As for man, in addition to a renewed body, he will have a renewed and perfected will “made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone” (WCF, IX/v). This is the highest end to which even God himself could conceive for his creatures of which Paul speaks when he tells us that “our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). While the glorification of God’s people, the Church, is indeed the highest end for creation it remains penultimate. For the highest end of all is that the redeemer of the Church, Christ himself, will be brought to final glorification (Phil. 2:11) as the firstborn among many brothers (Col. 1:15, 18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5), displaying his ultimate supremacy. This too is beautifully portrayed in a hymn by Robert Murray McCheyne:
When this passing world is done, when has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory, looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know, not till then, how much I owe.
When I hear the wicked call on the rocks and hills to fall,
When I see them start and shrink on the fiery deluge brink,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know, not till then, how much I owe.
When I stand before the throne, dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see thee as thou art, love thee with unsinning heart,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know, not till then, how much I owe.
When the praise of heav’n I hear, loud as thunders to the ear,
loud as many waters’ noise, sweet as harp’s melodious voice,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know, not till then, how much I owe.
Chosen not for good in me, wakened up from wrath to flee,
Hidden in the Saviour’s side, by the Spirit sanctified,
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show, by my love, how much I owe.