Baptism and Salvation Part 2 (1 Peter 3:21)

Continuing on in our series on baptism and salvation, we look at an even more difficult passage but one that is none the less used in Lutheranism to support the theological stance that baptism saves (at least from Dr. Jordan Cooper). If he has anything going for him in the Scriptures that supports a soteriological effect of baptism, this is (in my opinion) the best he has. It is an explicit declaration that baptism saves. However, if this is his best argument from Scripture and it can be refuted, then there is nothing else for him to turn to that could possibly support his position. But as we look at the passage further, we will see that soteriology is not in Peter’s mind when it comes to being “saved” by baptism. Let us look at the passage.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV) Emphasis Added

Peter is laying out from chapter 2 into chapter 3 what the Christian life is to look like.  Christians are not be a malicious, conniving people (2:1). They are to live in a way that is honorable in front of sinners (2:11-12) and submit to the authorities (2:13-17).  Christians are to be distinct from those around them while still living in the world (John 17:15) obeying God’s commandments and glorifying God in their good works (Matthew 5:16). This theme of Christian living then is continued on into chapter three with family life being discussed and how Christians should handle persecution. The apostle gives a simple Gospel reminder to his readers.  Jesus suffered as Christians might suffer under their pagan rulers.  They are to remember Christ’s work in that they are not alone in their trials.  This then leads us to the discussion on baptism.  There is a clear type vs. antitype distinction being made between what we see in Noah’s case and with baptism. As Steven Cole says,

“Peter is using the flood and deliverance of Noah and his family as a loose analogy or type of what is portrayed in Christian salvation and baptism. Just as Noah passed through the flood waters into salvation from God’s judgment, so believers pass through baptism into salvation from God’s judgment.”

Cole, Steven J. “Lesson 18: A Difficult Passage Explained and Applied (1 Peter 3:18–22) | Bible.org.” Bible.org, Bible.org, 2 Aug. 2013, bible.org/seriespage/lesson-18-difficult-passage-explained-and-applied-1-peter-318-22.

I am honestly not sure if this is the best rendering of the relationship between the type and antitype, but it gives us an idea of what Peter is doing.  Given this relationship and that the word for “baptism” is the Greek word βάπτισμα which means, “a dipping, a baptism” (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament), Peter is talking about water baptism here and not simply the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or something to that effect.  This is the general typology that we see in the Scriptures.  You have a type (the Noaic flood) pointing toward something to come (baptism). 

“The grammar in the opening of verse 21 is difficult. To simplify, we should probably understand it in this way: “which (water) now also saves you, (who) are the antitype (of Noah and his family)—(that is) baptism.” In other words, the experience of Noah and his family in the flood is the type of which Peter’s audience and their baptism is the antitype (antitypon).”

Storms, Sam. “Does Baptism Save? (1 Peter 3).” Crossway, Crossway, USA, 5 Jan. 2019, http://www.crossway.org/articles/does-baptism-save-1-peter-3.

And this typology is part of why the apostle’s meaning is so difficult to shed light on. This leads to the question: is Peter talking about soteriology or some other type of salvation? Cooper would hold that this is talking about soteriology. This would tie in at least in part to Acts 2:38 which was discussed in my last blog post. But the assumption is that this usage of “saved” (Greek σῴζω) must be soteriological. Problem with this argument is that salvation can refer to more than one thing in the Scriptures. It can most certainly refer to soteriology (Romans 10:9-13), but it can also refer to the progression of sanctification throughout the Christian’s life. Let us look at Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (ESV) Emphasis Added

In this famous chapter, Paul is laying out the Gospel with a focus on the resurrection but in the beginning of the chapter he says what the Gospel’s current effect is on the Christian.  It not only saves completely in our legal standing before God (Romans 1:16-17) but it also sanctifies us as we live out our lives.  Sin still clings to the believer but we are being redeemed so to speak as we rest in the Gospel.  And that work will be completed (Philippians 1:6). We also see this language earlier on in the Corinthian letter.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV) Emphasis Added

Paul in talking about the Gospel message says it has a sanctifying effect upon the believer. Certainly these passages imply soteriology in that in order to continue on in salvation you must be saved initially (and finally I might add).  All this to show that the concept of salvation in the Scriptures is not monolithic and can take on different meanings depending on the context.  It must not be assumed that when salvation language is used that it must be soteriological.

Now that doubt has been cast upon the interpretation of “saved” in 1 Peter 3:21, how is Peter using that term? He says, “but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter even explicitly condemns any notion that the act of baptism has any saving effect (“not as a removal of dirt from the body”) which is amazing how this is missed by Cooper who emphasizes the actual act of baptism as being needed to be saved (again going back to Acts 2:38).

“Appeal” (ESV) is the translation of eperōtēma, which others render as “pledge.” If the former is accurate, the one being baptized “appeals” to God, on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ (or more literally, “through” or “by means of,” if dia is instrumental; cf. 1:3), to cleanse one’s conscience and forgive one’s sins.21 In good faith or conscience we appeal to God for vindication, that we might be considered part of his victory won by Christ in the resurrection (3:21b). It is only in this light that God uses the water of baptism to save us—as it links us to Christ and his victory and promises.

Storms, Sam. “Does Baptism Save? (1 Peter 3).” Crossway, Crossway, USA, 5 Jan. 2019, http://www.crossway.org/articles/does-baptism-save-1-peter-3.

Baptism is the identification with Christ in His death and a declaration that we are His.  Although I don’t know if I would agree with Storms’ rendering of this passage as it seems he is saying that soteriology (initial salvation) is happening at baptism, but it does help us to see at least that baptism is declaring something.  Not only to the world, but to God Himself.  I think the salvation noted here is us appealing, pledging, answering to God saying we are going to live rightly now that we are saved. We are identifying with Christ and are therefore declaring our submission to Him going forward. 

Peter is using the flood and deliverance of Noah and his family as a loose analogy or type of what is portrayed in Christian salvation and baptism. Just as Noah passed through the flood waters into salvation from God’s judgment, so believers pass through baptism into salvation from God’s judgment. But, before you leap to wrong conclusions, Peter clarifies—it is not the act of baptism which saves (“the removal of dirt from the flesh”), but what baptism signifies—the appeal to God for a good conscience. “Appeal” can point either to the moment of salvation, when a person cries out to God for cleansing from sin; or, to the pledge given at the baptismal ceremony, when a person promises to live in a manner pleasing to God. Either way, baptism testifies to our faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf (3:18). Since Christ’s suffering did not minimize His witness, but rather enhanced it, Peter is urging his readers to be baptized, even if it means persecution, in order to bear witness of Christ’s saving grace.

Cole, Steven J. “Lesson 18: A Difficult Passage Explained and Applied (1 Peter 3:18–22) | Bible.org.” Bible.org, Bible.org, 2 Aug. 2013, bible.org/seriespage/lesson-18-difficult-passage-explained-and-applied-1-peter-318-22.

I think Cole’s latter option that, “a person promises to live in a manner pleasing to God,” is probably the correct view. This verse is very difficult but we can at least say what it is not. There is no soteriological view of salvation here. It is merely the appeal to God for a good conscience that is saving us. Proper qualification must be given as we look at this passage.

Baptism and Salvation (Acts 2:38)

I have recently been taking a study into Lutheranism especially as it relates to baptism and salvation. Classical Lutheranism (at least) affirms that baptism does have a saving effect upon a person even though faith is still required by an individual. The confession of classical Lutheranism is the Augsburg Confession. The purpose of the Confession was to clearly define Lutheran theology.

The purpose was to defend the Lutherans against misrepresentations and to provide a statement of their theology that would be acceptable to the Roman Catholics…The first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession set forth Lutheran doctrine in order to demonstrate that “they dissent in no article of faith from the Catholic Church.”

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Augsburg Confession”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Augsburg-Confession. Accessed 23 June 2021.

Their Confession was to show distinctives from the Catholic Church while still identifying with it on much. If I want to know what someone believes that has a formal confession of faith, I would consult it. It should give the reader a good idea of what is believed about a particular topic. The Augsburg is formatted similar to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith and Westminster Confession of Faith at least in that it has sections that are broken down by a theological topic, thereby making it easier to find a particular topic to read about. Article 9 is where we find the classical Lutheran view of baptism, at least in part.

Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.

Mahler, Corey. “Article IX. Of Baptism.” Book of Concord, BookofConcord.org, 2 Jan. 2020, bookofconcord.org/augsburg-confession/article-ix.

We see very clearly here that classical Lutheranism confesses baptism is needed for salvation. Melanchthon, who really authored the Confession and was a close friend of Luther, believed this doctrine and espoused it as a formal belief of their faith.

The principal author was the Reformer Philipp Melanchthon, who drew on earlier Lutheran statements of faith.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Augsburg Confession”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Augsburg-Confession. Accessed 23 June 2021.

There are various passages that are used to support salvation by baptism and I will look at some of these here. It is not my intention to be exhaustive in presenting EVERY passage that a Lutheran may use to support salvation by baptism in this blog series, but I hope that by refuting these it can be seen that Lutheranism’s teaching about the soteriological effects of baptism are unfounded in Scripture. Dr. Jordan Cooper was a helpful resource in my research on the Lutheran position of salvation by baptism. Another resource that was helpful in this article was GotQuestions.org. Let us begin.

Baptism Forgiving Sins?

The first passage we will look at is from the book of Acts.

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (ESV)

Here Peter is addressing those at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit had come down causing some to speak in “tongues” or different languages (2:4). This was signifying not only God working among Jews but Gentiles as well (2:8-11). Peter then presents the Gospel to those there and it is evident that God brings His convicting nature to those listening (2:14-37). This is where we find Peter saying to those there what they must do to be saved. Now this is where the passage appears to be confusing. It says that baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins”. On the surface this gives the appearance that baptism itself produces forgiveness of sins. However this cannot be the case.

First of all, the passage cannot be isolated from the rest of the book. If we jump forward to Acts chapter 10 we see a very different formula than what appears to be in Acts 2.

And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Acts 10:42-48 (ESV)

Peter is preaching to Cornelius and others who were with him the Gospel. The apostle was doing the unthinkable: associating with dirty, uncircumcised Gentiles and even preaching Christ to them. Yet the message is clear: by believing in Christ forgiveness would come. Peter even ties this back to the Old Testament saying that all the prophets speak of faith in Christ as the means of forgiveness before baptism became an institution under the New Covenant. Unless we believe the Old Testament saints were saved differently than us today, they had to believe in Christ (albeit in promise form and not fully revealed) as they were justified by faith (as we see in places like Genesis 15 with Abraham) and there was no New Covenant ratified yet which the sign of baptism would be tied to. Faith is the means of justification and by effect forgiveness of sins. This would mean that any Old Testament saint that had faith would be lost, as they did not follow the alleged formula of Peter in Acts 2.

Going back to our passage, as Peter was speaking to the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit came down on them. Notice this was before they were baptized. This means they had believed and received forgiveness of sins already, apart from baptism. It was not until Peter had seen the clear evidence of the Holy Spirit upon them that the Gentiles were baptized. Paul says in Romans 8:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)

The very fact they had the Spirit of God before baptism proves they were already saved since the possession of the Spirit is proof a person is Christ’s. And in Romans 8, Paul contrasts the difference between an unbeliever and a believer: one who has the Spirit and one who does not. This is all in the greater context of God’s righteousness being received by faith in Jesus (Romans 3). Baptism can only be a symbol and a means of communicating the Gospel at that point. Another question to ask as well: is Christ’s work enough for salvation if faith and baptism are required? Let us look at Romans 3.

…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:22-26 (ESV)

Christ’s work on the cross was a “propitiation”. His death satisfied the wrath of the Godhead against sin thereby bringing about forgiveness of every sin. If we receive this work by faith as Paul says then why is baptism needed for the remission of sins? If Christ’s work was enough to make me right before God and the righteousness received by faith (Romans 1:16-17) then my salvation is complete, is it not? This is a crucial point that is missed by our orthodox Lutheran friends. The sufficiency of Christ’s work is called into question (although I do not think they do so intentionally).

This leaves Acts 2:38 only meaning one of two things:

  1. The Gospel is changed in Acts 10 as Peter clearly did not use the same alleged formula from chapter 2 when preaching to Cornelius et al, and it is able to morph to fit different situations.
  2. Peter was actually preaching the same thing in Acts 2 and Acts 10.

Number two must be the only option. Not only does Acts 10 play a role in proving this, but the underlying language (Greek) must be inspected as well. GotQuestions.org was very helpful in this discussion:

We need to start by looking back to the original language and the meaning of the Greek word eis. This is a common Greek word (it is used 1774 times in the New Testament) that is translated many different ways. Like the English word “for” it can have several different meanings. So, again, we see at least two or three possible meanings of the passage, one that would seem to support that baptism is required for salvation and others that would not. While both the meanings of the Greek word eis are seen in different passages of Scripture, such noted Greek scholars as A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey have maintained that the Greek preposition eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.”… Besides the precise meaning of the preposition translated “for” in this passage, there is another grammatical aspect of this verse to carefully consider—the change between the second person and third person between the verbs and pronouns in the passage. For example, in Peter’s commands to repent and be baptized the Greek verb translated “repent” is in the second person plural while the verb “be baptized,” is in the third person singular. When we couple this with the fact that the pronoun “your” in the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” is also second person plural, we see an important distinction being made that helps us understand this passage. The result of this change from second person plural to third person singular and back would seem to connect the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” directly with the command to “repent.” Therefore, when you take into account the change in person and plurality, essentially what you have is “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).” Or, to put it in a more distinct way: “You all repent for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.”

GotQuestions.org. “Does Acts 2:38 Teach That Baptism Is Necessary for Salvation?” GotQuestions.Org, Got Questions Ministries, 26 Apr. 2021, http://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-Acts-2-38.html.

What this means is that the English translation which gives the appearance of baptismal salvation, is not a very good one. English does not always do well in capturing what the underlying language is saying (this could happen in any type of translation from one language to another). This stresses the importance of utilizing the original languages of a text in our toolbox of hermeneutics.

In part 1 of this series we have looked at Acts 2:38 and whether it means baptism saves. It does not. The only thing we do that brings about justification is faith and that faith is a gift from God and cannot properly be said to be from us (Philippians 1:29). Repentance is implied in faith (and Peter calls specifically for the repentance of his listeners in our passage today, but that does not negate faith) but the conduit by which our right standing before God is through faith.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and General Equity

The Westminster Confession of Faith is probably the most prominent of the Reformed confessions. It has stood the test of time providing a biblical framework for theology. I am not sure if its writers knew the impact it would have on the Christian world when it was written. While I substantially hold to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (referred to in this article as the 2LBCF), there is much that can be gleaned from the Westminster Confession of Faith (referred to in this article as the WCF) especially given that my confession is based in part on the WCF. However, these documents are not perfect and were written by mere men requiring us to not hold them to the level of Scripture. I want demonstrate what I see as an inconsistency in the WCF as it relates to the role of the state and what is called “general equity”.

What is “General Equity”

General Equity means that the judicial laws that applied under Old Testament Israel do not apply in the exact same way to states today, but that their moral equivalent applies for today. This concept of “general equity” is laid out in both the WCF and 2LBCF:

To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 19.4

To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 19.4

Both the Westminster divines and the Particular Baptists who framed and adopted the 2LBCF held this idea of “general equity” as it relates to God’s law. An example of this is a quotation from William Perkins (thank you to Dr. Tom Hicks for this quotation):

Judicial laws so far as they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature are moral and therefore binding in conscience as the moral law

A Discourse on Cases of Conscience in The Whole Works, London, 1631, 1.520

Both were identifying themselves with the Reformed community. However, only one confession was being consistent in its application of general equity: the 2LBCF.

Correct, Yet Inconsistent

Although the WCF does teach the biblical view of general equity, it does not apply that principle consistently. If we go back to the 1646 edition of the WCF, we will see an interesting section as it relates to the magistrate:

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven:(e) yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be. preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed.(f) For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) 23.3

I will note that this is the original WCF and is quite different in this chapter from the American revision done here. This change may have been adopted at or very close to the same time the American Constitution was ratified, conveniently. I’m glad that our Presbyterian brethren are more Baptist than they would probably admit and certainly like to be.

The 1646 edition, though, painted an interesting picture of what the state was to do with its power. It was not to hold the keys of the kingdom nor was it to administer sacraments, but it could punish you for blasphemy, heresy, and abuses of worship. It was to ensure that proper worship was enacted in a land. There is no concept of religious liberty as found among Particular Baptists.

The inconsistency comes where judicial law is applied in a way that is not congruent with general equity. There is a movement beyond the simple application of a “moral” equivalent whereby the framework (at the very least) of the judicial law (s) is applied to the contemporary state. An example of this is in the use of the proof text the WCF used to support the suppression of blasphemy:

And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:16 (NKJV)

Clearly, at the very least, the divines thought that it was necessary to use capital punishment as it relates to “suppressing” blasphemy in the land. This went hand in hand with ensuring that true teaching is taught in the land and is “proved” through the use of another Old Testament passage:

But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall [a]put away the evil from your midst.

Deuteronomy 13:5 (NKJV)

Again, a judicial law that applied to a particular people (and a particular covenant) is applied to the contemporary state. While there may not be a complete application of the law, there is at the very least (through the use of this passage as a proof text) an application of it beyond general equity (putting to death a false teacher). If 19.4 was held to consistently, there would never have been the usage of judicial laws from Israel being applied to the contemporary state. I think this demonstrates the influence of the times in which the Westminster Assembly found themselves in and the integral nature the Assembly had with Parliament (see From Shadow to Substance The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704) page 109).

Conclusion

There is much we can be thankful for as it relates to the WCF. The 2LBCF would not exist without it and its influence on the Reformed world cannot be understated. But, as with any confession of faith, it is not infallible. With the influence of the cultural setting these men were in, it seems to have led to the inconsistency on their application of general equity and that different from what we find in Reformed thinking. May God continue to Reform His church.

Lessons Learned From the Thomas Collier Incident

The Particular Baptists were not strangers to controversy. One of, if not their biggest, disagreements with the establishment around them was on the issue of infant baptism. They were distinct in that they generally argued against it from the perspective of covenant theology (see Sam Renihan’s book, From Shadow to Substance). Although they agreed with Reformed orthodoxy on many things, they would not capitulate to the Church of England nor to their Puritan brothers, whom they identified with as Separatists. Controversy not only found itself from the outside, but also from within. The Particular Baptists, beginning in the 1640s, were faced with a substantial threat from a prominent and active member among them: Thomas Collier.

Historical Background

Thomas Collier was not a fringe or silent member of the Particular Baptists. He was quite active and, “served as a chaplain, pastor, evangelist, church planter, and associational leader in the west. Over the span of his long ministry, Collier covered considerable territory, geographically and theologically.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174) Just because a man is in this position does not mean error will not follow, although one would think he would have the spiritual maturity to avoid the heresies he would espouse. But espouse heresy he did. In the 1640s and into the 1670s he was teaching heresy. Renihan gives us a picture of his teachings:

…Collier published heretical expressions regarding the trinity, denying the distinction of the persons…In 1674, Collier boldly placed himself outside the boundaries of Protestant orthodoxy in a book entitled The Body of Divinity. Two years later he espoused heterodoxy even more explicitly in his Additional Word to the Body of Divinity. Among other things, he taught that God exists in a “increated” heavens, that Christ died for the universe, that man is able to believe the gospel of his own power, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, that believers could lose their salvation, that salvation remained possible after death, and other heresies regarding the hypostatic union of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, asserting that God the Son was a creature.”

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 174-175

In other words, Collier was attacking the biblical teachings of the church. These deviations went to the heart of the Christian, let alone Particular Baptist, faith. This was not just about baptism or who the members of the new covenant were anymore. This was a fight for the faith itself. And the response of the Particular Baptists was one that needed to be proportionate to the teachings brought against them. Given he was no small fish in the Particular Baptist pond, this problem had to be dealt with quickly. And try they did.

A prolific author and active church-planter, Collier’s open and published embrace of heresy could not go unanswered. In fact, regional pastors and some of the members of the church in Southwick where Collier was pastoring took notice and requested help from London leaders in order to deal with his deviations.

Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 175

Collier was addressed by Nehemiah Coxe, William Kiffen, and others, although there was no repentance on the part of the heretic. “…it was clear that Collier had no intention of changing his mind or putting down his pen on the matter.” (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178)

In response to the beliefs of Mr. Collier, and to distance themselves from him, what would come to be known as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith would be published (it was originally called A Confession of Faith put forth by the Elders and Brethren of many congregations of Christians (Baptized upon profession of their faith) in London and the country).

In fact, the Confession was published the same month (August of 1677) that elders from London and Bristol were declaring Collier a heretic (Renihan, From Shadow to Substance, 178).

Lessons Learned

While there are probably many things that could be learned from the Collier incident, there are three items that can be gleaned.

  1. Sound doctrine is crucial to eternal life. This should seem rather obvious but it is good to re-iterate. What you believe will impact how you live especially as it relates to what we believe about God, His Word, and the Gospel. With the Gospel in particular, Paul was adamant about ensuring it was taught, and if another “Gospel” was taught, those who espoused it were damned to hell (Galatians 1:8). What Collier taught was against orthodoxy and ultimately went to the heart of the faith. Who God is, salvation, who Christ is, all these things were taught in a way that could not be reconciled with the Christian faith and really led to another Gospel, thereby securing him as a heretic.
  2. Having association with other like minded churches can be very helpful. While associationalism is not commanded in the Scriptures, it is a very helpful way for churches to support one another. We see this clearly in the Collier incident. Churches worked together to try to stamp out Collier as he made a stink among the brethren with his heresies. This strong associationalism can allow other knowledgeable brethren to deal with issues in other churches without being authoritative over a local church or substantially interfering in their affairs.
  3. Properly defining what we believe is very important. The 2nd LBCF coming out of this incident with Collier showed how important it was to clearly define what orthodox doctrine is and what the Particular Baptists believed. The Particular Baptists did not want to be associated with Collier in any way and wanted to ensure that there was no confusion in what “real” Particular Baptist theology was. This Confession was that official response. Properly defining as a church what is believed in said church is crucial. The Reformed were very careful to define their beliefs and were not casual or lazy in how they defined core orthodoxy. This meant that substantial time had to be given to their expositions and defenses, but it meant they could clearly define who they were as opposed to those around them, namely Rome (although the Particular Baptists were primarily dealing with the Church of England, Presbyterians, Independents, and Anabaptists, but there may be more). We need to clearly define what we believe and use this to take a stand against heterodoxy.

Conclusion

Collier is by no means an isolated incident in false teaching creeping into the church. The church has constantly been dealing with false teaching in one way or another and it was no different for the Particular Baptists. Their commitment to Biblical truth was what guided them through this difficult time and the Lord ultimately united them in it. May we have the strength and passion for truth as the Particular Baptists.

What Does It Mean To Have Our Minds Set On Eternity?

The world is constantly battling for our minds. We are bombarded with the world’s way of thinking daily. The evil one is seeking to hinder us in our walk with God. Our mind is the gateway for our actions and the way we think always impacts how we live. This is why having a worldview that is Biblical is the only consistent way to live in this evil world that we must remain pilgrims in. The battle for our minds is here.

Trouble of the World

What is the “world” in this sense? Is God’s creation evil since sin is in the world and we are told not to “love the world”? Let us look at what Scripture says about creation.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Genesis 1:31 (NKJV)

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;  for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NKJV)

In both these places we are told that created things are “good”. There is nothing that God has made that is inherently evil. We should enjoy those things that God has given us: the birds, the fish, the animals, all creation is ours to enjoy and it points back to the Creator who made it (Psalm 19:1). Now, how do we deal with passages that seem to associate the world as being bad?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV)

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:4 (NKJV)

These passages seem very clear in the their indictment of the world. However, the “world” here (Greek word κόσμος) is not referring to the created world (as we have already established above) but the system that is opposed to the things of God (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament by Alexander Souter is great for further study). The world is that way of thinking that is against God. Lust, pride, etc. are things that are of this “world” and are sin, and therefore “lawless” (1 John 3:4). These fundamental principles will help us to understand what it means to have our minds truly set on eternity.

The Christian’s Relation to the World

With this grim picture of the κόσμος, how are we to live? Unfortunately, the Christian tendency in running from the world’s evil thinking is to run from society itself. We create these “Christian” communities that have their own cultures outside of the society we live in. This principle is discussed by R.C. Sproul in his book Pleasing God. It is seen as being separate from the world and somehow biblical. That is not to say that cultures that Christians create are necessarily bad, but I think there is a tendency to do so as a reaction to the culture around them. Just look at the radical homeschool movement, where sending your kids to public school is sinful, women must wear dresses, and heaven forbid a woman work outside the home. And again, I want to be careful here. There are those who do so out of genuine conviction and there should be some sensitivity (this can be seen in Romans 14). But when these become the standard for obedience to God and are done in an unbiblical manner, then the matter changes, and this tends to be what happens when these “cultures” are created.

Christians are not to separate themselves from this world. Jesus prayed to His Father in the Gospel of John:

I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

John 17:15 (NKJV)

It is not God’s will that we live in segregated communities apart from society. This is contrary to Scripture. Paul also makes the point against segregation in 1 Corinthians:

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NKJV)

Paul wanted to clarify what he was talking about. Sinful people of this world are not to be avoided (generally speaking). We would have to leave this earth to completely avoid them! It is the one who claims Christ yet shows no repentance that we are to avoid — church discipline is in view here. Also, how are we to tell the lost about Christ while we are separated from them! We would have to disobey Christ’s Great Commission in order to leave this world. We are to be living in this world and be a light in a dark place.

Using Our Minds Rightly

What does all this have to do with how we think about eternity? What we THINK or BELIEVE about our relation to the world will dictate how we live in it. If we think that the way we are to live with eternity in mind is to leave the world, we will have a warped view of what it means to genuinely have a heavenly mindset. A heavenly mindset is the one that is constantly thinking about the things of God. The Psalmist lays this bare:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-4 (NKJV)

The one who is righteous follows God’s law and his MIND is focused on it. He is constantly meditating on it. His grounding in God’s law leads him to prosper and walk obediently. And where is God’s law found? In His Word. This is the foundation of how we are to live in this world and think rightly. This ultimately is where we should look and where all thoughts and worldviews must be vetted. Manmade rules of how we are to think rightly will never be able to compare to this and, in fact, do nothing to stop the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:23).

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)

This passage really summarizes what it means for us to have minds set on eternity. We are to think on those things that are good and our obedience to God will follow as a result. This verse is not forbidding the thinking of things that are evil (meaning thinking of the things themselves, not actually sinning in our thoughts) since this would require us to leave this world. The world is the devil’s playground, full of sin, and is opposed to God. But as already discussed, we are called to live in it and it is not our Lord’s will that we leave it. The Scriptures themselves contain many instances where there are things that are not lovely, admirable, noble, pure, etc. Paul here is not creating a dichotomy between thinking of that which is good and not. What he wants is the Philippians to have their minds focused on the good so that it will change the way they live. The Reformation Study Bible notes on verse 8:

Concluding these exhortations, Paul calls his readers to a life of obedience, the right response to the peace of God. The virtues listed are not exhaustive but representative, and they come to expression in countless ways (note the repeated “whatever”). Thinking on such things is not an end in itself, but preparation for purposeful action (v. 9).

The Reformation Study Bible, page 1724, English Standard Version

This is what being eternally minded means. This is how we are to walk. As our minds are properly set on eternity, our lives will follow in obedience.

God’s Decree In The Book of Isaiah

God’s decree is a doctrine demonstrating God’s eternal power and control over every aspect of life. There is not one thing that falls outside of this decree. It is complete in its scope and effectual in its purpose. And this decree is not thwarted by the whims of man. I think that this doctrine can be mined from other parts of Scripture, but I would like to investigate it as found in the book of Isaiah.

What is the Doctrine of God’s Decree?

This doctrine is one that is held by the Reformed and Biblical traditions, and we will be looking at it from the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith:

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

2nd LBCF, Chapter 3, paragraph 1

There is much to be unpacked in this paragraph (such as sin’s authorship, which was discussed in a past article I wrote on sin’s nature: What is Sin?) but we will only focus on the first section about what the decree is. What this means is that God has decreed or purposed all that which will come to pass, and that He brings those plans to pass through primary and secondary causes. Benjamin Keach notes in his catechism,

Q. 11. What are the decrees of God?
A. The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby for His own glory, He has fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass

Benjamin Keach

Samuel Renihan notes,

The decree is the act of God by which he determines, absolutely, the existence and infallible future (or futurition) of all that is outside of himself, to the praise of his own glory, the first cause and Director of all things, the Antecedent and Governor of all events…We say the decree of God is an act because God is pure act, existence itself, and from the infinite fullness of his being God causes the existence of (or, actualizes) all things and events.

Samuel Renihan, Deity and Decree, page 113

The doctrine of God’s decree is grounded in Scripture and finds its footing in multiple places, but Isaiah is one that speaks very clearly on the topic.

The Old Testament Teaches a Divine Decree?

Isaiah is a powerful book. It shows us God’s redemptive plan to bring Christ into the world and also discusses the judgement that would come upon the people of Israel. But in and through this is the clear description of God’s decree, even for bad things that were to come. A key principle to Biblical interpretation is that the clearer passages must ALWAYS take precedence over passages that may give the initial appearance of a contrary message, but are less clear. This principle is laid out in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith:

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

2nd LBCF, Chapter 1, paragraph 9

And the book of Isaiah brings forth clear passages that speak of this decree, so these should be used when discussing the doctrine of God’s decree. Our presuppositions of what the decree SHOULD be are never to be imposed onto the text. Before we go into His decree specifically, let us look at a passage that discusses His omniscience.

Let all the nations be gathered together,
And let the people be assembled.
Who among them can declare this,
And show us former things?
Let them bring out their witnesses, that they may be justified;
Or let them hear and say, “It is truth.”

Isaiah 42:9 (NKJV)

Here we see that God is defining Himself as the one who can lay bare those things that are past. This is His omniscience, meaning He knows all things. And this follows verse 8 where God compares Himself to the false gods. There is no other God. He and He alone knows all things and can declare what happened before. This theme of God comparing Himself to the false gods will be throughout the book as God establishes His credibility with Israel. We will also see that His knowledge of all things is tied directly to His decree and then back to Himself as the only God.

I, even I, am the Lord,
And besides Me there is no savior.
I have declared and saved,
I have proclaimed,
And there was no foreign god among you;
Therefore you are My witnesses,”
Says the Lord, “that I am God.
Indeed before the day was, I am He;
And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand;
I work, and who will reverse it?”

Isaiah 43:11-13 (NKJV)

Here we see God establishing Himself as the one, true God. From a verse like this we can find the principle of monotheism, and this is tied to His decree. The declaring and knowing and working that comes forth from Him is tied to His nature as the one, true God who made all things and works everything according to His will. There is none who can stay his hand (Daniel 4:35).

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses.
Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock;
I know not one.’ ”

Isaiah 44:6-8 (NKJV)

Again, God uses His nature to ground His works. The ability to decree what is to come is grounded in His very nature as God. What this means is that if there were other gods who could do what God does, He would no longer be unique and He would not be the Supreme One who holds all power to do as He wills. In other words, He would not be God. This is laid out explicitly in Isaiah 44:24-28. God alone is powerful to decree and to accomplish all He has willed. Now I anticipate the argument, “this only was for Israel! God’s decree was not for EVERYTHING!” Since God is grounding this in His very nature as God, this is who He is and what He does. It transcends specific events and must encompass all things. The all encompassing nature of the decree is found in Ephesians 1:11,

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,

Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV)

Notice that Paul is not just saying this “all things” is limited to salvation. It literally means “all things” with the salvation of His people being a “subset” of the overall decree.

“Assemble yourselves and come;
Draw near together,
You who have escaped from the nations.
They have no knowledge,
Who carry the wood of their carved image,
And pray to a god that cannot save.
Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.

Isaiah 45:20-21 (NKJV)

The same principle is laid out here. The false gods cannot save. They are not able to bring about any plan or bring forth any knowledge. Only God can do that. Only He has declared what will come to pass from ancient times. This is grounded in Himself as God. He is the Decreeing One and any who would dare to challenge that are counted as foolish.

Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’
Calling a bird of prey from the east,
The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.
Indeed I have spoken it;
I will also bring it to pass.
I have purposed it;
I will also do it.

Isaiah 46:9-11 (NKJV)

This passage is probably the most explicit in Isaiah that ties the eternal decree to God’s nature and shows that it is not bound to any specific event. His council shall stand because He is God and there is no other. This is why arguments against using passages like Acts 2:23 to show that God has decreed that which comes to pass fall short. God does not decree only certain events to come to pass. He does not decree only the good. But everything that comes to pass does so because of the eternal decree of God. His decree is eternal because God Himself is eternal and does not change with time like we do. And His power to decree is simply God. Ergo, there is no limit to His decree, not to mention the examples given here by God about His decree encompassing things of old and that which is to come. God also gives examples of working out His decree with the bird and the man who brings about His council, which are not tied to the specific events at hand but are used as examples to prove the normative point: God is the Decreeing One and all that comes to pass is because of His will. That plan, decree, and purpose will infallibly come to pass.

Conclusion

Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has taught Him?
With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,
And taught Him in the path of justice?
Who taught Him knowledge,
And showed Him the way of understanding?

Isaiah 40:13-20 (NKJV)

This is the God that we serve. The One who is all powerful and all knowing. His decree and knowledge are perfectly consistent with the character of the One who brings all things to pass according to His good pleasure and ultimately for His glory.

The Doctrine of Justification

The doctrine of justification by faith alone has been considered the focal point of Protestant theology. We see this during the beginning of the Reformation in Europe with Luther coming onto the scene. Luther is known for his view of indulgences, the preeminence of the Scriptures, and his emphasis on faith alone as the means of salvation. His journey began with his 95 theses (although the nailing of them on the Wittenberg church is probably not true). This set off a fire storm in Europe and would lead Luther to peel back the church’s teachings and eventually to the discovery of the Biblical teaching of justification by faith alone. The discovery of this truth was really assisted by scholarship at the time. There was a real push to go back to the ancient church fathers and the Greek language. Nick Needham points out,

“…the Christian humanists did not admire only Pagan writers of the classical age. They wanted to go back to all the sources of Western European civilisation, Christian as well as Pagan. So they dug afresh into the riches of the Greek New Testament and the early Church fathers.”

2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 3, page 22

We see this with the printing of Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum in 1516 which was a publication of the New Testament in Latin and Greek and was the start of the Textus Receptus. It was a call back (in part) to the Greek language and not relying solely on the Latin Vulgate which was the standard Bible at the time (even though Erasmus’ primary end was not to create a Greek New Testament). This mindset of criticizing the church in this way did bring its share of critics and demonstrates the reluctance of some of those in academia to check the Scriptures as they knew it. This ad fontes frame of thinking is what led Phillip Melanchthon, Luther’s friend, and an expert in the Greek language, to help Luther in his development of the doctrine of Justification. Nick Needham discusses Melanchthon when he says,

“Melanchthon’s main subject at Wittenberg was Greek. He did more than anyone (even Erasmus) to spread the knowledge of the Greek language in German schools and universities. He also lectured on logic, ethics, and exegesis.”

2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 3, page 76

So, we can see that Luther was accompanied by someone who was an expert in handling the New Testament.  Melanchthon brought Luther to an understanding of this doctrine by pointing him to the underlying language of the NT (and avoiding the Vulgate’s understanding).

Needham notes,

 “Melanchthon’s study of New Testament Greek convinced him that what the New Testament means by “justify” (the Greek word dikaioo) is “declare righteous” in a legal sense…The understanding of justification in the Western medieval Church relied on the standard Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, which rendered the apostle Paul’s key Greek term dikaioo by the Latin iustificare…as meaning to make righteous, in the sense of moral transformation – the process by which a sinner is changed spiritually in his soul into a just, holy, godly person.”

2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Volume 3, page 88

In other words, a bad Bible translation led to poor theology.

But with this Luther saw the importance of the doctrine (although as Needham notes the doctrine did not become a central issue until later in Luther’s ministry). This doctrine is extremely important. It is a Gospel issue, and it appears that Luther saw this as well and he is said to have noted, “justification is the article by which the church stands and falls.” It truly is the centerpiece of our faith. It affects not only HOW we are saved, but the Atonement of Christ as well. What this means is if we get this doctrine wrong, our souls are at stake. Our eternal destiny is at stake. The Catholic Church in the Council of Trent (which was meant to combat Lutheranism that had taken hold of Europe) condemned this doctrine thereby sealing their fate as a devilish entity that is only fit for Hell.

“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

Canon 9

“If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified…let him be accursed”

Canon 12

“If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.”

Canon 14

These “anathemas” are not just simple misunderstandings of the doctrine or coming from people who are growing in their knowledge of it. These are people who deliberately condemn the truth and go so far as to say they are damned to hell if it is taught.  So, let us take heed as you read about this topic today. We must understand this doctrine and ensure that our views of it our consistent with the Scriptures.

I want to focus our attention of the doctrine as found in the book of Romans as this book lays out the most explicit commentary found in Scripture on the doctrine.

Righteousness is needed for all

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NKJV)

In verse 15 Paul says he ready to preach the Gospel to the church at Rome which he had already expounded upon which he already laid out in a general sense in verses 1-6. Then in verse 16 he begins to expound on what the Gospel is. Paul is eager to get the Gospel to those in Rome to remind the church of its power and its content. He begins by saying he is not ashamed of this Gospel that God has given him. Remember the message of the death of Christ was foolishness to the Greeks and to the Jews it was a stumbling block, but even with these things Paul remains firm in the fact that the Gospel is the means that has been ordained to save sinners. This is a good reminder to us to not be ashamed of that which the Lord has entrusted to His church. The church is to take the Gospel to all the world and to not shy away when we have opportunity to share it. Jesus talked about this in Luke 9:23-26. Jesus makes it clear that being ashamed of Him is not consistent with taking up your cross and following Him. We are to walk in a way that shows we are not ashamed of the truth of God. This does not mean that we must have the Gospel on our lips in every sentence or word we speak but it does mean that we should be willing to take up our cross and die to self for Christ being ready to have answer for anybody who asks about the hope that is within us. Paul then goes onto to say that Gospel is the power of God for salvation. The underling Greek word for power there is dynamis which means force, miraculous power, mighty work. The Gospel is the mighty work of God unto salvation. Again, Paul’s emphasis here is on God’s work and not man’s. This is critical to keep in mind. Man’s works and self-righteousness had no place in Paul’s thinking. The Gospel works mightily through the power of God particularly through the Holy Spirit. We see this all the way back in John chapter 3 where Jesus is teaching Nicodemus about what it means to be born again. He then goes on to say that the wind blows wherever it wishes meaning that the Spirit of God works however he pleases. He applies the Gospel to our hearts. We as fallen human beings though tend to look for power from God in other things. In Luther’s time this was in relics. The Catholic church made a show of displaying these relics of alleged authenticity claiming they had supernatural power. If only we could hold a piece of the cross of Christ, or see milk from Mary’s breast, or the beard of John the Baptist we would behold God’s power. Luther commented on this where he said,

“There sits that decoy duck in Rome with his bag of tricks, luring to himself the whole world with its money and goods, and all the while anybody can go to baptism, the sacrament, and the preaching desk. But the people say, “What, baptism? The Lord’s Supper? God’s Word? Joseph’s britches – that’s what does it!”

Martin Luther, from as sermon given February 15, 1546

Luther’s point was that people were looking for God’s power in other things rather than in God’s ordained means. God does not need those things to show His power. He does this through His Gospel and this is what made Paul bold to preach it. God was the author and mover of this Gospel and nothing could stand in its way. This must be remembered as we discuss the doctrine of justification. This is a work that is foreign to us and does not originate in us through our volition or otherwise. Finally, in verse 17 we come to one of the most well-known phrases in all the book of Romans. The content of the Gospel is now being unpacked by Paul. He is now transitioning into his long exposition in the next four chapters on what this Gospel is and what it means for us. What is revealed in the Gospel according to Paul? The righteousness of God. What is this righteousness? This is the righteousness that is imputed to our account. It is the righteousness of another.  And how is the righteousness revealed? From faith to faith. This is the sole instrument that brings this righteousness to us.

The Total Depravity of Man

Paul then transitions into the explanation of the Gospel itself. He lays the groundwork for the good news by laying out the bad. Remember that Justification is for those who have broken the law of God and stand condemned before Him. How bad are we? He shows us specifically, beginning in verse 18 and going through verse 25 .

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 1:18-25 (NKJV)

Paul here is laying out for us the universal sinfulness of man. As we move on to verse 24, we see how the wrath of God is revealed to fallen man. He does this by giving them over to their true desires. God lets these evil men continue in their sin in a deeper way and this a form of judgement upon them. This is what is known as “judicial hardening”.  Paul will continue to explain and display the pitiful state of humanity in chapter 2.

Universal Sinfulness of Man

After Paul lays into the Jews about their hypocrisy as it relates to the law in chapter 2, the transition then turns toward the universal sinfulness of man. Let us look at Chapter 3:9-20:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:9-20 (NKJV)

Here Paul pulls no punches and goes right for the jugular. Men are depraved and so much so that they are not able to do that which is genuinely good in the sight of God.  Oh, they might do so in an outward sense. But as it relates to God’s law, they really have not done that which is good and in fact they do not have the ability to since they are in the flesh (cf Romans 8:1-11).  This helpless state leads us to the conclusion that the righteous we need and even the faith that we exercise must come from God and not from ourselves. The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith notes:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, nor make a man meet to receive grace from God, and yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.

2nd LBCF, Chapter 16, paragraph 7

The Gospel Explained

Later, in chapter 3, Paul moves onto the crux of his entire argument. He lays out the Gospel message itself in detail. Justification is discussed in explicit terms and is presented as part of the work of God in saving His people.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.

Romans 3:21-31 (NKJV)

Paul contrasts here the act of faith and works ensuring that this is a monergistic work.  There is nothing here that would lead us to believe anything we do contributes to our salvation.  Therefore, it is revealed apart from the law.  What is the point of justification then?  It is to satisfy God’s justice. Remember, we are not able to see God in our sinful state as was revealed to Moses in Exodus 33:20. God is holy, and we are not. God is so far removed from sin that it would kill us to be in His immediate presence.  And because of God’s holiness, He requires perfection of every man woman and child (Leviticus 19:2, Leviticus 20:7, Matthew 5:48). And as has been demonstrated, we are not able to meet that requirement. We have fallen short of God’s law. And God, being the holy and just God He is, must punish sin.  For God’s people, this punishment was placed on Christ as is discussed in our Romans 3 passage. Jesus was the wrath bearing sacrifice for our sins. He took on the wrath of the Father for us.  This allowed God to be just when we are justified in His sight. We are declared, “not guilty” as if we have never sinned against God. The active obedience of Christ (obedience to God’s law though His life) and his passive obedience (his death) are therefore imputed to our accounts when we believe in faith upon Jesus.  This wonderful doctrine is our hope and our rest. 

Is Faith a good work?

An interesting question to consider given Paul’s commentary on faith: if faith is not a work that contributes to my salvation, then can it really be considered a good work? Yes, it can.  Biblically speaking, everything we do is classified as good or evil. There is no act that we do that is not under one of those classifications. 

For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 (NKJV)

Faith is something that we do.  God does not believe God and its counted to us as righteousness. That would be preposterous and is not what Paul says at all.  Verse 26 of Romans 3 says that God is the justifier of the one who puts their faith in Jesus. There is a clear distinction being made here between the work of God and the work of man.  Now I want to be careful when I say that faith is a work that we do.  I am NOT saying that faith contributes to our salvation. I am saying that our agency is not cancelled by the monergistic work of God in our salvation. We do something! But because the faith does not originate in us and because of sinful condition before God, it cannot be properly said that faith contributes to our salvation. Our faith is COUNTED as righteousness based on the work of another and is not attributed to us as is noted in the 2nd LBCF:

Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.

2nd LBCF, chapter 11, paragraph 1 (emphasis added)

We can also gather this concept from Chapter 4 of Romans:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

Romans 4:1-4 (NKJV)

The one who is trying to act based on something in him is then owed something. As opposed to using the gift of faith that is alien to the person.  Philippians 1:29 makes clear that faith is alien to the believer where it says:

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

Philippians 1:29 (NKJV)

This creates a huge problem for those who believe in libertarian free will or that we are first cause of all our actions or that faith can be exercised outside of God giving it and it is based on the person’s volition alone whether to accept or reject salvation. You must then ask them, is faith a good work? If faith is a good work and their position is true, then I must be able to do something good without God, thereby flatly contradicting what Romans 8:1-11 teaches about man’s state before God while in the flesh. I would then be righteous contradicting Romans 3:9—18. God would also owe me salvation since I would be working! It would not be based on the faith that brings imputation of the righteousness of another. This demonstrates the importance of having this doctrine correct. The implications could be damning.

Conclusion

This has been a brief primer on the doctrine of justification and is by no means exhaustive. Men better than me have written on this subject and lay it out in more detail. But this is at the heart of the Gospel without which there is not salvation.  My hope is that you, the reader, would ensure that you have a biblical understanding of this doctrine and if you hold to a heretical view of it that you would repent. 

What Is Sin?

Sin. That accursed “thing” that haunts the human race. It has corrupted our nature, keeps us from God, and proves us to be vile. No human can escape it and it clings to even the best of Christians. But do we really consider what sin IS? Is it something that is part of God’s creation? Where did it come from? These are questions that can be raised as we think of sin. Our answers to the above questions can lead us to error if we do not get this doctrine right, especially as it relates to the doctrine of God. So, what is sin exactly?

Sin has been seen by the Reformed community historically as the lack of that which is good. The following are some quotes from those who held to this view in Protestant Orthodoxy:

But what, then, is original sin? According to the Apostle it is not only the lack of a good quality in the will, nor merely the loss of man’s righteousness and ability. It is rather the loss of all his powers of body and soul, of his whole outward and inward perfections. In addition to this, it is his inclination to all that is evil, his aversion against that which is good, his antipathy against light and wisdom, his love for error and darkness, his flight from and his loathing of good works, and his seeking after that which is sinful.

Martin Luther from Commentary on Romans

Therefore original sin is seen to be an hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the soul . . . wherefore those who have defined original sin as the lack of the original righteousness with which we should have been endowed, no doubt include, by implication, the whole fact of the matter, but they have not fully expressed the positive energy of this sin. For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

What is sin?

Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 14, emphasis added

This may seem like a very strange way to think of sin. Sin is not typically presented in modern evangelicalism as that which is lacking in that which is created (image-bearing humans). But just as darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat, so is sin the absence of good, and as Luther and Calvin note, it produces evil action. James Dolezal notes,

…what is evil? The short answer is that evil is the absence of good where good ought to be. It is a privation of good and a failure to hit the mark. It is not a substantial thing that exists in its own right…This defect can be a failure of commission insofar as one aims at some good in an illegitimate and idolatrous way. Or it can be a failure of omission insofar as one neglects to seek and do the good that is required of him or her. Both are ways of missing the mark…In what exactly does the evil of any sinful intent or action consist? This is a difficult question as pure evil never exists in its own right. It requires something good in order to be, just as an accident requires a substance to be. Historically, the answer given to this question is that the evil of sin does not lie in the material action itself, but rather in the form of it. Sin is not reducible to the agents and actions by which it is committed. The instruments and actions of sin are in themselves, as creatures and as actions, good.

James Dolezal from Agency, Concurrence, and Evil: A Study in Divine Providence

Where do we find Biblical support for this view of sin? We would be remiss if we did not ground this view in Scripture (our final authority in faith and practice) and merely based it on the “Reformed tradition”. We now turn our focus to two different passages:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

1 John 3:4 (ESV)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

In 1 John, we see an explicit declaration of what sin is. This is not ambiguous language that could be taken arbitrarily, but language that lays out precisely what the Apostle wants his readers to understand. In context, John is discussing what it means to be a Christian. He is contrasting what a Christian is with one who is an unbeliever. The believer obeys God’s commandments (2:3-4), and while they will not be perfect in this life (1:8-10), there will be a normative lifestyle of righteousness that they will live (3:6, 9-10). John is saying that those who do that which is evil are acting lawless or doing something that lacks the good. This is what it means to break God’s law. The underlying word for “lawlessness” here is ἀνομία which means “lawlessness; especially disobedience to the divine law, sin.” (A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament) We see here that this is not simply a translation imposing a view of sin upon it, but that the original language captures this idea as well: that sin is the LACK of law, i.e. that which is good.

This same principle is laid out in Matthew 7 where Jesus discusses false converts with a focus on false teachers. The declaration is one of condemnation. There will be those on the Day of Judgement who will use intimate language with our Lord and act like they know Him very personally. They will even point to works they did for Him. But because they lived a life of rebellion to His law, they will be cast out. Their acts are defined as “lawlessness” and, interestingly enough, the underlying Greek word is the same one that John uses in 1 John 3:4: ἀνομία. Sin, again, is being defined here. It is that which is void of good. A lack of good.

Why must sin be defined in this cerebral way? Does it seem like semantic gymnastics to produce this view of evil? The problem is that if sin is defined as an actual entity, it creates problems with the question of sin’s authorship. The Scripture says that God created all things and there is nothing that is in this earth that He did not create (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16). The language is all inclusive in these two passages, and in Colossians 1:16 Paul goes further in his qualification of what “all things” means by saying “in heaven and on earth,” “visible and invisible”. Sin is not something we are able to touch, see, or feel. If it was an entity, would it not fall into this category of “all things”? Herman Bavinck notes,

If sin were a substance, there would exist an entity that either was not created by God or was not caused by God. Sin, accordingly, has to be understood and described neither as an existing thing nor as being in things that exist but rather as a defect, a deprivation, an absence of the good, or as weakness, imbalance, just as blindness is the deprivation of sight.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3, page 136

If sin is not an entity, but simply the lack of that which is good, then God could not have created sin and is not its author. God cannot create non-being. Does this answer all the questions of sin’s authorship? No, it does not, but it tells us what sin’s authorship is NOT.

This has been a brief overview of the nature of sin, although much more could be said. This may seem like a technical discussion, but being precise in our language about theology is very important in order to avoid error. May we have the same mindset of those orthodox men who came before us who painstakingly laid out Biblical doctrine for us.

Provisionism and Man’s Moral Posture

Provisionism seems to have made a surge in popularity in both Calvinist and anti-Calvinist groups. It has created firepower for both sides. One of the main points of contention between Provisionists and Calvinists is on the nature of man. Did Adam’s fall really make us incapable of freely (in a libertarian sense) responding to the Gospel or not? Are we so corrupted by sin that that we are only able to choose that which is evil? Let us look at a Twitter page called ProvisionistPersective, which is a platform for Provisionist theology. They recently tweeted the following message:

The assertion here is that we are not dead in our sins, but merely diseased, sick, and Mark 2:17 is quoted as a “proof text”. This is a classic example of isolating verses from the rest of the biblical narrative and thereby reading into the text what is not there. This seems to be a theme in the Provisionist camp. Dr. Leighton Flowers, a prominent Provisionist, has done this with verses like Jeremiah 19:5 where this single verse is used to deny that God has an active decree of all sinful things that will come to pass, while ignoring passages in Isaiah that clearly speak of God bringing about His plan and purposes, and actively causing evil things to come to pass (albeit without being the author or partaker thereof). This is the only way, from a biblical perspective, that the Provisionist framework can survive, because a consistent hermeneutical system would not lead to the eisegesis that is placed upon the Scriptures. That is what I want to address with the usage of Mark 2:17 above. I want to address it using consistent hermeneutical principles. Let us begin.

First, the assertion is made that Calvinists say we are not sick, but dead. Sin most certainly is a disease, a defect, a twisting of the good. Sin is lawlessness as 1 John 3:4 explicitly states. However, historically, Calvinists have taught we are spiritually dead in our sins, ergo, not able to respond to God positively without God working toward our salvation.

This leads to our second point: the usage of Mark 2:17. In context, Jesus was eating with “sinners” in an evangelistic effort. He came to save people from their sin. The Pharisees were having none of it and criticized Jesus for his association with these sinners, which prompted His response in verse 17. Before moving on, it is important to note what these Provisionists are trying to do by saying we are simply “sick”. This is an attempt to somehow preserve man’s inherent ability to freely respond to the Gospel. Because if man is as spiritually corrupt as Calvinists assert, then man’s libertarian free will is gone. The argument that is used is, “Good enough for Jesus = Good enough for me.” I can play that game, too, with other verses. For instance, Jesus (yes, the same one who spoke in Mark 2:17) clearly describes man’s LACK of ability to respond to the Gospel in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. (NIV) Jesus said it, so its good enough for me. Oh, what about John 6:65? He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (NIV) This is good enough for me! There are other things that could be gleaned from chapter 6 such as Jesus’ knowledge of the choices of men in their betrayal and His certainty of those who would be saved, which I believe causes problems for Provisionists with regards to omniscience, but that is a discussion for another day. My point here is, just simply quoting one verse does not necessarily prove a point. All of Scripture must be taken into account when exegeting a passage.

With a proper hermeneutic in mind, how do we address the verse above? Are we simply sick? First, let us analyze the verse itself. Jesus brings forward the analogy of a doctor coming to heal the sick. On its face, it makes sense as far as it goes. A sick person isn’t dead are they? They have life in them. Fair enough. However, that is not ALL that He says. He says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV) Hmm. He says you are in two camps: righteous or sinner. This is not a “relative righteousness” that we find in other places of Scripture where someone is described as being more righteous than others, but this is about their spiritual condition. If you are simply sick, strictly speaking, there would be a mixture of the two conditions since the sickness has not fully corrupted your body. But Jesus makes clear that if you are a sinner, there is no righteousness in you. You are completely corrupted. It is a terminal disease. This principle is laid out in different places, but most most clearly in Jeremiah:

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)

Here we see that the human heart is not just sick, but that it is terminally ill. There is no life in this heart of ours that can be redeemed or brought back by our own volition. Going back to what was discussed before, if there is some part of us that is not corrupted by sin and we are simply “sick” with some parts of us being healthy, we now have righteousness inherent in us. We now have the ability to keep God’s law (at least to some extent). The dichotomy that Jesus had made is now destroyed. Now we move onto a section of Scripture that lays out more explicitly our “deadness”.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

Notice that Paul uses the same dichotomy that Jesus does: you are either a righteous person or you are a sinner. If you are a sinner, then you are dead in your transgressions. If man was simply sick, as ProvisionistPerspective has clearly asserted, we would have a contradiction in the Scriptures as Paul does not assert we are sick, but dead. He would go beyond what Jesus is teaching. So we have to ask ProvisionistPerspective, is the Scripture consistent? If so, then how is the interpretation of Jesus saying we are sick consistent with the rest of Scripture, given he clearly does not think we are spiritually dead? The only explanation is that Jesus is not saying we are simply sick but that the sickness is terminal and we are, for all intents and purposes, dead. Even someone who has died is still sick in that the disease still clings to their body. Being “sick” does not necessarily negate death. We do not have life in us. And that lack of life requires an outside mover to bring us to spiritual life. The mover all the way through is God Himself. There is no libertarian freedom in Paul’s mind with regard to believing in the Gospel. God is the mover and the finisher of our faith, down to the good works that we will do.

What we have seen is that simply asserting a single verse is about an alleged condition of man does not mean that is what is being spoken of. A proper hermeneutic is paramount to understanding different texts. All of Scripture must be taken into account when interpreting Scripture.

Of Creation Part 2

Last week we looked at the creation account, what creation was and its standing in relation to God.  A point that we touched on was whether God became the Creator when the world was made. We concluded that He does not. We also established that a proper doctrine of God is necessary to understanding the act of Creation. While the first paragraph focuses on the work of God in the overall Creation of the world, the last two paragraphs focus on man and his state before the fall. This brings up some important implications about the condition of man today and in our future.

Let us look at the 2nd LCBF Chapter 4, paragraphs 2 and 3.

Paragraph 2:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

Paragraph 3:

Besides the law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which whilst they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

We see here a focus on two things: the state of man as it relates to being in the image of God, and the state of man’s moral disposition.  Our focus today will be on two aspects discussed in Waldron’s commentary on the 1689 LBCF:

  1. The duality of man’s disposition
  2. What is the “image of God”?
  3. Did Adam and Eve have true free will?

The Duality of Man’s Disposition

God made Adam and put him in the garden. But Adam was more than simply another animal. There was something about him that separated him from those animals. It was that he had a soul. He had an eternal aspect to him.

Genesis 2:7

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

There has been debate about what constitutes a whole man.  Is man composed of soul, spirit, and body or is he composed of body and soul?  These were questions that the church had to deal with.  The idea of a trichotomic constitution of man goes back to Greek philosophy. Michael Horton notes,

“…Plotinus (AD 205-270) posits a hierarchy of three divine realms: the One (eternal, absolute, transcendental), the Nous (ideas, concepts), and the World Soul (including individual souls, incorporeal and immortal). Below the realm of the Soul is nature, including the terrestrial bodies in which some souls are imprisoned. Individual souls emanate from the World-Soul, turned toward the unchanging, rational One. Thus, the human person could be divided into three components in descending order: spirit, soul, and body.”

The Christian Faith, page 374

It is interesting to note that the “One” coincides with what we believe about God.  Even pagan thinkers knew that there was an eternal one.  Be that as it may, this is where that idea of man’s trichotomy comes from. This even bled over into the church where Gnostics adopted this form of thinking and has crept into the church (see The Christian Faith page 374).  Where is their Biblical support?  Passages such as Luke 10:27 and Hebrews 4:12 are appealed to in order defend the notion of “three” components of man. 

Luke 10:27

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Do these passages hold any water?  In the Luke passage, Jesus notes that we are to love the Lord our God with, “all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” From this, trichotomists will say this means man is broken up into these segments despite the fact this mentions four, not three areas that we are to love God with. What Jesus is discussing here is that we are to love the Lord with all our being, not that we are divided into these specific sections. This view stems from a faulty hermeneutic thereby looking for things in the text that do not exist and completely missing the point of Jesus was trying to communicate. The same hermeneutical error is made in Hebrews 4:12. In this passage, it has been assumed that there is a true division of soul and spirit that is view by the writer of Hebrews and that is not the case. Horton says,

“Hebrews 4:12 does not say that the Word divides between soul and sprit but that it divides even soul and spirit. “Dividing” in this context is examining, judging…It is not a cutting between but a cutting through that is intended here.”

The Christian Faith, page 375

The writer did not intend for the understanding of man to be broken up into multiple spiritual components, but to show that the Word cuts into that complete, whole, soul/spirit. Again, an improper hermeneutic was in play here that assumes what the text does not say.

What is the biblical view of man’s constitution? Are there really parts of man that make the whole? The answer is yes.  However, it is not done in a trichotomy but rather a dichotomy. This is through body and soul.  Where do we see this biblically though? In 2 Corinthians 5 discusses this where it talks of those who leave this body in death are present with Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

For we know that if our earthly [a]house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our [b]habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as [c]a guarantee.

6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Paul gives a lengthy discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 as well.

There is this sense of a person that is distinct from our physical selves that goes to be with God first, although our bodies are not meant to be separated from our souls. Horton again,

“While the body and soul can be separated, they are not meant to be separated, and our salvation is not complete until we are bodily raised as whole persons (Ro 8:23).”

The Christian Faith, page 379

As we see, this separation is not meant to be, but is necessary.  This stands in stark contrast with Gnostic theology which teaches that the body is bad and the soul or spirit good.  Biblical theology teaches, however, that both body and soul will be redeemed for those who are elect of God.  This means that God’s creation remains good even after the effects of the fall had corrupted it.  We should not think that this material world is bad and especially our bodies.  Both are redeemed by the one who made them.  And our bodies will be united to our souls when Christ comes again.

What is the “image of God”?

What the “image of God” is has been debated at different points in church history.  This strange language that is applied to mankind is certainly not an easy concept to grasp. Being a difficult topic, it was not one that even the Reformers agreed on. Herman Bavinck notes,

“But the scholars of the Reformation, too, held differing views of the image of God. In the early period some Lutherans still equated the image of God with the essence of man and the substance of the soul, but Lutheran theology as such was grounded in another idea.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 549

If the Reformers did not have a monolithic view of this doctrine, what can be said of it?  Is it a doctrine that is knowable? Yes, indeed it is.  We can formulate this doctrine based on the evidence found in Scripture.  There is not one single place that we see the image of God brought out in Scripture, but it is gained by the implications of the passages provided about man.  Certain truths of the Bible are not formulated with one verse, the Trinity being exhibit ).  The doctrine of the Trinity is formulated based on multiple witnesses in Scripture and by harmonizing them based on sound hermeneutical processes to confess this vital doctrine. The doctrine of man being in God’s image is no different.

We will follow Bavinck’s points about what the image of God is in man from Volume 2 of his Reformed Dogmatics:

“God is, first of all, demonstrable in the human soul.” How does God show Himself in the human soul? The soul shows eternity in man.  This distinguishes us from the animals. We are not mindless organisms that are focused only on reproducing and finding our next meal. We as humans are given souls that live on forever.  We discussed this in the dichotomy of man earlier. 

Bavinck says,

“The breath of life is the principle of life; the living soul is the essences of man. By means of this combination Scripture accords to man a unique and independent place of his own and avoids both pantheism and materialism.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 555

God is not placing Himself in us as if we are God (pantheism) ,but He also does not leave us a mindless organisms (materialism).  We have the stamp of eternity in us.

“Belonging to the image of God, in the second place, are the human faculties.” Humans have emotions, thoughts, desires, which as Bavinck says, “have to be led by the mind (nous) and express themselves in action.” We can make rational decisions that do not show themselves in the same way that the animals do.  We make decisions and show our emotions with higher purpose and meaning than that of the animals and in doing so it evidences the image bearing that we reflect from our Creator.  These virtues show themselves in God and are reflected in us as humans, him being the “highest” or “perfect” virtues of those features found in us.

“In the third place, the image of God manifests itself in the virtues of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness with which humanity was created from the start.” Man has moral faculties that reflect themselves in our actions.  We as humans know right from wrong. We know we should not steal or should not take the name of the Lord in vain. How do we know this? The law of God is written on our hearts. Look at Romans 2.

Romans 2:12-16

For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

Our consciences tell us what is right and what is wrong.  Animals and mindless organisms do not have this faculty.  And this “moral compass” points to a law and lawgiver higher than ourselves.  This, biblically speaking, points us back to God Himself. God did not tell the animals to not eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but he told man not to do so. He is special and unique.

Bavinck says,

“Man was not created as a neutral being with morally indifferent powers and potentialities, but immediately made physically and ethically mature, with knowledge in the mind, righteousness in the will, holiness in the heart.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 559

“In the fourth place, also the human body belongs integrally to the image of God.” Since the spirit and body are so integrally tied together, there is no way that the body, being crafted by God himself, can be said it is not God’s image.

“Finally, also belonging to this image is man’s habitation in paradise.” Adam’s status before God in the garden as the overseer of the earth.  He was given the task of caring for the garden given dominion over the animals in a way that no one else had.

Bavinck sums up the image of God well when he says,

“So the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. The human is not the divine self but is nevertheless a finite creaturely impression of the divine. All that is in God-his spiritual essences, his virtues and perfections, his immanent self-distinctions, his self-communication and self-revelation in creation-finds its admittedly finite and limited analogy and likeness in humanity.”

Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 561

Did Adam and Eve have true free will?

Now what about the part of paragraph 2 where it says,

“…being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.”?

2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, Chapter 4, paragraph 2

I thought that the Reformed did not teach that man has “free will”? Could Adam and Eve have truly chosen otherwise?  Keep in mind that this was prior to the fall and there was no “bondage” to sin as we would think of it.  There was no slavery to sin.  Man had not been plunged into spiritual and physical death yet.  So, the will could not be spoken of in the same sense as it is spoken of with regards to man being dead in sin and his trespasses.  Adam had the ability to choose that which was genuinely good, but also truly evil.  Calvin notes,

“Therefore God provided man’s soul with a mind, by which to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; and, with the light of reason as guide, to distinguish what should be followed from what should be avoided…To this he joined the will, under whose control is choice. Man in his first condition excelled in these pre-eminent endowments, so that his reason, understanding, prudence, and judgment not only sufficed for the direction of his earthly life, but by them mounted up even to God and eternal bliss. Then was choice added, to direct the appetites and control all the organic motions, and thus make the will completely amenable to the guidance of the reason. In this integrity man by free will had the power, if he so willed, to attain eternal life.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

Adam could stand or he could fall if he so chose. He was not bound to sin or to righteousness. He had the perfect ability to continue in the way.  Therefore, our concept of free will to some extent must change when speaking of actions prior to the fall.  Calvin goes onto say,

“Here it would be out of place to raise the question of God’s secret predestination because our present subject is no what can happen or not, but what man’s nature was like. Therefore Adam could have stood if he wished, seeing that he fell solely by his own will.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 195

Calvin is not saying that God has not decreed what would happen and that Adam could work outside of that decree, but that Adam’s will was bound to his nature and since his nature was not that of evil yet, his choice was truly “free” in that he could make an actual choice between that which is actually good and that which is actually evil.  Remember, in our fallen state we as human beings are not able to choose that which is in good in any way. Apart from saving grace of God it is impossible. Romans 3 makes this clear.

Romans 3:10-18

As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;

11 There is none who understands;

There is none who seeks after God.

12 They have all turned aside;

They have together become unprofitable;

There is none who does good, no, not one.”

13 “Their throat is an open [d]tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;

“The poison of asps is under their lips”;

14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;

17 And the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

What this means is that man cannot do that which is truly pleasing to God. All of his choices are evil continuously. This does not mean that man acts as bad as he could, but even the most righteous acts are sinful in God’s eyes when not done from a regenerate heart.  Paul makes in clear in Romans 8 that those who are in the flesh cannot submit to the law of God.  They do not have the ability to do so in their sinful state. 

Calvin again,

“Man will then be spoken of as having this sort of free decision, not because he has choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume 1, page 264

They act on what they want.  God is not forcing them to do it against their will, but their choices flow from their will and their nature.  Adam was not under such conditions of sinful nature and was able to choose what he wanted.  Despite Adam’s freedom to choose good and evil, there was no power within Adam to thwart the plan of God. He was not able to work outside of what God’s eternal plan and purpose was set to do.  Adam did exactly as he was decreed to do.  But that decree had no compulsion in nature nor did was there any acting outside of his nature. He did exactly what he wanted to do. This will have some mystery to it obviously, but we can see that God works out His plan and purpose along with human actions including Adam’s in spite of his ability to make true moral choices.

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