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Yesterday’s entry reprised part of my 2013 posts on the history of the early French Protestants, known as the Huguenots — worth reading before continuing.
To escape persecution in their home country and open up new trading posts, the most enterprising Huguenots sailed for the New World in the 16th century. They settled parts of it before the Portuguese and the English took over.
You can read more about their intrepid journeys and experiences at the links below:
Tomorrow’s post features more about those who stayed behind in France.
Many Huguenots had to leave France; others were persecuted. Some gave their lives for their faith during the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre which took place around the saint’s feast day, August 24, 1572.
One of their distinctive crosses is at left, courtesy of The National Huguenot Society in the United States.
For new readers and those who missed this series last year, the following posts will help to explain the history of these devout and industrious French men and women:
Notes on the Reformation (with regard to the Huguenots)
More to follow tomorrow.
By the time Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by nailing the Ninety-five Theses on the church door of Wittenburg, he had already begun distributing small pamphlets — tracts — about the downfall of the Church.
He compared the corrupt Church of his day to Babylon. Not only were the official representatives of Christ’s Bride collecting money for indulgences as repentance for sin, they were also denying the sacred, inspired truth of Holy Scripture.
The Catholic Church will readily agree to that post-Vatican II. I was taught of the Church’s errors in RE (Religious Education) class in the 1970s. Yet, what appears to linger there is the synergistic notion that we must work for our salvation. God’s grace is insufficient. In fact, we must merit it.
Things are not so different in certain Protestant denominations, especially in some — not all — Evangelical and mainstream Non-Conformist (e.g. Wesleyan, Baptist) congregations.
A works-based salvation is, at best, semi-Pelagian. At worst, it is full-on Pelagianism, which is a heresy. Pelagianism denies Original Sin and says that man is basically good. Semi-Pelagianism acknowledges Original Sin but says that man must work for his conversion, his rebirth in Christ or his ultimate salvation. Both of these dangerous beliefs are devoid of Scriptural truth and divine grace, which God the Father gives us in our Christian walk.
The Reformed theologian Dr R C Sproul — a monergist — deplores the Church’s departure from monergism. Monergism, involving God as the author of our spiritual regeneration and ultimate salvation, espouses the doctrine of grace — completely unmerited on our part but mercifully granted by our Father in heaven nonetheless.
The Covenant Presbyterian Church, a member of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) in Bakersfield, California, has posted several helpful articles and essays for their congregation as well as for other Christians who might wonder if they are truly saved. Worrying about one’s personal salvation can cause many late nights, much soul-searching and years of anguish.
Sproul’s article which sheds light on monergism, synergism, grace, error and heresy is called ‘The Pelagian Captivity of the Church’. Excerpts follow with page references to the PDF.
Sproul wonders what would happen if Luther were to see the state of Protestantism today (p. 1):
Of course I can’t answer that question with any kind of definitive authority, but my guess is this: If Martin Luther lived today and picked up his pen to write, the book he would write in our time would be entitled The Pelagian Captivity of the Evangelical Church.
Luther, Sproul tells us, believed in the doctrine of grace as revealed in the Bible (emphases mine):
Luther saw the doctrine of justification as fueled by a deeper theological problem. He writes about this extensively in The Bondage Of the Will. When we look at the Reformation — sola Scriptura, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo Gloria, sola gratia – Luther was convinced that the real issue of the Reformation was the issue of grace; and that underlying the doctrine of sola fide, justification by faith alone, was the prior commitment to sola gratia, the concept of justification by grace alone.
Luther was not alone. Calvin, Zwingli and other early Reformers agreed on
the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace …
In other words, our faith in Christ is
the free gift of a sovereign God.
Pelagius was a British monk. He lived in the 5th century AD, as did his rival, St Augustine of Hippo (Egypt). Although these were dark and primitive times, Church councils covering Europe and North Africa were ongoing. Pelagius objected to Augustine’s belief in a sovereign God.
Pelagius maintained that, although Adam and Eve sinned, future generations were spared inheriting that sin. This viewpoint goes against Scripture and Christianity, both of which point to our inherent and ongoing depravity because we actually have a proclivity to sin, which we received from Adam and Eve. As St Augustine believed, this state (p. 2), leaves us in
a sinful, fallen condition.
As such, we are able to achieve nothing good or godly on our own. We must rely on God’s grace, the workings of the Holy Spirit and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.
Yet, Pelagius insisted that Adam and Eve’s sin was not passed down to us and that any grace we inherited ‘facilitates’ righteousness to us. Sproul said that Pelagius meant that whilst divine grace helps mankind, mankind doesn’t actually need it. In fact, he said that people could live perfect lives under their own willpower, with no divine grace necessary (p. 3).
The Church condemned Pelagianism as a heresy at the Council of Orange in the 5th century, later at the Council of Carthage and, once more, much later, in the 16th century at the Council of Trent (p. 3).
However, despite Church theologians declaring Pelagianism a heresy, the appeal of man’s ‘island of righteousness’ — perhaps ‘divine spark’ — refused to fade away. Hence the rise of semi-Pelagianism: we need God’s grace but we are also capable of accepting or rejecting it.
Ironically, the Church condemned semi-Pelagianism as vehemently as it had condemned original Pelagianism. Yet by the time you get to the sixteenth century and you read the Catholic understanding of what happens in salvation the Church basically repudiated what Augustine taught and what Aquinas taught as well. The Church concluded that there still remains this freedom that is intact in the human will and that man must cooperate with — and assent to — the prevenient grace that is offered to them by God. If we exercise that will, if we exercise a cooperation with whatever powers we have left, we will be saved. And so in the sixteenth century the Church reembraced semi-Pelagianism.
Now to the present day. Many Evangelical — mostly independent, but sometimes associated — churches around the world feature a believer’s testimony and an altar call. The unconverted in the congregation can seemingly ‘choose’ to ‘accept’ Christ as Saviour and Lord. These are also features of Holiness churches of the Wesleyan tradition. Essentially, even if the preachers talk about sin, they say that we have the inner power to overcome it. Furthermore, those sitting in the congregation — a Barna survey says more than 70% — believe that man is basically good (p. 3).
Sproul says (p. 4):
To say we’re basically good is the Pelagian view. I would be willing to assume that in at least thirty percent of the people who are reading this issue, and probably more, if we really examine their thinking depth, we could find hearts that are beating Pelagianism. We’re overwhelmed with it. We’re surrounded by it. We’re immersed in it. We hear it every day. We hear it every day in the secular culture. And not only do we hear it every day in the secular culture, we hear it every day on Christian television and on Christian radio.
You have no doubt heard the sayings ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease’ and ‘An empty paper bag makes the loudest noise’. One firebrand evangelist in 19th century America lived up to both. His name was Charles Finney. Whether we like it or not, he changed the face of much of American Christianity forever.
Whereas the earliest Reformers held to the aforementioned Solas, Finney claimed we had enough power and ability to affect our salvation alone. We don’t need divine grace — or possibly even Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection — for salvation. Sproul delivers his verdict (p. 4):
… if what the reformers were saying is that justification by faith alone is an essential truth of Christianity, who also argued that the substitutionary atonement is an essential truth of Christianity; if they’re correct in their assessment that those doctrines are essential truths of Christianity, the only conclusion we can come to is that Charles Finney was not a Christian. I read his writings — and I say, “I don’t see how any Christian person could write this.” And yet, he is in the Hall of Fame of Evangelical Christianity in America. He is the patron saint of twentieth-century Evangelicalism. And he is not semi-Pelagian; he is unvarnished in his Pelagianism.
Sproul anticipates that people will object to this assessment, saying that grace is necessary for sinful man’s regeneration and redemption. Then he posits — and this is important to consider (p. 4):
But it’s that little island of righteousness where man still has the ability, in and of himself, to turn, to change, to incline, to dispose, to embrace the offer of grace that reveals why historically semi-Pelagianism is not called semi-Augustinianism, but semi-Pelagianism. It never really escapes the core idea of the bondage of the soul, the captivity of the human heart to sin — that it’s not simply infected by a disease that may be fatal if left untreated, but it is mortal.
Sproul explores two semi-Pelagian stories often heard in certain churches. One concerns God throwing a drowning man a life preserver, making an exact hit to reach the man’s hands. Another is about the Almighty assisting a dying man in taking a curative medicine. In both instances, the two men are able to accept God’s help yet contribute their own ability to their rescues.
But, Sproul asks (p. 5), are these accurate and in line with conversion and salvation according to Scripture?
Now, if we’re going to use analogies, let’s be accurate. The man isn’t going under for the third time; he is stone cold dead at the bottom of the ocean. That’s where you once were when you were dead in sin and trespasses and walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air. And while you were dead hath God quickened you together with Christ. God dove to the bottom of the sea and took that drowned corpse and breathed into it the breath of his life and raised you from the dead. And it’s not that you were dying in a hospital bed of a certain illness, but rather, when you were born you were born D.O.A. That’s what the Bible says: that we are morally stillborn.
Sproul goes on to describe a conversation he had with a believer who objected to his theology of grace. Sproul asked him how he came to be a Christian when his friend did not. In the end, the man says:
OK! I’ll say it. I’m a Christian because I did the right thing, I made the right response, and my friend didn’t.
Astonished, Sproul concludes (p. 5):
What was this person trusting in for his salvation? Not in his works in general, but in the one work that he performed. And he was a Protestant, an evangelical. But his view of salvation was no different from the Roman view.
Today, we have theologians (e.g. N T Wright), clergy (even in older Protestant denominations) and laity claiming that we must play a part in our salvation via ‘good works’. Divine grace cannot truly help us, certainly not fully; we must play our part and do something.
This semi-Pelagianism, made popular in the 16th century by Jacob Arminius who sought to deny the doctrine of grace as a comfort for Christians — when it did precisely the opposite, causing them endless anxiety — is the prevailing theology in many churches. And, he says, this anxiety will not disappear until — and unless (p. 6):
we humble ourselves and understand that no man is an island and that no man has an island of righteousness, that we are utterly dependent upon the unmixed grace of God for our salvation …
A good site for exploring these two concepts further is John Hendryx’s excellent website Monergism. Hendryx has his own essays there as well as a marvellous library of classical Protestant essays on Christianity.
Many of today’s churches and denominations — including Catholic and Orthodox ones — are imbued with synergism. Synergism, simply expressed, is the belief that man must use his will in order to help effect his own regeneration. Grace plays only a part. Synergism also throws into question the person’s justification — salvation — by grace through faith. Because man must co-operate, churchgoers sometimes become concerned whether they are truly converted, born again and whether they will be saved. It is graceless. Synergism has no support in Scripture.
Monergism, on the other hand, is the belief that God grants us sinners to faith through His divine, merciful grace alone; we have no part in our conversion. The Holy Spirit then works through us to accomplish His will. Christ’s death and resurrection have the power to save; grace grants us faith in His enabling our salvation.
In his article ‘Monergism vs. Synergism’, Hendryx defines both concepts in detail. He also notes the rampant synergism in today’s churches.
He begins by asking the reader four questions about faith (emphases in the original):
To introduce you to this Scriptural doctrine let me begin by asking some questions that should help us begin to think about this issue: (1) What is man’s part and God’s part in the work of the new birth? (2) Why is it that one unregenerate person believes the gospel and not another? Does one make better use of God’s grace? (3) Apart from the grace of God, is there any fallen person who is naturally willing to submit in faith to the humbling terms of the gospel of Christ? (4) In light of God’s word, is our new birth in Christ an unconditional work of God’s mercy alone or does man cooperate in some way with God in the work of regeneration (making it conditional)? Your answer to these questions will reveal where you stand on this issue.
Hendryx rightly believes that synergism is weakening Christian practice and belief. His desire is for a return to monergism:
I hope to convince you of the deep importance of a biblical understanding of this issue to the health of our churches. This is because, for various reasons, a majority of modern evangelicals have abandoned the biblical position and thus thrown out the most important Scriptural truth that was recovered in the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
Grace plays a principal role in monergism. Synergism sees grace as helpful in conversion which is conditional on man’s co-operation: grace does some of the work, but man must do the rest. Synergism causes many Christians much needless worry with regard to assurance.
It is tragic that an unbiblical belief can cause people to fall away from the Church.
Of synergism, Hendryx writes (my emphases in purple):
In this system, then, grace is merely an offer or a help but does not do anything to change man’s heart of stone or natural hostility to God. This means that God will only look favorably upon and reward those natural men who are able to produce or contribute faith, independent of God’s inward gracious call or spiritual renewal. This is a subtle, but serious, error that is plaguing the church of the 21st century. It is a misapprehension of the biblical teaching concerning the depth of our fallen nature and the radical grace needed to restore us. This leads me to believe that one of the greatest challenges facing the church today is its re-evangelization. While many evangelicals may understand the doctrine of “sola fide” (faith alone), that we must place our faith in Christ to be saved, it seems many have abandoned the biblical concept of “sola gratia” (grace alone). The Synergistic Conception of “Sola Fide” therefore must, by definition, draw on nature to cooperate with God’s grace as the human fulfillment of a condition. Why do people believe this? I can only guess it is because by nature we want to maintain an island of righteousness, a last bastion of pride in thinking that he can still contribute something, be it ever so small, to our own salvation. It would involve great humility on our part to admit this. If the Church took more efforts to search the Scriptures and reform her doctrine on this point, I am convinced that a great deal of blessing would be restored and God would remove much of the current worldliness in our midst.
That ‘island of righteousness’ relates to the ‘divine spark’ concept.
Hendryx points out an important detail regarding our faith once regenerated:
Note, I would like to clear up a common confusion about regeneration and justification. Regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit which brings us into a living union with Christ, only refers to the first step in the work of God in our salvation. It is universally agreed among evangelicals, myself included, that the second step, faith in Christ, must be exercised by the sinner if one is to to be justified (saved). Therefore, justification is conditional (on our faith) … but our regeneration (or spiritual birth) is unconditional; an expression of God’s grace freely bestowed, for it is unconstrained and not merited by anything God sees in those who are its subjects. Regeneration and Justification, although occurring almost simultaneously are, therefore, not the same. Regeneration, has a causal priority over the other aspects of the process of salvation. The new birth (regeneration), therefore, is what brings about a restored disposition of heart which is then willing to exercise faith in Christ unto justification (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26) …
Don’t get me wrong: We certainly must respond in faith to Christ to be justified, but it is grace itself which enables us to be obedient to the gospel. This position alone strips the pride of man and gives glory to God alone for our new life.
There lies the desire for regular prayer, worship and Bible study to understand God’s purpose for us. When we doubt, we ask for more grace and more faith.
Once we are regenerated, the Holy Spirit begins working through us. Hendryx cites a number of Bible verses, among them the following:
“no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3);
“natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14);
“the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul“ (Acts 16:14b);
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27);
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. “But there are some of you who do not believe.” …65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (John 6:63-65).
That last passage is a particular favourite of mine: no one can come to Christ unless God grants it. However, that gracious grant can come at any time in our lives, especially if we are broken and at rock bottom. If you are unchurched yet reading Christian websites or the Bible, God may well be granting grace to you.
Hendryx then asks how many of us hear an expository sermon on any of the aforementioned verses or on the doctrine of grace as stated in monergistic theology:
How often do you hear your pastor use this kind of biblical language and do serious exegesis of such passages? The Scriptures are filled with such pictures of Christ’s work in our salvation, so why aren’t our churches? Are we afraid that it might offend our sensibilities? Our pride? So instead of a full-orbed gospel that comes from the whole counsel of Scripture we have traded it for a kind of half-gospel. We do this by pulling out verses which we like that have enough biblical truth to get our attention yet we avoid the equally important passages which expose our utter spiritual impotence apart from grace. The absence of such a prominent biblical concept from our pulpits may explain our both anemic lack of influence in our world and the horrifying reality that 80 to 90% of those “making a decision for Christ” fall away from the faith. This is not to say that we should only speak of such things, but the only faithful church is the one which teaches exegetically through every verse in the Bible, not only topically, as some are in the habit of …
This is why world missions are so critical since the unregenerate can only come to Christ through hearing the word of God (Romans 10:13-15) by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit … God works concurrently with His church through prayers and the proclamation of His word to bring home His elect from every “tribe and language and people and nation.”(Rev 5:8)
Then there is the confusion over manmade works versus gracious fruits of faith. Hendryx explains:
When man recognizes that even humility itself is a gift of grace then and only then it is evident that God is truly working grace in a man.
Hendryx realises some churchgoers will find monergism a shock:
At first, many people might fight against this idea because it goes against everything they have ever been taught at their church. But I would challenge you to question your presuppositions. Carefully and prayerfully read the Scripture references I have given you because this is important. Remember that the effects of the fall on the mind … will [have] rendered mankind wholly incapable and unwilling to come to God, where we would always reject Him if left to our own unregenerate nature. Being spiritually dead, the Scripture teaches that it is impossible for man to respond, no matter how attractive God is (1 Cor 2:14). Man’s nature and disposition must first be changed (made alive Eph 2:5, born again John 3:3). To say that we would ever come to God by our own choice without God first making this effectual is to underestimate the depth and totality of man’s fall. We were spiritually dead. Dead men will not respond to pleading and reasoning alone (ROM 8:7) but only when coupled with the effectual call of Jesus who raises him spiritually, as He did the physical Lazarus. Yes, we must command man to repent and believe and we thus proclaim the Gospel to him, but the Holy Spirit has to enable and efficaciously draw him through our preaching if he is to come willingly (John 6:37, John 6:44, John 6:64,65 Ezekiel 11:19-20).
Hendryx makes it clear he is not condemning those who ascribe to synergism, however, he does pray that:
all the Lord’s people would go back to the Scriptures to earnestly seek God’s will in this crucial matter.
He lists more resources at the end of his article and gives the link to his helpful chart contrasting synergism and monergism.
Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.
The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.
Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (sermons cited below).
Salt Without Taste Is Worthless
34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Some of those warnings featured in Forbidden Bible Verses, which is why I wonder if the clergy really want us to know what the Bible says. So often, the Lectionary for public worship omits many — although not all — meaty verses which describe the true nature of Christianity and God’s purpose, which Jesus discusses.
For new subscribers or those who have missed some of the past three chapters of Luke, the following are among those excluded from the Lectionary readings:
Luke 12:1-3 – Jesus, leaven of Pharisees, faith, disbelief, false teaching, hypocrisy, secrets
Luke 12:4-7 – Jesus, sparrows, Hell, God’s omniscience, fear of God
Luke 12:8-12 – Jesus, Holy Spirit, blasphemy, unbelief, persecution
Luke 12:22-31 – Jesus, anxiety, worry, material cares, temporal cares
Luke 12:41-48 – Jesus, parable, master and servant, punishment, condemnation
Luke 12:57-59 – Jesus, judgment, examination of conscience
Luke 13:10-17 – Jesus, miracle, healing, bent over woman, mercy, disabling spirit, Satan, hypocrisy, sin, repentance
Luke 13:18-21 – Jesus, parables, mustard seed, leaven, kingdom of heaven
Luke 14:2-6 – Jesus, miracle, man with dropsy, edema, Pharisees
Luke 14:15-24 – parable, Parable of the Great Banquet, Jesus
Fortunately, the Lectionary includes hard-hitting verses such as these (emphases mine):
Not Peace, but Division
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)
The Narrow Door
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
Lament over Jerusalem
31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 35Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Luke 13:31-35)
The Cost of Discipleship
25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33)
One cannot help but wonder what would happen if Jesus preached in our churches today. What would our reaction be? If He were to say any of the above, it is likely many in the congregation would complain of being offended and/or walk out. ‘Where’s all-loving, all-forgiving Jesus? I didn’t sign up to this!’ People would no doubt ring the local news outlets and send countless outraged tweets.
In The Cost of Discipleship — the last passage which immediately precedes today’s two verses — Jesus is saying that we mustn’t start what we cannot finish (the tower in verses 28-30). We also have to be prepared to lose our families, even our lives, if we follow Him.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a bolt-on extra in our lives.
Yet, over the past decade, Christians — Catholic and Protestant — have succumbed to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:
God and His Son have become divine fixers. We pay them heed only when we need something in our lives and often make outrageous promises such as, ‘O Lord, if only you sort out this crisis for me I promise to go to church every Sunday and honour You forever!’ Once pulled out of the mire, we quickly forget about what we promised. The Almighty goes back into our cupboard until the next time we need to call on His services.
We also have parents who decline to raise their children in the faith at home. ‘That’s why I’m sending them to a Christian school. That’s the teachers’ job, not mine.’
Above the laity, however, are the clergy. Evangelicals often come under fire for their conversion practices. Yet, longstanding denominations (e.g. Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic) get involved in making social justice pronouncements or run socio-political programmes and collections in their congregations. Marxist community organisers are connected with a number of urban Catholic parishes in large American cities. Senior Anglican clergy comment publicly on anything under the sun — Sharia, the finance industry and social justice — rather than the Gospel; anyone would think they were writing for The Guardian. Episcopal clergy embrace New Age practices and turn a blind eye to sinful practices. A few years ago Lutheran clergy in the ELCA banded together to promote the idea of climate change; yes, carrying a hessian (burlap) bag to the shops really will guarantee eternal salvation. Some more conservative Lutheran denominations in the United States have embraced an unbiblical quasi-universalism called Universal Objective Justification; congregants speaking out against this can find — and have found — themselves excommunicated. Left-leaning PCUSA has been making more public pronouncements against Israel than about the Gospel.
Then there are the seminaries. Most are an abomination. Anything goes. Let’s reinterpret Holy Scripture. All are saved. Jesus came to redress society’s problems. Jesus’s words support liberation theology. We should honour nature and Gaia. And so on.
All of these aberrations from laity and clergy blind us to the Gospel message, elaborated on in the Epistles.
Is it any wonder that Jesus warns that many who notionally serve in His name will not be admitted to God’s heavenly kingdom?
Then we have Church Growth programmes. All right, let’s look at how well Jesus’s ministry worked out with the spiritually blind and hard of heart. One of the most instructive chapters in the Gospels is John 6, which describes what happened after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The people return for another miracle. Jesus rebukes them for asking for another divine meal and explains that He is the bread they should be seeking:
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[a] the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59Jesus[b] said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
The Words of Eternal Life
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
Returning to Luke’s Gospel, this is why Jesus told people to weigh up the cost of following Him. Don’t do it if you cannot finish the course. Don’t be a fair-weather disciple.
When He says that the believer will ‘hate’ his family and his own life, He doesn’t mean ‘despise’ but to ‘love less’ or ‘prefer less’. This is what the ancient Jews understood by ‘hate’.
On the discipleship that Jesus desires, John MacArthur explains:
Discipleship has the highest cost. Our Lord made it clear. He never held it back. It’s one thing to tell people the gospel, it’s one thing to give the facts, but when you call people to come to Christ, this is where you have to take them. Are you willing to set aside all your past priorities relationally? …
He may take your possessions; He may not. But the point is it doesn’t matter to you because you understand the value of what you’re receiving and you are confessing Him as Lord. Anything less than that, Jesus said, you can’t be My disciple.
In today’s two verses, we read of salt. It can be confusing because few, if any, among us know of salt to lose its flavour. Why would Jesus mention salt?
MacArthur tells us that there was a type of salt which came from the Dead Sea which sometimes had gypsum in it. As such, it was worthless when harvested. However, there was no place to dispose of it:
What do you do with old salt? Well, I’ll tell you one thing, you don’t throw it in the garden. It’ll just kill everything there. They wouldn’t even throw it in a manure pile and that’s a compost heap. That salt is a problem because once it’s useless; it’s really useless … You are the salt of the earth…right? And He even said if salt loses its taste, then what’s its goodness? It has none. So what He’s saying is this. What I’m asking of you is this. Put the past aside, assess the present power and commit to Me for long-term loyalty in the future and I’ll use you for good. I’ll make you a preserving influence for righteousness. You will be the salt of the earth. That’s what He’s asking. Basically, He’s going to change the role you play in society. He’s going to change the role you play in this world. All of the sudden you’re going to be for preservation, for seasoning. Jesus is saying don’t start in letting Me use you unless you intend to be faithful. I’m asking for long-term saltiness. I’m asking for long-term loyalty. And if you are at all corrupted by some spiritual gypsum and you’re going to have a very short span, I’m not interested in those kinds of disciples.
This means that we might lose out on jobs (Christian institutions of higher education listed on a CV are the death knell in the UK), friends (in an increasingly secular, materialistic society), spouses (either potential or present for the same reason). If you want to know what following Jesus is like, come to the UK. Our secular society works on all sorts of misconceptions and incorrect assumptions. Yet, this is what Christians must be prepared for mentally. This is why Jesus says to make very sure you can stay the course.
Of course, there are tragic, extreme examples in the Middle East (Iraq) and Africa (Nigeria), ongoing as I write. Recently, Iraqi Christians had to pay extortionate sums of money in order to leave the country. Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by militant Muslim extremists a few months ago. This is what Jesus meant by being prepared to lose one’s possessions or even one’s life.
Christianity involves serious commitment. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t understand the Gospel. This is why belief in the scriptural doctrine of grace is so essential. It is that divine grace which sustains us.
Of the clergy’s saltiness, Matthew Henry had this to say in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Aberrant preachers existed then, too:
A professor of religion whose mind and manners are depraved is the most insipid animal that can be. If he speaks of the things of God, of which he has had some knowledge, it is so awkwardly that none are the better for it: it is a parable in the mouth of a fool ... Such scandalous professors ought to be cast out of the church, not only because they have forfeited all the honours and privileges of their church-membership, but because there is danger that others will be infected by them.
This is why we have church discipline. Casual Christians and unbelievers think it’s a cruel power-play by senior clergy. It isn’t. Apostate clergy distort their flock’s beliefs and could be sending them to hell in a handcart.
In closing, note Jesus’s last sentence. ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear‘ appears several times in the Gospels. He says this whenever He has an essential point to make. (A comparable expression is ‘Selah’, which features often in the Psalms.) It means to pay attention, listen carefully and heed the message.
Jesus wants our whole commitment for His and God’s purposes. Their kingdom, thankfully, is not of this world.
Next time: Luke 16:14-17
Yesterday’s post explained why I pray that all Christians come to a monergistic belief.
Today’s material comes from John Hendryx who founded and maintains the longstanding website Monergism. Monergism, which first went online in 2001, is packed with classical and more modern Christian resources on this biblical principle.
In 2012, Hendryx gave an interview to White Horse Inn. In it, he explains his own conversion, which came about when he was reading the Bible. At that time, he says (emphases in the original):
I was a 19-year old sophomore at the University of Colorado, Boulder deeply entrenched in New Age Occultism, which was essentially to a mixture of Hinduism, Tantric Buddhism, Occult practices, pseudo-Christianity and solipsism or the worship of the Self. It was partly drug induced and partly arrived at through deep periods of meditation and lots of metaphysical literature … Then one day while reading the Bible I came across Deuteronomy 18 which reads:
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this.”
This passage struck me right between the eyes. It instantly put the fear of the Lord in me because it revealed to me the inconsistency in my understanding of God.
As a result:
I was born in Christ knowing, from His own words, that salvation is of the Lord … all a work of God. It was the most radical paradigm shift possible. My understanding went from “I am God” to “I am not God” … from “I can save myself” to “only Jesus can save me”.
On his own site, he explains monergism (more at the link, emphases in purple are mine):
Monergism simply means that it is God who gives ears to hear and eyes to see. It is God alone who gives illumination and understanding of His word that we might believe; It is God who raises us from the dead, who circumcises the heart; unplugs our ears; It is God alone who can give us a new sense that we may, at last, have the moral capacity to behold His beauty and unsurpassed excellency. The apostle John recorded Jesus saying to Nicodemus that we naturally love darkness, hate the light and WILL NOT come into the light (John 3:19, 20). And since our hardened resistance to God is thus seated in our affections, only God, by His grace, can lovingly change, overcome and disarm our rebellious disposition. The natural man, apart from the quickening work of the Holy Spirit, will not come to Christ on his own since he is at enmity with God and cannot understand spiritual things …
Since faith is infinitely beyond all the power of our unregenerated human nature, it is only God who can give the spiritual ears to hear and eyes to see the beauty of Christ in the gospel. God alone disarms the hostility of the sinner turning his heart of stone to a heart of flesh. So the problem of conversion is not with the Word or God’s Law but with man’s prideful heart. The humility required to submit to the gospel (which is beyond man’s natural capacity) is, therefore, not prompted by man’s will but by God’s mercy (John 1:13; Rom 9:16) since no one can believe the gospel unless God grants it (John 6:63, 65). The Spirit must likewise give all His people spiritual life and understanding if their hearts are to be opened and thus respond to Christ in faith …
The word “monergism” consists of two main parts. The Greek prefix “mono” signifies “one”, “single”, or “alone” while the suffix “ergon” means “to work”. Taken together it means “the work of one” …
We are all sinners and can boast in nothing before God, including the desire for faith in Christ (Phil 1:29, Eph 2:8, 2 Tim 2:25). For why do we have faith and not our neighbor? Please consider that. Did we make better use of God’s grace than he did? Were we smarter? More sensitive? Do some naturally love God? The answer is ‘no’ to all of the above. It is God’s grace in Christ that makes us to differ from our neighbor and God’s grace alone that gave rise to our faith, not because we were better or had more insight. No other element but Jesus['s] mercy alone.
Hendryx’s article, ‘The Work of the Trinity in Monergism’ has more. In short:
God the Father made a pretemporal covenant with the Eternal Son (Psalm 110; John 6:38, 17:2; Eph 1:3, 4; Heb. 6:16-17; Heb 10:5) to enter into human history and redeem a people for Himself through His blood. Among the redemptive blessings that flow from the finished work of the cross are the effectually calling and supernaturally drawing of those same people to Himself (John 6:37, 44, 63-65; 15:16, Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4). Christ himself was chosen to be our Savior before the creation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20; Ephesians 1:4) and accomplishes this for His people in last times by taking on their flesh, fulfilling the demands of the law for them in His life, death and physical resurrection. Through human means of preaching the gospel, the Holy Spirit applies the life-giving work of the Son to the same by raising them from spiritual death, opening their blind eyes, unplugging their deaf ears, disarming their natural hostility and granting them new spiritual affections which see the truth, beauty and excellency of Christ (Ezek 36:26; Rom 10:17; 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:3; 2 Cor 4:13; Eph 6:23; Phil 1:29; 1 Thess 2:13; Heb 12:2). He then counts the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto those united to Him by the Holy Spirit through faith …
Monergistic regeneration is a redemptive blessing purchased by Christ for those the Father has given Him (1 Pet 1:3, John 6:37, 39). This grace works independently of any human cooperation and conveys that power into the fallen soul whereby the person who is to be saved is effectually enabled to respond to the gospel call (Acts 2:39, 1 Cor 1:2, 9, 24, Rom 8:30 John 1:13, Acts 13:48). It is that supernatural power of God alone whereby we are granted the spiritual ability and desire to comply with the conditions of the covenant of grace; that is, to apprehend the Redeemer by a living faith, to come up to the terms of salvation, to repent of idols and to love God and the Mediator supremely. The Holy Spirit, in quickening the fallen soul, mercifully illumines the mind and renews the heart, giving God’s elect the capacity and inclination to exercise faith in Jesus Christ (John 6:44, 1 John 5:1). This instantaneous and intensely personal work of God is the means by which the Spirit brings us into living union with Him.
Hendryx’s chart in ‘Two Views of Regeration’ clearly explains the difference between monergism and synergism. In short, synergism says that man has the ability — and obligation — to help effect his own salvation. Some denominations believe that man has the will to initiate the conversion process and to ‘work’ towards salvation. The altar call, for example, is a synergistic practice.
The chart is divided into three categories and is well worth reading in full. Excerpts follow by category.
Cause of Regeneration
Synergism: God and Man work together to produce the new birth. God’s grace takes us part of the way to salvation, man’s unregenerate will must determine the final outcome. In other words belief in Christ gives rise to the new birth.
Monergism: God, the Holy Spirit, alone produces regeneration with no contribution from the sinner (A work of God). The new birth is never spoke of in the imperative (not commanded), rather man must be born again by God.
Synergism: God is eagerly awaiting the sinner’s will.
Monergism: God effectually enables the sinner’s will.
View of Humanity
Synergism: Those fallen men who are saved, either created a right thought, generated a right affection, or originated a right volition that led to their salvation while some others did not have the natural wherewithal to come up with the faith that God required of them to obtain salvation. Therefore salvation is dependent on some virtue or capacity God sees in certain men. Not Jesus alone, but Jesus PLUS…
Monergism: No Fallen man will create a right thought, generate a right affection, or originate a right volition that will lead to his salvation. We would never believe unless the Holy Spirit came in and disarmed our hostility to God. Therefore salvation is dependent on God’s good pleasure alone (Eph 1:4, 5, 11), not some virtue or goodwill He sees in us.
Synergism: Man’s nature & affections do not determine or give rise to their choices. Even without the Holy Spirit working change in his heart, the sinner can still make a saving decision to believe the gospel. In this scheme God gives enough grace to place man in a neutral position which can swing either for or against Jesus. (An act of chance?)
Monergism: Man’s nature determines his desires/affections and give rise to the choices he makes. Jesus bears witness to this: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” Luke 6:43 Only Christ can “make a tree good and its fruit will be good.” (Also see John 8:34, 42-44; 2 Pet. 2:19).
View of the Gospel
Synergism: Sinners have the key in their hands. Man’s will determines whether or not Christ’s death is efficacious.
Monergism: God has the key in his hand. God’s eternal counsel determines to whom the benefits of the atonement apply.
Synergism: With Man’s will salvation is possible.
Monergism: With man’s will salvation (repentance and faith) is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matt 19:26; Rom 9:16; John 6:64,65) “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John 3:6.
God’s grace, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the Cross work through us to draw us closer to them, become spiritually fruitful and bring us to everlasting life. Through divine grace, we intrinsically want to serve Christ.
This regenerative grace comes at different times to different people. Some receive it as children, others as adults and still others in the sunset of their lives. This grace sustains us through our trials and struggles, both temporal and spiritual.
The scriptural fact that divine, merciful grace — rather than our own efforts — brings about salvation comes as a relief to many believers. May it be so for all of us.
Over the past week, my posts have addressed doubt, assurance and grace:
Grace in a Pauline context (refuting the ‘divine spark’ error)
The doctrine of grace is essential for the true Christian. John MacArthur defines grace as follows (emphases mine below):
the free and benevolent influence of a holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners.
The doctrine of grace is monergistic. That means that we can do nothing to effect our salvation; only divine grace can bring us to faith and salvation.
However, a number of Protestant denominations — as well as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches — teach synergism, which says that sinful man must work with God’s grace in order to be saved.
Synergism is the opposite of monergism and is unbiblical.
An article from Got Questions Ministries, ‘Monergism vs Synergism’, gives a good explanation of synergism in Protestant denominations. It concludes:
… the weight of the logical evidence and the weight of the biblical evidence supports the monergistic view of salvation—God is the author and perfector of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2). He who began a good work in us will perfect it on the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Monergism not only has a profound impact on how one views salvation, but on evangelism as well. If salvation is solely based on God’s saving grace, then there is no room for us to boast, and all the glory goes to Him (Ephesians 2:8-9) … Monergism equals greater glory to God!
Monergism also gives the believer assurance of salvation. Although we will spend the rest of our lives battling sin, God’s grace will regenerate us and lead us along the path to sanctification, during which — as a matter of course, not coercion — we will produce the fruits of our faith, evidenced in adoration of Him and goodness towards others.
Simply put, the main inner characteristic of faith and sanctification coming to us through divine grace is desiring God. (Incidentally, ‘Desiring God’ is the name of Baptist minister and author John Piper’s website.)
It’s a powerful combination of words. We have assurance when, above all else, we desire God via a belief in Christ Jesus.
The monergist asks for — and receives — God’s grace to work through him for His greater glory.
On the other hand, the synergist thinks, erroneously, that he has a tick-list of works to do — as if God’s grace does only half the job. Synergism is works-based salvation, which goes against Holy Scripture. It is semi-Pelagian, theologically erroneous. Pelagianism is a heresy.
The Revd Bob DeWaay — one of the pastors at Gospel of Grace Fellowship in Edina, Minnesota, and founder of Critical Issues Commentary, an online discernment ministry — has made that journey from synergism to monergism.
I excerpted his experiences in one of my posts on pietism: ‘Pietism in America today: the Emergents and the Purpose Driven Church’.
One of the reasons that people are confused or turned off by Christianity is the error which so many denominations and independent churches display. This goes back centuries — from the pre-Reformation Church, to the first European pietists and then to the rest of the world. My post explains the journey. Unfortunately, synergism is alive and well today.
What follows are but a small taster of DeWaay’s own experience as detailed therein:
My journey into the “deeper life” oftentimes involved embracing contradictory teachings. For example, two of my favorite teachers in the early 1970’s were Watchman Nee and Kenneth Hagin. One taught a deeper Christian life through suffering) and the other taught a higher order Christianity that could cause one to be free from bodily ailments and poverty.The hook was that both claimed to have the secret to becoming an extraordinary Christian. I found out that they didn’t ...
By God’s grace I went back to the Bible and determined to merely teach verse by verse from that point on. It took another five or six years to rid myself of the various errors I had embraced and then I taught Romans in 1986. Through that study I came to appreciate the doctrines of grace. That understanding opened my thinking and was the turning point for my ministry. I also came to realize that the wrong-thinking that attracted me to pietism was that I held to a theology based on human ability rather than grace alone. Once I grasped that, I never looked back …
Pietism can be practiced many ways including enforced solitude, asceticism of various forms, man made religious practices, legalism, submission to human authorities who claim special status, and many other practices and teachings …
Such teachings lead to elitism and comparing ourselves to others. The Bible tells us not to do that. Paul stated that these practices “are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
DeWaay is describing his former pietistic Christian life in synergism. Once he began reading the Bible, he embraced monergism.
I had a similar experience, although in a less legalistic and non-pietistic denomination. Until I became an Anglican, I had continual nagging doubt that I was never doing enough to help effect my salvation. I felt I had to show willing and do something.
It was only a few years ago, shortly before starting this blog, that I began reading about the doctrine of grace on monergistic sites. The doctrine of grace opened my eyes. Like DeWaay, I never looked back.
It is spiritually liberating to know that, in spite of my many sins, God gives me the grace to desire a closer relationship with our Lord and embrace the lifelong journey of sanctification. I know He will be with me every moment of that journey. I can accomplish nothing without His grace.
It is my prayer that every enquirer and believer embraces monergism. Reading the Bible, as DeWaay discovered many years ago, points the way to a belief in the five Solas: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory to God Alone).
By the way, Bob DeWaay is now recovering from a serious illness which temporarily interrupted his ministry for a few years. His daughter Jessica’s blog has more here and here. His recovery has been remarkable. It is indeed a great blessing that he has been able to return to the pulpit and his website.
Today’s entry looks at the rest of his essay “Grace,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 2 (Chicago: Howard-Severance Co., 1930), pp. 1290-92.
He begins by pointing out the various connotations of the Greek word charis, which translates in English as ‘grace’. St Luke wrote his Gospel in Greek, hence, the word’s appearance early on. However, as Easton says, its precise meaning is difficult to pin down. It can mean gracefulness, loveliness, favour, joy, gratitude and thanks, depending on the context:
in both Biblical and secular Greek it is used with far more meanings than can be represented by any one term in English.
Easton then examines the connection of grace with power — in a New Testament context, a dynamic and blessed gift of the Holy Spirit which God bestows on us (emphases mine):
A favorable “thought” of God’s about a man involves of necessity the reception of some blessing by that man, and “to look with favor” is one of the commonest Biblical paraphrases for “bestow a blessing.” Between “God’s favor” and “God’s favors” there exists a relation of active power, and as charis denoted both the favor and the favors, it was the natural word for the power that connected them. This use is very clear in 1 Corinthians 15:10, where Paul says, “not I, but the grace of God which was with me” labored more abundantly than they all: grace is something that labors. So in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness”; compare 2 Timothy 2:1, “strengthened in the grace,” and 1 Peter 4:10, “stewards of the manifold grace.” Evidently in this sense “grace” is almost a synonym for the Spirit, and there is little real difference between “full of the Holy Spirit” and “full of grace and power” in Acts 6:5,8, while there is a very striking parallel between Ephesians 4:7-13 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, with “gifts of grace” in the one passage, and “gifts of the Spirit” in the other. And this connection between grace and the Spirit is found definitely in the formula “Spirit of grace” in Hebrews 10:29 (compare Zechariah 12:10). And, as is well known, it is from this sense of the word that the Catholic doctrine of grace developed.
He adds that in a New Testament context grace has no connection with good works, although our justification by grace through faith helps us sinful believers grow in holiness:
… the word has abundant use in secular Greek in the sense of unmerited favor, and St. Paul seized on this meaning of the word to express a fundamental characteristic of Christianity. The basic passage is Romans 11:5-6, where a definition is given, “If it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” The fact that the word is used in other senses could have caused no first-century reader to miss the meaning, which, indeed, is unmistakable. “Grace” in this sense is an attitude on God’s part that proceeds entirely from within Himself, and that is conditioned in no way by anything in the objects of His favor. So in Romans 4:4. If salvation is given on the basis of what a man has done, then salvation is given by God as the payment of a debt. But when faith is reckoned for what it is not, i.e. righteousness, there is no claim on man’s part, and he receives as a pure gift something that he has not earned. (It is quite true that faith involves moral effort, and so may be thought of as a sort of a “work”; it is quite true that faith does something as a preparation for receiving God’s further gifts. But it simply clouds the exegetical issue to bring in these ideas here, as they certainly were not present in Paul’s mind when the verses were being written.)
Easton goes on to explain how even St Paul uses the word charis — grace — in varying contexts, although all ultimately point to
entire dependence on God. So charis, “grace,” becomes almost an equivalent for “Christianity,” viewed as the religion of dependence on God through Christ. As one may think of entering Christianity, abiding in it, or falling from it, so one may speak of entering into (Romans 5:2), abiding in (Acts 13:43), or falling from (Galatians 5:4) grace; cf. 1 Peter 5:12. So the teaching of Christianity may be summed up as the word or gospel of grace (Acts 14:3; 20:24,32). So “grace be with you” closes the Epistles as a sufficient summary of all the blessings that can be wished Christian readers.
Although our Lord did not use the word ‘grace’ itself, partly because He spoke in Aramaic, Easton says that He taught the same principles:
That the pardon of sins is a free act on God’s part may be described as an essential in Christ’s teaching, and the lesson is taught in all manner of ways. The prodigal knowing only his own wretchedness (Luke 15:20), the publican without merit to urge (Luke 18:13), the sick who need a physician (Mark 2:17), they who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6), these are the ones for whom God’s pardon is inexhaustible. And positive blessings, be they temporal or spiritual, are to be looked for from God, with perfect trust in Him who clothes the lilies and knows how to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11; here Luke 11:13 has “Holy Spirit” for “gifts,” doubtless a Lukan interpretation, but certainly a correct one). Indeed, it is not too much to say that Christ knows but one unpardonable sin, the sin of spiritual self-satisfaction—“That which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15; compare Luke 17:7-10; Matthew 20:1-16).
Going back to the Old Testament, whilst it is based on God’s chosen people following His laws, even then, Easton tells us that unmerited blessings and forgiveness were present. His people had Him to thank for the law, His promise of a Messiah and His mercy towards them after abominable sin:
The gift to Abraham of the land of Canaan, liberation from Egypt, food in the wilderness, salvation from enemies, deliverance from exile—all of Israel’s history can be felt to be the record of what God did for His people through no duty or compulsion, grateful thanksgiving for such unmerited blessings filling, for instance, much of the Psalter. The hearts of men are in God’s keeping, to receive from Him the impulse toward what is right (1 Chronicles 29:18, etc.). And the promise is made that the God who has manifested Himself as a forgiving Father will in due time take hold of His children to work in them actual righteousness (Isaiah 1:26; 4:3-4; 32:1-8; 33:24; Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:25-26; Zechariah 8; Daniel 9:24; Psalms 51:10-12). With this promise—for the Old Testament always a matter of the future—the Old Testament teaching passes into that of the New Testament.
Therefore, we see that the notion of grace, even when not expressed as such, runs throughout the Bible.
But, how did we get from charis to grace in our Bible translations? The Churchmen’s Monthly Magazine (vol. 1, no. 10, October 1804, pp. 151-152) tells us:
The word grace is formed from the Latin gratia, in which language, after the Romans became Christians, it was used among other significations, to denote the ordinary inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
The article goes on to say that the Romans brought Christianity to what is now Great Britain. Their Latin gratia translates as ‘grace’. Whilst Saxon words existed for the concepts of favour and good will, no word expressed this divine — and very Christian — quality as well as did gratia. Hence we have the word ‘grace’.
Continuing on the subject of grace, the Episcopalian theologian and professor Burton Scott Easton (1877-1950) was an internationally renowned Bible scholar and author of several books about the New Testament.
Tomorrow’s post looks at his essay concerning how grace is defined throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
However, it is his summary which struck me, especially for one point made concerning grace and refuting ‘the divine spark’ of some branches of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
By way of illustration, Easton takes for his texts two passages from St Paul’s epistles. The first is 2 Corinthians 12:9:
9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The second is Romans 3:24. I have included the preceding verse to place it in context:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Easton readily acknowledges that certain Protestant denominations reduce the notion of grace to favour ‘as an attitude’.
However, it is, he says, ‘equally disastrous’ to go too far the other way, i.e. with the ‘divine spark’ error. He explains (emphases mine):
Roman scholars, starting with the meaning of the word in (say) 2 Corinthians 12:9, have made Romans 3:24 state that men are justified by the infusion of Divine holiness into them, an interpretation that utterly ruins Paul’s argument.
A rigid definition is hardly possible, but still a single conception is actually present in almost every case where “grace” is found—the conception that all a Christian has or is, is centered exclusively in God and Christ, and depends utterly on God through Christ. The kingdom of heaven is reserved for those who become as little children, for those who look to their Father in loving confidence for every benefit, whether it be for the pardon so freely given, or for the strength that comes from Him who works in them both to will and to do.
Three quotes from other theologians who refute the ‘divine spark’ error follow:
We have gradually come to speak of grace as an inherent quality in man, just as we talk of gifts; whereas it is in reality the communication of Divine goodness by the inworking of the Spirit, and through the medium of Him who is ‘full of grace and truth.’— Robert Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1871), p. 179.
Against a still common view it must be stated that in Paul χαρις does not mean primarily a divine attribute (Wobbe, Charis-Gedanke, 32). It does not mean, in good Greek fashion, God’s graciousness, nor concretely his free love (Taylor). It almost always means the power of salvation which finds expression in specific gifts, acts, and spheres ... —Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, trans. G. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 14.
While we sometimes speak of grace as an inherent quality, it is in reality the active communication of divine blessings by the inworking of the Holy Spirit, out of the fulness of Him who is “full of grace and truth,” Rom. 3:24; 5:2, 15; 17:20; 6:1; I Cor. 1:4; II Cor. 6:1; 8:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:5, 8; 3:7; I Pet. 3:7; 5:12. — Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1949), pp. 426-27.
For those who missed them, these are my other recent posts on grace:
Yesterday’s post featured John MacArthur’s definition of God’s saving grace.
Another resource can be found on Bible.org: ‘Saved by Grace’.
Although it resonated with me a bit less than MacArthur’s explanation, it has several valid points about the role of grace in the Christian life.
It begins by noting that all the world’s religions, including false interpretations of Christianity, rely on man’s ‘good works’.
However, churches and denominations which adhere to a biblically faithful interpretation of grace believe that God accomplishes 100% of our good works through us. We have no power over them.
The grace of God:
is so simple, yet so profound that it is beyond the greatest minds to fully understand. It stands in opposition to the ideas that most of us have about earning our way in the world, about people getting what they deserve, about “fairness,” and about the independence of human beings.
The Bible.org article goes on to say:
The Doctrine of Grace teaches that we are totally unable to save ourselves, to help in our salvation, to do anything to merit all or any part of our salvation, or to keep our salvation. We are saved totally as an act of God’s will, and we do not deserve it in any way. Indeed, those that are saved are equally (if not more) deserving of Hell as those who actually go there! This is the most important first principle in understanding Grace–no one in the entire human race deserves any consideration from God, we are all rebels and sinners, and we all deserve Hell. Except for His own redemption plan, God could rightfully have sent the entire human race to eternal punishment long ago!
And Genesis 6:5-8 tells us in the story of Noah — the biblical account, not the film — that God was so troubled by the rampant sins of the day that He created a flood to wipe out humanity and the animal kingdom. Only Noah, his family and the various pairs of animals on the ark were saved. After the flood waters had subsided, He made a covenant with Noah and future generations until the end of time, the sign of which is the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-16). God told Noah that the rainbow is a divine reminder that He will never again use a flood to destroy all human and animal life.
Enquirers to the faith might wonder how believers could be more deserving of Hell than themselves. Luke 12:41-48 records Jesus’s words on the subject by way of a parable (emphases mine):
41Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
The reasons the Bible.org resonated less with me than John MacArthur’s are twofold. First, the former’s stating that God treats us as a father does his children. People whose own fathers abandoned or abused them will hardly find that comforting. (To them, I recommend ‘God isn’t your dad’.) Second, MacArthur’s definition of grace is better than Bible.org’s preference for the standard GRACE acronym which he (MacArthur) says doesn’t go far enough.
This is MacArthur’s definition of grace:
the free and benevolent influence of a holy God operating sovereignly in the lives of undeserving sinners.
God’s ultimate demonstration of His love and mercy was sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to live among us and die for our sins on the Cross. That means that our sins are paid in full — past, present and future.
Christ gave us the Supper or Communion — His body and blood — by way of remembrance. It is our most tangible means of grace. (This is one of the two sacraments — Baptism being the other — that Protestant denominations observe.) After He ascended to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to His followers on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit infused them — and us — with spiritual gifts, such as wisdom, discernment, fortitude and piety, meant to bring us to everlasting life in God’s heavenly kingdom.
The Bible.org article has a number of helpful New Testament passages which explain God’s grace.
Two of them are from St Paul’s epistle — letter — to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:1-3 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 sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (NIV)
Ephesians 2:4-10 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 not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)
Returning to Christ’s payment for our sins on the Cross, if we truly believe in Him, we should have no anxieties or doubts about our salvation. The more we study and come to understand Scripture, the more grace — and forgiveness — mean to us. If we find ourselves falling short on this front, we would do well to pray for more grace and more faith: ‘I believe, help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24).
Bible.org has a helpful exercise for those who are anxious about their own salvation or for those who would like a concrete illustration of grace. This is also useful for young people. This ‘Eternal Account’ comes at the end of their article with the following instructions:
The illustration below shows a ledger, an account book. In order for you to understand the principle, do the following things:
1. Write your name by the words “Account Holder.”
2. Using a black or blue pen, under the column labeled “Sins on Account,” write some of your known sins–don’t be bashful, put several in. Then imagine how many pages the real account is!
3. You can’t put anything in the column that says “Good Works Done,” because you have none (Isa. 64:6).
4. Now take a different pen–a bright RED one, and across the “Sins on Account” column, write in large letters, “Paid for by Christ’s Blood!”
5. Under the “Good Works Done” column, write again in RED, “Supplied by the Righteousness of Christ.”
The doctrine of grace is an essential concept of Christianity and should calm the anxious or doubtful among us. It truly is, as John MacArthur says, the good news of the Gospel!