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Purpose of the Teachers of Prayer Fellowship

  • To encourage ourselves in the teaching of life’s greatest privilege -- prayer.
  • To promote the teaching of prayer in Churches, Bible Colleges, and Seminaries.
  • To identify and encourage production of literature for the purpose of teaching prayer.
  • To provide resource material for leaders of prayer meetings.
  • To train those desiring to be leaders of prayer meetings.
  • All for the increase of the quantity and quality of prayer in the lives of God’s people.

We have the “theological” society the “missiological” society the “homiletics” society and on goes the list. But, prayer has been neglected needs. It needs to be taught as the indispensable foundation to every Christian discipline. So, it seems appropriate to have a society for those concerned about the teaching and experiencing of prayer. Our Lord, John the Baptist and Paul were teachers of prayer and so should we teach, lead, and exhort others to pray.

Prayer and ministry of the Word of God should be the main areas of local church ministry and are the chief ways in which the Holy Spirit works. We believe that prayer is under valued, insufficiently practiced and minimally taught in our Christian experience today. Prayer is all the more important when we realize how it supports preaching of the Word, evangelism, missions and all other Christian endeavor.

As a society, or fellowship, promoting the teaching of prayer in our churches, colleges and seminaries we hope to increase the understanding of our responsibility to pray and it’s role in the advancement of the kingdom of God.

Teachers of Prayer Fellowship is an informal association of those who have an interest in motivating believers in practicing prayer in their daily lives of. This includes teachers in the academic world and ministers and lay people in the church world. If you have material that you would like to share with others concerning the teaching and promoting of prayer you may e-mail us copies of the material and it will be considered for inclusion on this web site.

For more information contact: Bob Hill


Discipleship and Spiritual Transformation Alliance, Bob Howey

Spiritual Formation Forum, Dick Averbeck

Spiritual Formation Study Group, John Coe

LifeWay, John Franklin

Moody Publishers, Bob Hill

North American Mission Board, Chris Schofield


It can easily be shown that all want of success, and all failure in the spiritual life and in Christian work, is due to defective or insufficient prayer.
The Kneeling Christian

No form of Christian service is both so universally open to all and so high in Christ’s priority for all Christians as prevailing prayer.
Mighty Prevailing Prayer
, Wesley Duewel

Prayer is a sacred and appointed means to obtain all the blessings that we want, whether they relate to this life or the life to come. Shall we not know how to use the means God has appointed for our own happiness?
A Guide to Prayer,
Isaac Watts, 170

Prayer does not equip us for greater works–prayer is the greater work.
Oswald Chambers

Without its biblical principles being taught, prayer is unstable. Without our “catching” the principles by applying them to our lives, it is sterile.
The Arena of Prayer
, Ben Jennings

Teachers of Prayer Fellowship

Dick Averbeck

    Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Spiritual Formation Forum
    Richard Averbeck [email protected]

Joel Beeke

John Coe

    Talbot School of Theology, The Institute for Spiritual Formation,
    ETS Spiritual Formation Study Group
    John Coe [email protected]>

Thomas Constable

Dan Crawford

John Franklin

Norman Goos

Perry Hancock

Bob Hill

David Livingston

Roger Peugh

Bruce A. Pickell

Oliver Price

Jim Rosscup

Chris Schofield

Aida Spencer

William Spencer

Janice Strength

Judy TenElshof

David Talley

Tony Twist

Don Whitney

James Wilhoit

Michael J. Wilkins

Wallace Williams

Related Topics: Prayer

Some Thoughts on Lordship Salvation

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Originally delivered November 1990 at Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meetings in Kansas City, MO

The debate over Lordship salvation that has come to the fore again in recent years has raised anew theological issues that are as old as the Reformation and simply refuse to die. What is the nature of salvation? How is it appropriated? What is the evidence of the fact that salvation has come to the individual? How can the individual know that he is in fact saved? While there are many lenses through which these issues may be viewed, I focus in this paper upon the Reformers’ emphasis: justification by faith alone.

The most visible players in the current debate are Zane Hodges, former professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, and Dr. John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Church, Sun Valley, California and President of Master’s Seminary. Their two most prominent works on the subject, Absolutely Free and The Gospel According to Jesus, respectively, set the parameters of the present debate. As I read these works I have a great sense of disquiet by positions espoused by each side of the debate.

As this debate has developed the positions have become polarized, each side has hardened its rhetoric and turned a deaf ear to the concerns of the other position. Both have been guilty in greater or lesser degree of accusing the other position of heresy, and including in that charge individuals whose perspective is not that of either party, but who are uncomfortable with the way the debate is framed. In a very real sense as the debate has polarized, the center has collapsed, as far as the discussion is concerned.

Lordship teaching legitimately addresses a genuine problem in the evangelical community. However, in articulating the problem, rhetoric has been adopted and arguments have been so framed that the message which is being communicated so stridently overstates the case that true and regenerate but sensitive children of God are having grave doubts concerning their own salvation. The pastoral consequences of Lordship teaching are profound. A pastor in the Bay Area recently told me he has never had to counsel parishioners concerning the teaching of Professor Hodges, but has been besieged as a result of Dr. MacArthur’s teaching.

The Free Grace teaching emphasizes, legitimately, that assurance of salvation is clearly taught in the Scriptures. But in so doing these teachers have reduced faith to something less than the full orbed biblical teaching, and bifurcated justification and sanctification so as to lay the theological basis of antinomianism.

As the title of this paper indicates, my purpose is not to give a detailed exegetical or theological analysis of these two positions. Rather I intend to (1) look at the concerns of each position, (2) examine some of the theological substructure upon which pronouncements are based and (3) focus upon key elements which I believe have gotten lost in the debate. Additionally I attempt to give some historical perspective to the issues in this discussion.

In a very real sense each side has latched onto a different aspect of salvation, and is holding tightly to that emphasis, but in the process has let go of another equally important emphasis. Further, I believe both sides have abandoned key biblical and Reformation emphases at vital points. Professor Hodges has latched onto the issue of grace and the free offer of salvation as a gift simply to be received by faith. Any talk of works even in a post-conversion regenerate state smacks of a mixing of faith and works and ultimately of a compromise of the free offer of salvation, a compromise which sows the seeds of doubt and uncertainty of one’s eternal state. Dr. MacArthur has looked at the level of sanctification in the professing evangelical church and rightly concluded that something is desperately wrong. While millions claim to have been “born again” those whose lives are characterized by a spiritual maturity are few and far between. Coupling this phenomenon with the biblical teaching that if one is regenerate by the Holy Spirit his life will give evidence of his profession, he has concluded that many (most?) professing believers are not in fact regenerate. In a very real sense, I would argue, both sides are right in what they assert and wrong in what they deny!

Zane Hodges and Free Grace Teaching

Hodges argues that the gospel is a free gift offered without condition or precondition to those who will simply stretch out the empty hands of faith and receive it. Once one exercises faith, he is secure forever in his possession of that gift, even should he cease to believe. He presses the gift metaphor to the extreme, and as a gift received does not necessarily affect the being of the recipient, neither does the gift of salvation. Salvation is seen as a legal transaction, a judicial pronouncement, extrinsic to the life experience of the individual. Hodges speaks of regeneration, justification and other aspects of salvation to which the Scriptures testify, but these are not vitally related to the life experience of the believer on an existential level. Particularly he does not focus upon the supernatural character of regeneration nor on the reality of regeneration by the Holy Spirit which Scripture emphatically asserts takes place at salvation.

I have numerous problems with Hodges’ position as he develops it. First, Hodges is responding to a caricature of a position rather than fully grasping what the Lordship position is saying, due in part to his own presuppositions. He hears the Lordship position insisting on the necessity of good works and interprets this as making works a condition of salvation.1 I believe he has rightly put his finger upon a real problem in the articulation of the Lordship position, but he has wrongly diagnosed the problem (based upon what I believe is a faulty understanding of the nature of salvation) and is thus, in part, attacking a straw man. He has rightly heard assurance of salvation questioned, but he has wrongly and unbiblically posited a bifurcation between justification and sanctification to ensure certainty of the individual’s possession of salvation. Next, he sees faith as arising from within the individual, not as a gift arising from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual.2 With such an understanding it is easy to see how Hodges can assert that one can cease to believe and why assurance must be placed totally outside of the individual experience. A third problem, tied closely to the second is that salvation is seen as a bare legal transaction extrinsic to the experience of the individual. J. Gresham Machen has observed that when “the vital aspect of salvation is … separated from the forensic aspect, the consequences are serious indeed; what really happens is that the whole ethical character of Christianity is endangered or destroyed.”3 Professor Hodges is a mature, godly man, but his system pours the theological foundation for practical antinomianism.

In Hodges and in those who follow him there is an explicit disavowal of the concept of the witness of the Spirit in the life of the believer,4 as well as a decidedly “anti-mystic” tendency which, in effect, strips the Christian life of its relational qualities in order to raise the authority of the Scripture as that to which the individual can cling for assurance. The next problem is in fact the greatest, that is the reduction of faith to something close to bare mental assent. Dr. S. Lewis Johnson Jr. has noted that Hodges, “never carefully defines faith.”5 However, in his discussions of faith, his working definition seems often to have reference to assensus and possibly notitia but without fiducia, an assent to facts rather than a trust in a person. For example, he states of the woman at the well that she “received this saving truth in faith.”6 As his position is worked out he insists that faith can exist without commitment.7 If pressed, there is a danger of reducing salvation to a kind of magical incantation, or an ex opere operato whereby, for example, the individual repeats the prayer at the end of the Four Laws, with the barest assent to the gospel, and then is eternally saved, assured by the promises in the Scripture.

The Quest for Certainty of Assurance

A further problem I see in the “free grace” position revolves around the desire for absolute certainty that an individual possesses salvation. Dr. Bob Wilkin, in his paper “Assurance: That You May Know,”8 presented last year in New Orleans, repeatedly tries to demonstrate that a believer can have “100% certainty” that he is saved, without any doubt. This is also a key concern of Hodges. This is, I believe, the “burr under the saddle” of the free grace position. In this concern one hears the echoes of Calvin who states that faith “requires full and fixed certainty, such as men are wont to have from things experienced and proved,”9 While Wilkin and Hodges reflect the Reformers’ perspective that assurance of salvation is the birthright of believers, and is of the essence of faith, the concept of certainty and assurance adopted at least, by Wilkin, is not realistic. Seeing all certainty as of the same type, he indicates that the level of assurance which the believer may have is akin to the certainty he may have that 2+2=4, mathematical certainty, or the certainty that the sun is shining. That certainty is based on the objective testimony of the Word of God. He bases this position on texts such as 1 John 5:11-13.10 Such a view is at best, I believe, simplistic. Certainty falls into several categories. (1) Mathematical certainty: In the abstract theoretical and ideal world, we can know things with absolute certainty. There are no contingencies to qualify a reality, thus, there can be certain knowledge in the truest sense. (2) Empirical certainty: This is demonstrated by the scientific method in the real world, as opposed to the ideal world of mathematics. (3) Legal certainty: This involves proof by evidence, given by witnesses. It, however, admits the possibility of error depending upon the truthfulness and credibility of the witnesses. (4) Moral certainty: This is the realm of psychological certainty.11 It is obvious that nearly all human knowledge outside the realm of mathematics fails the test of absolute certainty. Likewise, salvation is not something which can be analyzed in the test tube, thus it does not fall in the realm of scientific certainty. Salvation falls into the realm of contingent reality, the variety of which cannot be tested. Thus, it is impossible from a psychological perspective to achieve the mathematical level of certainty for which Wilkin seeks. Rightly, he posits the ground of certainty outside the individual, on the basis of the objective Word of God. But he neglects the means of certainty, which I believe must take into account the subjective psychological factors of human existence. He posits certain assurance of salvation without recourse to psychological realities, ideal mathematical certainty for an internal psychological reality.

Calvin sees no value in uncertainty in our relationship to God. Rather it is a clear implication of the good news that there comes a relief from uncertainty. Medieval Catholicism had denied the believer any certainty in salvation, rather, it had suspended assurance on final judgment, thereby hoping to encourage good works. Calvin on the other hand argues forcefully and at great length against those who would shake the believer’s confidence that he possesses salvation.12 From that assurance, Calvin believed, issues forth a gratitude toward God which is based upon heartfelt love. This assurance for Calvin, as for Hodges, is founded in the promises of Scripture, yet there is a subtle, but profound difference in emphasis. In Calvin, the promises of Scripture are a crucial element but they are only one part of a complex of assurance, for Hodges and Wilkin the promises appear to be the totality of the basis of assurance.

I do not in the least want to minimize the objective testimony of the Scripture. But I would insist with Calvin, that a key aspect of assurance of salvation must be seen in the context of the believer’s personal relationship with God and the “Abba, Father” of the Spirit’s prompting.13

John MacArthur and Lordship teaching

As I consider the position espoused by Dr. MacArthur, I find myself in substantial theological agreement with the position he espouses. With MacArthur’s presentation in particular and the Lordship teaching generally, the areas of disquiet are more subtle than with the free grace teaching. First, I am troubled by the tone of the discussion.14 There is a hardness, an absoluteness, in the form of statements which preclude discussion. The charge of heresy is too freely resorted to, and that in broad brush strokes, without careful analysis of broader contexts. The tone of the discussion condemns out of hand any other perspective or emphasis, and tends to lump all opposition into a single category.15 The second area of disquiet comes not so much from what is said, but from what is not said. As I indicated, I find myself in substantial agreement with MacArthur’s position, but it is not a complete exposition of the doctrine of salvation. It is, however, being read as such, and as such it presents an unbalanced view of what the gospel is all about. My third area of disquiet is the implied foundation beneath the rhetoric. I recognize that MacArthur is writing to sound an alarm, and I substantially agree with his analysis. However, the rhetoric’s foundation if taken at face value, opens the door for serious theological problems, some of which cut at the very heart of the Protestant faith.

The Nature of Faith

This question has been discussed at length by S. Lewis Johnson in his article “How Faith Works” in Christianity Today.16 In that article he explores the nature of faith as it relates to the present debate. There is little of substance that I could add to his excellent treatment of the subject.

There are, however, several observations which I would like to make. First, from a technical perspective, Deissmann in Light From the Ancient East gives several convincing quotations from the papyri to demonstrate that pisteuein ei" auton meant “surrender” or “submission to.” A slave was sold into the name of the god of the temple; i.e., to be a temple servant.17 G. Milligan, agreeing with Deissmann, asserts that this papyri usage of eiV auton is also found regularly in the New Testament. “Thus, to believe on or to be baptized into the name of Jesus means to renounce self and to consider oneself the lifetime servant of Jesus.”18 Further, the phrase, ei" to onoma is a legal formula in the Hellenistic world having reference to a legal transfer of ownership.19 Such evidence indicates that whatever faith is, it involves commitment. The analogy could be made to the wedding ceremony which by design establishes a new and ongoing lifetime relationship.

However, having made this observation, we must be careful not to quantify faith, nor to psychoanalyze it in too much depth. The very tone of the discussion has the effect of making faith the ground rather than the means of salvation. When this is done, wittingly or unwittingly, the net effect is to become preoccupied with faith itself rather than the object of faith. Faith itself does not save. It is the object of faith, Jesus Christ, who saves. When faith becomes the object of reflection, questions such as, “Have I really believed? Do I have the right kind of faith?” etc. can assail the confidence of the believer. J.I. Packer has noted:

One of the unhealthiest features of protestant theology today is its preoccupation with faith, that is, viewed man centeredly as a state of existential commitment. Inevitably, this preoccupation diverts thought away from faith’s object… Though the Reformers said much about faith…their interest was not of the modern kind. It was not subject centered, but object centered, not psychological but theological, not anthropocentric, but christocentric.20

Earl Radmacher has raised a similar concern suggesting that in the context of the current discussion “faith is more analysis and scrutinizing than the object of faith.”21

In Scripture we find that our Lord honored several kinds of faith as saving faith, e.g. the faith of the woman with an issue of blood whose faith appears tinged with magical superstition. She wanted only to touch the hem of the Lord’s garment. He also honored the faith of the man who, torn with doubt cried, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” As Calvin said, “even right faith is always surrounded by error and unbelief.22 He also notes: “When even the least drop of faith is instilled in our minds, we begin to contemplate God’s face, peaceful and calm and gracious towards us.”23 In so saying he asserts that great faith is not needed for salvation, the smallest amount will save.

Several recent studies have traced the development of English speaking Calvinism and noted that in both the Puritan and in the Scottish traditions that the doctrine of faith underwent a startling evolution beginning with Beza and continuing into the early seventeenth century, at which point the doctrine was virtually indistinguishable from the doctrine of faith espoused by Arminius!24 Whereas Calvin speaks of initial saving faith as being a passive knowledge of God,25 in the later theologians, faith became activistic and voluntaristic, a matter of the will rather than a matter of the heart, commitment rather than trust.26

The Doctrine of Justification

The doctrine of justification by faith alone is, according to Luther, the center of Paul’s theology. Calvin saw the doctrine as the “principal hinge by which religion is supported.”27 It was this rediscovery of the judicial/forensic nature of justification that gave birth to Protestantism and delivered the church from the Augustinian-Roman Catholic concept of justification as infused righteousness. As important as was the doctrine to the first generation of Reformers, in succeeding generations as the debate with Catholicism continued on a variety of topics,28 justification ceased to occupy the central place of preeminence in Reformed circles particularly. While there was a theoretical commitment to the primacy of the doctrine, theological structures were erected which obscured the vital function of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in the ongoing Christian life.29 Particularly, as English speaking Calvinism progressively embraced a covenant system which obscured the emphasis of the Reformers and radically changed the concept of saving faith from one of passive knowledge to a voluntaristic act of the will,30 justification ceased to function as the balm for the troubled soul.31

MacArthur’s delineation of Lordship Salvation adopts these same themes that are found in English Puritanism and Scottish Calvinism. While from a creedal perspective justification sola fide is still asserted, the psychological dynamic at work is far from that of Calvin and Luther. It has more in common with Medieval Catholicism than with the Reformers. MacArthur states “God through his grace declares believers righteous--and makes them righteous--by imputing the righteousness of Christ to them.”32 MacArthur and those who are espousing Lordship salvation, by stressing works as the evidence of a regenerate life, I believe, have de facto slipped back into a concept of justification as infused righteousness which finds assurance of salvation in one’s works.33 This is the point to which Hodges has reacted so strongly.

What I am arguing is that if we look in back of much of the rhetoric concerning the status of works, we do not find a full-orbed Reformation understanding of the nature of justification. For example, MacArthur states:

“The Bible teaches clearly that the evidence of God’s work in a life is the inevitable fruit of transformed behavior (1 John 3:10).Faith that does not result in righteous living is dead and cannot save (James 2:14-17). Professing Christians utterly lacking the fruit of true righteousness will find no biblical basis for assurance they are saved (1 John 2:4).34

On another occasion he contends, “When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God.”35 Elsewhere, MacArthur notes that since salvation is a work of God, it is God who produces the fruit of salvation in us, noting that any professed salvation which lacks any of the elements of salvation is to be found wanting from a biblical perspective. The practical effect of such teaching is to suspend assurance of salvation (not salvation itself) upon performance--works. The net effect is to destroy the confidence that the believer is commanded in Scripture to have before God.36

The dynamic of assurance espoused by Dr. MacArthur has its roots deep in the tradition of the Puritans and the Scottish Calvinists. The Scots referred to this process as the Practical Syllogism. The Puritans called it the reflex action.37 By whatever name, the process is the same. The believer is denied direct access to the Savior for assurance. Instead he must look inside and complete the syllogism. “The Scripture tells me that he who believes shall be saved. If upon examining myself I find fruits of righteousness in my life, I may then complete the syllogism ‘But I believe, therefore I shall be saved’.”38 However, such a doctrine lays the ground of assurance solely within ourselves “causing the believer to rely more on his own works for assurance, than on the work of Christ on our behalf.”39 The ultimate result of such teaching is uncertainty.

This position is what Berkhof has labeled “pietistic nomism” which is in opposition to the Reformers and the apostles, and from an existential psychological perspective operates in the same manner as does Augustinian justification.40 Berkhof has noted that the Reformers in opposition to Rome sometimes stressed assurance as the most important element of faith. Both Calvin and the Heidelberg catechism saw assurance as belonging to the essence of faith. While,

Pietistic Nomism asserted that assurance does not belong to the very being, but only the well-being of faith; and that it can be secured, except by special revelation, only by continuous and conscious introspection. All kinds of “marks of the spiritual life” derived not from Scripture but from the lives of approved Christians became the standard of self-examination. The outcome proved, however, that this method was not calculated to produce assurance, but rather to lead to everlasting doubt, confusion and uncertainty.41

Calvin similarly observed that “faith implies certainty.”42 He observed of those who deny this truth:

Also there are very many who so conceive of God’s mercy that they receive almost no consolation from it. They are constrained with miserable anxiety at the same time as they are in doubt with whether he will be merciful to them because they confine that very kindness of which they seem utterly persuaded within too narrow limits. For among themselves they ponder that it is indeed great and abundant, shed upon many, available and ready for all; but uncertain whether it will ever come to them, or rather they will come to it.. . Therefore it does not so much strengthen the spirit in secure tranquility as trouble it with uneasy doubting. But there is a far different feeling of full assurance that in the Scriptures is always attributed to faith. It is this which puts beyond doubt God’s goodness clearly manifested for us [Col. 2:2; 1 Thess. 1:5; cf. Heb. 6:11 and 10:22] But this cannot happen without our truly feeling its sweetness and experiencing it ourselves. For this reason, the apostle derives confidence from faith and from confidence, in turn, boldness. For he states: “Through Christ we have boldness and access with confidence which is through faith in him [Eph. 3:12 p. cf. Vg.] By these words he obviously shows that there is no right faith except when we dare with tranquil hearts to stand in God’s sight. This boldness arises only out of a sure confidence in the divine benevolence and salvation. This is so true that the word faith is often used for confidence.43

Likewise McGrath has observed that “For the Reformers it was necessary to know that one was a Christian, that the Christian life had indeed begun, that one had been forgiven and accepted by God--and on the basis of that conviction, the living of the Christian life, with all its opportunities, responsibilities and challenges could proceed.”44

As noted, from an existential perspective, basing assurance of salvation upon works signals a methodological retreat to an Augustinian understanding of justification as infused righteousness, which opens the door to a host of problems. Richard Lovelace, speaking to this unwitting exchange within the evangelical tradition, has observed:

Augustine’s teaching on infused grace ultimately placed an unbearable burden on the conscience which fully comes into the light. The fully enlightened conscience cannot be pacified by any amount of grace inherent in our lives, since that grace always falls short of the perfection demanded by God for our justification (Gal. 3:10; Jas. 2:10) Such a conscience is forced to draw back into the relative darkness of self-deception. Either it manufactures a fictitious righteousness in heroic works of ascetic piety, or it redefines sin in shallow terms so that it can lose the consciousness of its presence.” 45

Calvin speaks to the same issue of confidence before God based upon the individual believer’s “essential righteousness” noting that such an approach cannot but “… deprive them [believers] of a lively experience of Christ’s grace.”46 The net effect is “To enfeeble our assurance of salvation, to waft us above the clouds in order to prevent our calling upon God with quiet hearts after we, assured of expiation, have laid hold upon grace.”47

Justification and Sanctification According to Free Grace & Lordship

The Free Grace position, along with much of evangelical Christianity, has succumbed to an unbiblical bifurcation between justification and sanctification. While justification is by faith alone, the Christian life is variously viewed as being accomplished by works, or as beginning sometime after salvation and coming through an experience, a second blessing, a dedication, or some such thing. Zane Hodges has constructed a theology of inheritance based upon the concept of being an heir with Christ. For him, it is the hope of reward that serves as the sole basis and motivating factor for Christian growth.48 Specifically, he sees no necessary relationship between the salvation of an individual and any reflection of God’s character. This he labels as works salvation.

While Hodges’ position on sanctification is, I believe, fatally flawed, Lordship teaching on this point also poses serious problems. Lordship teaching has rightly denied that there is a temporal bifurcation between justification and sanctification. As noted above, while there has been a practical fusion of justification and sanctification, paradoxically, justification has been stripped down to a mere legal pronouncement, extrinsic to the individual’s experience, which in and of itself has no direct existential ramifications. It is positional truth gone to seed, theoretical and abstract. Ken Sarles, for example, accuses Alister McGrath of betraying the Reformed understanding of justification because he refers to justification as an experience of God’s grace.49 While it is true that justification in the strict sense is a positional truth, it is not true that the truth is to have no existential effect in life. A judge’s pronouncement declaring an accused felon of not guilty, while forensic, has an immediate existential effect. He can walk out of the courtroom a free and happy man who does not have to fear each time he sees a policeman. Paul himself declares that the effect of justification is peace with God (Rom 5:1), a peace which is foundational to progressive sanctification rather than a part of it.50

Lordship teachers speak about salvation being more than justification. In this they are accurate. They do speak of regeneration in particular and salvation in general as the work of God, but this is not the focus of their attention. That attention is focused upon what the believer’s life looks like (obedience). In my judgment, the tone of the discussion involves more lip service than true commitment to the implications of the doctrine of justification, implications which include a commitment to the grace of God as the factor which transforms the believer from the inside out.51

The contemporary advocates of Lordship salvation by following the Puritan teaching regarding sanctification and assurance, are also unwittingly compromising the cardinal Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone by suspending assurance of salvation at the time of belief, and in practice basing assurance of salvation upon works. While this can be an inducement to good works, it is neither the perspective of the Reformers or the Scriptures.

Concluding Observations

One of the consistent themes of the New Testament is that when one trusts Jesus Christ as Savior, he is immediately transferred into the Kingdom of God. More specifically, he becomes a son of God, in the full legal sense of the term. The Scripture is filled with passages which speak of the assurance and comfort that the believer is to find in that relationship.52 When performance is injected into the assurance equation inevitably it produces an element of fear. This type of fear is unhealthy because it implicitly (albeit unwittingly) makes our performance/works the basis of our daily relationship with God our Father.

Good works, righteousness, and holiness, are the goal and norm of the Christian life. But there are two means to achieve the goal of “good works.” One way is to use fear as a motivating factor, a control factor. This will get external results, usually quickly. But it fails to advance our spiritual lives because it traffics in condemnation and guilt, which Paul says are things of the past for the believer (Rom. 8:1). So from a Biblical perspective this is unacceptable. The other motivating factor is love, unconditional love and acceptance which the believer experiences in the depth of his being. That acceptance from God which says He is not angry with us, that He gave His Son to die in order that we might become His children. This type of love is transformational. As the believer senses his/her acceptance by and the love of his Father, he/she responds in turn out of a heart full of love and gratitude. This, I am convinced is the true and adequate motive for service to God.

This is also the perspective of Calvin who argued that for salvation one needed to be pointed toward Christ. For Calvin, repentance was the sanctification process, not a precondition to it. He notes “…a man cannot seriously apply himself to repentance without knowing himself to belong to God.”53 Likewise, he contends “no one is truly persuaded that he himself belongs to God unless he has first recognized God’s grace.”54

The English speaking Calvinistic tradition emphasized works as the basis for assurance and down played building the Christian life upon his acceptance before God. The believer was cut off in their minds from any direct assurance, rather this tradition taught that assurance was to be discovered through the reflex action or the practical syllogism. Bell has observed that in the Scottish tradition it was clearly taught that the Christian is justified by a direct act of faith which apprehends the imputed righteousness of Christ. However, knowledge that he has done so is to be seen only indirectly in light of self-examination. This “reflex act of faith” was said to be more spiritual than the simple direct apprehension of Christ as Savior.55 This perspective stands in stark contrast with the mentality of the early Reformers. As Packer has observed:

The heart of the biblical gospel was to them [the reformers] God’s free gift of righteousness and justification… This justification was to them not a theological speculation but a religious reality [an experience], apprehended through prayer by revelation from God via the Bible.56

Calvin insisted upon the “witness of the Spirit” as a vital aspect in the assurance of salvation. This emphasis has been forsaken at least in the rhetoric of Lordship teaching. This “witness” involves a personal communion with God. Isaac Dorner, reflecting Calvin, argued that spiritual truth made a demand on the soul if certainty were to be attained. Thus, certainty and assurance of spiritual truth were qualitatively different in nature than certainty of all other knowledge. Faith became the principium cognescendi. This faith was a product of the personal experience of the presence of God and the medium of His presence. “ … Faith has a knowledge of being known by God, and of its existence because of God, and in such a way that it knows God as the one self-verifying and self-subsisting fact…”57 Thus faith offers a divinely assured certainty since it involves a genuine reciprocal divine communion attested in the human soul. This is not mysticism in the classic sense of the term. Rather God, as a person reaches out to directly touch the soul of the individual and give certain knowledge of Himself.

The “witness of the Spirit” is explicitly taught by Paul in Romans 8:14-16, “Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received a spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God’s children.” The Apostle John likewise states, “We know that we live in him and He in us because He has given us of His Spirit.” (1 Jn. 4:13 NIV)

While I applaud the Lordship position in its insistence that the believer in Jesus Christ will show by his life that he is a believer, the rhetoric I hear is akin to a General George Patton slapping the G.I. who was hospitalized for nerves during WWII. Lordship teachers appear to be forcing all teaching on salvation through one grid, discipleship. This, I would argue, the Scripture does not do. I would argue that many (most?) who come to Christ are bruised, battered and shattered emotionally, as a result of the ravages of sin, both personal and corporate. They need spiritual and emotional healing, a healing that goes far deeper than most of the intellectualized theology which focuses upon positional truth as abstract and unrelated to the life of the believer. The lack of spiritual maturity in the lives of professing believers may be the result of rebellion, it may indeed be an evidence of the fact that a professing believer is in fact unregenerate, or it may in fact be a result of the deep seated psychological problems/needs which can be truly solved by learning how the believer’s identification and oneness with Christ can existentially transform his/her daily existence. I find it significant that the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:3-11), when referring to believers who were evidently not displaying Christian grace in their lives, did not call their salvation into question, rather he noted that they were, “nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” (2 Pet. 1:9).58 This condition arises when justification is separated from sanctification and made to be unimportant, abstract or theoretical.

Not too many months ago I was having lunch with a pastor of an evangelical church in the San Francisco area. In the course of the discussion he commented to the effect. “Justification by faith is a very abstract and theoretical doctrine. I believe it, but it doesn’t have any relevance to my daily life.” This attitude is typical, but compare this to Calvin: “…man is justified by faith alone and simple pardon; nevertheless actual holiness of life is not separated from free imputation of righteousness.”59 Similarly Luther sees positional truth as vital to the spiritual health of the individual. “This imputation is not something of no consequence but is greater than the whole world and all the holy angels.”60 In effect Luther says that the believer, “takes the risk of living before God on no other basis than the righteousness of Christ which God imputes to him.”61

1 Zane Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, (Dallas: Rendicion Viva, 1986) 9.

2 Hodges does not to my knowledge, specifically assert this in any one place, but from my experience as a student in his classes and from personal conversations with him, this is I believe a fair statement of his position.

3 J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith?, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 165.

4 Romans 8:14. The central passage upon which the doctrine of the witness of the Spirit is built is said to refer to the fact that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit to God, not that the Spirit bears witness to our spirit in any sort of experiential way. Again, I am not aware that Hodges has put this in print, but Dr. Bob Wilkin, President of the Grace Evangelical Society made this very point in the interaction after his paper, “Assurance: That You May Know” delivered at the National ETS meetings in New Orleans, November, 1990. While it is true that the sun prefix normally denotes association, with marturew it simply strengthens the force of the verb. See BAGD 2nd ed .

5 S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., “How Faith Works,” Christianity Today, September 22, 1989, 23.

6 Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989) 42. The point here is that he describes faith as trust in facts, rather than trust in a person who was in fact in her presence. Concerning faith, Millard Erickson has noted: “…the type of faith necessary for salvation involves both believing that and believing in, or assenting to facts and trusting in a person. It is vital to keep these two together. Sometimes in the history of Christian thought one of the aspects of faith has been so strongly emphasized as to make the other seem insignificant.” (Christian Theology, [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989] 940)

7 See, for example, Gospel Under Siege, 14.

8 Delivered at the national Evangelical Theological Society meetings in New Orleans, November, 1990.

9 Calvin, Institutes 3:2:15.

10 “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you that you who believe in the name of the Son of God may know (eidhte) you have eternal life.”

11 “Psychological certainty may be justified or unjustified, as in the belief that the moon reflects light or is made of green cheese. Propositional certainty is never justified or unjustified; it simply obtains or does not obtain, someone must have made sure or become justifiably certain of the proposition. Thus certainty of propositions requires psychological certainty plus its justification.” [Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (New York: Macmillian, 1967) 2:67. See also Thomas C. Oden, The Living God, (Harper & Row: San Francisco) 382-404., and Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1988) 195-198.

12 E.g. Institutes, 3:2:40.

13 E.g. see Calvin, Institutes, 3:2:39.

14 When I make this comment, I do not mean to imply that a similar charge cannot be leveled against the free grace position. Hodges particularly is quick to label as heresy those who espouse a theology of salvation which sees a necessary connection between faith and life.

15 In fact, MacArthur represents a very specific strain of English Calvinism, which is at odds with the Geneva Reformer at key points in this debate.

16 S. Lewis Johnson Jr., “How Faith Works,” Christianity Today, September 22, 1989, 21-25.

17 Adolph Deissmann, Light From The Ancient East, (Grand Rapids: Baker reprint 1978) 323.

18 Dana and Manty, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (New York: MacMillian, 1955) p. 105.

19 Deissmann, Light, 121.

20 J.I. Packer, “Sole Fide: The Reformed Doctrine of Justification, in Soli Deo Gloria, (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976) 20.

21 Earl D. Radmacher, “First Response to ‘Faith According to the Apostle James’ by John F. MacArthur, Jr.” JETS, 33:1, (March 1990), 41.

22 Calvin, Institutes, 3:4:2.

23 Ibid., 3:2:19.

24 M. Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology, (Edinburgh: The Handsel Press, 1985) 11; R.T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979) 142-150, cf. 65.

25 Kendall synthesizes Calvin’s understanding of Faith: “The position which Calvin wants pre-eminently to establish (and fundamentally assumes) is that faith is knowledge. Calvin notes some biblical synonyms for faith, all simple nouns such as ‘recognition’ (agnito) and ‘knowledge’ (scientia). He describes faith as illumination (illuminatio), knowledge as opposed to the submission of our feeling (cognitio, non sensus nostri submissio) certainty (certitudino), a firm conviction (solida persuasio), assurance (securitas), firm assurance (solida securitas) and full assurance (plena securitas), p. 19.

26 Bell, 8.

27 Calvin, Institutes, 3:11:1.

28 E.g., transubstantiation, marks of the church, authority of the Scriptures.

29 See M. Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology, R.T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649, Brian G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy, (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1969)

30 “Scottish theology … gradually came to teach that faith is primarily active, centered in the will or heart, and that assurance is not of the essence of faith, but is a fruit of faith, and is to be gathered through self-examination and syllogistic deduction, thereby placing the grounds of assurance intra nos, within ourselves… . Calvin’s view is eclipsed to such a degree, that it is actually viewed as nothing other than a part of the Antinomian heresy… The national Church of Scotland officially condemned the view that assurance is of the essence of faith.” [Bell, 8.]

I do not mean to imply that there is no active element to faith. Rather that the later expositions were persistently one-sided stressing the activity of the will. While a creedal commitment to the doctrine of faith as a gift of God was affirmed, the excessive stress of the human aspect of faith had the effect of obscuring the grace aspect of faith.

31 See Bell, 7-11. In fact, in several instances theologians who rediscovered Calvin’s emphasis upon the unconventionality of God’s grace were regarded as antinomian and on occasion convicted as heretics, e.g. John Cotton and John McCleod Campbell!

32 MacArthur, Gospel According to Jesus, 181. Italics added. My point in this citation is to show that the rhetoric he adopts is so strident that it evidences, perhaps unwittingly, a fusion of justification and sanctification, or a return to the Augustinian concept of justification.

33 Bell summarizing Calvin notes: “If we look to ourselves, we encounter doubt, which leads to despair, and finally our faith is battered down and blotted out. Arguing that our assurance rests in our union with Christ, Calvin stresses that contemplation of Christ brings assurance of salvation, but self-contemplation is ‘sure damnation’. For this reason, then, our safest course is to distrust self and look at Christ.” (p. 28)

34 MacArthur, 23 .

35 Ibid., 174 (quoting Vine).

36 MacArthur goes on to state: “We must remember above all that salvation is a sovereign work of God. Biblically it is defined by what it produces not by what one does to get it. Works are not necessary to earn salvation. But true salvation wrought by God will not fail to produce good works that are its fruit (cf. Matt. 7:17). We are God’s workmanship. No aspect of salvation is merited by human works (Titus 3:5-7). Thus, salvation cannot be defective in any dimension. As part of his saving work, God will produce repentance, faith, sanctification, yieldedness, obedience, and ultimately glorification. Since he is not dependent upon human effort in producing those elements, an experience that lacks any of them cannot be the saving work of God.” (p. 33.)

“The test of true faith is this: does it produce obedience? If not it is not saving faith. Disobedience is unbelief. Real faith obeys.” (47).

Contrast this with Calvin: “Indeed, if we should have to judge from our works how the Lord feels toward us, for my part, I grant that we can in no attain to it by conjecture. But since faith ought to correspond to a simple and free promise, no place for doubting is left. For with what sort of confidence will we be armed, I pray, if we reason that God is favorable to us provided our purity of life so merit it?” 3:2:38.

37 Contrast this to Calvin who states unequivocally that we know that we are saved by a direct act of faith, rather than a reflex act! E.g. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, (London: James Clark, 1961) 130-131.

38 Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology, 82.

39 Ibid.98.

40 “He does not conceive justification in a purely forensic sense. While it includes the forgiveness of sins, this is not its main element. In justification God not merely declares but makes the sinner righteous by transforming his inner nature. He fails to distinguish clearly between justification and sanctification and really subsumes the latter under the former.” Louis Berkhof, History of Christian Doctrines, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1937) 207.

41 Lewis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans 1979), 508. With reference to Special Revelation as a basis of assurance, Ken Sarles, in a debate with Bob Wilkin at Dallas Seminary in April of 1990 said “that the only way anyone could be absolutely certain of their salvation (prior to death or the rapture) was if the Bible clearly and irrefutably indicated that they specifically had eternal life. No general reference to believers in Christ having eternal life would provide such certainty because it is impossible, he argued, to know with certainty that one is a believer. He argued that since no one alive today can find his or her name in Scriptures, absolute certainty of salvation is no longer possible.” (Wilkin, 2) Compare this to Calvin: (3:2:40) “The alleged uncertainty as to whether we will persevere to the end.

Not content to undermine the firmness of faith in one way alone, they assail it from another quarter Thus they say that even though according to our present state of righteousness we can judge our possession of the grace of God’ the knowledge of final perseverance remains in suspense. A fine confidence of salvation is left to us., if by moral conjecture we judge that at the present moment we are in grace, but we know not what will become of us tomorrow! The apostle speaks far otherwise: “I am surely convinced that neither angels, nor powers… will separate us from the love by which the Lord embraces us in Christ [Rom 8:38-39]. They try to escape with the trifling solution, prating that the apostle had his assurance from a special revelation. But they are held too tightly to escape. For there he is discussing those benefits which come to all believers in common faith, not from those things he exclusively experiences.” (italics added.)

42 Institutes, 3:2:15.

43 Ibid., italics added. Significantly, this is exactly the trap into which those who claimed the name of Calvin fell. With their emphasis on limited atonement they could never be sure that Christ had died for them, hence they were forced to look inside rather than rely upon the promises of Scripture. But even here there was no peace because the doctrine of temporary faith which developed stole the hope of assurance by injecting the question of one’s election into the equation. “Perhaps the “fruit” I see in my life is not that of regeneration but the pre-regenerate work of the Spirit, from which I may fall away.” In San Diego in 1989, Dr. MacArthur was asked when a believer could be assured of his salvation, his reply was that such assurance could be had only after death.

44 Alister McGrath, “Justification, the New Ecumenical Debate,” Themelios, 1988, 145. He continues: “Being justified on the basis of the external righteousness of Christ meant all that needed to be done for an individual’s justification had been done by God--and so a believer could rest assured that he had been accepted and forgiven. The Reformers could not see how Trent ensured that the individual was accepted, despite being a sinner. For if the believer possessed perfect righteousness which ensured his justification, he could no longer be a sinner--and yet experience (as well as the penitential system of the Catholic church!) suggested that believers continually sinned. For the Reformers, the Tridentine doctrine of justification was profoundly inadequate, in that it could not account for the fact that the believer was really accepted before God while still remaining a sinner. The Reformers were convinced that Trent taught a profoundly inadequate doctrine of justification as a result. The famous phrase, due to Luther, sums up this precious insight with brilliance and verbal economy: simul iustus et peccator, ‘righteous and a sinner at the same time.’ Luther was one of the few theologians ever to have grasped and articulated the simple fact that God loves us and accepts us just as we are--not as we might be, or will be, but as he finds us.”

45 Richard Lovelace, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life, (Downers Grove:IVP, 1979) 99.

46 Institutes, 3:11:5.

47 Ibid., 3:11:11 (speaking of Osiander).

48 See The Hungry Inherit, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972). It must be noted that Calvin saw rewards as a motivating factor in salvation. Institutes, 3:2:16.

49 Ken Sarles, Review of Justification by Faith by Alister McGrath, Bibliotheca Sacra, April-June 1990, 239.

50 Concerning the experience of justification, Machen (What is Faith?, 171) states: “we are opposed with all our might to the substitution of “experience” as the seat of authority in religion for the Word of God: but the Holy Spirit in the individual soul does bear witness, we think, to the truthfulness of the Word, and does bear witness to the saving efficacy of the Cross, When he cries “Abba, Father” in our hearts. That cry, we think, is a true echo of the blessed sentence of acquittal, the blessed “justification,” which a sinner receives when Christ is his advocate at the judgment seat of God.

Likewise J.N. Darby, summarizing the comments of Peter Martyr, observed concerning Romans 5: “‘For Paul wished to intimate that the pious could not be frustrated in their hope.’ There stating that it could not depend on works, for they were uncertain, he says, ‘But that it is true and certain, Paul shews, not by one word only, but by three very significant ones; for, first, he uses the word, knowing (sciendi), which indicates a certain knowledge (cognitionem) of a thing. He makes mention also of making a boast, which has no place with holy and prudent men, unless concerning those blessings which they certainly and firmly possess. Lastly, he adds, that hope maketh not ashamed; but, deservedly, he very often brings in the persuasion of certainty, because hence especially consolation is to be sought in affliction.’“ (J.N. Darby, “The Doctrine of the Church of England Compared …”, The Collected Writings of J.N. Darby, vol. 3 [ed. William Kelly] (Kingston-on-Thames: Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot, 1964), 15-16.

51 Again we see in Lordship teaching the perspective of Federal theology, which in a very real sense reduces the grace of God to a mercantile transaction. C.G. M’Crie commenting on the The Sum of Saving Knowledge, the classic presentation of Scottish Federalism, based upon the Westminster Confession, noted:

…Federalism, as developed in the Sum, is objectionable in form and application. Detailed descriptions of redemption as a bargain entered into between the First and Second persons of the Trinity, in which conditions were laid down, promises held out, and pledges given; the reducing of salvation to a mercantile arrangement between God and the sinner, in which the latter signifies contentment to enter into covenant and the former intimates agreement to entertain a relation of grace, so that ever after the contented, contracting party can say, ‘Lord, let it be a bargain,’--such presentation have obviously a tendency to reduce the gospel of the grace of God to the level of a legal compact entered into between two independent and, so far as right or status is concerned, two equal parties. This blessedness of the mercy seat is in danger of being lost sight of in the bargaining of the market-place; the simple story of salvation is thrown into the crucible of the logic of schools and it emerges in the form of a syllogism. (Confessions, p. 72, quoted by Bell, 106)

52 For example see: Romans 8, 1 John.

53 Institutes, 3:3:1.

54 Ibid, 3:3:2.

55 Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology, 82.

56 Packer, 11-12.

57 Isaac August Dorner, A System of Christian Doctrine, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1897) 2:175.

58 With reference to these verses Calvin does not allow the use of the look inside as a means to certainty. Rather he argues that “it means that one’s calling (which is itself certain) is confirmed ‘by a holy life.’“ [Bell 28] This is in stark opposition to the Scots and the Puritans who used this passage to teach the practical syllogism. The practical application of these verses was, for Calvin with reference to others rather than with reference to the individual.

59 Institutes, 3:3:1.

60 Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (229): Righteousness is not a quality of man as philosophy and scholastic theology determined by it, thought it to be; rather it consists of being righteous only through God’s gracious imputation of Christ’s righteousness, that is a righteousness outside of man (Luther’s phrase is the alien righteousness of Christ)…The righteousness of the sinner is, accordingly, not an active righteousness, but a “passive” righteousness which he can only “suffer” and receive…When Christ makes himself one with man, this “alien righteousness becomes man’s own and makes him righteous before God. A man lives before God throughout his whole life on the basis of this “alien” and “passive” righteousness--not only at the moment he begins to be a Christian…This means passive righteousness is not more and more replaced and limited by an active righteousness, the alien righteousness is not more and more replaced by man’s own. Man including the Christian man, remains a sinner his whole life long and cannot possibly live and have worth before God except through this alien righteousness, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. This takes place in the daily forgiveness of sins.

“The fact that God declares the unrighteous to be righteous transcends all human understanding and reason. God’s judgment contradicts the judgment of man and each man’s judgment of himself. A man condemned as a sinner both by himself and by other people is declared righteous. (230)

61 Paul Althaus, The Theology of Luther (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1966) 230.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

Lecture Notes on The Names Of God

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The concept of Name.

Especially in Hebrew thought but also in nearly all cultures there was the conception that the appellation by which someone was known in some way communicated something of his character. Hence especially in the Hebrew mentality the concept of name was very important..

The Personal Character of a Name

In addition the a name is something personal, it is what identifies us as individuals. we are not just numbers. Even today when names are hung on individuals indiscriminately without reference to character there is a personal quality about them. It is always unpleasant or annoying to have one’s name misspelled for example.

Naming and Power

The concept of naming in Scripture also implied power or authority over the thing named. Hence when it comes to God He reveals His names to his people rather than their giving names to him. (Cf. Gen 2. Adam is, as God’s vice-regent over the Earth given the responsibility to name the animals. Also cf. God’s renaming of individuals, Abram->Abraham; Sari->Sarah; Jacob->Israel; also cf. Nebuchadnezzar’s renaming of Daniel and his three friends.)

Naming and Relationship with God

“When the believer enters into a relationship with his God he starts by pronouncing His name, and this ancient usage is continued in the liturgy of the Church under the form of the invocation; Similarly when God takes the initiative of revealing Himself, He starts by uttering His name.” (Jacob, Old Testament Theology, 43)



This is the generic name for deity in the ANE. However, having said this, it must be noted that in the OT EL is “rarely if ever used … as the proper name of a non-Israelite deity…” (TDOT, 1:253) Associated with this name in the ANE and in the OT is the idea of power, “The Strong One”. This name of God never appears in the narrative portions of the OT, and only infrequently in the poetic sections. Some have theorized that this name was the original name, for the God whom the ancients worshiped. and as the pristine conception was corrupted polytheism set in.

Henry notes: “Although the generic tern for God has become part of the linguistic heritage of mankind, references to deity-in- general do not predominate in the early history of religion; least of all do we find a technically abstract `God-concept.’ The generic term for deity or the gods were most employed of specific supernatural entities. EL was used not only generically but also, where Semitic religion affirms a pantheon of gods, of the supreme deity. The Old Testament uses EL not only to refer to `deity’ in the general Semitic sense, but to describe the God n by Abraham and his descendants in the true and vital sense…EL is not for them the highest god in a pantheon of divinities, but the one and only God whom they worship on the ground of his revelation.” (Carl F. H. Henry, God Revelation and Authority 2:184)

While the etymology of the name EL is difficult, it apparently is derived from a root which means “might” or “first in rank” (TDOT 1:273)


The Name itself

The name ELOHIM appears for God 2570 times in the OT. In fact this is the first Name for God which appears in the Scripture in Genesis 1:1. ELOHIM is viewed in Scripture as the creator, absolute ruler, & source of all things. While it is true that ELOHIM as well as El were ancient Cannanite names for deity, in the Bible ELOHIM “is uniquely the one God who concentrates in himself the being and powers of all the gods, comprehending the totality of deity in himself. (Henry, 185)Two features which should be noted here:

ELOHIM is in the plural.

The Hebrew conception was often to use a plural to express a concept which could not be expressed by the singular. In the case of ELOHIM what we may well have is a plural of majesty or a plural of incomprehensibility or a plural of intensification in which case the plural “would mean the `great,’ `highest,’ and finally `only’ God …”(TDOT 1:272-273; cf. Payne, Theology of the Older Testament, 145 who notes : “It is not legitimate to use the plural to advance a theory of polytheism)

Henry notes: “Some theologians have found here anticipations of the Trinity, of a plurality of persons within the single divine essence. But the revelation that the one God is irreducibly triune awaits the manifestation of his Son and the large New Testament revelation. To insist on plurality in ELOHIM, and then to expound this in terms of a plurality of persons but not of essence, reflects a retroactive theologizing that nullifies God’s progressive self-disclosure of the inmost secret of his Being. Yet the deity of the Messiah is foretold in Ps 45:7, etc., and we should not deny the revelatory intimations of the doctrine in the Old Testament.” (Carl F. H. Henry, God Revelation and Authority 2:191). It is precisely this type of mistake that Lewis and Demarest make in their otherwise excellent Integrative Theology.

Payne, (Theology of the Older Testament, 145) notes : “It is not legitimate to use the plural to advance a theory of Israelitish polytheism. Similarly ELOHIM ought not to be adduced as a proof of the trinity because Christians believe in only one God!”


Man [, ish] is in some sense the antithesis to ELOHIM (Numbers 23:19) “God is not man that he should lie nor a son of man that he should repent.” Here the word of God is firm in contrast to human words which are deceptive. Additionally, God is seen to be spirit, in contrast to flesh (Is. 31:3). The context has reference to ELOHIM’s power and strength as opposed to human impotence. ELOHIM is also associated with holiness, “I am EL and not man, the Holy one in your midst.” The context here focuses on ELOHIM’s compassion and forgiveness in contrast to punitive wrath.

ELOHIM is the antithesis of the non-gods

ELOHIM is the antithesis of the non-gods which the Israelites constantly were seduced by. As god he possesses knowledge to which man cannot attain. (see Gen 3:5)

ELOHIM is not earth bound

ELOHIM is not earth bound nor does he dwell upon the earth or with man (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron 6:18; Cf. Ps 115:3 “our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.” a reference to omnipotence)

Only ELOHIM has the power to kill or make alive,

only ELOHIM has the power to kill or make alive in contrast to man (2 Kings 5:7) 5) God is so completely different than man that no one can see His (or hear him) and live (Ex. 33:20; Jgs 13:22; cf. Gen 16:13)

Adjectives and verbs
  • holy ELOHIM (Josh 24:19)
  • righteous ELOHIM (Ps. 78:10)
  • Living ELOHIM (Deut. 5:26; 1 Sam 17:26-36; Jer 23:36; 2 Kings 19:4,16)
  • an ELOHIM who is near (Deut 4:7)
  • a jealous ELOHIM (ex 20:5; 34:14; Dt. 4:24)
  • an angry ELOHIM (Ps 7:12)
  • merciful ELOHIM (Deut 4:31)
  • merciful and gracious ELOHIM (Ex 34:6) 9)
  • great and terrible ELOHIM (Deut 7:21) 10)
  • mighty ELOHIM (Deut. 10:17; Jer 32:18)
  • faithful ELOHIM (Deut 7:9)
  • forgiving ELOHIM (Ps. 99:8)
  • hiding ELOHIM (Is. 45:15)
  • the incomparable ELOHIM. e.g. 2 Sam 7:22

“There is none like thee and there is no ELOHIM beside thee.” “Before no god was formed, nor shall there be after me. I am Yahweh and beside me there is no savior…” (Is 45:2)

ELOHIM as an Appellative
the ELOHIM of Israel.

This appellation for ELOHIM has covenant implications and has a close affinity with Yahweh the personal name of the covenant keeping God of Israel. (TDOT 1:277)

the ELOHIM of the individual

(e.g. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) 3) my, your ELOHIM. This phrase while rare, asserts the personal relationship which the worshiper possesses with ELOHIM

EL Elyon: The Most High God

This name for God occurs first in the Bible in Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham after he had defeated the five kings. The king of Tyre (Satan?) is said to have desired to be like EL Elyon (Is. 14:12-14). It is also used by Baalam (Num. 24). Along with EL and ELOHIM this title for God expresses His transcendent majesty. (See also Ps 91:1)

EL Shaddai: God Almighty

This self-revelation of God is characteristic of the patriarchal period. (Ex. 6:2-3: And God said to Moses I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as EL Shaddai.”) This name for God stresses particularly His omnipotence as it is displayed in His immanence. Many (e.g. the Scofield Reference Bible) trace the origin of the term “Shaddai” to the root word which refers to a mother’s breast. If this be correct the Name is one which suggests God’s grace and His condescension to the level of His creatures to make Himself known and to give sustenance to them. It is a name which is associated with God’s relationship with His children. Two characteristics are associated with this name. (See Lightner, The First Fundamental, 110-112)

He comforts His own and makes them fruitful. Jacob, when fleeing his brother Esau, was alone and defenseless. Isaac besought EL Shaddai to bless his son even though he was a deceiver and a cheat. “And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful, and increase your numbers until you become a company of peoples. May He give to you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham…” cf. also Ps. 91:1,2.

He disciplines His own to make them fruitful. The idea here is not judgment of sin and punishment, but correction. God clearly does judge sin, but the name of YHWH is associated with this activity of God. The book of Job is illustrative of this use. Thirty-one times in the book the name EL Shaddai is found. There is no punishment involved with God’s dealing with Job, instead he is bringing him to a more perfect understanding of Himself. Also cf. Ruth 1.

Others have suggested that the derivation of the Term Shaddai is from the Akkadian shadu (mountain) with the sense of “he of the mountains.” Henry notes that “invariably the Scriptural use conveys Strength.” (193-194) Keil has observed that the name EL Shaddai belongs “to the sphereof Salvation, furnishing one element in the manifestation of Jehovah, the covenant God, as possessing the power to realize His promises, even when the order of nature presented no prospect of fulfillment, and the powers of nature were insufficient to secure it.” (Keil and Delitzsch 1:223) Likewise Geerhardus Vos has observed that God is called EL Shaddai “because through the supernaturalism of His procedure He, as it were, overpowers nature and, in the service of His grace, compels her to further His designs.” (Biblical Theology, 96) Henry concludes: “EL Shaddai emphasizes God’s solicitous condescension and singular providence in the creaturely sphere…for his special activity of covenantal concern the omnipotent One was honored in Israel as EL Shaddai.” (194)

EL Olam: The Everlasting God

The term “Olam” itself meant “secret” or “hidden” or “concealed” or “unknown.” From the idea of hiddenness developed the concept of eternity. Eichrodt has noted that the Name signifies :”the permanence of the deity exalted over the changes and chances of time.” (W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 1:182). The idea of God’s immutability is involved in the passages which speak of EL Olam. EL Olam cannot be dragged down into the flux of natural phenomena. This is in stark contrast to the nature deities of the surrounding pagan peoples. He is all that His people have from generation to generation. (Ps. 100:5). Although times, needs and people all change, EL Olam never changes. He is always the same. “Do you not know, have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or or weary and His understanding no one can fathom.” (Is. 40:28-29) While this aspect of God is revealed very early in the Old Testament, After the Exile there is an increasing emphasis upon His transcendence.

Two characteristics are evident concerning EL Olam:

  • He is inexhaustible.
  • There is no searching His understanding.
EL Roi: The God who sees:

This title for God occurs only once in the OT (Gen. 16:13) from the lips of Hagar as she and her son are dying in the desert. While this is the only occurrence of the actual name, the concept is found else where, e.g. Laban’s lying and cheating had been seen by God (Gen. 31:10-12); God saw the affliction of His people in Egypt. The name thus communicates omniscience.

Adonai: Lord

When used of men this title speaks of an intimate personal relationship, e.g. master-slave; husband-wife, thus connoting the idea of authority, love and faithfulness. When applied to God two factors stand out.

  • The master has a right to expect obedience.

This can be seen graphically in the life of Moses who was silenced of all objections to God’s call when he recognized Him as Adonai (Ex. 4:10). In so doing, he admitted his position as a slave and his obligation to obey his master. Also see Isa. 6:1- 8, Isaiah’s response to the heavenly vision is “Here am I Adonai, send me.”

  • The slave may expect provision

The slave has no worry. It is the responsibility of the master to provide food, clothing and shelter for his slave. Since he is owned by the master, his needs become his master’s needs.


This is the most common name for God in the Old Testament, occurring over 6800 times. In contrast to other names for deity on the OT it is used ONLY of the god of Israel and never of the pagan deities.

Interpretations of the Name
  • “I am the One who is.”
  • “I am who I am.”
  • “I will be what I will be.”
  • “I cause to be what I cause to be.”
  • . “I am present is what I am.”

Henry having discussed the pros and cons of each of these interpretations concludes: While the forward looking manifestation of Yahweh has in view the pledge of redemptive presence, the name Yahweh accumulates to itself all that the patriarchs had already known about God. the Hebrew verb `to be’ had originally to do with absolute existence, not relative relationships. In our view, Yahweh is the revelation of the Eternal, the independent sovereign of all, who pledges in free grace to come to the redemptive rescue of his chosen people. (220-221)

God as the self-existent one

Yahweh, the self-existent, eternal, and unchanging “I am” is the God of grace who enters into covenant relations with His chosen people (Deut. 5:2). The glorious incommunicable name that the Jews superstitiously refused to pronounce (cf. Lev. 24:16) is descriptive of none but the God of Israel. Henry observes that it was only in post-OT times that the Name of Yahweh was avoided and Heaven was used as a periphrasis. The OT itself did not share this avoidance of the Name of God. (224)

“… in post-Old Testament days Yahweh ceased to be pronounced aloud in the synagogue reading and was replaced orally (but not in writing) by Adhonai. This exchange took place because of the superstitious reverence in which the the scribes held the ineffable name of God. Next when medieval Jewish scholars, the Masoretes, began to write in vowels to accompany the Old Testament text, they added to the original consonants of Yahweh the Masoretic vowel points of Adhonai, and the actual written result became the impossible Y h w h. In the American Standard Version it is rendered “Jehovah.”(Payne, 147)

Since the name Yahweh occurs some 150 times in Genesis, one meets with initial surprise Yahweh’s saying to Moses (Ex. 6:3): “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty (`EL Sadday’), but by my name the Lord (Yahweh) I did not make myself known to them.” No contradiction in the pentateuchal traditions need by posited. Rather Exodus 6:3 affirms that whereas God formerly had been addressed as Yahweh, only at Sinai was the full import of that “glorious name” (Deut. 28:58) make known.(See Henry, 195-209)

The name YHWH is one of covenant relationship,

The name YHWH is one of covenant relationship this is in contrast to ELOHIM which is a name which bespeaks power and transcendence. “Yahweh is the God of covenant promise, of covenant revelation, whose active redemptive concern for his people is--is not merely a memory of past history, is not merely a future hope, but is.” (Henry, 222) “In the exodus revelation God `gave himself away’ to Israel--within his freedom indeed, yet bound by covenant to historical redemptive deliverance.” (Henry 221-222)

YHWH & Hatred of Sin

Also associated with YHWH; His holiness, hatred of sin, love for sinners and redemptive activity.

  • Yahweh-Jireh: The Lord will provide (Gen. 22:14)
  • Yahweh-Sabbaoth: Yahweh of Hosts

The term means “to assemble” and the underlying idea seems to be involved in warfare 1 Sam. 1:3. Usually appears in connection with a national crisis in Israel.

  • Yahweh-Nissi: Yahweh our banner
  • Yahweh-m’qaddishkhem: Yahweh Sanctifier appears in Ex. 31:13 in relationship to sabbath keeping.

The name “ELOHIM” designates God as creator and preserver of all things; “EL Shaddai” represents Him as the mighty one who makes nature subservient to grace; “Yahweh” describes Him as the one whose grace and faithfulness endure forever; “Yahweh-Sabbaoth” characterizes Him as the King in His fullness of Glory, surrounded by organized hosts of angels governing the entire universe as well as the Omnipotent one, and in His temple receiving the honor and adoration of His creatures.

Other Descriptions:
  • Rock: strength
  • Fortress: protection
  • Shield: defense of His own
  • Mighty One: strength forbearance and faithfulness
  • Strength
  • Jealous: desire for the exclusive worship of His people
  • Self-existence

In addition to His names, God’s character is known by the ascription to Him of specific attributes. The opening statement of the Bible, “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1) suggests an existence that is absolute and not contingent on any other being or power.God’s self-existence or aseity is also affirmed in the revelation of the divine name at Sinai (Ex. 3:14). Yahweh thus is upheld as the One who has life in Himself, and One who most fundamentally is.

  • Eternity

The eternity of God is amply affirmed in the five books of the Law. Abraham “called upon the name of the Lord, the Eternal God” (Gen. 21:33). Moreover, implicit in the “I am” of Exodus 3:14 is the postulate of the divine eternity. In addition, both Moses and Yahweh testify that the Lord will live and reign forever (Ex. 15:18, Deut. 33:27). The divine eternality suggests (1) that God’s existence had no beginning and will have no end, (2) that God transcends the limitations of time (“I am”), and (3) that God is the cause and ground of time (cf. John 1:3).

  • Immutability

A consequence of the divine aseity and eternity is God’s immutability. “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:14) dwells above the flux of the contingent universe. Similarly the oracle of Baalam reads: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind (naham). Does He speak and then not act? Does His promise (dabar) and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19). Moreover, the God who is unchanging in His being, character, and counsel is given the title of “Rock” (Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, et al.). As the solid material of which mountains are formed, Rock (sur) points up the stability, unchangeableness, and reliability of Israel’s God. The fact that in Noah’s day God was grieved (Niphal of naham, “be sorry,” “mourn over”) and purposed to destroy sinners from the face of the earth (Gen. 6:6), does not invalidate the divine immutability. Neither did His decision to stay His hand of judgment following the golden calf incident (Exod. 32:12-14) and to withhold his judgment of fire against the murmuring Israelites (Num. 11:1, 10) effect any change in God’s being, character, or strategic purpose. Rather, God consistently dealt with people on the basis of His changeless character and their moral responses, and these dealings He had omnisciently included in His overall plan. That God experienced authentic emotions of regret (Gen. 6:6), anger (Num. 11:10), hatred (Deut. 12:31), jealousy (Ex. 20:4-5), and vengeance (Deut. 32:35) demonstrates that the personal God enjoys a healthy and controlled emotional life. Not moved by forces external to Himself, God remains Himself in the fullness of His own nature.

Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)

Regeneration, Justification and Sanctification

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The word “regeneration” appears only twice in the English Bible. Both appearances are in the New Testament. It was used once by our Lord in Matthew 19:28 and once by the Apostle Paul in Titus 3:5.

The Meaning of Regeneration

The English word “regeneration” is the translation of palingenesia, from palin (again) and genesis (birth). It means simply a new birth, a new beginning, a new order.

When our Lord used the word, He said to His disciples, “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Here the Lord used the word in a wider sense when referring to His coming kingdom on earth. It is the time of the earth’s regeneration, the new order about which the prophets wrote, when Jehovah will set His King upon His holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2:6), “And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). The coming kingdom of Christ on earth is the day of the earth’s regeneration, “the times of restitution (restoration R.V.) of all things” (Acts 3:21).

This re-birth of the earth in the coming Millennial Age will also fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham concerning his descendants, for Israel too will experience a re-birth at that time (See Ezekiel 37).

The kingdom of Christ on earth will be a time of world-wide subjection to the authority of Christ, when sin, sorrow, sickness, suffering and strife will not touch earth’s inhabitants. In that day God shall renew His creation. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6), and “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

In summing up “the regeneration of the earth,” it is that time still future when Christ shall rule on the throne of David (II Samuel 7; Luke 1:32, 33; 2:11), Satan will be incarcerated (Revelation 20:2), Israel will be spiritually re-born (Isaiah 66:8; Ezekiel 37; Matthew 24:8; Romans 11:1, 2, 26), peace, prosperity, social justice and equality will prevail (Isaiah 42:1-4; Micah 4:1-7). This is the golden age, the utopia for which man has sought in vain. It is God’s coming great society, the Theocracy in the earth.

When the Apostle Paul used the word “regeneration,” he wrote, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). The difference between our Lord’s use of the word and Paul’s use of it is obvious. Our Lord used it in its widest sense, of the restoration of all things, at His Second Advent to the earth. Paul used it in referring to the regeneration of the individual man, his being born again into God’s new order. This new order is the Church, the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23), not an organization, but a spiritual organism. No effort on man’s part can bring him into God’s order, for it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5), “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

Regeneration then, may be defined as an act of God whereby He bestows upon the believing sinner new life. This life is God’s own life, the imparting of His own nature. God Himself is the Source and Bestower of His life, so that believers are said to be “partakers of the Divine nature” (II Peter 1:4), “created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10), “born of God” (John 1:13), “born again” (John 3:3, 7), “a new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17).

The Mistakes About Regeneration

Some sincere students of religion have made wrong deductions from the Bible passages which speak of regeneration. Let us examine three erroneous views and then attempt a correct biblical interpretation.

    First, the mistake that water baptism is regeneration.

Our Lord’s words to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), have been given widely different interpretations. Perhaps the most dangerous of these has been, and still is, “baptismal regeneration,” the idea that the text is teaching that water baptism is necessary to salvation. But to insist that the new birth occurs as the result of water baptism makes regeneration a matter of external ritualism. Whatever Christ meant by being “born of water,” He most certainly was not referring to an outward ritual.

If in His word to Nicodemus our Lord was referring to baptism by water, then it follows that all who have died and were not baptized are lost. This mistaken view would mean, then, that the penitent thief on the cross was not saved, notwithstanding the fact that Jesus said he was. If we accept the erroneous idea that baptism is a means of regeneration, then it would follow that all baptized persons are regenerated. But are they?

Simon Magus was baptized, but he was not regenerated. The Scripture does say that “Simon himself believed” (Acts 8:13); however, there is a belief which is followed by regeneration, and there is a belief which might not be followed by regeneration. “The devils (demons) also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19), but such mere belief cannot save one. A person can have an intellectual concept and give mental assent to a truth or doctrine, yet never become born again. When great numbers of Samaritans heard Philip and believed and were baptized, Simon also accepted the facts and came forward to be baptized. But was he ever truly saved? It appears from Acts 8:18, 19 that Simon never did enter experientially into the truth of the Gospel. He lacked the real power of God, so he thought to purchase it with money. “But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:21-23). I interpret Peter’s scathing rebuke to mean that there was a man who, though he was baptized, was never regenerated.

The “baptismal regeneration” theory is not merely erroneous but dangerous, because it holds that baptized babies of believing parents are saved, and unbaptized babies who die as such, are lost forever. This is an evil without any authority in the Bible. It is nowhere taught by Christ nor expressed in the writings of the Apostles that infant baptism was believed by them. There is no trace of infant baptism in the New Testament.

    Second, the mistake that reformation is regeneration.

Human reformation is superficial. Man’s nature is depraved, so much so that God Himself makes no attempt to improve it to make it fit for His holy presence. Most of us have at one time sought to improve ourselves by “turning over a new leaf” and attempting to throw off bad habits. But no matter how far one is able to proceed in the reformation of the old life, no amount of improving the fallen nature can serve as a substitute for the Divine Nature which is given us of God when we are born from above.

Dr. William E. Biederwolf once said, “Every creature born into this world has a nature after its kind. You can’t train a bird to crawl, for the same reason you can’t train a snake to fly. True to his nature, a caterpillar crawls, and when we see him fly we don’t say, ‘What an accomplished caterpillar!’ But we say the creature has been changed, it has a new nature, it has been born again; it is now a butterfly. The same thing is true of the natural and spiritual man.”

The best reformed person cannot measure up to God’s righteous standards. As to his understanding, he cannot know the things of God (I Corinthians 2:14); as to his will, he cannot subject himself to the law of God (Romans 8:7); as to his affections, he cannot love God (Romans 8:8). The utter inability of the natural man to enter into the Kingdom of God shows the necessity of being born again.

    Third, the mistake that regeneration is hereditary.

It is erroneous teaching which says that spiritual life can be transmitted from parent to child. The grace of God does not run in human veins. God has children but no grandchildren. In his first reference to the new birth, the Apostle John refers to those “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Regeneration is “not of blood,” which means, I take it, that not even the finest Christian parents can impart Divine life to their offspring. It is not possible for a child of God to communicate the Divine nature to an unsaved person, even if that person is his own flesh and blood. All that is born of human blood is depraved and is therefore heir to death (Romans 5:12). Only God can communicate life.

Some who believe regeneration to be hereditary use Acts 16:31 in support of this theory. But when Paul and Silas said to the jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house,” they were telling him how he and the members of his household could be saved. If he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, he would be saved, and if those at home would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, they too would be saved. God has but one way of saving people. Paul and Silas were not telling the jailer that his faith would save both himself and his family.

The Must of Regeneration

It was not to a social outcast, criminal or drunkard, but to a religious, law-abiding man that Christ addressed the command, “Ye must be born again.” Some persons who possess a certain moral goodness and are therefore self-righteous, do not realize any need of regeneration. They feel that only drunkards, thieves, murderers, harlots, dope addicts, and the like need to be born again. A woman, whose parents were missionaries to India, told me that she did not need to be born again because she was born right the first time and simply needed to continue being good. This is far from the truth.

The necessity of regeneration for all men grew out of the depravity of man’s nature. The natural man is “dead in trespasses and sins . . . alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 2:1; 4:18) because his iniquities have separated him from God (Isaiah 59:2). The need for being regenerated is universal. “There is none righteous, no, not one . . . For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:2, 3). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The best thing God can do for man is to bring him to a knowledge of his sin so that he will realize his need of being regenerated. Our Lord left no doubt as to the indispensable necessity of the new birth as a pre-requisite to entrance into the Kingdom of God.

Heaven may be reached without education, wealth or worldly acclaim, but it will not be inhabited by those who have not been regenerated. It has been said that George Whitfield preached more than three hundred times using John 3:3-7 as his text. When asked why he preached so frequently from these verses, he replied solemnly, “Because ye must be born again.” This is a Divine imperative. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), and “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8), because in the flesh “dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). Man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness are opposed to each other so that regeneration is an absolute necessity. Inasmuch as our Lord said, “Ye must be born again,” you better believe it!

The Means of Regeneration

Regeneration is the implantation of a new life. The theory known as Spontaneous Generation, that is, that life can spring into being of itself, is no longer believed by modern day scientists. The evolutionary theory holds that life must come from pre-existing life, but it is at a loss to know where life begins. The basic error of false systems of theology, philosophy and science is the failure to accept the most sublime and comprehensive statement in human language which introduces us to the greatest revelation of truth ever given to mankind. The opening statement in the Bible says, “In the beginning God created . . .” (Genesis 1:1).

Here we learn that God is the Source and Cause of all things. Life begins with God. Neither the universe nor anything in it is self-originated. God stands at the commencement of all life. God is life. Man in his original state was the perfect work of God. But man has fallen. His willful sin brought death, both physical and spiritual, so that in his fallen, sinful state he is “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18).

God is the Source of the new life which is communicated to the believing sinner. Man is unable to impart Divine life, therefore he has no part in the New Birth. All Christian parents would bestow eternal life on their offspring if they could, but they cannot. A man is born again., “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Since only God possesses creative power, He alone can impart life where there is no life. But by what means does God produce the miracle of the New Birth? Our Lord said to Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). We have already stated that it is erroneous to assume that one is born again at the time of his being baptized with water. The “water” in this verse does not refer to baptism.

But what did our Lord mean by being “born of water”? Whenever we come to a verse in the Bible, such as this one, about which there is disagreement and difference of interpretation, we must be patient and prayerful in our pursuit of other Bible passages which shed light on the subject under discussion.

There are occasions in the Scripture where the word “water” is used symbolically, and then the symbolism is not always the same. The following passage teaches that water is sometimes a symbol of the Holy Spirit--“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit . . . ” (John 7:37-39). It would appear that when water is used symbolically of the Holy Spirit, it is in connection with drinking purposes.

Water is also used in the Bible as an emblem of the Word of God, and in such uses it is associated with cleansing or washing, not drinking. Baptism does not avail to cleanse the heart from defilement, but our Lord did say, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). Is Christ speaking of the water of the word in John 3:5? Let us turn to the Scriptures for the answer. In the second most important passage on the means of Regeneration, we find our answer. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, but the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Peter 1:23). Here Peter speaks of the use made of the Word of God in Regeneration. The Word of God is the means by which the Holy Spirit accomplishes the New Birth. Here Peter is saying the same as Jesus said in John 3:5.

This is understood more clearly when we realize that the Word of God is both living and life-producing. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The living word came from the living God, and it has power to impart life to all who believe it. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). And if you are wondering how the Word of God quickens faith, the answer is, By imparting knowledge. Knowledge precedes faith, because faith always has an object. The Word of God presents to us the fact of our sin and condemnation, that without Christ we are without a Saviour and with no hope. The Word of God shows us that the Son of God came into the world to bear the sinner’s judgment through His substitutionary death for the sinner (Matthew 20:28; Luke 19:10; I Corinthians 15:3, 4). The Word of God assures us that all one needs in order to pass from death to life is to believe the facts and receive the Saviour. Our Lord Himself said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). So you see that without the Word of God a man cannot be regenerated, or born again. This is why people are not being born again in churches where the Word of God is not preached and taught.

The Holy Scriptures are both living and life-producing. The Apostle James attributes the sovereign work of God in regeneration to the living Word of God. He writes, “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth” (James 1:18). Our Lord said, “The words that I speak unto you . . . they are life” (John 6:63). “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). He prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The Psalmist wrote, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according the Thy Word” (Psalm 119:9). These passages of Scripture all lend support to the fact that God’s Word is the Divine means used in the regeneration of sinners, and that the “water” in John 3:5 is used as a symbol of the Word of God. In further support of the water-Word interpretation of John 3:5, the Apostle Paul wrote how Christ sanctifies and cleanses His church “with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

God the Father is the Author of regeneration and His Word the means. However, our Lord said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Holy Spirit is the active Agent in regeneration. Just as there must be the human agent in a human birth, so there must be the Divine Agent in the new birth from above. When we came into the world by means of our physical birth, we were born of corruptible (or perishable, dying) seed, because two human parents can beget a child only in their own likeness. Through natural birth they pass on to their offspring their own nature and likeness. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6).

But on the other hand, “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). When we are born again, the Holy Spirit begets new life, Divine life, so that we are said to become “partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). The New Birth is brought to pass through “incorruptible seed, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:23), but the Holy Spirit is the Agent who accomplishes the miracle of regeneration.

The Holy Spirit was active in the generation of the physical universe. We read, “And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).

The Holy Spirit was the active Agent in the creation of man. “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 soul” (Genesis 2:7). “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4).

The Holy Spirit was the active Agent in the conception and birth of Jesus Christ. “. . . Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20). “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with God . . . The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:30, 35).

From the above passages it is clear that the act of imparting life has been the Holy Spirit’s work from the beginning. Regeneration is in a sense a repetition of that which took place in the first man, Adam; however, the processes are different. Adam, in his original state, was created with the gift of life; this was the implantation of life through the creative process. Today God is implanting spiritual life to believing sinners through the redemptive process. In both instances the Holy Spirit is the Agent.

To be “born of water and of the Spirit” is to be regenerated by means of the Word of God and by the active Agency of the Spirit of God. It is not by the Word of God alone that a man is regenerated, but by the Word and the Holy Spirit, “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).

The Mystery of Regeneration

That there is something incomprehensible about Regeneration no one can deny. While God did tell us some things about the New Birth, the Scriptures are clear also that as far as man is concerned, there are certain limitations in understanding fully this inexplicable phenomenon. The scholarly Nicodemus, to whom our Lord expounded the New Birth, could not fully understand it. “Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?” (John 3:9).

Our Lord admitted that to the natural mind there is mystery attached to this mighty subject. He said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The best trained meteorologists with the latest scientific radar equipment will admit a certain enigma in the movement of the winds. With their finest instruments and technological knowledge they cannot always perceive the current of the air masses. And even when man does know the directions of the wind, he is unable to regulate or control its power. The wind is an invisible and mysterious force; yet its effects are plainly evident. Its unseen power lies beyond the reach of our vision and understanding The wind is sovereign in its movements and silent as to its mystery. It blows where it pleases, and it is invisible, inscrutable, irresistible and inexplicable. The analogy of the movements of the wind to the Spirit’s operation in Regeneration is clear.

In connection with the mystery of the New Birth, there is a verse of Scripture which speaks of the mystery of another Birth. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh . . .” (I Timothy 3:16). This verse is speaking of the Incarnation of God the eternal Son, His miraculous conception in the virgin’s womb. What a theme! He existed in spirit form eternally before the world was, and still He was born an infant babe, of a woman, having no human father. “God was manifest in the flesh.” What man has understood or explained it? Paul says it is a “mystery,” inscrutable and inexplicable. Christ’s coming into the world was a supernatural event, both the fact and the manner of His coming being a mystery to man. That He came to earth none can deny, but any biological explanation remains a mystery. It is “without controversy,” that is, beyond all question and doubt.

The New Birth is no less a mystery than is the Virgin Birth of our Lord. He who denies the possibility of Christ’s Virgin Birth can hardly be expected to believe in the New Birth. There is a mystery attached to both.

The Miracle of Regeneration

Human birth is a complex miracle, but the New Birth is a far more complex miracle. The word “miracle” is used in the New Testament to refer to a work of supernatural origin and character such as could not be produced by natural agents and means. The word is sometimes translated “sign,” denoting a miracle or wonder of Divine origin and authority. When Christ was on earth He performed many miracles. His first recorded act that could not be produced instanteously by natural means was the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-10). Of this miracle John wrote, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him” (John 2:11).

These miracles, or signs, or wonders, were performed by our Lord as an evidence of His Deity, and they were done by Him so that sinners would believe in Him and be saved. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did” (John 2:23). “And many other signs (wonders, miracles) truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:30, 31).

In Christ’s day miracles were a substantial aid to one’s faith. In our day of scientific advance, miracles are to some an obstacle to faith. A religion that has none of the miraculous or supernaturalism is easier to accept than one that demands supernaturalism. Men refuse to accept historic Christianity because it claims for itself a supernatural revelation and demands of every man a supernatural Regeneration. A regenerated man makes no attempt to explain the miracles recorded in the Bible, the Miracle-Book. He accepts them. Put God into a miracle and doubt gives way to faith. Once a man has experienced the miracle of the New Birth, he will have no problem with accepting the miracles recorded in God’s Word.

To be born again is to be “born of God” (John 1:13). Therefore, it is enough to say that God, a supernatural Being, has revealed Himself in His supernatural Son and in His supernatural Book, and He will, by the power of that Word and His supernatural Spirit, impart supernaturally His own life to any person who will receive it by faith. My own regeneration is to me the miracle of miracles. It happened in December 1927, and it has been blessedly real.

The manifestations of Regeneration

The New Birth produces some glorious effects in the believer’s life. These should be examined carefully because the new life needs to develop. Where life begins it should mature. The effects of Regeneration are nothing short of miraculous because there is no power within man that can produce them. They are the spiritual birthmarks of the born again ones.

    The New Birth results in a new life.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). The regenerated person can testify that things are different now. With our New Birth we received a new power and pattern for living. The regenerated man is a “new creation,” the “new” meaning a difference in kind. He now possesses a different kind of life. The words in the text mean more than a mere outward reformation, for it is more than the improvement of the old life. A complete change has come. We have here a new creation as against the old creation. The source of the old creation was Adam, and from him we inherited sin and death. The Fountainhead of the new creation is Christ, so that a profound and radical change has taken place in the believer. The New Birth brought with it new life, and the new life has brought an entirely new set of desires, appetites, ideals and goals. Now the New Birth does not eradicate the old nature, but it does give new life to control it. And make certain that you are clear on one point, namely, the new creation begins with Christ.

    The New Birth results in a new fellowship.

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (I John 3:14). When one is born again he instinctively is drawn to those persons of like precious faith. All regenerated persons are one in Christ, and love is their badge. Christ said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). It is not a fellowship of the rich, the elite, or of one denomination as against another. All born again persons have God as their Father; therefore they are one in Christ, sharing a mutual love. No person who hates has Christ’s new life in him. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (I John 3:15). It is not possible to love God if we do not love our fellow-man. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20). The fellowship of those born again is the most satisfying and productive among all fellowships. And again the point should be made that this fellowship is a spiritual one, having its roots in Jesus Christ (I John 1:3). “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him” (I John 5:1).

    The New Birth results in a new standard of righteousness.

“. . . Ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him” (I John 2:29). Righteousness is that character or quality of being right or just in the sight of God. Men have varying standards of righteousness, and they are sometimes sincerely zealous, “but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:2, 3). They refuse to believe that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), and until we are born again, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:12). But after we are born again, Christ becomes our righteousness (I Corinthians 1:30). This righteousness is imputed to the believer by God on the faith principle apart from human works (Romans 4:5, 6). It is God’s gift to every regenerated man (Romans 5:17). Having become partakers of the Divine Nature we now see sin as God sees it. Our standards of what is right and just we now find in God’s Word. The word “again” as used by our Lord in John 3:3, 7, where He spoke of being “born again,” is the translation of another, which means from above. He did not use it with reference to repeated action, but rather in contrast to our physical birth which is from beneath, or earthly. Thus having been born from above, we are to “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1, 2).

In summing up our study of the doctrine of Regeneration, we may conclude that the regenerated person has been given the power to obey God and to grow in grace. The act of regeneration itself is instantaneous. Spiritually speaking, you are either born or unborn. If you have not experienced the new birth, trust Christ now, and the Holy Spirit will give you new life.


All the doctrines of the Bible are important, but none is more vital to the peace and rest of the child of God than the Bible truth of Justification. The believer does not ascend to the peak of Christian joy until he appreciates and appropriates this aspect of the grace of God. Forgiveness is wonderful; pardon is wonderful; cleansing is wonderful; but Justification is more wonderful. In Paul’s day, and later in the days of the Protestant Reformation, and in our own day, it would be difficult to find a truth more cardinal to our historic Christian faith than the doctrine of Justification.

In the preceding lesson we discussed the doctrine of Regeneration. Now there is a difference between Regeneration and Justification. Regeneration is God working in us; Justification is God working for us.

The Fact of Justification

The question of man’s justification before God was raised early in man’s history. In the Book of Job we read, “How should man be just with God?” (Job 9:2), and “How then can man be justified with God?” (Job 25:4).

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul, chief exponent of the doctrine of Justification, developed it more fully. After his conversion, and during his visit to Antioch in Pisidia, he said, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38, 39). Paul says that forgiveness and justification are made possible through Jesus Christ, but he makes it clear that the two are not identical. If a criminal is found guilty and convicted of crime, he may be forgiven by the offended party and even pardoned by the governor, but he remains guilty of his offense. His guilt was established and the court records carry it as such. He has been forgiven but not justified.

The Apostle is saying that God does two things for the guilty but believing sinner that no man can possibly do for another; that is, He both forgives and justifies. Justification is more than forgiveness. We can forgive another for his wrong, but never can we justify him. Forgiveness assumes guilt; therefore, the guilty one cannot be justified. On the other hand, if we justify a man, then he needs no forgiveness, because justification assumes no guilt. But since all men are both guilty and condemned sinners before God, all need both forgiveness and justification before entering the Kingdom of God.

Justification can be defined as that act of God whereby He declares absolutely righteous any and all who take shelter in the blood of Christ as their only hope for salvation. Justification is a legal term which changes the believing sinner’s standing before God, declaring him acquitted and accepted by God, with the guilt and penalty of his sins put away forever. Justification is the sentence of the Judge in favor of the condemned man, clearing him of all blame and freeing him of every charge. Justification does not make the sinner righteous, but when God sees him “in Christ,” He declares that he is righteous, thereby pronouncing the verdict of “not guilty.” In modern jurisprudence a sentence in any court must be in keeping with the facts presented. A judge has no right to condemn the innocent or to clear the guilty. Only God can clear the guilty.

We must keep in mind the fact that there is a close connection between the act of justifying and the imputed righteousness of the one who has been justified. Though the words just, justify, justification, right, righteous, and righteousness are all translations from the same root, their individual meanings may differ slightly. However, a general meaning is common to all. The meaning of these words is always objective, not subjective. If we looked to men for a definition of the words justification and righteousness, their meaning might change with time and differ according to geographical location. Men change in their thinking. What might be considered just and right in one generation, or in one part of the world, might not be so considered in another generation, or in a different part of the world. Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest said, “God is the objective standard which determines the content and meaning, and at the same time keeps that content of meaning constant and unchanging, since He only is the unchanging One.” A just person is one who has been declared righteous by God. God is the Author of Justification. “It is God that justifieth” (Romans 8:33). Man has nothing to do with it except to receive it through faith, and that as the Holy Spirit enables him.

The Foundation of Justification

Forgiveness cannot be effected, nor righteousness declared, until guilt has been established. If a man is not guilty, no act or declaration of justification is needed. The man who contends that he does not need to be justified by God must first establish the evidence that there is no accusation against him. But he who believes the Scriptures, and examines his own heart honestly, must admit that he is an accused and guilty sinner before God. We know that there is something wrong with the human race. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

God chose the Apostle Paul to expound the doctrine of Justification. This Paul did in detail in his Epistle to the Romans. Romans 1:18-3:20 depicts a court scene. In 1:18-32 the unrighteousness of the Gentiles is exposed to the light. With great delicacy Paul alluded to some of the vile practices of which they were guilty. Then in clear and bold logic, he listed twenty-five charges against man. In chapter 2:1-16 he shows that the self-righteous are equally guilty before God. The moralists of Paul’s day were men of culture, refinement, and intellect, but they too were inexcusable. In the remainder of chapter 2, verses 17-29, the Apostle strips the Jew of every vestige of the cloak of self-righteousness, so that when we reach chapter 3, verse 19, God’s startling verdict is “Guilty!” Every mouth is stopped and all the world is accused before Him. A sad picture, but true!

Consider well and take seriously the fact of the universality of sin. You and I are guilty and condemned. No earthly or fleshly means, no court on earth can justify us in God’s sight. We lack righteousness. God has a righteousness which He desires to make ours. If we accept it, He will pardon, forgive, free, cleanse, and justify us. Upon this foundation God goes into action. Man’s need and his inability to help himself occasion a move on God’s part. He must find a way to ransom His fallen creature and to remove both the penalty and guilt of man’s sin.

The question arises, How can God justify the guilty sinner and at the same time remain just? How can He declare an unrighteous man righteous and Himself remain right? This is the problem simply stated, and it is the basis upon which God acts in Justification. The very nature of God demands that He justify the righteous and condemn the guilty. If, out of favoritism, or for other reasons, God cleared the guilty and condemned the righteous, He would not be administering justice. Little wonder that one theologian suggested that the holy and righteous God faced the greatest riddle ever when He set out to justify the ungodly.

I must confess that, as a parent, I have been guilty of dealing unjustly with my children, not in punishing them for their misconduct, but in finding some excuse for it. More than once I explained away their conduct because I did not want to administer justice as I knew it should be administered. In so doing I failed to deal justly on the basis of the facts in the case. Because they were my children and I loved them, I excused and shielded their guilt. Now I am critical of my sons when I see them dealing in this same way with their children. I am more ready now to judge my grandchildren justly, but love kept me from so judging my own children.

God, in keeping with His holiness and justice, cannot deal unjustly with guilty sinners. He must judge and condemn the guilty. But since all are guilty and deserving of judgment, how can He save those whom He loves? From the human viewpoint this is an insurmountable problem, one for which there is no solution. But God did find a way whereby He could remain just and at the same time justify the guilty who would do no more than believe. How He did it is the burden of our present study, for it brings before us one of the most majestic and profound truths in all the Bible, the doctrine of Justification.

The Function of Justification

What is the function of justification?

    First, we know that sinners are justified by God.

God Himself is the Justifier. Only God can justify a man; no man can justify another man. The tribunal of Heaven differs from all earthly tribunals. The source of justification must be in the one holy and righteous God. The governor of a state, or the President of the United States, can pardon a guilty and condemned criminal, but neither can reinstate the criminal to the position of an innocent man. The Bible illustrates this: “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then shall they justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked” (Deuteronomy 25:1). In all human jurisprudence such a procedure is proper. If a man is not guilty of a charge made against him, he should be justified. But in the case of biblical justification, all men are sinners, and since all sin is against God, He only must be satisfied. “. . . whom He (God) called, them He also justified . . .” (Romans 8:30). “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Romans 8:33). “. . . That He (God) might be just, and the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Indeed, only God can justify sinners.

    Second, we are justified by grace.

“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Look carefully at the text and notice that word “freely.” The Greek word (dorean) translated “freely” means “without a cause.” The same Greek word is so translated in John 15:25. There was no cause in the words and works of Jesus for which men should hate Him, yet He was hated “freely,” “without a cause.” Just as there was no cause that men should hate our Lord, so there was no cause that God should justify man; but He justifies him “freely,” without a cause. Jesus came with a heart full of love for mankind, but they hated Him. Man’s heart has been evil continually, but God loves him. Justification is something for nothing. In the Latin version the word “freely” is “gratis,” “being justified gratis.” God’s method of justifying men gives us a glorious demonstration of His sovereign grace. Grace has dug a foundation so deep that men have been drinking from its cleansing, justifying stream for centuries.

After Charles Spurgeon had finished preaching a sermon on “Justification by Grace,” a man came to him and said, “Oh sir, I have been praying and I do not think God will forgive me unless I do something to deserve it.” To which Mr. Spurgeon replied, “I tell you, sir, if you bring any of your deservings, you shall never have it. God gives away His justification freely; and if you bring anything to pay for it, He will throw it in your face and will not give His justification to you.”

You cannot buy it with money, for it is “freely by His grace.” You cannot work for it with your hands; it is “freely by His grace.” You cannot receive it through any rite or ceremony; it is “freely by His grace.” You cannot lay claim to it because you are not so bad as others, for it is “freely by His grace.” It is useless to wait until you improve, because it is “freely by His grace.” If you hope to be justified before God apart from grace, you have a false idea of the value of the Christian Gospel. Perhaps some of you think that it is all too cheap and not worth bothering about. If such is the case, I urge you to come with me that I may show you what it cost God to provide justification for you and me.

    Third, we are justified by blood.

The provision for righteousness is solely through the blood of Christ. “Much more then, being now justified by His (Christ’s) blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9). “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26) These verses are of tremendous importance because they show the only ground of justification.

We emphasize the phrase “to declare his righteousness,” for to justify means to declare righteous, the basis of which is the shed Blood of Jesus Christ. The righteousness of God for sinners has been wrought through the redeeming process of God’s Son. When God declares a man righteous, that declaration and act finds its efficacy in the Blood of Jesus Christ, Who died on Calvary. The worth of His shed Blood is the righteous ground on which the grace of God can act in behalf of sinners.

Did you ever question why Christ died on the Cross? The answer is “to declare His righteousness.” You see, God could not remain just and at the same time allow sin to go unpunished. Justification cannot be on arbitrary grounds. There must be a moral basis for a holy God to justify a sinful man. God cannot be just and the Justifier of the ungoldly (Romans 3:26) unless a just penalty has been exacted. He is never merciful at the expense of justice. If God is to justify a guilty sinner, He can do it only on the ground that the payment for sin has been met. When an earthly judge shows mercy, he is not being just; and when he is just, he cannot show mercy. The only way that God could be both merciful and just was through Calvary, where Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin. There He vindicated His Holy Law and at the same time showed mercy to sinners. The vicarious sufferings and death of Christ are the cause of our justification before God.

Paul set forth this doctrine clearly in II Corinthians 5:21 when he said, “For he (God) hath made him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Justification is only “in Him,” for apart from Him no basis for it exists.

Let us put it another way--the only righteous basis for our justification has been provided through the death of Christ. This was the only way that God could have reckoned to us His righteousness, and it is the one way He found of not reckoning to us our sin. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer; the sin of the unbeliever is imputed to Christ as if that sin were Christ’s. Think you it was a fair exchange? Little wonder that men will love and serve the Lord Jesus by life and by death! Praise God for the atonement, for without it He could not reckon us other than what we actually are, nor could He deal with us differently from what we deserve. God can make bad men good only through the death of His Son, for we are justified by His Blood.

    Fourth, we are justified by faith.

“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). “Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Faith is the vital point of contact between the sinner and God. All may be justified, but only those who believe are justified. Remember, there is no meritorious value in faith itself. The Blood of Christ and the grace of God compose the basis of justification and the principle upon which it is offered to man. This is the God-ward aspect of justification, but like all the blessings of salvation, the sinner cannot receive it until he accepts it, and this he does when he acknowledges his guilt and puts personal faith in what God has done for him in Christ.

Paul gave Abraham as an excellent biblical illustration of justification by faith. He says, “. . . Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3, cf. Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6). Abraham had nothing, or did nothing, that would stand boasting before God. He simply believed God, and through his faith in the truth which God had spoken, God in grace freely justified him. It was Abraham’s faith that was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Verse 5 tells us that only one kind of man can be justified; not the self righteous worker, but the ungodly man who believes, for, says Paul: “. . . to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Do not misunderstand Paul. He is not inferring that faith is righteousness, but rather that faith is the means through which righteousness is reckoned. Faith is not the end in itself; it is a means to the end.

Abraham’s justification is the pattern of the justification of all men. The principle on which God declared him righteous is the principle on which He declares any man righteous. When God, by a judicial decision, made Abraham a righteous man, He did it on the principle of faith, “that he (Abraham) might be the father of all them that believe” (Romans 4:11). Abraham was justified, not by rites of religion, for circumcision was not required until later, nor by the deeds of the law, for the law was not yet given, but through faith in God’s Word.

The Bible so solemnly shows us that he who justifies himself by his own works must be condemned by God, but he who condemns himself and trusts in Christ will find complete justification in Him.

I would not work my soul to save,
That work my Lord has done;
But I would work like any slave
For love of God’s dear Son.

One further thought. In a comprehensive statement of the Gospel, Paul wrote, “Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Christ’s resurrection was as necessary for our justification as was His death. Had He not risen, man would be yet in his sins (I Corinthians 15:17), because Christ would not be what He claimed to be. He had to rise from death and appear before God in our behalf in order to secure for us the benefits of His death. Had death triumphed over Him, our justification would have been forever impossible. That He should pass into Heaven to appear for us was as necessary as His death on the cross (Matthew 16:21). On account of our offenses He died, and on account of our justification He arose, the latter being the ratifying counterpart of the former, the confirmation of the completeness and satisfaction of the atonement.

    Fifth, we are justified by the Spirit.

“And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11). I understand this verse to mean that the Holy Spirit is the agent and power by which we are declared righteous. It is the Spirit Who regenerates us (John 3:5; Titus 3:5) and puts us in Christ. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body . . .” (I Corinthians 12:13). All three Persons in the Holy Trinity are active in the justification of sinners. The believing sinner’s righteousness is the plan of God the Father, the provision of God the Son, and by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

There is no conflict between Paul and James in their presentation of the Doctrine of Justification. Both were inspired by the Holy Spirit, therefore both are correct.

Paul says, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).

James says, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

Paul is explaining how a sinner is justified (pronounced righteous) by God, namely, by faith alone. James is stating how a believer who has been justified by God is justified before men, namely, by works. James is speaking of the evidence of justification. He makes his point clear by use of illustration: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21). Of course he was! But when did Abraham offer Isaac upon the altar? It was many years after he was justified before God. God justified Abraham before Isaac was born (Genesis 15:6). Abraham justified himself before men after he had been declared acquitted by God. What was true of Abraham was likewise true of Rahab (James 2:25). Both have reference to justification before men. When a man says he has been justified by God, his fellowmen have a right to expect him to prove his faith by his good works.

The Biblical account of the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29), shows that Paul and James were in perfect agreement. In Romans Paul is merely emphasizing the truth that faith is the means of justification, while James stresses the fact that good works are the fruit of justification. Paul says, “Do not depend on your good works to justify you.” James says, “Do not neglect to perform good works if you are justified.” Both are right. When a man is justified by faith, good works are sure to follow.

A solemn word of warning is in order here. When the covetous Pharisees derided our Lord, Who knew their hearts, Jesus answered them, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). There is a false exterior justification that has the approval and approbation of men, but is despised of God because the heart is not right. There is always the danger of men trying to live the Christian life when they are not Christian at heart. Remember, it is by God’s perfect standard of justification that we all will be tried. The Pharisees made open and loud professions before men, but their hearts were full of covetousness. So much lower than God’s standard of holiness is man’s that things which are approved of men may be counted as evil in the sight of God. Let us make certain that by faith we are justified before God.

Nor can it be said that Paul contradicted himself when he wrote, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13). Paul wrote this to those who were boasting that the Law was given to them. They gloried in the Law. They trusted in the Law. But the Law condemned them because they could not keep it. Paul was telling them that if they hoped to be justified by the Law, they had to be more than hearers--they must be doers. But where is there a man who ever kept the whole law? There was but One. His name is Jesus Christ, and He was the only Just Man. He needed not to be justified since He was already holy and just. If any person would be saved by keeping the Law, then he must keep it wholly, not merely in part, for “. . . he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).

If a man’s obedience to some part of the law is his boast, he may glory before man “but not before God” (Romans 4:2).

The Fruits of Justification

Paul’s summary of his argument of this great truth lists the blessings which accompany it. Here is the believer’s heritage in Christ. These results of justification by faith are given to us in Romans, chapter 5.

Paul commences in verse 1 with the word “therefore.” This word definitely connects that which is to follow with that which has been said in previous chapters. It gathers up the truth of what precedes and sheds light upon the truth about to be affirmed. We began with man down in the depth of sin, Jew and Gentile alike, both guilty and condemned before God. Then we saw the record of the pure love and grace of God, in sending Jesus Christ to die in the sinner’s place and for sin, showing that the sinner could be justified before God, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” “Therefore,” says Paul, “in view of what God in His Son has done for man, these are the blessings that pour forth from God to all who receive His justifying grace.”

    A. We Have Peace With God (Romans 5:1)

This phrase sets forth the greatness of our new standing before Him. This peace is not subjective; it is objective. It is not the tranquility and quietness of our own feelings and emotions. Elsewhere Paul speaks of the “peace of God” (Philippians 4:7), an experience of those believers who learn to cast their cares on Him. “Peace with God” means that the strife between God and the believer has ended, hostilities have ceased, and no longer are we His enemies. Praise God! The war is done, armistice has been declared, and God holds nothing whatever against us. Sin has been fully and finally judged in the Person of Christ, our Substitute and Sin-Bearer. God was satisfied with the sacrifice of His Son, and never again will He take up a case against those who have been justified by faith. He sees the believer just as if he had never sinned. Declared righteous through the redemption which is in Christ, the believer can now say with Andrew Bonar:

I hear the word of love,
I gaze upon the Blood;
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God.

‘Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s name;
‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.

A judicial peace between a holy God and a guilty sinner has been established. Jesus Christ “made peace through the blood of his cross . . . And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:20-22).

    B. We Have Access to God (Romans 5:2)

Before our sins were put away, we had absolutely no right of approach to God. Sin shuts man out from God’s presence. Our first parents were driven out from the garden; Cain was driven out from the presence of the Lord; Israel was kept afar off from the foot of Mount Sinai lest some of the people should approach it. Only the high priest could come before the Divine Presence, and that only once each year, and not without blood. Of Jehovah, the Prophet wrote: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13). But Christ having taken away my sin, I now have access into God’s presence. Since only the righteous can enter, the believer has access because he has been justified--declared righteous. He now can be introduced to the private chamber of the King of kings, even into the holiest of all. Furthermore, it is important that we do not overlook the fact that this access is both a present and a permanent possession. Remember, we could never open the way nor introduce ourselves to God. We were brought there by Christ Who said, “I am the Door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

Beloved, let us not neglect our privilege--“in and out.” Shame on believers to have access to so much and possess so little! We have access into His grace. It is our own fault if we are empty. But let us never lose sight of the glorious fact that our Lord Jesus Christ, through His Death, is the sole ground of our justification. We have access only through Him. Even in our daily prayer life, He warned us that we can be successful only as we pray, as He said, “In My Name.” It is “through Him we have access” (Ephesians 2:18). “In Christ Jesus our Lord . . . we have boldness and access” (Ephesians 3:11, 12). “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). This truth is emphasized for us in I Peter 3:18, where we read: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” The last phrase of this verse, “that He might bring us to God,” can be translated, “that He might provide for us access into the presence of God.” This blessed privilege is all of grace.

    C. We Rejoice in Hope of the Glory of God (Romans 5:2)

When a man is justified by faith, he rejoices in the present because of the future glory. The writer knows from experience that when the truth of justification burst upon his soul, his joy and rejoicing increased. Knowing that we shall enter into and share Christ’s glory should make us rejoice now. There is glory for the believer which has not yet been manifested. It is future--“When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory” (Colossians 3:4 R.V.). It is His own glory which He has given to us (John 17:22), and it is the result of our being declared righteous through faith in His Blood. It is “the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18), for “whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). This means that justification by faith guarantees for us our future. It works! It will last!

    D. We Glory in Tribulation Also (Romans 5:3)

There is no promise in God’s Word that those who are justified by faith shall escape tribulation. But our present hope and future glory are not jeopardized by tribulation. Tribulation cannot touch the security of the justified. The mere professor is easily moved by tribulation (Matthew 13:21), but in the justified, tribulation works a positive good. Those who are justified by faith can take pleasure in tribulation (II Corinthians 12:10), for we know that it is “but for a moment,” and that it “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Corinthians 4:17).

Someone may ask, “How can you take such an attitude toward your troubles?” Charles Hodge has said, “Since our relation to God is changed, the relation of all things to us is changed.” And that is the answer! Judicially we are declared righteous, we are justified, and the just shall live by faith. None but the justified who walk by faith can rejoice in the midst of tribulation, for rejoicing in tribulation is not natural to the unregenerate heart.

If this message should find its way into the hands of an unsaved person, I would say in closing that God can do nothing more to save you. Heaven was bankrupt to make you righteous. He did all that He could do. Reject the Saviour no longer, but, like Abraham of old, believe God, and it shall be counted unto you for righteousness.


The doctrine of Sanctification is doubtless one of the most misunderstood doctrines of our historic Christian faith. Many Christians either withdraw from it completely or else they associate it with fanatical fringe groups. The result has been its continued neglect or mistreatment.

Now I am aware of the fact that this attempt to expound Sanctification places me on controversial ground. If my reader will heed my plea for charity, I promise not to be quarrelsome. Moreover, I do not want to bring thunder and lightning crashing down upon my own head. If there is going to be any disagreement among us, please let us disagree agreeably. We are in a warfare, not against each other, but against sin. The very fact that we are saved people should tell us that the doctrine of Sanctification does not belong in the ring of polemical pugilism.

If there is a basic error, I believe it is the failure to grasp the meaning of the term Sanctification. On one occasion I gave to my class in a Bible College the assignment to write a definition of Sanctification. Many of the students stressed the idea of purification from moral evil. Several were more explicit in making Sanctification a state of holiness in which it was not possible for a saved person to sin. Not posse non peccare (able not to sin), but non posse peccare (not able to sin). Now the students did not learn this from the Bible. The Scriptures do not teach that Sanctification is the improvement of the unregenerate nature, nor that it is the eradication of that nature thereby rendering it impossible for a child of God to commit sin. I am not suggesting that there is no experiential aspect in Sanctification in which practical holiness will manifest itself in the Christian’s life. Most assuredly does the work of Sanctification in the believer involve victory over sin in his daily life. Sanctification is not merely a single act, but a continuous process.

The basic meaning of the verb sanctify (Gr. hagiazo) is to separate, or to set apart. Possible the latter term comes closest to the Greek word. Sanctification, then, is that sovereign act of God whereby He sets apart a person, a place, or an object for Himself in order that He might accomplish His purpose in the world by means of that person, place, or object.

Having stated the meaning and a definition of the term, let us look at some Scriptures where the word is used:

(1) A day can be sanctified. “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it . . .” (Genesis 2:3).

(2) A building and its contents can be sanctified. God said, “And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar . . .” (Exodus 39:44). “And it came to pass on the day that Moses had fully set up the tabernacle, and had anointed it, and sanctified it, and all the instruments thereof, both the altar and all the vessels thereof, and had anointed them, and sanctified them” (Numbers 7:1).

(3) The house in which a man lives can be sanctified. “And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the LORD, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad: as the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand” (Leviticus 27:14).

(4) A mountain can be sanctified. “And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for Thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the Mount, and sanctify it” (Exodus 19:23).

In all of the above passages the meaning of the word Sanctify is to set apart for holy purposes. However, a day, a tabernacle, a house, or a mountain cannot sin. These items are neither moral nor immoral; they are amoral. It seems quite clear, then, that Sanctification in these instances does not mean a state of holiness in which it is not possible for sin to enter.

An interesting passage in the book of Isaiah shows that men can sanctify themselves (set themselves apart) to do evil. “They that sanctify and purify themselves, in the gardens behind one tree in the midst, eating swine’s flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 66:17).

We know that our Lord Jesus Christ was sinless and therefore free from all moral impurity, and yet He prayed, “And for their sakes, I sanctify myself . . .” (John 17:19). In this statement He was simply testifying that He had set apart Himself to fulfill the holy purpose for which He came into the world.

Sanctification is used with reference to God. “And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes” (Ezekiel 36:23). God is here telling of a day, still future, when He will set Himself apart as the one true and living God, and that all peoples in the earth will acknowledge Him as such.

And now, on the background of these preliminary thoughts, let us pursue our study in the doctrine of Sanctification in its relation to the believer in Jesus Christ.

Preparatory Sanctification

By Preparatory Sanctification we mean that initial sovereign work of God preliminary to any experience in the life of the person who is to be sanctified. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (I Peter 1:2). Here we see all three Persons in the Godhead active in Sanctification.

Before an unsaved person becomes a child of God, he is “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Election and Foreknowledge are of necessity the preparatory work of God prior to experiential Sanctification in man. Peter does not here explain the doctrines of Election and Foreknowledge; he merely states the fact that God the Father made a choice before ever God the Son and God the Holy Spirit acted in behalf of our Sanctification. Divine foreknowledge is not limited to mere foresight of what men will do at some future time. It is God’s foresight and choice linked together with His own plan and purpose.

God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). This is a clear illustration of the Preparatory Sanctification of God the Father in Election and Foreknowledge. In the Divine plan God set apart Jeremiah for His work before ever Jeremiah was born, separating and appointing him to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah resisted the appointment on the ground of his immaturity and insufficiency, but God assured him that He knew what He was doing. Surely He would not set apart a man for a ministry without providing the enablement to carry out all of the responsibilities attached thereto. “Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.” That is Preparatory Sanctification.

The Apostle wrote similarly, “But when it pleased God, Who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:15, 16). Paul was set apart for the ministry long before the cradle. His conversion, commission and career as an apostle were foreseen and foreordained before he was born. It was all according to God’s eternal purpose and grace. It was dignifying to Paul’s office as an apostle to know that it all did not “just happen,” but that he was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:14). The Galatians must know that he was no self-styled, self-appointed apostle, but rather divinely set apart. The statement that God separated Paul from his mother’s womb is more than a reference to God’s providential care of him at birth. It refers to Preparatory Sanctification. Even though, as Saul of Tarsus, he waged a fierce warfare against the church, the Lord ruled and overruled, bringing him to the place where Paul himself knew that God had a plan for his life.

God set apart Jacob before he was born, in preference to his twin brother, Esau (Genesis 25:23, cf. Romans 9:10-13); Samson before he was conceived (Judges 13:3-5); and John the Baptist prior to his conception (Luke 1:13-17). And I am convinced that my own conversion and call to the ministry were of God’s choosing and not mine. It was no mere coincidence that I was present at 3314 I Street in the city of Philadelphia on December 25, 1927, the day I was saved. It was no mere incident when I enrolled as a student in The Philadelphia School of the Bible in 1935. I can testify with Paul that God put me into the ministry and has enabled me to continue (I Timothy 1:12). This is Preparatory Sanctification, that work of God the Father in which He sovereignly selects men and sets them apart before they are born into this world.

Before leaving this point of Preparatory Sanctification, let us have a look at some verses which refer to our Lord and His earthly ministry. When Jesus spoke on one occasion to the Jews, He referred to Himself as the One “Whom the Father sanctified, and sent into the world” (John 10:36). We know that this statement from His lips had nothing to do with moral behavior because “in Him is no sin” (I John 3:5). What He said is that the Father set Him apart and sent Him from Heaven to earth to accomplish the Divine mission of redemption. Therefore, he could say, “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19). He had set Himself apart for the purpose for which the Father had set Him apart. In the Father’s plan for the Son we see the principle of Preparatory Sanctification.

Positional Sanctification

From this point in our study we will consider Sanctification, not in relation to places or objects, but only to people. By Positional Sanctification we mean that act of God the Holy Spirit in which He sets apart every saved person. It is the first step in the experience of the believer. The preparatory work has been going on for some time according to Divine plan, but now that work becomes effective in the life of the individual person. He is now actually set apart as God’s possession and for God’s purpose. “This people have I formed for Myself; they shall shew forth My praise” (Isaiah 43:21). Positional Sanctification is the fact and act of belonging to God.

It is important to keep in mind the fact that all three Persons in the Godhead are active in the believer’s Sanctification. Man was created in the likeness and image of God, and he was God’s possession by creative right. But Adam’s sin broke the relationship between God and himself. In Preparatory Sanctification God included the means whereby fallen man could be restored to a right relationship with Himself. And what was that divinely provided means? The Blood of Christ! God could not set apart an unclean sinner for His possession and purpose, therefore, He purchased and purified the sinner by the Blood of His Son. “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate” (Hebrews 13:12). “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). The once-for-all sacrifice of God’s Son purchased the once-for-all Sanctification for the sinner. “For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Apart from the atoning Blood of Christ, man could not be set apart unto God. But the moment we receive God’s Son we are said to be “in Him,” a phrase used more than seventy times in Paul’s Epistles denoting the believer’s unaltered and unalterable position. Thus we are sanctified by the Blood of Christ.

Who then are the sanctified? All who have received Jesus Christ have been “sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). This is every Christian’s position, independent of the length of time one has been saved, how much or how little one knows about the Bible, or how spiritual that person might be. So if you have trusted Christ to save you, then you have been set apart once for all; you are God’s sanctified one. Now I am not suggesting that the only Sanctification a Christian can experience and enjoy is that which is positional, or credited to him at the time he is born again. But I am insisting that there is a Positional Sanctification which was purchased by Christ’s atoning Blood and posited to the believer at conversion.

Let us look now at the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s Positional Sanctification. The First Corinthian Epistle contains some pregnant passages on this theme. “And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11). Notice the order; they are said to have been Sanctified before they were Justified. Earlier in this Epistle Sanctification precedes it, and the Holy Spirit prepares the heart of the individual, making him ready to receive it.

Some weeks before my acceptance of Jesus Christ I passed through a real struggle, restless and troubled because of a sense of guilt. With each passing day the burden of my sin became increasingly heavy. Then that Christmas Day arrived when my heart eagerly responded to God’s Word and I was born again, Justified. As I look back upon that experience, I know now that, during those weeks of struggling before I was saved, the Holy Spirit was doing His work of preparing me for the great transaction. The moment of the Spirit’s regenerating work in me climaxed His work of Positional Sanctification. Now after 45 years of Christian experience, that work resulting in my being set apart has remained unchanged. Like the Corinthian believers, and all true believers, I was at that moment justified by God.

Beware of the false teaching that urges the believer to seek Positional Sanctification after he has been saved. Positional Sanctification is not a second work of grace to be sought subsequent to the experience of Regeneration. Positional Sanctification takes place at the time of Regeneration. If you have not been sanctified, then you are not saved. The behavior of some of the Christians at Corinth was anything but commendable. Paul wrote, “For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (I Corinthians 3:3). But then he added, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13). Notice it does not say that some of them were baptized into the Body, but that all were. This baptizing work of the Holy Spirit is synonymous with Positional Sanctification. The Body here is the Church (see Ephesians 1:22, 23). There is no other way of one getting into Christ’s Church apart from the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit. At the time of Regeneration He sets the believer apart, sanctifying him positionally. Some of us do not behave at all times as a believer should, but our behaviour does not alter our position in the Body.

Another significant passage appears in the opening of the First Corinthian Letter. The Letter is addressed “unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints . . .” (1:2). Two words in this verse stem from a common root; they are the verb “sanctified” (Greek hagiaso) and the noun “saints” (Greek hagios). The verb sanctified means set apart, and the corresponding noun “saints” are those persons who have been set apart, the set-apart ones. Paul is here addressing all believers in the Corinthian Assembly, not only those who were spiritual but the carnal ones also. Both the carnal and the spiritual are included in the sanctified saints. When they were saved they were set apart through the operation of the Holy Spirit. That operation effected an eternal union between the Sanctifier and the sanctified, “For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one . . .” (Hebrews 2:11).

The setting apart of the believing sinner as God’s possession and for God’s purpose is associated with the Holy Spirit’s entering the body at Regeneration. The unsaved man is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life” (John 10:10). But how does one receive this life? The answer is, When he receives the Holy Spirit. When we were saved we became “partakers of the Divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). God the Holy Spirit entered the body to take up His permanent abode. Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16, 17). The Day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise, so that now every born-again person is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Through His incoming He sets apart that believing one.

Child of God, the Holy Spirit is in you. He has set you apart for a definite purpose, and that purpose is God’s perfect will for your life. And be very certain that He has a plan for you. The fact that He is in you is the plain teaching of Scripture. The Christian assembly at Corinth was an assembly of saints, saved persons, set-apart persons, but not all of the saints were saintly in their behavior. There were disputes and divisions among the brethren. Covetousness and carnality had crept in among them. And yet they were instructed that each believer in the assembly was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (I Corinthians 6:19). The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church corporately as well as in each member individually and personally.

This is Positional Sanctification, and it is the portion of every regenerated person. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, where we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, Who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 4:8). “That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (II Timothy 1:14).

The above mentioned verses from God’s Word show clearly that Sanctification is the state predetermined by God for every believer, into which He calls them by His grace, and in which they commence their Christian life and experience. Beloved brethren, think of it! God has separated us unto Himself. “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (II Thessalonians 2:13). “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:30, 31). Are you rejoicing in His imputed Sanctification?

Somewhere I heard or read of a tragedy at sea in which a young fisherman was washed overboard and lost. All efforts to recover his body were futile. He left his young widow and eight-year-old son penniless. Their godly pastor who conducted the funeral service was deeply moved by the tragedy. After he returned from the memorial service he went to the local bank and opened a savings account in the name of the orphaned boy. From time to time he added to the account, which continued to bear interest. Ten years later, the boy graduated from high school and at the commencement exercises he was awarded a scholarship in a university hundreds of miles from home. One day the pastor visited the home to congratulate the boy and his mother. The mother expressed to the pastor her appreciation for the scholarship, but added the lack of necessary funds for travel, clothing, etc. would prevent them from accepting it. Whereupon the pastor advised her to go to the bank and withdraw the necessary money from the boy’s savings account. The mother said nothing but felt keenly disappointed with the pastor’s remarks. Several weeks later, another pastoral call brought up the subject again. Once more the mother expressed her regrets that her son was unable to accept the scholarship. Again the pastor told her to go to the bank and withdraw the necessary amount from the boy’s account. Within herself she thought, If this is supposed to be a joke, it is in very poor taste. But not many days before the deadline, she went to the bank, and after inquiring she learned that the money was there, deposited in her son’s name by another person. Her boy had not earned the money. It was credited, posited to his account.

Even so, when we were regenerated, there was posited to us the holiness of Jesus Christ, God’s gift of Sanctification. The Holy Spirit is a gift, not given discriminately to some believers, but rather to all believers, as the following passages teach: John 7:37-39; Romans 5:5; I Corinthians 2:12; II Corinthians 5:5. No distinctions are as much as hinted at in these verses, nor would we expect any because of the very nature of a gift. A gift is not a reward nor a debt nor a payment for service. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every believer; therefore, every believer has been positionally sanctified permanently.

Some Christians believe sincerely that when a child of God sins, his Positional Sanctification is lost by the Holy Spirit withdrawing Himself from that one. This viewpoint is untenable. Those who hold this view are in error. Our Lord said that the Holy Spirit would “abide with you forever” (John 14:16). If sin in a believer could cause the Holy Spirit to depart from that believer, then that same sin could cause the person who committed it to lose his salvation, and if one could lose his salvation, he never could be saved again. (See Hebrews 6:4-6). The believer’s Positional Sanctification is a Permanent Sanctification because of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There was no discrimination among the mixed multitude of believers in Corinth. The carnal Christians were in conflict with each other, but without exception they were all addressed as those who were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

In at least two Epistles, according to the Authorized Version, Christians are addressed as those who are “called to be saints” (Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:2). This is incorrect and therefore misleading. The italicized words “to be” should have been left out. Christians are now saints, already set apart, sanctified. These verses do not anticipate a time in the future when God’s children will become saints. Every saved person is as much a saint now as he ever will be in time or eternity.

Practical Sanctification

This portion of our study shall be given to the matter of the Christian’s responsibility in Sanctification, that piety and true holiness which deserve to be seen in the life of every saved person. As I study my own daily experiences as a child of God, and observe those with whom I associate in the Lord’s work, I have a deep conviction that this has been a neglected phase of Christian doctrine. Many who stress continually the great doctrine of Justification fail to see that Practical Sanctification is equally important. Satan knows well the power of true Sanctification in the believer’s life; therefore, it is to the advancement of his kingdom if he can perpetuate confusion in our minds and conflict among the brethren.

In our consideration of Preparatory Sanctification the sovereignty of God was stressed, and rightly so. God is sovereign in all matters. However, we who are His children are wrong when we use His sovereignty as an excuse for our sinful unwillingness to carry out our responsibility. When William Carey was pleading for missionaries to carry the Gospel to unevangelized peoples of the world, a group of preachers in England tried to silence him with the words, “If God wants to evangelize the heathen He will do it without your help or ours.” It was true, and still is, that God can reach the heathen with the Gospel without the help of any of us. However, it is equally true that God in His sovereignty has ordained that men should be the means of carrying His Gospel to the unevangelized. The sovereignty of God in sanctifying Jeremiah and Paul to preach His Word, and that before they were born, did not relieve them of their responsibility to obey God’s call when it came to them. Preparatory and Positional Sanctification are entirely the work of the Triune God, but in the matter of our Practical Sanctification there is that element of human responsibility. God does His work perfectly, but in the area of personal holiness we fail.

Our standard of living, viewed from the financial and material side, has risen to an all time high, but our standard of living, viewed from the spiritual side, has dropped to an all time low. Christians have time for sports, entertainment, travel, and socializing, but little or no time for communion with God in prayer and the study of His Word. The marvels of saving grace call for a life corresponding to our exalted position in Christ. The grace of God which brings Salvation also teaches Sanctification (Titus 2:11, 12).

When one makes a study of Practical (experiential) Sanctification, there are some pitfalls to be avoided. One serious danger is that of interpreting Practical Sanctification by someone’s personal experience. We must beware of that disproportionate emphasis on experience which neglects or omits doctrine. Many of the religious books coming from the presses today are long on experience but short on doctrine. We must see all of life’s experiences in the light of what the Bible teaches. Many persons have been led astray because they substituted some personal experience for the teaching of the Word of God. Dr. Chafer said, “Even if Sanctification were limited to the field of human experience, there would never be an experience that could be proven to be its perfect example, nor would any human statement of that experience exactly describe the full measure of the divine reality. It is the function of the Bible to interpret experience, rather than the function of experience to interpret the Bible. Every experience which is wrought of God will be found to be according to the Scriptures.”

Practical Sanctification differs from Positional Sanctification in that Positional Sanctification is solely the will and work of the triune God, while the Practical Sanctification involves human responsibility. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness (i.e., the Sanctification), without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). This Scripture stresses the pursuit of Practical Sanctification. Since we are exhorted to pursue it, then it must be the will of God for His children to do so. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (I Thessalonians 4:3). This aspect of the believer’s Sanctification is then a matter of choice on our part. “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts, but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (II Timothy 2:21, 22).

Following are other Scriptures which exhort the Christian to self-sanctification: “But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Peter 1:15, 16). “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (II Peter 3:11). “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Corinthians 7:1). These Scriptures do not promise an eradication of the sin nature nor a state of perfection of this life, but they do exhort the believer to self-dedication and surrender to God.

The purpose of self-sanctification is to prevent sin in the life of the Christian. This is important because every child of God, as long as he is in this body, is able to sin. When Adam sinned he lost the Divine image and likeness with which he was created. However, in the redemptive plan God restores that image and likeness. “According as He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4).

At this point in our study we must make the necessary distinction between Practical Sanctification and that to which some Christians refer to as “sinless perfection,” an erroneous concept which teaches that a believer in Christ can reach a point in life where he will not commit sin again. The Bible warns against this false view where it says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). This plain statement of fact should be followed up with the solemn warning, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). It is dangerous for any Christian to associate Sanctification with “sinless perfection” in this life.

In the case of some Christians, the failure to distinguish between Sanctification as taught in the Bible and the deception known as “sinless perfection” results from a misunderstanding of the New Testament words “perfect,” “perfected” and “perfection.” When the Bible uses these terms in connection with us mortals, it refers to spiritual or ethical maturity whether in a person or the finishing of a work. Moreover, the word does not always mean the accomplished end as the net result of a process, but sometimes it is the process leading to the goal of consummation. It is the process that we must ever pursue. “Follow . . . holiness” (Hebrews 12:14), that is, pursue it, press on after it. The Apostle Paul said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after . . . I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12, 14). Spiritual maturity should be the goal of every saved person. We should seek it eagerly, endeavor earnestly to acquire it with urgency, pursue it as a hunter stalks his game or as an athlete the winning of the race.

Sometimes the word “perfect” is used in the comparative degree. A person or an object may be said to be more perfect or less perfect than another person or object. An example of the comparative degree is seen in Hebrews 9:11 where we read, “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building.” It could be said that a wife is more perfect than her husband, or that the husband is less perfect than his wife, yet neither of them would have at any time attained to “sinless perfection.”

The Greek word translated “perfect” is teleios. Its varied usages in the New Testament shows shades of meaning far removed from the idea of “sinless perfection.” For example, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men” (Gr. teleios) (I Corinthians 14:20). Here the Apostle is drawing a contrast between children and adults, exhorting them, not to “sinless perfection,” but to show forth the kind of understanding that would be expected of mature adults. The same word teleios is translated “of full age” in Hebrews 5:14 where it likewise means spiritual maturity. The Christian is to be “perfect” in the sense that he should be spiritually mature in his behavior toward God and toward his fellow-men.

How does one pursue Sanctification? How does one mature in the Christian life? Certainly it is not through struggling nor self-confidence nor by trying to duplicate those “experiences” to which others testify. For one thing, growth takes time. There is no short-cut to spiritual maturity. It takes twenty-one years before a new born babe reaches the twenty-first anniversary of his birth. No amount of struggling or self confidence or mimicking others will speed up the process. A healthy growth that leads to spiritual maturity necessitates time. Now it is true that some new “converts” appear to take off at an extremely fast pace. But this outward appearance might not be the accurate indicator of the inner man. Moreover, if there is going to be a healthy growth, the pace will be modified. Young believers must not feel that they are not making progress because they are not surging ahead at a fast rate of speed. This wrong attitude can lead to discouragement and even disaster.

We will not mature spiritually if we labor under the false idea that the Christian is free from temptation. No child of God is free from temptation, “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). His enticements to do wrong will come to us through every doorway of sense, nose, eye, ear, mouth and touch. But it is no sin to be tempted. A young man may seek to entice a young lady to engage in sinful sex, and the girl might be tempted to do so; however, no one can accuse her of indiscretion if she has kept the door shut against her tempter. Every Christian is tempted, but temptation does not necessarily lead to sin. We can be tempted by Satan (I Corinthians 7:5; I Thessalonians 3:5), by the natural desires of the old unregenerate nature (Galatians 4:14; James 1:14), by other persons (Matthew 16:1; 19:3). But God has made provision for His own so that they need not yield to the temptation. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (I Corinthians 10:13). Every temptation can result in blessing if when we are tempted we are driven to God’s Word and prayer and win the victory.

    First, consider the importance of the Word of God in
    the Christian’s Practical Sanctification.

This aspect of Sanctification was in view in our Lord’s prayer, where He prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17). To the child of God who reads and studies the Bible, it becomes a cleansing, sanctifying power in life. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9). When we meditate in God’s Word, the truth of God has its own inherent power to prevent sin. It becomes a stronghold in temptation. The Psalmist wrote, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). Our Lord said to His disciples, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). Of the righteous man it is written, “The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide” (Psalm 37:31). Paul had this same idea in view when he said, “. . . Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25, 26). Peter likewise stresses the same truth where he writes, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:2).

If the problem in the Christian life is to bring our practice up to our position, then let us become men and women of the Word. Practical holiness will manifest itself as we set ourselves apart to search the Scriptures. God’s Word is the active agent the Holy Spirit uses to this end. I cannot know the will of God for my life if I neglect the Word of God. The miracle of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ does not take place in an instant; it is a day-by-day process wrought in us by the Holy Spirit through the sanctifying power of the Word of God. “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the diving asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

    Second, know and reckon on the fact that
    you are dead to sin and self.

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him. . .” (ie Christ) (Romans 6:6). Beware of the false theory which wrongly uses this verse to teach that a Christian by an act of his own will can die to self. It is not possible for a Christian to die to self. As a matter of fact, I have never met an advocate of the “death to self” movement who could tell me how I might die to self. The difficulty arises from a failure to examine the Greek text in which there is nothing to support the theory of self-crucifixion or dying to self. The verb in Romans 6:6 is in the past tense, so that the correct translation reads, “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Christ.” The reference is not to something the Christian must try to accomplish, but to the perfect and completed work of Christ. The exhortation is not to try to die to self by some effort of our own, but to realize that when Christ died on the cross we did die to self with Him. This is positional truth, and it is important that we continually reckon ourselves dead to self. The death of Christ not only atones for the penalty of sin, but it has power to deliver us from the practice of sin. This is a mighty truth that we must “know” and on which we need to “reckon” continuously.

    Third, Christians are exhorted to yield their bodies to God.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). The surrender of our bodies to God is absolutely essential to Practical Sanctification. The body is not the entire man, but it is the vehicle of the human spirit and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies belong to God by a two-fold right, His right by creation and by redemption. “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:19, 20). Sin manifests itself through the members of the body. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13). This includes even that “little member” (James 3:5) which too often hurts the membership. It is by means of our bodies that God gets His work done. He chose to save us through a body, thus the necessity of the Incarnation. Jesus said, “A body Thou hast prepared Me” (Hebrews 10:5). The holy man of God will honor God with his body. The Apostle Paul testified, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Corinthians 9:27).

Total self-dedication to God is the result of self-determined separation to God. Make up your mind that unless you yield yourself to God you will not experience a life of holiness. Victory over any sin is the result of self-sanctification.

    Fourth, Practical Sanctification involves
    the surrender of the will.

The Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and must therefore be led by the Spirit. The will of God is all-important in the life of the child of God. And how does God guide us? He guides us through His Word. Basically, God’s will is found in God’s Word. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). But closely related to guidance by the Scriptures is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. He gives guidance to those who sincerely want His will and who are already walking in obedience to the light which they received from the Word. Any person who is truly saved and who sincerely wants God’s will shall have it. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). The will of God is the present sphere of Christian obligation. “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). Each believer plays an important role in his own Practical Sanctification as he finds and follows and finishes God’s will for his life. The Christian who is out of God’s will is an unsaintly saint.

    Fifth, we sanctify ourselves when we walk in the Spirit.

“This I say then, Walk in (by) the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). The verb walk (Greek peripateite) is in the present tense and means to keep on walking by the Spirit. Christians in this dispensation are blessed with the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit who is the Divine enablement for our living a holy life. What is impossible for the Christian who is resisting or grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit is possible for the one who is walking by the Spirit. When we sin against the Spirit we break fellowship with him, thereby cutting ourselves off from the supply of His power. “Quench not the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:15), and “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30), and your life will be blessed.

Perfect Sanctification

Perfect (or ultimate) Sanctification is that aspect of Sanctification related to the final perfection of the children of God. It will not be realized while we are in this mortal body. Perfect Sanctification is the final step in the sanctifying process. Like Preparatory and Positional Sactification, it is wholly the work of God.

Paul wrote about this in closing his First Epistle to the Thessalonians. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23). When Christ returns the believer’s Sanctification will be complete. The word wholly (Greek {olotelhs) is found only here in the New Testament and is made up of two words, “complete” and “end.” The ideas of wholeness and completion are in view, meaning entire Sanctification, through and through, the whole of you, every part of you. It means to be complete and sound in every part. Now this process of Sanctification goes on during the present life here on earth, but it will be perfected at (Greek en), not “until,” the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This passage is not an attempt to analyze the constituent parts of man; therefore it is not a proof text in support of trichotomy (the three-fold nature of man). What is in view here is the perfect Sanctification of the whole man, the time of its accomplishment, at “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and the fact that God Himself will bring it to pass, for “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (verse 24).

The Epistle of Jude commences and concludes with a similar emphasis. It was written “to them that are sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ” (verse 1), and all such are assured that God “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (verse 24). This is Perfect Sanctification.

Perfect Sanctification is the goal God has set for every believer. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). The Adoption (Greek huiothesia) is not a word of relationship, not the making of a son, but son-placing. Some students make the mistake of confusing Adoption with Regeneration. In Regeneration the believing sinner is made a son of God. In Adoption the regenerated son of God is placed in the position of perfect sonship. The Adoption is not experienced in this life while we remain in this mortal body. All the redeemed are assured of their Adoption (Galatians 4:4, 5) by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit Who is called “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15); however, we do not actually experience it until Christ returns for us and our bodies are redeemed. Paul wrote, “. . . Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, that is, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23).

Perfect sonship is that for which we are waiting. If we had it now we would not be waiting for it. There is never any danger of Christians not becoming perfectly Sanctified. The Apostle Paul said that through the indwelling Holy Spirit “ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Because God did “predestinate (us) to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:28), the glorious goal of our Adoption is assured.

Before the ages God planned to bestow upon the redeemed a glory, unique and appropriate only to the Church in Christ. In ages to come the Church will display that glory because the God of all grace “hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus” (I Peter 5:10). Indeed this is a special kind of glory, even the perfection of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thessalonians 2:14). In other words, when God called us it was with the view that we should obtain the glorified state. Verse 13 says that the Holy Spirit is the agent in “sanctification” to that glorious end. The glory of the revelation of the Lord from heaven will be shared by Christ’s Church at that day (Colossians 3:4).

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2).

Related Topics: Regeneration, Justification, Sanctification

Meditating on Scriptural Assurances

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God has wonderfully revealed himself in many ways throughout history (Hebrews 1:1-4). He has revealed himself through nature (Psalm 19:1-6), but also through acting in our world. Those “acts” of God—like the flood, the exodus, as well as His appearing in visions, dreams, etc.—are recorded for us in Scripture, which itself is a “revelation” from God. The reason God had certain men record His acts was so that later generations of His people, through the help given by His Spirit, might come to understand who He is, how to have fellowship with Him, and how to live in a way that honors Him and brings the greatest joy to us as His people (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Since God’s word has always been important to Christians—and rightfully so—and since it gives us the clearest picture of who God is, it is important that we learn to regularly feed our souls on it. With this in mind, below are five passages from Scripture which emphasize certain assurances that we possess as Christians. These are important to know and meditate on in order to grow strong in the Christian life. I learned them many years ago through the Navigator ministry and have been since corrected, rebuked, and encouraged by these great truths. It was on these passages that I first learned to meditate on Scripture and I recommend that you give them a try as well.

But what do we mean by “meditation”? Well, we are certainly not referring to simply emptying our minds of everything we can think of (which is logically impossible anyway), but rather filling our minds with God’s word, thinking seriously about it, and asking God to give us understanding in the process. Here are some questions you can ask of any passage in order to delve deeper into it and derive life from it.

    1. Is there a Sin to forsake?

    2. Is there a Promise to claim?

    3. Is there an Example to follow?

    4. Is there an Error to avoid?

    5. Is there something new about Christ or the Holy Spirit (i.e., God)?

These questions can be remembered through the acronym SPEECH. If this doesn’t do it for you, perhaps you might like the following better:

    1. What did I like/dislike about the passage?

    2. What does the passages teach me about God?

    3. What does the passage teach me about myself and others?

    4. Is there anything in the passage I do not understand and would like clarified?

    5. What is God saying to me through this passage?

Here’s another:

    1. What does the passage teach me about God?

    2. What does the passage teach me about myself and relationships?

    3. What does the passage teach me about salvation and living for God?

    4. What does the passage teach me about spiritual warfare?

During the process of meditation and asking these questions, many people have found it very helpful to memorize a passage a meditate on each word in the passage. So for example, in the Galatians 2:20, Paul says,

I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The way to begin to meditate on this verse, after you have read the book and immediate context a couple of times, is to emphasize each word as you make your way through the verse several times. Then, prayerfully summarize the verse in your own words and ask God for insight as to its significance for you and others. Make sure that your summary agrees with the verse in its context. You can do this by reading the context again and by referring to other similar passages in Paul and the Bible.

Once you have done this with all the following assurances, you could help another person with it as well. In the following discussion I will list the verse relating to the assurance and then share some simple meditations on the passage. These are designed to encourage a new believer.

Lessons on Assurance

The Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are the children of God (Rom 8:16)

Assurance of Salvation—1 John 5:11-12

5:4 This is the conquering power that has conquered the world: our faith. 5:5 Now who is the person who has conquered the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 5:6 Jesus Christ is the one who came by water and blood—not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 5:7 For there are three that testify, 5:8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement. 5:9 If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, because this is the testimony of God that he has testified concerning his Son. 5:10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 5:11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 5:12 The one who has the Son of God has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life.5:13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Context: John was writing to combat certain false teachers who argued that Christ was not truly human, but only appeared to be so. The problem is, however, if he were not truly human, he could not have died for our sins, i.e., in our place. But his baptism (water) and death (blood), as well as the Holy Spirit—these all argue that he was truly a man (and God) and did die for our sins.

Content: John is certain about our eternal life; he is not wishy-washy; he claims that this is God’s own testimony. Note that it is life that God has given us and that this spiritual life is inextricably connected to having Jesus. There is no gray area from God’s point of view: either a person has the Son and therefore life, or a person does not have the son, and therefore he/she does not have life. Also, we might remember that life is received by believing, not earned by good works (Romans 4:1-8; Ephesians 2:8-9). Finally, note the connection between John writing to them and their knowing that they have eternal life (v. 13): for our purposes, we must remember that assurance of salvation comes primarily through listening to God in Scripture as His Spirit marries His word to our hearts.

Assurance of Forgiveness—1 John 1:9

1:5 Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. 1:7 But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. 2:1 (My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, 2:2 and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world.

Context: What is the relationship between our claim to know God and the way we live? What do we do when we sin? These are a couple of the primary questions John is answering here in 1 John 1:5-2:2.

Content: When John says that God is light, he is referring to God’s moral and ethical purity and holiness. As Christians we must understand this so that we grasp the correlation between claiming to know God and the way we live. Unfortunately, the new age culture in which we live sees no connection for the most part between claims to spirituality and ways of living where love is the measure. I once had a lady in Bible study who professed to know Christ, but who continued in willful sexual (and other) sin. She might have fooled us for a while, though we soon caught on, but she certainly never fooled the Lord. By her life, she gave the lie to her profession. We must realize that if we know God, we will show some evidence of it in our lives. On the other hand, if we claim to know him and yet live like the Devil, we again give the lie to our claim. Christ is the example of holiness we are to follow.

Another important point to see in 1 John 1:5-2:2 is that there is no room in our present experience of the Christian life for the idea of complete perfection. Anyone who claims this, is, according to John, deceived, without the truth, and impugning God’s truthfulness. None of us will be perfect until we are glorified (cf. 1 John 3:2-3). Indeed, even when we are fellowshipping well with one another, we are still in need of the blood of Jesus (the Spirit applied benefits of Jesus’ death) to cover our sins.

So as Christians, we live in the tension of pleasing God and yet sometimes displeasing him when we sin. How are we to handle our sin? Are we to seek self-help books? Is our problem really only lack of knowledge? Are we to sweep it under the carpet, so to speak? Are we to simply say, “Well, that’s just the way I am?” or “I was really stressed at the time, etc.”? John says that we are to confess our sins, that is, confess those things that do not reflect the fact that we are in relationship with a God “who is light” and in whom, “there is no darkness.”

John also says he writes to God’s people so that they will not sin (2:1). Again, there is a connection between the written word of God and the spiritual life and growth of Christians. We must remember that. The letter would have been no good to his readers, i.e., the Spirit could not have used it as a means of grace, if they had failed to read it, think seriously about it, understand it, and act on it.

Notice what happens when we confess our sins: they are forgiven and we are cleansed, i.e., our consciences and minds are purified and set free. This is the way to deal with our sins and this is how God works when we do.

Finally, always connect forgiveness and every spiritual benefit to Christ and his work on the cross. John does it and so should we. We are in a relationship based on God’s grace not our own merits.

Assurance of Answered Prayer—John 16:24

16:19 Jesus could see that they wanted to ask him about these things, so he said to them, “Are you asking each other about this—that I said, ‘In a little while you will not see me; again after a little while, you will see me’? 16:20 I tell you the solemn truth, you will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy. 16:21 When a woman gives birth she has distress because her time has come, but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the suffering because of her joy that a human being has been born into the world. 16:22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. 16:23 At that time you will ask me nothing. I tell you the solemn truth, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 16:24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive it, so that your joy may be complete. 16:25 “I have told you these things in obscure figures of speech; a time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in obscure figures, but will tell you plainly about the Father. 16:26 At that time you will ask in my name, and I do not say that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 16:27 For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 16:28 I came from the Father and entered into the world, but in turn, I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” 16:29 His disciples said, “Look, now you are speaking plainly and not in obscure figures of speech! 16:30 Now we know that you know everything and do not need anyone to ask you anything. Because of this we believe that you have come from God.”

Context: Jesus is going to the Father, i.e., the time of his glorification through death, resurrection, and exaltation has come. He will be leaving the disciples. Nonetheless, he has assured them of his continuing presence with them through the Holy Spirit whom he will later send to them (cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14; Acts 2). The disciples, however, have many questions to ask him. But he tells them that they can ask in his name, i.e., on the basis of his authority and relationship with the Father. In other words, they have loved the Father’s Son so much that they can go directly to the Father through the Son and the Father will receive them. They may ask the Father, in the name of the Son, and the Father will answer their prayers.

Content: Note three things about the prayer in 16:24. First, there is an assurance that if we come through the Son (in recognition of who he is and what he stands for) we will certainly receive (1 John 5:14-15). Second, there will be a profound joy associated with God answering our prayers, especially the prayer that asks to know God better. Third, as Christians we ought to realize that we come to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. Prayer is a key way to relate to the trinity.

Assurance of Guidance—Proverbs 3:5-6

3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Context: There is no tight literary context in Proverbs for 3:5-6, though Proverbs 3:1-12 emphasizes truth and humility, as well as trusting and honoring God. It (3:1-12) is part of a much larger unit, Proverbs 1-9, where wisdom is evidenced by upright and morally virtuous living, on the one hand, and avoiding such things as adultery, lust, and decadent living, on the other.

Proverbs are “wisdom-like” sayings that are generally true. Some outrightly state what is true absolutely, while most state what is generally true in human relationships. For the most part they are not to be taken as absolute pronouncements, unless clearly indicated. For example, Proverbs 12:24, “the hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor.” This is generally true, but not absolutely and always. Some slack people come into rulership and some diligent people are ruled over by sluggards.

Anyway, in Proverbs 3:5-6, the focus is on trusting God and the promise is that he will “make your paths straight.”. If we take “make my paths straight” to mean that God will give me a perfect life in which I never again have a difficult time, then this Proverb is not absolute. And frankly, our interpretation is incorrect. But if we understand “he will make your paths straight” to mean “lead you into a life pleasing to him, morally upright and prudent,” then this proverb is absolute. God will always do this for people who trust completely in him.

So let’s emphasize a few things from this proverb. First, trust is key to all guidance that God gives to his people. We must be committed to trusting his guidance, whether we like it or not. After all, he’s the One with all the plans. Second, we are not to trust with part of our heart, but with all of our heart, i.e., with all our strength! God doesn’t give a great deal of guidance to those who play games with him.

Third, we are told not to “lean on our own understanding.” Some people think this means that Christians are not to think, lest they rely on their own understanding. Not at all! (Such people forget that it was the Lord who gave man his brain!) What Solomon means is that we are not to rely on our purely human and sinful understanding of how to live life, i.e., in unbelief, as if God didn’t exist. Our own understanding says, “you deserve such and such,” “you have rights,” “demand what’s yours,” “its o.k. to cheat on your wife,” “life only comes around once, so step on whoever you have to, to get where you need to go, etc.” No, we are not to rely on that kind of understanding, but rather on the commands and wisdom of God. We know that Christ became a servant and died for us (Mark 10:45), so we too are to give our lives (wisely) for others. This is what it means to “acknowledge him in all our ways.” Acknowledging God in all our ways is the opposite of relying on our own understanding; it involves obeying God in all areas of our lives. This is why it involves complete trust.

Assurance of Help in Temptation—1 Corinthians 10:13

10:1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 10:2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 10:5 But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. 10:6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. 10:7 So do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 10:8 And let us not be immoral, as some of them were, and twenty-three thousand died in a single day. 10:9 And let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by snakes. 10:10 And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 10:12 So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. 10:13 No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: he will not let you be tried too much, but with the trial will also provide a way through it so that you may be able to endure.

Context: The Corinthians were a church fascinated with spiritual power, authority, and personal freedom. Indeed, they had become so enamored with themselves, their rights and privileges, that they were using genuine Christian freedom to the point where it was causing serious grief to other Christians and endangering their own spiritual lives as well. Certain Christians among the Corinthians were eating at idol temples since they knew that there was no such thing as an idol anyway. But Paul tells them, first of all, that they are dangerously close to provoking the Lord’s anger, and second, they’re wounding the consciences of other Christians who are being led into idol temples to eat but who do not possess knowledge (i.e., there is no such thing as an idol) in the same way as they do.

The section begins in 8:1 and goes to the end of 10:33. The point Paul is making is that freedom is good if it is guided by love, but destructive to both the person who claims to be free and others when it is selfishly pursued. The problem is that we get tempted to do things our way and not God’s. We should not think for one moment that just because we’re saved we can sin (in the name of freedom) and get away with it. While we never lose God’s gracious gift of eternal life, we can certainly make a mess out of our lives (and others’ too). We must remember that when we are tempted, God will provide a way out, but this does not mean we can presume upon his help if we step off into serious sin knowingly.

Content: In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 Paul reminds them of the privilege enjoyed by the Israelites. We as Christians also have enormous privileges. In 1 Corinthians 10:5-10, despite the privileges of the Israelites, Paul lays before them what God did to the Israelites as a result of their rebellion in the wilderness. The consequences are most severe. Then, in 10:11-12, Paul tells these arrogant Christians that what happened to Israel is an example to Christians and is to be regarded as such. In short, the Corinthians have been lovingly, yet sternly warned and, by implication, so have we today. We are not to treat God as a “light thing.” We are to have a severe respect for his holiness and conduct ourselves, therefore, in Christ-like ways. Now, it is in this context that Paul talks about temptation in 10:13.

Several thoughts come to mind when musing over 1 Corinthians 10:13. First, the term seized captures our experience of temptation at times. It is sudden and painful. But we must realize that these temptations are “common” to other fallen humanity as a whole. This does not mean that everyone has been siezed with this or that particular temptation, but that such a temptation is common to man in his fallen condition in a fallen world. This means that these temptations, with God’s faithful help can be overcome. Expecting God’s help, however, when we commit willfully serious sins, such as eating at an idol temple, is another matter. Like the Israelites before us, if we engage in such sin, we can only expect serious chastisement.

Paul is quick to point out that God is faithful to help us in any trial/temptation, and he also mentions the way in which God brings that help to us, namely, by “providing a way out.” The expression “provide a way out,” means “to bring to an end.” Thus there is an appointed length to trials which God will bring about in his time, all the while helping us to endure (i.e., God is faithful). These trials are designed to teach us to trust him and live in a way that honors him (James 1:3-5).


It is hoped that these meditations might lead others to read the Bible, meditate on its truths, and find help, instruction, courage and vision for each day. If you have gone through these passages, and have them committed to memory, help someone else to do the same. The Bible was written to instruct us: “For what ever was written in previous times was written for our instruction so that through the perseverance and encouragement of scripture we might have hope” (Rom 15:4).

Related Topics: Assurance

The Doctrine of Salvation

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The abstract noun salvation, the title Saviour, and the varied forms of the verb save appear well over one hundred times in the Scriptures. At once we are able to see the importance of the Doctrine of Salvation. In systematic theology the treatment of this major theme is called soteriology, a term compounded of two Greek words, soteria, meaning salvation, and ology, from the Greek word logos, meaning word. Thus our present study will involve words about salvation.

The noun salvation denotes deliverance, preservation, safety, the context of the passage in which the word appears determining the nature of that deliverance. Sometimes the word is used to describe deliverance from physical danger and death. When the Israelites were being pursued by Pharaoh, Moses said to the people, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD . . .” (Exodus 14:13). Then follows the miraculous deliverance of the children of Israel from impending death at the hands of Pharaoh, and so the chapter concludes with the words, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians . . .” (Exodus 14:30). When Peter began to sink in the sea he cried, “Lord, save me" (Matthew 14:30). Salvation in both of these contexts meant deliverance from physical danger and possible death. It is so used by the Apostle James when he says, “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up . . .” (James 5:15).

Many years ago, while in my first pastorate, I asked a woman if she had been saved. She told me in reply to my question that God had saved her three times; once when she was ill with pneumonia and the doctors held little hope for her recovery, again when she was involved in a serious automobile accident, and a third time when she underwent surgery. She completely missed the point in my question. I was concerned about her being saved from the bondage and penalty of sin, she was thinking merely of deliverance from physical danger and death. She was substituting the temporal values of good health and a longer life span on earth for the eternal values of God’s great salvation in Christ with its blessings for eternity. This is a common error among men everywhere. No person in his right mind wants to be held in the throes of disease, danger or death, for from these things we all want to be saved. But how utterly foolish it would be for any of us, while seeking salvation from disease, danger and death, not to want to be saved from the eternal consequences of our sins! And all that we can know about eternal salvation must be learned from the Bible. There is no other source of knowledge on this great theme.

Another use of the word salvation is in connection with Israel’s future deliverance. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Romans 11:26, 27). By “all Israel" we are not to understand that every Israelite will ultimately be forgiven of his sins and be saved. There are numerous passages which show that many will be visited with Divine wrath and judgment because they continue in unbelief. Paul is saying that after the Gentiles have had their opportunity to be saved, and the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth at the end of the Great Tribulation, every living Jew will have his last opportunity to be saved. Those who reject the Deliverer, the Lord Jesus Christ, will be judged, and then all Israelites who remain will be saved to enter the millennium. This great salvation will result in the first truly Christian nation, and that nation will be Israel. “And it shall come to pass, that he who is left in Zion, and he who remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 4:3). All Israel that is “left in Zion" and that “remaineth in Jerusalem," after the great tribulation, shall be saved. “. . . and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book" (Daniel 12:1). Our Lord said, “But he that shall endure unto the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). (See also Isaiah 65:8-12.) The coming day of Israel’s salvation will be her greatest.

The wonder of salvation, the very thought of God saving men, exercised the thoughts and emotions of the Old Testament prophets even though it was not to be fully revealed for generations. Indeed, so absorbing was the subject that they gave themselves to discovering when it might come to pass. Peter wrote about them in his divinely inspired homily on salvation. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it (He) testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (I Peter 1:8-11). They knew the Saviour would be born of a virgin and His name would be Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14), that He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10). The prophets saw all this and more. Little wonder they marveled! Little wonder that even the angels desired to look into this great salvation (I Peter 1:12)! So should we!

The great salvation about which the prophets inquired and searched was no mere deliverance from the diseases and dangers to which our bodies are exposed. Our Saviour came to rescue from danger that part of man that lives forever. The body alone is not the man. “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 soul" (Genesis 2:7). It is the soul that needs to be rescued from eternal suffering in the lake of fire. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36). When the shocking sin of unchastity crept into the church at Corinth, Paul could not take an easy-going view of the heinous deed even though the offender was a believer. The man was excommunicated, that is, sent out to Satan’s world, a disciplinary action exercised to awaken the guilty one, “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (I Corinthians 5:5). Even though the flesh be destroyed, it is important that the spirit be saved. When a Christian shamelessly perpetrates a crime in utter disregard of his Christian obligations, God sometimes takes drastic measures, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10), the disorderly saints at the Lord’s Table (I Corinthians 11:30), and the man under consideration at Corinth, afflicting the offender’s body in order that his soul might be saved when the Lord Jesus comes “the second time without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28). Satan has ready access to our bodies (Job 1:6-19), and if one persists in using his members to sin, God sometimes allows Satan to afflict the body until the guilty one repents and forsakes the sin. When he discovers his sin to be abhorred by his brothers and sisters in Christ, he will confess it and come back. The important thing is that his spirit be saved.

Man’s eternal salvation is what the Bible is about. The angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “And she (Mary) shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Later Mary said, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:47). When our Lord was born, the angel said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). On another occasion he said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved . . .” (John 10:9). After Pentecost Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12), a statement that includes, of course, the healing of the lame man, but emphasizing indeed spiritual deliverance from judgment as in Acts 2:21, 40, 47. Paul and Silas said to the prison guard, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (Acts 16:31). From these verses it is clear that God has one way only of saving men, and that salvation is the most needed and greatest gift to mankind. Whether you are young with a lifetime before you, or in your declining years, your greatest need is salvation, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only Saviour. He alone can deliver you from coming judgment and bring you to God.

Upon examining the Scriptures to investigate the doctrine of salvation, we learn that being saved may have one of several meanings. A passage might be teaching any one of three phases of salvation, that is, salvation in one of three steps or stages. These three stages of salvation are related to the three tenses of time:

    1. I have been saved from the penalty of sin - Salvation a Possession

    2. I am being saved from the practice of sin - Salvation a Process

    3. I am yet to be saved from the possibility of sin - Salvation a Prospect

We will pursue our study along these three lines.

A Possession:
Salvation From the Penalty of Sin

The fundamental implication of the Christian Gospel is that all men are lost and need salvation. “If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost" (II Corinthians 4:3), that is, if any man does not receive salvation after it has been clearly presented to him, he is lost and therefore not saved, because “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Whosoever recognizes that he is lost, and receives Jesus sincerely and wholeheartedly receives God’s great salvation. However, no man will want to be saved until he first realizes that he is lost. Thus the first great need is that we see our lost condition. It is not that a man will be lost when he dies and passes into eternity unsaved, but that he is lost now. It is true that at death the unsaved man is irrevocably lost, but the Bible is clear in its pronouncement that man is lost now. It shows him to be a naked and shameless bankrupt in God’s sight.

No man can argue his way out of the Divine charge of his sinfulness. God has issued the universal proclamation that all men are sinners by nature and by choice. “What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise; for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:9, 10). “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12). The universality of sin and the subsequent need of salvation has been established by virtue of the fact that every man is inseparably joined to the first man. Through oneness with Adam we are partakers of his sin, death and judgment. Nowhere in the Bible is an unsaved man presented as standing in right relationship to God. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one" (Psalm 14:2, 3). “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. They have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment" (Isaiah 1:5, 6). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

It is utterly useless to discuss the matter of man’s salvation apart from the fact of sin, for if man is not a sinner, then there is no need of salvation. But the Apostle Paul wrote, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15). The one thing that stands out above all in this passage is Paul’s remembrance of his own sin from which Christ saved him. To the end of his days he regarded himself as chief of sinners, but at the time of this writing he was a saved sinner, a forgiven sinner, the thought of which kept him from pride and at the same time kept his heart aflame with gratitude. It is the office of Christ to save sinners, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin" (I John 3:5). Paul’s statement that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" epitomizes the very soul of the Christian gospel. Never lose sight of the fact that the salvation God offers was and is intended for sinners. The long planned journey from Heaven to earth by God’s Son was the Divine search, not for good men, but for lost men. “But God commendeth his love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). “This man was a friend of publicans and sinners" (Luke 7:34), and “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them" (Luke 15:2), are glorious allegations that cannot be denied. The Bible leaves no uncertainty as to the Divine purpose of the Incarnation.

When a man recognizes that he is lost and needs salvation, he has overcome a mighty obstacle. However, at that point he needs clear direction from the Word of God. The recognition of his need of salvation is no sure guarantee that he will be saved. Possibly some of you are surprised, and even shocked, at my having said this. But I must remind you that there is a wrong way of trying to get salvation, and the tragedy is that many pursue the wrong way. Read Romans 10:1-3 and you will see the Apostle Paul condemning the wrong way of trying to attain salvation. He is not angry with his Jewish brethren, but with wistful longing and heart-felt yearning he reminds them that he prays for their salvation (10:1). He credits them with having a zeal for God, “but not according to knowledge" (10:2). When religious zeal is misguided, misdirected, it is a dangerous thing. Now the Jew was desperately in earnest about his religion, but his earnestness was not according to a full and accurate knowledge. Sincerity that is based on a wrong assumption can be dangerous.

Now note carefully the Jews’ error in their efforts to attain salvation in the wrong way. Paul adds, “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). The righteousness the Jews proudly sought to establish was a righteousness that was in character their own, one marked by their own efforts, a righteousness for which they would feel obligated to thank no one. There is a difference between that which man calls human perfection, that which man labels righteousness and God’s righteousness. The idea of attaining salvation through self-effort and good works is a fundamental characteristic of human nature. But try as hard as one will, he cannot remove the guilt and penalty of his own sins.

Now the Jews about whom Paul is writing were not lacking in zeal and sincerity; they merely were “ignorant of God’s righteousness," that is, they were ignorant of the nature of the righteousness which alone can satisfy God. Any and all righteousness that has its point of origin in man, either in his works or in his character, is not acceptable with God. Even in the prophets we read, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6). It is true not only of Israel, that man’s righteousnesses are as a polluted cloth, but of Gentiles as well. Note the last four words of Isaiah 64:5, “We shall be saved,” and then read verse 6. It is very plain that salvation cannot come to man through his righteousness nor through the sum of all his self-righteous deeds. This is the meaning of the plural righteousnesses. By nature man is polluted and defiled, meaning that the pollution extends to all his deeds. No language could convey deeper abhorrence of the deeds of man’s righteousness than this reference. Our best efforts are marred by our sinful condition. When an unsaved man considers the very best of his deeds, his righteousness, far from honoring and glorifying to God, they are in God’s sight as a filthy rag, a stench. The problem is not that man is ignorant of righteousness, but that he is ignorant of God’s righteousness.

The New Testament contains a narrative which is a classic illustration of the point under discussion, namely, that a person may know he needs to be saved and may seek salvation but never receive it because he sought it in the wrong way. I am thinking of the incident of the rich young ruler which is recorded in the synoptics. From Matthew we learn that he was young (Matthew 19:20); Luke records the fact that he was a ruler (Luke 18:18); Matthew, Mark and Luke all three tell that he was rich. Here then is a man who, in the eyes of the world, had everything going for him, or as some might say, he had it made. He had youth, position and wealth, but he wasn’t saved, and he knew it. As Jesus passed by, the man ran to Him, knelt down, and saluting Him reverently, asked, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17).

In reply to the young man’s inquiry, Jesus said, “Thou knowest the commandments: Do not commit adultery; Do not kill; Do not steal; Do not bear false witness; Defraud not; Honor thy father and mother" (Mark 10:19). There were two tables of the Decalogue. “On one, four commandments were engraved; and on the other, six. Our Lord made no reference at all to the first four" (G. Campbell Morgan). Those that our Lord cited were the six commandments that refer to man’s relationship to man, and of these the rich young ruler could say, “All these have I observed from my youth" (Mark 10:20). His reply to Jesus was an immediate and straightforward statement of honest truth. I do not believe that he was proud or hypocritical. As far as the letter of the Law was concerned (not its spirit), he was sincere and honest. He had not willfully and knowingly broken the six commandments Jesus mentioned. And then in loving compassion the Lord said to him, “One thing thou lackest . . .” (Mark 10:21).

Never did any story stress so clearly the basic and essential Christian truth that religion, riches and respectability are insufficient to save any man. When our Lord said, “One thing thou lackest," He was answering the rich young ruler’s question as recorded by Matthew, “What lack I yet?" (Matthew 19:20). The verb translated to lack (Greek hustereo) is the same word Paul used and which is translated “come short" (Romans 3:23). It means simply that every man, no matter how religious or self-righteous, has failed to reach God’s standard of goodness. In effect, the rich young ruler was asking, “In what respect am I still inferior? What do I still lack? In what way do I still fall short?" You see, a man’s mind may be open and honest in the observance of his religious duties, and still that man can miss salvation.

Where did the rich young ruler fall short? What “one thing" did he lack? Look again at those six commandments mentioned by our Lord and you will see that they are all negative commandments, with one exception, and that one commandment is related to the home and family relationships. In effect, the man, like so many of us, was saying, “I don’t do that; I don’t do this; I don’t harm other persons.” This all may be perfectly true. But the important question is, “Why have you left undone the one thing you must do in order to be saved?" In his self-righteousness and moral respectability the man failed in the one thing. He lacked the righteousness of God which comes by faith. He was one of those of whom Paul wrote, “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). The young man was satisfied to abide by an external observance of the Law while putting self before God. His earthly riches meant more to him than God. He lacked obedience to the first and greatest of all commandments, namely, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30, 31). In order to prove the sincerity of his desire for eternal salvation, he was asked to abandon his idol, which was his wealth, and follow Christ. This he refused to do, “and went away grieved: for he had great possessions" (Mark 10:22). He wanted salvation, but not enough to give away his money to get it.

As the rich man turned his back upon Christ and walked away, the disciples were amazed and said, “Who then can be saved?" (Mark 10:26). The reaction of the disciples was that to be saved at all is well-nigh impossible. The popular Jewish belief was that prosperity was the mark of a good man and a sign of God’s blessing (See Psalm 37:25; Proverbs 3:16). But wealth is not always the evidence of excellence of character and of favor with God. The Devil and many of his followers are not poor.

In answer to the disciples’ question, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus stated the doctrine of salvation in a nutshell. Salvation is impossible with men but possible with God. What good works, law observance, wealth and rank cannot effect God in grace has made possible. If salvation depended upon one’s religion and his own efforts, it would be impossible for anyone to be saved, but “salvation is of the LORD" (Jonah 2:9). God Himself does all the saving from start to finish. “According to His mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5). Salvation is the sovereign work of God through which He rescues and delivers fully the believing sinner from the guilt and penalty of sin. And He has only one way of saving men. All hope of man being saved through his own efforts came to an end at Calvary when Divine love completed the work of redemption through the death of Jesus Christ.

And the wonder of it is that salvation becomes the present possession of every believer the moment he receives Christ. A word addressed to the Christians at Ephesus will help us at this point: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). I have italicized the two words grace and saved, for in that word grace, one sees the warm, spontaneous generosity that prompted God to save sinners when they had no claim or merit and without anything to offer in return. Since salvation is by Divine grace, then it must of necessity be a total deliverance from the guilt and penalty of the believer’s sins. Nowhere has the grace of God been more tragically asserted than in Christ’s death at Calvary for human salvation. Because “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:3), and because His death is the only saving remedy for sin (Acts 4:12; Hebrews 9:22, 26, 28), then it must follow that there is a completeness and finality to that saving work. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation" sees in the blessed hope of Christ’s return the completion of the believer’s redemption (Titus 2:11-14).

In further support of the fact that the true believer is in possession of salvation from the guilt and penalty of his sins, Paul adds, “By grace have ye been saved" (Ephesians 2:8). The perfect tense “have been saved" emphasizes two facts: the first is that the work which effected salvation has been perfected in the death and resurrection of Jesus; the second is that all believers have been saved, that is, they have been the recipients of God’s free gift of salvation, a gift that is unique in character because it is a spiritual or supernatural gift. “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Romans 11:29). Because of the faithfulness of God His gift of salvation cannot be abrogated. The veracity of God insures the believer’s salvation from the penalty of sin. God is not a man that He should change; consequently, those whom he has saved must rest in His grace. The people whom He has saved must forever remain His people. Salvation is God’s gift to man, and “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord" (Romans 6:23). God’s gift of salvation is not subject to a change of mind on His part.

The present possession of salvation is made real to the believer by faith, “For by grace are ye saved through faith . . .” (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is the appropriating agency in salvation, and even that is not of ourselves; “it is the gift of God" which comes to man through the hearing of the word of God (Romans 10:17). Faith is not the ground or procuring cause of salvation, but it is the means or instrument whereby the sinner avails himself of the salvation which God offers him. God’s side is grace in the offering of the free gift of salvation; man’s side is faith; the result is the present possession of salvation from the penalty of sin.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking salvation but he went away unsaved. Let us now examine the narrative which talks of another rich man who sought Jesus and who received instantly, through his faith in Christ, the present possession of salvation. I am thinking of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. When he knew that Jesus was to come through Jericho, he sought to see Him. Zacchaeus was wealthy but he was not happy, so he was determined that nothing would prevent him from coming in contact with the Saviour. His desire to see Christ did not spring from mere curiosity, but rather from his awareness that he was lost. Our Lord’s influence upon Zacchaeus made him realize his selfish attitude and, unlike the rich young ruler, led him to give half of his goods to the poor. So genuine was his change of heart that Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house" (Luke 19:9). That very day the believing sinner was in possession of salvation. He did not have to wait until death to know whether or not he was saved; he knew salvation was his possession that day because Jesus told him it was so.

If God offers graciously and freely a glorious salvation, He also makes it clear and certain to the recipient. Nothing must be allowed to obscure the essential truth of the assurance of one’s salvation. The saved man should be able to say that he knows he is saved because the Lord wants him to know it. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God" (I John 5:13). The point of this verse is not that the reader may believe and receive eternal life, but that having believed, he may know that he is in possession of eternal life, that he may possess here and now the present certainty of the life he has received in Christ. This Epistle is to assure the saved man that he has salvation. My friend, do you know with absolute knowledge, beyond the peradventure of a doubt, that you are saved? If you have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, then you have it now (Acts 16:31). It is not that you hope you have, or suppose you have, or think you have it, or feel you have it, but that you know you have it. You know it because God said it; you accept it by faith.

The Christian life commences in faith and continues likewise in faith. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him" (Colossians 2:6). You received Him by faith; now walk by faith, “For we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7). The basis of assurance is faith in the Word of God. It is not merely a rational faith, or an emotional faith, but a knowing faith. We shall pursue further the idea of Assurance in an ensuing chapter.

A Process:
Salvation From the Practice of Sin

Receiving salvation is not a stopping-place, but a starting place. The saved man must “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14); “increase and abound in love" (I Thessalonians 3:12); “go on unto perfection" (Hebrews 6:1); “add to your faith" (II Peter 1:5-7); “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). Where life begins it must mature, so where there is no process in operation, it is quite likely that there is not a present possession of salvation. No man can be saved from what he is and still remain the same. To be a saved man means to be a changed man. Reginald White said, “The gospel announces the salvation of the sinful, not from deserved punishment only, but from sinning. The first purpose of the good news is not to comfort the sinner, or to cheer him, but to confront him, to convict him, to convert him by creating him afresh.” True, our Lord said to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee," but in the same sentence he added the words, “go and sin no more" (John 8:11).

Before the birth of our Lord, the angel said to Joseph, “And she (Mary) shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). The name Jesus is the same as Joshua, a contraction of Jehoshuah (Numbers 13:16; I Chronicles 7:27), meaning “Jehovah is salvation.” As applied to our Lord, the word “He" is emphatic, and means He Himself, and no other shall save His people from their sins. This was no mere national or political salvation, but salvation from sins, both the penalty and practice of their sins. If Christ’s people are immoral and selfish and proud and hateful, then the Word of God is blasphemed.

The Gospel of salvation has ethical consequences and moral responsibilities. Doctrine and deportment are inextricably intertwined with the Christian gospel. Peter wrote, “Who His own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed" (I Peter 2:24). “That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness" puts salvation on a practical level here and now. We are expected to live unto righteousness. Salvation is not from sin’s penalty only, but from sin. Any omission of the Christian ethic from the Christian Gospel invitation is a misrepresentation of that Gospel. Faith alone saves, but it saves from the power and practice of sin as well as from sin’s penalty. The faith by which the sinner finds salvation is the faith by which he walks after he has been saved, “For we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7). “Giving all diligence, add to your faith . . .” writes Peter (II Peter 1:5). Faith accepts Christ, assumes the responsibility of a Christian and aspires to be like Christ.

Look carefully at Paul’s words to Titus: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present age" (Titus 2:11, 12). The saving purpose of God is stated here both negatively and positively. We are to renounce, repudiate “ungodliness,” which means any and all lack of reverence toward God, all irreligion. The person who receives the salvation which God’s grace made available to him must lay aside those things in life which are offensive or dishonorable to God. Then, too, he must lay aside “worldly lusts,” those passionate desires which possess the character of this present evil world system, because Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father" (Galatians 1:4). The Christian who yields to sinful desires belonging to a world estranged from God blasphemes both God’s Word and God’s name. Positively, the grace of God that brought salvation teaches us to live “soberly,” that is, to be guided by a mind that is set in proper balance, a mind that is mastered by the same grace that saved us from sin’s penalty. A sober-minded man exercises self-control; he is temperate and discreet. The saved man will live “righteously,” that is, in right relation toward his fellow-men, right dealings with his neighbors. Finally, the saved man will live “godly,” that is, in a godly manner, giving due reverence to God Who provided salvation.

The Good Shepherd Who died to save us from sin’s penalty (John 10:11) is also the Great Shepherd Who was raised from the dead to save us from sin’s power (Hebrews 13:20). “Wherefore, He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Here we have a two-dimensional salvation. By reason of Christ’s death we have been delivered from the penalty of sin; by reason of His present ministry as our living High Priest, He is able to save the believer from practicing sin. His Priesthood combines intercession and saving power. He saves “to the uttermost," which means that there are no limitations on His saving ability either as to time or degree. His power to save His people from sinning is due to His unchangeable Priesthood. Children of God, as our Royal Priest, Christ can save us completely. By bringing the grace of God to us through His death, He saved us from the penalty of sin; by communicating God’s grace to us by His life, He saves us from the power of sin. He is able to carry the believer right through every temptation. Thus we have been saved, and we are being saved.

Christ is able to save completely all those who draw near to God through Him. There need never be a moment in which His saving power is not effective in the Christian’s life. Is your salvation complete? If not, then draw nigh to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. He is able to save. And who are the partakers of this present-tense salvation? Those who draw near to God by Jesus Christ in holy worship.

"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). Much more than our reconciliation by Christ’s death, we are to experience in daily life the power of His resurrection. When the Lord Jesus Christ died, He left with us the gift of salvation. But how are we to manage it now that we have it? On the third day after His death the Lord Jesus rose from death and the grave. And so He lives in Heaven today, not merely as our Advocate to represent us legally, thereby securing our justification, but to make possible to us the “much more,” salvation in its highest earthly victory, daily conquest over the power of sin. “Much more . . . we shall be saved by His life.” Have you entered into that much more salvation? Our present deliverance from sin is dependent upon the living Christ Who lives in us by the Holy Spirit. If Christ died to save us from the penalty of sin while we were yet sinners, how “much more" is He willing to save us from the power of sin? Christ by His death saved us from the past; Christ by His life saves us in the present. If God can save His enemies, “much more" can He deliver His children. If the death of Christ is the means of our justification, the life of Christ is the means of our sanctification. If the more difficult has been accomplished, the less will not be withheld.

Paul gave to us another word about our present salvation when he wrote, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God" (I Corinthians 1:18). Here he uses a pair of present participles: “them who are perishing,” and “us who are being saved.” The force of the present participle is in a process that is still going on. Yes, we are still being saved, and this is a proof that we are not as those who are perishing. God’s great salvation deals with our needy present as well as our guilty past.

There is, however, something which we must know and understand. In this second stage of salvation, in which we are being saved from the dominion of sin, we have a responsibility. It is found in Paul’s command to the believers in Philippi, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians2:12, 13). Now do not misinterpret this Scripture. It does not mean that one must work in order to obtain salvation, because the words are addressed to those who had already been saved from the guilt and penalty of sin, “to all the saints in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:1). Salvation from sin’s guilt is God’s gift to us, “not of works" (Ephesians 2:9) nor “by works" (Titus 3:5). The “work" Paul speaks of in the Philippians passage is not in order to be saved, but because we are saved. Good works can never earn salvation but they must accompany it. If you have received God’s great salvation, then work it out, that is, “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things" (Titus 2:10), in words and in works. The process of spiritual emancipation from the dominion of sin is not merely human, “for it is God which worketh in you.” The indwelling Holy Spirit makes it possible for the saved person “to maintain good works" (Titus 3:8). “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (II Corinthians 9:8).

The Apostle Peter, in one divinely inspired stroke of the pen, sets down the three steps in a sinner’s salvation, and he too shows us the how of the second step. First read the verse--"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God, the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:2). The first step is the sinner’s election according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. God chose us because He had us in His heart to save us. The second step in the sinner’s salvation is found in the words, “through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience.” Here we see the Holy Spirit in action setting the believing sinner apart and empowering him for a life of obedience.

A Prospect:
Salvation From the Possibility of Sin

The grand finale of God’s saving plan is the triumph of His eternal purpose. The Psalmist wrote, “The LORD will give grace and glory" (Psalm 84:11). Surely those among us who are saved have tasted of His “grace,” and now we look for the “glory.” The grace and the glory are inseparably linked together. The latter is just a matter of time. We experienced His grace through Christ’s sufferings; now we look for His glory at Christ’s second coming (I Peter 4:13; 5:1). The saved man is both God’s child and God’s heir. “And if children, then heirs--heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ--if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together" (Romans 8:17). A grand and glorious future awaits the child of God at the consummation of his salvation.

In order to be saved from the possibility of sin, we will need a new body, one that is immortal and glorified. Paul wrote “. . . we groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23), and then he added, “For we are saved by hope . . .” (Romans 8:24), that is, in the fulfillment of that hope we will be fully and finally saved. The redeemed body will be a glorified body, for “whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Romans 8:30). Our new body will be incapable of sinning because it will be like that of the Lord Jesus, “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself" (Philippians 3:21). The words “our vile body" should be translated to read “the body of our humiliation.” When God created the body it was not then a humiliated body. The Psalmist prayed, “I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . .” (Psalm 139:14). But through Satan and sin the body is subject to death and corruption; it has been defaced, so that in our present state even we Christians wait for the final stage of our salvation. The saved man is God’s masterpiece in redemption; however, God will not complete the final stroke until Christ returns for His own. Then our bodies will “be fashioned like unto His glorious body.”

And what is the body of our Lord like? It is an immortal body “Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him" (Romans 6:9). Our bodies are slowly dying because they are “mortal" (Romans 6:12; 8:16), the word mortal meaning subject or liable to death. But at the Rapture, when our Lord appears, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (or deathlessness)" (I Corinthians 15:53). As long as we are in this life we are death-doomed, and therefore our salvation is incomplete. Now Christ’s resurrected body is no more subject to death, and one day He will make our bodies like His own, sinless and deathless. The sin principle now resident in our bodies will not be present after we have been changed (Romans 7:17, 18). The resurrection body of our Lord is not bound by time, space, nor substance, and neither will ours have such limitations. Let us rejoice that “when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2). David prayed, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness" (Psalm 17:15). Praise God for “the appearing of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Timothy 1:10). “. . . Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Romans 13:11). My heart thrills at the very thought of it.

When we are finally saved from the presence and possibility of sin, we shall have a perfect environment. Peter wrote, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness" (II Peter 3:13). In our new environment righteousness will dwell, or, as has been translated, “righteousness will be at home.” It is obvious that righteousness is not at home in our present environment, but in the new heavens and earth, “there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life" (Revelation 21:27). The eternal state will be a perfect society, its perfection resulting from the fact that sin has been banished. Not so much as an evil spirit will be permitted to enter the portals of the New Jerusalem. There will be no sin to allure us, no worldliness to attract us, no inordinate desires to overcome us. What a glorious salvation!

At the consummation of our salvation we shall be free forever from sickness, pain, sorrow, tears and death. “There shall be no more death" (Revelation 21:4). Death is the result of sin (Genesis 2:16, 17; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 5:12; 6:23; James 1:15). Death is man’s worst enemy, his last enemy to be destroyed (I Corinthians 15:26). We never face a new day without looking death squarely in the face. There is the mortician, the hearse, the funeral procession, the cemetery, the obituary column in our daily newspaper, all reminding us that “it is appointed unto men once to die" (Hebrews 9:27). And if Christ does not return in our lifetime, we wait, not knowing the year, or month, or day, or hour we shall be called from this earthly scene by means of death. But when we are fully and finally saved, death shall be no more. Then the desire of all believers of all ages will be fulfilled even as the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from all the earth; for the Lord hath spoken it" (Isaiah 25:8). Thank God, there is a time yet future when there will be no more sad farewells caused by death.

"Neither sorrow" (Revelation 21:4). I have examined more than thirty passages in the Bible where the words “sorrow" and “sorrowful" are mentioned, and in most instances there is the idea of grief, distress and travail. Sorrow follows each of us regardless of the path of life we choose. It pursues the rich and poor alike. It appears that some have experienced more than their share of grief, mourning and heaviness of heart, but we praise God that there is a boundary which sorrow cannot cross. Ours is a great salvation.

"Nor crying" (Revelation 21:4). I am taking the liberty to quote a paragraph from my book on Revelation:

The Bible speaks often of those who cry. Jesus told His disciples that they would weep. We read of weeping saints (John 16:20-22); weeping soul-winners (Psalm 126:5-6; Acts 20:31); weeping sinners (Matthew 22:11-14); weeping sorrowers (Luke 7:12-15; John 20:11-15); weeping servants (Acts 20:19); and the weeping Saviour (John 11:35; Luke 19:41). Not all tears are justified. I don’t believe that God has any respect for the tears of self-pity which are shed merely to draw attention to ourselves. But the tears of many a saint have flowed for a worthy cause. Jeremiah felt the burden of a good cause when he said, ‘Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!’ (Jeremiah 9:1). It is good for us when we weep over our own sins and the sins of others. But soon our crying will be over. ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ (Psalm 30:5) (The Book of the Revelation, page 353).

Here on earth we are limited to the experiences of two-thirds of God’s great salvation. But this is enough to occupy us full-time until we see our Saviour face to face. We rest in the results of His saving death and find our present resources in His saving life until He comes.

Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be,
Things which are not now, nor could be,
Then shall be our own.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

Common Assaults on the Gospel

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By assaults we are talking about additions to the message of FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE. All believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are responsible to be His representatives. We are ambassadors of Christ who are to give testimony to the person and work of the Savior. When it comes the message, there is only one message (or gospel) that we may proclaim and remain faithful to the Bible. Unfortunately, confusion abounds with respect to the content and presentation of the good news of God’s grace in the person and work of Christ.

Our message is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the message of salvation through His person and work. That sounds simple enough, but it is not nearly as simple as it sounds. The simple message, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” has been assaulted from early on. Since the message is crucial to salvation, since anathema is pronounced on those who misrepresent it or change it (Gal. 1:6-9), we need to know the message. If we are to be true to the Bible and to the grace of our Lord, we need to be able to share the gospel clearly and avoid the distortions.

Outside the doctrines related to the Person and work of Christ, there is no truth more far-reaching in its implications and no fact more to be defended than that salvation in all its limitless magnitude is secured, so far as human responsibility is concerned, by believing on Christ as Savior. To this one requirement no other obligation may be added without violence to the Scriptures and total disruption of the essential doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Only ignorance or reprehensible inattention to the structure of a right Soteriology will attempt to intrude some form of human works with its supposed merit into that which, if done at all, must, by the very nature of the case, be wrought by God alone and on the principle of sovereign grace.1 (Emphasis mine)

From the early days of the church, the church has faced the problem of those who wanted to add to the message. In Acts 15:1 we read these words: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Verse 5 tells us that these were men from the sect of the Pharisees who had believed. They were members of the church and so, from within its own ranks, a controversy broke out concerning the exact nature and content of the message of the gospel.

The gospel by nature is a God-centered, grace-centered message which offers salvation as a free gift, a gift without cost, through faith in God’s work through His Son rather than by man’s work or works whether religious or moral (1 Cor. 1:30; John 4:10; Acts 8:20; Rom. 11:6; 15:15-18; Rev. 21:6). The nature of the message, the condition of man (dead in sin and born spiritually blind [Eph. 2:1; 1 Cor. 2:14; John 9:39]), and the activity of Satan (2 Cor. 4:4; John 8:43-45) make this a difficult message to accept. Man naturally thinks he must add something to his salvation for it to be bonafide.

As a result, certain accusations are often leveled against faith alone in Christ alone: it is sometimes called “cheap grace” or “easy believism.” But this is nonsense. The claim of “easy believism” so often aimed at those who preach “faith alone in Christ alone” is a misnomer. Simple faith is not easy for mankind who wants to add something to the work of God. Furthermore, salvation in Christ is free, but its not cheap. It cost God the death of His Son, the Lord Jesus.

This study will be devoted to some of the more common ways the gospel is being assaulted or perverted, very often, by well-meaning and sincere people. This is no new problem. As mentioned above, it was a problem in the early church starting in Acts 15 and it has been a problem throughout the history of the church. When I was in Seminary in the mid-sixties, one of my professors, Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, taught a brief series on this in the church where my wife and I were attending in Dallas, Texas. It was an issue then, it is still a serious issue today, and it will continue to be an issue until the Lord returns.

While the debate over the issue of “faith alone in Christ alone” is not new, it has recently been brought to the forefront by the writings and preaching of John MacArthur, especially by his book entitled The Gospel According to Jesus in which he attacked the writings of: Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary; Dr. Charles Ryrie, author of The Ryrie Study Bible and a number of other books including Basic Theology and the book, So Great Salvation, which was written as an answer to MacArthur’s book setting forth a clear presentation of the free salvation position; and Zane Hodges, former professor at Dallas, who is a strong proponent of the free grace salvation position and author of Absolutely Free and The Gospel Under Siege. Other well-known proponents of the lordship Salvation position are Dr. J. I. Packer, well known for his books, Knowing God, and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, and Dr. James Boice, author of Foundations of the Christian Faith.

While MacArthur’s books and preaching have created a furor of controversy with a number of debates resulting, it has had a good result in that it has caused the church to more clearly study and define issues and passages that are fuzzy to many people, and to defend the faith against these errors of evangelism or common assaults on the pure gospel of God’s grace which is faith alone in Christ alone.

Assault 1:
“Believe and Repent of Your Sins”

In this assault, repentance is conceived as a separate act and is consistently added to believing as a human requirement for salvation. In other words, rather than seeing repentance as a synonym for believing, one is saved by repenting (which in this view means a turning from sin) and by believing (putting one’s trust in Christ).

Few issues are of more vital interest to whose who believe in heaven and hell than the question of what man must do to gain entrance into heaven. Answers to this question nearly always include a reference to repentance. Throughout church history nearly every theologian has taught that repentance is essential for salvation from hell. However, several disparate understandings of repentance have been advocated.2

The Word “Repent” in English Translations

  • In the NASB, some form of the word (repent, repentant, repented, repentance, etc.) is found 73 times with 56 of these occurring in the New Testament.
  • In the ASB, some form of the word occurs 103 times with 61 in the New Testament.
  • In the KJV, some form of the word occurs 112 times with 66 in the New Testament.
  • In the NIV, some form of the word occurs 74 times with 55 in the New Testament.
  • In the New KJV, some form of the word occurs 72 times with 58 in the New Testament.
  • In the RSV, some form of the word occurs 99 times with 59 in the New Testament.
  • In the New RSV, some form of the word occurs 72 times with 57 in the New Testament.

Clearly, repentance is a prominent concept of Scripture, but it is obvious from the difference in the above numbers that the words of the original are not always translated in the same way by the translators of the different versions because some of the translators didn’t believe our English word repent always conveyed the right idea. Why? Because of the misconceptions about this word. In fact, because of our preconditioned ideas about this word, very often “repent,” is not the best translation at all.

Important Questions

The issue facing us is what exactly does it mean to repent? And related to this are other important questions and issues. What are we to repent of and for? Does it mean to feel sorry for something? Does it mean to feel sorrow for sin? Does it convey a resolve to turn from sin? Ryrie writes:

Since many consider sorrow for sin and repentance to be equivalent, the question could be worded, What is the place of repentance in relation to salvation? Must repentance precede faith? Is it a part of faith or a synonym for it? Can one be saved without repenting?3

Basic or Generic Meanings

Many, if not most, terms have basic or generic meanings that must be understood within their context. In other words, the context is vital to a proper understanding of most words. Within the context most terms make immediate sense. Without the context you either misunderstand what is meant or you are left wondering. Two common English words we use regularly will illustrate the point. If we say someone opened the trunk, we could mean the trunk of a car, an elephant’s trunk, the trunk of a man’s body, a tree trunk, or something you store things in. Or if we say, someone walked on the bed, it could mean the flower bed, a bed of leaves, the bed we sleep in. The ingredient needed to make the meaning of the word clear is the CONTEXT. The following are two scriptural illustrations:


The Word “salvation” is the Greek, soteria and soterion. The basic, unaffected meaning of the word salvation is “to rescue” or “to save, deliver.” But we must ask a further question about this basic meaning if we are to understand its meaning in a particular context: To be rescued from what? In Philippians 1:19 Paul uses the word “salvation,” soteria, to mean rescue from his confinement in Rome. Except for the KJV, most versions translate this word “deliverance.” In that text salvation does not mean rescue from eternal damnation but deliverance from his present confinement in Rome. But, of course, in other contexts salvation does refer to being rescued from eternal condemnation [Acts 4:12] (Ryrie, p. 92).

Compare also Luke 1:71 referring to deliverance from Gentile domination, Acts 7:25 referring to rescue from Egypt, but Acts 13:47 by the context refers to salvation from sin and the gift of eternal life.


Concerning the word “Redeem,” Ryrie writes:

What does it mean to redeem? It means “to buy or purchase something.” To purchase what, one must ask, in order to tailor this generic meaning to its use in a particular passage? In Matthew 13:44 a man redeems a field; that is, he buys it. This use has no relation to the redemption our Lord made on the cross, though the same word is used of the payment He made for sin when He died (2 Pet. 2:1). The basic meaning remains the same--to purchase--whether the word refers to paying the price for a field or for sin.4

Compare also Matthew 14:15 (buying food); 21:12 (buying in the temple); 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23, (Christ’s purchasing our redemption or salvation on the cross).

The basic meanings of these words remain the same, to save whether from a physical disaster or from eternal judgment, or to purchase whether to pay a price for a field, buy something in the market, or to pay the price for our sin. It’s the context, however, which makes the difference as to the exact meaning.

Obviously, the same principle must be applied to the word repentance. The first question is, what is the basic meaning for the word repentance as it is used in the New Testament? For many people, repentance carries with it two ideas: (a) sorrow for sin, and, based on that, (b) turning from sin and going in a different direction.

These two ideas, sorrow for sin and turning from sin, are then added to believing in Christ, or it is explained that this is what faith in Christ means. In other words, you must feel sorry for your sins, turn from your sins, and trust in Christ for salvation. Then, added to all this is often a fourth--there must be a willingness to continue to turn from sin or you cannot be saved or you are not really saved.

The Meaning of
Repentance in the New Testament

    The Greek Words in Question

Since our English word is a translation of the Greek of the New Testament, we need to look at the original language. “There are two New Testament Greek words which are translated repentance in the modern English translations: metanoia (and its verbal counterpart metanoeo) and metamelomai. The former term is so translated fifty-eight times in the New Testament; the latter only six times.5 This study will be concerned primarily with metanoia.

Metamelomai means “to regret, change the mind” and may connote the idea of sorrow, but not necessarily. It is translated by “regret, change the mind, and feel remorse” in the NASB and NIV, and in all but one of the passages where it is used, the primary idea is a change of mind (cf. Matt. 21:29, 32; 27:3; 2 Cor. 7:8; Heb. 7:21).

Metanoia, the primary word, without question, means “a change of mind.” It refers to the thinking of people who thought one thing or made one decision and then, based on further evidence or input, changed their minds. So, the basic sense is “a change of mind.” This is its meaning and use outside the New Testament and in the New Testament. It is a change of mind that leads to a different course of action, but that course of action must be determined by the context. In a context that deals with forgiveness of sin or receiving eternal life as a gift from God, the course of action is a change of trust because one now sees Jesus as the only means of salvation from sin.

Ryrie writes:

Sorrow may well be involved in a repentance, but the biblical meaning of repentance is to change one’s mind, not to be sorry. And yet that change of mind must not be superficial, but genuine. The presence or absence of sorrow does not necessarily prove or disprove the genuineness of the repentance.6

That sorrow does not necessarily prove or disprove the genuineness of repentance is clear from 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. Sorrow may lead to a genuine change of mind, or as in the case of Judas, it may not. The point being that sorrow and repentance are not same thing.

But again, the nature of the change and what is changed must be determined by the context. So, another question must be asked. About what do we change our mind? Answering that question will focus the basic meaning on the particular change and issue involved.

    The Object of Repentance

Many today make repentance and faith two distinct and necessary requirements for salvation. In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer writes:

The demand is for repentance as well as faith. It is not enough to believe that only through Christ and His death are sinners justified and accepted.… Knowledge of the gospel, and orthodox belief of it, is no substitute for repentance.… Where there is … no realistic recognition of the real claims that Christ makes, there can be no repentance, and therefore no salvation.7

Is this what the Bible really teaches? Believe and repent are never used together as if teaching two different requirements for salvation. When salvation from eternal condemnation is in view, repent (a change of mind) and believe are in essence used as synonyms. Lewis Chafer wrote:

Too often, when it is asserted--as it is here--that repentance is not to be added to belief as a separated requirement for salvation, it is assumed that repentance is not necessary to salvation. Therefore it is as dogmatically stated as language can declare, that repentance is essential to salvation and that none could be saved apart from repentance, but it is included in believing and cannot be separated from it.8

Roy B. Zuck writes:

Repentance is included in believing. Faith and repentance are like two sides of a coin. Genuine faith includes repentance, and genuine repentance includes faith. The Greek word for repentance (metanoia) means to change one’s mind. But to change one’s mind about what? About sin, about one’s adequacy to save himself, about Christ as the only way of salvation, the only One who can make a person righteous.9

In Luke’s rendering of the Great Commission he uses repentance as a single requirement in the same sense as believing in Christ (Luke 24:46-47). As Dr. Ryrie says of this verse, “Clearly, repentance for the forgiveness of sins is connected to the death and resurrection of Christ” (p. 97). The repentance comes out of the recognition of one’s sin, but the object of repentance is the person and work of Christ, or faith in Christ. Interestingly, in Luke 8:12 he uses believe alone, “Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”

A comparison of other passages clearly supports the fact that repentance often stands for faith in the person and work of Christ. Compare Acts 10:43 with 11:17-18; 13:38-39 with 2:38. Also, note Acts 16:31 which uses “believe” alone.

The stated purpose of the Gospel of John is to bring men to faith in Christ (20:31), yet John never once uses the word repent, not once. If repentance, when used in connection with eternal salvation, is a separate or distinct requirement from faith in Christ, then John does not give the whole gospel. And if you can believe that, you can believe anything. Speaking of the absence of John’s use of repent in His gospel, Ryrie writes:

And yet John surely had many opportunities to use it in the events of our Lord’s life which he recorded. It would have been most appropriate to use repent or repentance in the account of the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus. But believe is the word used (John 3:12, 15). So, If Nicodemus needed to repent, believe must be a synonym; else how could the Lord have failed to use the word repent when talking to him? To the Samaritan harlot, Christ did not say repent. He told her to ask (John 4:10), and when her testimony and the Lord’s spread to other Samaritans, John recorded not that they repented but that they believed (vss. 39, 41-42). There are about fifty more occurrences of “believe” or “faith” in the Gospel of John, but not one use of “repent.” The climax is John 20:31: “These have been written that you may believe … and that believing you may have life in His name.”10

What about Acts 20:21? “… solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some would say, “Doesn’t this passage teach that faith and repentance are not synonymous and that repentance is a separate requirement?” NO! Paul is summarizing his ministry in Ephesus and what he solemnly proclaimed to both Jews and Greeks, specifically, repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The two words, repentance and faith, are joined by one article in the Greek text which indicates that the two are inseparable, though each focuses on a different aspect of the one requirement of salvation, namely, faith in Christ.

We can legitimately translate it like this. “Solemnly testifying … a change of mind about God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Repentance, metanoia, focuses on changing one’s mind about his previous conception of God and disbelief in God or false beliefs (polytheism and idolatry) about God (see 1 Thess. 1:9). On the other hand, belief in Christ, as an expression of a change of mind, focuses on the new direction that change about God must take, namely, trusting in Christ, God’s Son, as personal Savior.

It has also been suggested that in this summary Paul is emphasizing the distinction between the particular needs of Gentiles and Jews. Gentiles who were polytheistic needed to change their minds about their polytheism and realize that only one true God exists. Jews needed to change their minds about Jesus and realize that He is their true Messiah (Ryrie, p. 98).

Uses of the Concept
of Repentance in the New Testament

    A Synonym for Eternal Salvation

Metanoia is sometimes used through a metonymy as a synonym for eternal salvation. A metonymy is a figure of speech by which one name or noun is used instead of another to which it stands in a certain relation. These involve a metonymy of cause for the effect. The CAUSE is a change of mind about Christ and His gospel. The EFFECT is eternal salvation (compare 2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:4, Luke 5:32).11

    A Non-Saving Repentance (metamelomai)

Under this category we might also include repentance in the sense of remorse, regret with the use of metamelomai. This aspect of non-saving repentance is a repentance or change of mind that does not lead to eternal life or the spiritual blessings sought. Two examples are Judas (Matt. 27:3) and Esau (Heb. 12:17). Compare also Matt. 21:28-32.

    A Salvation Repentance

Salvation repentance is a change of mind that results in eternal salvation. This involves a change of mind about self, about one’s sinful condition and inability to save oneself combined with a change of mind about Christ, that He is the Messiah Savior and the only one by whom man can find salvation (Acts 2:38; 17:29-31). Salvation repentance means a change in confidence; it means turning away from self-confidence to confidence in Christ, faith alone in Christ alone. The irony of all of this is that any other viewpoint is really not biblical repentance because it virtually borders on faith in oneself. “In this use metanoia occurs as a virtual synonym for pistis (faith).”12

    A Christian Experience Repentance

This is a change of mind regarding sinful behavior. An illustration of this kind of repentance is found in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11; 12:21; Revelation 2:5, 16, 21; 3:3, 19. By Paul’s use of lupeo (to distress, grieve) and metamelomai, 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 he clearly illustrates that metanoia does not mean to feel regret, but involves a change of mind.

For though I caused you sorrow (lupeo) by my letter, I do not regret (metalomai) it; though I did regret (metalomai) it--for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while--I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful (lupeo), but that you were made sorrowful (lupeo) to the point of repentance (metanoia); for you were made sorrowful (lupeo) according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow (lupe) that is according to the will of God produces a repentance (metanoia) without regret (metamelomai), leading to salvation; but the sorrow (lupe) of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow (lupeo), has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter (2 Cor. 7:8-11).

Wilkin writes:

On some occasions metanoia is used in contexts where the change of mind in view is clearly indicated as having to do with one’s sinful practices. For example, in Luke 17:3-4 Jesus taught the disciples that they were to forgive all who sinned against them if they came and indicated that they had changed their minds regarding their sin. In this case and others like it “repentance” would be a good translation choice.13


Ryrie writes:

To return to the main point of this chapter: Is repentance a condition for receiving eternal life? Yes, if it is repentance or changing one’s mind about Jesus Christ. No, if it means to be sorry for sin or even to resolve to turn from sin, for these things will not save.. Is repentance a precondition to faith? No, though a sense of sin and the desire to turn from it may be used by the Spirit to direct someone to the Savior and His salvation. Repentance may prepare the way for faith, but it is faith that saves, not repentance (unless repentance is understood as a synonym for faith or changing one’s mind about Christ).14

In the third of a series of excellent articles on the meaning of repentance, Wilkin writes:

I wish we could retranslate the New Testament. It would make teaching and preaching passages using metanoia simpler. It would eliminate the confusion many have when they read their Bibles and see the word repent… 

In most cases when the English word repent occurs in the New Testament it is translating metanoia. Metanoia is not the equivalent of the Old Testament term shub. It certainly does not mean “penance.” Nor does it normally mean “repentance.” Rather, in the New Testament it retains its pre-Christian meaning of a change of mind. The English reader thus generally needs to read “change of mind”—not turn from sins—when he sees the word “repent” in the New Testament. The context must be consulted to determine the object of a person’s change of mind.

The only times repent is actually a good English translation is when the object of metanoia is sinful deeds. A change of mind about sinful behavior is equivalent to repentance.15

Assault 2:
“Believe Plus Make Christ Lord”

Similar assaults would also include “faith plus commitment” and “faith plus surrender to God.”

The late H. A. Ironside tells the story of a lady missionary who, over a period of time, led a little Irish boy to the Savior.

Brought up a Romanist, he thought and spoke of penance and confessional, of sacraments and church, yet never wholly leaving out Christ Jesus and His atoning work.

One morning when the lady called again upon him, she found his face aglow with a new-found joy. Inquiring the reason, he replied with assurance born of faith in the revealed Word of God, “I always knew that Jesus was necessary, but I never knew till yesterday that He was enough!”

It was a blessed discovery, and I would that every reader of these pages had made it. Mark it well; Jesus is enough! “He, of God, is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” “Ye are complete in Him.” “God hath made us accepted in the beloved.” These are only a few of the precious declarations of Scripture which show clearly that Jesus is indeed not only necessary, but enough.

You see, it is not Christ and good works, nor Christ and the church, that save. It is not through Christ and baptism, or Christ and the confessional, that we may obtain the forgiveness of our sins. It is not Christ and doing our best, or Christ and the Lord’s Supper, that will give us new life. It is Christ alone.

Christ and … is a perverted gospel which is not the Gospel. Christ without the “and” is the sinner’s hope and the saint’s confidence. Trusting Him, eternal life and forgiveness are yours. Then, and not till then, good works and obedience to all that is written in the Word for the guidance of Christians, fall into place. The saved soul is exhorted to maintain good works, and thus to manifest his love for Christ. But for salvation itself, Jesus is not only necessary, but He is enough.16

The Apostle Paul told Titus, “And let our people also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, that they may not be unfruitful” (Tit. 3:14). Peter likewise challenged his readers to produce good works (cf. 2 Pet. 1:8-11). So it is entirely possible, indeed, if Christians do not diligently draw on their resources in the Lord, they will become unfruitful. Furthermore, the fact that the exhortation of Romans 12:1 occurs in the twelfth chapter and not in the third chapter of Romans clearly shows one can be a believer and still fail to be committed to the lordship of Christ. It shows commitment to the lordship of Christ is not a part of what is needed to be saved. If it is, then it seems the Apostle had a lapse of memory and left it out. The facts are, however, no one is ever totally committed to the lordship of Christ. There is always room for improvement.

But some say that in order to be saved, I must not only believe; I must also surrender to Christ’s lordship or I cannot be saved or I haven’t had a real work of grace in my life. Advocates of the lordship salvation position believe that a person must surrender every area of his or her life to Christ’s absolute control in order to be saved. It is believed that one cannot receive Christ as Savior from sin without also receiving Him as Lord of one’s entire life. Why is this view promoted? Very often, it is promoted because of concern over so many people who claim to be Christians, but give very little evidence through a changed life. I share their concern, as should every Christian, but the solution is not adding to the gospel message as an incentive to Christ-like living, but the communication of other Christian truth like the sanctification truths and the consequences of sin in the believer’s life.

Concerning the belief that we should add surrender to the gospel message, we need to ask an important question. Since no one is ever 100 % committed, how much commitment or surrender is enough to be saved? Is it 5%, 10%, 20%? Is it okay to be a little bit committed, but not a lot? Is that the idea? Doesn’t all sin fall short of the glory of God? Isn’t that why Christ had to die for our sins in the first place?

Some proponents of the lordship position will answer, “you must be willing to submit even though no one is ever totally committed.” Again we need to ask, “how willing?” Do you see what we get into when we think like this? The Scripture just does not teach such an idea! Yes, it calls upon the child of God to commit his or her life to Christ as Lord, but not as a means of receiving eternal life. The Bible teaches that salvation comes by faith alone through Christ alone. Of this subtle tendency, Chafer/Walvoord write:

In presenting the Gospel it is a subtle temptation to urge people not only to believe but also to surrender to God because of course this is the ultimate objective of their salvation. However, in explaining the terms of salvation this brings in a confusing human work as essential to salvation which the Bible does not confirm.17

The Lordship Salvation View

While there are variations within the lordship camp, all the lordship salvation proponents seem to believe in three things:

    (1) The condition of eternal life is more than trusting in Christ

One or more of the following are also conditions of eternal life: turning from sins, being willing to turn from sins, total surrender or committing one’s life to Christ, obedience, and persevering in the faith. Some include baptism in their list of conditions.

    (2) The condition of perseverance

Another idea that is promoted is if you do not persevere, then either you were not really saved, or your faith was only intellectual, or you lost your salvation.

Undoubtedly because of the strong emphasis in Scripture on faith or believing in Christ for salvation (about 150 passages in all), proponents of the lordship persuasion find themselves in a quandary. They will often redefine saving faith as consisting of several aspects which include some form of works as evidence of real faith. This forces them into a very contradictory position. Note the contradictory elements in the Doctrinal Statement of a church that teaches lordship salvation. The statement about faith is prefaced with the following:

“Although there are several aspects that saving faith involves, the Scriptures clearly teach that it is not a work, but is itself solidly based on God’s grace.”

But then faith is defined in such a way that it includes works. According to the Doctrinal Statement saving faith includes:

  • Knowledge of the Facts--Faith must be based on the content of the Word of God.
  • Assent to this Knowledge--A person must agree that the facts of Scripture are true.
  • Repentance--There must be a turning from sin and turning towards God.
  • Submission to Christ--There must be a subjection to the person and will of Christ with a desire and willingness to obey.

While new life should result in change or good works, works in the Christian life like turning from sin are a product of fellowship with the Savior or the Spirit-filled, Word-filled life. They are the result of abiding in the vine. Initial faith joins a person into the vine, but it is abiding that produces the fruit. This is why Jesus challenged His disciples to abide. Without it, we become unfruitful.

    (3) The promises of the Word are not sufficient for assurance

For assurance of salvation, one holding to this position must also look to his works. They say believers cannot have 100% assurance of salvation merely by looking to the promises of the Word. In fact, many if not most in this doctrinal camp say that 100% assurance is impossible since no one’s works are perfect and no one knows if he will persevere.

Mike Cocoris, a former Dallas Seminary classmate of mine, writes of a conversation he had with a lordship proponent:

Recently a Lordship Salvationist and I engaged in a lengthy discussion concerning the question, “What must I do to be saved?” At one point I asked him, “If I led someone to Christ tonight, could that person go home, lay his head down on his pillow, and know for sure that he was going to heaven?” The man with whom I was talking replied emphatically, “No!”18

But this is contrary to the clear statement of 1 John 5:11-13.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (emphasis mine).

Care is taken to give lesser weight to John’s gospel than to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the New Testament epistles in formulating the gospel or the doctrine of salvation. This is very strange since the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, deal primarily with discipleship, and since John specifically tells us the purpose of his gospel is that people may believe in Jesus Christ that they may have eternal life (John 20:31).

The Free Grace Salvation View

The sole condition for eternal life is personal faith in Jesus Christ alone as one’s Savior. Christ is enough! This means faith in the person and finished work of Christ as the God-man who died for our sins is the sole basis of one’s salvation. None of the faith plus someone’s add-ons are conditions for eternal life. It is nonsense to speak of a free gift which costs us something or gives us something to do to get salvation (Rom. 4:1-6; 11:6).

The promises of the Word of God, based on the finished work of Christ, are sufficient for assurance of salvation (cf. John 6:37-40). While one’s works can have confirmatory value and demonstrate the condition of our walk with the Lord, they are not essential for assurance. Any believer can have 100% certainty of his salvation if he will look to the promises of the Word like 1 John 5:11-13.

The Gospel of John is given a great deal of weight in formulating one’s view of the gospel and how one is saved. Why is this? Three major reasons: (a) Because of John’s explicit statement about the purpose of his gospel (20:31), (b) because of his repeated use of “believe” (found some 98 times), and (c) because of the absence of any other condition. Not all of the uses of believe in John have reference to believing unto eternal life, but a large number do.

Finally, because salvation is by grace alone through the finished work of Christ (Rom. 4:1-5; 5:19; 11:6), free grace salvationists believe salvation or eternal life can never be lost (Rom. 8:32-39; John 6:37-40; 10:28-29).

Arguments Against the Lordship Position

    A subtle form of legalism

This position is a subtle form of legalism and a direct attack on the free gift emphasis of the gospel message so prominent in the New Testament. Proponents end up diluting the concept of salvation as a free gift.

In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer writes, “It is not enough to believe that only through Christ and his death are sinners justified and accepted, … In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness in one sense will cost everything.” I have a great respect for this man, but this is a flat contradiction. Just compare Paul’s argument in Romans 4:4-5 and 11:6.

Writing with regard to Packer’s statement, Bob Wilkin writes:

Frankly I find this view of the gospel appalling. It is gibberish to speak of a free gift which costs us everything. It is absurd to suggest that we should show an unbeliever all of the things which believers are commanded to do and not to do in Scripture and then have them promise to do the former and not to do the latter from now on faithfully. Such a gospel is not a free gift. It is an earned wage. Romans 4:1ff. and approximately 150 other passages which condition eternal salvation upon faith alone in Christ alone contradict such a view.19

    Salvation by Works

Ultimately, the lordship position leaves people trusting in their own record or performance and merit and not that of Christ. In the final analysis, under such a view, people are saved by their works, but the New Testament emphatically states that men are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5).

Roy Zuck has a good illustration on this point:

If I offer my wife a gift and then tell her it will cost her something to get it, it is no longer a gift. Salvation is a gift from God. But if someone says a person must commit, surrender, obey, forsake all, or deny self in order to receive that gift and be saved, that implies that salvation is not a gift after all.20

Passages used to support lordship salvation can and should be explained in connection with discipleship or rewards in the kingdom--in these passages, it’s not entrance that is in view, but inheritance or rewards (2 Pet. 1:10-11).

    Salvation versus Sanctification

In other words, salvation is confused with sanctification or conversion with consecration. As Zuck writes:

The lordship view does not clarify the distinction between sanctification and justification, or between discipleship and sonship. It mixes the condition with the consequences. it confuses becoming a Christian with being a Christian.21

These passages deal with the consequences of sin on fellowship, physical health, inheritance in the kingdom or rewards or their loss, but not on entrance into the kingdom of God.

An Illustration is Luke 14:16-33. First, when those invited to the banquet find excuses not to come (a reference to unbelieving Israel), the servants are told to go out into the highways and hedges and compel people to come the banquet. The banquet is a picture of the kingdom (vss. 16-24). In other words, there are no requirements. Entrance is free. However, in the next section, verses 25f, the Lord shows that in order to be His disciple, one must be willing to count the cost. This is not a call for salvation, but a declaration of what is involved in being His disciple. Furthermore, the emphasis is not so much that Christ would not let such a person be His disciple, but that such a person who had not counted the cost would not be able to be His disciple: when it came time to make those tough decisions, they would not be willing and able to do so because they had not dealt with their values and eternal priorities.

    No Room for Carnality

The lordship position rules out the concept of carnal Christians (1 Cor. 3:3).

The lordship position leaves no room for spiritual regression in a believer’s life or it is minimized. The fact is the Bible is full of examples where believers fell into sin and in some cases stayed in that condition for some time. David is a classic example. Lot, who is called a righteous man (2 Pet. 2:7), was actually one whom I would not want to use as an example to follow.

With the lordship salvation view, there is ultimately no room for the carnal Christian; only Christians who act in a carnal way. This is precisely the statement of John MacArthur in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 97, footnote 2). Concerning 1 Corinthians 3:3f and MacArthur’s view, Ryrie writes,

Notice that Paul does not merely say that Christians “can and do behave in carnal ways” (quoting MacArthur); he plainly states, “You are carnal.” How then can one charge that “contemporary theologians have fabricated an entire category for this type of person-- ‘the carnal Christian’ (again quoting MacArthur). Obviously, such a designation for some Christians is not a fabrication; it is a scriptural teaching.22

Clearly then, the text of 1 Corinthians 3:3 and the condition of the Corinthians as they are described in the book of 1 Corinthians shows the contrary. MacArthur is begging the question.

    Misunderstands Salvation Passages

The lordship position misunderstands salvation passages which use “Lord” as a call to surrender one’s life to Christ’s lordship (Rom. 10:9).

In relation to Christ’s lordship, there are two aspects. There is first of all the objective. This recognizes the fact that Christ is God, the sovereign Lord of the universe. Then, there is the subjective which involves personal surrender of one’s life or commitment.

Does Romans 10:9 call for the objective fact or the subjective commitment or both? Concerning this question, Everett Harrison writes:

“Jesus is Lord” was the earliest declaration of faith fashioned by the church (Acts 2:36; 1 Cor. 12:3). This great truth was recognized first by God in raising his Son from the dead--an act then acknowledged by the church and one day to be acknowledged by all (Phil. 2:11)… Paul’s statement in vv. 9, 10 is misunderstood when it is made to support the claim that one cannot be saved unless he makes Jesus the Lord of his life by a personal commitment. Such a commitment is most important; however, in this passage, Paul is speaking of the objective lordship of Christ, which is the very cornerstone of faith, something without which no one could be saved. Intimately connected as it was with the resurrection, which in turn validated the saving death, it proclaimed something that was true no matter whether or not a single soul believed it and built his life on it.23

Roman’s 10:9 is calling for the need to confess that Jesus is God. In this context Paul quotes the Old Testament a number of times and is dealing with Jewish unbelief, not lordship issues. “Lord” (the Greek kurios) certainly is used as the equivalent of Yahweh in the Old Testament. It is calling for the acknowledgment that Jesus is the “I Am” of the Old Testament and therefore God.

That Paul refers to confessing that Jesus is Lord is also supported grammatically.

The passage should not be translated as does the NASB, “Jesus as Lord,” or as the KJV, “the Lord Jesus,” but as the NIV, “Jesus is Lord.” This involves a fine point of Greek grammar involving the use of what grammarians call the “double accusative of object-complement” where one accusative is the direct object of a verb of “calling, designating, or confessing,” and the second accusative is the complement that makes an assertion about the direct object. Some grammarians would call the second accusative a predicate accusative (cf. Robertson, Short Grammar, p. 219). Generally, the first accusative is the object and the second is the complement, but, as here in Romans 10:9, this is not always the case. Since Jesus is a proper name, even though it follows the noun Lord by way of word order, Jesus functions as the direct object of the verb confess, and the other accusative, Lord, is its complement (See Daniel Wallace, An Exegetical Syntax of the Greek New Testament, Preliminary Draft, Zondervan, p. 151. The final version will be out in the Summer of 1996). So the confession that is required is that “Jesus is Lord,” i.e., Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.

Obviously, when a person confesses that Christ is God there is an underlying recognition or awareness that Christ has the right to rule one’s life, but the passage is not calling for a subjective commitment to Christ’s lordship in order to be saved. Instead, the passage is saying that for a person to be saved, he or she must acknowledge, believe, that Jesus was also God, God come in the flesh, the God-man and so the only one able to save.

    Not all Scripture is Relevant

The lordship position rules out a large portion of the epistles as being relevant like Romans 6 and 12.

If being a true believer includes commitment or total surrender, then why do we have these passages which were written to believers? If they were written, as it is claimed, simply to challenge us to more commitment, then how much is enough to be saved? Again we must ask the question, is it 10% or 50%, etc.? Where and how do we draw the line? The Bible say, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart?” This is to be the goal, but does anyone ever measure up? And if so, for how long?

These passages in Romans and many others show us that saved people, true Christians whom Paul thought of as saved, do not settle the matter of the personal, subjective lordship of Christ until after they are saved. Paul deals with the gospel and the how of salvation in Romans 1-3, but he doesn’t deal with lordship or commitment until chapters 6 and 12. If commitment or surrender to the lordship of Christ was a part of the gospel, then the Apostle either didn’t know it or was careless in his responsibility. We know neither of these could be the truth for He wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit.

Our good works are not always measurable and observable by men, not even by ourselves--especially when it comes to motives (1 Cor. 4:4-5). Further, unbelievers can and do point to their good works, but they are unsaved.

    The Issue of Divine Discipline

It is contrary to those passage which teach Christians can be disciplined unto physical death while still viewed as saved (1 Cor. 5:1f; 11:28f; 1 John 5:16-17).

These are passages written to Christians about Christians who were clearly not living for the Lord and would be disciplined as God’s children, in some cases, even unto physical death, yet they are still viewed as saved. Of course, these passages are usually applied to unbelievers by those in the lordship camp.

Assault 3:
“Believe and Be Baptized”

The Baptismal Salvation View

Baptismal regenerationists, as we might call them, are not simply promoting water baptism as an important responsibility for a believer in Christ. This position says that unless one is baptized with a view to salvation, i.e., unless he or she is trusting in baptism for salvation along with belief in Jesus Christ, he or she is lost. Simply believing in Jesus Christ does not save. Belief alone is not enough. In fact, some maintain, as I was once told by an advocate of this view, that even if you have been baptized, it has no value unless you were baptized with a view to salvation and trusting in the baptism to save you.

The Free Grace Salvation View of Water Baptism

Water baptism is a ritual act that symbolizes a spiritual truth or reality. It is a public confession which portrays one’s faith in the person and work of Christ and the baptism of the Holy Spirit which joins the Christian into union with Christ and identifies him or her with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection unto new life. Baptism in water, a ritual, portrays that which is real, the baptism by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

The ritual itself cannot save, but the truth it represents does bring deliverance first from sin’s penalty through one’s faith in Christ, and then deliverance from the power of sin as one appropriates the power of Christ’s death and resurrection by faith (Rom. 6:1-14).

Arguments Against Water
Baptism as Essential for Salvation

    It is Contrary to the Emphasis in John

While some form of the word “believe” is found some 98 times in the gospel of John, it is tremendously significant that this gospel which is written that men might have eternal life and be saved (John 20:31) does not once mention baptism.

What about the Lord’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:5? Can the “water” refer to water baptism as an essential part of regeneration? Regarding this passage Ed Blum writes:

Various views are given to explain Jesus’ words about being born of water and the Spirit: (1) The “water” refers to the natural birth, and the “Spirit” to the birth from above. (2) The “water” refers to the Word of God (Eph. 5:26). (3) The “water” refers to baptism as an essential part of regeneration. (This view contradicts other Bible verses that make it clear that salvation is by faith alone; e.g., John 3:16, 36; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5.) (4) The “water” is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). (5) The “water” refers to the repentance ministry of John the Baptist, and the “Spirit” refers to the application by the Holy Spirit of Christ to an individual.

The fifth view has the merit of historical propriety as well as theological acceptability. John the Baptist had stirred the nation by his ministry and stress on repentance (Matt. 3:1-6). “Water” would remind Nicodemus of the Baptist’s emphasis. So Jesus was saying that Nicodemus, in order to enter the kingdom, needed to turn to Him (repent) in order to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.24

But even if Blum is correct, repent, especially in view of the emphasis in John, is a synonym for believing in Christ.

Rather, it is better to understand that the Lord intended Nicodemus to think in terms of Old Testament passages like Ezekiel 36:25-27 and the cleansing and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The Greek has only one preposition with both nouns, “water” and “Spirit” connected by “and” (kai). We can translate “of water, even the Spirit.”

We have two parallel phrases which are genitive constructions in the Greek text: (a) “washing of regeneration” and (b) “renewing by the Holy Spirit.” “Regeneration” and “Holy Spirit” are both in the genitive case. There are several uses of the genitive case in Greek, but with nouns of action like washing and renewing, the noun in the genitive points to the thing to which the action is referred, either as subject or object of the verbal idea. Are washing and renewing objective genitives or subjective genitives? If subjective, they produce the action as is evidenced by the translation of the NASB and the NIV, “renewing/renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Paul is writing of a renewing accomplished by the Holy Spirit, and not vice versa, i.e., “a renewing which produces the Holy Spirit,” an obvious absurdity. Both of these clauses are preceded by only one preposition “by” (dia), and are connected by “and” (kai). This would suggest two things: (a) Because of the parallel arrangement, we would expect both genitives to be the same, either objective or subjective, and since the second phrase can only be a subjective genitive, “a renewal by the Holy Spirit,” so must the first, “a washing by regeneration.” (b) The “and” (kai) is ascensive or explicative meaning “even,” or “namely,” so that the second clause is a further explanation of the first. We could render it grammatically, “the washing produced by regeneration, even (or namely) the rebirth accomplished by the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration results in a spiritual cleansing, the forgiveness of sin and this is part of the rebirth work of the Holy Spirit.

This fits with Titus 3:5, “… by the washing produced by regeneration (rebirth), even the renewal by the Holy Spirit” (See below for an explanation of Titus 3:5).

    It is Contrary to the Teaching of Paul

Romans 4:1-12: Verses 1-6 clearly show how a man is justified by faith apart from human works. Then, in verses 7-12 Paul uses Old Testament circumcision to illustrate the fact salvation has always been the same in every age. Men of every age are saved by walking in the steps of Abraham. He shows that Old Testament saints were justified by faith alone before circumcision was ever instituted.

But the truly important principle is that circumcision is to the Old Testament believer what water baptism is to the New Testament believer. The following parallels are instructive:


Physical, by a knife, by human agency, and visible to others.

A sign of faith in God’s work, but not the means of salvation.


Physical, by water, by human agency, visible to others.

A sign of faith in God’s work, but not the means of salvation.

The point is, people are saved by faith alone apart from any kind of law, ritual, or ordinance.

Colossians 2:11-12. This passage also illustrates the above parallel. Circumcision in verse 11 is one “made without hands.” It is a spiritual work of God. It follows by the natural parallel that the baptism of verse 12 is the spiritual work of God, one made without hands. It is the baptism accomplished by the Holy Spirit of which water baptism is only a picture. The rite of circumcision of the Old Testament and the ordinance of baptism in the New Testament both illustrate the work of God for man through Jesus Christ. The rituals are only pictures of the real which alone saves through faith alone.

1 Corinthians 1:14-16. In this passage the Apostle somewhat de-emphasizes water baptism. The Apostle can hardly be said to have viewed baptism as indispensable to the gospel message. Not only was it his practice not to baptize his own converts, but he shows us here that water baptism as necessary for salvation is not a part of the gospel as is faith. The gospel message is that Jesus Christ, the God-man Savior, died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and we that can receive eternal life as a gift through faith. If baptism was necessary to be saved through the gospel, Paul could hardly have said “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, … ”

Ephesians 2:8-9. Baptism is clearly a human work that man does. Here the Apostle clearly declares that the basis of salvation is God’s grace through faith alone.

Titus 3:5. We should immediately be suspicious of an interpretation which understands the “washing” here to refer to any human ritual or work because of the emphasis of verse 5a. No mention is made here of faith perhaps because the emphasis is totally on what God has done rather than on any kind of religious or ritual work that man could possibly do-- including water baptism. Unfortunately, some see the words “washing of regeneration” as a reference to baptismal regeneration even though this context is prefaced by, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done … ” Can this refer to water baptism? Not on your life! Why?

  • The immediate context is emphasizing that salvation is a work of God and not man.
  • Water baptism, no matter how you slice it, is a religious work. If water baptism is the basis of our regeneration, then it is a work of our righteousness or a righteous act produced by us.
  • The passage is telling us that regeneration results in a spiritual cleansing, the forgiveness of sin and this is part of the rebirth work of the Holy Spirit. We can translate the last part of verse 5 as “by the washing produced by regeneration, even the rebirth produce by the Holy Spirit.”25
    It is Contrary to Luke 23:43

The thief on the cross was saved by faith alone. He obviously could not be circumcised or baptized. The principle applies regardless of whether one wants to argue that he was still in the Old Testament economy. He was saved by faith alone. The corresponding ritual or ordinance for the Old Testament period was circumcision, yet the thief on the cross was neither circumcised nor baptized, but he did get saved.

Answers to Passages Used to
Support Baptismal Regeneration

    Mark 16:16

First, there is a manuscript problem. The older and what many believe to be the better manuscripts do not contain verses 9-20. So there is some question as to whether these verse were a part of the original manuscript of Mark. First, it is theologically unsound to try to build a doctrine or support one on verses where there is a manuscript problem.

Second, assuming that these verses were a part of Mark’s gospel, does this passage teach that baptism is essential for salvation? Verse 16b, “but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” answers our question. It is the unbelief that results in condemnation, not the failure to be baptized. Furthermore, “baptized” could be a reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).

Water baptism is an evidence of one’s faith and a public testimony of what one believes. For this reason Mark included the concept of baptism with belief. But since it is not water baptism that saves, since belief is the issue, he quickly added the last half of verse 16.

    Acts 2:38

First, we should recognize there are two possible grammatical ways this passage may be understood. The preposition “for” (Greek, eis) in the clause “for the forgiveness of your sins” can mean “with a view to, in order that,” (pointing to purpose), or it can mean “on the basis of, because of” (pointing to result) as it is used in Matthew 12:41, “they repented at (on the basis of, as a result of) the preaching of Jonah.” This simply shows that Acts 2:38 can mean “Repent, and each of you be baptized … as a result of the forgiveness of your sins … ” Rather than saying, “Repent and be baptized in order to receive the forgiveness of sins,” Peter was saying, “Repent, and on the basis of receiving forgiveness, be baptized.

Chafer/Walvoord have a good explanation of this difficult passage:

As previously mentioned, in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he included baptism along with belief as a way of salvation (Acts 2:38). It should be remembered that as baptism is mentioned in Scripture, sometimes it refers to real baptism, that is, the baptism of the Holy Spirit which occurs at the moment of faith and in other cases to the ritual of water baptism. It is possible to take this verse in either sense. If it refers to real baptism, then Peter was saying that if the Jews believed and had this belief confirmed by being baptized into the body of Christ, they would be saved. Or if it refers to water baptism then Peter was saying that that ritual was an outward confirmation of their faith. In any case immediately afterward, Peter baptized 3,000 (v. 41), who were by this token publicly aligning themselves with Christ and indicating that they were leaving their former Jewish confidence in the Law.

For Jews to confess Christ publicly was a real problem because they often lost their families, their employment, and their wealth. For their faith to be confirmed by water baptism in this case made clear that they were genuinely saved. In any event ritual baptism does not save, and the reference to baptism in verse 38 does not suggest that water baptism was a requirement for salvation. The many instances in which faith is mentioned as a condition of salvation without reference to baptism should make this clear. Even Peter himself later said that forgiveness of sins is based on faith alone (10:43; 13:38-39).

In Acts 19 some Jews in Ephesus had been baptized by John the Baptist but had not put their trust in Christ. When they were informed that it was necessary for them to believe in Christ, the Scriptures recorded, “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5). This again makes clear that water baptism in itself does not save but is a token or evidence that a person has put his trust in Christ.26

    Acts 22:16.

There are two commands (Greek imperatives) in this verse, but only one brings about the removal of sin, “calling upon the name of the Lord,” i.e., telling God you believe and trusting in His Son. The sentence, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” should, according to Greek grammar, be divided into separate clauses with a semicolon placed after “be baptized.” “Arise, be baptized (clause one); and wash away your sins by calling on the Name of the Lord” (clause two). Baptism cannot wash away one’s sins. It is calling on the Lord, telling God you believe in His Son which is simply a way of expressing one’s faith in Christ.

    1 Pet. 3:18-21

In this passage, Peter tells us that baptism is prefigured by the deliverance of Noah’s family by water (cf. 3:20). Saving by baptism, therefore, is symbolic here, not actual. Peter quickly adds two statements lest he be misunderstood. Salvation in this passage is not based upon water baptism, but upon “the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It is not based upon “the putting away of the filth of the flesh.”

Assault 4:
“Believe and Confess Christ Publicly”

The late Dr. Chafer wrote regarding this issue:

The ambition to secure apparent results and the sincere desire to make decisions for Christ to be definite have prompted preachers in their general appeals to insist upon a public confession of Christ on the part of those who would be saved. To all practical purposes and in the majority of instances these confessions are, in the minds of the unsaved, coupled with saving faith and seem, as presented, to be of equal importance with that faith.

Two passages are often used in order to justify public confession, Matthew 10:32-33 and Romans 10:9.

Matthew 10:32-33

“Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. “But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Does this passage call for the public confession of the Savior as a part of the gospel message and as one of the requirements for salvation? If so, the 150 plus passages in the New Testament that call for simple faith in Christ would have to be wrong. Rather, the Lord was challenging, not unbelievers, but His own disciples with regard to the commission He gave them to go to the lost sheep of Israel (vss. 1-15). Such a task, due to the hostility of the religious leaders of Israel and the world in general (vss. 15-20), especially in the days of the Tribulation just before the return of Christ (vss. 21-23), would put them at risk of persecution. So there is the warning that if people maligned and persecuted the Savior, the disciples too could expect persecution (vss. 24-25). He then encouraged them against fear (vss. 26-31), challenged them to confess Him before men, and warned them against denying Him before men (vss. 32-33). This challenge and warning in this context refers to the commission of the disciples and, by application, to the responsibility of believers (those already saved) to be witnesses of the Savior.

To deny Christ before men would indicate that either (a) the one denying Christ was not truly saved, in which case, they would not be owned by Christ as one of His in His work as advocate before the Father, or (b) evidence that they were out of fellowship and operating in fear rather than in faith, in which case Christ would deny them rewards at the Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12-15; Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; 2 Tim. 2:11-13). Peter, who denied the Lord during His trial before the High Priest (Matt. 26:57-75), is a good illustration of how believers may deny the Savior.

Romans 10:9

This is perhaps the primary passage used to defend adding the need of confession, so the focus here will be to give an overview of Romans 10:1-21.

    The Prayer and Desire for Israel’s Salvation (10:1).

In these verses we see the subject of the passage--the salvation of Jewish people. However, it obviously has application to the subject of leading men and women to Christ.

    The Problem of Israel’s Self-righteousness (10:2-3)

It is essential to note that the verses in question, verses 9-10, are often used to teach men must make some kind of public confession to be saved, perform a human work. These verses are set in a context where Paul shows this is precisely the problem with the nation of Israel as a whole: the problem of trying to do something to gain the favor of God. So rather than supporting public confession as a work that men do, the context supports the opposite conclusion.

    The Provision of Righteousness Through Faith Alone (10:4-13)

(1) Christ’s Termination of the Law for Righteousness (vs. 4). Christ brought an end to the Law as a means of righteousness or acceptance with God. The purpose of the Law was to show man’s sinfulness. But a further outworking of this is that neither the Law nor any works system can gain merit or favor with God. The reason is seen when we compare Romans 8:1-3. All systems of law are dependent on man’s weakness to fulfill them and man always falls short and misses the mark (Rom. 3:23).

(2) Moses’ Declaration About Those Who Practice the Law (vs. 5). If a person seeks acceptance with God by keeping the Law, he must live by it, i.e., he must perfectly obey it or he becomes condemned by the Law itself (cf. Jam. 2:10-11; Gal. 5:3; Rom. 2:25 with Rom. 3:19-20; 7:7). Since no man can fulfill the Law, all men miss the mark and become condemned by the Law which finds man guilty (2 Cor. 3:6, 7, 9; Rom. 7:10-11).

(3) God’s Initiation of Salvation by Grace Through the Message of Faith (vss. 6-8). Regarding these verses Ryrie writes: “Quoting Deuteronomy 30:12-14, which emphasized the initiative of divine grace and humble reception of God’s word, Paul applies this truth to the gospel, which is near, ready for a man to take on his lips and into his heart (Rom. 10:9)” (Ryrie Study Bible, p 1716). Note carefully that this word which man is to take on his lips and into his heart Paul defines as “the word (message) of faith which we are preaching.” The message is not one of works, but one of faith in God’s work brought down to man in grace. But what exactly is this message of grace?

    Paul’s Description of the Grace Message (vss. 9-13).

(1) The Message Described (vs. 9).

“Confess,” homologeo, means “to agree with, say the same thing, acknowledge.” As the context will show, the confession here is not to men, but to God and involves, as an outworking of faith in Christ, acknowledging to God one’s faith in Christ as God come in the flesh. It involves agreeing with God’s witness about Jesus as God’s own Son. Literally the text says, “the Lord Jesus,” but as explained above, it means acknowledging that Jesus is God. The passage is talking about acknowledging the deity of Christ and thus the fact of the incarnation (cf. 1 John 2:22-23; 4:2, 15 which uses the same word, homologeo). This passage is not calling for submission to Christ in the sense of lordship salvationists.27

“And believe in your heart … ” This is the root--believing in the fact that God raised Him from the dead. Here we have the finished and efficacious work of Jesus Christ, His death for sin, authenticated by Christ’s resurrection. Remember, the resurrection declares that Jesus is God’s Son and that His death successfully dealt with man’s sin. Perhaps the point here is that this belief in Christ, that He is the God-man Savior, causes men to confess their faith to God in a prayer for salvation as the context will show (vss. 12b-13).

(2) The Message Explained (vss. 10-13)

“For with … ” Note the word for. This introduces this section, verses 10-13, as an explanation of verse 9 and the words “confess” and “believe.” Note that Paul now begins with “believe,” not “confess.” He began verse 9 with “confess” because of the order of the Old Testament quote used in verse 8--mouth and then heart. But with verse 20, Paul reverses the order and deals with “heart” and “believe” before “mouth” and “confess” because this is the main issue.

In this he uses a chiasm, an arrangement of the clauses in such a way that they bring out the most important and central element of the passage.

Overview of Romans 10:8-14


ROM 10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,

Points to the initiative of God’s grace in bringing salvation to men.


ROM 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus {as} Lord,

and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;

1. Confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord. In this context which deals with Israel’s rejection of Jesus, it means to acknowledge to God that Jesus is Yahweh of the OT. Is an affirmation of His deity.

2. Believe in the resurrection which confirms one’s faith in all that the resurrection proves (Rom. 1:4; 4:24-25).


ROM 10:10a for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness,

(10b) and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

1. Verse 10a--With the heart, from the inner man, man believes, puts his trust in the person of Christ which gives Christ’s righteousness and salvation.

2. Verse 10b--With the mouth he confesses, acknowledges, affirms to God his faith in Christ resulting in salvation.


ROM 10:11-12a For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; [Explains faith]

ROM 10:12b-13--for the same {Lord} is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Explains confess]

1. Verses 11-12a--Quotes Isa. 28:16 to show Salvation comes by faith (man’s first responsibility). This explains the “whoever,” in vs. 11, i.e., there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (cf. Rom. 3:22, 29).

2. Verses 12b-13--Explains the other part of man’s responsibility, the confession of the mouth. It means to call on the name of the Lord.


ROM 10:14 How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

Here again, the two key ideas, belief and calling on the Lord, are linked together and this corresponds to belief and confessing with the mouth in vss. 9-10.

    The Priority of Preaching the Faith Alone Message (14-17)

Since the issue is faith in the work of God for man in the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is an important question that must be answered. How can men turn from their religious works, as with the Jews, so they may come to Christ by faith alone? Only through the work of evangelism through believers who understand the message and go out proclaiming the glad tidings of God’s gracious gift.

Note the emphasis: The Jews by-in-large rejected the message of grace because of their works mentality. Nevertheless, faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ, i.e., the telling of the story about the Lord Jesus Christ as the one and only means of salvation.

Assault 5:
“Believe and Do Good Works”

Another assault on the gospel message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone is “believe and do good works.” The idea promoted is that one must both believe and do good works in order to be saved. If the good works are not present, then, either (a) you were never saved, you never really believed, or (b) you lost your salvation, or (c) you never got saved because you lack the good works required.

Some would argue that we are saved by faith alone, but if faith is alone (if there are no works), then you are not saved, your faith was only an intellectual faith, not a heart faith. In this view faith is usually redefined to include turning from sin and surrendering one’s life to Christ. Assurance then, in the final analysis, is based on one’s works or record rather than on the work of Christ and the sure promises of the Word like 1 John 5:11-13 and John 5:24.

In the final analysis of the works viewpoint, works are added to faith in Christ in order to be save. This means SALVATION BY WORKS AND ASSURANCE BY WORKS.

The Argument

The argument is that genuine faith always results in good works. Because of new life imparted to believers via spiritual regeneration, and because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in every believer’s life, those who have genuinely believed the gospel message about the person and work of Jesus Christ will, as a general rule, produce some fruit, sometime, somehow. Jesus said:

“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me” (John 6:56-57).

As the context suggests (vss. 60-69) eating His flesh and drinking His blood refers to the initial act of believing in Christ. This results in the gifts of regeneration and eternal life (vss. 50-51, 54, 58). But it also means the believer is brought into a new relationship with the Savior so that he abides (remains) in fellowship with Him (vs. 56). But it is this abiding or fellowship which is the cause for fruitfulness or good works in the life of the believer (John 15) and not just the presence of new life.

The Lord was speaking of a general maxim, of what is generally true. He was not stating an absolute--that which will always be true in the life of the believer. Many quote this passage and say, “See, true believers will abide and bear fruit and so prove they were really saved.” I believe that view is wrong because the Lord knew some Christians would not abide or remain in fellowship with Him, and the proof of this is John 15 where He commanded the disciples to continue to abide. If it is not possible to stop abiding, lose fellowship with the Lord, and thus stop bearing fruit, why would the Lord warn His disciples about this possible failure? This is what He does in John 15:1-6.

As a general rule, every Christian will bear some fruit, somewhere, sometime, somehow. But having said that, there are a few points of caution we need to make that affect the concept of good works or fruitfulness and their use as proofs for salvation and assurance.

As John 15 and many other passages of Scripture teach, the general maxim that believers will bear fruit does not mean that all believers will be fruitful or that a believer will always be fruitful (compare Paul’s admonition to good works: Tit. 3:14; 2 Pet. 1:8). Both of these passages indicate that a true believer might be unfruitful. These exhortations would be meaningless otherwise. The same principle applies to the Lord’s admonition for us to abide in Him that we might be fruitful.

Though the following remarks bear on the lordship/mastery issue, they also apply here since these two issues (good works and lordship) are really tied together. How much fruit or good works do believers need to prove they are saved? How do we measure the amount of works or fruit necessary to be sure we are saved in the lordship/mastery or believe/works sense of the term? “Or how do we quantify the amount of defection that can be tolerated without wondering if I have saving faith or if I in fact lost what I formerly had?”28

Ryrie writes:

The lordship response, in spite of its stringent demands on the nature of what the view calls saving faith, must either say (1) that a disobedient Christian loses his salvation, or (2) that some leeway exists for disobedience within the Christian life. Since many lordship people hold to the security of the believer, they opt for the latter.

So we read a statement like this: “A moment of failure does not invalidate a disciple’s credentials (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1988, p. 199). My immediate reaction to such a statement is to want to ask if two moments would? Or a week of defection, or a month, or a year? or Two? How serious a failure and for how long before we must conclude that such a person was in fact not saved? Lordship teaching recognizes that “no one will obey perfectly” (Ibid, p. 174), but the crucial question is simply how imperfectly can one obey and yet be sure that he “believed” in the lordship/mastery salvation sense? If “salvation requires total transformation” (Ibid, p. 183) and I do not meet that requirement, then am I not saved? Or if my transformation is less than total tat any stage of my Christian life, was I not saved in the first place?29

Here then is a key question: “How imperfectly can one obey or be without works and yet be sure he is saved if works are the criterion for proof of saving faith and eternal life?”

On the other hand, if salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone and one’s works are a proof of the nature of one’s fellowship and maturity, then his works regardless of how small or great, become a criterion for blessing now and rewards in eternity. They concern not my entrance into heaven, but the nature of my inheritance in heaven.

We reap what we sow, but the harvest is not a matter of heaven or possession of eternal life, but blessing versus discipline now, and rewards versus loss of rewards in heaven (Heb. 12:7-13; 1 Cor. 11:28-32; Rom. 8:12-13, 17; Gal. 6:7-9; 1 Cor. 12-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-10).

Ryrie writes,

My understanding of what fruit is and therefore what I expect others to bear may be faulty and/or incomplete. It is all too easy to have a mental list of spiritual fruits and to conclude if someone does not produce what is on my list that he or she is not a believer. But the reality is that most lists that we humans devise are too short, too selective, too prejudiced, and often extra-biblical. God likely has a much more accurate and longer list than most of us do.30

A person’s fruit will not necessarily be outwardly evident. A person’s fruit may be private or erratic, and just because we do not see someone’s fruit does not mean that some fruit is not there. Furthermore, we may see a man’s fruit, but we cannot see his heart. We don’t know what motivated his works. The works may have been motivated by selfish desires, by his desire to impress, or to be accepted rather than by the Spirit and by love.

Many unbelievers (those who profess no faith in Christ) will demonstrate all kinds of good works like helping the poor, ministering to the sick, caring for their family, self-control, and working for the benefit of the community in other ways. Does this prove they know God? No! Does it save them? No! While works may give evidence of new life and fellowship with the Lord, it is still never a proof because there are too many variables that we just cannot see.

According to Scripture, bonafide fruit in the life of the believer is the result of pruning and abiding, of the work of God as the Vinedresser, and the response of the believer through fellowship and faith. When our Lord said, “without Me you can nothing,” He was not saying believer’s could produce no works, but that there could be no bonafide fruit--works that were the result of new life and the power of the Spirit.

Witnessing for the Lord is a good work, but in order for it to be fruit it needs to be the product of His life working in us. Compare John 15:1-6; 26-27; Acts 1:8 with Matt. 7:13-28 and the warning about false prophets who sounded and looked like sheep, who witnessed and did other things in the name of Christ, but had not built their lives on His truth, i.e., on Christ.

If a person gives a cup of cold water to a thirsty man, it may be:

  • The result of fellowship with the Lord and so also of salvation.
  • The result of a works-for-salvation mentality like with the religious Pharisees.
  • The result of a desire to be accepted by others or to impress people. In this case it is a good work, but not the fruit of the Spirit or of fellowship with the Lord. Motives are important and say a lot about the source (1 Cor. 4:5; Jam. 4:3).
  • Or it may be the result of natural human compassion.

If a man claims to be a Christian by the things he does and says: he goes to church, prays, and says he knows the Lord, but refuses to help someone in need when it is within his power, what does this indicate about the man? It could indicate the person is not saved--but not necessarily. Remember, many who do not know Christ help the poor. But refusal can also indicate the person is out of fellowship and not walking by an active faith in the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 John 3:16-17; Gal. 5:22-23; Jam. 2:15-17).

What’s the point? Works do not necessarily prove a man’s salvation. Then what are some of the values of a person’s good works?

The Value of Works (Fruit)

Because of the many variables and the problems outlined above, works are not designed to be the fundamental means of assurance of salvation. Assurance is based on something more absolute--the work of Christ and the Word. (Assurance of Salvation was covered in Lesson 2 of Book 1 in this series, The Assured Life.

  • Good works glorify God especially when our motives are right and He is the source of those works because we are abiding in Christ (1 Cor. 4:5; 6:20; 2 Cor. 9:13; 1 Pet. 2:12; 4:16).
  • Good works witness to others of God’s love and of the truth of the claims of Christ. They can give evidence of the authenticity and power of the gospel (2 Cor. 6:3-6; 1 Thess. 2:1-12; John 13:34-35).
  • Good works minister God’s love to men (1 John 3:17).
  • Good works promote peace and order in society (Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:14).

So let’s not compromise the gospel of grace by adding anything to what man must do other than believe the message of God’s saving love in Christ. Let’s all be challenged as believers to grow in Christ, to submit to His lordship, and allow Him to change our lives as we walk in fellowship with the Savior. Let’s also remember that one of the evidences of salvation is the discipline of the Lord (Heb. 12:5f).

Thoughts on James 2:14-26

James 2:14-26 is one of the key passages used to support the need of adding works to faith in Christ. The thinking is something like this: We are saved by faith alone, but real faith is never alone, or the faith that saves is never alone,” and James 2:14-26 is used to support this position. Does James 2:14-26 support this position?

There are three views on this passage:

(1) James is contradicting the Apostle Paul and teaching salvation by works.

(2) James is teaching that real or genuine faith will produce works and fruitlessness is a sure sign that a person is unsaved. “That faith” in 2:14, the kind of faith that is without works and fruitless, cannot save from hell.

MacArthur writes,

The Bible teaches clearly that the evidence of God’s work in a life is the inevitable fruit of transformed behavior (1 John 3:10). Faith that does not result in righteous living is dead and cannot save (Ja. 2:14-17). Professing Christians utterly lacking the fruit of true righteousness will find no biblical basis for assurance … ”31

Compare also MacArthur’s statement on page 170.

(3) James is writing about the problem of the dead, inoperative faith of a Christian whose faith has lost all of its vitality and productivity because of his or her failure to walk with the Lord in the Word.

There is no question that this is a difficult passage, but much of its difficulty stems from our own preconditioned thinking, theological bias, the nature of English translations, and our understanding of certain words like “save,” “salvation,” “soul,” and translations like “that faith” in vs. 14.

There is no question that faith without works is in some way defective, but that does not mean that the person is unsaved or that their faith in Christ is not real. Scripture teaches that faith begins as a grain of mustard seed and must grow. If it is not fed and nourished by the Word and fellowship with the Lord, it becomes stagnant, the soul becomes hard, and the life becomes unfruitful.

Over and over again the Scripture posts warning signs for believers against the dangers of unfruitfulness (Tit. 3:8, 14; 2 Pet. 1:8).

The wasteland of barren living was therefore a real and present danger which the New Testament writers faced with candor. In no way did they share the modern illusion that a believer could not enter that wasteland, or live there.32

James’ Relation to Paul and His Theology

That James is not writing to refute or contradict the doctrine emphasized so strongly in Paul’s epistles is seen from two facts: (a) James was written very early, before the epistles of Paul that emphasize justification by faith without works. James was written in 45 A.D. and Galatians and Romans in 49 or 55 and 58. (b) That James and Paul were in harmony and believed in salvation by faith apart from works is clear from Acts 15:1f and Galatians 1:18-21; 2:9.

    The Context and Thrust of James

The Recipients: Unquestionably, James was written to believers, to those whom James considered as saved. He was not questioning their salvation. This is apparent from the following:

  • He identifies them as brethren in every chapter for a total of 15 times in this epistle (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, etc.).
  • He refers to his readers as “begotten of God” (1:18), a reference to regeneration or the new birth as a gift from God (1:17).
  • As a warning against partiality he refers to their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (2:1).
  • He also speaks about “the fair name by which you have been called,” a reference to the name Christian because of their faith in Christ and association with the Christian community (Acts 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16).
  • He teaches and challenges them in ways that could only have application or meaning to genuine believers: (a) In 1:2-4 of the goal of trials to mature one’s faith and character; (b) In 1:5-8 and 4:2-3 he speaks of their privilege of prayer and of the need to pray in faith with right motives to receive answers for wisdom and to meet their needs; (c) In 1:12 of the promise of the crown of life; (d) In 1:20 of achieving or producing righteous character which has its origin in fellowship with God, i.e. God’s righteousness; (e) In 1:21f of receiving the engrafted Word which, like a mirror, is able to expose us and bring about much needed change; (f) And in 4:5 of the jealous concern of the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers to keep us faithful to the Lord, the Groom of the bride (cf. 4:4).
    The Problem and Concern

While James knew his readers were born again, he also knew how they desperately needed to take in the Word and respond to its truth. The facts of the epistle show that though they were religious and orthodox in their faith, they were carnal, worldly, and legalistic. Legalism always nullifies the power of Christ in believers’ lives. It means they are trusting in their own ability and good works to be accepted with God and to feel significant.

As is clear in the epistles of Paul, this does not mean they were unsaved or only professing Christians. But it does mean they were unfruitful because they were laboring under the weakness of their own ability.

They were begotten of God (1:18), they were brethren (1:2, 16, 19, 2:1), they had faith in Christ (2:1), but they were religionists as is evident by James warning in 1:26 and by the following facts: (a) They were hearing the Word though not applying it (1:22-26); (b) they were meeting together as an assembly of believers (2:2); (c) they prided themselves on having the Law (2:10-11), and (d) some were wanting to be teachers in the assembly and were priding themselves on their mature wisdom (3:1-2).

So, while they had real faith in Christ for salvation (2:1), they were not experiencing the liberty and deliverance that should accompany salvation. Their faith in Him for daily living was dead and inoperative just as with the Christians in Galatia. Like the Galatians, they had fallen from a grace/faith way of life under the power of the Spirit (Gal. 5:1-5).

Again, they were external religionists who were seeking to live the Christian life by their own ability and this had neutralized the power of God. They had some religious works in the form of certain religious activities as mentioned, but they lacked a moment-by-moment vital faith fellowship with the Lord in and through: (a) the mirror activity of the engrafted Word (1:19-25); (b) through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit (4:5); and (c) through drawing near to God in honest confession and humble brokenness before God (1:21; 4:7-10).

While being religious externalists, they were being dominated by man’s wisdom and strategies for handling life rather than by God’s wisdom, the wisdom of the Word which they needed to apply personally (1:2-27). They were controlled by that which is earthly, worldly, natural, demonic (1:13-16; 3:13-18; 4:1-4).

As a result, while religious, they were lacking in bonafide Christ-like other-oriented works. They were under God’s discipline and perhaps on the verge of discipline unto death (cf. 1:21; 2:14; and 5:14-15, 19-20).

The following illustrates the failures of their inactive faith which failed to appropriate their wealth in Christ: (a) They were frustrated by trials (1:2-4). (b) The rich were trusting in their riches (1:10-11; 5:1f). (c) The poor were complaining of their lack (1:9). (d) They were ignoring those in need (1:27; 2:15-17). (e) They were guilty of sinful attitudes which were manifesting themselves in sins of the tongue--in fighting, quarreling, and criticizing (3:2-4:2, 11f). (f) They were guilty of favoritism (2:1f). (g) They were guilty of putting their business ahead of the Lord (4:13-17).

The Key Words of James 2:14f:

(1) Faith: James is not talking about a real versus a false or spurious faith, one which only claims to be real, but really is not. These were brethren (vs. 14), true believers with real faith in Christ for salvation. But as for their daily walk, their faith was dead, inoperative, and unproductive. Faith, in order to work and be productive, must have a valid object and be energized by fellowship with the Lord; it must grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). Their faith had a valid object for salvation from sin’s penalty, but not for the Christian life and victory against the power of sin. Again, compare Paul’s argument in Galatians and in Colossians. See also Matthew 6:30; Colossians 2:6; Romans 10:17; 2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2:13.

(2) Save: In James 1:21, James speaks about the Word’s ability “to save your souls.” Compare also 2:14 and 5:20. We need to be careful that we do not misunderstand this. The modern English translation has for many only one religious meaning-- “to be saved from hell.” But this is not what James meant nor what his readers would have understood. By context, this meant “to save your life” from God’s divine discipline and the self-made misery of walking out of fellowship. Five times James uses the word sozo, “to save,” which means:

  • to save or deliver from peril, injury, suffering, or physical death (Matt. 8:25; 14:30; 27:40, 42; Mk. 13:20; Jam. 4:12; 5:20).
  • to heal, restore to health or strength (Matt. 9:22; Mk. 5:24; Jam. 5:15).
  • to save or deliver in a spiritual sense from the penalty, power, and presence of sin (1 Cor. 1:21; Jam. 1:21; 2:14; 1 Tim. 1:15). Used of the past, present, and future aspects of salvation. Some passages could refer to all aspects of salvation, past, present, and future.

We simply cannot limit this word to mean salvation from hell. James is clearly saying their faith, in the condition it was in, could not save or deliver anyone from the things that were dominating their lives. But he is not talking about salvation from hell. Why should he? This does not fit the context as demonstrated above. He did need to warn them, however, about the bondage and futility of legalism and dead orthodoxy, and about the consequences of sin-- the loss of rewards and divine discipline even to the point of death (1:15, 21; 4:12; 5:1-4, 7-8, 9, 14-16, 20).

(3) Soul: Soul is pseuche which is translated “life” or “lives” as often as it is translated “soul” (43 versus 47 times in the NASB). In some cases (as in James 1:21) it would be better to translate it with the English word “life” or “lives.”

(4) Works: James is speaking of deeds and actions which are the product of a vital, growing, productive faith in the indwelling Spirit (Jam. 4:5) and the engrafted Word (Jam. 1:21). Paul, by contrast, speaks of dead works which are done apart from faith, which proceed from the flesh and which are done to gain merit with God.

(5) Justified: This is the Greek, dikaioo, which has two uses: (a) To declare or pronounce righteous and refers to the imputation of righteousness through faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1). (b) But it may also mean to show to be righteous (Mat. 11:19; Luke 7:35; Rom. 3:4; 1 Tim. 3:16) (Abbot-Smith; Thayer). James uses it in this way in 2:21.


Hodges sums up the issue for the book of James and writes,

… James … understood how easily Christians, who knew the great truth that God accepted us on the basis of faith alone, could fall into the error of downplaying good works altogether. He understood how readily doctrinal correctness could take precedence over practical, everyday obedience. In short, he knew the danger of dead orthodoxy.

One of Satan’s methods of assault is to get us to lock up our shield of faith into our theological armory so that we never employ it on the field of combat and everyday life.

Too often Christians go about proudly proclaiming their theological position, their orthodoxy, and ungraciously denounce those who believe differently. They talk like theologians and behave like enemies at war.33

In his little epistle, Jude calls upon the Church to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3). For us today, the faith refers to the body of revealed truth that has been handed down in the Scripture. It concerns the great fundamental truths of Scripture concerning subjects such as God, Jesus Christ, man, salvation, the Bible, and things to come including the personal return of the Lord.

This body of truth is called the faith because it must be received by faith, and because “the faith” contains the gospel which is a message of grace offering man a salvation that is free, without price, one that is to be received by faith rather than by human works.

But from as early as Acts 15, the church has had to contend against assaults on the gospel wherein people have tried to add some form of human works to faith alone whereby we could gain salvation like works of the Law, or circumcision, or its counterpart for today, water baptism. Truly, the gospel of God’s grace in Christ is under siege and we need to be able to contend for the faith.

1 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, Kregel Publications, p. 371.

2 GES Journal, Autumn 88, p. 11.

3 Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation, Victor Books, p. 91.

4 Ibid., p. 92.

5 Bob Wilkin, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 89, p. 13.

6 Ryrie, p. 92.

7 J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, pp. 72-73.

8 Vital Theological Issues, Zuck, General Editor, Kregel Resources, p. 119.

9 Kindred Spirit, Summer 1989, a quarterly publication of Dallas Seminary, p. 5.

10 Ryrie, p. 98.

11 Bob Wilkin, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1989, pp. 18.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Ryrie, p. 99.

15 Bob Wilkin, Journal of Grace Evangelical Society, Vol. 2, No. 2, Autumn 1989, p. 20.

16 “The Grace Evangelical Society News,” Vol. 4, No. 10, Oct. 1989, p. 4, Taken from The Sword of the Lord, Feb. 3, 1989.

17 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, Abridged Edition, John F. Walvoord, Editor, Donald K. Campbell, Roy B. Zuck, Consulting Editors, p. 195.

18 “Grace Evangelical Society News,” June-July, 88, p. 1.

19 Ibid., p. 3.

20 Kindred Spirit, Summer 1989, p. 6.

21 Ibid.

22 Ryrie, p. 61.

23 Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976, 10:112.

24 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament edition, Editors, John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, Victor Books, p.281.

25 We have two parallel phrases which are genitive constructions in the Greek text: 1) “washing of regeneration” and 2) “renewing by the Holy Spirit.” “Regeneration” and “Holy Spirit” are both in the genitive case. There are several uses of the genitive case in Greek, but with nouns of action like washing and renewing, the noun in the genitive points to the thing to which the action is referred, either as subject or object of the verbal idea. Question: Are washing and renewing objective genitives or subjective genitives? If subjective, they produce the action as is evidenced by the translation of the NASB and the NIV, “renewing/renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Paul is writing of a renewing accomplished by the Holy Spirit, and not vice versa, i.e., “a renewing which produces the Holy Spirit,” an obvious absurdity. Both of these clauses are preceded by only one preposition “by” (dia), and are connected by “and” (kai). This would suggest two things: (1) Because of the parallel arrangement, we would expect both genitives to be the same, either objective or subjective, and since the second phase can only be a subjective genitive, “a renewal by the Holy Spirit,” so must the first, “a washing by regeneration.” (2) The “and” (kai) is ascensive or explicative meaning “even,” or “namely,” so that the second clause is a further explanation of the first. We could render it grammatically, “the washing produced by regeneration, even (or namely) the rebirth accomplished by the Holy Spirit.” Regeneration results in a spiritual cleansing, the forgiveness of sin and this is part of the rebirth work of the Holy Spirit.

26 Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, Abridged Edition, John F. Walvoord, Editor, Donald K. Campbell, Roy B. Zuck, Consulting Editors, p. 194-195.

27 See above, Assault #2, for a discussion of this verse as it pertains to the word “Lord,” or see So Great Salvation by Ryrie, p. 70-72.

28 Ryrie, p. 47.

29 Ibid., p. 47-48.

30 Ibid., pp. 45-46.

31 John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 23.

32 Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, Redencion Viva, Academie Books, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 120.

33 Ibid., p. 122-123.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

Acts 15: Gentiles as Gentiles in Davidic Promise and the Clarification of Paul’s Offer of the Gospel in Acts 13

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The sermon Paul preached in Acts 13:16-41 offered OT Davidic hope equally to both Jew and Gentile. In the apostle’s words the salvation offered in Jesus was the fulfillment of promises made to David (2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps 16: 10; 89; Isa 55:3) and was guaranteed for “all who believe” (pa<" oJ pisteuvwn [13:39]). But because the “God-fearers” (13:16b, 26) who were present were connected to Judaism, at least in religious ways well beyond the average Gentile, the narrative leaves it ambiguous as to whether Gentiles were accepted as Gentiles or whether they had to become proselytes to Judaism, or to some degree submit to Jewish religious practices (i.e., tw</ e[qei tw</ Mwu>sevw"; 15:1) in order to be saved. That is to ask, then, what, is the extent of the free offer of the gospel to Gentiles in Acts 13? Can they remain as Gentiles or do they still need, in some way, to adhere to Judaism (i.e., through synagogue instruction, circumcision, baptism, etc.)? This issue, of course, becomes the reason for the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 and is resolved there by the leaders of the church.1 The importance of Chapter 15 in the book of Acts and to the mission to the Gentiles is well argued by Marshall:

Luke’s account of the discussion regarding the relation of the Gentiles to the Law of Moses forms the centre of Acts both structurally and theologically. Once the Christian mission had begun to evangelize Gentiles who had not previously been circumcised, the problems of the conditions of their membership of the church began to arise. It had evidently been the policy of the church at Antioch and its missionaries that such Gentiles should not be required to keep the Jewish law; although this point is passed over in silence in chapters 11-14, it is clear from 15:1. But this policy was unacceptable to some Jewish Christians for two reasons.

First, they found it hard to believe that Gentiles could be saved and become members of the people of God without accepting the obligations of the Jewish law…Secondly, there was also the question of how Jewish Christians, who continued to live by the Jewish law, could have fellowship at table with Gentiles who did not observe the law and were therefore ritually unclean…this problem was particularly acute when the church met to ‘break bread’.2

The purpose of this brief article is to explore how Luke resolved the tension of Gentile inclusion in Davidic promise and blessing as Gentiles. We now turn specifically to the problem as outlined in Acts 15. In Acts 15:5 certain christian Pharisees—who supported the Judaizing wing of the church—argued that it was necessary (dei`) for Gentiles to be circumcised and “ordered to obey” (paraggevllein te threi<n) the law of Moses in order to be saved. Luke says in 15:2 that this caused “no little dispute between Paul and Barnabas and the Judaizers” (stavsew" kaiV zhthvsew" oujk ojlivgh" tw</ Pauvlw/ kaiV tw</ Barnaba/v/ proV" aujtouv"). The term stavsew" (“sharp dispute”) in 15:2, the stronger of the two words Luke uses to describe the debate (the other being zhthvsew"), occurs nine times in the NT, seven of which are in Luke-Acts (Luke 23:19, 25; Acts 15:2; 19:40; 23:7, 10; 24:5). In each case in Luke-Acts the term carries not the meaning of “existence” or “continuance” but the force of either “riot,” “discord,” or “strife.”3 The point is that the inclusion of the Gentiles into the promise as Gentiles severely threatened to divide the church along ethnic lines and put an end to the Jewish mission in the Diaspora (i.e., the witness to Jews living outside Palestine around the Mediterranean in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome). Concerning the issue of Jew/Gentile relations in the church and Luke’s portrayal of the Jerusalem council, Witherington remarks:

Here the matter must be resolved as to what constitutes the people of God, and how the major ethnic division in the church (Jew/Gentile) shall be dealt with so that both groups may be included in God’s people on equal footing, fellowship may continue, and the church remain one. Luke is eager to demonstrate that ethnic divisions could be and were overcome, despite the objection of very conservative Pharisaic Christians.4

The issue was not easily resolved, however, for Luke says that it was only after “much debate” (Pollh<" deV zhthvsew") that any defining progress was made (cf. 15:7ff.). The fact that Peter stood up5 and brought to their remembrance what had happened in his case and how God had “chosen” (ejxelevxato) the Gentiles to hear the gospel through his mouth and believe (cf. also Acts 13:48) indicates that the mission to the Gentiles was God’s decision and that Peter was involved in it. Thus the gospel to the Gentiles had occurred about ten years earlier, with the then leader (Peter) of the Jerusalem church. Those at the council knew that to be true, though given the point of the debate, they may not have recognized the precedent God had set in doing it.6 Thus Paul’s law-free approach could not be scorned as a movement apart from God’s desire and against Moses. Peter’s conclusion is that the God who knows the hearts of all men gave the Spirit to the Gentiles in the same way (kaqwV") as he had done with the Jews.7 In fact, Peter says that God “made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith” as well (15:8-9). To turn around, says Peter, and force Gentiles to keep the Law (threi<n toVn novmon) is to put God to the test (v. 10; peiravzete toVn qeoVn).

After Peter stopped speaking, Paul and Barnabas, in v. 12, told all that God had done among the Gentiles through them—all of which supported Peter’s testimony. But when they finished speaking James did not refer to their stories, but to that which Peter had done. He uses the word “first” (prw<ton) to indicate that what God had begun through Peter, he was now carrying on through Paul and Barnabas (15:14). This indicates the continuity and unity between the Petrine offer of the gospel to Gentiles and Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. Both were initiated by God.8

The council had listened to the testimony of Peter, and Paul and Barnabas. The conclusion was obvious. It only remained for James to give the scriptural precedent according Amos 9:11-12 (Acts 15:16-17).9 The introductory reference to tw<n profhtw<n in Acts 15:15 indicates that what follows is most likely a composite citation10 and that Luke understood the mission to the Gentiles not as a purely Christian thing,11 but according to a cumulative prophetic witness associated with Davidic hope.12 Thus the boundaries of the “people of God” (laov" qeou`) are widened to include the Gentiles on equal footing with the Jews on the basis of Davidic hope.13 While the LXX text makes it clear that Gentile salvation is in keeping with the restoration of David’s fallen tent, neither the LXX nor the MT clarifies exactly how that will come about, though the LXX lends itself more easily to James’ point about Gentiles remaining as Gentiles. This is so since the LXX does not regard Israel as possessing the nations, but the nations seeking God. In any case, as Tannehill points out, the reference to David is important,14 but it is important not only because it was fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation, but because it carries through from the infancy narratives to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2) and Paul’s (Acts 13) this theme of the universal blessing afforded in Davidic promise; Davidic hope in Luke-Acts is for all, regardless of ethnicity, and places all in the same position in terms of the reception of covenant blessing, including the reception of the Spirit.15

Thus through the combined witness of the missionaries and James’ citation from the OT, the law free mission to the Gentiles was officially sanctioned and acknowledged by the Jerusalem church. The ambiguity surrounding Gentile inclusion in Davidic promise in chapter 13 is settled in chapter 15. The only thing they asked was that the Gentiles maintain love for their Jewish brothers and sensitivity toward Jewish ritual purity for the sake of the Jewish-Christian witness in the Diaspora (15:20-21).16 Thus Luke accomplished his purpose of demonstrating how the Gentiles came to be accepted as Gentiles into what had hitherto been a predominantly Jewish church. Therefore, Peter is not mentioned again in Acts and the Jerusalem church plays little or no role (cf. 21:15-26).

1 The importance of Acts chapter 15 for the thrust of the entire book can hardly be overestimated. See Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles, Hermeneia, ed. Eldon Jay Epp with Christopher R. Matthews, trans. A. Thomas Kraabel, James Limburg, and Donald H. Juel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 121. Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids/Carlisle: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1998), 439, refers to it as the “most crucial chapter in the whole book.” This is particularly true in the light of the tension between Jew and Gentile in the unified progress of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The resolution accomplished by the leaders is not to say that every party present agreed with the decision.

2 I. H. Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. R.V. G. Tasker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 242-43.

3 See BAGD, 764, 2, 3, s.v. stavsi". Two additional points may well serve to paint the background to this problem and the severity of the issue. First, we have already suggested in another paper (“John Mark in Acts: A New Testament Jonah”) the likelihood that John Mark left Paul and Barnabas because of his uneasiness with a mission to the Gentiles. With that in mind, it may well be that his return to Jerusalem (13:13) sparked the issue with the Jewish Christians there, with the result that they sent men to Antioch to command the Gentiles to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. Second, the rather sudden appearance of James as the leader of the Jerusalem church in Acts 15:13 is probably connected to Peter’s removal as a result of visiting with Gentiles (10:28). Andrianjatovo Rakotoharintsifa, “Luke and the Internal Divisions in the early Church,” in Luke’s Literary Achievement—Collected Essays, ed. C. M. Tuckett, JSNTSS 116 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 174, suggests that “Within the narrative of Acts, the meeting of Peter with Cornelius and the ensuing consequences prepare the reader to understand a crucial point in the background to the debate in Acts 15. Thanks to his vision of unclean animals ‘coming down from heaven’, Peter has been able to get over the earthly obstacle of ritual purity which separates Jews from Gentiles. This particular act of boldness has cost him a high price: he has had to hand over his role as leader to James, the brother of Jesus. The latter’s rise to power is never recorded in Acts, but his sudden appearance in 12.17 (just after 10.1-11.18) and 15.13 (the controversy about ritual observance) suggests that his presence may be due to Peter’s loss of prestige following the scandal meal at Joppa.” See also Witherington, Acts, 457, who regards James as more than just another “rhetor” but one who is portrayed as a “judge or authority figure who can give a ruling that settles the matter.” This indicates the primus inter pares position he had early acquired.

4 Witherington, Acts, 439.

5 The expression is ajnasta;" Pevtro" which recalls the similar expression before Peter gave his definitive sermon regarding the phenomena of Pentecost (2:14; Staqei;" de; oJ Pevtro").

6 So Richard N. Longenecker, “Acts,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 445.

7 See also 15:11 where Peter says that Jews are saved by the grace of God in the same way as (kaq o}n trovpon) Gentiles. The repeated mention of the identical manner of reception of the Spirit indicates Luke's focus on unity among the Jews and Gentiles in the church.

8 This is clearly the case in the unfolding of the narrative of Acts. Peter was given a vision which led to the meeting with Cornelius and his salvation (10:9-16). Paul and Barnabas were set apart by the Spirit for the “work” of reaching the Gentiles with the gospel (13:1-3).

9 For a discussion of the textual differences between the quotation in Acts and its original setting in Amos 9:11-12 LXX, see Pierre-Antoine Paulo, Le problme ecclsial des Actes la lumire de deux prophties d’Amos, Recherches Nouvelle Serie 3 (Montral: ditions Bellarmin, 1985), 74-79.

10 Witherington, Acts, 459.

11 Rebecca I. Denova, The Things Accomplished Among Us: Prophetic Tradition in the Structural Pattern of Luke-Acts, JSNTSS 141, ed. Stanley E. Porter (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 146-47.

12 The plural tw`n profhtw`n may refer to the scroll of the ‘minor prophets’; so Henry J. Cadbury and Kirsopp Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity: Part I—The Acts of the Apostles, vol. 4, ed. F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965; reprint London: MacMillan, 1922-39), 176, and Ernst Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary, trans. Bernard Noble and Gerald Shinn (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), 448. But there appears to be portions taken from Jer 12:15 (meta; tau`ta ajnastrevyw for ejn th`/ hJmevra/ ejkeivnh/) and Isa 45:21 (ejpoivhsen tau`ta ajp ajrch`" for oJ poiw`n tau`ta). It is interesting to note that Isa 45:22 rings with a universalistic salvation (ejpistravfhte prov" me kai; swqhvsesqe oiJ ajp ejscavtou th`" gh`"). The use of ejpistrevfousin in Acts 15:19 recalls the same term in Isa 45:22, both of which refer to the Gentiles turning to God (qeov"). See David P. Moessner, “The Script of the Scriptures in Acts: Suffering As God’s ‘Plan’ (Boule) for the World for the ‘Release of Sins,’” in History, Literature, and Society in the Book of Acts, ed. Ben Witherington III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 242; F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 3rd revised and enlarged edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 310; John B. Polhill, Acts, The New American Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery, vol. 26 (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1992), 329.

13 Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation—Volume Two: The Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 187, comments, “The speakers are making the important affirmation that Gentiles can be God’s laov" in the full sense that Israel is.

14 Tannehill, Acts, 188-89.

15 Cf. Paulo, Le Problme Ecclsial, 79-85.

16 For a discussion of the complicated textual problem in 15:20, 29; 21:25 and an accompanying bibliography, see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2d ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 379-83. Whether there are four requirements or three, and whether they are all moral or all ritual (which is the more likely position), or some combination thereof, the point the council is making is still the same: the requirements were stressed so as to make table fellowship between Gentiles and their more scrupulous Jewish brothers possible and that the mission to the Jews in the Diaspora not be hindered. The point is to maintain a practical unity in the church.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

Questions Cessationists Should Ask: A Biblical Examination of Cessationism

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In Jack Deere’s intriguing book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, he suggests the following hypothetical situation and result: "If you were to lock a brand-new Christian in a room with a Bible and tell him to study what the Scriptures have to say about healing and miracles, he would never come out of the room a cessationist."1 Elsewhere he writes,

No one ever just picked up the Bible, started reading, and then came to the conclusion that God was not doing signs and wonders anymore and that the gifts of the Holy Spirit had passed away. The doctrine of cessationism did not originate from a careful study of the Scriptures. The doctrine of cessationism originated in experience.2

Deere may have a point, but a person reading the Bible and studying miracles and healing may also have several questions about these things. Why do the epistles have little discussion about them? Why does Paul leave people sick (Phil 2:26-27; 1 Tim 5:23; 2 Tim 4:20)? Why does James have the sick call the elders and not one with the gift of healing (James 5:14-16)? Why do I not see miracles and healing? Deere may be correct in that the doctrine of cessationism originates in experience but that does not mean it is not true. One could hardly affirm cessationism if miracles and healing are happening all about him. Experience is the confirming factor in the case of either continuation or cessationism. Ultimately, the Bible must affirm (i.e., either affirm it as true or false) or allow our experience. It cannot contradict it (i.e., say it cannot happen). Whatever the case may be Deere raises the issue of putting the doctrine of cessationism to a biblical examination. Are cessationists asking questions of the Bible that will only affirm their conclusion? Or are they being honest and letting the text speak for itself, not forcing it into a prescribed theological framework? There are several texts that need to be discussed. Noncessationists argue that 1 Corinthians 1:4-8; Ephesians 4:7-13; as well as other passages affirm continuation. Cessationists insist that 2 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; and Hebrews 2:1-4 suggest that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased. Both cessationists and noncessationists use 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 to defend their view. In addition to these texts are the passages concerning the miraculous and revelatory gifts themselves, their nature, purpose and use. These texts will also be examined. Finally, some conclusions shall be made concerning these issues as well as how certain questions influence our doctrine of miraculous gifts.

Passages That Suggest Continuation

Noncessationists argue their case mainly from two3 passages: 1 Corinthians 1:4-8 and Ephesians 4:7-13. The former passage speaks to gifts generally while the latter passage speaks of specific gifts. The exegesis and arguments will be examined and critiqued.

1 Corinthians 1:4-8

This passage is Paul’s thanksgiving and part of Paul’s bridge which he builds to greet the Corinthians. He thanks God and affirms them for their development of spiritual gifts, even though there are problems with this development as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The passage is as follows:

4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that4 in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In this passage Paul accomplishes two things: he gives genuine thanks for the Corinthians themselves and God’s gifting of them, and at the same time he redirects their focus. There are four matters noted in this redirection of focus: (1) its christocentric focus; (2) everything is the result of God’s own gracious activity toward them; (3) Paul’s role in their being so gifted; and (4) the gifts belong to the present, to the time of waiting for Christ’s Parousia.5 It is the last that is our concern here.

Paul is thankful for the grace that God has given the Corinthians. He explains that they are enriched in everything, specifically in every kind of6 speech and knowledge. There are several views on what is meant by λόγῳ and γνώσει,7 but most probably they refer to all gifts and ministry involving speech and knowledge. This would include, but not be limited to the revelatory gifts and tongues.

Paul goes on to argue that these "gifts" are evidence8 that the testimony about Christ which Paul preached to the Corinthians was confirmed by God9 through the impartation of these speech gifts. Thus, God Himself confirmed Paul’s witness to Christ among them by gifting them with Spirit endowments.10 This results11 in a state where the Corinthians lack no spiritual gift (χάρισμα cf. 1 Cor 12-14). To this Paul adds an eschatological note: these gifts are to be realized in the context of "awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." The syntax of this passage is important. The present participle, ἀπεκδεχομένους, is temporal; contemporaneous with the present infinitive,ὑστερεῖσθαι. The present tenses in both the infinitive and the participle are most likely progressive presents. They denote a process or state of possessing all spiritual gifts and eagerly awaiting. This indicates that the possession of all spiritual gifts continues until this "eager expectation" is fulfilled. The next verse explains what will happen at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Christ Himself will confirm us, blameless, until the end at His coming. It is interesting that Paul uses the same verb here in 1:8 (βεβαιώσει) as he did in 1:6. This may indicate that means of confirmation to the end is the same as the means by which God confirmed the testimony of Christ among them, through spiritual gifts.12 Thus, Paul seems to promise that Christ, through spiritual gifts, will progressively strengthen and confirm believers until His coming.

The problem that arises is how does this apply to the church as a whole? Is Corinth a paradigm for all local churches, that is, are all churches throughout the ages to possess all the spiritual gifts until Christ comes? If this is true, then why do so many churches today and throughout the last several hundred years seem to lack the miraculous and revelatory gifts? If such a lack of gifts is associated to a lack of eager expectation for Christ’s coming,13 then why do churches who are dispensational and cessationist seem to lack such gifts? Does this state only apply to Corinth? Would not the other churches of the apostolic (as well as post-apostolic) period be so enriched? Perhaps the best solution is to see the passage applying to the church in a universal sense, although not always in a local sense. While many of the churches may have been enriched as Corinth was, perhaps not all of them were, nor was it necessary for them to be so. The same may be true throughout history and today. Many churches may thrive without all the gifts while others may thrive with them. Whatever the case may be, cessationists would need to come up with strong biblical arguments to override the implications of this passage.

Ephesians 4:7-13

The second passage put forward as supporting the continuation of miraculous and revelatory gifts is Ephesians 4:7-13. This passage speaks about the grace given each believer according to Christ’s gift upon His exaltation. Specifically Christ gave the church gifted men in order to build the church into maturity. The passage is as follows:

4:7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

This passage appears in the paraenetic section of Ephesians where Paul is exalting his readers to love and unity. In the midst of the exhortations he teaches that each believer was given "grace according to the measure14 of Christ’s gift." Paul then cites Ps 68:18 along with a parenthetical explanation about the ascension. The complex problems involved with the quote and the parenthesis are not our concern here. Suffice to say, the quotation is used to argue that Christ would give the church spiritual gifts. Paul does not elaborate on the gifting of each believer, instead he speaks about the gifted men which Christ has given to the church. He gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and other teachers.15 All of these gifted men equip the saints for the work of the ministry for the building up of the body until all attain the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to the fullness of Christ.

There are two questions here that concern the issue of the continuation of the gifts. First, what does μέχρι (until) modify? And second, does the μέχρι clause have an eschatological referent? The significance of these questions would be that the apostles and prophets would then continue to the Second Coming of Christ. It is best to answer the second question first. The referent of the μέχρι clause does seem to be eschatological. The standard that is to be reached is essentially perfection. All (οἱ πάντες) the church are to attain the following: first, "the unity of faith." Whether this refers to unity in doctrine, power of faith, or unity in general, it would be difficult to argue that this goal was achieved either in the first century or in subsequent church history. The second goal is "the full knowledge (τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως) of the Son of God." Does the canon of Scripture, the creeds, the teaching of the church through history, spiritual gifts, or any spiritual experience bring the entire church to this kind of knowledge? The third goal is the state of being a complete/mature man (ἄνδρα τέλειον). This could refer to a certain level of maturity attainable in this age (1 Cor 2:6; 14:20; Phil 3:15; Heb 5:14), but more likely it has the same idea as 1 Cor 13:11 ("when I became a man"), and so refers to an eschatological state. The fourth goal is "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." It is obvious that all in the church have not reached the same level of maturity as Christ. Therefore, "the end" is described in terms of ultimate spiritual growth of the believer into the absolute perfection that is found in Christ. The metaphor of a mature person is used to portray the heavenly state of believers (cf. 1 Cor 13:10-12).16

The second issue is the syntax of μέχρι. Deere17 and Storms18 argue that the apostles and prophets will continue until the church reaches its full stature by connecting μέχρι with ἔδωκεν in 4:11. While prepositions usually modify verbs, in this case the verb is a bit remote. It seems better to connect it with εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, a prepositional phrase that has a verbal idea. The previous two prepositional phrases (εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ) are also connected to a prepositional πηρασε πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων)19 or are in a logical sequence with each prepositional phrase modifying the previous clause. Thus, the body is built up until all attain the unity of faith. While the apostles and prophets contribute to the equipping the saints, they do this as the foundation.20 Most of the equipping of the saints is done by the pastors and teachers of the local churches. This text, then, does not really give clear cut evidence for the noncessationist position.21

Conclusion Concerning the Noncessationist Data

Noncessationists could very well suggest many more passages that either support their position or are compatible with it.22 But 1 Corinthians 1:4-8 and Ephesians 4:7-13 seem to be the mainstay of their position. While the latter passage does not give clear cut evidence for the continuation view, it can be interpreted in such a way as to be compatible with it, although not without its difficulties. As far as the former passage is concerned, one would be hard pressed to escape the implications of continuation. But before we reach that conclusion we must turn to the cessationist position.

Passages That Suggest Cessationism

Cessationists often argue on theological, historical, and experiential grounds. But their position is not without some support from the textual data. Three passages will be considered to undergird the cessationists’ case: 2 Corinthians 12:12, Ephesians 2:20, and Hebrews 2:3-4.

2 Corinthians 12:12

This passage occurs in the midst of Paul’s defense of his apostolic office and ministry. The immediate context shows that Paul is more inclined to boast in his weaknesses than in the great revelations that he received because it is in his weaknesses that the power and grace of God are truly seen. The passage is cited as follows:

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.

This passage is used to prove that miracle-working is the evidence of apostleship. Therefore, it must be restricted to the apostles or it would not prove that Paul was an apostle. If doing miracles had been the common experience of ordinary Christians, it would be foolish for Paul to cite miracles as proof of his apostleship. Because miracles were unique to the apostles, Paul could use his experience with signs and wonders as proof of his authority (cf. Rom 15:18-20; Heb 2:3-4).23

Many have pointed out the problems with this view, however.24 First, the term σημεῖα (signs) is not used in the same sense in the first part of the verse as it is in the second part. The first usage is to signs in a general sense. The second use refers specifically to miracles.25 Second, if Paul wanted to equate the "signs of the apostle" with "signs, wonders, and miracles" he would have put the phrase in the nominative and expressed it as a predicate nominative to σημεῖα. The terms (σημείοις τε καὶ τέρασιν καὶ δυνάμεσιν), however, are in the dative and are probably datives of accompaniment.26 Third, the "signs of the apostle"27 are probably: (1) the changed lives that resulted from Paul’s preaching (1 Cor 9:1-2; 2 Cor 3:1-3); (2) the transformed Christ-like life of the one who preaches the apostolic message (2 Cor 1:12; 2:17; 3:4-6; 4:2; 5:11; 6:3-13; 7:2; 10:13-18; 11:6; 23-28);28 (3) his sufferings, hardship, and persecution (2 Cor 4:7-15; 5:4-10; 11:21-33; 13:4);29 (4) spiritual power in conflict with evil (2 Cor 10:3-4, 8-11; 13:2-4, 10); (5) jealous care for the welfare of the churches (2 Cor 11:1-6); (6) true knowledge of Jesus and His gospel plans (2 Cor 11:6), (7) self-support (2 Cor 11:7-11); (8) not taking material advantage of churches (11:20, 21); (9)being caught up in heaven (2 Cor 12:1-6); (10) contentment and faith to endure a thorn in the flesh (12:7-9); and (11) gaining strength out of weakness (12:10).30 Note that these apostolic signs were worked31 "with all perseverance." Finally, the implied contrast in view is not with other Christians, but with the false apostles who have been disputing Paul’s authority (2 Cor 11:13-15, 33).32 While the "signs and wonders and miracles" may be part of the "signs of the apostle," in Paul’s view it is not the predominant one. Therefore, this verse cannot be used to prove miracle-working is unique to the apostles or that it is something that distinguishes them from other Christians, although this passage may imply that the apostles may work miracles more consistently than others.

Ephesians 2:20

Ephesians 2:20 figures prominently in this debate. In the context Paul is arguing that Gentiles have been brought near to both God and the Jews. In fact as believers in Christ Jews and Gentiles have been transformed into one new man, one body, are a part of one family, one building, and one holy temple. This building/temple has one foundation and one cornerstone. The cornerstone is Christ and the foundation is the apostles and prophets (an appositional genitive).33 The passage (2:19-22) is as follows:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Besides the use of the genitive, there are several other issues to be resolved: (1) What is the meaning of the construction "apostles and prophets (τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ προφητῶν)? (2) Who are the apostles and the prophets? (3) What is the meaning of the image of the foundation and its close relation to the cornerstone? and (4) What are the implications for cessationism, if any? Grudem argues that the meaning of the article-substantive-καί-substantive (TSKS) construction is that the foundation is "the apostles who are also prophets."34 However, Wallace and White (as well as Gaffin) argue that Grudem has misunderstood the construction in Ephesians 2:20.35 It is better understood as apostles and other prophets. Understanding the passage as "apostles who are also prophets" is the least likely interpretation.36

Issues two and three above are related. Who are the apostles and prophets and in what sense are they the "foundation?" The apostles are at least the Twelve and Paul. The Twelve were chosen by Jesus in order that He might be with them, to send them out to preach, and to have authority to heal and cast out demons (Mark 3:4-5; cf. Matt 10:1). Thus, the Twelve have a special relationship with Jesus. He designates that they are witnesses of His life, ministry, death, and resurrection (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8). When the apostles and others gathered to select a replacement for Judas, the requirements for the candidates were to have accompanied the other apostles from the time of the baptism of John until Jesus’ ascension. The purpose of replacing Judas was in order that one may become a witness of Jesus’ resurrection along with the other apostles (Acts 1:21-26). Paul demonstrates the legitimacy of his apostleship on the basis of his being a witness to the resurrection (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8-9). The same could be said for James (1 Cor 15:7; cf. Gal 1:19), and possibly Barnabas.37 The Hebrew Christians received the message of salvation from those who heard the Lord, which refers at least to the apostles (Heb 2:3-4). This message was confirmed by God through miraculous works and gifts. Peter emphasizes his eyewitness testimony in his preaching of Christ (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:20; 10:39; 2 Pet 1:16). The apostles as the witnesses of Christ seems to be one aspect of their role as the foundation and why there is a close connection between them as the foundation and Christ as the cornerstone. The prophets,38 who are closely connected to the apostles and to Christ the Cornerstone, would also need to have this aspect of being witnesses.

The second aspect of the apostles and prophets is that they mediate God’s revelation. Ephesians 3:5 specifies one aspect of this revelation is the mystery of Christ, referring to Jew-Gentile equality and union in the church. Early in the church the believers were dependent on the "apostles’ teaching" (Acts 2:42). Both Peter and Jude emphasize the commands and teachings spoken in the past by the apostles (τῶν ῥημάτων τῶν προειρημένων, Jude 17; cf. 2 Pet 3:2). Also the apostles are responsible for the majority of the NT.39 Finally, in Revelation 21:14, the names of the twelve apostles are inscribed on the foundation stones of the wall of the New Jerusalem, suggesting at least that the apostles have a unique role in the church, as well as in history.

Grudem argues that the revelation of Gentile inclusion and equality in the church was only revealed to the apostles. But in one of his references, Luke 24:46-47, the audience is wider than the apostles. It includes the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:35) and others who were with the apostles (Luke 24:33). It could also be argued that this wider audience was present at the ascension since there is no obvious change of referent from Luke 24:33 to 24:53. This then would argue for a wider audience in Acts 1:8. It is also possible that Matthew 28:19 has a wider audience (cf. 1 Cor 15:6). Therefore, the revelation of Gentile inclusion was not restricted to the apostles.40

The other argument relevant to this issue concerns the absence of authoritative revelation from the prophets. This is mainly an argument from silence. We only have two examples of what prophets actually said and both of them seem to have been somewhat authoritative for the church. In Acts 11:28-30 Agabus predicts a widespread famine. While this is a prediction of an event, not a revelation of a doctrine, it provided a clear motivation to start a relief fund for the churches in Judea. It seems the prophecy clarified the responsibility of the church at Antioch to the churches in Judea. In the second incident in Acts 21:10-14, Agabus predicts Paul’s imprisonment, and it seems to have clear authority for the Apostle Paul. It is clear that the church recognized that this was the Lord’s will. Outside of these incidents there is little information concerning congregational prophets. Acts is concerned with the apostles not the prophets, so an argument from silence has little force. Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 14 has little to say about the content of the prophecies, only that they must be judged. This seems to refer to distinguishing what is truly from God from that which is presumptuous or demonic. It is possible that prophets may have embellished some genuine revelation (either in the form of interpretation or application), and these elements need to be discerned, but this does not negate the authority and application of the revelation. Also there seems to be prophets who clearly had authoritative revelation. At least five (possibly six if James is not to be considered an apostle) books of the New Testament were written by people who were not known to be apostles. Mark may have received his information from Peter for his Gospel, but the arrangements and redaction of the teachings were his. Luke may have received information from Paul and the other apostles, but again the narrative and arrangement were his. The author of Hebrews is unknown, but was probably not an apostle. Jude is not stated to be an apostle. Therefore, the New Testament evidence41 is against Grudem’s conclusion that there were no non-apostolic, authoritative, foundational prophets.

Does this mean that all prophets are foundational? This is neither necessary nor likely. The prophets at Corinth and Thessalonica, as well as other local churches founded on Paul’s missionary journeys were second generation Christians and not witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Grudem may also be correct in that these prophets did not receive the kind of authoritative revelation that the apostles and foundational prophets did.42 The reference to the broader category of prophets may be in view in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 and Ephesians 4:11. In both instances the construction for the apostles and prophets is different from that in Ephesians 2:20; 3:5. If Paul had wished to maintain the idea of foundational prophets he would have used the Granville Sharp construction as he did in the two previous references and he does use this construction in Ephesians 4:11 for the pastors and teachers (τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους) to link them closely. Therefore, all prophets are not necessarily foundational prophets.43

To sum up: Christ is the cornerstone, which means that the building will fall without Him. In fact, the building would not even exist without Him. The foundation, then, would refer to apostles and prophets as eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ and their role of mediating revelation to the rest of the church concerning their relationship to Christ. They provide a stable foundation for the building. All other believers are related to Christ because of the apostles and prophets. It may also suggest that until their work is complete, the church is limited in growing. The aspect of being witnesses of Christ combined with the metaphor of a foundation suggests that the apostles and foundational prophets have a temporal limitation and, therefore, the apostles and prophets have passed away from the scene.44 Deere disputes this conclusion. He argues that just because they are foundational does not mean that their ministries are temporary. His analogy with the founding director of a company reinforces this understanding.45 However, Deere is arguing from the standpoint of a subjective genitive. The foundation is not simply their ministry or function; it is the people themselves. The succeeding directors or presidents of a company may perform several of the functions associated with the founder, but they are not the founder. The same is true with the apostles and prophets. If the foundation is complete then the apostolic line has ceased.46

Hebrews 2:1-4

This passage is the first of the warning passages in Hebrews. In light of Jesus’ superiority to angels the author parallels and contrasts the punishment for a rejection of a law that was confirmed by angels, against a stronger certainty of judgment for neglecting God’s great salvation which was confirmed by three witnesses: "the Lord," "the ones who heard" Him, and by God Himself via the charismata bestowed on the churches47 (cf. 6:4-5 "tasted the heavenly gift," "partakers of the Holy Spirit," "tastedthe powers of the age to come"). The passage is as follows:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

The point that cessationists try to make with this passage is that the word of salvation taught by the Lord was confirmed in the past by those who heard, referring mostly to the apostles. It is argued that the aorist tense of ἐβεβαιώθη indicates a past completed act48 or a "once for all" act.49 They also argue that the sign gifts were given strictly for the confirmation of the gospel to unbelievers. 50

While it is correct that Heb 2:1-4 talks about the validation of the apostles message, it does not necessarily restrict the signs, wonders, and spiritual gifts to the apostles. The use of the aorist tense cannot be used to argue that this "confirmation" is restricted absolutely to the past. First, the aorist is probably constative, which views the action as a whole. It does not focus on the beginning or the end of the action. It merely states that the action happened without any comment on its completion.51 Second, even if the aorist of ἐβεβαιώθη did have the nuance of a completed past act, its reference is "to us" (εἰς ὑμᾶς). So it is past only to the Hebrew readers. Finally, if you press the cessationist perspective to its logical conclusion then the aorist tense of ἐβεβαιώθη implies that either the apostles have died off by this time, or that they have stopped preaching the gospel. While most of the apostles may have died off by the time Hebrews was written, John was still alive and still preaching the gospel. Therefore both conclusions are invalid and cessationism has lost its argument.

The point of the passage is an incidental concern to cessationism here. The mention of miracles and spiritual gifts as past events may only indicate the author’s need to strengthen his parallel with the (lesser) angelic initial confirmation of the Law and that of the gospel. Certainly the charismatic (i.e., prophetic and miraculous) confirmation of the Law was not restricted to within a generation of its appearance (cf. Isa 59:21; Jer 32:20) any more than spiritual gifts were restricted to the first generation of Christians. To say that God bore witness to the gospel with miracles in the past is not to say that He could not continue to do so.52

Moreover, the present participle (συνεπιμαρτυροῦντος) may actually indicate an action continuing into the future from the time of the aorist main verb, hence the meaning, "[the salvation] was affirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also continuing to confirm with miracles."53 This passage warrants further study with respect to cessationism, since it can be shown to parallel such passages as 1 Cor 1:4-8 insofar as they deal with testimony of Christ, his hearers, and the continuing confirmation of each member in the church communities via the spiritual gifts until the end of the age.54

The preaching of the gospel to the Hebrew Christians by the apostles is past tense. But the preaching of the apostles (and thus the confirmation by miraculous gifts) was still going on. Hebrews 6:4-5 indicate that these miraculous gifts were still being manifested in the church long after the apostolic preaching.55

Conclusion on Cessationist Texts

Of the three representative texts used for cessationism only one has any merit. Ephesians 2:20 seems to imply that the apostles and foundational prophets would pass away. The foundation metaphor can have this implication. One has to be careful, though, in concluding that this is Paul’s view. His eschatological outlook and eager expectation for the imminent return of Christ may have prevented him from really entertaining this view. He knew Christ could tarry if He so chose, but did not seem to think it would be long. Therefore, if Christ tarried, the apostles and foundational prophets would pass away by default. But this does not necessarily mean the miraculous gifts would pass away with them. As will be argued below, these gifts have a role in edifying the church.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13: A Special Case

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is a text which both cessationists and noncessationists insist supports their view. The context of this passage is in a section where Paul is discussing the ministry of spiritual gifts in the church, especially the use of tongues and prophecy in the public assembly. In the midst of this discussion, he insists that the gifts must be used in love for one another. Love is the priority because it is permanent (13:13), while the gifts (specifically, knowledge, prophecy, and tongues) would eventually pass away. This is an explicit affirmation of cessationism, but the question is, When? Much of the problem revolves on the referent of "the perfect" (τὸ τέλειον). The passage is as follows:

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

While there are several views56 on the referent for τὸ τέλειον, the two most prominent for this issue is the completion of the canon and the return of Christ/ the eschaton.57 Cessationists alone hold to the former, while both cessationists and noncessationists hold to the latter.

The canon view was very popular among noncharismatics until the mid-1960’s. The basic argument for this view is a logical inference that those who have the Scriptures do not know partially or prophesy partially. This is tied to Ephesians 2:20 as part of the foundation laying of the church. With this revelation, the three gifts discussed here would then no longer be needed. Appeal is also made to James 1:23-25 on the basis of lexical imagery.

The same imagery of "mirror," "face," and "perfect" occur in both passages. In James the written Word of God, the Scriptures, are compared to a "mirror" wherein one may behold his "face." Moreover, the Scriptures are referred to as the "perfect law of liberty." It is suggested that the imagery is used in the same way. The point, then, that Paul was making to the Corinthians is that because only a part of the NT had been given, they saw "dimly." However when the "perfect" (i.e., the completed Scriptures) comes they would see their reflection clearly, "face to face."58

While the imagery is interesting, the view and the comparison fails on several counts: (a) James was written before 1 Corinthians and the perfect law is most likely referring to the OT Scriptures. If the law (Scriptures) is perfect in James why is it partial and still to come in 1 Corinthians. This view is also too specific and anachronistic in referring to Paul and the Corinthians having an understanding that there would be a canon. At least it is unrealistic to see Paul as knowing whether or not the Scriptures were complete. It also implies that Scriptures are only sufficient at a certain point in time, i.e., at completion. This contradicts both the view of James 1; Psalm 19; and 2 Tim 3:16. (b) In James 1 the individual is looking at his face in the mirror and then looks at the Scriptures. The perfect law is contrasted to the mirror, not identified with it. In 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 the individual is looking at God in the mirror, therefore, he only sees Him dimly. It may be that the Scriptures can be identified with the mirror in 1 Corinthians 13, but not with the "perfect." The contrast is between the mirror and the "perfect." When the "perfect" comes we shall see God "face to face." Despite the fact that we have a sufficient revelation in the Scriptures, we do not know fully, as the myriad of interpretations of this passage demonstrate, certainly not as we are fully known by God.59

Houghton argues from the standpoint of why prophecy, knowledge, and tongues are singled out in this passage. His conclusion is that they are revelational gifts, and this is what is not shared with the rest of the gifts.60 He then argues that since the "perfect" is contrasted with the "partial" (ἐκ μέρους) and the "partial" is revelational, then the "perfect" is also revelational, in other words, the completed canon.61

In reference to ἐκ μέρους, admittedly revelation is in mind,62 but is that all that is in mind? It seems that in context, Paul chose these gifts as representative because they were the ones that were not being used in love (cf. 1 Cor 8:1-13; 14:1-40), and that they were the favorites of the Corinthians. The point would be that the gifts only have partial results, "the perfect" will complete in us that which is partial (the point of vv. 10-12). This would be the Second Coming.

But for the sake of argument, let us suppose Paul’s point is revelation. It is partial now, but its completion is coming. Does that necessarily mean the closing of the canon? Note two considerations here. First, revelation is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Revelation mediates our relationship with God in the sense that it shows us who God is and how we can know Him. Paul’s point with prophecy and knowledge is that revelation is an indirect means of knowing God. While some in Scripture seemed to have seen God "face to face" (directly), mostly it was occasional, or with Moses, limited (Exod 32-33, the "back of God"). Second, there is a distinction between the sufficiency of Scripture and complete revelation. The completed canon is sufficient revelation; it is not complete in the sense that it reveals everything there is to know about God and Christ. The Scripture is sufficient to show us how to have a relationship with God and grow in it on earth (2 Tim 3:16-17; interesting that it was sufficient before the completed canon). But God will reveal much more about Himself when we are transformed into His likeness and for life in His glorified presence. It is quite interesting that the term ἀποκάλυψις (revelation) is used for the Second Coming on several occasions (Rom 8:19; 1 Cor 1:7 [note in a context concerning gifts]; 2 Thess 1:7; 1 Pet 1:7, 13; 4:13 and possibly Rom 2:5 and Rev 1:1 [since the major concern is Christ’s return]). In the Second Coming Christ will reveal Himself in all His glory and our relationship will be consummated (completed?). In that event, we will see the Lord in all His glory.

The canon view also ignores a transition to the eschaton in verse 13, as well as lacking a consideration of Pauline hope as expressed in 1 Corinthians 15.63 It is very likely that this view was so popular among noncharismatics because, if it were true, it would necessarily mean that tongues and prophecy had ceased as well as other "miraculous" gifts. This interpretation would be a nice expedient for arguing for that viewpoint.

With reference to the Second Coming,64 noncessationists insist that this view supports continuation,65 while cessationists argue that this passage really does not argue either way, that it remains an open question.66 While there are several questions67 to be dealt with, the main question seems to be: Does ἐκ μέρους and τὸ τέλειον refer to states of knowledge or qualities of methods by which knowledge is acquired? The purpose here is not so much to defend one view over the other as much as to answer whether these two views are mutually exclusive. Both Gaffin68 and Grudem69 appear to see some overlap in these views. This may be because the states of knowledge must have a means to produce them, and the means of obtaining knowledge must have a product. Gaffin and White are probably correct in that the emphasis is on states of knowledge and what the gifts produce rather than on the gifts being ἐκ μέρους in and of themselves.70 Having said this, though, it may also be implied that the gifts will continue to produce this "imperfect" knowledge until the "perfect" comes. It seems more than coincidental that what is approached from a positive perspective in 1 Corinthians 1:4-8 (being confirmed by the gifts and possessing them until Christ’s coming) is now being approached from a negative perspective (the cessation of the gifts and what they produce at Christ’s coming) in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Thus, the terminus ad quem of these gifts would be the return of Christ. It is possible that they may cease before that time, but it cannot be demonstrated from this passage. And it is likely Paul deliberately paralleled this passage to 1:4-8 to reinforce the idea of the continuation of the gifts until Christ’s coming.

The Issue of Miraculous Gifts

In Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians 4:11 Paul mentions several spiritual gifts. While there is debate on how to define spiritual gifts and whether or not these lists exhaust the possibilities, these questions are not the subject of this discussion. The main point is that these particular functions are manifested in the church. This issue will be discussed under three areas: (1) Healing and miracles, (2) tongues, (3) prophesy and other revelatory gifts.

Healing and Miracles

First Corinthians 12:9-10, 28-30 are the only places that Paul addresses the gifts of healing and miracles. Unfortunately, he only lists them and does not describe them. However, the Gospels and Acts describe the manner in which Jesus and the apostles healed. They seemed to be able consistently71 to heal all types of diseases and anyone who came to them. They could also cast out demons with a word and raise the dead. MacArthur argues that the gift of miracles is the ability to cast out demons.72 He may very well be right. But it may be broadened a bit to include other manifestations of power, since Paul seemed to have the power to call down blindness on Elymas (Acts 13:9-11).

However, one must be careful in applying the conclusion that the descriptions in Acts and the Gospels necessarily define these gifts in 1 Corinthians. For one reason, there seems to be the restriction that the apostles could not heal themselves. Paul came to the Galatians with an illness that appears was not healed (Gal 4:13-14). He also had a "thorn in the flesh," which in all likelihood was a physical difficulty, which he specifically states was not taken away (2 Cor 12:7-10). Paul, for some reason, did not heal on other occasions (Phil 2:25-20; 1 Tim 5:23; 2 Tim 4:20).73

Second, there is the problem in that both healing and miracles are cited in the plural both in the head noun and the genitive (χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων, ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων).74 Surprisingly, Carson, Fee, and Mayhue all argue for the same nuance for the plural, that the manifestation of healing or miracle was temporary and had to be renewed by God.75 Carson also suggests that there were different gifts of healing. In other words, not everyone was being healed by the same person and that certain people could heal certain diseases, or heal a variety of diseases but at different times. He concludes this discussion by stating that because some one heals a particular disease at one time, he should not presume that this is a permanent gift.76

These suggestions seem likely for several reasons. First, this list in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 is unique in that all the gifts are miraculous or revelatory. Second, this particular list is introduced as manifestations (φανέρωσις) of the Spirit for the common good (πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον<ΣΥΠ><Α ηρεφ=ς῍Π164_69404ς>77<ͅΑ><ͅΣΥΠ>). This may indicate that these are gifts that are manifested on an occasional basis. To be sure some may have manifested some of these gifts on a regular basis, such as tongues and prophecy (1 Cor 14). But even these gifts were occasional for some (Acts 10:46; 19:6).78 Third, the occasional nature of the gift of healing among the local churches may be the explanation for why Peter was asked to raise Dorcas when he was in the area. Apparently, no one had manifested the gift of healing consistently enough, if at all, to be relied upon to raise up Dorcas. This same explanation may be why James commands that the elders be called and pray for the sick and anoint them with oil (James 5:5:13-20).79 Finally, at least one person in the NT seems to have manifested the gift only on one occasion. Ananias is simply called a "disciple" (τις μαθητὴς) in Acts 9:10-19, but he is given the ability to heal Paul of his blindness on this occasion. Then Ananias disappears from the scene. Therefore, it appears that the gift of healing is subject to the sovereignty of God (as are all the gifts) and was/is exercised only occasionally in the local church.

If any or all these suggestions are correct then it would preclude the view that the apostolic manifestations of healing are the only definition of the gift. However, this is where discussion gets confusing. While admitting that in the Corinthian church the "gift of healing" is a temporary or one time phenomena for a person, Mayhue then argues that the gift is associated only with the apostles and close associates which is, as has been argued above, a different manifestation of the gift. Also, the reason that the "gift of healing" is evidenced only among the apostles and close associates in Acts is that the concern of Acts is the apostles and the spread of the gospel to Rome. Luke had no intention of recounting the work of the individual churches if it did not involve an apostle. It seems reasonable that Paul mentions the "gifts of healings and miracles" because they were currently manifested in the Corinthian body while he was absent. Thus, there seems to be different degrees (quantitatively) and manifestations of the "gifts of healings and miracles," an apostolic manifestation and a quantitatively lesser manifestation among those in the local church.

As far as purpose is concerned, it has been argued that the "gifts of healings and miracles" are to authenticate the apostles and their message80 (Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12; cf. Heb 2:4). While this is true, Paul ascribes another purpose to these gifts, that of edifying the church (1 Cor 12:7; cf. 14:1ff). The signifying purpose seems to be precluded if an apostle is not present and not doing the miracle. This purpose of these gifts benefiting the whole church seems to be involved in even the apostolic manifestations (Acts 9:32-43). Thus, the "gifts of healings and miracles" seem to have both apostolic and lesser non-apostolic manifestations, and in the local church, they are used for the common good and edification of the church, while it also had a signifying function for the apostles.81


While there is some discussion about the nature of tongues, it does seem that from the descriptions in Acts and from the comparison in 1 Corinthians 13:1; 14:6-12 that it refers to human languages previously unknown to the speaker, and often, the audience.82 Of greater concern is the purpose of tongues. First Corinthians 14 mentions two purposes for tongues: it is for edification of the local church and for a sign. The emphasis is on the purpose of edification. For tongues to edify the church, it must be interpreted. The purpose of tongues as a sign is limited in this context. The sign seems to be negative, not only for those who hear and respond to tongues, but also for the Corinthians. First Corinthians 14:21-25 teach that tongues are a sign for the unbeliever, and Paul validates this by a citation from Isa 28:11. Whether this citation is meant to apply specifically to Jewish unbelievers or any unbeliever is probably not Paul’s main point.83 His point is that if tongues are not interpreted and the unbeliever does not understand, then he will think you are mad. Some observers in Acts 2:13 came to the same conclusion about the apostles, probably because they did not understand what was being said. The force of this passage is not that tongues, per se, are a negative sign to unbelievers, but that uninterpreted tongues are the sign.84 This discussion of tongues as a sign, then, has the force of rebuke. Tongues are to be interpreted so that if an unbeliever is present, he will understand the message and worship God. This is, in part, the reason for the comparison with prophecy.

One other question remains. Does Paul teach that tongues should be used as a private prayer language? Fee asserts that Paul held tongues as a gift for private prayer in high regard (1 Cor 14:2, 4, 5, 15, 17-18).85 However, this may be disputed. While the one who speaks in tongues speaks to God, this would be true in the public assembly also. In Acts 2:11 the apostles spoke about "the wonderful works of God" in tongues (cf. Acts 10:46). Thus, tongues is used to praise God. It is not disputed that tongues is devotional and used for prayer; the issue is private prayer. The individual also speaks "mysteries" in tongues. This probably does not refer to revelation since he is speaking to God, but that what he is saying is unknown to him.86 Verses 4-5 both speak to the use of tongues in the local assembly, not only because of the overall context of 1 Corinthians 11-14 but also because it is compared to prophecy in both verses, which only has application in the church. The reference to interpretation and the church at the end of verse 5 reinforces this understanding. First Corinthians 14:13-19 also has the public in mind. One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the ability to interpret,87 so all may be edified. Paul notes that when praying in a tongue, his mind is not benefited. Therefore, he will pray intelligibly so that all may be edified. While verse 15 has the public assembly in view it seems that Paul would also want his mind to be benefited in his private devotions as well.

The two passages that may argue for private prayer are 14:18-19 and 28. The former passage states that Paul speaks in tongues more than the Corinthians but that he restricts his usage in the church. This suggests that he speaks in tongues outside the church, in other words, in private devotions. But this is not the only conclusion. All the examples of tongues in Acts are outside the local assembly but in public settings. All explicit examples of tongues in the Scriptures are in public settings. Thus, the burden of proof is on those who argue for the private manifestation. Finally, in 14:28 the one who speaks in tongues is told to remain silent if there is no interpreter, and instead, speak to himself and God. Whatever is implied by this, it does not seem to speak to a private use, for the person is in the local assembly and the silence seems to indicate that it is non-vocal, or at least quiet enough not to be heard. The person prays to or praises God but tongues is not manifested. All of this leads to the conclusion that Paul did not teach about a private use. He is somewhat ambivalent about tongues to begin with. He may have allowed it, but it seems doubtful that he practiced it himself, thus he cannot be used as a positive example of this application.

In conclusion, tongues seems to be the ability to speak in a human language unknown to the speaker. The purpose of tongues in the local assembly is for edifying the church. However, uninterpreted tongues can serve as a negative sign to the unbeliever, most probably of judgment on his unbelief. Finally, one cannot demonstrate from 1 Corinthians that Paul taught or even advocated a devotional use of tongues.

Prophecy and Other Revelatory Gifts

When it comes to the revelatory gifts other than prophecy, we are on somewhat shakier ground because Paul does not define them for us (as with the gifts of healings and miracles). Therefore, we should be somewhat tentative in our conclusions.88

The issue that needs to be discussed is the tendency to equate revelation with the canon.89 However, the latter seems to be a subset of the former. There appears to be several kinds of special revelation. First, there is revelation with doctrinal content. This kind of revelation focus on teaching about God, Christ, man, sin, salvation, and the last days, just to mention a few. The revelation concerning Gentile inclusion and equality in the church in Ephesians 2:11-3:13 would be a canonical example of this. There is also noncanonical revelation in which the content is doctrine (i.e., doctrine that is alluded to but not explicitly revealed). Examples of this include the identity of the restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7,90 Paul’s revelations while in the third heaven (2 Cor 12:1-10), and the revelations of the seven thunders (Rev 10:3-4), and perhaps, the agrapha of Jesus (cf. John 21:25). Second, there is revelation with moral content.91 This category refers to universal, moral commands and obligations. The Decalogue and other moral commands of the Bible fall into this category. Third, there is revelation with applicatory content. This refers to advice that is wise and helpful, but does not necessarily include moral obligation. Examples of this is 1 Corinthians 7:25-38 and 1 Timothy 5:23. This category may include revelation that is authoritative over individuals, select groups, or select local churches. The calling of Barnabas and Saul to be sent out by the church of Antioch would be such a revelation (Acts 13:2-3). Fourth, there is revelation with circumstantial content. This would involve information that is circumstantial in nature, including future events, but does not necessarily carry any inherent authority as would doctrinal or moral revelation. Agabus’ prophecy concerning Paul’s imprisonment falls into this category. Luke records it because of his narrative and theological purposes, but the prophecy in and of itself relates only to Paul’s experience.92

The last two categories are not restricted to the canon of Scripture nor do they threaten the canon in any way.93 This would refer to revelations given to individuals or local churches that relate to their experience. This is probably the category which most of the revelations given to Corinthian prophets, and other congregational prophets, fall in. This may be a better way to express the prophet’s revelation than Grudem’s "human words to report something God brings to mind." While prophets could misinterpret or misapply their prophecies (cf. Acts 21:4), they would not err if they simply proclaimed the revelation given to them.94 Even some of Grudem’s conclusions imply this.95 Thus, these prophecies would be God’s words and authoritative to those who were addressed, but not necessarily authoritative for the universal church.


What, then, are we to conclude. First Corinthians 1:4-8 and 13:8-13 seem to suggest that the all gifts are to continue until the Second Coming of Christ. Ephesians 2:20 suggests that the apostles and prophets have ceased. The silence of the New Testament on the calling of succeeding apostles also suggests this. While there may be others in the church with the gift of prophecy, they may not be prophets in the same sense as in Ephesians 2:20; 3:5.

With regard to the other miraculous gifts, we can conclude that the apostolic manifestations passed away with the apostles. However, we noted above that there were nonapostolic manifestations of these gifts and our conclusions about them should be more reserved. The former primarily signify while the latter primarily edify. The manifestations of miracles and healings were probably rare in the local church to begin with, so the paucity of evidence in history should not surprise us.96 As far as the revelatory gifts are concerned it appears that revelations which are doctrinal or universally moral and associated with the canon have ceased. However, noncanonical revelation involving applicatory or circumstantial content that relates to individual or local church experience may still be possible. This poses no threat to the canon, nor does it necessarily draw attention away from God’s word. God can reveal Himself as He chooses. Revelations from God should neither be demanded nor refused, although they should undergo validation.

Two concluding questions arise from this discussion. First, does our bibliology determine our pneumatology? When we, for all practical purposes, define revelation as canon, we a priori limit our view about the Holy Spirit and the distribution of His gifts. We are forced to the view that revelation has ceased and that God no longer speaks in a direct way to His people. As argued above, this equation was found to be begging the question. If revelation is not equated to the canon, then there is really no reason why certain kinds of revelation cannot continue. Circumstantial and applicatory revelation pose no threat to the canon. It also makes sense that God would want to, although not necessarily have to, continue to speak to His people in a relational way and guide them in the circumstantial details of their lives directly. Apparently, such revelation was going on in both the OT and NT eras without any contribution to the canon at all.

Second does sociology determine our pneumatology? Why is it that some churches and institutions have specific statements concerning the cessation of miraculous and revelatory gifts but none concerning apostasy and perseverance of the saints? Why are faculty and pastoral staff required to hold to the former but free to discuss the latter, especially when there is more biblical material on the latter? It seems that there is an emotional commitment to certain doctrines that make up for the lack of biblical clarity. Many people are so emotionally committed to "pet doctrines" that it hinders their ability to really deal objectively with the evidence. Certain questions and arguments are immediately dismissed or simply analyzed for flaws without trying to evaluate their positive points. We need to take a close look at ourselves to see how much of our argument stems from a desire for the truth and how much stems from our emotional commitments.97

Probably the most sober conclusion is that the miraculous and revelatory gifts are not normative, and apart from the apostles and prophets probably never were. They may occur from time to time in various churches. They may never occur in some churches. They may never occur over periods of time. It is hard to say since we do not have a computer log of all the experiences of all the churches in all of history. Hopefully, we will be people, who upon hearing or seeing such experiences will be quicker to praise God than we are to critique the experience.98

1 Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 54. One could ask similar questions about amillennialism, pretribulation rapture, completion of the canon, etc.

2 Ibid., 99.

3 There are actually four, the other two being Mark 16:17-20 and 1 Cor 13:8-13. The latter passage will be discussed below since both cessationists and noncessationists use it to argue their case. The former is most likely a second century addition that may indicate the belief in some early Christian churches that glossalalia and other miraculous phenomena ought to characterize the missionary movement of the church. See Christopher Forbes, Prophecy and Inspired Speech in Early Christianity and its Hellenistic Environment, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, ed. Martin Hengel and Otfried Hofius, 2. Reiehe 75 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1995), 77.

4 Or "for." Many commentators see a causal o{ti here. See C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, HNTC (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 36; Frederick Louis Godet, Commentary on First Corinthians, Kregel Classic Commentary Series (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1889; reprint, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1985), 51.

5 Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 85-86.

6 BAGD, "πάς," 631, 1ab;; "including everything belonging , in kind, to the class designated by the noun every kind of, all sorts of.

7 Lightfoot lists several views: (1) Λόγος is the lower, γνῶσις is the higher knowledge, a distinction that is without foundation. (2) Λόγος refers to the gift of tongues, γνῶσις to that of prophecy. But the restriction to ‘special gifts’ seems not to be warranted by the context(3) Λόγος is the teaching of the Gospel as offered to the Corinthians, γνῶσις their hearty acceptance of the same. But against this view it may be urged that the ωορδσ τῇ χάριτι τῇ δοθείσῃ, ἐπλουτίσθητε ἐν παντὶ κ.τ.λ., as well as the parallelism ofλόγος with γνῶσις, point to some personal inward gift, as the meaning of λόγος. (4) Λόγος is the outward expression, γνῶσις, the inward conviction; as the E. V. ‘all utterance and all knowledge.’ Lightfoot prefers the last of these views; J. B. Lightfoot, Notes on the Epistles of St Paul, Thornapple Commentaries (London: Macmillan and Company, 1895; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 147. But this last view also seems to ignore the point of the context of 1 Corinthians. Zuntz suggests that one refers to "rational" the other to "ecstatic" gifts, which also ignores the actual data of 1 Corinthians; Gunther Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles (London: British Academy, 1953), 101. Grayston suggests that λόγος refers to those who were insisting on following the remembered words of Jesus in a legalistic sense, while γνῶσις refers to those who had "an awareness of the cosmic relationships between God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Christian" so that they were, through Christ absolved from "the conventional rules;" K. Grayston, "Not With a Rod," ExpT 88 (1976): 13-16. This view also ignores the context of 1 Corinthians. Fee is closer to the truth. He argues that both terms occur in polemical contexts in 1 Corinthians (1:17; 2:1-5; 4:17-20; 8:1-10:31) and are therefore primarily Corinthian terms, which Paul plays back to them in positive and negative ways. He argues that λόγος refers to "every kind of utterance" including "Spirit utterances," especially the various speech gifts noted in chapters 12-14 (knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, tongues, etc.)—even though the Corinthians’ interest in "speech" is singular. But in 1 Cor 1-4 , the term is used pejoratively to refer to what is merely human in contrast to the λόγος of the cross (1:17-18; 2:1-4). In the same way, γνῶσις is a χάρισμα in 1 Cor 12-14 and is probably related to prophetic revelation (12:8; 13:2; 14:6). Yet in 8:1-13 it serves as their basis for Christian conduct, and thus provokes severe criticism from Paul; Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 87-88.

8 Καθώς is probably comparative here.

9 =εβεβαιώθη- 3p S Aor Pass Ind; constative Aor; divine passive.

10 Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 86. This conclusion seems to be affirmed by Gal 3:5. The rhetorical question would lose its force if it was Paul who was doing the miracles. Paul’s point in Gal 3:1-5 is that the Galatians received the Spirit by faith and that it was the Spirit within them, not the apostle, that worked miracles among them and not the Law.

11 ὥστε ὑμᾶς μὴ ὑστερεῖσθαι ἐν μηδενὶ χαρίσματι is a result clause modifying ἐβεβαιώθη.

12 Ruthven’s comments are helpful here:

    It is important to establish that the spiritual gifts are in fact promised to continue in v. 8, so how can one say, ‘via the charismata’ here? First we must consider the immediate context: Paul has just made the point that the charismata exist now, during the ‘awaiting’ time. The present ‘enriching’ in and through spiritual gifts is contrasted with the ultimate revelation of Christ: two ages, now and then. Verse 8 shares this pattern. Secondly, the term ‘confirm’ (ἐβεβαιώθη) is expressed in v. 6 ‘just as’, ‘exactly as’ (καθώς) the charismata of speech and knowledge in v. 5. To change here in v. 8 the fully charismatic means by which (βεβαιόω) confirms or strengthens to some other means of confirming would amount to equivocation. Fee notes the force of καὶ, ‘Who will also confirm you’ as a reference back to the first confirmation by God (v:6) via spiritual gifts. Thirdly, this equivocation would be destructive of Paul’s arguments that the gifts are graces from Christ (not personal achievements), and are limited to the ‘awaiting’ period, in contrast with the ultimate revelation of Christ. Fourthly, the ‘who’ (o{") is the fourth emphasis in this short passage on Christ’s involvement in the charismata: the ‘grace’ was given in Christ Jesus (v. 4); the Corinthians were ‘enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge’ (v. 5); the ‘testimony of Christ’ occurred charismatically, that is, from Christ (v. 6). Paul is also emphasizing the Christocentric orientation of the charismata in v. 8. Fifthly, the ‘confirming’ works toward a moral and eschatological end as do the charismata, for example, prophecy, for ‘strengthening, encouragement, and comfort’ (1 Cor 14:3). Finally, the term βεβαιόω appears significantly in similar contexts about spiritual gifts confirming or witnessing, using the legal metaphor implicit in the word (Mk 16:20; cf. Heb. 2:3; Acts 1:8). Heb. 2:3 uses βεβαιόω in parallel with συνεπιμαρτυρέω by which God, like Christ, ‘bears witness with them with signs, wonders, various miracles and gifts’. Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles, JPTS, ed. John Christopher Thomas, Rick D. Moore, and Steven J. Land, vol. 3 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 129-30.

13 Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 89, fn. 26 seems to suggest such a connection.

14 κατὰ τὸ μέτρον can be interpreted two ways. First it may mean "within the limits of the distribution pattern with which Christ measures out" the gifts, which implies that the recipients should neither belittle one’s gifts or over-exalt certain gifts. Second, the phrase might mean "equal to" or "to the extent of" the quality and/or abundance of Christ’s giftedness. One does not mutually exclude the other, so there might be a blend of the two here. See Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata, 153-55.

15 The Granville Sharp plural construction is best interpreted as the first group being a subsection of the second group; Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 284.

16 It is possible that the maturity described in 4:13 is not fully eschatological, since it is lived out in 4:14-16 in contemporary expression. The ἵνα connects a present world situation to be overcome ("every wind of [false] doctrine"), with the maturity of 4:13, while 4:15-16 is an exhortation to lovingly serve and speak to one another in such a way that will build up the church. But even here the goals are expressed as above: " As a result, we are no longer to be children (expressed in a subjunctive, ωμεν, affirming that they are now children, not mature). Further, the goal for the church, "we are to grow up in all aspects into Him," is expressed in another subjunctive, αὐξήσωμεν, requiring the understanding that they, and even Paul, have not yet attained that goal. Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata, 157-58.

17 Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, 248.

18 C. Samuel Storms, "A Third Wave View," in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? ed. Wayne A. Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 205-06.

19 There is no small discussion about the syntax of these phrases and its significance for exegesis and application. One view connects all four prepositional phrases to ἔδωκεν. Lincoln defends this view partially on the basis of the author’s (Lincoln holds to non-Pauline authorship) characteristic of piling up prepositions and tying them back to the same verb (1:3, 5-6, 20-21; 2:7; 4:13, 14); Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, WBC, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 42 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 253-54. However, none of the examples cited have the verbal ideas in each phrase as we have in the case of 4:12-13.

Barth defends the εἰς clauses modifying theπρός clause for the following reasons. (1) the grace given the saints in 4:7 is the same grace as the ministerial grace given to Paul in 3:2, 7. This grace does not terminate and die in the recipient, but makes him an active servant. (2) In 4:7 "each" (ἑκάστω) one of the saints is given grace, not just those who are listed in 4:11 In 4:13, 16 all the saints are seen as contributing to the growth and building up of the body. (3) First Corinthians 12 describes the unity of the body the same ways as are described in Eph 4:11-16. (4) There is only one calling or vocation valid in the church: the call of God into His kingdom. Special officers do not form a class or rank in the church. Markus Barth, Ephesians 4-6, AB, ed. W. F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, vol. 34A (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1974), 478-481. Barth’s main concern about the coordinating the prepositional phrases is that this interpretation leads to an aristocratic flavor and distinguishes the mass of the saints from the officers or "gifted" men of the church. While this interpretation does not necessarily lead to this conclusion, it does leave some questions unanswered. If the "gifted" men equip the saints, for what do they equip them if not for the work of the ministry? Secondly what is the purpose of the work of the ministry if not the building up of the body? Finally, how long does the building of the body go on if not until the attaining of the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, the mature man, and the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ? It seems that Paul is building a logical sequence with the prepositional phrases. He builds the same kind of logical sequence in Eph 3:14-19, although with ἵνα clauses and infinitives there. Thus, the view of seeing the prepositional phrases including the μέχρι clause dependent on the preceding prepositional phrase with the πρός clause going back to ἔδωκεν seems to be best.

20 See below on Eph 2:20. As will be argued there, a distinction will be made between foundational prophets and other kinds of prophets, such as congregational prophets.

21 Even if μέχρι is taken to modify ἔδωκεν it does not necessarily mean that the apostles and prophets continue until the completion of the church at the Parousia. Much depends on how we define the apostles and prophets. Most noncessationists hold that apostles such as the Twelve and Paul no longer exist, and it would be difficult to define the apostles apart from or even broader than them in Ephesians, especially in light of 2:20 and 3:1-5.

22 Besides 1 Cor 13:8-13, this list would include 1 Cor 12-14 Gal 3:5; Eph 1:13-14; 17-21; 3:14-21; 4:30; 5:15-19; 6:10-20; Phil 1:9-10; Col 1:9-12; 1 Thess 1:5-8; 5:11-23; 2 Thess 1:11-12; Heb 6:4-5; 1 Pet 4:7-12; Jude 18-21.

23 Thomas R. Edgar, Miraculous Gifts: Are They for Today (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1983), 57, 271-72; John F. MacArthur, Jr, Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 120-21.

24 Deere, Surprised by the Holy Spirit, 104-106; Wayne Grudem, "Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible," in The Kingdom and the Power: Are Healing and Spiritual Gifts Used by Jesus and the Early Church Meant for the Church Today, ed. Gary S. Grieg And Kevin N. Springer, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), 63-67; Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, ed. F. F. Bruce, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 456-58; Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, WBC, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, vol. 40 (Dallas: Word Books, 1986), 434-38; Storms, "A Third Wave View," 194-95.

25 Martin, 2 Corinthians, 434.

26 Ibid., 436.

27 This phrase is probably a slogan borrowed by Paul from the lips of his opponents or from the Corinthians themselves. With several different people coming to the Corinthians claiming to be apostles, the proof of apostleship was a concept often repeated. Most likely the Corinthians sought some special signs from Paul, as they had seen in the "other" apostles (2 Cor 13:3, 5), something on the order of a display of miraculous power. Paul provides such "evidence" in 12:1-10. But he insists in 12:12a that such signs are not the primary criterion for deciding whether one is an apostle or not. Instead, he is suggesting that the true signs of apostleship—his life and ministry—are the signs that most matter; Martin, 2 Corinthians, 435.

28 Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 456-57.

29 Storms, "A Third Wave View," 195.

30 Grudem, "Should Christians Expect Miracles Today?" 65.

31 κατειργάσθη is a divine passive, both emphasizing God’s work and noting Paul’s humility.

32 Grudem, , "Should Christians Expect Miracles Today?" 67. This would be true whether ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων refer to the apostles in Jerusalem (Martin, 337-342, 433) or to the false apostles (Hughes, 378-380, 455). Also note the explanatory gloss "true" of the NASV.

33 While there is much discussion over the use of the genitive of τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ προφητῶν, it is most likely a genitive of apposition. The reasons for this is : (1) the context is speaking about people, Jews and Gentiles; (2) the cornerstone is a person, Jesus Christ, (3) the building is composed of people; and (4) it avoids the confusion of the image by making Christ both the foundation and the cornerstone.

34 In other words he takes the TSKS construction as denoting the two groups as identical. Grudem argues against the view accepted here for other reasons: (1) The NT prophets did not receive the revelation that Gentiles were to be included in the NT church on an equal standing with Jewish believers; (2) the metaphor of a foundation gives the picture of something that is complete, something that will not be added on to, after the rest of the building is begun. This metaphor would be inappropriate if prophets were continually being added to it, as would be required as the church expanded and congregations had their own prophets (as in Corinth and Thessalonica). (3) The readers of Ephesians would not think of ordinary congregational prophets as part of this foundation. (4) Paul’s purpose in this section is to show that Jewish and Gentile believers are part of the same "building." If the prophets in this passage referred to all NT prophets, then it would include Gentile prophets, and this would further strengthen Paul’s argument. But he fails to use it, thus indicating that he did not think that Gentile prophets in the local churches as part of the "foundation." (5) The congregational prophets such as the ones in Corinth did not have speak with absolute divine authority and thus could not be considered as part of the foundation. (6) There is no record of a prophet in the NT who spoke with the same authority as the apostles. Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988), 49-64.

35 None of his examples are plural nouns. He has mixed constructions with nouns and substantival adjectives or participles or singular constructions.

36 Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics; 270-86, esp. 284-86; R. Fowler White, "Gaffin and Grudem on Eph 2:20: In Defense of Gaffin’s Cessationist Exegesis," WTJ 54 (1992): 307-309.

37 Barnabas may be an apostle for the following reasons: (1) He appears early in Acts (4:36) and therefore may have been a witness to the resurrection. (2) He has a close association to the apostles (Acts 4:36; 927; 11:22). (3) He apparently had equal authority with Paul in Antioch (Acts 11:22, 30; 12:25; 13:1-2; 15:35,37, 39), on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:7, 42-43, 46, 50; 14:12, 14, 20), and at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:2, 12, 22, 25). (4) Paul compares himself and Barnabas to the apostles and Peter concerning the issues of support for ministry. Even if Barnabas is not technically an apostle, he is at least a prophet.

38 The prophets are NT prophets as opposed to OT prophets. The order of the construction here and in Eph 3:5 suggests this as well as the fact that the revelation of the mystery of Christ was not made known before, but was being made known "now." Also the prophets as gifts to the church would argue for NT prophets.

39 While the apostles may not be the actual writers of all the NT, they are more than likely the source of the material behind all these writings.

40 One could also dispute all the references in Luke-Acts since Luke, who is not an apostle, is the author of those works, even though much of the material came from Paul and the apostles.

41 While the works attributed to Mark and Luke do not bear their names, they also do not bear an apostle’s name, thus the argument would still hold. While these writings are based on apostolic teachings, not every detail is necessarily an apostolic revelation.

42 Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament, 51-54. This issue will be dealt with more thoroughly in the next section.

43 Grudem (Ibid., 62-63) appears to be sympathetic to this conclusion.

44 Because of Paul’s eschatological outlook and imminent expectation of Christ’s return, Paul does not exactly envision the apostles passing away. For him, it would go without saying that if Christ tarries, the apostolic office as witnesses of Christ would eventually pass away. The building and foundation metaphor allows for this temporal understanding, if not being completely clear about it.

45 Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, 248.

46 One must be somewhat flexible with the language, though, since Paul views the building as well under construction, even though the apostles and prophets are still around. While one can argue that no more apostles were being called, the issue with the prophets is more difficult. The second century church seemed to have prophets, or at least those who prophesied. Suffice to say, those who exercised prophetic gifts in the late first and second centuries may be something other than those in the apostolic church, but not necessarily in the sense that Grudem understands them.

47 Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata, 104.

48 Edgar, Miraculous Gifts, 269.

49 Simon J. Kistemaker, Hebrews, NTC, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 62.

50 John MacArthur, Jr., Hebrews, MNTC (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 42; John Napier, Charismatic Challenge: Four Key Questions (Homebush West, Australia: Lancer, 1991), 17-18.

51 Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 557. Usually the idea of a "once for all" action or completed action in the past is due to the lexical intrusion of the verb.

52 Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata, 104.

53 BDF 339.

54 Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata, 104.

55 The aorist participles are only antecedent to the present infinitive ἀνακαινίζειν, which is timeless.

56 The views are basically: (1) the completion of the canon, (2) the maturity of the church, (3) the death of the believer, (4) the rapture of the church, (5) the coming of Christ (6) the eschaton, and (7) the eternal state.

57 These two can essentially be put together since the eschaton begins with the return of Christ.

58 Napier, The Charismatic Challenge, 35-38.

59 Darrell L. Bock, Paul, an Apostle to the Corinthians: Practicum Exegetical Notes on 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (Unpublished Notes, 1988), 5.

60 Myron J. Houghton, " A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13," BSac 153 (July 1996): 346-47.

61 Ibid., 350.

62 The reason that the issue of revelation as being the only thing in mind and the only thing that these gifts share is unconvincing is because there are some significant omissions. The word of wisdom and distinguishing of spirits (which may not be only associated with prophecy) are not included and they are revelational gifts. Also, tongues is not necessarily revelational, although it seems that it can be (1 Cor 14:6), but not on the basis of the use of μυστήριον in 1 Cor 14:2.Μυστήριον is revelational when it is God to man, but not when it is man to God.

63 Bock, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 Notes, 5.

64 The perfect is seen as the return of Christ for the following reasons: 1) Pauline statements on eschatological hope (Rom 8; 1 Cor 1:7-9; 15; 1 Thess 4:13-18). 2) The verbal idea of an event coming in v. 10 looks like an abrupt transformation. In addition, v. 12 develops the argument of v. 10 so the point here must concern an event. Thus, the End is in view in the context. 4) Paul and the NT use the related term, te’loV, of this same period (1 Cor 1:8; 15:24 ff—though here the entire millennial period is in view; Matt 24:6, 13-14; and gospel parallels. Maturity and the End are tied together in Paul (Phil 3:12, 20-21; Col 1:5, 22, 27-28; 3:4); Ibid., 6.

65 Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament, 228-43; Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata, 131-51.

66 Richard Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), 109-111; R. Fowler White, "Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1 Cor 13:10: A Comparison of Cessationist and Noncessationist Argumentation," JETS 35 (June 1992): 180-181.

67 Some make much of the distinction between παύσονται used of tongues, and καταργηθήσονται used for knowledge and prophecy. The distinction is that παύσονται is a future middle verb, while καταργηθήσονται is future passive. Those who note this distinction press the significance of the middle as an indirect middle, i.e., that tongues will cease on their own accord (John F. MacArthur, Jr, 1 Corinthians, MNTC (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 359). This , then implies that they may cease at a different time than prophecy and knowledge. This conclusion is not at all certain, and is based more on the nature and purpose of tongues than it is on the change of verbs here. Others suggest that παύσονται may be deponent (D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 78-79; idem., Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 66-67; Houghton, "A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13," 348-49; Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata, 136-37). However, this is unlikely because the future active occurs in the LXX (Deut 32:26; Job 6:26) and frequently in Hellenistic literature (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 422-23). It seems most likely that the verb is used intransitively. Παύω has this intransitive sense frequently in the NT ((Luke 5:4; 8:24 (?); 11:1; Acts 5:42; 6:13; 13:10; 20:1; 20:31; 21:32; Eph 1:16; Col 1:9; Heb 10:2) and the change in verbs is for rhetorical effect (Houghton, "A Reexamination of 1 Corinthians 13:8-13," 348-49). Whatever the significance of this distinction is, it would only apply to tongues. Tongues is also part of what passes away. One way or another, tongues don’t have a mind of their own. They cease because the Holy Spirit causes them to, as would the other gifts. The other verbs may be divine passives.

68 Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost, 110.

69 Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament, 324 n. 93.

70 See White, "Richard Gaffin and Wayne Grudem on 1 Cor 13:10," 177-180.

71 The reason the term "consistently" is used is that some will point out that there were times in which Jesus and the apostles could not or did not heal. The explanation for Jesus not doing many miracles in Nazareth (Matt 13:58; Mark 6:5-6) is credited to the peoples’ unbelief. This does not mean that faith is a necessary factor for Jesus to heal, but more than likely their unbelief was expressed by not coming to Jesus at all. In Matt 17:14-21 (Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-42) the disciples could not cast the demon out of the boy because of their unbelief, even though they were given authority to cast out demons (cf. Matt 10:8). This unbelief may have taken the form of pride in their previous ability instead of being dependent upon the Father (note the reference to prayer in Mark 14:29).

72 John F. MacArthur, Jr, Charismatic Chaos, 200-01.

73 Some argue that the reason Paul did not heal is because by this time (AD 60-) his gift of healing had declined or had been lost (Richard Mayhue, The Healing Promise (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994), 112-13). Others argue that the purpose of the gift of healing was not to keep the Christian community in perfect health (MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos, 215). This latter explanation is the better of the two, but there may be something just as significant. Although Jesus and the apostles could heal every kind of disease, it seems their ministry was focused on those with permanent or chronic disabilities (blindness, paralysis, etc.), those with chronic illnesses (leprosy, blood diseases, etc.) or severe illnesses that potentially bring death (Luke 4:38-39; 7:1-10; John 4:46-54). Of the three "failures" cited above only Epaphroditus is clearly a case where death was potential. It is also the only one of the three where healing is stated (in 1 Tim 5:23 Paul recommends a remedy for Timothy; in 2 Tim 4:20 Paul left Trophimus sick, but apparently the illness was not life-threatening). Paul attributes Epaphroditus’ recovery/healing to the mercy of God, but this may be Paul’s humble way of saying that he exercised his gift of healing in the power of God.

74 Discernment of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues are also constructed this way.

75 D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, 39-40; Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 168-69; Richard Mayhue, The Healing Promise, 164.

76 Carson, Showing the Spirit, 39-40.

77 BAGD, "συμφερω," 780; "profit," "advantage," "common good."

78 The change from προφητεία in 1 Cor 12:10 to προφήτας, προφῆται in 12:28, 29 may be significant. Forbes argues that Paul found it conceivable that everyone could prophecy, although all were not prophets, on the basis of 1 Cor 14:5 and the use of the plural of πάς in 14:24, 31. Part of this is based on his reconstruction of the problem in Corinth:

    The Corinthians were doing at least three things to which Paul objected. (1) They were allowing glossalalia to be widely practiced in the assembly without interpretation, which Paul believes to be unhelpful to those assembled. (2) They were allowing this practice to continue even when there were unbelievers and outsiders present. (3) They were practicing prophecy in a way that discouraged congregational testing of prophetic statements, and individuals wishing to exercise prophetic gifts were competing in some way with one another for opportunities to do so. In the case of (1) Paul lays down a maximum of three glossolalic episodes, and even those only if there is a reasonable expectation of an interpretation. In the case of (2) he deprecates glossalalia in favor of prophecy. In the case of (3) he limits the number of prophetic episodes, as with glossalalia, to two or three, and insists on congregational discernment. Forbes, Prophecy and Inspired Speech in Early Christianity, 171, 254-65.

79 It is also very likely that the illness is due to sin, and thus, is a special case; Mayhue, The Healing Promise, 127-139.

80 Mayhue, The Healing Promise, 165.

81 It may be that the reason these gifts were rare in the local church is because they could have a tendency to make a person arrogant. The manifestation of the miraculous could cause a person to think that they were better than other believers. The Corinthians seemed to have this problem with tongues. It is noteworthy that the purpose of Paul’s thorn in the flesh was to keep him from boasting in view of his revelations and that it also seems connected to his healing gifts.

82 Fee argues against this for two reasons: (1) the unlikelihood of someone being present that would understand the language (Storms argues the exact opposite point); and (2) his analogy in 1 Cor 14:10-12 implies it is not an earthly language since something is rarely identical with that to which it is analogous. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 890; Storms, "A Third Wave View," 220-221. Both arguments are weak. There is an abundance of languages for the Spirit to choose from since it is likely that the Spirit could choose languages which are unfamiliar to the church. However, the case may be different outside the church. The second argument fails because the whole purpose of an analogy is to clarify an unclear point or emphasize an important one. The latter is in view here and the fact that the analogy is an identical correspondence is irrelevant.

83 It is doubtful that Paul’s point in the citation of Isa 28:11-12 is that of a sign of approaching judgment on unbelieving Jews (Zane C. Hodges, "Symposium on the Tongues Movement-Part I: The Purpose of Tongues," BSac 120 (July 1963): 228-31; Harold W. Hoehner, "The Purpose of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:20-25," in Walvoord: A Tribute, ed. Donald K. Campbell (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982), 53-66), especially to a predominantly Gentile audience. This interpretation suggests a straightforward application of the OT text (Isa 28:11 and 12b). But there are several problems with this view. First, in the OT, the gift of tongues is not discussed, since there was no OT gift of tongues. As a result, to insist on a direct application is unnecessary. Rather, in the OT the point is about judgment indicated by unintelligible tongues, a point that can be carried over by analogy to the NT use of the gift of tongues when it is uninterpreted. Second, nothing explicit has been said about the ethnic makeup of the audience that hears the tongue (and ample opportunity existed in v. 23). If the main point of the tongue utterance was the ethnic makeup of the audience, Paul would have been more explicit about that as the key point. Third, in Acts 10 and 19, tongues were given to a mixed audience of Jews and Gentiles, a fact that contradicts the Jews only view. Fourth, the natural audience that one would expect in a Corinthian worship service would be predominantly Gentile. It is natural to expect Paul to be including such an audience in his point about tongues in v. 23. Thus, the view that sees tongues as a sign to all unbelievers is better. As a consequence of this decision, it is clear that we are discussing an analogical use of the OT in 14:22, where the example of God judging the nation of Israel through the unintelligible tongues of the Assyrians is compared to the judgment of unbelievers by uninterpreted tongues (Bock 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 Notes, 13-17). Note that it is not tongues per se that is in the analogy, but uninterpreted tongues. Uninterpreted tongues is the issue at Corinth. Uninterpreted/unintelligible tongues is the issue in the citation. And uninterpreted tongues is the issue in the rhetorical question in v. 23. Interpreted tongues would not be in view. Wayne Grudem (Wayne Grudem, "1 Corinthians 14:20-25: Prophecy and Tongues as Signs of God’s Attitude," WTJ 41 (Spring 1979): 381-96) has the interesting suggestion that uninterpreted tongues would be a sign of judgment to unbelievers, but that is not the sign Paul wants them to give. Therefore, tongues should be interpreted. As attractive as this suggestion is, it goes beyond what the text says.

84 Again one must be careful on how one uses the evidence from Acts. The references to tongues there all have a relationship to the apostles. They are a signifying gift, and usually a positive one, for the apostles, but Paul is speaking about the manifestation of tongues in the local assembly where there is no apostle to signify.

85 Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 890.

86 More to the point, however, is the fact that the emphasis seems to be to whom tongues is not directed: men. The comparison with prophecy suggests that speech in the public assembly should be toward men for edification. Paul’s point may be that the tongues speaker speaks to God by default.

87 Not that God is bound to grant this gift on this occasion.

88 Carson (Showing the Spirit, 38) suggests that a message of wisdom was of a practical nature, telling believers how to live their lives in fear of God. The message of knowledge, on the other hand, was more theoretical and doctrinal. However, he also points out that in the NT there is no such dichotomy. In 1 Cor 1-2 wisdom is a message concerning the cross and is fundamentally doctrinal. Knowledge on the other hand can be very practical (1 Cor 8:1-11). Fee (God’s Empowering Presence, 166-68, 888-89) defines the message of wisdom as an utterance that proclaims Christ crucified, and that the message of knowledge is related to the "mysteries" of 1 Corinthians 13:2 and is parallel to the message of wisdom. Thus, it is revelation of something unknown, but apart from that it is difficult to discern its content. Either manifestation could refer to some spontaneous expression of the Spirit’s wisdom or unknown fact that would benefit another in the community or the whole church itself. It is possible that there are revelatory and non-revelatory aspects to these gifts. The gift of prophecy more than likely overlaps with these two. It may refer to revelation that relates to the experience of the church.

Fee sees the gift of discerning spirits as the discerning and properly judging of prophets. Based on the usage in 1 Corinthians 14:12, 14, 29 he suggests that the phenomenon relates to the utterance itself (Ibid., 171-72). However, the judging of prophets may also refer to whether a prophet has spoken from God, himself, or a demon. Carson understands this gift as the ability to distinguish the manifestations of the Holy Spirit from those of evil spirits. It may also be the by-product of profound doctrinal discernment (Carson, Showing the Spirit, 40). Some would argue that this gift is important to individuals that minister in the area of demonic deliverance. The gift of miracles would also be useful in this but is apparently somewhat rare since these deliverance instances tend to take up extended periods of time.

89 Gaffin appears to hold this view (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., "A Cessationist View," in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? ed. Wayne A. Grudem, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 45-46 fn. 50. He writes:

    I should emphasize that, during the foundational, apostolic period of the church, its "canon" (i.e., where I find God’s word and revealed will for my life) was a fluid, evolving entity, made up of three factors: (1) a completed Old Testament; (2) an eventual New Testament and other inspired documents no longer extant (e.g., the letter mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9), as each was written and then circulated (cf. Col 4:16); and (3) an oral apostolic and prophetic voice ("whether by word of mouth or by letter"[2 Thess 2:15] points to this authoritative mix of oral and written). The church at that time lived by a "Scripture plus" principle of authority and guidance; by the nature of the case , it could not yet be committed, as a formal principle, to sola Scriptura.

What Gaffin has essentially done is redefine the canon for the NT church. For them it contains revelation not included in the Scriptures. But now, after the completion of the NT, the canon is simply the Bible. This simply will not do. The canon is either Scripture only or all revelation. It cannot be both; one for the apostolic church and the other for the post-apostolic church. Gaffin’s argument seems to be a desperate expedient to preserve both the completion of the canon and cessationism.

90 Paul mentions "the restrainer" and his ministry but does not explicitly identify him in 2 Thess 2:1-12. However, he does state explicitly that he taught the Thessalonians these things and that they knew "what restrains" (2 Thess 2:5-6).

91 These categories are somewhat adapted from Vern S. Poythress, "Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology," JETS 39 (March 1996): 71-101. Poythress’ divides prophetic gifts into discursive (those based on a text; Luke) and nondiscursive (those not based on an explicit text; Revelation, dreams, visions, etc.) processes. He then subdivides these into the categories of teaching content, applicatory content, and circumstantial content. Here the teaching content is subdivided into doctrinal and moral content. Imperatives that do not involve moral obligations are considered under applicatory content.

92 There is some dispute about the accuracy of this prophecy. There are supposed discrepancies between this revelation and the narrative about Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome in Acts 21:27-23:25. Grudem (The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament, 96-102) and Storms ("A Third Wave View," 208; C. Samuel Storms, "A Third Wave Conclusion," in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? ed. Wayne A. Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 322) argue that Agabus’ prophecy is faulty in the details. But these "errors" may be a failure to distinguish accuracy from precision. Agabus’ prophecy was accurate but it may not have been precise as it could have been. Furthermore, the use of the active voice in the verbs (δήσουσιν, παραδώσουσιν) may be causative active. Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 412) writes:

    The prophecy by Agabus (already identified as a true prophet in Acts 11:28) was fulfilled in Acts 21:33 (where a Roman tribune arrested Paul and ordered him to be bound) and in the remainder of the book (where Paul is successively brought, as a prisoner, up the chain of command until he got to Rome). Paul was not, strictly speaking, bound by the Jews, but by the Romans because a riot was breaking out in the temple over Paul. And he was not, strictly speaking, handed over by the Jews to the Romans, but was in fact arrested and later protected by the Romans because of a Jewish plot to kill him. What are we to say of this prophecy? Only that because of the Jews’ actions Paul was bound and handed over to the Gentiles. They were the unwitting cause, but the cause nevertheless.

    Recently some scholars have argued that Agabus’ prophecy was not "right on target" and that one could not appeal to the causative verb to support its accuracy. The argument is that causative verbs imply volition on the part of the ultimate agent. This is not necessarily so. Luke’s usage, in particular, involves unwitting causative agents. See discussion of Acts 1:18 below [424-25]. Note also 1 John 1:10 ("If we say that we have not sinned, we cause him to be a /the liar").

Finally, the report of the prophecy by Luke could have been a generalization by Agabus or Luke or the prophecy could have been generalized to begin with. The introduction to the quotation (τάδε λέγει τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον) allows for either. Whatever the case, it seems that Luke’s narrative is demonstrating that Paul was to find trouble in the form of imprisonment and the causative factor was the Jews. Agabus’ prophecy predicts this generally and Luke’s narrative shows in more detail and precision how this prophecy was fulfilled. The differences between the prophecy and the corresponding narrative are not necessarily incompatible.

93 As Poythress argues; "Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts," 83-101.

94 The subject of "fallible prophecy" needs some discussion. First, if the error is in the interpretation or application, the prophecy itself is not fallible. Thus, one would need to be careful to state the revelation as given before offering an interpretation or application, as well as being clear that the interpretation or application that is given is not part of the revelation. Storms also argues that a prophet could misperceive a revelation ("A Third Wave View," 207-08), although it is unclear how this would differ either from the revelation itself or from a misinterpretation. Second, Poythress also cites an example of a "fallible revelation" ("Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts," 87), although his example of the dream about Aunt Emma dying in a car wreck would be better categorized as a contingent revelation. The result revealed in the revelation is dependent on an unrevealed contingent associated with the revelation. This is the case of Jonah’s prophecy of judgment against Nineveh. The destruction in forty days was contingent upon them remaining in their wickedness.. Nineveh repented and thus judgment was averted, just as Jonah feared would happen (Jonah 3-4). In the case of Poythress’ example, the result indicated in the revelation was altered because Sally prayed for her aunt. This would have been the purpose of the revelation in the overall scheme of things. Thus, there are not two prophetic gifts in the sense of "infallible" and "fallible" but there may be differences in terms of degree of authority as argued above. It should go without saying that all contemporary "revelation" and "prophecy" should be judged according to Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor 14:29-32 (also 1 John 4:1-4).

95 Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament, 115-34.

96 The evidence of miraculous gifts in frontier mission fields suggests that they have not ceased altogether.

97 I say this as one who for many years has been a cessationist. My emotional makeup still leans toward cessationism. I still remain skeptical of most miraculous and revelatory phenomena. I now admit that, in many cases, I have little reason for such skepticism. I am probably closest to Robert Saucy’s "Open But Cautious View." See Robert L. Saucy, "An Open but Cautious View," in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? ed. Wayne A. Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 97-148.

98 Again, this assumes that such experiences have been shown to have no

Lecture edited by: Greg Herrick, Ph.D.

Related Topics: Tongues

The Pentecostal Experience - A Study in Acts 2

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Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death and the grave, and ten days after He ascended up into heaven, a great event took place, the equal of which the world has not witnessed since. This event is designated in the Bible as “the day of Pentecost” (Acts 2:1). It was the day on which the Holy Spirit made a unique visit to the earth.

Christendom, in its feverish and futile observances of days, celebrates “Whitsunday” in commemoration of the Holy Spirit’s coming. But the festival is too frequently marked by hypocrisy since some of Christendom’s leaders go as far as to deny the Holy Spirit’s Deity. The true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ will not observe the day in empty formalism, but he may use the day as an occasion and opportunity to ponder the great Christian truths which surround Pentecost.

Basic in Christianity are the true facts about God. The conceptions of men about God are many and varied, but the God of the Bible is one God revealed in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth . . .” (John 14:16, 17). This text is a clear and specific expression of the doctrine of the Trinity, directing the mind to that day on which the Third Person of the blessed Holy Trinity came. The word “another” in John 14:16 is the translation of the Greek word allos, meaning another of the same kind. When the Holy Spirit came, the disciples would find in Him no qualitative difference from the Father and the Son. All three persons possess all of the essential and unique attributes of Deity.

To that day on which the Holy Spirit came, and its exciting events, we now turn our attention.

The Pentecostal Preparation

Pentecost was a divinely planned event; it was no mere afterthought with God. The coming of the Holy Spirit was as much a part of the redemptive plan as was the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament we see Pentecost in history, in type and in prophecy. Pentecost was a solemn festival of the Jews. There was a series of seven of those annual feasts which, like the whole of Israel’s divinely appointed ritual, were “a shadow of good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1) . These feasts of Jehovah are set forth in order in Leviticus, chapter 23. Let us examine this chapter.

The first in order of the feasts was the Passover (verses 4, 5). This was the feast of redemption, reflecting upon Israel’s deliverance from her bondage in Egypt. The incident is recorded in Exodus 12. The slaying of the Passover Lamb and the sprinkling of its blood marked a new beginning for the children of Israel. On that very day God changed their calendar, saying, “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus l2:2) That month was originally the seventh month of the Jewish calendar (Abib), but now a new start was begun with the past blotted out forever. Their day of redemption from Egyptian bondage had come.

This all finds application in Christian experience. Paul wrote, “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (I Corinthians 5:7). When the believing sinner appropriates the death of Christ, his sinful past is forever blotted out. He becomes at once a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17). Having been born again (John 3:5, 7), he receives new life, God’s own life (II Peter 1:4). The guilt and penalty of past sins are gone. The day of conversion is a new beginning.

The next in order of the Jewish feasts was the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8). It was closely associated with the Passover and lasted seven days. Its chief characteristic was the rigid exclusion of leaven from the houses of the Israelites. Now what is leaven? Webster defines leaven as any substance used to produce fermentation, as in dough or liquids, especially a portion of fermented dough used for this purpose; yeast.

In Bible times a housewife could not go to the store and purchase a yeast cake as housewives can today, so she would keep a piece of fermented dough from a former baking. This lump of dough was either dissolved in water in the kneading trough before the flour was added, or else it was “hid” in the flour and kneaded along with it, as is mentioned in our Lord’s parable in Matthew 13:33. When leaven, even though it be a small portion, is added to a lump of dough, the process of fermentation (or corruption) begins to operate.

In typology leaven speaks of false doctrines and false principles of life. At least five kinds of leaven are mentioned in the New Testament. Our Lord warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which He identified as self-righteousness and hypocrisy (Matthew 16:6-12; Luke 12:1); the leaven of the Sadducees which is unbelief (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8); and the leaven of Herod which is worldliness (Mark 8:15). Paul speaks of the leaven of the Corinthians which is immorality (I Corinthians 5:1-8), and the leaven of the Galatians which is legalism (Galatians 5:1-9)

In these two Jewish feasts, the Passover and Unleavened Bread, there is, in type, a beautiful sequence. The Passover speaks of salvation through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Inasmuch as leaven typifies evil, it follows that the person who trusts the shed blood of Christ for salvation should continue in Christian experience, namely, a walk in separation from evil. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Corinthians 5:6-8).

The third in order of the annual festivals was the feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-14). There was no set date for this event since it came, of necessity, when the grain was ripe and ready for harvest. In the autumn, seventy days before the Passover, the fields were ploughed and the seed planted. Then when the time for harvest had arrived, a chosen committee from the temple would set to work with sickle and basket to gather a small amount of grain. This in turn was brought into the temple to be threshed and ground into flour and presented before the Lord. In presenting the first-fruits of the natural product of the ground, Israel was acknowledging the power and goodness of Jehovah.

But again the outward and visible thing was a symbol of something far deeper and greater in spiritual meaning and value. The Lord Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). Was He not here speaking of Himself? Indeed so! For it was on the third day after the Lamb was slain that He arose from death and the grave. Of this the Holy Spirit bears witness as seen in the following passage. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20).

Moses and the prophets may not have understood the full meaning of that Jewish festival, but the Holy Spirit did. Jesus Christ is the Church’s living Head (Colossians 1:18); and because He arose and is alive, He has power to bestow life upon whomsoever He will. Hence we read, “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming” (I Corinthians 15:23). Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee that we too shall live.

The fourth of the solemn feasts is called the feast of Weeks, or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21). Notice the time element. The joyous season of the grain harvest lasted seven weeks, and on the day of the seventh sabbath, “fifty days” to be exact, the feast of Pentecost was celebrated. In rabbinic literature it is also called “The Feast of the Fiftieth Day.” Now we begin to see more clearly the deeper significance of Israel’s solemn feasts. The Greek word for “Pentecost” means fiftieth, and it was celebrated the fiftieth day from the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was “the day of Pentecost” (Acts 2:1) when, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, Jew and Gentile were made fellow heirs and of the same body (Ephesians 3:6).

We dare not overlook the fact that this very truth is seen in the feast itself. The following postscript is often overlooked with great loss, “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:22). The expression “to the poor and to the stranger,” naturally reaches outside the assembly of Israel to the Gentile, a fact set forth in Isaiah 66:19. So, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down, the mighty baptism of Jew and Gentile into one body took place (I Corinthians 12:13).

It might be added here that there is no record in the Bible of Israel observing the feast of Weeks until we read of Pentecost in Acts 2. The grace of God in Jesus Christ was to reach out beyond the limits of Israel, and Pentecost marked the beginning of the fulfillment of the divine plan, the Gospel into all the world to every creature. We bow in humble gratitude to God when we realize that the birthday of the Church was in preparation through every stage of human history.

Through the prophets the Lord prepared the way for the Spirit’s coming. Perhaps the best known prophecy that prepared hearts for Pentecost is to be found in Joel 2:28-32. At least Peter had no difficulty in explaining what had happened. He said, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). Peter was telling his listeners that what took place on the day of Pentecost was predicted by the prophet. Of course Joel’s prophecy was not fulfilled then and there in its fullest sense, for its complete fulfillment is closely connected with the restoration of Israel, when Messiah’s earthly people will be redeemed. However, the dispensation of the Spirit had its beginning at Pentecost. It is fast moving to a close, when all Israel will share in the outpouring of the Spirit.

But consider also the necessary preparation immediately preceding the day of Pentecost, and even on that day itself. Pentecost, that year as always, had brought to Jerusalem many persons from near and far. Certainly, on returning to their homes, they could not remain silent about the happenings of that day. There the disciples were assembled “all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). Not that they knew in advance all that would happen, but because the risen Lord had so instructed them. They were obeying the divine command which was a part of the preparation (1:4). And their hearts were being prepared also, for the ten days of waiting were not spent in idleness, but “with one accord in prayer and supplication” (1:4). All was in readiness according to The Divine plan.

The teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, while He was here upon earth, prepared the way for Pentecost. He said, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him” (Luke 11:13). Again He promised that “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, the Father will send in My name” (John 14:26), and, “If I depart, I will send Him unto you” (John 16:7). The ascension of Jesus Christ back to the Father did not mean that the effort of God to save men had ceased. There would be that unfinished task, but the Holy Spirit would come in the Son’s place to carry on. Pentecost did not take the disciples by surprise. The Lord Jesus had prepared them for the Spirit’s coming.

To the Jew, Pentecost was also the time when he was under obligation to remember the giving of the law at Sinai. Pentecost, then, was the anniversary of the law. The law was given expressly to Israel, but the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to indwell each believer, whether Jew or Gentile. He came to unite them into one body. The giving of the law was a preparatory service for Israel. The coming of the Spirit was a preparation for service for all believers, getting them ready to carry forth Christ’s Gospel. We suggest that in the order of these Jewish events God was preparing the way for a greater demonstration of His power in the hearts of men through the spirit. The Jews were acquainted with the symbols of wind and the supernatural voice of God. When these signs were given at Sinai, it meant to them that God had entered into covenant with the Jewish nation; therefore, when the same signs were given at Pentecost, God would teach the Jew that He was now entering into covenant with all who would believe in His Son.

The Pentecostal Presence

The day of Pentecost was the day of the Holy Spirit’s coming into the world. Luke does not attempt a description of the Holy Spirit, but he does deal in greater length with the effects of His presence on that day. We are not going to try here to put into words a description of Deity, but there are some facts which are pertinent and which should be considered.

The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was the coming of a Person. The term, “the Holy Spirit,” is the name or title of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, and is used to distinguish Him from both the First Person, who is the Father, and from the Second Person, who is the Son. There are many other names used in Scripture to describe and designate the nature and work of the Third Person, and in every instance they refer to one and the same Person, the Holy Spirit.

Referring to the Holy Spirit as the Third Person does not imply that He is less important than the Father and the Son, but it does suggest that He is the last-revealed personality of the three. Pentecost introduced the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and from the Book of Acts to The Revelation, the Holy Spirit functions as the direct agent between God and man. The purpose of Pentecost was to introduce Him to man in a new way.

The Holy Spirit was active before Pentecost, in the Old Testament, striving against Sin (Genesis 6:3), enduing with skill (Exodus 28:3; 31:2-5; 35:21-35), empowering for service (Judges 3:10, 34; I Samuel 10:6), and causing men to speak God’s message (Numbers 24:2; II Samuel 23:2; II Chronicles 20:14). But none of the old testament saints knew Him as the disciples learned to know Him at Pentecost. The Pentecostal Person is no less God than is God the Father, and God the Son.

The Holy Spirit came as the Third Person in the Godhead, co-equal with both the Father and the Son. He is called God (Isaiah 6:8, 9; cf. Acts 28:25, 26; Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 10:15; Acts 5:1-4; II Corinthians 3:18 R.V.). The fact of His Deity is obviously clear in that He possesses the essential attributes of God. Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14), omniscient (I Corinthians 2:9-11), omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10) and omnipotent (Job 26:13). His coming was not simply the power of an influence; it was the presence of the living God. He had been on earth before, but now He came to stay. The Lord Jesus had said, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16).

The Church was being formed and anointed by God’s eternal presence. Pentecost was the guarantee of the presence of the Holy Spirit. He came to indwell and possess the hearts of believers. We insist in placing the emphasis upon Him. What happened at Pentecost? The Spirit came.

We see a mighty unfolding in the Book of the Acts. Pagan powers are smitten, the lame are made to walk, the dead are raised to life, and thousands of souls are born anew. Never before were men possessed with so great an impulse to speak out for Christ. Never before had there been such a readiness and voluntary willingness to suffer for Christ. Never before had a group so large known such enthusiastic and intimate fellowship. The world was to witness a new thing. Rather than deny Jesus Christ or each other, the disciples chose to take their lives into their own hands and go forward in Christ’s name even unto death. Then commenced their witness in Jerusalem, branching out to Judea and Samaria, and in due course pushing out toward the uttermost part of the earth. And how did this new constraint come? There can be but one answer--the Holy Spirit had come to abide.

God’s purpose is to draw men to Himself and make them like His Son, Jesus Christ. To this end Christ gave Himself. But in so doing He did not complete the task. The process of producing God-likeness is still going on today, and it is the primary work of the Spirit to accomplish this. Undoubtedly the disciples were somewhat startled when Christ commissioned them to go forth into all the world and present His Gospel to all men. If they were bewildered at His command, they had a right to be. But He anticipated their fears and eased their burdened hearts when He added, “After that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” At Pentecost, that is exactly what took place. The Holy Spirit came. Now, for more than nineteen hundred years, men have defied suffering, sorrow and death in order that Christ’s transforming Gospel might reach all men and fashion them into His likeness. Not all who have heard have believed, by any means. But some have and in every instance a work has been wrought, not by the disciples themselves, but by the Holy Spirit who came at Pentecost.

We need to recognize the Pentecostal Person in the ministry today. There is a prevailing impotence that none can deny, and all because the Person of the Holy Spirit is lost in a program about Him. We have emphasized the program and the personnel behind it, but we have shut out Him who alone can produce lasting results. The works of the flesh can never produce the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the life-line of power in the Church. The coming of the Spirit was the commencement of the Church for, says Paul, “Ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). By the Spirit the body of Christ was formed, and by Him it is held together.

Too little attention is being given Him, and because He is not recognized there is no power in service. There is no need to pray for the Spirit to come. He is with us today. “He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34). He is a Person, and we have as much of Him as did the disciples at Pentecost. When we permit the Holy Spirit to take possession of the Church today, we can expect glorious results. Let us evermore yield to Him.

The Pentecostal Phenomena

The word “phenomenon” has been defined as a strange and striking appearance of any nature; something not common, a marvel, a wonder in the external world or in a person possessing unusual powers. The day of Pentecost brought with it a demonstration of unusual power at which time there were wonders to behold. The phenomena that accompanied the Pentecostal Presence is now under consideration. The phenomena were three in number. They were signs which were the symbols of the Holy Spirit’s coming; the signs of sound, sight, and speech. The first was heard, the second was seen, and the third was both heard and seen.

There was the sign of sound. “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). Here we are told that the Spirit’s coming was as the wind. It was a supernatural sound, for the divine record has it that the sound came from Heaven.

Wind is one of the emblems of the Spirit. The Greek language has but one word for “wind” and “spirit,” and they mean the same thing in that language. We shall cite two biblical illustrations which show the spiritual analogy between the wind and the Spirit. In Ezekiel 37, we have the prophet’s vision of the valley of dry bones, a prophecy which has to do primarily with Israel. Ezekiel was taken by God to see a valley filled with dry bones. Then God said to him, “Son of man, can these bones live? . . . Then said He unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as He commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ezekiel 37:1-10).

These four winds, which the prophet calls breath, are the divine breath of the Holy Spirit, the breath that caused the first man to live, when “the Lord God formed man of the dust of ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). It is further testified to by Job, where he says, “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4).

When the Lord Jesus explained to Nicodemus about the operation of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, He said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

The wind is a symbol of power, of life. It is not static. It stands for the Holy Spirit, the mightiest of all powers, apart from which no sinner, dead in trespasses and in sins, can ever be born again into the family of God. He is the energizing power that quickens men today. Apart from Him men remain spiritually dead.

There was the sign of sight. “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3). To the Jew, fire had always been a symbol of the divine presence and it is a glorious expression and illustration of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Scripture says, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). He is called, “the Spirit of burning” (Isaiah 4:4). He is likened to the consuming fire which purges the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3:11, 12). Fire is used to describe the illuminating power of the Spirit, for the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne of our Lord are called, “the seven Spirits of God” (Revelation 4:5).

The Jewish religion was made up largely of symbols, the physical things being used to symbolize the spiritual. No better symbol could have been used for the person and work of the Holy Spirit than fire. Fire illuminates, and Pentecost was to be a new revelation and illumination.

Christianity was not to begin in the dark. There is nothing vague or shady about it. As it commenced under the glory and splendor of divine light, so it has continued. That religion which has thrived on half-truth and which ingratiatingly makes its way into the minds of the unwary is not the true Christian message which came by the Spirit at Pentecost. The weakness of Modernism is not so much in what it says as in what it does not say. The true Christian message subscribes to the doctrine of Pentecost, and that is the enlightening and purifying power of the Holy Spirit. There is no room around the Pentecostal fire for religious chameleons who change color with every background. Without that Holy Fire, there never would have been the mighty results.

Recently I stood by an open fireplace. I appreciated the warmth. What a fitting symbol is fire of the Christian faith! Christianity is not cold. It warms the hearts of its adherents by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Wherever it is embraced, it kindles a new conflagration. This Pentecostal phenomenon was the doing of the Lord.

There was the sign of speech. “And they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Speech in itself would not ordinarily be classed as a marvel in the external world. Speech is common to all men. But the Pentecostal display of tongues was above the realm of nature, and all those who were present knew it. It was something uncommon to them. The gift of tongues was the first of the Pentecostal effects and the first to disappear. The crowd that gathered that day was mixed, “out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), so that they used different languages and dialects. The phenomenon occurred when, to the amazement of all, the apostles began to speak, not in the normally recognized Aramaic of the Galileans, nor even in the common language of the Jews, but in tongues which the listeners were able to understand in their own language.

The phenomenon of tongues was not permanently instituted, but it was designed for temporary purposes. We believe that God gave this gift at the time especially for the benefit of unbelieving Jews, for, says Paul, “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear Me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not” (I Corinthians 14:21, 22).

Three times tongues are spoken of in The Acts, and in each case it was a sign that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, had brought the Gentiles into the Church on the same basis as the Jews. (See Acts 2:1-4; 11:15; 18:24; 19:6, 7.) Speaking in tongues was a sign of the Spirit’s presence, and such a sign was given to the whole group so that they all spoke with tongues (10:46).

Speaking of the Pentecostal phenomena, Dr. G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “These were but symbols of no value save as signs for the moment. It is necessary to observe that fact, because there is always a hunger in the carnal heart for signs. These signs were material; today we do not need them; they were needed at the commencement.”

The speaking with tongues at Pentecost was doubtless done in perfect order, without any confusion, and it was given just for the occasion. The gift was neither universal nor permanent. Dr. Arthur T. Pierson said, “Speaking in an unknown tongue is unintelligible to the hearer, is undesirable and unserviceable, it may degenerate into an empty display of the mysterious--a mere babble, if not babble, of confusion, and that such a gift acts rather as a hindrance than a help to common joint worship.” Today the Holy Spirit is indwelling Christians, seeking to exalt and magnify Jesus Christ in us. Let us not confuse the unbeliever any more than he is already bewildered, but let us seek to witness to him intelligibly and intelligently in a tongue that he knows.

The personal and practical aspect of the Spirit’s ministry is summed up in the statement, “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” This is the normal state, and it is commanded in Ephesians 5:18. More important than seeking after the Pentecostal phenomena is to surrender our lives to the Pentecostal Person who longs to fill us with Himself in order that we might be equipped to carry out the Great Commission.

The Pentecostal Preaching

The atmosphere was charged with tenseness. The Holy Spirit had introduced a new dispensation and the strange Power was being felt by all. The disciples now assured that this was the Comforter whom the Lord Jesus had promised to send. Now the Spirit-filled followers of Christ were under His complete control. The world would see a mighty demonstration which no man ever had witnessed before. This demonstration began when the disciples were filled with the Spirit, and it was first evidenced when they “began to speak with other tongues.” Indeed, this was the Pentecostal phenomenon, that miraculous speech should be granted to the disciples so that they might speak the wonderful message of God in dialects and languages which they themselves had not known but which were perfectly familiar and understandable to some of the hearers. This was the favorable result, and it was accomplishing the purpose of the Lord.

But there were impressions made upon unbelievers which left some amazed and perplexed. They heard and saw what went on, but they did not understand. What they heard seemed gibberish to them. They reported that the followers of the Nazarene were drunk with wine. Indeed, there was no little mental confusion among the multitudes who witnessed the Pentecostal phenomenon. In order to escape the enigma, they commenced to jeer and joke, saying, “These men are full of new wine.” Others, in their seeking hearts asked, “What meaneth this?” Then followed the first Pentecostal sermon.

We are now to see a Spirit-filled man in action. Peter was the chosen vessel to deliver the discourse. Let us look now at both the man and the message.

The Servant was Empowered

Before the Pentecostal message could be delivered, God’s messenger needed to be properly equipped. Peter was the chosen vessel to preach the Pentecostal sermon. Before Pentecost Peter was an unlikely candidate for the job. He had the gift of “gab,” but he often spoke in haste and with uncontrolled recklessness. His one asset was his aggressive nature. It seemed that he was talking most of the time. In conversation he delighted in taking the lead. He was quick-tempered and vacillating. Before Pentecost he was quite self-confident, depending more on himself than on the Lord. The world might have congratulated him for becoming a self-made man. But the man God uses is the man God makes.

At the Last Supper our Lord said to His own, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night.” Immediately Peter replied, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet wilt I never be offended” (Matthew 26:31-33). At that point our Lord predicted the shameful cowardice of the self-confident Peter, saying, “Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow thou shalt deny me thrice” (vs. 34). In spite of Christ’s prediction, Peter persisted, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee” (vs. 35).

Foolish Peter! If only he had known his own weakness! A few hours after that conversation with Jesus, Peter forsook and denied his Lord (vss. 69-75). It has happened often that the very sins for which we condemn others, and which we boast will never overtake us, cause our downfall.

The believer who is empowered for service must lose confidence in self and depend wholly upon the Lord. The plain teaching of Scripture is that the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38) and infirmed (Romans 6:19), and that we are to put no confidence in it (Philippians 3:3), nor make provision for it (Romans 13:14). We dare not trust ourselves. We need to learn that “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8). The man of wisdom has said, “The Lord shall be thy confidence” (Proverbs 3:26). If we hope to be used of God, our confidence must be toward Him (I John 3:21), and in Christ (I John 5:14). The mighty Apostle Paul was greatly used of the Lord because he had learned in whom to place confidence. He could say, “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The Christian worker is confident that, as he works, the Lord must work through him. The confident expectation of every true servant of Christ is in the power of the Holy Spirit. The self-confident Peter of the past was in no condition to deliver the Pentecostal sermon.

But Peter was to experience a change, and it was that change which empowered him for the holy task. Such empowering is the work of the Holy Spirit. The first great demonstration of Pentecostal preaching was an exhibition and illustration of the Spirit’s power, a necessary spiritual qualification for bearing witness to Jesus Christ. Peter stands forth as an example of what the Holy Spirit will do with the servant who is fully yielded to Him. All through the Book of the Acts and the Epistles, the Holy Spirit is the Presence and the Power in true service. All results were accomplished by Him. This is the marked feature in the history of the Christian Church. One purpose in Christ sending the Holy Spirit was to equip the disciples for the work. He said to them, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8). He had given them the Great Commission, but without the power of the Holy Spirit, they were inefficient to execute it.

Our Lord said many fine things to Peter, but none of His sayings were more important than that which He uttered to Peter and to the rest. “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). We need to be clothed upon with power if we are to engage ourselves in aggressive spiritual work. Like Peter, we must be filled with the Spirit if we plan to go forth to serve Christ. No doubt to “tarry” went hard with the impulsive, enthusiastic apostle, but he did it. So did the rest of the disciples. There was an unlimited field of service. It was to be worldwide--“into all the world” (Mark 16:15), “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Such a tremendous task could never be accomplished without the special endowment from Heaven. We need to be filled with the Spirit.

We are not specialists when it comes to this matter of waiting upon the Lord. But a necessary part of the equipment with which to reach men for God is first to reach God for men. He who does not pause before the Throne of God is in danger of becoming mechanical, and the most mechanical person is not of necessity the most practical. The practical servant of the Lord does God’s work in God’s way by the power of God’s Spirit. Peter could not be Christ’s witness without the Spirit’s preparation. Neither can we. Let us ask ourselves if we are witnesses, born again and empowered by the Spirit. We have not yet begun to serve Him until this is so.

The Scripture was Expounded

Following Peter’s enduement with power by the Holy Spirit, we notice that he expounded the Scriptures. The Pentecostal sermon was authoritative because it was scripturally correct. The copious use of Scripture here instructs us as to what our sermons should be like. Twelve out of the twenty-three verses are direct quotations from the Old Testament. In many quarters there is a total departure in present-day preaching from this Pentecostal procedure. Peter appealed to the inspired Word of God for the answer to the witnessed phenomena. He was preaching the Word. In Paul’s solemn charge to Timothy, he wrote, “Preach the Word” (II Timothy 4:2). This is as it ought to be. The preacher’s message should proceed upon the assumption of the inspiration and infallibility of the Word of God. The true art of preaching is to stay by the “thus saith the Lord.” We are to be ministers of the Word. One word from God’s Book is worth more than all the jewels from all earthly books.

Peter’s address commenced with the prophetic Scriptures as he sought to show that what actually had taken place was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in the gift of the Holy Spirit. There was the courageous ring of certainty in Peter’s message as he answered the charge of drunkenness with the words, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith the Lord, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh” (vss 16, 17).

The skill, wisdom and bravery of Peter were a sure sign that something momentous had taken place. This was not the mere eloquence of man. It was an epoch-making address and it stands out as the first authoritative document of the new Church. Only the Spirit of God could have possessed Peter’s mind in interpreting this apocalyptic prophecy of the Hebrew Scriptures, a prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the far-reaching results that should follow.

The passage which Peter quoted and interpreted is found in Joel 2:28-32, and it declared, many centuries before Pentecost, that God would one day pour out His Spirit on all flesh. The crowd in amazement asked, “What meaneth this?” And Peter proceeded to tell them that this is that declared by the prophet Joel. Pentecost was no accident. It marked the beginning of the end, the beginning of the last dispensation before that great and notable day when the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood.

Actually Joel’s prophecy is not yet fulfilled in its entirety. This is still the dispensation of the Spirit as predicted by Joel. As yet all flesh has not seen and heard. “Into all the world” the believer, indwelt by the Spirit, must go with the Gospel of Christ. No revival in the history of Israel ever before reached out to bring the members of all flesh to God. But this is God’s final effort to reveal Himself to lost humanity. Each Person in the Godhead gave Himself in successive dispensations to win lost mankind back to God. The Old Testament is clearly seen to be the dispensation of the Father. By direct revelation, through patriarchs, prophets, priests, judges, and kings, God sought to win man back to Himself; but he would not come.

Then, after four thousand or more years of human history the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). The dispensation of the Son lasted from the cradle in Judea to the Cross at Jerusalem.

Then came Pentecost, fifty days after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit came in a new way, not upon men but into men. He is in the world today enabling and empowering the servants of the Lord to open God’s Word to needy mankind.

But Peter did not confine his exposition to the prophecy of Joel. He moved like a master into the Psalter, quoting from three Psalms and making the application of the Scriptures. He used Psalms 16, 110, and 132. And we should make practical use of the entire Psalter as well. Dr. Joseph Parker said, “Every Psalm bears its own marks of inspiration. Human experience has been anticipated in all its innumerable phases. Is it nothing to have a book which knows the soul through and through, and can express all its sorrow and all its rapture? How mountain-like is the sublime old Hebrew among the languages of earth! And how noble its billow-like swell amid the waves of meaner speech! David knew me. Asaph is my bosom friend. Solomon is my confidant.”

The Book of Psalms accounts largely for the Bible’s growing influence among the peoples of the earth. The Lord Jesus Himself assured us that we would find Him in the Psalms. Thank God for the Psalter! It seems to have been written in a language which we all can understand. These were the Scriptures that Peter expounded.

Sinners are saved by God’s Word. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (I Peter 1:23). “For the word of God is quick, and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In our day there is a drift away from expository preaching of the Bible. Many sermons are long on experience and story-telling but short on Bible teaching. Peter knew the Scriptures and how to apply them.

The Saviour was Exalted

Finally, the Lord Jesus Christ was exalted in the Pentecostal sermon. The substance of Peter’s sermon concerned “Him” (Acts 2:23). The Scriptures which He used pointed to Jesus of Nazareth, who was both Lord and Christ. Peter and the rest of the disciples had been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, Christ the Lord; but now his hearers must be convinced even as they were. The Peter of Pentecost is filled with the Spirit, and all Spirit-filled preaching exalts Christ. When our Lord promised to send the Spirit, He said, “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, . . . He shall glorify Me” (John 16:13, 14).

The Spirit came to guide men into all truth and Jesus Himself is the very embodiment of truth. “I am the Truth,” He said. The Spirit’s holy purpose is to bring Christ into full view of saint and sinner. F. B. Meyer wrote, “He is so anxious that nothing should divert the soul’s gaze from the Lord whom He would reveal, that He carefully withdraws Himself from view . . . But remember that when you have the most precious views of your dear Lord, it is because the Holy Spirit, all unseen, is witnessing and working within you.” All revelation of divine truth should be given for the glorification of Christ; not that the Son should have precedence over the Father and the Spirit, but that men should see the Godhead, “For in Him (Christ) dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Being filled with the Spirit, Peter therefore exalted the Saviour in the Pentecostal sermon. This was to be expected.

Peter appealed first to the works of Jesus (Acts 2:22). He told his hearers that God put His seal of approval upon the Man Jesus, and that by His wonderful works He showed that He was the Messiah. The Apostle refers to Him as “Jesus of Nazareth,” the title by which the multitude had come to know Him. The fame of Jesus, because of His wonderful works, had spread far and wide, and Peter was appealing to the multitude by the designation which they knew best.

While we rightly emphasize the death and resurrection of our Lord, I fear it is often to the neglect of His life and work here on earth. The miracles of Christ need to be restated and re-emphasized. They have become so familiar and commonplace to some of us that we no longer are amazed at God’s miracle work. Did the Lord Jesus perform works that no other man could do? This question has been the battleground upon which Modernism has attacked evangelical Christianity. Peter declared Christ’s mighty works to be a demonstration of God to the world. They were the works of God; for the miracles, wonders, and signs which our Lord wrought, “God did by Him in the midst of you.” Let us not overlook the importance of our Lord’s earthly work before the Calvary experience, but say with Nicodemus, “No man can do these miracles that Thou doest except God be with him” (John 3:2). “By His works the Son bore witness that He was sent of the Father” (John 5:36).

Peter then passed on in his Christ-exalted message to speak of the Messiah’s death. The sufferings and death of Messiah were no mere accident nor afterthought, but He was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (vs. 23). Later, Peter showed the Lord Jesus to be the slain Lamb “who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (I Peter 1:20). The suffering Messiah had been fully revealed in the Pentateuch, in Prophecy and in the Psalms, and the very details of His death were all pre-arranged in eternity. God was offering the sacrifice for sin. No mere man could do it. “It pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10). The Father made His (Christ’s) soul an offering for sin.

Let us begin at the Cross where God begins with it, not with the bloodiness and brutality of the Crucifixion, but in the glorious, infinite heights of the foreknowledge of God. Sinners are not saved because their emotions are aroused through hearing about the cruelty of the Crucifixion. We are saved by the voluntary, vicarious death of the eternal Son of God, who knew that He was coming to die on our place. “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Pressing on, the Apostle insisted upon the necessity of Christ’s resurrection from death and the grave--“whom God raised up” (vs. 24). No doubt Peter’s argument for the resurrection was overwhelmingly effective with his Jewish listeners. He quoted David from the Psalms. David said, “Because Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption” (vs. 27). But David could not have spoken of his own self, for it was now evident that David had died and had been buried, and his sealed tomb was at hand. Peter was preaching Christ throughout his sermon, and the central fact, to which the most space is given, is His resurrection. The things which David had written, and which Peter quoted, could not have been David’s own experiences. They were prophecies which never could have been fulfilled in any other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then where was Jesus of Nazareth? If He arose from the dead only a few weeks before, where is He now? Peter answered this question. “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted . . .” (vs. 33). David is not yet ascended into Heaven in his physical body, but Jesus Christ is. God has exalted His Son to His own right hand, so that all the house of Israel, yea, every one of us, should know that this same Jesus is both Lord and Christ. The sermon that is Christocentric will have the blessing of God upon it.

The Results

Preaching is a great vocation! It is the proclamation of the good news of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. In the mind of Christ it was doubtless the greatest vocation, for He intended that its influence should be felt worldwide. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature,” He told His disciples (Mark 16:15). All preaching involves at least two necessary elements, a man and a message. And when both the man and the message are God’s, there are certain results which follow the sermon.

There is no finer example of the right kind of preaching than the first Pentecostal message. Of course, a prerequisite to the delivery of any sermon is the right kind of preacher. Though it is His Word, rather than the man who gives it that God has promised to honor, yet there must be the preacher. The printed page is greatly used of God, but the Gospel proclaimed in writing is not preaching. The author is not always a preacher.

Peter was the privileged servant to deliver the first sermon at Pentecost. The personality of the preacher has very much to do with the power and effectiveness of a sermon, and Peter possessed the kind of personality that God could use in the preaching of His Word. The sermon becomes a very part of the preacher. He lives it. If he is not a man of deep piety and purity who can forcefully express truth through his character and personality, he is not likely to succeed for God. He can be no mere machine expressing truth mechanically. Peter was a real man, a saved man, a changed man, filled with the Holy Spirit, and the effect of his life and preaching is worthy of note.

When Peter preached his sermon, he displayed a practical working knowledge of the Word of God; the message was biblical (Acts 2:16-21). Next in order, the sermon was Christocentric, setting forth the whole truth concerning Jesus Christ, in orderly sequence (vss. 22-32). This is the kind of preaching that counts. What results might one expect from a sermon such as this, a sermon that is scriptural and Christ-centered, and that is preached with courage and conviction? The first Pentecostal sermon itself should be studied carefully. It is a masterpiece. It might well serve as a pattern for all preaching. But it takes more than the man and the message to produce lasting results. The secret of the results of Peter’s sermon was in the unseen Power Who took charge. No human personality nor any amount of eloquence can achieve such glorious results apart from the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. What Peter and the disciples saw after he had preached was a demonstration of divine power which actually was the Spirit of God working through them.

There was Conviction

Of the hearers it is written, “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts” (vs. 37). Such was the power of the sermon. Every preacher should be aware of the fact that not all of his hearers realize that they are lost. The congregation may possess intellect and intelligence above normal, and yet be indifferent to their sins and their wrong relationship to God. Preaching with conviction is the need of the hour. Not only are men to see the vileness of their sins, but they should be made to recognize the heinousness of sin, “that it might appear sin,” and that it “might become exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:13). Wherever real conviction results, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. When our Lord promised the Holy Spirit, He said, “When He is come, He will reprove (convict) the world of sin” (John 16:8).

There may be a thousand voices crying out loudly against sin, but no agent apart from the Holy Spirit’s can produce genuine conviction. This is the Spirit’s own work. When the Spirit enlightens the darkened mind showing the wrath of God which is poured out upon sin, then does the heart of the sinner long for deliverance. All men have some standard of what ought to be, but the Holy Spirit alone is able to destroy these false conceptions and show the sinner how radically defective his views of right and wrong are. Man, apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, argues that he is not bad at heart, but when the Spirit is free to work, He brings to bear upon man’s conscience how vile a sinner man is. When self-righteousness bows its head in shame and the heart cries out to God for salvation, the Spirit has brought it about, and the work of conviction is done.

Perhaps you ask if the Holy Spirit has not been remiss in His work, since there is such a widespread lack of genuine conviction. I fear that we have overlooked a most important phase of the Spirit’s work. Conviction was not to be brought directly to sinners by the Holy Spirit’s coming. The Spirit did not come directly to sinners, but to the disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). The Spirit came directly to the believer, therefore His work of convicting must be accomplished as He is free to work through His own. The preacher cannot convict of sin apart from the Holy Spirit, nor, generally speaking, will the Holy Spirit do it without us. It is futile to ask God to convict sinners when He already has promised to do this on condition that we, who are the temples of the Holy Spirit, do not hinder Him. You see then, how that the Spirit convicts sinners through Spirit-filled and Spirit-used lives. We pray God to convict the sinner, but the sinner does not feel that he is a sinner because he sees us, who profess to be Christians, living no differently from himself. How sad when sinners come to our church and hear the Gospel and then turn away in unbelief and rejection because they see us doing the same things they do! Think it not strange when sinners are not convicted in our churches. The Holy Spirit has not failed. We have. Actually our Lord was suggesting that “when He is come (through you), He will reprove the world of sin.”

The power of the Pentecostal sermon was not merely in the fact that the sermon was preached, but that it was “preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven” (I Peter 1:21). The Apostle Paul gave witness to the same glorious truth when he said, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Corinthians 2:4).

The preaching that produces conviction is always the result of Spirit-filled lives both in the pew and the pulpit. It is useless to speak sentimentally about a sin-cursed and perishing world as long as we ourselves attempt to hide our own sins and refuse to turn from the world. When we live lives of defeat instead of victory we cannot expect that the Holy Spirit will do His work of conviction. The Pentecostal sermon brought conviction because “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4). When will we learn that God is waiting to demonstrate through the lives of His children how awful sin is and how wonderful is His Son our Saviour? Let us cease wasting our effort in the attempt to produce conviction by preaching Christ in our own strength. The Spirit is dependent upon the pure lives of God’s children.

There was Conversion

The conviction wrought by the Spirit through the disciples brought from the crowd the question, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). These Jews had been waiting for the Messiah to come, and now Peter, by the Holy Spirit, tells them that Messiah has already come. Moreover, Peter informs them that it was He whom the nation had rejected and hanged upon the Cross at Calvary. Now what would they do? Would they be given another chance? Would God send Him again so that the people might have another opportunity to receive Him? In desperation they asked of Peter and the rest, “What shall we do?”

This burning question emanated from the Spirit-pierced and Spirit-convicted hearts, for men do not ask questions about eternal issues when there is no conviction. Peter answered, “Repent!” Repentance means, literally, a change of mind. These Jews had the wrong conception regarding Jesus Christ. By wicked hands they had taken and crucified and slain Him. He had come to them, but they would not receive Him. They showed their attitude toward Jesus when they rejected Him. Now Peter says, “Change your attitude. Change your mind about Jesus Christ.”

True repentance effects not only a change of mind and attitude, but a complete moral reformation which is seen in sorrow for sin and a deep regret that the person repenting has violated the holy laws of God. Real repentance manifests itself in self-abhorrence and self-humiliation. This, in turn, causes the sinner to turn away from all his sin and transgression against God. Repentance was the keynote of the preaching of John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, and the disciples. When this needed note is missing from the sermon, we need not look for men to be saved. The truth that the world must change its attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ must ever be held before the eyes of men. This involves a radical change in the innermost recesses of man’s being, and such a work can be accomplished only by the Holy Spirit, for “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). A man, apart from the Holy Spirit, might stir the emotions of another, but only the Spirit of God can reach the human spirit.

The sermon of power is the biblical, Christ-centered sermon which exposes sin and calls upon the sinner to repent. It is preached by the man who is filled with and guided by the Spirit. The Thessalonian believers experienced true repentance, a turning to and a turning from for they had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (I Thessalonians 1:9). But their repentance was not the result of the mere preaching of the Word; “for,” says Paul, “our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost” (vs. 5). We see here that the results were achieved by the combination of a yielded life preaching the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s sermons were sermons of power.

The first results of the Pentecostal sermon were outstanding. Luke says that there were added “about three thousand souls” (vs. 41). Conviction was immediately followed by conversion. These results were not produced by the eloquence of Peter, not by his logical argument, but by his declaration of truth concerning Jesus in the power of the Spirit. So men were saved and the Church grew.

We say that it is hard to get men to repent and be converted. But right here is where the Holy Spirit comes to our aid, and the decisions we cannot get men to make, He will produce. We figure on the amount of converts by the number that we have led to acknowledge, with their lips, the Lordship of Christ, but we have forgotten “that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (I Corinthians 12:3). And when the Holy Spirit gets a man to decide for Christ, that man is soundly converted.

The power of a sermon that is prepared and preached under the leadership of the Spirit cannot be expressed in our terms. The results are not accurately recorded on the church roll, but they are eternally inscribed in God’s book. When Peter preached, the converts were not his but God’s. They were not received into the Cathedral of St. Peter, but we are told that the Lord added to the Church such as were being saved (vs. 47). If we are to witness a soul-saving ministry in our churches, both preacher and people will have to get right with God and allow the Holy Spirit to have His way.

Much preaching today is without power. The sermon is delivered but the results are meager. But God has not changed. In the early Church, “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21). Notice, it does not say that it pleased God to save men by foolish preaching, but by the foolishness of preaching. When the Apostles preached Christ, it appeared to the outside world as foolishness, but it still was God’s prescribed method for saving the lost. Modernism is educating the masses to believe that sermons which search the heart and affect the emotions are “foolish.” Such preaching is frowned upon. And yet if we expect to see men delivered from the wrath to come the Spirit of God must be free to convict and convert through the preacher, through the sermon, and through the saints in the pew.

There was Continuance

The record has it that “they continued steadfastly” (Acts 2:42). The three thousand, more or less, did not constitute the tabulated results after the sermon was preached. These are they who continued steadfastly. When men are soundly saved through the power of the Spirit, the results are continuous. As I write this message, I sit in a small mountain home high on the plateau of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia. A series of preaching services is now in progress. Last night after the meeting a mountain preacher told me of the usual results at “revival meetin’” time. Said he, “If the evangelist can get the people worked up enough, they’ll come forward and confess their sins. But the trouble is, it just don’t last. They soon forget God, Christ, the Bible, and the church. We don’t expect to see many of these until ‘revival’ time again next year.”

We insist that such “results” are not the work of the Holy Spirit. Too often there are those who come into the inquiry room, confess sin, profess to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, receive a Scripture portion but are seldom seen in the house of God or with the people of God. Are they God’s converts or man’s? We are not judging the “converts,” but we invite our readers to share with us further in the continuous results of the first Pentecostal sermon.

The new converts “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine.” The word doctrine means teaching. Now they were very much limited in their access to the written Word of God. As yet there was no New Testament in writing. The printing press was not yet thought of, so that they were wholly dependent upon a few hand-inscribed copies of the Old Testament. But baring been born of the Spirit, they were drawn to the Word of God for instruction. The new nature hungered for the soul-food which alone is able to sustain and satisfy the child of God.

Where are the “converts” of today? While it is true that some are continuing in the study of God’s Word and are found where the truth of the Bible is presented, too many have not continued, and show no desire whatever to learn the Word of God. Is the Holy Spirit at fault? Indeed not! We who are the temples of the Holy Spirit are at fault. We have grieved Him by our sins and our selfishness. We have failed to acknowledge the absolute necessity of His operation in the sinner’s heart. We have not recognized that His sovereign and gracious work of convicting and converting the lost must be carried out through us. Let us use all the skill and wisdom and natural ability that we possess remembering that the abiding results are manifest where the Spirit is honored.

The power of the Pentecostal message drew the new converts into “fellowship.” This was exactly what they needed. It is important for us today, for we need one another also. God knew how much we should need each other, hence, “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (I Corinthians 12:13). When any person is born of the Spirit, he is organically united to the Body of Christ, “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). Do our hearers have the desire to fellowship with God’s people? Are they one with us? They should be! And if the Spirit is having His way, it will be so.

Next in order, we are told that the new converts continued steadfastly “in breaking of bread.” They were drawn by the Spirit to the sacred ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. How misguided are the masses today! Multitudes outside of Jesus Christ come to church only on “Communion Sunday,” as though there was saving merit in the ordinance. On the other hand, there are those who have confessed the Lord Jesus as Saviour, who show no desire to be present at the Lord’s Supper. Our Lord commanded His disciples, “This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), and certainly it seems that one who has been truly saved would have some conviction about this. We hasten to inquire whether or not some of our “converts” were ever born of the Spirit.

We are told that they continued steadfastly in prayer. Yes, they prayed. The new converts did not consider “the pastoral prayer” enough for them. It must have been a great blessing to the new believers when Peter and the rest prayed, but they too learned to exercise the glorious privilege of communion with God.

Here, then, are four aspects of the New Life in Christ to which the Pentecostal converts gave consistent attention--teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer. Let us give the Holy Spirit His way so that He may achieve the same glorious results in us also.

Related Topics: Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit)