Law and Grace

Sanctification, Faith and Works: An Index of Recent Web Debate

Updated 6/13/14

Debates about various aspects of the doctrine of sanctification have been around for a long time. In the summer of 2011, a fresh round of debate on sanctification, works, faith, depravity, justification and union with Christ broke out on the Web and has continued, in one form or another up to the present.

Because the exchange has featured skilled and articulate participants, it has also been insightful. The following is offered as a tool for the benefit of anyone interested in studying the matter from the perspective of recent interactions among theologically conservative, mostly (but not entirely) Reformed leaders.

A few notes appear below, randomly. I hope to eventually annotate most of these entries more fully and fairly.

Despite the length of this list of links, it is not comprehensive. Feel free to post other links of importance in the comments.

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Law and Gospel: Looking at the Big Picture

The biblical teaching on “the law” and “the gospel” is massive. And contrary to what some may think, these concepts are fairly complex. They can’t be reduced to a plaque on the wall with the Ten Commandments or a paper tract with Four Easy Steps on how to become a Christian. Instead, law and gospel each have a fairly expansive range of meaning. Broadly considered, they overlap and are interrelated. More narrowly viewed, they’re distinct. In Part 1 of our study, I’d like to examine these concepts more broadly and show how they’re related. Then we’ll narrow our focus in Part 2, noting the ways in which law and gospel are distinct.

Law and Gospel: The Big Picture

According to Michael Horton, “Everything in the Bible that reveals God’s moral expectations is law and everything in the Bible that reveals God’s saving purposes and acts is gospel.”1 So the “law” is what God expects us to do, and the gospel is what God plans and accomplishes on our behalf.

We’ll come back to this definition when we consider law and gospel in narrow focus. For now, I want to suggest that Horton’s definition of “law and gospel” is much narrower than the picture given us in Scripture. In reality, the concepts of law and gospel are much broader and more flexible concepts.

A Biblical Portrait of the Law

In Scripture the term “law” (Hebrew: תורה/Greek: νόμος) is used in several different ways. For example, it may refer to the Decalogue:

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“Every imperative of Scripture (what we are to do for God) rests on the indicative (who we are in our relationship with God), and the order is not reversible.”

"The human instinct with every non-Christian religion reverses the order, teaching that who we are before God is based on what we do for God. Thus, any preaching that is distinctively Christian must keep listeners from confusing, or inverting, our 'who and our'“do.'" - Bryan Chapell

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What Is the “Law of Christ”? A Bit of Research

Rightly understanding the relationship between today’s Christians and the law delivered to Moses depends on multiple factors. One of them is grasping the meaning of the NT phrase “law of Christ” (See this article and discussion from last week). The phrase, or a very similar one, occurs twice in most translations—in 1 Corinthians 9:21, and Galatians 6:2. How we understand the term influences whether we see Christ as placing believers under a different law, or if we take the view that parts of the Mosaic law simply continue across peoples and covenants, as well as the millennia.

The information here shouldn’t settle the question for anyone, but may provide a start for those who want to dig deeper.

1 Corinthians 9:21 variations:

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (ESV)

…though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ… (NASB)

… (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law)… (NIV)

… (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ)… (NKJV)

… (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,)… (KJV)

Galatians 6:2 reads virtually the same in every translation.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (ESV)

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Old Testament Commands Today? A Response to Dr. Fullilove

Detail from Rembrandt's Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

Last week Tim Challies linked to a video by Dr. William Fullilove of Reformed Theological Seminary, called “Do Old Testament commands apply today?” His main points, in summary, are that…

1. theologians have divided the Old Testament laws into moral, ceremonial, and civil law,

2. we are bound by some commands because they are moral principles,

3. we do not follow civil and ceremonial laws, rather we have to recognize that “God had a moral principle that he was applying to a specific society” and then in order to apply those laws to ourselves we have to “stop and ask what is the moral principle that God was applying into that world, and then figure out how do I apply that moral principle into my world today” and 4) figuring out the moral principle for today is a “harrowing and messy process” because “there is nothing in the Bible that marks the law as moral or ceremonial or civil, we just have to figure it out” and by studying the Bible we can understand what “would God have us do with this particular command.”

I would like to suggest today that there is a process for figuring out what God wants us to do in obedience to him that is neither messy nor harrowing—rather it is clear and fully revealed.

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From the Archives: Fulfilling God's Law by Walking in the Spirit

The God of the Bible is presented without apology as a law-issuing God who expects us to be law-keeping people. God does not ask permission to assert Himself as the arbiter of human ethics (Gen. 2:15-17). He determines for His creatures the standard of right and wrong and we are duty-bound to know His commandments and honor them.

Such notions are naturally unsettling, particularly when one begins to comprehend precisely what God requires of us. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a stranger seated next to me on a commercial flight home from the east coast some years ago. I came to find out later that he had grown up in a strict Jewish family in which God’s Law to Israel was studied and honored. He was heading to Minneapolis on business and initially asked my advice on the hottest downtown night clubs. We were obviously strangers. He may as well have asked my advice on nuclear physics.

Perhaps it was my bald ignorance of the Minneapolis night club scene that piqued his curiosity, but in any event he began to probe to discover who I was. When he learned the orientation of my life as a minister of the gospel, he proceeded to poke fun at the religion he had long ago left in the dust. Along the way, he explained, he had decoded the vision of God presented in the Hebrew Scriptures. “What is the tastiest meat?” he pressed me. I hesitated. “Obviously, it’s pork,” he asserted with an air of confidence. “So what does God say? ‘No pork.’”

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From the Archives: Romans 7 – Believer or Unbeliever?

The interpretation of Romans 7 is long disputed. My wife once told me that as a Christian teen she read Romans 7:14ff in the Living Bible and thought, “That is me!” Was she wrong in her hermeneutics? Is Paul talking about his Christian or pre-Christian experience in this very auto-biographical chapter?

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (ESV, Rom. 7:14-19)

Here are some arguments for the pre-conversion and post-conversion positions. You will be able to tell where I stand.

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Theology Thursday - More from Reformed Baptists on the Christian & the Law

On “Theology Thursday,” we feature short excerpts on various areas of systematic theology, from a wide variety of colorful (and drab) characters and institutions. We hope these short readings are a stimulus for personal reflection, a challenge to theological complacency, and an impetus for apologetic zeal “to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints,” (Jude 3).

From Samuel Waldron and Richard Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church (Palmdale, CA: RBAP 2004), 41-47 (excerpts).

The first and central practical implication to be drawn from all that has been said this: We learn the delusion and danger of divorcing law and grace. Law and grace must be distinguished, but they must never be divorced.

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