By Shawn Lazar

Sola fide or fides caritate formata? Are we saved by faith alone, or faith formed by love?

During the Reformation, that was one of the questions faced by Martin Luther, and it is an objection that the Free Grace movement still hears today. Faith in Jesus isn’t enough, some people say, you also need love to go with it!

Those who make this claim will usually agree (on the surface) that we are not saved by faith plus works. That is because they assume that making love a condition of justification is not the same as making works a condition of justification. Are they right?

I’ve been reading through Philip S. Watson’s Let God Be God! An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1949), a very lively and helpful introduction to the unique character of Martin Luther’s theology. Watson explains why Luther recognized fides caritate formata as just another form of legalism.

Love is Law

The first thing is to understand that love is not something different from the Law of God, but the summary of that Law. So to say that we need faith formed by love in order to be justified before God, is the same thing as saying we need faith and works:

“The Law of God, as Luther understands it, is revealed in three main stages. The first is the Natural law, or the awareness which, as we have seen, all men natural have, that they ought to worship God, and that they ought to do to others as they would have others do to them. The second is the Mosaic law, the Decalogue, of which the first table states more explicitly man’s duty to God, and the second his duty to his neighbor—Moses being not so much the lawgiver as an interpreter of the Law already given by nature but obscured by sin. The third stage is that of the Gospel commandment of love toward God and our neighbor, by which our Lord reveals the true inwardness of the Law, and which He illustrates both by His teaching and by His example” (pp. 105-106).

Love is the inward fulfillment of the Law:

“The Law is fulfilled, however, only when our behavior is governed by love in our hearts, and love of such a kind that we would ‘do the works’ even if they were not commanded. This fulfillment is what the Law essentially and inexorably requires. Unlike the laws of men, God’s Law cannot be satisfied merely with works, for God judges according to what is at the bottom of the heart, and His Law makes its demands upon the inmost heart and will. It requires perfect love, free from every selfish consideration” (p. 106).

Love Demands Perfection

What does the Law demand? So few people realize that it demands perfection. Legalistic traditions never make their laws demand perfection. If they did, people would give up too easily! So legalism always has ways of curbing the Law’s demand to suit its people.
But not the Law of God.

The Law of God demands perfection. You break one Law, you’re guilty of breaking them all (James 2:10). To say that the condition of justification is faith formed by love, is the same thing as saying that the condition of justification is faith plus perfect works.

“The Law requires us to love with our whole heart and our whole strength, and we sin if we do less” (pp. 108-109).

Has anyone loved like that? Has anyone love with our whole heart and whole strength? I haven’t. Remember how Paul described love?

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:4-8).

Anyone who expects to be justified by faith formed by love should take an honest look at whether they have ever loved in their entire life. “Love does not envy.” Have you wanted what someone else has? Then you’re guilty. “Love is not puffed up.” Ever been full of yourself? Then you’re condemned again. “Love doesn’t get provoked.” Are you getting provoked now? Then I’ve got bad news for you. “Love never fails.” Has yours?

Love is the highest, most demanding Law you’ll ever be faced with. How do you measure up?

When legalists are faced with the true inwardness of the Law’s demand, they usually try to evade it. Instead of keeping God’s Law as it is, they somehow modify it and accommodate it to suit their legalism. But that just reveals legalism for what it is: man-made religion. God’s Law is immutable, because God’s holiness is immutable. But man-made religion is always changing. It’s like a wax nose, adapting itself to suit the situation. The legalist wants to appear merciful, so they change the Law. They’ll say something like this: “Oh, you’ve stumbled? Don’t worry, saying a thousand Hail Marys and confess again in the morning. You got irritated today, or angry? Don’t worry, there’s an act of repentance for that. Not measuring up? We’ve got a sacrament to patch up where you’re lacking. Do what’s in you. That’s all the Law really requires.”

That may be all that man-made laws require, but God’s Law is not a wax nose. It doesn’t demand our best efforts. It demands perfection, and anything short of that is condemned:

“The Law demands nothing less than perfection, Luther maintains, and all who fall short of this are under its condemnation. But to demand perfection is to demand ‘impossible things’—not because perfect love is in itself an impossibility, but because it is entirely beyond the capacity of fallen man” (p. 108).

The Law is a mirror. How will you react to seeing your true reflection? Hopefully, it will crush your heart. You thought you had a few flaws. But the Law shows you that heart is wicked beyond comprehension. Hopefully you’ll realize that you’re a sinner with nothing to offer God. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be more open to hearing the good news that Jesus will impute righteousness to all who believe in Him. Not only does God not justify us on the basis of works, He actually justifies the ungodly sinners who don’t work at all, but who merely believe: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom 4:5).

Are We Justified by Faith Formed by Love?

Now we come to Luther’s answer to the question of why we cannot be justified by faith formed by love. The reason why is because it is works salvation plain and simple. None of us have loved perfectly. None of us have loved constantly. None of us have loved our neighbor, let alone the world. Our love cannot save us. But our failure to love can condemn us under the Law. So there’s no hope for us there. The only hope we have is to be justified by faith in Christ apart from works of the Law. Fides caritate formata is just another form a legalism:

“Why, then, will [Luther] not allow that we are justified by faith formed by love? Much might be said in answer to this question, but here it will suffice to notice how this conception represents an ultimately legalistic, and therefore anthropocentric, point of view. The thought of faith formed by love as the ground of justification, rests on the assumption that God cannot receive man into fellowship with Himself unless man must therefore possess the love it requires, if he is to be acceptable to the Lawgiver. If he cannot achieve it by his own natural powers, then he must have the necessary love ‘infused’ into him by a supernatural operation of grace. In other words, man must be sanctified by some means or other, if he is ever to be justified in the sight of a God who is Himself holy and just. Such is the principle underlying the doctrine of justification by fides caritate formata. It cannot be said to differ in any essential way from the standpoint of ‘works-religion’, for it is fundamentally legalistic” (p. 53, emphasis added).

Donald Webb, Basic Bible Doctrines (West Lafayette, IN: Day of Grace Ministries, Inc., 2006).

I’m always on the lookout for theologians who agree with Free Grace positions. To that end, I recently came across Donald Webb’s Basic Bible Doctrines. Webb is a Mid-Acts Dispensationalist. Some people in that camp hold to what are essentially Free Grace views. Here are some excerpts from chapters 5 and 6, on salvation and eternal security respectively.

 

Why “Salvation” Is Not a Technical Term

“The word salvation in the New Testament is from the Greek word soteria and literally means to deliver, to preserve, or to save. Salvation as used in the Bible applies to many different areas. It can mean salvation from an enemy, from problems, from error, and of course, salvation from sin” (p. 81).

Why Eternal Security Is the Same as Salvation

“Eternal security is really a continuance of the subject of salvation. When we say eternal security, we are really saying eternal salvation; and we are, of course, speaking of soul salvation” (p. 103).

“The simple truth is that to understand salvation is to understand eternal security” (p. 104).

“A salvation like this would not really be salvation at all because you do not have God’s salvation (eternal life) if it is not eternal—right? Therefore, we conclude that salvation cannot be received, maintained, or secured by our works” (p. 108).

That Repentance Is Not Necessary for Eternal Salvation:

“A person is not required to repent and show a changed life to be saved. He is not required to maintain some period of good works to be saved. Though both a changed life and good works would be the result of salvation, they are not required to be saved. There is no probationary period of any kind connected with salvation” (p. 106).

A Sinning Believer Can Lose Rewards but Not Salvation

“But what about when the believer sins? When a believer does sin, it is an issue between him and God his Father. It is family issue; it involves service not salvation. Salvation is complete and secure. From that time the Christian life is a matter of an eternal loving relationship with the Father (of growth and tender care of grace and, yes, even discipline) “until the redemption of the purchased possession…” Will we have to answer for sins committed as believers? Yes. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that we must answer for the things done in the body whether they be good or bad. But this involves rewards and loss of rewards, not salvation” (p. 111).

The OT Saints and Faith Alone

“Even at that time salvation was not actually based upon works. Works were only to demonstrate faith, which has always been the means of salvation in God’s eyes. Failure to keep or to maintain any of the precepts of these covenants would not have cancelled anyone’s salvation. Failure to obey would have resulted in the prescribed physical punishment for that particular sin…Still other numerous verses under that same covenant had to do not with loss of salvation but with physical death for disobedience to the law” (pp. 114-115).

Disapproved but Not Sent to Hell

“The word castaway [1 Cor 9:27] is a real problem for many. Upon examining the Greek, we find that it means disapproved. Paul was referring to the judgment seat of Christ when, after a life of service, he might be disapproved as to rewards if he had not lived according to the truth. Salvation is not the issue at the judgment seat of Christ” (p. 120).

I have not finished reading through the book, but so far I have found it exceedingly clear and well-written. Unlike many self-published books, the typography is really excellent, and the quality of Webb’s writing is what you would expect from a professional publisher. He has clearly thought his positions through, and he writes for the serious believer without being obscure or pedantic. Even if the rest of the book turns out to be rubbish, the chapters on salvation and eternal security are worth the price of admission.

~Shawn Lazar

Robert D. Preus (1924-1995)

 

In doing some research for an article—and a future book—on an “Objective Atonement,” I have been reading the work of Robert D. Preus, one of the most prominent confessional Lutheran theologians of the 20th century and one of the few systematic theologians whom Zane Hodges quoted with approval. Indeed, I find there are several points of agreement between Preus and Hodges on the nature and scope of the atonement, saving faith, and justification. I believe that Hodges took Preus’ view of Objective Justification, and refined it and applied it to the atonement in light of a closer reading of Scripture.

 

Doctrinal Purity

As you can imagine, as a Lutheran theologian, Preus heavily emphasized the doctrine of justification by faith alone, such as in his books Justification and Rome (Concordia, 1997) and Doctrine is Life: Essays on Justification and the Lutheran Confessions (Concordia, 2006). One of the more striking claims he makes is that the whole of Christian doctrine rests upon a correct understanding of justification by faith alone. Get that doctrine wrong, and other theological errors will follow. Get it right, and a host of theological errors will be avoided. Preus quotes Luther to that effect: “If this doctrine of justification is lost, the whole Christian doctrine is lost,” it is the “one basic principle in theology,” and the greatest “power and remedy against the sects” without which it is impossible to fall into other errors (JR, 17-18).

I think this is absolutely true. But I don’t think that Lutherans like Preus have lived up to this ideal.

 

Justification by Faith Alone vs Belief in Jesus for Eternal Life

To be clearer, I think this insight is especially true of the doctrine of eternal life. Paul spoke about justification by faith alone. John spoke about believing in Jesus for eternal life. Whereas justification describes one aspect of eternal salvation, John’s language is more encompassing. Justification is one aspect of the free gift of eternal life, namely, it is the non-imputation of one’s sins, and the imputation of righteousness received through faith in Christ. That is included in the concept of eternal life, but eternal life involves more than justification.

But even though eternal life involves more than justification, I do not mean to suggest that eternal life is not by faith alone. On the contrary, I think that Paul and John are in complete agreement here. As you read through the Gospel of John, it becomes apparent that by simply by believing in Jesus’ promise of everlasting life, we have that life, and are eternally secure from that moment on (John 3:16). John (and Jesus) do not say eternal life depends on our behavior. It only ever depends upon simple belief.

If you understand that truth, then, as Preus suggests, many other doctrines fall into place and many errors are avoided. Anyone familiar with Free Grace theology will know that to be true. The free gift of everlasting life is a base-line, a theological  hermeneutic, that helps us understand all other Scriptures, and which bring them to light. I believe that Free Grace theologians have been much more consistent than Lutherans in making sure that it is our “one basic principle in theology.” It illuminates the difference between salvation and rewards, eternal security and temporal judgment, regeneration and discipleship, positional sanctification and progressive sanctification, and so on. Interested readers should consult the work of theologians like Zane C. Hodges, Robert N. Wilkin, Joseph C. Dillow, and John H. Niemela, among others. Or they can visit faithalone.org for hundreds of expository articles where the doctrine of eternal life by faith alone is applied across the Bible.

 

Three Examples of How Lutherans Deny Justification by Faith Alone

Unfortunately, unlike Free Grace theology, the Lutheran tradition has not kept to faith alone in Christ alone, despite their stated intention. Indeed, I believe the Lutheran tradition has adopted a number of doctrines in direct opposition to justification/eternal life by faith in Christ apart from works. Let me give three examples:

1) Infant baptism: The fact that Lutherans baptize infants denies justification by faith alone. Infants cannot believe and yet Lutherans claim they are justified in the act of water baptism. By baptizing people who do not have faith, the Lutheran churches effectively teach that justification is apart from faith, not by it.

          Some Lutherans will respond by saying that infants can believe and be justified by faith apart from works, and so are the proper subjects of baptism. If so, that leads to an obvious problem. If infants can believe, they can also disbelieve. How can you tell the difference between believing infants and non-believing infants? How can you tell a difference between infants who believe in justification by faith alone and those who believe in salvation by works? You can’t. Indeed, the whole idea is quite silly, and yet that very argument is often made by Lutherans. I have heard a Lutheran dismiss the problem as being “rationalistic,” whatever that means. In reply, it seems like special pleading of the worst kind to insist that infants can believe, but deny that we would be able to tell whether they do or not.

If Lutherans held consistently to justification by faith in Christ alone, they would not baptize infants. They would only baptize believers (however old they may be).

 

2) Baptismal regeneration: Paul chastised the Galatians for thinking that circumcision was necessary for our salvation. And yet Lutherans insist that we must be baptized in order to be saved. Water baptism was as much a work of the Law as circumcision (Lev 16:23-24). How can Lutherans teach that making circumcision a condition of salvation is legalism but making baptism a condition of salvation is not?

Some Lutherans will respond that baptism is not a work like circumcision, but the Gospel promise put into visible form. It is a work that God does to us, not something that we do for God.

But this same reasoning could also apply to circumcision. Infant boys certainly don’t circumcise themselves. It is something done to them. And yet Paul denounced this practice as seeking to be justified by works of the law. What if the Galatians had said to Paul: “Paul, this isn’t legalism. It isn’t the boy’s work. This is God’s gift to the boy—a circumcised heart!” Apparently, Paul did not take that view. Adding any requirement to faith was a form of salvation by works, and another gospel.

If Lutherans held consistently to faith alone in Christ alone, they would not make baptism a condition of eternal salvation.

 

3) Loss of Salvation: Lutherans do not believe in eternal security. They correctly read the warning passage of Scripture as being addressed to believers, but they incorrectly believe that those warnings concern the possibility of losing our eternal salvation. If Lutherans held consistently to faith alone in Christ alone, they would know that losing our salvation is impossible. The fact that they teach eternal salvation can be lost, shows that Lutherans do not really believe in salvation by faith alone apart from works.

To see why, consider the explanation that Lutherans give as to how a person can lose their salvation. The answer always involves something that the believer does. If a believer commits a grave sin, or persists in sins, or has a lapse of faith, then they can lose their salvation, according to Lutheran theology. This is another way of saying that justification by faith depends upon our behavior. But if our salvation depends upon our behavior, then justification depends in part on our works, and is not by faith alone.

Since Lutherans do not hold consistently to the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ apart from works, they do not see that the warning passages deal with the possibility of temporal judgment now, and loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor 3:12-15). These passages do not speak to the possibility of losing eternal life, because that is impossible. Part of the Gospel promise is that believers shall never perish (John 3:16; 5:24; 10:28-29). Not believing in eternal security means not believing in the Gospel promise, and implicitly believing that eternal salvation must be maintained by our behavior.

If Lutherans held consistently to faith alone in Christ alone, they would not believe you can lose your eternal salvation. They would be more aware of the difference between eternal salvation and eternal rewards.

 

Those are just three examples of how Lutherans implicitly deny justification by faith apart from works, and so have departed from the purity of the Gospel promise. Of course, there are many things that confessional Lutherans gets right. But there are also glaring inconsistencies, which I believe have been corrected by Free Grace theology.

~SCL

I came across the book called A Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Grace Publications, 1972, 2008) by Charles F. Baker.

Baker was born in Dallas, in 1905, and attended Scofield Memorial Church, where his pastor was Lewis Sperry Chafer. He studied at DTS, then at Wheaton, and later taught theology at Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids.

Baker was a “Mid-Acts” Dispensationalist, meaning, he understood the descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 to be the fulfillment of OT prophecy. We usually take Pentecost as the beginning of the Church, and of the Dispensation of Grace. But Baker thought the ministry of the twelve in the first chapters of Acts still belonged to the OT offering of the kingdom. The Kingdom that had been “at hand” during Jesus’ earthly ministry, was, after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, finally ready to be offered. But when Peter and the other apostles offered it to the Jews, they rejected it. So God decided to postpone the kingdom, and form the “mystery” (i.e. unprophesied) Body of Christ. So, according to Baker, the Kingdom was not rejected before the Cross, but after it. And the Body of Christ did not begin at Pentecost (an OT feast day), but with Paul’s ministry, somewhere in the middle of Acts (hence, “Mid-Acts Dispensationalism).

Even more controversially, Baker rejected the practice of baptism, arguing that both baptism and circumcision were concurrent OT practices, not for the Church age. Rather, we have spiritual circumcision and baptism when we believe in Christ, and receive the Spirit.

As Herman Hoyt writes on the back cover, “It is to be expected that many will not be persuaded at points where there is variation from views of long standing…” But where there is agreement on views of long standing in the Dispensational community, Baker has a lot of good insights to offer.

For example, he explains that many people get confused about eternal security because they don’t understand the Biblical use of the word “salvation”, or the difference between eternal life, eternal rewards, and present spiritual blessings:

“A number of proof texts are generally quoted to disprove the doctrine of Security. These may be classified under six general heads:

1. ….Many of the warning passages from the Old Testament and the Gospels have to do, not with soul salvation, but with physical consequences of breaking the law (cf. Ezekiel 33:13). The curse of a broken law brought physical death upon many who no doubt were saved people. Saints today die physically because fo the curse of sin, but that does not mean they are not saved. Other warning… refer to a time after the Church is taken out of the world.

3. Those applying to Rewards and not to Salvation… Salvation is entirely apart from all of man’s good works. No man will ever receive salvation as a reward for what he has done. But after one is saved he will receive a reward for faithfulness, or suffer loss of reward for unfaithfulness, but this will in no way affect his eternal salvation.

4. Those that Warn Believers of Things They May Lose. Believers are in danger of losing many blessings which the Lord has provided for them. Any sin, disobedience, lack of faith, neglect of the Word of God, or prayerlessness is bound to result in loss of joy, loss of power, loss of fruitfulness, loss of fellowship, and loss of reward…

5. [Warning passages dealing not] with personal salvation but with national privilege.”
(Baker, Dispensational Theology, 462).

I haven’t read through the whole book yet, but from what I’ve read so far, there are plenty of good nuggets. I would say that its worth having on your bookshelf.

Someone has made the book available online:
http://www.gracegospel.eu/grace-books/BakerI05.pdf

 

Jesus + Nothing = Everything. By Tullian Tchividjian. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. 220 pp. Hardcover, $18.99.

Tullian Tchividjian is Billy Graham’s grandson and the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. His book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything concerns the dangers of legalism and the importance of looking to Christ alone for our justification and sanctification.

The book grew out of the difficulties Tchividjian experienced when he became the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge. Under the pressure of members calling for his dismissal, Tchividjian rediscovered the supremacy of Christ while reading through Paul’s epistle to the Colossians.

Tchividjian says that every person has desires that they seek to fill with things in the world (i.e., they seek for everything). But the world ultimately leaves us empty (i.e., with nothing). This is also true for those who seek to combine the Christian faith with some other cause, such as social justice, environmental concerns, social mobility, etc. The true fulfillment of these desires is for Christ to be our all in all (i.e., everything). Hence, the title, Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

Tchividjian explains that we must understand that through faith we are positionally in Christ. As such, Jesus is our righteousness, justification, sanctification, and everything else we could need.

Tchividjian makes excellent points about the centrality of justification, and makes the welcome suggestion that to be justified means being eternally secure: “To be justified means that you’re forever right with God, eternally in” (p. 139). He goes on to say, “Among many other things, this means that God’s acceptance of us cannot be gained by our successes nor forfeited by our failures” (p. 140). To say that justification makes us “forever right” and “eternally in,” and adding that it cannot be “forfeited,” surely suggests belief in eternal security, though he does not explicitly endorse that doctrine.

In keeping with these claims, Tchividjian is opposed to calls for obedience based on fear and guilt. Rather, we should be motivated by the assurance of being saved by God’s free grace. We should “obey from the secure basis of grace, not guilt” (p. 141). He adds, “It’s always the gospel of God’s free grace that should motivate our right doing; otherwise we’re nothing better than Pharisees, making sure we’re keeping all the rules, mainly because when we do, we feel better about ourselves—especially when we compare ourselves to those who aren’t doing right” (p. 153).

Tchividjian’s thoughts on sanctification are less helpful. People familiar with the Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde (see Lazar, “Cheap Grace or Cheap Law? Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Gerhard Forde on the Nature of Law and Gospel,” in the Spring 2013 issue of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society) will immediately recognize his influence on Tchividjian’s views. Forde had an unusual view of sanctification. He believed that sanctification was “the art of getting used to justification” (Forde, Preached God, 226). Tchividjian seems to adopt the same perspective, such as when he writes, “the hard work of Christian growth consists primarily in being daily grasped by the fact that God’s love for us isn’t conditioned by anything we do or don’t do. Sanctification is the hard work of giving up on our efforts at self-justification” (p. 172). One does not make progress in the Christian life according to the normal standards of behavioral modification. Rather, one reaches Christian maturity by becoming more aware that eternal salvation is by faith apart from our works, because Christ’s finished work made it possible.

There is some truth in what Tchividjian says, especially given his contrast with behavioral modification approaches to sanctification. But Tchividjian seems too paralyzed by the fear of legalism to consider the proper role of works in the Christian life. And so he leaves out pivotal teachings about the role of eternal rewards (Rev 22:12), the law of sowing and reaping (Gal 6:7-8), divine discipline (Heb 12:6), and the need for abiding in fellowship with Christ (John 15:4). This may be because without a premillennial hermeneutic one cannot make sense of the warning and rewards passages in Scripture. But more generally, it may be because he travels in Reformed circles (he graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary and is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America). Given the legalistic tendencies in Reformed thought (created especially by the doctrine of election), any talk of works will tend to distract away from Christ’s work, to the believer’s performance, in order to ascertain whether one is among the elect.

If Tchividjian were to adopt a Free Grace view—where the question of eternal destiny is settled at the moment of faith in Christ, while the question of eternal rewards remains open—then he could get to the real business of Christian living, and understanding that how we live has temporal and eternal consequences, without the pretense of thinking works save us or prove that we are saved.

In sum, while some of the book’s content comes across as filler, and while its main points could have been made in a third of the space, Tchividjian makes a valuable contribution to the radical freeness of the gospel promise. While he does not present a Free Grace perspective, his approach to justification and his attacks on legalism are complementary to our own, and that makes this book an edifying resource to be drawn upon in support of Free Grace arguments.

S. C. Lazar
Director of Publications
Grace Evangelical Society
Corinth, TX

Alan Chambers

By Bob Wilkin

Last year Alan Chambers, President of Exodus Inter

national, angered many of the donors to Exodus International when he said th

at he believes that there is no cure for homosexuality. One third of the donors quit supporting.

Last week Chambers apologized to the Gay and Lesbian community and indicated that Exodus International is shutting down.

In articles about the closure there is no statement of what Exodus International believed a person had to do to be born again.[1] However, on their website we found this:

We believe that faith alone in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord frees us from the mastery of sin, and its consequences of death and eternal damnation. He assumed the penalty of death Himself, and enables us to live out of His resurrected life unto eternity. We believe the Holy Spirit carries out this work of renewal in our live

s, empowering us to grow in loving union with our Heavenly Father and to walk in obedience to His will. We believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is formed of all those who know Him as their Savior and Lord, regardless of denominational beliefs.[2]

That is far from clear. The part about faith alone in Jesus Christ is super. But what follows is muddy. Why say “as Lord and Savior”? This sounds like Lordship Salvation. Why speak of “freeing us from the mastery of sin, and its consequences of death and eternal damnation”? That sounds like we must change our behavior in order to escape eternal damnation.

There is nothing here about the fact that a person who believes in Jesus has everlasting life and will never be condemned. There is nothing about eternal security. The impression is that one must turn from his sins and keep on living righteously to make it into the kingdom. F

or a ministry to gays, that sounds like they must give up their homosexuality to be born again, and must continue to avoid it to stay born again.

It appears that the reason they are closing is because Chambers no longer believes that it helpful to try to get homosexuals to stop practicing homosexuality.

However, under “About us/mission and doctrine” they say,

We do believe that any sexual expression outside of a monogamous marriage between one man and one woman falls outside of God’s creative intent for human sexual expression and is sinful.  Homosexuality is no greater or less a sin than any ot

her and is not the determining factor for a relationship with Jesus Christ.

What do they mean when they say that homosexuality “is not the determining factor for a relationship with Jesus Christ”? Do they mean that unrepentant homosexuals can be born again by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for everlasting life? If so, fine, as long as they also teach the consequences of believers living in willful sin. Yet that is far from clear from that statement or the doctrinal statement. What is the condition “for a relationship with Jesus Christ”? They do not say.

Christianity Today put an article on its website in July of last year indicating that Chambers was being criticized for preaching antinomianism and cheap grace.[3] In the article Chambers is quoted as saying that homosexuality will not undo the new birth: “My personal belief is…while behavior matters, those things don’t interrupt someone’s relationship with Christ.” Fine. But there is no clear statement in the article about what he thinks a homosexual, or anyone else, must do to be born again in the first place.

Chambers is quoting as responding to the cheap grace charge with these vague words, “If someone tells me that they have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ—in the way I understand it and have experienced it—they still know Jesus regardless of what types of behavior they’ve chosen to be involved in.”

Better, but still not clear on what one must do to be born again, is this statement by Chambers: “I don’t know how anyone could call [it] grace cheap when it cost Jesus everything. I find it disheartening that we [evangelicals] are so inconsistent and over-focused on one group of people over another. We aren’t talking about this in any other subculture of people except this one [the LGBTQ community].”

It appears that Exodus International has slipped doctrinally over the past year or more. It is possible that Chambers believes in pluralism, that people can get into the kingdom who are from religions other than Christianity. He seems more concerned with societal trends than the Bible.

Since Chambers actually apologized to homosexuals and has now shut down Exodus International, he must feel that Exodus International hurt people in their efforts to get them not to practice homosexuality. I find it disturbing that Chambers apologized to the homosexual community and shut down Exodus International. However, I do rejoice that someone is saying that no sin, including homosexuality, is outside the blood of Christ. I simply wish that Chambers and Exodus International were clear that everlasting life is for all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:24; 6:28-29).

by B.F.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:28-29).

Here is a thought I had recently concerning the word proginosko (“for whom He foreknew”) in Romans 8:29. My interpretation is different than anything I ever seen (including the new commentary by Zane Hodges on Romans), but it makes sense to me.

Romans 8:29 is preceded in v 28 by the words, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. I believe that a proper understanding of the phrase those who love God opens up the point of vv 28-29.

The same expression is found in 1 Cor 8:3 where Paul says, But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. Notice that for a believer to be known by God is conditional: if anyone loves God… Not all believers love God all the time. It is the believer who loves God who is known by Him. I believe this means that the believer who loves God is destined to rule with Christ if he perseveres in his love for God.

 Romans 8:28-29 is discussing those who love God, that is, those who will ultimately rule with Jesus, the firstborn among many brethren.

I believe it is a mistake to understand Rom 8:28 to be saying that God works all things together for God for all believers. He only works all things together for believers who love Him. All things do not work together for good for the believer that is in the spiritual far country (Luke 15:11-32).

So I suggest that God’s foreknowledge in Rom 8:29 concerns ruling with Christ. God knows in advance who, among those who believe in Jesus, love Him, and He has predetermined that those believers will be conformed to the image of Christ in the sense that they might rule with Him forever.

But won’t all believers be conformed to His image (1 John 3:2)? Yes, we will. But Paul is not talking about all believers in Rom 8:28-29. He is talking about believers who love God and who will rule with Christ if they persevere in their love for God (cf. 2 Tim 4:8, “to all who have loved His appearing”). Indeed, Paul might mean more here than mere conformity in terms of sinlessness and moral purity (cf. 1 John 3:2). Possibly Paul might have in mind conformity that extends to sharing in Christ’s status as Ruler in the life to come.

Believers who persevere in their love for God have been predestined to rule with Christ forever. God has predetermined that co-ruling with Christ is reserved for those who persevere in their love for Him. That makes a lot of sense to me, a math professor.

Call for Papers

We’d like to issue a call for papers for the Spring 2013 issue of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society. All topics of theology related to Free Grace concerns are welcome. All papers will be considered for publication. Papers should be between 3000-5000 words. Send them to shawn@faithalone.org.

Jews for Jesus

Here’s an interesting interview about Jews for Jesus in Israel: Jews for Jesus Interview

The Real Santa

When you think of Santa Claus, how do you picture him?

If you grew up in America, familiar with the ubiquitous Coca-Cola Christmas advertising campaign, you probably picture a rotund, jolly old man, with a long flowing beard, and penchant for red velour clothing. But if you had lived 300 years ago, the image of Santa Claus you would have been most familiar with was of him clocking another man in the face. How’s that? Let me tell you.

When I was younger, we used to celebrate Christmas in a traditional way, with a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, and all the trimmings. Then my mother became a Christian and we began attending a Brethren church which encouraged a counter-cultural approach to the holiday. Christmas was seen as anti-Christian, a pagan “Christ-mass” that was a leftover of pagan solstice practices mixed with Catholic liturgical traditions which were thoroughly un-Biblical. Santa Claus (much like the Easter bunny), especially, was considered a Satanic replacement of the real meaning of Christ’s birth. Suffice to say, I grew up with a certain amount of Christmas skepticism, especially towards Santa Claus.

However, later in life, while studying Church history, especially those debates about Christ’s divinity and the nature of the Holy Trinity, I was surprised to learn about Santa Claus’s thoroughly Christocentric origins.

You see, Santa Claus, also called St. Nicholas, was loosely inspired by a third century Bishop who was born in Greek-speaking Myra, in Lycia (which, after the Muslim invasion, and expulsion of the Christian Greeks, is now known as modern Turkey). He was known as a generous giver of gifts to those in need.

But more interesting is the fact that Nicholas was one of the bishops present at the Council of Nicaea, called by the Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. This was the council that canonized the doctrine of the Trinity, after the heretic Arius began teaching that Christ, while the Son of God, was not God himself. Rather, Arius taught that Christ was the greatest creature of all, but still only a creature (a heresy that lives on through the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons).

As the story goes, Arius was arguing his position before the Nicene Council when Nicholas became so enraged at what he (rightly) perceived to be an affront against Christ’s true dignity, that he got up from his seat, walked over to Arius, and punched him in the face! (Is anyone else picturing that scene from Rocky, except with Stallone saying, “AAAARRRIUUUSSS!”)

Anyways, punching people in the face because of their heretical Christology has not become a popular Christmas tradition. But as an historical fact, it shows that even the person of “Santa Claus” points to Christ and the Trinity in a deeply theological and serious way.

I haven’t yet decided how my family will celebrate Christmas. I certainly won’t be telling my daughter any of the myths about modern Santa Claus flying through the air, and sliding down chimneys delivering presents, etc. I’m Brethren enough not to do that. However, I will happily tell her about the real Santa Claus, about St. Nicholas the Greek bishop, and about what he stood for in defense of Christ. I will tell her that Jesus was not a creature, but He was of one substance with the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God; that He became incarnate as a little child, lived a sinless life, died an atoning death, rose in a glorified body, and ascended into heaven, and will soon return; and that He promised to give everlasting life to all who would believe in Him for it. After all, Christ’s gift is the greatest gift she could possibly receive from anyone.

Merry Christmas!

~Shawn