I recently saw a quote attributed to Martin Luther that said, “Every week I preach justification by faith to my people because every week they forget it.”
One of our ministry’s unpleasant but necessary tasks is to point out when popular authors and preachers have forgotten about justification by faith apart from works. Instead, they share a mixed message of faith plus works.
For example, I have been working through Luke-Acts and came across these quotes from the Luke volume in the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Series, edited by David Platt (among others). On the back cover, the author, Thabiti Anyabwile, is named a Council member of the Gospel Coalition. He writes:
“Repentance isn’t simply mental. True repentance is accompanied by fruit, by good deeds” (p. 62).
That’s true. Repentance is not merely a chance of mind, but a change of behavior (see Bob’s book Turn and Live). But then Anyabwile says this:
“There is no gospel preaching without the preaching of repentance—of turning from sin to God and demonstrating that turn in a new life” (p. 63).
By “gospel preaching,” Anyabwile means the message of how to be born again. So, the saving message includes repentance. And repentance isn’t merely mental but involves doing things such as good deeds, turning from sin, and living a new life. It certainly sounds as though Anyabwile is preaching a gospel of faith plus works.
But what if you don’t have these good deeds and new life?
“Perhaps you have never repented of your sin. If you have never turned in mind and heart to agree with God about your sin and turned in mind, heart, and life to follow Jesus, then you may be religious or even raised in the church, but you are not yet a Christian” (p. 63).
So, it’s not enough to simply believe in Jesus to be born again. You also need to repent of your sin, turn your life around, and follow Jesus. In sum, you need good works to be saved. If Anyabwile’s commitment to works salvation is not yet clear, the next quote puts his position beyond doubt:
“All that is left to do—if we can call it ‘doing’—is to turn from our sin and turn to our Savior. Trust and follow him in order to receive the salvation of God” (p. 63).
How do you receive the salvation of God? By faith apart from works? No. Although Anyabwile seems to recognize that making “doing” a condition of salvation is wrong, nevertheless, he says you must “follow him” to receive salvation.
So, to recap, here are all the work-related conditions of salvation that Anyabwile mentioned in these quotes:
- Good deeds
- Turning from sin
- Turning to God
- Following Jesus
My hope is that Anyabwile actually believes in justification by faith apart from works and that these quotes are mistakes or examples of him forgetting about justification. However, we have seen this kind of mixed salvation message from the Gospel Coalition before. It is certainly evident in the writings of the editor of the book, David Platt (see here).
In any case, please continue to pray for and to share the simple message of faith in Christ for eternal life (John 3:16; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9). There are far more voices proclaiming that works are a condition of salvation, than those proclaiming grace. Don’t forget to remind others not to forget!