Justin Perdue: Welcome to the members podcast. We hope that the regular episode was encouraging to you as it was to us.
We’re going to talk about self-righteousness and we’re going to talk about comparative righteousness and how we do dumb things in the church sometimes. We tend to measure our sanctification, like we would, say, my son’s height against the doorjamb to see who is growing the fastest.
Jon Moffitt: I would say Theocast is definitely not a watchdog ministry. We’re not a discernment ministry but there are times when I feel like we need to pull a Galatians moment with the church and say, “Who bewitched you? It was before your very eyes that Christ was crucified. Did you begin by works of the flesh or by the work of the Spirit? Are you continuing by works?” This is kind of where this is coming from.
Justin Perdue: Can I tease? Can I do a little teaser, a little trailer of things to come?
We will be talking about the John Piper clip that’s been all over Twitter in recent days about how it’s futile to try to define saving faith apart from feelings. And he goes on to talk about all that. We’re going to talk about feelings next week. So if you’re listening to this in your podcast feed, next week will be us talking about faith and feelings and all that good stuff.
Jon Moffitt: When we are feeling this rebuke from Paul, what we are getting at is the comfort from the cross. He said it’s before your very eyes that this took place. So you, you saw it and now you are denying the very thing that you saw and this is why he uses such strong language like bewitched. Who bewitched you? Who caused you to go from the hope of God into believing things that are equivalent to witchcraft? To be clear, he’s not talking about gospel salvation. He’s talking about gospel continuation as far as your Christian life. Continuing by faith.
Justin Perdue: Yeah. Sustenance and sanctification even.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. The Scripture has this thread that from the moment that Adam and Eve fell, what was the promise from God? What requirement did God put on Adam and Eve?
Justin Perdue: When they fell?
Jon Moffitt: Yeah. Did he give them a requirement?
Justin Perdue: I’m not sure exactly where you want to go with this. Are you talking about in terms of the covenant of grace?
Jon Moffitt: Yeah, the covenant of grace. So Adam and Eve fell and God finds him in the garden. He rebukes them. He reverses them.
Justin Perdue: The curse happens, but then he promises a Redeemer. Right?
Jon Moffitt: And in that promise of the Redeemer, what does he say? Is there a requirement for them to know something?
Justin Perdue: No. He tells them exactly what he’s going to do.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. Right. So from the first evangelion, the protoevangelion, there is no requirement placed on them other than this is going to happen. And of course, what was the option for Adam and Eve? To simply believe it – which we do know that they do because at one point he thought the Redeemer had come.
Same thing when you move down into when God makes the promise to Abraham. What requirement does he put on Abraham? He doesn’t put one on. So you just start walking through these promises that he puts on people as it relates to the redemption and there is nothing there that relates to a requirement. Here’s the confusion: people will say, “Jon, I agree we are not saved by works. We hear that.” But then, Justin, what happens is what do they throw at us? James 2, right? Faith without works is dead.
Justin Perdue: A couple of thoughts here. People will throw out Romans 2 also because Paul there is very clear that it’s not hearers of the Law but doers of the Law who will be justified. In that context, Paul is building an argument. He’s not implying that we can do the Law because he goes on just a few verses later to say nobody’s good and nobody’s righteous and no one will be justified by the Law. That’s why the righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the Law. Although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, it’s the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Of course, in James, we’ve referenced it so many times recently in terms of what James is bringing up: favoritism and not loving one another and all of those kinds of things. He’s exhorting those believers to live in a way that’s appropriate in terms of love and unity. As soon as we will say we’re not saved by works, we immediately pivot that and then start to dump all kinds of requirements on people about how you need to live in order to know that you’re saved. And that’s because we take things that are true in the Bible and draw terrible conclusions from them. It sounds biblical enough on the face of it that it gains traction with people. We’ll say things like, “If you are justified, then there will be transformation of life and there will be fruit.” That’s true. “If there is no transformation of life, you haven’t been justified.” Okay, true. But then where that goes is wrong and this is the conclusion people draw: therefore we need to tell people to do good works so that they know they’re saved. That’s not how it works. You can’t reverse the relationship. You can’t reverse engineer this thing. You have to herald the gospel of Jesus and that’s what actually gives rise to transformation of life and good works. It’s not done on the basis of merit. It’s done from a place of peace and rest and security. You were just talking about the unconditional promises of God in Genesis 3:15, the unconditional promise to the elect through Abraham. You were also talking about other promises that have been made through Scripture. There are conditional pieces, too. The Law of Moses, the Mosaic covenant, was given, which we would understand to be in one sense, not formally but with respect to its terms, a reissuing of the covenant of works.
And then we also have the Davidic covenant, which we referenced in the regular podcast that has conditions on it. But we see that the Messiah, the Christ, is the one who from before the foundation of the world was determined to meet those requirements in the place of his people. We’re not saved by our works. We’re saved by the works of Christ and then know we live on in him underneath the banner of Christ and his righteousness in the church.
This is why it’s stupid for us to start comparing our works, deeds, righteousness to each other as though there is some merit attached to that; as though some of us are more inside the favor of God than others, or that God is more pleased with me than He is you because I’m more disciplined than you are or whatever it may be.
Jon, I’d love for us to riff on this for a minute: comparative righteousness and measuring one another against are each other in the church – what does that lead to? Has it ever produced a good thing in the church? Answer: never. And what does it produce? Disunity. It produces pride. It produces bickering. It produces backstabbing. It produces people trying to cut other people down and diminishing the good works of others. It. It does all of that nonsense in the church and it does not foster love or peace at all. It makes the church a terrible place to be. It’s the least safe place in the world to be in the church when this is how it’s going. It can’t be a haven for sinners.
Jon Moffitt: The two things that Jesus says in John 17, which is love will produce unity, that is his and the Father’s love and affection for you which are equal amongst everyone will produce unity, and his glory given to you will produce unity. Let me go back to our confession. We weekly mention one of the chapters in our confession and just a couple weeks ago, we finished chapter 16. Let me just read to you what the confession says here because I think it’s very helpful and clarifying. It says, “Good works are only those works that God has commanded in his holy Word.” Period. Stop. First of all, I can’t tell you how many evangelical leaders are created for Christians that have nothing to do with God’s word.
For instance, I’m going to go after the new sacrament of personal quiet time with the Lord. Albeit can be helpful, it’s not a command as far as it relates to personal Bible reading. We’re going to leave that there for another time. This is why the confession says, as it relates to scripture – and you can go and look these up yourself – the works that do not have this warrant are invented by people out of blind zeal or on a pretense of good intentions and are not truly good. Did you hear this? Are not truly good works. And Justin and I will openly confess this so we’re not antinomian: “These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruit and evidence of a true and living faith. Through good works, believers express their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, build up their brothers and sisters, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of opponents, and glorify God.”
Now point three, and this is where we’re getting to as far as equality, “Their ability to do good works does not arise at all from themselves but entirely from the Spirit of Christ.” There, my dear friends is where if you are accomplishing good works – and I will just simplify them: to love God and love your neighbor – all good works and all commands are wrapped up in that. If you are actually accomplishing that, you need to stop and go, “Praise God that His Spirit is in me doing that because on my own I cannot do this.” So for you to take credit for your good works, you are denying the very Scriptures that have been handed to you and the historic confessions (that is if you are confessional and if not, I encourage you to even just read them). But we have been told time and time again. Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 6:11, or even Ephesians where it says “works prepared for you before the foundations of the world”, these are works given to us by the sovereign God, not you. So the moment you start judging or comparing yourself saying that you have sanctified or improved yourself based upon your works and efforts, you are actually taking credit for something that doesn’t belong to you.
Justin Perdue: A few thoughts. One, when you were talking about the good works that are invented in the evangelical church, I can’t help but think about Mark 7 where Jesus will indict the Jewish religious leaders and say that teach as doctrine the traditions of men. That is rampant in our current church context: the traditions of men taught as doctrine. Let me just go ahead and say it: personal spiritual disciplines are that. They are the traditions of men taught as doctrine. There is goodness in them in that you can apply them and they can be useful. But to teach them the way that they are often taught as though they are the definite article way that you will endure and grow in the faith is a tradition of man. It’s not given to us in God’s word as you already alluded to. I know this is a hot button topic for some, but somebody needs to say these things.
And then I’m thinking about the good works piece that we actually do. We cannot take any credit whatsoever for the good works that we do. That’s part of what it means to be in Christ. We do this humblebrag or we’ll talk about the way our lives are changing and the ways that we’ve been doing this, reading this, and whatever, and then we’ll just add, “By God’s grace”. We just throw that in there. That’s kind of the equivalent of “bless his heart” and I can say anything about him as long as I say “by God’s grace”. I can just brag on myself and talk about the ways that I’m being sanctified.
I’m not trying to impede everybody’s motivations here and mow down everybody and burn the village down. But I think we’ve all done this. Even when I think about 1 Corinthians 15, which is where we often get this from when Paul will talk about how he was; think about what he says, though, he talks about himself as one untimely born, right? That he wasn’t even really worthy to be considered an apostle. He’s talking about the fact that he is unworthy. Part of what he means by that is because he persecuted the church, for crying out loud. He was unworthy to be an apostle. Then he says, “I did work harder than any of them.” And then he says yet, “But it wasn’t me, but it was Christ in me that did that.” That’s what we end up always saying is whenever I do a good work, like sincerely when I do a good work, “Yet not I, but through Christ in me.” If we really believe that, then we would never walk around like a bunch of peacocks or like a bunch of boy scouts wearing all our merit badges with respect to all the things that we’ve been doing for Christ or in our personal spiritual disciplines. And we would read the Bible and realize that, as you said, any good work we are doing is not only because of Christ in me but also because it’s been prepared beforehand. Because we are born and created in Christ as his workmanship to walk in the good works prepared beforehand, for us to walk in Ephesians 2: 10. We need to quit this nonsense of comparing our work to others and ranking people from the best down to the least in our local churches. It’s just terrible.
Jon Perdue: I’m going to read a portion of scripture that I haven’t read on Theocast in many years. It’s 2 Corinthians 3:18. Paul is encouraging the believers. The Corinthian church is pretty wicked at this point and this is his second letter to them. In his encouragement to them, he says this as far as their transformation goes: “And we all, with unveiled face,” unveiled meaning that the blindness of our sin has been removed cause the light of the gospel truths, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
This is to go back to your point on spiritual disciplines. We are told to discipline ourselves and that discipline produces growth. Paul says looking at the glory of Christ produces transformation. “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” He’s putting in perspective of issues of sin, issues of the conscience, and transformation. But look at verse 5 here. It says,” For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
He’s saying that the moment we look at the glory of Christ, and just to put it into perspective so you understand, the glory related to what he accomplished on the cross – so Jesus’ credit for what he did. As we look at the credit of the high and exalted one, Jesus – who was our righteousness, who died on the cross – as we look at that and we see the glory of who Jesus is, God uses that to transform us into His image. That part of gazing is where good works come from.
Here’s the difference: we find our motivation and we find our hope in obedience based upon the work of Christ. Going back to the original point of this podcast – comforts from the cross – we look at what we have received from the cross and it’s from that moment we find our transformation and our motivation for obedience. Most Christians find their transformation from fear and their motivation from guilt. “You better be improving or else you will not be saved. And how dare you not obey God? You bad Christian.” Guilt.
Justin Perdue: I’m thinking about the glory of Christ. I agree completely that when the apostles were talking about the glory of Christ, they are meaning in a primary way the glory that is in his particular work of redemption – what he has done, his redemptive work. How is it that we grow in the faith? It’s by beholding that. In contemplating that. How does that happen practically in our lives? Does it happen when we’re by ourselves? Sure, it can. But it happens primarily when we gather corporately as the church. What should be the point of our corporate gatherings every time we meet? It should be to read from the word of God; to preach, and herald the glories of Christ, the grace of Christ, the mercy of Christ, the love of Christ, the righteousness of Christ; for sinners to then come to the table to receive the merits, righteousness, and the glory of Christ by faith as we participate in his body and blood; to sing of the glory and the mercy and the grace of Jesus; to pray those very same things together. That’s the point of the corporate gathering.
How terrible is it to just even thinking about the corporate gatherings that happen in many churches where those glories of Christ are often missing, or at best assumed when people get together. There’s a reason why people probably in their experience are thinking, “I don’t know that I really grow in Christ by attending the church where I go because his mercies and his glories are not so much heralded. It’s really more about me and what I need to be doing.” And that’s a tragedy. But the point is that the apostles do not speak in terms of our private devotional lives as to how we grow. The apostles speak to congregations and say, this is what you need: you need each other. You need Christ. You need to behold Christ and you need each other. This is how you’re going to make it. This is how you’re going to endure and this is how you’re going to grow.
Ephesians 4 – when the body functions properly, it builds itself up in love toward maturity. Consider how to build one another up in the love and good works.
Justin Perdue: Do not neglect to assemble together. That’s Hebrews 10. Don’t neglect to assemble together, but consider how to stir one another up in love and good works.
Jon Moffitt: I preached this last Sunday and we rotate as elders on presenting the table to our congregation. The Sunday I got done preaching, I really exerted myself and was pretty exhausted. I was sitting on the front row and one of my elders gets up there and he is able to put the gospel into words in ways that just crushed me. I walked up to him afterward and I said, “I want to thank you, as my brother, for giving me, Jesus.” And he looked at me and he goes, “You do realize I just repeat what you do.” It doesn’t matter. I don’t care who it’s coming from. It could come from the mouth of a child, but it’s Jesus.
Justin Perdue: I agree. One of the young guys in our church, whom I love dearly, leads service a decent amount and preaches on occasion. He welcomes people to church. I’m sitting there on the front row and he’s welcoming everybody and just kind of letting them know, “If you’re going to know anything about us here at CBC, here’s what you need to know.” Every week he reminds people of what we are and how wretched we are and how we’re coming in here feeling all kinds of ways. “Maybe you’re crushing it this week, maybe you’re despairing, but here’s why we’re all here. Here’s what we need. Here’s what Jesus has done. We need Christ and we need each other.” I’m sitting there and I’m just like, “Yeah, let’s do this thing. This is what I need.” And it’s so wonderful. Yeah, those are things that I’ve probably said a thousand times. Sure. But I’m listening to my brother-in-Christ say them and I’m like, “Absolutely. I’m a disaster. I’m a wreck. Everything that I’ve done this week has been tainted with sin. I’ve been fighting against my own corruption. I’m exhausted and I need to be reminded of the hope that is mine. And brother, thank you for giving me Christ and pointing this whole congregation to Jesus before we even read the Scriptural call to worship.”
Jon Moffitt: One last thing. We started this a while back and we’re slowly transitioning it in our church. What we do is we have one song, then we welcome, and then we do scripture reading. Right after scripture reading, and so we are presented with God’s truth, we all read out loud to each other a corporate prayer of confession. Some of these confessions are very pointed. They’re very pointed. At the end of each confession, we proclaim 1 John, which is those who confess their sins, he is faithful and just to forgive it. And every time I’m able to preach the gospel. We just confess our utter and failure before the Father. We just received the pardon and assurance. Is there any greater reason to sing than now? Now that we’ve done this, our congregation doesn’t see singing as like, “Oh, this is what we do.” We see singing as we were just pardoned. We were just reminded of the gospel and man, do these people sing out because it’s like, “Let’s praise Christ for what he’s done again this Sunday.” And then we go into preaching God’s word.
Justin Perdue: We’re singing Christ. That was a good parting shot.
Thank you to the members for listening to this edition of the members podcast. Thank you again for your generous support of the ministry. Continue to tell others about Theocast and help us spread this wonderful news of the sufficiency of Christ and the rest that we have in him to many people as possible.
Thank you and we will speak with you again next week.