Jon Moffitt: Welcome to the members’ podcast. As always, thank you for supporting us. We are trying desperately to provide more of this material as much as we can, and we want to thank you for your monthly support because it allows us to do that.
Justin, this was a bit punchier of a podcast for us today. It took us quite a bit of a gasoline to get it off the ground just because we were trying to be careful to make the conversation helpful and not just a poke in the eye at Catholics.
This conversation really is important, and we held back a little bit on the regular podcast and rightfully so, because there are so many new people who are constantly listening to us. We want them to be able to digest what we’re saying without being offended. Those of you that are members, you probably have listened to us at least for a little bit, and I just want to say that one of the things that Justin and I, as any pastor, try very hard to do is shepherd, love, and care for our people. We are very protective of their faith. We become very animated when anybody comes in and starts to bring fear and doubt into their hope.
Unfortunately, large respected evangelicals will say things that undermine the foundation of what we have been trying to establish and what Reformers have been trying to establish for the last 500 years if they’re not careful with what they’re thinking. This is the downside of the Internet. This is the downside of modern publishing. People can quickly go and put something out there without contemplating it. I can be guilty of this as well, but this is why we try to be so careful about what we say on Theocast because the implications of it are massive.
What some of these men have done has brought unbelievable amounts of guilt and fear upon people to where they can’t even sleep at night. You and I know this to be true because they’re in our churches. We shepherd these people. So we are a little animated and a little, or I would say a lot, concerned that this type of theology needs to be checked very quickly because it will have long lasting effects in the evangelical world, and it’s going to affect the way that pastors shepherd their people, which then is going to affect the next generations to come.
Justin Perdue: So true. I have tons of things written down on my whiteboard right now in response to what you’re saying. I am motivated very much by a pastoral concern for my people. I’m concerned for people that would listen to me speak on a platform like this. If we are honest with ourselves, in our sane moments we all know that we struggle with sin. We all know that we do not meet God’s standard. We all know that we have broken all of God’s commands; we’ve never really kept any of them. Like John Newton has written of himself, “We are riddles to ourselves and we’re heaps of inconsistence.” We’ve got nothing to say in our own defense because we’re still battling our corruption – and life is hard for us a lot of times. The standard and the yoke that is placed upon people by many guys who claim to be gospel preachers or Reformed in their theology is a burden that we are not meant to bear in Christ.
What does it do? It’s a burden that people can’t bear and it ends up robbing people of joy, it robs people of peace, and it robs saints of assurance. When you place this kind of yoke on people that was not intended to be there, and you turn good works into something meritorious or to escape God’s wrath, you actually hinder real growth in sanctification. People start to pursue it for the wrong reasons, and they’re motivated by fear and dread; they’re not motivated by gospel, and they’re not motivated by love of God and neighbor.
I’m with Martin Luther in that we all we need grace and peace. One of the reasons why Paul and other apostles would greet people, “Grace to you and peace from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” is because we need grace. We need to be reminded of grace all the time because we’re sinners. We need to be reminded that we have peace with God all the time because we have troubled consciences. I think that is true of almost all people – and I’m talking about people in the church. My big issue in part with this is that you are bludgeoning, wounding, and hurting Christ’s people for whom he died. You are hindering them in not only their sanctification, but also their joy and the rest that they would know in Jesus. You are causing people to really doubt whether or not they are really righteous in the sight of God. Jesus has already settled this; he is enough and he is sufficient and I will die for that. I would stake my ministry on that. That’s why I get heated because to me, it’s a question of the sufficiency of Christ and it also is harming the saints. I know the damage that it has done to me, so I have some existential skin in the game when it comes to that too.
The other thing I’ll say is that it’s ridiculously inconsistent, theologically and intellectually, to say some of the things that guys say: that Jesus has saved us but now you better go do your part. It almost comes across as theological and intellectual schizophrenia. I just don’t have a lot of respect for that kind of thing. I know that these brothers mean well, and I’m not trying to impugn their motivations, and I know that I’m a sinner and I’m fallible and I make errors, too. But we’re standing on the shoulders of people who have gotten this right throughout the history of the church when we say these things.
Jon Moffitt: This is not new. It’s new, but it’s not historically new. It’s new to a lot of people in modern day context.
Justin Perdue: So old that it sounds new because people just never heard it.
Jon Moffitt: A lot of the accusation is that people who hold this position are not concerned with holiness. We uphold the holiness of God. We uphold the required holiness of the believer.
Justin Perdue: It’s an old worn out argument.
Jon Moffitt: I am concerned with holiness. I think that it’s a very important part of the Christian faith. This is James 2 that we had already mentioned. But the thing is there is so much tension in Scripture and there are things that really pull at each other, and you have to be okay with the tension. You also have to be okay with not everything being crisp and clean because the nature of God is so contrary to the nature of man that it is hard for us to wrap our minds around what it is that God is doing.
Here’s a great example: we don’t understand why God allows the kind of atrocities that happen in the world, but He does. We also don’t understand why God would save sinners by grace through faith alone. Those are both two things we don’t understand, but they’re both true. We can’t give a full explanation other than that’s the way that God communicated His will to us in His word. The moment you try and explain those and make them work, you will start changing the nature of God into the nature of man. The moment you start infusing works into salvation, you are now trying to create a man-based system. Men naturally want to justify themselves – it is part of our nature. Look at all false religions out there; they’re all self-justifications. Every false religion is a self-justification religion. You do not have religions that are based upon grace alone. Name me a false religion that is based upon grace alone. They’re just not there because it’s contrary to the nature of men.
Justin Perdue: There is not one.
Jon Moffitt: That should tell you something that every false religion tells you: that there is something required of you in order for you to be accepted for whatever deity or their version of God that is available.
Justin Perdue: A lot of times people will hear us say that Christianity is the only religion that is based upon grace, and that we are saved by grace apart from anything we ever do. People might wrongly conclude, therefore, that Christianity is not concerned with upright living or with morality. That’s not true. I want to be very clear what makes Christianity utterly distinct in the scope of world religion is not its morality; it’s its message, its story that Christ saves sinners. At the same time, the standard of righteousness is greater in Scripture than any other religious standard is because God requires not just outward conformity to his holy and perfect Law, but He requires conformity to his holy and perfect Law at the level of the heart, the level of the thoughts, the desires, everything. He commands complete and perfect obedience to his Law, and of course, nobody’s ever done it.
Here is the thing: it’s not like Christianity skimps on the requirement of God in order to save sinners. If anything, the standard is higher than the other religions, but God meets the standard for us in Christ, applies it to us, and then changes our lives. Then one day upon the resurrection, we will be absolutely and totally be perfectly righteous and we will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our heavenly Father. That will come. We’re promised that we will be completely conformed in the image of Christ. That does mean that we’ll be resurrected with a body like his, but it also means it will be perfect like him.
So it’s not as though we’re skimping on the idea of being sanctified or being holy. The real issue here for us, if we’re really going to try to make some distinctions amongst the redeemed and those who aren’t, it’s not that the redeemed are not sinning and the ones who aren’t saved are still sinning, it’s that the redeemed, in terms of their lives on the whole, are concerned and bothered about their sin, are desiring in a real way from the heart to be obedient. When I preach in my local church context to people who I understand to be redeemed, I am preaching and teaching in such a way as though I believe that they are in Christ and that they battle their corruption, and at times they might even like sin too much. Because I do. But at the heart of it, you want to obey God and you want to be holy and you don’t want to sin. I trust you’re praying along with how Jesus taught us to pray on a regular basis. “Forgive me for my sins and lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.” That’s the prayers of the saints.
That’s the thing that really gets my blood boiling, Jon, is that I think that so much of the modus operandi in the evangelical church today – and there are reasons as to why this is the case – is that nominal Christianity is in the crosshairs and we’ve got to smoke out all the fakers. But in trying to smoke out the fakers – which by the way Jesus tells us to not try to weed the tares out amongst the wheat or we’re going to kill the wheat, which doesn’t mean we don’t practice church discipline because we do but those are different things – we end up bludgeoning the sheep and destroying the assurance of everybody in the room. I think there’s a better way.
Jon Moffitt: We believe that God uses the ordinary means of grace, including the sacraments, to strengthen our faith. Those are designed to sustain the believers’ faith. So we are gifted a faith, and then God says He is also gifting us with these means, which are the ordinary ways in which your faith will be not only sustained but strengthened as you live the rest of your life. You are to look to the means to motivate and sustain you. You’ve added a fifth means of ordinary, and that is introspection. So it is the preached word of God, the table, baptism, prayer, and now introspection. You could also say disciplines – disciplines is now the new means. Nowhere in Scripture are you ever appointed introspectively to sustain your faith. We’ve dealt with this passage in a recent question: “Examine yourself to see if you’re of the faith.” He’s saying examine where you’re placing your faith, not your obedience or your holiness. That is not what he’s saying. Hebrews 12 is not entirely speaking of a personal holiness or personal righteousness in context either. The struggle we’re having here is that you are placing a burden on people when you say, “Listen to the word of God, read your Bible, pray, receive the table, and introspectively be examining your works to determine if they are enough that you are justified.” If you look at the ordinary means, they’re all extra nos – they’re all outside of you. It’s all reception.
Justin Perdue: In particular, you are receiving Christ through those means. You are looking to God via the means. You’re receiving Christ in the word, you’re united to Christ, which is typified in your baptism, you are receiving Christ in the table, we pray to God in Christ, we sing of the redemptive work of Christ. I could go on and on. It’s all by faith in Christ, looking toward God the Father that way.
Jon Moffitt: There are things that can encourage and bolster our faith. I would say creation can be one of those. As we examine creation and we see the glory of God, we say that’s our God who saved us. But it’s not an ordinary means, but it is a means. Good works can bolster your confession.
It’s exactly what they say that examining what God is doing in your life can bolster your faith, but it’s not the ordinary way in which He does it. We have to understand the difference between what God has instituted and what God can use.
Justin Perdue: It’s very different to say that our faith, or even our assurance, is bolstered by examining our good works rather than saying an essential part of our assurance is our good works. Those are very different things. To say I’m bolstered and encouraged by the fact that God is changing me – that’s biblical; that’s reformed. But to say that I know that I’m saved in looking to what I’m doing, no. I’m not going to find assurance in my good works though my assurance can be bolstered by it.
Jon Moffitt: This has been a good discussion. It’s been a long discussion and we’ve enjoyed it. Hopefully this is helpful.
If you have questions, feel free to reach out. If you have not signed up for the podcast feed yet, go to theocast.org/members and you can see our Theocast Academy there. You can access our recommended reading list, where we have a large list of books that we recommend on all different kinds of topics from justification, sanctification, historical theology, covenant theology – that’s all there. It’s a growing list and we’re adding to it. We’re about to add a bunch of new books to the covenant section. So be looking to that. We’ll let you know when we update those.
Thank you for your ongoing support. We’ll see you guys next week.