MEMBERS: Q&A: Confessional Theology, Justification & Sanctification, and Church Discipline (Transcript)

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Justin Perdue: We are continuing our live webinar Q&A. This has been a really great time so far. The only negative to any of this is that we’ve answered like five or ten out of I can’t even tell you how many questions we’ve received. Thank you so much for your participation in this, and please don’t be offended if we have not gotten to answer your question.

Before we jump into this, we want to thank our members pointedly for their support of Theocast. We say this stuff all the time, and it is sincere. We couldn’t do what we’re doing without you, and you have a much bigger hand in keeping Theocast going than you might realize. Thank you for partnering with us and continue to do so and tell others about it. Spread the word so that we can spread this wonderful reformation theology of the sufficiency of Christ and the rest that is ours in him too as many people as possible.

Jon, I’m going to go and throw it over to you. I know you’ve got a question that you’re ready with.

Jon Moffitt: Sarah Bosch is asking a question in response to something we had said in the Proverbs podcast, which is we had mentioned that there are differences between Lutherans and reformed folk regarding Law and gospel. Can I clarify? We record those, and I don’t remember everything we say, so I would need to go back. I think of what I was referencing is maybe third use of the Law. I could be wrong there.

With the Law-gospel distinction, I will say that not everyone in the reformed world would agree on the Law-gospel distinction. That is even in some real debates that go on. I would say that I got most of my information from Lutherans when it comes to the Law and the gospel distinction.

I think on the third use of the Law, some of the responses that we received from Lutherans were… They would describe it a little bit differently than we would. I had a long conversation about this, and they would say that there are three uses. In terms of how they describe them, that would take an entire podcast, and we should probably have a Lutheran on to answer, so I don’t answer for them. But I do know that they probably wouldn’t order them the way that we do.

Justin Perdue: They order them differently.

Jon Moffitt: I didn’t really even answer your question.

Jimmy Buehler: I think the answer is it depends. It’s contingent on who you’re asking. There are so many little nuances there that it’s difficult to really nail that one down.

Jon Moffitt: Next question, you guys. A 2 Corinthians 3:15 came to us. Roland from Arizona and I interacted through email and Roland asks, “What is meant by 2 Corinthians 13:5 when Paul says, ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith, test yourselves or do you not realize this about yourself, that Jesus Christ is in you unless indeed you fail to meet the test.'” I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard use this as a form to scare people out of nominalism, and out of laziness. “They aren’t living the Christian life. There’s not enough fruit in their lives.” There is a whole number of reasons that this has been used. I know that in the lordship crowd, they use this; “If you say you’re a believer and you aren’t acting like you’re a believer, then you need to examine yourself.” By what type of examination are we looking for? Are we looking at how much fruit is enough fruit to know that you’re a believer? What is the standard that you’re looking for? Does Paul give us the standard by which we can determine whether we are in the faith or not?

I know the confessions will say that our good works can bolster our assurance, but they are not the ground of our assurance. If Paul says in the faith, he’s talking about the ground by which you are standing on. The three of us had a conversation about this. What is it actually that Paul is getting at here? Is it questioning nominalism, or is there a context that’s going on here?

Justin Perdue: The context of 2 Corinthians is that there’s a huge debate swirling in the Corinthian church about the legitimacy of Paul’s ministry and his apostleship. There are other “super apostles,” as he even refers to them as, and so he is defending the legitimacy of his own ministry at points in that letter. It’s our understanding around the microphones that what Paul is speaking to there is the fact that many of the people in the church at Corinth were converted under his own ministry and according to his own preaching of Christ.

What he’s saying is that if his legitimacy is in question, and he’s not really an apostle because he’s not doing signs and wonders and all these crazy things that these super apostles are doing, then Corinthian church might want to examine themselves to see if they’re even in the faith legitimately. Because if Paul is illegitimate, maybe the Corinthian church is too. If Paul’s gospel is illegitimate, then maybe the Corinthian church is not saved. If Paul’s teaching and my ministry, in general, are not on the level, then maybe the Corinthian church should be concerned. That’s a short answer.

Jon Moffitt: To add to that before we move on, this does not mean that Paul is wanting every single believer to be examining their selves, fruit-checking every single day of their life. This is what causes people to not live in rest because instead of looking outside of themselves, looking to Christ and the reality that they are safe because of their faith in Christ, and that their growth is a monergistic – meaning it’s something that’s being done to them, it’s not something that they are doing to themselves. Do we cooperate? That’s a whole another conversation we’ll get to. But just to be clear, the Christian is not to be living every single day examining their life to make sure that they can check the box and say, “Yeah, I’m good today.” This is what church discipline, which going back to it, if you have a sin in your life and you’re unwilling to repent of it, and you’re unwilling to see that you need to restoration and forgiveness from Christ, then that may apply to you. But in context, you cannot use that verse and apply it to say that every single Christian needs to be examining themselves. Unless it’s, “Do I believe that Christ is the only sufficient Savior? That he is the only one to remove sin and make my standing before God acceptable?” By faith, then if that’s your examination, that’s fine. But I don’t think the context is what he means.

Jimmy Buehler: I’m going to bring in another question because it’s so similarly related. This question comes from Jeff, and it says, “How does Satan primarily seek to rob Christians of their assurance and how do they contradict the truth of the gospel?”

As we’re continuing to talk about this, I’m going, to be honest. I don’t think Satan has to do much because either you do it – you do his job well enough – or perhaps your part of a context where it’s preached to you well enough. In so many people’s lives, Satan or some demonic spirit doesn’t really need to come at you and rob your assurance because frankly, if you’re anything like me, you do a good enough job for the enemy himself. You’ll start looking at all of these things in your life. “Am I doing this enough? Am I reading, praying, singing, and worshiping privately? Am I doing this enough?” But when you take a step back, and you begin to look at that, what you’re doing is you are grounding your assurance not in what Christ has done for you, but in what you are doing for Christ. A piece of literature to kind of just bathe in for a long period of time is Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, where he talks about this extensively. One of the theses he says is that the Law says do this, and it is never done.

You could say, “I’ve prayed today. I’ve read Scripture today. I served my neighbor today. I think I’m okay.” The Law would say, “But have you done enough? Have you done it perfectly? How do you know that you’ve read enough Scripture? How do you know that you’ve prayed the right prayers? How do you know that you’re not doing those things? Just to kind of prop them up before the Lord? How do you know this? How do you know that?” What does the gospel say? The gospel says, believe this, and it is already done. That is Law-gospel in a nutshell. The Law says do this, and it’s never done.

I shared in our high school chapel the other week. I was telling these kids, “The Law tells us that you are not good enough. But here’s why that’s good news because Christ is good enough for you.” Does that mean we discount any and all good works? No, not at all. But it means that we reframe them in that, as Luther said, God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. Your good works benefit nothing to your justification, but your good works benefit your neighbor. And so, it’s not that we tell people, “Don’t love people” or “Don’t pray” or “Don’t read your Bible.” We’ll certainly do those things. But we do them in view of God’s goodness to us as revealed in Christ, for the good of our neighbor. So, I think that’s a little different.

Justin Perdue: This one comes from Charlie in California. I’m going to read it. “As a pastor who had a grace awakening, transitioned from pietistic evangelicalism, and spent a couple of years preaching Christ in my congregation and deconstructing our former beliefs and practices, I then found it difficult to actually call my people to follow and obey. I found myself either apologizing or circling back and emphasizing resting in Christ. However, over time it seemed like I had a single drum to beat. I don’t mean Christ. Of course, I should always be pointing to Christ. I never really called anyone to anything, at least not without disclaimers.” But Jesus really did everything, you know. Now you’re just really living out that reality. And he says, “I know that that’s true, but can we just stop saying it every time? Or if we do, do we run the risk of people sliding back into pietism and performances?”

This is a good question, pastorally, in terms of preaching. We here around the mics, we do emphasize rest in Christ in anything and everything. We always talk about the fact that the Christian life is identity forward; we are in Christ, and then we live in that identity; we are justified. That’s our status, and we live forward from that. But this is where the uses of the Law are important. This is where even just expositional preaching, preaching the text, is important.

So, Charlie, you’re not alone in being a pendulum swinger. We all are. We tend to swing from one view to another view, and the pendulum rarely stops in the middle. We often react against pietism, or we react against the things that we’ve experienced, and we go too far where we then feel some kind of guilt or some sense of wrongness going on if we’re going to call people to any sort of obedience, or if we tell people to flee sin or pursue righteousness. The uses of the Law are helpful here in that we can not only preach the first use, which we should do every Sunday – the first use of the Law being to show us our sin and drive us to Christ. The Law requires perfection of you, and it crushes you, and you can’t meet it and now run to Jesus. But then the second and third uses, which are two, to restrain our corruption and then also to serve as the perfect guide for our lives in Christ, are really important for us as we see imperatives in the text.

When God tells us that something is good for our lives, we encourage our people to pursue it. When God tells us something is sin and will thereby bring wreckage in our lives, we encourage our people to flee from it. We’re just using the Law lawfully in those ways as we preach the whole counsel of God’s word.

That’s how I think through it as a preacher. I want to be very clear on the first use and the sufficiency of Christ, and then within that and underneath that, use the Law rightly: to encourage my people to pursue righteousness and to flee from sin because it’s going to be good for their lives, it will honor the Lord, and we are safe to do that in Christ.

That’s a wonderful thing. Calvin would say that in Christ Jesus, the Law is our kind adviser, so we can preach accordingly. We don’t need to preach the third use of the Law in particular in a threatening way. The problem with many guys in the pulpit, and we’ve all heard this and experienced this, is they preach the third use of the Law – the Law as guide – with first use of the Law tone. It’s threatening, crushing you, and that’s the problem. Preach the third and use it with an appropriate tone, understanding that we’re safe in Jesus. Then preach the first use, preach the Law in all of its holiness and all its terror outside of Christ, and encourage the saints anew to run to Jesus, for safety, and for their righteousness.

Jon Moffitt: When I made the transition out of pietism and legalism, and I say this for the sake of my wife, I have a personality where I can swing from one direction to the other very quickly. If I’m convinced it’s wrong, then I’m, I’m gone, I’m over here, and I’m going to go way over here. That’s good in some circumstances, but it’s really bad in others because you don’t take time to realize all of the implications that must go with it. I get really excited about one thing, I’ll just go ahead and jump into it, and when I look back, and there’s a wreckage of a bunch of cars behind me that should have followed, but I was too reckless in getting into my lane. I felt this where I had a hard time telling somebody to do anything. I didn’t want to be a legalist, or I didn’t want them to not rest in Christ. The way in which we understand the importance of the church and the function of the church, along with our freedom in Christ, is what keeps the obedience that every believer should have in check. So, if you only emphasize obedience apart from the gospel, then you are going to be a legalist and a pietist. If you only emphasize grace without the outflow of grace… The outflow of grace is love for neighbor. I would say the joy that we have of the gospel is then taking the message we have received of the gospel, and with joy, taking that same message and then giving it to someone else.

You don’t live the gospel. We’ll do another podcast on that. No one lives the gospel.

Justin Perdue: But one guy did.

Jon Moffitt: One guy.

Jimmy Buehler: One. That’s it.

Justin Perdue: His name is Jesus.

Jon Moffitt: When you feel the sense of freedom that “I live in grace. The Father is accepting me. Nothing I do or don’t do will ever change that. Now I have the freedom to love neighbor as I should for their benefit and for the glory of God, never in fear but always in a sense of rest.” When someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, Jon, you should do this. It makes total sense to me.” I’m not afraid. I live in grace. If my neighbor needs my help, then I’ll absolutely do that.

Most preachers that I’ve talked to that make this transition… It is a hard transition. They’re afraid to preach obedience.

I guess I had the next question.

Jimmy Buehler: You do. We’re all waiting.

Jon Moffitt: I do. Uh, I think it, uh, is, is, uh, the reason that I think it fits is that, so Ricky Lozano asks this question, “On how much a Christian should sin, you touch on fear-based preaching. Fear-based preaching has damaged my conscience. How do I recover from this?” You are not alone.

I was talking with a pastor yesterday, and he told me that after listening to some very famous Calvinistic preachers that are on the internet, that he had to stop listening to them because every time he did, he would begin to question his assurance. So, he just stopped. The first key is maybe don’t listen to that. I would say that I don’t have a problem with someone preaching sin if you are guilty of sin, and you need to repent of your sin. But I will tell you that Paul says in Romans that the kindness of God is meant to lead us to repentance.

I think you need to find preaching that is going to preach to you the objective realities of Christ, to remind you that you are accepted in the eyes of God, not based upon how much you don’t sin or how far you have come in your sanctification, or how well your emotional status is or how much affection you have for him. God never accepts you based upon your lack of sin, your presence of holiness, or your emotional status. He is always accepting of you based upon His love that He set upon you and the gift of the Spirit that you have in faith. It is always a reality, and from that position, then you can find obedience.

If someone is always calling into question your assurance based upon your level of obedience, I’m going to tell you there isn’t a man alive or a woman alive that will measure up to that.

Jimmy Buehler: Like Ricky, I’ve been there. I began to “mature” as a believer in the Calvingelical world. When I was in college, this kind of fear-based preaching was getting really popular. It was when this kind of preaching was just kind of starting to be plastered all over the internet. I just dove right in, began to listen to a lot of it, and it ruined me. You could go all the way back to my very first interview here on Theocast and just listen to my experience with it.

Now that I’ve kind of come out of that, I don’t know what the infatuation with that sort of preaching is. I have a few guesses, and one of those would be that you are in this self-righteous place. I think it makes people feel good that they can throw something out to people and just say, “See? I’m killing it. I’m slaying the Christian life.” I think there’s a little bit of that. I just saw a post earlier before we got on. Somebody posting a video clip along the lines of, “Here are the things to know if you are a Christian.” The title of the video is, “Do you know if you are really saved?” Can we cut that out? I don’t know how helpful that really is. We joke with the phrase, we try to get people scared, sanctified, and it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because it does one of two things. One, it either breaks the bruised reed, or it makes people feel really good about their own righteousness, which they don’t have.

Justin Perdue: I’m going to make an observation about this kind of preaching in the Calvinistic sphere in particular, and then try and make an edifying comment and then close this down. An observation that I’ve made over time is how Calvinists will often talk about Arminians or semi-Pelagians in terms of the lack of assurance that exists in those theological schemes – where people can lose their salvation and fall away.

As Calvinists, we believe in the preservation of the saints. In this kind of fear-based Calvinistic preaching, there’s an even worse, more sinister kind of eroding assurance that takes place. It’s absolutely terrible because instead of saying, “In an Arminian sense where there’s prevenient grace, and we all had the playing field level and we can now choose Christ or not,” or in the semi-Pelagian sense, “We fell, but we didn’t fall that badly so we can still make a choice for Christ.” As a Calvinist, guys will say, “You can’t choose Christ. He must draw you to himself. The Father must do that, and God must have chosen you. Your salvation is all of God. But if you continue on as you are and you don’t improve in this particular way or that particular way, or if your affections are not where they should be, then you’re just going to prove yourself to be an unbeliever.” You’ve just eroded and exploded any possibility of assurance that could have ever existed. It’s worse because you’re telling me, “If God chose you, He’s going to do this. But if you keep living how you are, you’re just going to prove yourself to be an unbeliever.”

Well, thank you for that because now every one of us sitting here listening to you, if we have a conscience that’s working at all, and if we’re aware at all of our own internal war in the way that we’re fighting our sin, we have no hope now. We really don’t know where to look. Maybe this thing you’re saying about Jesus and Christianity is legitimate, and it just didn’t take with me. I don’t know.

It’s really sad how this wrecks people. I don’t want to impugn those guys’ motivations; I’m confident that people that preach this way mean well, and they want to instill a sense of awe and wonder, and they want people to be reverent before the Lord, and all of those kinds of things. But I think that you’re misrepresenting God. He is not just a holy God, He is a gracious God, He is a righteous God, and He is a merciful God. When we overemphasize one aspect of His nature to the neglect of another, we’re misrepresenting Him.

The Lord, who is holy and righteous and who always does right, and is the judge of all the earth, describes Himself as being merciful and gracious and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, and He delights to save sinners. He has given His Son in the place of wretches like us so that we might be declared righteous, conformed into the Son’s image, and might dwell with God forever.

We live in that safe, rock-solid reality. Then in the midst of that safety and security, and that peace in that rest, we can be exhorted and encouraged to press on, trust in Christ, seeking to conform our lives to the word of God by God’s grace.

We here at Theocast, we’re not alone in this. This is how people thought for centuries: that safety and security and peace and rest can propel us forward in the Christian life. They are great motivators for the pursuit of obedience. You don’t need to scare people and scold them to holiness, as Jimmy said. It takes a number of years, sometimes a detox from this stuff. So, brother, just continue to look to Christ as your righteousness, your entire and only righteousness and continue to live in him.

Jon Moffitt: Faith Vs. Faithfulness. If you haven’t read that, please do. Shoot us an email, and we’ll send you a free copy of the pilgrim’s guide to rest. We’ll send you a physical copy of that, so we’ll send that out to you as a way to encourage you.

Justin Perdue: Thank you once again to all the people who have tuned in today and who have been a part of this live webinar – it’s our first experience with this. This has been fun. Thank you again to our members for all of your generous support. We’re grateful for you.

We hope that you all have been encouraged by this conversation. I know I have. I’ve enjoyed being a part of it, and we look forward to having another conversation with you next week.

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