Justin Perdue: Hi, this is Justin. Today on Theocast, we are going to answer a question that we get all the time not just in the ministry of Theocast, but also even in our own local churches. We talk about Reformed theology and being Reformed all the time so people will rightly ask us, “What do you mean by that? What does the word Reformed mean?” In today’s episode, Jon and I will be answering that question.
We hope that this is helpful to you. Stay tuned.
Five points of Reformed theology – by that we don’t mean that Theocast is definitively laying down the gauntlet for what the litmus test of Reformed theology is. These are just five tenet or five major pieces of Reformed theology from our perspective.
Jon Moffitt: In our area, Reformed theology is not popular. A lot of people don’t know what it is, which is partly why we decided to put it in the name of the church. I give these five points to people who come to our church for the first time.
Again, to Justin’s point, these could be altered a little bit – you could add some or adjust a little bit. But we would say historically speaking, if you were to look at the history of the word and the concept of Reformed and a Reformed church, these five are what would be in all contexts of a Reformed church.
The first one that Justin and I would agree on is that the words “Reformed” or “Reformed church”, and I know this might be a big or controversial word for people, is going to be Calvinistic. They would hold to what we would say is the five points of Calvinism.
Justin, for someone who has no idea and is just curious about Reformed theology, please give us a helpful definition of Calvinism.
Justin Perdue: I’m not going to give the five points of Calvinism. A brief plug: we did five episodes – one on each of the five points – a while back. That is available to anybody for a donation of any amount. We would refer you to those if you want a more detailed unpacking of each of the five points.
The simplest way to define Calvinistic theology historically, and from our perspective here at Theocast, is that God is sovereign and purposeful in all things and He certainly is in redemption. When it comes to the salvation of sinners, there is one Worker, there is one Person, one Being who accomplishes salvation – and that is God Himself. In other words, salvation belongs to the Lord. God saves sinners. This is what Calvinistic theology would teach.
To use a word that is slightly more technical and theological but is good for us to know, as Calvinists, we believe that salvation is monergistic. “Mono” means one, and then the word “ergo” means work. There is one Worker, and that is God. We contribute nothing to our salvation. All we bring is our sin and God does everything necessary to save sinners. He grabs us and pulls us from the realm of death into life. He gives us His Spirit. He counts us with the righteousness of Christ. He provides us with everything that we need. We are redeemed through His work, and not our work.
Jon Moffitt: We have that perspective of Scripture where we believe that the Bible clearly teaches that man is dead in their sin; there is nothing they can do to bring themselves to life. This is why the Spirit must come through the preaching of the gospel and bring them to life. To those who would understand a Reformed perspective throughout history, this affects the way that we preach, teach, and do church. This is because we don’t believe we can change the minds of men, that salvation is not a will issue where I can convince someone to believe Jesus and follow him. This changes the way in which we preach because we are trust in the power of the gospel and not convincing men to change their minds. We believe that God has to do that through the Spirit.
Reformed theology, when it comes to Calvinism, is not just thinking there are these five points. It actually shapes and molds the way we preach, the way we teach, and the way that we administer the gospel and evangelize.
Justin Perdue: We believe that God saves sinners; we do not believe that we save ourselves with God’s help. That has a lot of implications, and some of it were already mentioned by Jon. I don’t feel like I need to get up and defend the five points of Calvinism and what it entails when I preach the gospel. Calvinism, as it is so-called, is really just part and parcel of the good news that tells of what Christ has accomplished, that he has done it, and that there is nothing left for sinners to do.
Jon Moffitt: There’s a famous quote by Spurgeon, and I think what he was trying to do was pull the title out of Calvinism. He literally says, “Calvinism is the gospel.” Often people say, “I don’t believe in a man. I just want to believe in the Bible.” All we’re saying is that historically speaking, this is what the Bible says. If you understand the context of where it comes from, it’s just the explanation that we were arguing over: is it man or is it God? Calvin got in the middle of that argument.
Justin Perdue: It’s pure unadjusted gospel. Spurgeon’s quote is saying that we don’t believe we are preaching the gospel unless we are preaching what is nowadays called Calvinism. There’s the first piece of how we understand Reformed theology. It is Calvinistic theology.
Let’s move on to a second major tenant or a second major piece of Reformed theology: covenantal theology. We recently did a five-part series, which is An Introduction to Covenant Theology in which I think I made the statement, and I stand by this, that Reformed theology is covenant theology. These two things are inextricably linked. Even before we recorded this session, Jon and I were debating whether we would do covenantal theology or Calvinism first because that’s how primary we understand this covenantal perspective to be.
Just a brief word on the history of this before we consider the theology itself. As the Reformation happened in the 16th century, in the aftermath of that, the people who came out of the Reformation in the Reformed tradition all understood themselves to be covenantal. That was true whether you were a Presbyterian in terms of your, your polity and how you administered baptism. It also is true of Independents and true of particular Baptists. Broadly speaking, in the 17th century, all of those groups of people understood themselves to be covenantal. That is our heritage as Protestants here in America. That is certainly true for us, Jon, as we adhere to the 1689 London Baptist Confession.
When we say covenant theology, broadly speaking, we don’t just mean that there are covenants in the Bible. We don’t just mean that God works through covenants. I think Christians everywhere agree with that statement. We are talking about a framework through which we understand and interpret Scripture.
Jon Moffitt: Historically speaking, there have been developed systems or lenses or structures that we read the Bible from. Some of you may have heard of what’s called a dispensational understanding of Scripture. Counteract to that is what we would say is covenantal. To Justin’s point, we believe that the all of Scripture is the unfolding revelation. It’s the story that’s getting progressively revealed as each page goes through. What is it revealing? It’s revealing the redemption of sinners. It is fixing what Adam and Eve destroyed. We would say that covenantalism is a redemptive-historic understanding of Scripture where all the Scripture is the unfolding story of redemption.
A good example of this is if you were to go to Ephesians 1. I love how Jimmy used this illustration in our covenant theology series: there is this quick introduction or the montage before the movie begins in the Avengers stories. Before you read Genesis 1, you need to know that there’s this conversation that happened between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, where there was a promise made. These promises were made between the Father and the Son, that the Father would redeem for Himself a chosen people, that He would save them from their sins, and the Son would come. The Son committed to the father to obey the will, which is to be the replacement, the sacrifice, and the righteousness needed.
Historically speaking, this is what the Reformers would say is what we call the covenant of redemption. It’s a promise that was made to redeem sinners. From that, you have to ask how it is going to happen. How is He going to redeem sinners? Now you can go to Genesis 3 and begin to read. What you learn is what’s called bicovenantalism or two covenants. You learn about the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Then the whole structure of the Bible is the outflow of this one covenant: the covenant of redemption. It’s now going to be accomplished right through the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
Justin, why don’t you give us a fuller explanation of bicovenantalism?
Justin Perdue: I agree with you and I just want to restate something that you just said. It’s important for our understanding that the covenant of redemption – that was made amongst the Godhead before the world began – is what is accomplished in time and space through the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. All of history is an unfolding of the covenant of redemption in that respect. The covenant of works is the covenant that God makes with Adam in the garden of Eden. We would read about that in Genesis 1 and 2 where there are positives commands that God gives to Adam as to what he is to do with his life. There is a prohibition made which is that he is not to eat the fruit of a particular tree and there are sanctions placed upon him if he violates that covenant. The tree of life is there in the garden and it shows up again at the end of the story in the book of Revelation. We understand that as representative of the eternal life that Adam would have achieved and accomplished for his posterity, as well as for himself, had he kept the covenant. To use the language of the prophet Hosea, he transgressed the covenant. To use the language of Paul, Adam fell. He did not accomplish what God laid out for him. He violated the prohibition. The sanctions were rolling forth upon him from that point forward. Death came and sin entered the world. There was corruption and the like.
This covenant of works, or this conditional covenant that God made with Adam, has been broken and things don’t look good at this point. How then will the covenant of redemption be accomplished? That is through the covenant of grace, that God promises initially in Genesis 3:15, when He says to Adam and Eve that from the woman a seed will come who will crush the head of the serpent – the serpent being the devil. What happens from that point forward? We see the promise of the covenant of grace revealed further and further through Abraham, Moses, and David. And then we see the covenant of grace itself established through Jesus in the new covenant and in the covenant of grace.
Unlike the covenant of works, the covenant of grace is an unconditional covenant where we do nothing. We receive what Christ has done and are counted righteous in him. Our sin is atoned for and removed from us, we are reconciled to God, and we are redeemed by grace through faith in Christ alone. That’s the bicovenantal framework of works and grace. This is absolutely essential to Reformed theology.
Jon Moffitt: The word grace is important to understand because grace means to receive unmerited favor. That means you are receiving gifts that you do not deserve or earn. When we say covenant of grace, God made a promise to give to His chosen people salvation and righteousness. He would cleanse them and make them holy through glorification, through this resurrected body. God promised that to Eve, clarified it to Abraham, and it is further seen through types and shadows – meaning that a type is something that is pointing you to something that is farther. The shadow is not the actual substance, but it is a reflection of the substance. The Mosaic law becomes this constant shadow.
We use this illustration in the covenant theology series: when you are brought a menu with pictures of burritos, taquitos, and enchiladas, those are not the actual substance but a type of the substance. Then take that menu away because I don’t need it anymore. Why? Because they’re bringing out the actual antitype. They’re bringing out the actual substance. The Old Testament is this unfolding story of God giving us more and more types so we can, with great confidence and clarity, that when the Messiah shows up, we can point to him and say that is the antitype we have been looking for. That’s the actual substance that was promised to Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets.
When we read Scripture, we read it with the lens of the unfolding promise of the covenant of grace that is coming to us. How did we get the covenant of grace? We got it through the covenant of works, or as the New Testament would say the old covenant.
Justin Perdue: I want to give another illustration of the types and shadows because this is helpful for people to understand what we’re saying. A lot of times people read the Mosaic law and they’ll read about the sacrificial system and the intricacies of these things – clean, unclean, and all those things. Ultimately, what is this about? If we think about the sacrificial system, it was given initially so that when people became unclean, they could be made ceremonially clean again. In that sense, it purified their flesh, to use the language of the writer to the Hebrews. But the writer of the Hebrew says the blood of bulls and goats that were sacrificed could never take away sins. That’s Hebrews 10:4. Then what was the sacrificial system ultimately about? It was about the One who would come to be the perfect sacrifice in the place of his people who actually would take away their sins.
This is the language, not just the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament. God will say in Isaiah 43, “I am He who will blot out your transgressions for My own sake, and I’ll remember your sins no more.” Or how Psalm 103 says that our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the West, and that God will no longer deal with us on the basis of our iniquity. That’s what would happen through Christ. That’s what all of Scripture is pointing us to. We understand everything in the Bible in light of its main point, which is God’s plan of redemption accomplished through Jesus and then applied to us certainly by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Last comment on covenant theology: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace piece. This statement is true: we are saved by works, just not our own. What we mean by that is that Jesus accomplishes or fulfills a covenant of works in the covenant of grace in order to accomplish the covenant of redemption. We are justified and we are declared righteous. We have to stand before God on the basis of Christ’s works. It’s not as though God doesn’t require works or righteousness – it’s just that Jesus has done that for us. A covenantal framework helps us understand exactly how that is the case, that everything required was fulfilled and then counted to us in the covenant of grace by faith.
Jon Moffitt: We would say here at Theocast, and according to the 1689 London Baptist Confession, that the promises of the covenant of grace are given to us in Eve and Abraham, and then you see it in Moses, David, and then the prophets. But the actual establishment of it is in the new covenant. This is where you hear Paul referencing that we are part of this new covenant where we are regenerate, the Spirit lives within us, and we now have union with Christ.
To throw a hat out there, there are slight differences between covenant theology. Everything up to this point, I know our Pedobaptist/Presbyterian brothers would agree with us that there’s a covenant of redemption, bicovenantalism, covenant of work, and covenant of grace. When it comes down to the final application of some of those, historically there have been some differences. We’ll leave that for another time in another podcast. I would say that the structure of understanding the Bible, which is the most important thing to understand, from a covenantal perspective, the unfolding story of God saving sinners through the story of redemption – that is what defines it as something very different than what’s out there in the world, historically speaking. There are a lot of other systems. Some of them more popular than others. But when we say Reformed, we believe that when you approach Scripture, Scripture leads you to this. It’s just pulled straight out of the text. We believe in a historic understanding of Scripture. You look at the grammar and from that, we see that there is this flow of the covenants. We’re not putting it upon the text – we are arguing that it’s coming from the text.
Justin Perdue: It flows out of it.
If number one was Calvinistic theology, in terms of our five points of Reformed theology, the second is covenant theology. The third, we would contend, is a confessional perspective or a confessional theology.
Jon, why don’t you kick us off with some thoughts on what it means to be confessional?
Jon Moffitt: Sometimes when people hear this, they think we’re saying that there’s an authority greater than the Bible. “You’re not sola scriptura. You aren’t believing in the Bible alone.” They think we have to have another document. We want to clarify that.
I held that position when I was very young and in Bible college. “No creed but Christ.” I think I even used that phrase. “All confessions are just smaller Catholic documents and they’re not needed anymore.” We tossed them all aside. What we did when we tossed aside all of the historic faith that has gone before, you don’t realize the pool that you’re swimming in. Often people step off into the deep end and end up drowning in heresy.
Confessions have all come out of heresy. They’re fighting back against the wrong unbiblical doctrines that have come up throughout the ages, and the confessions are designed to help give a unified answer to the historic understanding of Christian doctrine.
There are the primary or most important points which one cannot deny. If you do deny them, you’re not a Christian or you’re not evangelical. Then there are secondary and tertiary points where you’re going to have the different confessions disagree a little bit here. This is where I would pull in our Lutheran brothers. They are confessional. They fit into this very historically. They also fought a lot of the battles that we, as the Reformed, had fought: defining the nature of the gospel, defining the nature of justification and sanctification…we stand arm in arm with them. That would be the quick historical definition.
Then there are different prominent confessions today. I’ll let you jump in there and talk about what those are and how they apply to our context today.
Justin Perdue: You made some good points there. Even the fact that heresy usually gives rise to confessions because theology and doctrine need to be clarified in terms of what is orthodox versus what is heterodox, or what is false doctrine.
A misconception about confessional theology is that people assume that all we mean by that is we are adhering to a historic confession of faith. Certainly, it does mean that but it is more than just simply using a confession in our churches; it is a perspective and a posture where we understand that truth is at the heart of the Christian life, and a set of doctrines and truth claims that are to be trusted and rested in, and all of those doctrines and truth claims that need to be trusted and rested and center on Jesus Christ. They center on his Person and his work, what he has accomplished in our place, the nature of redemption, the nature of salvation. It’s a very objective perspective, meaning it stands unaffected outside of us. We are looking always outside of ourselves to save what’s wrong in us versus looking inward and hoping to find the ground of our assurance and peace. We are looking outside of ourselves and not looking inward to transformation and things like that.
It is also a perspective that is grounded in something that is finished. In that sense, we’ll use the word “declarative” a lot of times. It’s something to be declared. It’s over; salvation is done. It’s so done that Jesus is sitting down in heaven and he’s going to come back for us. We are not concerned primarily with what we need to be doing in order to be redeemed, but we are concerned with what we need to be trusting in and receiving that Christ has done and accomplished our redemption. It’s a fundamentally different orientation. It’s a different focus and a different posture. That would describe confessional theology versus the norm in evangelicalism.
In evangelicalism, and certainly in the churches in the West, they hold a more pietistic perspective. Pietism is something we talk about a lot here: the focus is on you, you’re looking inside, and you’re concerned primarily with your life, your disciplines, and your performance. Christ is there, of course, and he’s assumed, but he is oftentimes not the foreground emphasis or the focus – and that’s something that confessionalism does as well.
Jon Moffitt: When a Christian first comes to life, and if they didn’t grow up in the church and don’t have any biblical knowledge, the Bible is full of wonder and glory – and it’s full of confusion for those who have no idea how to read it. They can start reading it and before you know it, they’re going to Siri to say, “Hey Siri, why does God hate everybody in the Old Testament? What’s with the shaving of the corner of their beards? What’s with all of the dead animals?” That’s what ends up happening within the second chapter of Deuteronomy – what happened here?
What the confessions do for the new believer is that it hands them a historic document that has been verified from Scripture. These aren’t documents that are above Scripture; they are the explanation of Scripture. They have been clarified and affirmed over hundreds of years that this is what we collectively agree that the word of God teaches. The way I use it, even in my own church, is I tell people to take it home to address their questions. Who is God? How does he save? What is sanctification? What is the church? What is baptism? What is the Lord’s Table? What is church discipline? How do we understand church membership? All of these are going to be given in simple paragraph explanations with verses underneath them to help you understand collectively how it is that we should know who God is, how we should live with one another, and how we should govern our lives in that way. Otherwise, you’re left up to all kinds of interpretation of God’s word. The confessions help give us bumpers to keep us moving in the right direction through God’s word so that we don’t end up being heretics or trapped in sin.
Justin Perdue: Confessional theology, in that sense, is just Jude 3. You know, it’s a, it’s a passing down of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The confessions chalk the field theologically. They’re guardrails to keep us from heading into the ditches. They are also a great lesson for us in understanding that theology is best done corporately, not individually. This is something that is prevalent in our day: people are not as confessional, but they end up following the doctrine of theology of one man, or the doctrine of theology of one church. “I’m a follower of this person,” or, “I like this guy’s theology,” or, “This guy wrote that book.” It is basically the framework through which one understands things now. That’s a lot more precarious and dangerous than it is to look back to documents that were produced by oftentimes large groups of people that have stood the test of time.
One last comment before we transition to our next piece: when we say confessional, underneath that, which is even more foundational historically, is being creedal. We are creedal Christians as well, meaning we adhere to the ancient creeds of the church. The three ancient creeds that we would adhere to most notably are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. That’s where we have overlaps. Any orthodox Christian throughout history would have affirmed those creeds. Then we have specific confessions that might distinguish us from our Presbyterian brothers, our Lutheran brothers, or our Anglican brothers and sisters. It’s useful stuff, it keeps us safe, and it guards us from error.
We’ve gone through the three C’s: Calvinistic theology, covenantal theology, and confessional theology. They are all a piece of what it means to be reformed. What would we say is next if we were trying to explain to somebody who is new to this?
Jon Moffitt: Since we’ve hit this point on confessionalism, all four other points are seen in our confession. The confession really does help provide for us a Calvinistic and covenantal theology. The next two are Law-gospel distinction and ordinary means. The confession points all of these out for you through Scripture: God is sovereign in salvation, and He accomplishes this through covenantalism or through covenants. There is a distinct understanding between the Law and the gospel. The way in which the church interacts with that is what we call ordinary means. We get this from specifically the Reformed confessionals: the Belgic Confession, the Westminster Confession, the 1689 Confession, and the Savoy Declaration would be the ones that we would see those in.
Law-gospel distinction is I think one of the most important parts of understanding the Bible because there is more confusion that happens when it comes down to the Law and the gospel. A lot of pietism and lot of people who are in bondage to legalism happens when we don’t fully understand how the Bible has been structured – that is, as a message of Law and a message of the gospel.
Justin Perdue: When we say Law, we are talking about anything in Scripture that we are told to do or any command that is given. In particular, this is when we are told to do something for a reward: do this and you will live. That’s Law. In a simple way, “do” is Law. But then when we are told in Scripture to make the distinction about things that have been done for us by Jesus, and that’s the gospel. When it comes to Law, we do things for a reward. When it comes to the gospel, we receive what has been done for us by faith. That distinction is critical for a number of reasons. The Law says do this and live, but the gospel says Jesus has done it, now live in him.
Jon Moffitt: When it’s Law, it’s not best effort or above the rest – it has to be perfect. The Law demands absolute perfection from the beginning to the end without failure ever. It’s not that you eventually get there; it has to be perfect from day one.
Justin Perdue: We see this in a couple of ways pointedly in the Bible. In the covenant of works that God made with Adam, we saw that one transgression wrecked it. It was over. But then think about Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says to his audience that their righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees and the scribes who were phenomenal at keeping the Law, at least outwardly. He applies the Law to the hearts of the people. He illustrates that with adultery, murder, and what the command says that if you are unable to keep the Law in your heart, then you have broken the Law. Then he says in Matthew 5 that you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. The law does not grade on a curve: it is all or nothing. You will keep it perfectly or you will face judgment. That’s critical for our understanding of what the Law requires and what the Law is in Scripture over and against what the gospel provides.
Jon Moffitt: We have to clarify the gospel. It’s good news, and the good news is that this goes back to our understanding of how God saves. The gospel is the good news that God saves sinners by His sovereign will and decree, and by His power. He comes in and He changes their hearts. He brings them from death to life.
What’s the promise of the new covenant? The promise of the new covenant is that God will come in, rip out their heart of stone, and He will put in a heart of flesh. Then God will put the Law on their hearts and He will cause them to walk in it. The good news is that God saves sinners, and then He calls them to come to Him. The good news is that God can save you. There is only one requirement that is put upon the sinner: to believe.
Justin Perdue: You hear the language these days of the demands of the gospel and what the gospel requires of us. We do and we want to scream from the rooftops that there’s one: believe. Trust. Receive.
Jon Moffitt: When we hear gospel, we need to hear that God is saving sinners. You can’t save yourself. What Paul says is that the Law becomes a mirror for us. It’s for us to look into to see our sin, to see where we have failed God, and to see where we need a Savior. The Law can never and has never saved anyone, nor was that ever designed to save anyone. Because you are born in Adam, a sinner, the Law cannot redeem you. The Law was designed to show you how much you need Jesus.
When you hear the gospel, the Bible says the Spirit does His work. He transforms your heart, you then believe, and then you repent. Then you become the follower of Jesus Christ. You’re now his slave and he is your Master. This is great news because this means sin can own you no more. Nothing can own you anymore because you are owned by the gracious, kind, and loving Savior who is now your Master. That’s the good news of the gospel.
When we talk about a Law-gospel distinction, maybe we need to give an illustration of where those get mixed and how we have to keep them apart.
Justin Perdue: A brief thought on repentance really quickly. The biblical word “metanoia” means a change of mind. To be very clear, repentance is something that God does for us and does to us; He repents us, we don’t repent ourselves. What is the change of mind about? It’s about God, ourselves, what God requires, where we stand before Him, and what we need.
The Law is a big piece of how God repents us because God crushes us with the Law and what it requires. We are ruined by that. Because of this, we are driven to Christ in repentance and faith. I would contend that biblically speaking, repentance and faith go together. You can’t separate the two because it is all a piece of what God is doing in us: He repents us and grants us faith.
On how the Law-gospel distinction is collapsed or confused, I’m happy to give a scriptural example that is often abused. The best one that I can think of is the rich young man. In Matthew’s account, this Jewish man comes to Jesus and asks him, “What work must I do to inherit eternal life?” In Luke’s account he just says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus looks at him and he says, “Keep the commandments,” and proceeds to list several of them. The young man then says that he has done all that since he was young. Jesus responds by saying, “One thing you still lack. Sell everything you have, give them to the poor, then come and follow me.” The young man goes away dejected and sorrowful. What’s going on there? What is going on is that this man thinks he has kept the Law, and what Jesus is doing is he is asking this man to prove his love for God and his love for neighbor. The Law of God is summed up in what? Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. When Jesus asks this young man to prove that, he can’t – and it crushes him. Jesus has turned up the temperature. He has dumped the full weight of the Law on this young man’s conscience. This young man is undone.
Now the disciples hear this and see what’s going on. Remember that in their minds – think covenant with Israel – God blesses people with riches, possessions, and the like for their obedience to the Law because that’s what God had done in his national covenant with Israel. They’re thinking my goodness the man has wealth because he’s obedient. This means that he’s lived the good life. If he can’t be saved, who can be saved? Christ says with man, it’s impossible, but with God, it’s possible.
The way that this text is often preached is you need to surrender all: you need to be willing to surrender everything and then follow Christ if you’re going to be saved. There’s this qualifier put on saving faith that you’ve got to be willing to do with that young man was not willing to do. That’s not the point; the point is you can’t do this. The young man thought he had kept the Law, but Jesus was saying he hasn’t and that he is going to show him that he hasn’t. Jesus was showing that the young man needed what was standing in front of him, which was Jesus himself. That’s the point of that passage.
Jon Moffitt: This happens a lot in Scripture where you see commands and you see instructions. There are many times when Jesus was asked what people must do to be saved or, or sinners come to him, and he doesn’t give them gospel. Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ saves sinners by his work alone. When Jesus says, “You must do this work,” that’s not good news but bad news. To leave father and mother, forsake all, and follow Jesus is not good news. That’s bad news because no one can do it – not on their own and not fully. It always requires God’s power to accomplish it.
Where you see a collapsing of the Law and the gospel is when we see obedience passages. When we are called to obey. This is going to lead into our next section on the three uses of the Law. When we are called to obey, do these things as a church, or we would even say the moral law that’s brought over, if you understand to do those unto salvation, you are now collapsing the Law of requirement and the gospel.
For those who have been saved, Paul tells us there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. By faith, we have all the benefits of Christ – our union with Christ being adopted as children – we are safe. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.
Now, being a part of the family of God, there are ways in which we are to conduct ourselves. We are told that these things are important. If we don’t conduct ourselves in these ways, the church has a structure called church discipline where we are to go in and lovingly care for and bring each other back under this loving kindness that God has. You can never look at obedience being either the results or the requirement of your salvation; you have just collapsed the good news and the Law. The Law and the good news of the gospel always have to be separate because otherwise, salvation is by works in some form whether it’s keeping salvation or earning salvation.
Justin Perdue: I want to use a term really quickly that I hope will be clarifying for people. There are people who mean well; their intentions are good and we would never impugn their motivations. We call them Biblicists – they want to take the Bible seriously on its own terms. But often what they end up doing is introduce a mystery and attention into Scripture where it does not exist. A Biblicist would take things that are clearly taught in the Bible and somewhat pit them against each other. For example: on the one hand, we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone. On the other hand, we will go to hell if we do these certain things. For the Biblicist, the mystery is how both of these things could be true. To this we would say that there’s not a mystery there. What has happened is you have collapsed and confused categories of Law and gospel. Law-gospel distinction can help us understand how we’re saved by grace, through faith, in Christ alone and yet, the writers in the New Testament will say the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God. This has everything to do with that distinction between the Law and the gospel, but also with respect to the three uses of the Law and how they have been historically defined. All of that can bring a lot of clarity and relief for people, as well as a greater understanding of what’s being talked about in Scripture.
In the members’ podcast, we’ll define the three uses of the Law as they have been historically understood. We also plan to talk about our fifth point of Reformed theology, which is an ordinary means of grace understanding of the Christian life, and even of the way of growth and sanctification in the Christian life.
If you are unfamiliar with Theocast and the members’ podcast, you can find out more information about our membership and the podcast at our website theocast.org. By way of an announcement, we plan to offer the members podcast today for free so that you can continue to track with us as we define these five points of Reformed theology.
Jon and I are making our way to the members’ podcast. We will talk with you over there.