Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation

In this post: The defective gospel of the Alpha Course; False assumption 1 – We can judge what is right by whether it ‘works’; False assumption 2 – Growth in church attendance proves God’s blessing; False assumption 3 – A transformed life is proof of salvation; The right way, and the wrong way, to view good works; Bonus comment thread: why the Purpose Driven Life movement is problematic

I was chatting with a good friend last week. He is on the leadership track of a self-described Purpose Driven church, and we have a history of (mostly) amicable sparring over the nature of the Gospel and how it should be proclaimed.

(For anyone unfamiliar with the dangers of the Purpose Driven church movement, I recommend Bob DeWaay’s eminently readable and definitive book on the subject, Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Life Movement.)

Entirely incidental to the topic of our conversation, my friend happened to mention that the home group he leads had been showing a Nicky Gumbel video. Without thinking, I blurted out the mildly disparaging quip ‘Never mind.’

Who is Nicky Gumbel? He’s the developer of the wildly popular Alpha Course, the content of which many have found to be highly problematic. Michael J. Penfold’s brief analysis of The Gospel According to Gumbel likewise indicates a dangerously flawed presentation of sin, repentance and the work of Christ. Penfold even goes so far as to document Gumbel’s denial of the doctrine of penal substitution, which teaches that Christ was punished in our place for our sin (my emphasis):

Gumbel’s limited understanding and presentation of the theology of sin, leads to a faulty explanation of why Jesus died. Despite giving various illustrations of Christ’s death, including the old ‘swap the Bible from one hand to the other’ visual image, Gumbel misses the central point of the atonement. The Bible reveals that God’s righteous anger and wrath burn constantly against sin and sinners (John 3:36, Rom 1:18, 2:5). To save sinners from wrath (Rom 5:9) penal substitution took place on the cross. Simply put, the righteous anger and wrath of God against sin was poured out on His own Son (Isa 53:5 & 10). This glorious truth is denied by false teachers like Steve Chalke and Clark Pinnock. Gumbel’s position on penal substitution (God punished Jesus) is spelled out in Questions of Life: “Some people caricature the New Testament teaching and suggest that God is unjust because He punished Jesus, an innocent party, instead of us. This is not what the New Testament says. Rather Paul says ‘God was…in Christ’ [2 Cor 5:19]. He was himself the substitute in the person of his Son…We can come back to the Father and experience his love and blessing…That is what God has made possible through his self-substitution on the cross.”

Although Gumbel later refers to Isa 53:6 and says that, “God transferred our wrong-doings onto Jesus,” he denies that God actually punished His own Son. Here, at the heart of Alpha, is a serious error, for scripture plainly teaches that it was God’s will to bruise His own Son (Isa 53:10). Calvary involved divine punishment. That is why the word chastisement is used (Isa 53:5). The iniquity God laid on Christ stands for the wrong itself, the guilt incurred and the punishment to which it gave rise. Literally in Hebrew it means that the Lord ‘made to meet upon Him’ the punishment due to us all. Wrath was poured out on Christ, as He vicariously identified Himself with sinners, being judicially made sin for them on the cross (2 Cor 5:21).

Now, notwithstanding Gumbel’s questionable theology, it wasn’t especially gracious of me to fire a barb at my friend in the way that I did – at least, not in that particular conversation. (If he’s reading this, I apologise for having done so.) But the reason for this post is not to make a public confession, but to discuss the implications of his response, for he quickly pointed out that they had seen lots of conversions, and that people’s lives were being transformed by Gumbel’s teaching. I have no reason to doubt that these things are true.

Since this was an off-the-cuff rejoinder to my provocation, it would be unfair to hold my friend too closely to it as a definitive and final statement of his position. What follows is not therefore addressed specifically to him.

Nevertheless, my friend’s remark is illustrative of the pragmatic grounds upon which the Church Growth Movement justifies its techniques. In essence they say, ‘Don’t criticise us – look at the lives that are being transformed! The fruit of what we do is proof of God’s blessing.’

Let’s look at three of the faulty assumptions that underly this line of reasoning.

False assumption 1: We can judge what is right by whether it ‘works’

In the business world (the source for many of the ideas in the Church Growth Movement), judging by results is generally reasonable. However, the church is not her own master, but rather is responsible to her Head, even the Lord Jesus Christ who bought her. She has not been given a mandate to innovate, but to ‘stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

For the church, what matters is not our own opinion of what works, but what Christ has commanded. She is to hold fast to the Apostle’s doctrine, to the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

False assumption 2: Growth in church attendance proves God’s blessing

In my previous treatment of this assumption, I observed that Baal worship was at one time the most popular religion in Israel. Was this evidence of God’s blessing?

Islam has over a billion adherents and is currently growing faster than the total world population. Is this proof that God approves of Islam?

Or is the reality that the true Church preaches a message that the world finds unpalatable? Even ‘Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)

False assumption 3: A transformed life is proof of salvation

Many religions transform lives. Mormonism has produced zealous clean-living converts who would put most evangelicals to shame in their general moral conduct. And radical Islam certainly transforms the lives of those who decide to become suicide bombers – and those of their victims.

Self-help books transform lives. Here’s one not atypical comment of many concerning Stephen R. Covey’s bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

This book changed my life. After reading this book back in 1997 my whole thinking about myself and others changed. I wish they teach this book in high school in every country in the world. Since 97 I buy this book and give it as gift to anyone I come across, especially to young people. You read it and judge it.

The religion of the Pharisees transformed lives. Yet Jesus said of them:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15, NKJV)

Clearly, Jesus didn’t approve of that particular sort of life transformation.

We should be concerned that Pharisaism, which was really all about making God’s law doable, is alive and well in far too many of today’s churches. Whenever anyone gives you five simple steps to keep God’s law (whether it is to stay out of debt, or have healthy relationships, etc.), understand that Pharisaism is the religion being offered. Likewise, when someone preaches the law and tells you to just go out and do it. But the Bible tells us that God’s law exists primarily to show us our sin – it does not have the power to make us righteous:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20, ESV)

I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. (Galatians 2:21, NKJV)

The gospel is not a formula by which we can obey God’s law and thereby become righteous. No, it is the Good News that, even though we do not obey the law, Christ kept it for us. That His perfect righteousness is put to our account, and that the wrath of God that we deserved for our sin was instead poured out upon Christ on the cross:

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, NKJV)

Those who believe that gospel have eternal life. These are the ones who believe that God justifies (declares righteous) all those who are trusting in Jesus and His work on the cross. For them, ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness’ (Romans 10:4, NKJV).

‘Ah’, someone might say, ‘You don’t understand. When I talk of a transformed life, I mean that people’s lives are turned around and they are joyful in the Lord.’

What then, of the parable of the soils? Jesus says:

Behold, a sower went out to sow.

And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.

Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.

But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Matthew 13:3–9, NKJV

Jesus subsequently explains the parable to His disciples:

Therefore hear the parable of the sower:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.

But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.

Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Matthew 13:18–23, NKJV

The seed which fell upon stony ground appeared to burst into life – it ‘immediately sprang up’. Why? ‘Because there was no depth’.

Far from the immediate flourishing of growth being an indicator of eventual fruit, that growth was caused by the seed falling upon unprepared ground. This is sobering; the implication is that a quick conversion – an abundance of early growth – might very well prove to be ill-grounded.

Notice that the first hearer is said not to understand the Word he has heard. We are not told whether the second and third hearers understand it, but we are left to draw our own inference, given that we are expressly told that the final hearer, he who received seed on the good ground, ‘is he who hears the word and understands it’.

The seed which fell on stony ground is likened to one who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet there is no depth there, no true understanding of what has been declared.

If this is sometimes the case with those who hear the true Word of the Kingdom, properly proclaimed, how plainly this exposes the dangers of our modern watered-down presentations of man’s sinful state. Rather than risk offending people by telling them of the wrath of a holy and just God toward sinners, we instead talk of having ‘made mistakes’ and ‘messed up our lives’. Instead of warning of the coming judgement, we tell people that God loves them, omitting any mention of His holiness and justice. Rather than call sinners to repent, we entice them with the offer of a better, more abundant life.

And thus we emasculate the Gospel, robbing it of its majesty and power. For if God is not angry with sinners, the punishment of His Son in their place on the cross can make no sense. Truly, it is this kind of diluted evangelism that results in false converts, lacking depth and with no understanding of the amazing grace that has been poured out upon sinners through the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Church’s task is not to make the Gospel palatable to unbelievers. It is to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ so clearly that the offence of the Gospel – Christ crucified in our place, the just suffering for the unjust – is plain to everyone who hears.

Our message should be such that it is impossible for anyone to accept, except the Holy Spirit be at work supernaturally in people’s lives. The Church is charged with preaching the Law in all its severity to frighten comfortable sinners, and then to comfort frightened sinners with the Gospel.

And so we see that false religion can transform lives. Secular books and programmes can transform lives. And even those who hear the true Gospel can receive it with joy and exhibit the signs of a transformed life, yet fall away when tested by tribulation or persecution. And thus, when it comes to matters of eternal salvation, a transformed life is proof of precisely nothing.

The right way, and the wrong way, to view good works

None of what I have said regarding a transformed life is to deny that genuine faith will result in good works. For it is true that ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2). That is, someone who has been regenerated and granted the gifts of repentance and trust in Christ will inevitably produce good works.

But always remember that any such good works are the consequence of our salvation, not its cause. We must never think that we have somehow earned favour with God by anything we have done. We have favour with God only because of what Christ has done for us and in our place. It is impossible that we could add to that finished work. As Paul admonishes the Galatians:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?

Galatians 3:1–3, NKJV

Neither should we look to good works as proof of salvation. Elders may not rest secure simply because they see transformed lives among their flock.

Likewise, we should never look to our works for definite assurance of our own salvation. To do so is immensely dangerous. For whenever we examine our lives honestly in the light of God’s Law, we can but agree with Paul:

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. (Romans 7:15, 18, NKJV)

Direct me to my works, and I shall despair, for I do not see them, except perhaps a few rags ‘defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection’ (as the Westminster Confession puts it). And even if I should be so blind to my true sinful state as to be reassured, I would then no longer be trusting in Christ’s merits alone, but rather in my own. A new Pharisee would have been born.

We are simul iustus et peccator, righteous and yet sinners at the same time. I am declared righteous, but the taint of sin is as yet present within me. With St. Paul, I cry out:

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:24–25, NKJV)

Point me then, not to my own works, but to the exceedingly precious promises of Christ that are mine through His finished work on the cross. Call me daily to repentance, and tell me of the forgiveness of all my sin that has been accomplished through Christ’s death and the shedding of His blood. Exhort me not to look inward to myself, but outward to the one with whom I was buried through baptism into death, the one who was raised from the dead for my justification and even now causes me to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6).

Conclusion

The Church Growth Movement is predicated upon pragmatism. It wrongly assumes that numerical growth and transformed lives are proof of God’s blessing. Let us not measure the health of our churches by such things, but by their steadfast adherence to the Apostle’s doctrine, and by their faithful proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

Christ’s message to the church in Sardis should be salutary for all churches whose confidence is in their results, in their reputation for being alive:

These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars:

I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.’

‘You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.’

‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Revelation 3:1–6, NKJV

How different from Christ’s letter to the persecuted and apparently impoverished church in Smyrna! (Revelation 2:8–11)

The Church has no need for human efforts to engineer salvation. For hear St. Paul’s summary of the Gospel and its power:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21–24)

Postscript

After I had begun writing this article, Ken Silva posted a précis of a piece by Dr. John MacArthur on this same subject of pragmatism in the Church. Ken’s summary and Dr. MacArthur’s full article are both well worth reading. This quote from Dr. MacArthur is particularly apposite:

It is folly to think one can be both pragmatic and biblical. The pragmatist wants to know what works now. The biblical thinker cares only about what the Bible says. The two philosophies inevitably oppose each other at the most basic level.

Afterword

Readers might find the comment thread below helpful in clarifying why the Purpose Driven Life movement is problematic. I have also written a follow-up article, Our transformed lives: what are we to make of good works?

55 thoughts on “Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation”

  1. Amen. A friend and I went out for lunch Sunday. We were asking each other, when is the church (pastors) going to get back to preaching the Word? That is what we need, the word of God preached . . . not stories and power points, but the true gospel. Thank you!

  2. Excellent article Daniel!!!! Thank you for sharing it with us. You did a great job. Held by His grip,

    Diane DeWaay

  3. Excellent article Daniel. Thank you so much for sharing it. I will pass it on to others. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is all we have, it is our only hope of salvation. Sadly in today’s church’s it is been compromised for a bigger congregation or to be liked. Look at the example of the life of Jesus. He had many followers until he started talking about “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day in John 6:54-71. Verse 66 says As a result of this many of his disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him any more. Were they true disciples? or just following Him for the signs and wonders and miracles? The 12 faithful disciples said in verse 68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

    Held by His grip,
    Diane DeWaay

  4. Dan: As usual I find I find myself in agreement with your sentiments but because I am ignorant of the context I probably miss many of the nuances. I have no knowledge of a ‘purpose-driven church’ so I am not aware of the error which you speak against. However, I would quite like to muse on what you have written. From where I sit, the problem is not so much people claiming to be Christians who have not truly trusted in Christ as Saviour yet exhibit lives that have been radically changed for the better, but people claiming to be Christians who continue to indulge in blatant sins and whose lives are indistinguishable from those ‘in the world’. Jesus told the Pharisees to ‘bear fruits worthy of repentance (Matt 3: 8) and said that we could judge prophets by their fruits (Matt 7: 15-27) As you have argued elsewhere, I think, not every who says ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven’. Verses 22 and 23 actually reinforce the thrust of your argument. Luke (6: 46) records that Jesus asked: ‘Why do you call me ”Lord, lord”, and do not the things that I say?’ So while I acknowledge that it may be possible to be changed other than by the grace of God in Christ I am not certain that such a change can be permanent but the drunkard who becomes sober and claims that the change is due to his faith in Jesus does at least merit a hearing. I have met such people and to me at least their testimony and changed lives speak eloquently of the transforming power of the Gospel. Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road is surely such a case?
    You also know that I tend to be reluctant to criticise others who seek to proclaim the gospel, even though they do not understand it quite as I do. God is able to use even the most misguided of putative followers to bring sinners to Jesus. You may not feel it is a good example, but Cliff Richard was first led to think of his need of a saviour by Hank Marvin, a Jehovah’s Witness. You would be the first to say that salvation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing sinners to repentance and Faith in Jesus and God does frequently ‘work in mysterious ways’! I know that I have preached the gospel for the best part of fifty years and I have only been able to pass on what I understood it to be at that time in my walk with Jesus. That knowledge has developed and deepened over the years but my knowledge of God and the gospel is still imperfect and I can still only ask that he use whatever he can from what I say to enlighten others and draw a veil over my mistakes and imperfections. We are all on a pilgrimage and some are further along than others, some take a long time to learn lessons and others make unnecessary detours. I know little of Nicky Gumbel but it does seem that God does use him to communicate what he understands to be the gospel to many people through the Alpha course. If Gumbel gets them started on the road and they read the scriptures for themselves then their faith can grow and mature.
    I always have a bit of difficulty with criticism. I am aware of Jesus’ injunction: ‘judge not that ye be not judged’ (Matt 7: 1) and the teaching of Paul in Romans 14 but we are required to discern between good and evil and Paul does suggest that the even least in the church might act as judges in some matters. (1 Cor 6) Paul was also quite ready to use his apostolic authority to judge sinful behaviour and enforce sound doctrine so it cannot be that we just allow anything to go unchallenged. That said, each individual servant of God is responsible to God so perhaps we have to take on board Romans 14: 4 ‘Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands of falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.’ See also vv 10-13. God is indeed sovereign!
    I suppose it is partly in recognition of my own inadequacy in proclaiming the gospel that I am unwilling to be too hard on others to attempt the same task. I hope that if someone hears enough of my sermons they will be able fairly assess my teaching but I would hate to be judged on the content of one sermon where I may have skipped quickly over an important doctrine as my intention at that moment was to focus on something else. We all need to be led by the Spirit of God when we discharge the sacred trust of communicating the Good News of Salvation.

    1. Hi dad,

      Thank you as always for your thought-provoking comments. I have responded to the points you have raised in a series of four posts:

      1. In thankfulness for my readers and their comments

      2. The Purpose Driven Life: introductory discernment resources

      3. What are we to make of our good works?

      4. A closer look at the Alpha Course and whether it is permissible to judge what other Christians teach

      I very much look forward to chatting with you again offline once you have read them!

  5. Hi Daniel,
    Excellent post. Your effort to explain and expose the error of Purpose Driven theology is much needed in our day, as it is the same old Pharisaism, as you state, only now dressed in jeans and flip flops.
    James says that teachers will be judged with a stricter judgment, and I wholeheartedly agree. It is a serious thing to influence others. But as Alan wrote, the Sovereignty of God is so far beyond us. So much so that even as teacher Nicky Gumbel’s set of Alpha books are now sitting on our bookshelf gathering dust, and the people my husband led in Alpha discussions ten years ago are no longer in our lives (proof that these things are “passing away”), we are still saved, and we have by His grace, pressed on into deeper Truth and sound Biblical reasoning.
    Man’s methodologies–how weak all these things are in light of the eternality of the Word of God! What is so staggeringly glorious is how the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer teaches him/her the Truth as they commit their way to Him.
    In no way am I saying that it’s not of great importance to have teachers and preachers of sound doctrine. To God be the glory, let it be so! All I’m saying is that unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain.
    Grace and peace to you, brother,
    -E

  6. Hi Daniel! Great post. This strikes a chord with me, and I wonder if you could speak to some confusion I’m experiencing. You said:

    “Point me then, not to my own works, but to the exceedingly precious promises of Christ that are mine through His finished work on the cross. Call me daily to repentance, and tell me of the forgiveness of all my sin that has been accomplished through Christ’s death and the shedding of His blood. Exhort me not to look inward to myself, but outward to the one with whom I was buried through baptism into death, the one who was raised from the dead for my justification and even now causes me to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6).”

    This is beautifully said. I sometimes struggle with choosing between two mind sets. First, I find myself thinking in a Romans 7 way – that I am simul iustus et peccator, a sinner in myself, but righteous in Christ. And in this mindset, focusing on Christ’s work, loving Him, seeing my own sin, etc.

    But then, on the other hand, I find myself tolerating sin in my life. I would never come out and say “Jesus has paid for this and so I shouldn’t worry too much about being righteous. It’s not possible anyway, because I’m a sinner” but this must essentially be what I believe if I am continuing to allow sin, right? Then, I begin to wonder if perhaps God’s Spirit is not working in me, to rid me of sin as Romans 6 and 8 seem to indicate He will. At this point someone will inevitably exhort me to walk in the Spirit.

    I have found that there are two ways people in my sphere generally recommend I do this.

    1. Focus on God’s holiness and the extent of your sinfulness, at which point the Spirit convicts you of the wretchedness of your sin and self, and you are compelled to love Him all the more for His grace. Be aware of God’s infinite holiness and grace, and continuing endlessly in this state of awareness.

    2. Recognize your sin and recognize the cure is to come to the Word of God continually to be washed by it and renewed, supernaturally. Go open up the Bible in order to be positively affected by its influence on you. Once you are “washed” you will continue your day in the Spirit.

    (Neither of these are perfectly expressed, but like I said, it’s a bit confusing for me.) My problem is this: Scenario one seems not to “work” to make me “better” and if I’m reading your post correctly, you are saying this is a pragmatic way to think, and that we are not supposed to focus on being better people. (But then why all the Scriptural exhortations to be holy, etc.?) Scenario two makes me dependent on God, which is good, but also makes me wonder why the Spirit doesn’t affect me at times other than when I’m reading my Bible a lot. Is He only with me when I’ve read my Bible that day?

    (I’ve also heard others say that connection with the Spirit is emotional, and I think that’s hooey. I see no Biblical basis for the idea that the Spirit speaks to us in that way. I don’t trust my emotions. But if there’s something I’m missing along the emotions line that can be proven by the Word, please let me know.)

    I love reading the Word. It seems to me the source of what I long for: beauty, satisfaction, fulfillment, love, joy, all these things that I cannot find on earth. I see the treasure, deep under the water, and I want to grasp it, but it keeps evading me. I don’t want a better marriage or a better life or more money. I just want to be satisfied by Him – to taste and see that the Lord is good – and to stop mindlessly pursuing worldliness in order to get what I’m craving.

    My question is: how do I do this? Is it simply a matter of focusing on God’s attributes? Or is it time spent in the Word? How do I honor God? Isn’t it by obedience? After all, John 14:21 says “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”

    And if it is by obedience, where can I get the Spirit’s power to obey – and not just to obey, but to obey from the heart, motivated by love for Him?

    Is praying continually the answer? Do I need to separate myself from the world more aggressively? Is it a consciousness of some kind, i.e. dwelling on His holiness and my sin? Or is it simply time (hours) spent in the Word? I want to be satisfied in Him, and obedient from the heart, because I know this is the answer to the constant nagging dissatisfaction that I feel. But how is this achieved? I just can’t seem to get there.

    If anybody has a good answer to this, I’d appreciate it!

    1. Hi Tiffany,

      My sincere apologies for taking so long to respond — I had four articles to write in response to my father before I could get to you 🙂

      I love having you around this blog — it is always so much the richer for your comments. You express clearly the things that so many people are struggling with.

      Now, you are asking all the right questions, and I think the breadth of your Biblical knowledge is such that you are already very close to the only answer that I would be able to give you.

      I agree with you that both of the options (1) and (2) that you present are problematic when it comes to the practical outworking of our daily walk with God. You eloquently explain why this is.

      With regard to those who say that the ‘connection with the Spirit is emotional’, I think you have stated precisely the correct response when you say ‘and I think that’s hooey’ 🙂

      Since I think you are so close to discovering the answer to your question for yourself, I’m inclined to encourage you to think just a little further. To help you along the way, you might find my follow-up article helpful:

      What are we to make of our good works?

      I wrote that in response to some of my father’s comments, and I don’t directly tackle your question. Even so…

      Let me know how you get on!

        1. Hi Daniel!

          Thanks for your response, and the challenge. I will respond as soon as I have the answer. 🙂

          Tiffany

  7. Love your posts, all of them. I always want to debate you on small points tho. In this one it seems my question is this, Doesn’t your post presume pragmatism? Isn’t it true that many like Rick Warren for instance have been used by thoughtful Christians as ‘strawmen’? That is, just because a particular group ‘got results’ and their methods weren’t traditional, isn’t it true that some lash out on the possible dangers of looking for results rather than being faithful to the gospel?

    I had no idea what the big fuss was about pragmatism or that some brothers thought Warren to be spearheading a tragic error in the church until the Piper invite. Since then I have read McArthurs thoughtful piece on pragmatism in his book Ashamed of the Gospel and read his thoughtful (yet I believe errant) exegesis of 1 Cor 9:19ff. In his book, although I heartily agree with McArthurs fears of a watering down of the gospel for the sake of ‘converts’, I am not convinced his fear is founded and am certainly not ready to accuse believers who have big churches (his excluded of course) from being pragmatist. Even taking quotes from their books which emphasize the ‘do what it takes to reach ’em’ doesn’t convince me. If you were to ask Warren his view of Calvary, of substitutionary atonement, of salvation by grace thru faith, or any other ‘gospel-centered’ doctrines, I believe you would find him heartily in the Christian camp.

    So your great post, which I doctrinally agree with wholeheartedly with, has failed to convince me that your fears are founded, that your words aren’t anything more than a Hebrews style warning lest we fall off in the ditch. For that I am grateful. For the implication that leaders who get results ( minus McArthur of course) are ruining the gospel by their focus on results, I’m not so sure.

    I’ll end with an inspired quote from a church planter from long ago: “I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some.”

    1. Hi Bobby,

      Love your posts, all of them.

      And I love your comments 🙂 Sorry I have taken a few days to respond – I’ve been working hard keeping up!

      I always want to debate you on small points tho.

      This is when I learn things.

      In this one it seems my question is this, Doesn’t your post presume pragmatism?

      Yes and no.

      Yes, in that I generalized to the entire Church Growth Movement without explicitly citing any evidence to support this as a valid thing to do. No, in that the occasion for my writing was a specific example of a pragmatic response from a friend in leadership in a Purpose Driven church.

      Isn’t it true that many like Rick Warren for instance have been used by thoughtful Christians as ‘strawmen’? That is, just because a particular group ‘got results’ and their methods weren’t traditional, isn’t it true that some lash out on the possible dangers of looking for results rather than being faithful to the gospel?

      I agree with both of these assertions. There are most definitely people out there who, for whatever reason (sometimes none), simply decide that they don’t like something and then irrationally attack it with whatever comes to hand.

      For me though, I have no problem with what might be considered unconventional ways of ‘doing’ church (although I tend to prefer to think about ‘being’ church, but that’s another matter). The happiest years of my church life were those I spent in what was effectively a very relaxed and informal house church. But I also see the value in good liturgy, and could be content in such a context too. And probably a bunch of things in between.

      What really matters to me in a local church is not the outward form of things, but whether sheep are being fed properly with the whole counsel of God, rightly divided. Is the Law being used lawfully? Is the true Gospel being proclaimed in all its richness? Are the two properly distinguished? I next look to see whether the patterns and norms that I see in the New Testament for the Church are being outworked in its daily life. If all these things are present, then the ministry of the church should be such that it is for:

      …the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:12–16, NKJV)

      Thus, I have personal preferences (although they are rather flexible) for particular styles of church. But I appreciate the flavour and colour that people with different tastes bring, and I would sacrifice my preferences in a moment for the cause of the Gospel. I might appreciate a smaller fellowship, but if the outfit down the road has 20,000 people in it, that’s fine with me. As long as, of course, it is proclaiming the true Gospel, not leading people astray, and fulfilling the ministry of the local church as set out in Scripture so that my brothers and sisters in Christ who attend there are being properly fed. Now, all that might be difficult to arrange in such a huge fellowship, but I do not say it is impossible.

      It’s not that I don’t believe in purpose – the local church does have one – it’s just that I don’t believe in Purpose. By which, I mean that I see significant problems both in the doctrinal underpinning of the Purpose Driven Life movement and in its practical outworking. The latter flow from the former. The difficulties I have with the movement ultimately centre around the definition both of the Gospel and of the nature of man’s contribution to his salvation.

      I had no idea what the big fuss was about pragmatism or that some brothers thought Warren to be spearheading a tragic error in the church until the Piper invite.

      For the record, I do not understand Piper’s decision. But I am unwilling to throw him under a bus for it.

      I like Piper, and have in the past found him to be helpful. I am aware of a number of concerns that people have over him; but then I am also aware of a number of concerns that some people have over me.

      Since then I have read McArthurs thoughtful piece on pragmatism in his book Ashamed of the Gospel and read his thoughtful (yet I believe errant) exegesis of 1 Cor 9:19ff.

      I’ve not read the book or this exegesis…

      In his book, although I heartily agree with McArthurs fears of a watering down of the gospel for the sake of ‘converts’, I am not convinced his fear is founded

      I see this first-hand in the churches around me.

      It’s actually worse than that, because if you talk to people in the church, most don’t even really have a handle on what the Gospel actually is. It’s interesting, for example, to ask people what it is exactly that we are saved from.

      I’d even go so far as to say that for most churches in the British Isles, people would look at you like you were some kind of monster if you were to get up and talk about God’s being angry with sinners. Hardly anyone talks of such things now.

      Ever.

      It is of course impossible to have a reasonable understanding or proclamation of the Gospel if one isn’t allowed to mention the fact that the problem of sin is not so much that it messes up our lives (although it does), but that God is wrathful toward us because of it and will punish us with eternity in hell unless He causes us to repent and believe the Gospel.

      I am certainly not ready to accuse believers who have big churches (his excluded of course) from being pragmatist. Even taking quotes from their books which emphasize the ‘do what it takes to reach ‘em’ doesn’t convince me.

      The charge of pragmatism arises because their basic means of evangelism is to figure out what your audience is looking for (the archetypal ‘Saddleback Sam’, as Rick Warren has dubbed him) and meet their felt needs. What then ensues is thus predicated not upon what the Bible tells us to do (placard Jesus Christ and Him crucified – Gal. 3:1), but upon what a bunch of unbelievers think they want.

      For why this isn’t a good idea, I can do no better than to point you to the R.C. Sproul and Al Mohler clip that I have included in my follow-up article:

      The Purpose Driven Life: introductory discernment resources

      I’d really also encourage you to read the Bob DeWaay article I link to there, and to listen to Chris Rosebrough Fighting for the Faith episode. With the latter, notice how there is an underlying assumption that big churches are better than small ones, and that you can’t reach a lot of people unless you have a big church. Observe then how everything that follows is determined by those assumptions. At every step of the way, the methods of the movement are compared, not to Scripture, but to whether they achieve the pre-determined goal (in this case, having a big church).

      That is the essence of the problem with the PDC’s pragmatism – it substitues the authority of Scripture with the vision that the PD pastor has for his church. The test for any action is not, ‘Is this right according to Scripture?’, but ‘Will this help me implement the vision that God has given me for this church?’

      Thus, it is not pragmatism per se that is problematic, but a pragmatism that sacrifices what is right for what is expedient. This especially matters when it comes to the Gospel, because God’s sovereignty in salvation means that what makes sense to us when it comes to evangelism rarely bears much relation to what we’ve actually been commanded to do.

      Now, I have at this point to say with Chris Rosebrough that I believe that the vast majority of PD pastors want nothing other than the health of their churches, and genuinely believe that they are doing what God wishes. Yet they have been deceived.

      If you were to ask Warren his view of Calvary, of substitutionary atonement, of salvation by grace thru faith, or any other ‘gospel-centered’ doctrines, I believe you would find him heartily in the Christian camp.

      Ah, now that’s tricky. I am sure that I would have no problem putting together selected quotes from Rick Warren proving beyond all shadow of a doubt that he is a five-point Calvinist. But then you’d pick up a copy of the Purpose Drive Life, and you’d immediately realize that this could not possibly be an accurate reflection of what he really believes. The theology on offer there is exactly the same as that of most of pietistic evangelicalism. This is the same theology as that of the Alpha Course, which I go into a little bit more thoroughly here:

      A closer look at the Alpha Course and whether it is permissible to judge what other Christians teach

      I should add that I was once entirely neutral about the Purpose Driven Life. And then I had to endure 40 Days of Purpose at our church, and sit in small groups studying it. That’s a good way to have one’s mind made up very clearly about whether or not it is sound.

      So your great post, which I doctrinally agree with wholeheartedly with, has failed to convince me that your fears are founded, that your words aren’t anything more than a Hebrews style warning lest we fall off in the ditch.

      If it is even that, I shall be content.

      For that I am grateful. For the implication that leaders who get results ( minus McArthur of course) are ruining the gospel by their focus on results, I’m not so sure.

      In the business world, the CEO sets the vision and the targets, and the means are up for grabs. What matters is achieving the desired goals.

      In the Church, Christ has defined the means (proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ), and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work to produce the results.

      Thus, a corporation and a church work on an entirely different basis. The error of the Church Growth Movement is to fail to see this.

      I’ll end with an inspired quote from a church planter from long ago: “I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some.”

      Ah, yes 🙂 I’m pretty sure I’ve dealt with that somewhere, perhaps even in the comments somewhere on this blog. I’ll have to see whether I can dig out my treatment of that. The short version, though, is that Paul is willing to set aside cultural preferences, or to adopt cultural constraints, for the cause of the Gospel. I say amen to that, so am I.

      As always, Bobby, it is stimulating to interact with you. Glad to have you around.

      Peace and grace.

      1. Thats the most thoughtful and helpful response on this subject I have had and I’ve been hunting. These quotes were especially helpful:

        Thus, it is not pragmatism per se that is problematic, but a pragmatism that sacrifices what is right for what is expedient.

        I have contended that results (that I may win some) for the sake of the gospel is a glorious focus. If God conjoins the salvation of the elect to the proclamation of the gospel how can anyone not sacrifice and “do whatever it takes” to see that the gospel is advanced for the sake of the salvation of the elect who receive it by faith. In my view, that is pragmatism. But surely to sacrifice what is right for what is expedient is wrong.

        Also this: The charge of pragmatism arises because their basic means of evangelism is to figure out what your audience is looking for (the archetypal ‘Saddleback Sam’, as Rick Warren has dubbed him) and meet their felt needs.

        I did not realize this was Warrens intent. My experience with him led me to a different conclusion. I thought that he identified “Saddleback Sam” so that he could help the saints know who they were reaching (to the Jew, I became a Jew) not so they could meet their felt needs but so they could understand the cultural distinctives of the lost in their area and be “willing to set aside cultural preferences, or to adopt cultural constraints, for the cause of the Gospel”. By adjustments I don’t mean changing the message, but the method. As it relates to the gospel and the absence of the wrath of God being poured out on sin in the person of Jesus, this error is a American Church at large error and not at all specific to the any particular ‘fad’ movement, PD or any other. And from your confession, it is not only in the U.S. I do hear it more than you though.

        As an aside, I don’t put much faith in anecdotal evidence as it relates to a friend or churches who said the PD thing messed them up. I could say they didn’t get it at all or it wouldn’t have messed them up. It certainly didn’t mess Warren up or the countless professors who have been influenced by him.

        Also, I may still be one of the “deceived”. I think Warren uses cultural methods to get people in the room. I think he gets them in the room for the sake of the gospel. I still don ‘t get it. I mean, I get what you are saying. That methods aren’t the gospel. That meeting felt needs isn’t the gospel. That Jesus didn’t get you in the room to meet felt needs per se.
        It’s just that I can’t through my thick head how Warren’s approach does that. With that I will continue to listen so that I can figure it out.

        And thank you so for your excellent and thoughtful response.

        BC

        1. Hi again Bobby,

          I too don’t put much faith in anecdotal evidence. Not even mine 🙂 So I am with you there.

          With regard to Warren using cultural methods to get people in the room, I’d agree. He does do this. And that’s fine (as long as we haven’t sacrificed the purpose of gathering together for church in the process). The real question is what he tells them once they’re there.

          And this is where we can look to the Purpose Driven Life, to find out what his idea of the Gospel really is.

          I wonder whether you’ve read this book? If not, I suspect that this might be the piece of the puzzle that you are missing.

          Here are two paragraphs (pp. 58–59):

          It’s time to settle the issue. Who are you going to live for – yourself or God? You may hesitate wondering whether you will have the strength to live for God. Don’t worry. God will give you what you need if you will just make the choice to live for him.

          Real life begins by committing yourself completely to Jesus Christ. If you are not sure you have done this, all you need to do is receive and believe. … First, believe. Believe God loves you and made you for his purposes. Believe you’re not an accident. Believe you were made to last forever. Believe God has chosen you to have a relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for you. Believe that no matter what you’ve done, God wants to forgive you. Second, receive. Receive his forgiveness for your sins. Receive his Spirit, who will give you the power to fulfill your life purpose. … Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity. ‘Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.’ Go ahead. If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!

          In Warren’s view, grace is conditional upon our choice. We just need to choose to live for God.

          And we are given something we must do to be saved. We have to commit ourselves completely to Jesus Christ. Rick Warren might as well just have told me to ‘Love God with all my heart and my neighbour as myself’. He’s effectively saying ‘It’s easy to be saved – just decide to start keeping the Law! If you choose to do this, God will help you to do it.’

          This is not the Gospel.

          And He gives us a ‘prayer that will change your eternity.’ We can simply say a prayer and be saved.

          And the assurance of our salvation is in the ‘sincerity’ with which we said that prayer. If we really, really mean it, God will save us. (What happens later, when I worry that I might not have been quite as sincere as I thought, when I start noticing where I fall short in my attempted Christian walk?)

          Where is any of this taught in Scripture?

          It’s actually worse than this. Here is a paragraph from Bob DeWaay’s review:

          The problem is that the user-friendly gospel is giving people false assurance. MacArthur explains, “People are breezing through those wide, comfortable, inviting gates with all their baggage, their self-needs, their self-esteem, and their desire for fulfillment and self-satisfaction. And the most horrible thing about it is they think they’re going to heaven” (MacArthur: 13). Warren skips many things, including the blood atonement, the doctrine of justification, the wrath of God against sin, a clear presentation of the person and work of Christ, and the need for repentance as part of the gospel. He replaces all these things with a personal journey to find one’s purpose. No wonder millions are entering the broad gate that he offers. Warren claims that we find our true self, MacArthur says that our true self is so wicked and perverted that it must die. MacArthur writes, “But start preaching the true gospel, the hard words of Jesus that call for total and absolute self-denial—the recognition that we’re worth nothing, commendable for nothing, and that nothing in us is worth salvaging—and that’s a lot less popular” (MacArthur 14, 15). What we have is the narrow gate and the wide one, they lead to entirely different destinies.

          To quote from another review that I’ve just found (I haven’t read the entire article):

          …there is no clear dealing with the sin issue. Warren’s book is intended for wide distribution in society at large, and it is not enough in such a context merely to mention the word sin. The average person in North America will admit that he is not perfect and that he is a “sinner” in some sense, but he also thinks of himself as a pretty good person. When he thinks of himself as a sinner, he does not mean what the Bible means, that he was shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin (Psa. 51:5), that his heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) and full of evil (Ecc. 9:3), that he is unrighteous and unprofitable (Rom. 3:10-11), that in his flesh dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18), and that his very righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy God (Isa. 64:6). Warren’s incredibly shallow approach allows any person who will admit that he is a sinner in any sense to pray a prayer and then think of himself as a genuine Christian, even though he might continue to deny what the Bible says about sin.

          There are many other things we could expose in Warren’s gospel. There is nothing about God’s holiness and justice. There is no clear teaching on what Jesus did on the cross. There is nothing about the blood. Warren invites the reader to “believe on Jesus.” What Jesus? People today believe in all sorts of false christs, but Warren does not warn them of this nor does he take the time to identify the true Jesus of the Bible in any clear fashion and to distinguish Him from false ones. Just a vague “believe on Jesus” and presto you are ready to heaven.

          And Warren completely ignores repentance. There is not a hint here that the sinner must repent of his sin and idolatry and false gospels. This is not the gospel that Paul preached. Paul summarized his message as follows: “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Warren says that he believes in the Great Commission and he mentions it in passing in The Purpose Driven Life, but he ignores repentance, which is a part of the Great Commission. Christ gave the Great Commission in Luke 24:44-48 and He commanded that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.” Paul boldly preached repentance to the philosophers and idolaters in Athens, and if he were alive today, he would certainly preach repentance to the idolaters in America! Paul said that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), and we can be sure that God hasn’t changed His mind.

          So, the problem with the Purpose Driven Life is not that it is packaged and written in an accessible and culturally relevant manner. No, the problem is that it presents a defective gospel absent repentance. One that is likely to lead to people who are still dead in their sins being falsely reassured that everything between them and God is just peachy. That’s why people have a problem with the PDL and its author.

          As always, thank you for your great comments 🙂

          1. The fog is lifting. And I have read the PDL uberbook and surely agree that it’s focus on the Gospel ends up being, confess that you want God to help you with your life and forgive you of your sins and commit your life to him (his version of repentance btw) and God will give you a good life.

            Again, thank you for contending for the faith that was delivered by the apostles. It encourages me and enriches me each time you do.

  8. Daniel,
    Thank you for an excellent article. We very much need this sobering reminder in our day. I fear that we Christians, in our earnest desire to see others come to Christ, become a little too gullible. Scripture, not emotion must be the test. (Granted, the test may have to come after our joy at a possible new birth dies down just a bit.)
    By the way, may I recommend a book that has been a great help to me in this area:
    “Romans Verse by Verse” by William R. Newell. It’s an old book (c. 1938), but a classic. You’ll find it at Amazon, or on the internet at
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/newell/romans.html
    Yours for His best,
    Bill Kahrl, Montrose, PA

    1. Welcome, Bill — thank you for the great comment and the book recommendation. I love the book of Romans, and I’ve therefore added your recommendation to my reading list. There’s treasure in them thar olde books 🙂

      Peace and grace.

  9. Dear Daniel,

    Very informative article and good to see that it has received a favourable mention on Ingrid Schlueter’s ‘Crosstalk’ blog.

    Readers might be interested to know that in my book ‘Test the Spirits: Volume 1’ 1 of the 3 topics addressed is ‘The Alpha Course’. The following are a few snippets of what I wrote –

    “As we continue to assess Alpha the question must be asked: ‘Does Alpha declare all the counsel of God?’ Are all the vital and crucial elements that make up ‘all the counsel of God’ included in it?… Tim Chapman (an Anglican curate) wrote a helpful article entitled ‘The Alpha Course Examined’… Tim Chapman, in his article, wrote:

    “the penal substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement is given very little weight – that Christ died not simply in our place but took upon himself the wrath of God against sin. It is skimmed over in the course. This is hardly surprising given that there is an incorrect view of the disease of sin in Alpha; the cure of the cross is similarly misrepresented. We are left with a hollow view of why Jesus had to die at all. Thus the cross ends up being little more than a visual aid, which proves that God is self-sacrificial and loving. The death of Jesus is presented as being an act of love yet without any connection with the reality of God’s holy anger. This is a far cry from the biblical teaching on the atonement.”

    The ‘Jesus’ of Alpha is portrayed more as a ‘Solver of human problems’ rather than as a ‘Saviour from sin’. He comes across like a spiritual ‘Jim’ll fix it’ character rather than ‘The Good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep’. He is presented as One who rescues people from the consequences of their ‘wrongdoings’ rather than as One who redeems people from the condemnation of their ‘sins’. I think Alpha’s Jesus would appeal to former soccer idol, George Best, with all his alcohol problems, but the Biblical Jesus would not – unless of course the Spirit of God did a dealing with him… – the missing link in Alpha is its failure to address the seriousness of sin. They do not adequately explain the Father’s view of sin. They do not adequately explain the Son’s redemption from sin. They do not adequately explain the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin… If ‘teaching’ is false then any resultant fruit from that ‘false teaching’ cannot, according to this passage [Matthew 7:15-18] be ‘good’… From the ‘Tree of Alpha’ one can pick a large basket of ‘questionable testimonies’.

    If any of your readers are interested the book can be obtained via the publisher on
    http://www.twoedgedswordpublications.co.uk/Books/Books.htm and click to download their book catalogue – alternatively I still have some copies available and I can be emailed on takeheed@aol.com By way of interest the other 2 topics addressed in the book relate to C S Lewis and Philip Yancey. Finally I also have a DVD of a talk I gave on ALPHA and that too is available from myself through contact on takeheed@aol.com

    Warmly in Christ

    Cecil Andrews
    ‘Take Heed’ Ministries
    Northern Ireland
    http://www.takeheed.net

    1. Hello Cecil, thank you so much for stopping by and for your encouragement.

      (For those who don’t know of him, I have met Cecil in person and he is one of the good guys exercising a valuable discernment ministry.)

      I really appreciate your comments and links on Alpha — you’ve done the hard work of research in the way that I haven’t. It’s especially good to have an Anglican perspective from Tim Chapman — the criticisms of Alpha are not matters of narrow denominationalism.

      I’ve just posted a follow-up article on Alpha. Since you know far more about it than I do, that you might like to check over, to make sure that I haven’t misdiagnosed its problems:

      A closer look at the Alpha Course and whether it is permissible to judge what other Christians teach

      I’d be delighted if you wanted to repost what you said about Alpha here on that post too, and perhaps also links to any other resources you have which might be helpful?

      Your fellow servant in Christ.

      1. Dear Daniel,

        When I read of you describing me as one of the ‘good guys’ I immediately thought of the Lord who said in Luke 18:19 “None is good except one, that is, God” and His judgment is never wrong but thank you anyway for your very kind sentiments.
        As suggested I’ll repost my comments to your specific article on ALPHA with a few other links referenced also.
        For His truth and glory.

  10. An Excellent and encouraging article!. These things cannot be stressed any less!

    I do have a question about the statement you made “Jesus tells us that, on the day of judgement, the sheep will be unaware of the good works that they had done”
    and then you reference Matthew 25:27-29. Isn’t it that the the sheep did not recognize that they ever did such things to him, our Lord, as they seemed confused by his personal pronoun usage?

    1. Welcome Graham, thank you for your kind words.

      Thank you too for your astute observation concerning pronouns. I think that this may well soften the effectiveness of the point that I was endeavouring to make with regard to Matthew 25:37–39. So be it. I’d sooner lose even the entire article and be faithful to Scripture than strain the meaning of the text in the smallest degree to sustain my argument.

      Your comment applied to what I had originally written:

      Likewise, we should never look to our works for assurance of our own salvation. To do so is immensely dangerous.

      Jesus tells us that, on the day of judgement, the sheep will be unaware of the good works that they had done (see also my treatment of the ‘sheep and the goats’ passage):

      Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ (Matthew 25:37-39)

      If the righteous are unaware of their good works even on the day of judgement, it makes no sense to encourage those seeking assurance of salvation to look at their own good works now.

      Are the righteous completely unaware of any good works, or are they simply unaware of having performed them upon Christ Himself? I opted for the former, but in the light of your comment, I am no longer convinced that this can be proved from the particular three verses I quoted.

      Now, let me think on me feet, and see whether I can perhaps recover a little ground.

      We can at least say that the sheep were unaware of the true nature of the specific works for which they were being commended. Those works had been sanctified and given an import far beyond anything that the sheep could imagine. (How gracious is our Lord and Saviour!)

      And the contrast between the sheep and the goats is instructive. For the goats were completely oblivious to the fact that they failed to exhibit good works. Not only had they not ministered to Christ, they had not done so to ‘one of the least of these’.

      Let’s look at how Jesus describes that same day in Matthew 7:21-23 (NKJV):

      Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

      Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’

      And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

      Here we have the goats not merely ignorant of the things that had not done, but falsely confident in the works that they had consciously been doing in the belief that they had some merit.

      Putting these two passages together, we are left to conclude two things:

      i) The righteous are at least unaware of the value of their works in Christ, sanctified by Him and viewed through His eyes. They really had no idea of what it was that they had done in Christ.

      And this is as it should be because, in truth, the merits of their works were not of themselves but of God. As the Westminster Confession (16.3) says of believers:

      Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit to work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.

      The scriptural bases given by the WCF for the works being wholly of Christ are these:

      Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:4–6)

      I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26–27, NKJV)

      Even the motivation to do the works is from God:

      ‘…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.’ (Philippians 2:13, NKJV)

      Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God… (2 Corinthians 3:5, NKJV)

      The regenerate person thus has at best but a veiled insight into any good works that might be being performed in him. He sees his works and his life tainted by sin (WCF 16.5 citations in support of this include Isaiah 64:6; Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:15, 18), not as Christ sees them in Himself.

      ii) The unrighteous believed that they were doing meritorious deeds (and they probably looked as if they were to those around them), but their confidence was sorely and tragically misplaced.

      Given your observation and the above discussion, although I could make something of an argument and keep a weakened version of my Matthew 25 point, I am not sure that I can make that argument succinctly within the flow of the article. I think it would therefore have been better if I had instead simply written the following:

      Likewise, we should never look to our works for assurance of our own salvation. To do so is immensely dangerous. For when we examine our lives in the light of God’s Law, we can but agree with Paul:

      For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
      (Romans 7:15, 18, NKJV)

      I have updated my post above accordingly, and also tweaked my treatment of the ‘sheep and the goats’ passage.

      I apologise for my error and offer you my sincere thanks for pointing it out. Well done, thank you!

  11. Daniel Neades do you consider yourself as Transformed man ( 2 Cor 5:17) and yet transforming Rom 12:2; 2Cor 3:18?. If “yes” than you are a pragmatic if “no” are you a Christian? Does the Gospel is working among to whom you preach or teach 1 Thes 2:13? What pragmatism you are taking about? Why we need applicatory endings in our preaching? Why do we need Biblical counseling centers? why we are called to examine ourselves 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5? Are you confident like Ap.Paul to say that your people who are given under your care as a “you are a letter from Christ delivered by us” 2 Cor 3:3? I am afraid to say this to you “They promise them freedom(transformed life), but they themselves are slaves of corruption….” 2 Pet 2:19. My question is very simple does the Gospel which is the power of God Transforms a person or not?
    Philip Lazar, Pastor
    India.

    1. Thank you for visiting, Philip, and for your comments!

      Daniel Neades do you consider yourself as Transformed man ( 2 Cor 5:17) and yet transforming Rom 12:2; 2Cor 3:18?. If “yes” than you are a pragmatic if “no” are you a Christian?

      As I say in the article, I am simul iustus et peccator. I am declared righteous, but nevertheless as yet sinner.

      I have ‘been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Heb. 10:10). Yet I am still ‘being sanctified’ (Heb. 10:14).

      I am confident that He who has begun a good work in me will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).

      Does the Gospel is working among to whom you preach or teach 1 Thes 2:13?

      I believe that ‘the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ (Heb. 4:12)

      Wherever it is rightly divided, God’s word works effectively in those who believe, according to the will of the Holy Spirit.

      What pragmatism you are taking about?

      I am referring to the pragmatism of accepting something into the church because it appears to produce results, even though it contains doctrine that is contrary to God’s word. A pragmatism that sacrifices what is right for what is expedient.

      My reply to Bobby’s comment goes into this in further detail.

      Why we need applicatory endings in our preaching?
      Do we always need to end with an application? Or may we finish simply by proclaiming Christ crucified for our sins and raised from the dead for our justification?

      Why do we need Biblical counseling centers?
      What we need are faithful elders, ‘skilful in teaching’ (1 Timothy 3:2) who will rightly divide the word of truth? Those who are able to ‘convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching’ (2 Timothy 4:2). Those who shepherd the flock and serve as examples to it (1 Peter 5:2–3).

      why we are called to examine ourselves 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5? Are you confident like Ap.Paul to say that your people who are given under your care as a “you are a letter from Christ delivered by us” 2 Cor 3:3? I am afraid to say this to you “They promise them freedom(transformed life), but they themselves are slaves of corruption….” 2 Pet 2:19. My question is very simple does the Gospel which is the power of God Transforms a person or not?

      As I say in the article:

      None of what I have said regarding a transformed life is to deny that genuine faith will result in good works. For it is true that ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2). That is, someone who has been regenerated and granted the gifts of repentance and trust in Christ will inevitably produce good works.

      Peace and grace to you in our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

      1. I am not satisfied with your water down reply. Think what Dr. Bryan Chapell says “without application,meaning is hidden. Application is essential to full expostion”. John Piper When asked Rick Warren, “What is your doctrine of the Bible?” He said, “Inerrant and authoritative. But I don’t mean all my interpretations of it are inerrant and authoritative.” And that is of course right. We should talk that way. May God’s Grace guard what we write about his sovereign working.

        1. I think that’s the first time I have been accused of a watered-down reply. Those who know me would find that amusing 🙂 Nevertheless, I am sorry that you were not satisfied with what I said.

          Your original comment effectively suggested that I was teaching antinomianism. I deny that charge, and countered it by pointing to the clear statement that I had made in the article, which is that true faith will result in good works. I don’t know how I could make that any plainer, any less watered-down.

          Nevertheless, those works are the result of faith, not its cause. And those works are not the means by which we are justified (declared righteous) before God:

          …knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:16, NKJV)

          Neither are good works to be the focus and the means of sustaining our Christian lives:

          O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?

          This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

          Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain?

          Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? – just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’

          Galatians 3:1–6, NKJV

          The Spirit works among the flock ‘by the hearing of faith’ (v. 5).

          If you wish your flock to be producing good works, they need to have faith (simple trust in Christ and His merits alone). Because it is from that faith that good works flow.

          And faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

          If you wish your flock to grow you, you must therefore preach to them repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ. I talk about this elsewhere in a little more detail.

          Now, I did not say that preachers should not make application, which your comment ‘without application, meaning is hidden’ implies. Of course, preachers should apply the Word to those in their charge.

          Rather, I asked whether that is what we should end our sermons upon (for you had suggested that we end with application). I’d as soon finish by directing people to Christ on the cross, and His glorious work for them, rather than pointing them back yet again upon themselves and the Law’s demands of what they must do.

          I’d be interested as to what you make of Todd Wilken’s A listener’s guide to the pulpit. Here’s a snippet from there:

          So these two, Law and Gospel, must always go together in every sermon. They must be carefully divided in every sermon. The Law must show us our sin, and the Gospel must silence the Law’s accusations against us with the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

          It is self-evidently manifest that for the Gospel to silence the accusations of the Law against us, the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins in Christ must come after the preaching of the Law to convict us of our sins.

          If pastors end on Law, rather than Gospel, they risk leaving their flocks in terror, cowering at the thundering condemnations of the Law. Such terrified sheep would be fit for nothing. If, however, we leave them with their hearts and minds set upon Christ, they shall be comforted and overjoyed – and thus equipped and zealous to do good works. As they hear the Gospel proclaimed, faith in Christ and His work for them will well up within them, and that faith shall then have its proper fruit, even good works.

          We must therefore leave people focused on Christ and His work on the cross for them, for He Himself says:

          I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, NKJV)

          And what does St. Paul say?

          For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2, NKJV)

          Let me quote again from Todd Wilken’s A listener’s guide to the pulpit. Here he speaks of the ‘Gospel-Sandwich Sermon’:

          This kind of sermon has a three–part outline: Law, Gospel, Law—a slice of Gospel between two slices of Law. The Gospel Sandwich was popularized by Billy Graham and other “evangelistic” preachers. These preachers present clear Law and clear Gospel. And if they stopped there, all would be well. But at the end of each sermon, they add one, final demand of the law: “Decide.” “Make your decision for Christ!” They leave the sinner with this one law he must keep and thus rob him of the Gospel’s comfort. Walther diagnoses the problem with this kind of preaching:

          Modern theologians assert that in the salvation of man two kinds of activity must be noted: in the first place, there is something that God must do. His part is the most difficult, for He must accomplish the task of redeeming men. But in the second place something is required that man must do. For it will not do to admit persons to heaven, after they have been redeemed, without further parley (talk). Man must do something really great—he has to believe. This teaching overthrows the Gospel completely.

          The Gospel Sandwich is also a favorite among pastors who just don’t trust the Gospel to motivate and produce good works in believers. So, after they have preached Law and Gospel, they return to the Law once again for a list of do’s and don’ts. With the Gospel Sandwich, the demands of the Law, not the comfort of the Gospel, get the final word.

          Please read Todd Wilken’s article.

          Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

          1. I am not interested to divert from the discussion point. If “transformed life” is not the proof of salvation, even “Good works” is not the proof of salvation (whether he is reformed, evangelical’s, anglican’s, arminian’s, mormon’s, Jehovah witness, 7th day Adventist, Catholic’s, Hindus, Muslims who are involved in lots of Good works in India) Myself and my preaching center’s in Cross of Christ, result’s in numerical and spiritual(transformed life)growth is the proof of God’s salvation and blessing in my congregation. Let us keep in mind Heb 4:12(the Word of God); Rom 10:17( the Preaching, Rom 1:16); Gal 3:2(the Listener) James 2:22,24. and Rev 22:12.

          2. I believe that I have fully addressed these points in this article, my other one on good works, and also in the comments on both of those. I do not therefore have anything further to add, and I shall lay this particular thread of ours to rest, lest it devolve into a fruitless argument.

            Pax.

          3. On biblical ground correct your wrong notion that “transformed life is not the proof of salvation” On biblical ground “transformed life is the greatest proof of salvation procured by the Cross of Christ” Ap. Paul say look to yourself what real repentance had done in your life 2 Cor 7:11; (Rev 22:10). I am sorry you had not finished fruitfully. Correct yourself. Rethink your false notion, don’t attack and make unnecessary controversies. Your article is fruitless and unbiblical. As fellow pastor take heed of yourself. If you like we can keep in touch philiplazar@yahoo.in

  12. Pretty good article, though the title is inaccurate and therefore no good. You should have called it “why a transformed life is not *necessarily* proof of salvation”. Jesus himself taught that you could tell a tree by its fruit, by their fruit you shall know them, etc. (Matt 7:16) When there’s regeneration, obviously there will be transformation (Matt 12:33). Transformation is therefore proof, so long as its the right kind.

    Also, could have used a bit more of 1 John. And Romans 7… debatable as to whether it even applies to Christians.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you for visiting Tom, and for your comments!

      With regard to the title, I mean ‘proof’ in the sense of something that gives absolute certainty, not in the weaker sense of ‘indicative evidence’. Thank you for enabling me to make that clear.

      You are right that 1 John is relevant. Although there is far more from there that could be said, I have made an impromptu study of 1 John 3:14–20 in the comments section on my follow-up article, What are we to make of our good works?

      As for Romans 7, I am aware that it is currently popular to see Paul’s remarks concerning the presence of sin in his own life as referring to his pre-Christian life. However, that seems to me to be an impossible interpretation, not least for the following reasons:

      v. 17: ‘But now [Gk. ‘nuni’, indicating the current situation], it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.’

      v. 18: ‘in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells’ (note the indicative present in the Greek).

      v. 19 describes Paul as wanting to do good, which certainly can’t apply to an unbeliever (Ps. 14:1, Rom. 3:12, etc).

      v. 20: Paul distinguishes between himself and the ‘sin that dwells in me’ (present active in the Greek).

      v. 21: uses the present tense again.

      v. 22: ‘I delight in the law of God according to the inward man’ – this can only describe a believer.

      v. 23: even as one delighting in the law of God, he sees his members still (in the present tense, again) waging war against ‘the law of my mind’.

      There’s much more that could be said on this, and nothing I could say here will end the ongoing debate, but that should give you an idea of the position from which I am writing.

      Peace and grace.

      1. Someone asked me for more detail about this recently. I had a quick hunt around for articles that treat the subject well, and came up with this one, which I rather like. I think it covers the major bases:

        Romans 7:14-25: Pauline Tension in the Christian Life

        Horatius Bonar also had the measure of the passage:

        This is not the language of an unregenerate or half-regenerate man. When, however, he adds, “I am carnal, sold under sin,” is it really Paul, the new creature in Christ, that he is describing? It is; and they who think it impossible for a saint to speak thus, must know little of sin, and less of themselves. A right apprehension of sin; of one sin or fragment of sin (if such a thing there be), would produce the oppressive sensation here described by the apostle—a sensation 20 or 30 years progress would rather intensify than weaken. They are far mistaken in their estimate of evil, who think that it is the multitude of sins that gives rise to the bitter outcry, “I am carnal.” One sin left behind would produce the feeling here expressed. Who can say, “I need the Word less and the Spirit less than I did 20 years ago”?

        (I found that latter quotation here.)

  13. I am always amazed at what and why Jesus died and God turned from him. Very good article here. Some teach assurance at every turn – even to hell. It must be a part of Gods plan though for reasons he only knows! Man is tempted to exalt himself and his works inside his being in anyway, even through christian church’s who teach man centeredness. Every man born is born a sinner and longs for that which Adam turned from God so to obtain and have – the knowledge of good and evil so to be like God in all his ways – apart from God. Oh, if we could but see the truth in the death of Jesus, than God can grant us the enormous gift and power of repentance to “SEE” ‘Him crucified’! Gods purpose of life – not mans purpose of and in life!!!! God help America’s church’s! God help me in this great fog of Pharisee preaching. But they were all needed to crucify our Lord 2000 years ago and so also today!

  14. Thank you for such a timely exhortation. The watered down gospel really makes it difficult when it comes to the issue of children and baptism. Recently, our church had a large baptismal service and my 11 yr-old wanted to go forward. However, after talking with her, I didn’t think that she really understood salvation and I didn’t want her to go forward with baptism and (as they used to say in the church I grew up in), “go in a dry devil and come out a wet one.” I’m going to have her pray and read the parable of the sower and continue our home Bible study until she HEARS and UNDERSTANDS.

  15. Just quickly before I’m off to the gym……I was one of those who professed to have been transformed by Christ (I say sanitized but not sanctified) for 9 years I lived as such, but in the end of those 9 years, when I saw myself through the Law of God (10 commandments) I was stunned that for the first time in my life I saw myself as a rotten sinner…… I found your blog to be spot on in the entry, keep up the work of exposing the un fruitful works of darkness! I just praise God!!!

    1. Hi Joanne, thank you for stopping by and leaving your comment. I think that many of us would identify with what you have said – the Law does its work when we are shown ourselves in its mirror. How marvellous is the Gospel, that Christ should die even for such as us!

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