Justified by Faith, Apart from Works

I recently listened to a train wreck of a sermon by a local Purpose Driven pastor. In his 44 minutes on the subject of faith, he achieved the remarkable feat of avoiding any mention of the proper object of Christian faith: Christ, and His life, death and resurrection for sinners.

The pastor defined faith by a number of its purported attributes. The fourth was this:

Faith is giving when I don’t have it.

Let’s leave aside the aspect of ‘giving when I don’t have it’, problematic though that is. There is a more fundamental error lurking in this statement.

Notice that the pastor does not say that faith results in my ‘giving when I don’t have it’. Neither does he state that ‘the kind of faith that justifies produces a desire to give’. Rather, he asserts that faith is giving. This is to confuse faith with the fruit of faith, namely the works that faith produces.

Though it might at first seem as if I am splitting hairs, maintaining the distinction between faith and works – especially with respect to justification – is foundational to a proper understanding of biblical Christianity (cf. the epistles to the Romans, Galatians, etc.). This distinction was a lynchpin of the Reformation. Against the Reformers’ emphasis on justification by grace alone (unmerited favour) through faith alone (apart from works), Rome erroneously insisted that justification is ‘not by faith alone, which some incorrectly teach, but faith that works through love’ (see the Pontifical Confutation of the Augsburg Confession).

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Sound words on forgiveness from Kevin DeYoung and Chris Brauns. View article →

Better still is the realization that, not only is our having been forgiven a gracious gift from God, but so too is our repentance (cf. Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25).

Our love for one another arises from the Gospel – we have been shown so great a love by God in Christ, and we are now united in Him by the Holy Spirit. It is thus only the proclamation and hearing of the Gospel that will bring about love for one another. We love and forgive because we have been loved greatly and forgiven much.

LCMS Theology Commission: Avoid NIV 2011

The Cyberbrethren blog reports that the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relation’s executive staff has warned against the 2011 version of the New International Version translation of the Bible. The NIV 2011 replaces the previous and widely used 1984 edition.

The four-page statement of opinion from the CTCR staff (PDF) outlines their concern with the use of gender-inclusive language in the NIV 2011. One of the examples discussed is Psalm 8:4–5:

Psalm 8:4-5 in NIV 2011 reads: “What is mankind [collective noun substitution for “man”] that you are mindful of them [plural substitution for “him”], Human beings [plural noun substitution for “son of man”] that you care for them [plural substitution for “him”]? You have made them [plural substitution for “him”] a little lower than the angels and crowned them [plural substitution for “him”] with glory and honor.”

Once again, the rationale for the translation changes seems to be the desire to emphasize a universal truth about all humanity—that humankind has received glory and honor as the crown of creation. The translation decisions, however, obfuscate other things. First, and most importantly, the decision to use plurals here vitiates the Messianic meaning of this psalm, its particular application to Christ. Hebrews 2:5-9 quotes Ps 8:4-5 and notes that these verses testify to our Lord Jesus. He is the Man to whom the Lord gives all glory and honor; the Son of Man to whom all creation is subject. He is the One who exceeds the angels in glory and honor, even though he was made to be lower than them for our salvation.

Second, we should note that the substitution of a generic term like “human being” or “human beings” for “son of man” (a consistent pattern in NIV 2011), impoverishes the understanding of “Son of Man” as the self-designation our Lord uses throughout the Gospels. Jesus uses a term (a particular idiom, “son of man”) from the Old Testament that indicates full humanity and refers it to himself. This is of great importance, especially when it is seen in the light of Daniel 7:13-14. There that same term, “son of man,” is used in a prophecy of our Savior’s incarnation, where “one like a son of man” is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom” in which all nations are included under a rule that shall never be destroyed.

The statement, which is worth reading in its entirety, concludes:

Given the significance of this issue and these examples, we find the NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation decision to substitute plural nouns and pronouns for masculine singular nouns and pronouns to be a serious theological weakness and a misguided attempt to make the truth of God’s Word more easily understood. The use of inclusive language in NIV 2011 creates the potential for minimizing the particularity of biblical revelation and, more seriously, at times undermines the saving revelation of Christ as the promised Savior of humankind. Pastors and congregations of the LCMS should be aware of this serious weakness. In our judgment this makes it inappropriate for NIV 2011 to be used as a lectionary Bible or as a Bible to be generally recommended to the laity of our church. This is not a judgment on the entirety of NIV 2011 as a translation—a task that would require a much more extensive study of NIV 2011—but an opinion as to a specific editorial decision which has serious theological implications.

No Compromise Ever, Episode 1

I’m rather late with this one but, if you haven’t already seen it, Episode 1 of No Compromise Ever is available and well worth watching. Mike Abendroth, Dr. James White, Dr. Carl Trueman and Phil Johnson discuss the fallout from Elephant Room 2.

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Carl Trueman on Outsourced Sermon Preparation

In the light of a new research service endorsed by the likes of Mark Driscoll and Craig Groeschel, Carl Trueman wonders whether it is acceptable for preachers to outsource an integral part of their sermon preparation. View article →

Gay Christianity Refuted: James White’s Full Response to Matthew Vines

On 8 March 2012, 21 year old Matthew Vines gave an emotionally charged presentation entitled The Bible and Homosexuality. He attempted to argue the case that ‘loving’ homosexual relationships were compatible with biblical Christianity. Many found it persuasive.

Over several recent episodes of his webcast, The Dividing Line, Dr. James White, director of Alpha & Omega Ministries and author of The Same Sex Controversy, has responded systematically to Vines’ entire presentation. Now available as a single five-hour long programme, White’s rebuttal is essential listening for anyone wishing to understand the true biblical position on homosexuality. Download it for free from the Alpha & Omega Ministries website.

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The New Perspective on Paul: Calvin and N.T. Wright

What exactly is the nature of the New Perspectives on Paul? So asks Dr. J.V. Fesko, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, California. He presents a lengthy – but very worthwhile – survey of N.T. Wright’s New Perspective on Paul, contrasting it with the Reformation understanding of justification and works of the law as expressed by Calvin. He concludes:

What makes the new perspective most harmful to the church is its use of terminology. Advocates of the new perspective use terms such as Scripture, sin, justification, works, faith, and gospel, but have given them entirely different meanings.

The advocates of the new perspective on Paul give us no reason to abandon the old perspective. Their case lacks evidence from primary sources and has fundamental presuppositions that conflict with Scripture itself. Those who drink at the fountain of the new perspective must drink with great discernment because hiding behind orthodox nomenclature lies liberalism, and the heart of liberalism is unbelief. In the end, it looks like Qohelet was right after all—there is nothing new under the sun.

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Learning from Liberals

Nathan Busenitz, Instructor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, outlines seven lessons we can learn from the German liberal theologians and higher critics:

1. The way to reach skeptics with the gospel is not by watering down the gospel. Many of the liberal theologians thought they could make Christianity more appealing to Enlightenment rationalists if they abandoned the historical authenticity of the text; and if they redefined the gospel as something other than salvation from sin through Christ (thereby making it less offensive to modern minds). But, in so doing, they actually undid the very gospel they thought they were helping to preserve.

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