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As To Conditions (7)

In my last article on this subject (cf. The Standard Bearer of Dec. 15, 1949) I was discussing Canons 2, article 8, an article of our confessions which completely covers the entire truth of our salvation from election to eternal glory. Yet, this article not only fails to speak of conditions but leaves no room for the notion at all.

It speaks of the sovereign decree of election as the unconditional source of our salvation. It emphasizes that the gift of faith is bestowed by God only upon the elect, so that faith is presented as belonging to salvation itself. Moreover, by this God-given means of faith, the elect are infallibly led unto salvation. And how can a gift possibly be, at the same time, a condition unto that gift?

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As To Conditions (4)

The Arminians taught an election on the basis of foreseen faith and perseverance. God had chosen those whom he knew would believe and persevere. Faith, therefore, is a condition in the counsel of God, unto salvation. Yet, they understood, too, that man does not have this faith of himself. Scripture teaches too plainly that it is a gift of God. Now, how did they meet or rather circumvent this difficulty by their theory of “common grace,” or of the proper use of the light of nature. By this theory, they could even, if need be speak of an election unto faith! O, the error is made to look so much like the truth! When the Reformed believer speaks of sovereign grace, the Arminian agrees with him wholeheartedly—it is all of God! When the Reformed believer confesses to believe in election, the Arminian has no objection. When the Reformed child of God confesses that we are saved through faith, and that faith is a gift of God, the Arminian agrees with him. And yet their views are opposed to each other as light and darkness. This becomes apparent as soon as you ultimately ask the question: but to whom does God give this saving faith? Then the Reformed believer confesses: God gives the saving faith to whom he will, unconditionally, according to his absolutely free and sovereign and unconditional election! There are absolutely no conditions in the matter of salvation, no condition of faith, neither any conditions unto faith! But the same question the Arminian answers as follows: God bestows the gift of faith upon those that are willing to receive it. There is, after all, a condition attached unto election unto faith, and that condition is that man must use the light of nature aright, that by that light he must walk humbly and in meekness before God, become pious and render himself worthy and fit for eternal life!

Thus the question is always ultimately: is salvation determined by God or by man?

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As To Conditions (2)

According to the Heidelberg Catechism, as we have seen, faith is never presented as a condition unto salvation, or as a condition which we must fulfill in order to enter into or remain in the covenant of God. Always it is presented as a means or instrument which is wrought in us by God and given us of him, by which we are ingrafted into Christ, become one body with him, and thus receive all his benefits.

Instrument and condition certainly do not belong to the same category of conceptions.

If faith is a condition it certainly is something man must do in order to and before he can obtain salvation. Unless we attach that meaning to the word it has no sense at all. And as I wrote before, in the minds of the people the term condition undoubtedly stands for some notion that makes salvation dependent on something man must do.

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Faith Working by Love

Faith Working by Love

The issue in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is justification. How is a guilty sinner declared righteous before God? The answer: a sinner is justified before God on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ received by or through the instrument of faith alone without works.

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Faith Working by Love (2)

Faith Working by Love (2)

Powerless Alternatives

Two other things mentioned in verse 6 do not avail.

According to verse 6 there are two kinds of people “in Jesus Christ.” There are two kinds of Christians, two kinds of believers or two kinds of church members: the circumcision, believing Christians of a Jewish background; and the uncircumcision, believing Christians of a Gentile or pagan background.

In the New Testament “circumcision” is almost synonymous with “Jew.” Circumcision was the Jewish ceremony of initiation or the Old Testament sign of the covenant. In Paul’s day it was still the sign that distinguished the Jews from the other nations and the Jews boasted in their circumcision. The Judaizers thought that circumcision was so important that the Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be saved and justified before God (Acts 15:1). Moreover, circumcision signifies and represents the whole law, which is clear from the context: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing; for I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:2–4).

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Faith Working by Love

Faith Working by Love

The issue in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians is justification. How is a guilty sinner declared righteous before God? The answer: a sinner is justified before God on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ received by or through the instrument of faith alone without works.

Paul preached that gospel in Galatia. The saints in Galatia had received and believed that gospel. But false teachers infiltrated the churches. They brought a different message, the message that the sinner is justified on the basis of his obedience to the law of God; or that he is justified on the basis of good works; or that he justified on the basis of faith and good works.

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August 2019 Standard Bearer preview article

“As to our good works” (2): The nature of good works as works

Works occupy a prominent place in Scripture; in fact, Scripture is from beginning to end a book of works. Scripture attributes works to the triune God, Christ, angels—wicked and holy, and men—wicked and holy. We begin our examination of the good works of the believer by considering the nature of good works and noting five general characteristics of our good works as works.

A conscious, acting subject

First, works are those deeds consciously and volitionally performed by rational, moral beings. Strictly speaking, a creature like the sky is not capable of performing works. Psalm 19:1 teaches, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” The visible expanse of the heavens above us gives glory to God; however, it is not an intelligent creature consciously and willingly producing “works” of praise unto God as holy men and holy angels can do. We men are different than the creatures in the heavens above and in the earth beneath and in the waters under the earth, for God created us as personal beings with an intellect and will so that we are able to live consciously before His face performing works of service in love for Him and our neighbor. In marriage, a husband and wife are called to love each other and show it in word and deed, but if a whole week has gone by and they have not consciously performed even one considerate act towards each other, living as intimately as two stars twinkling side by side in the heavens, something is dreadfully amiss. God created us, and in Jesus Christ has recreated us, as new creatures able to do good. Consciously! Willingly! Cheerfully! Lovingly!

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June Standard Bearer preview: Response to ‘Agreement and objections re faith and works’

Rev. Lanning:

I am glad to read that you find between us areas of agreement. Especially important is that you can accept calling faith a ‘doing,’ though only “as long as calling faith a ‘doing’ only means that faith is an activity, but in no way, shape, or form means that faith is a work."

 

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June Standard Bearer preview: Agreement and objections re faith and works

Agreement and objections re faith and works

Thank you for publishing my letter and revised letter in the March 1 and March 15, 2019 issues of the Standard Bearer, even though the letter exceeded the length allowed by SB policy. (As for your apology for publishing the wrong letter originally, apology accepted—no harm done and no hard feelings.) Thank you as well for your thorough response to my letter in two installments in those same issues. We are agreed that these matters are of greatest importance and are worthy of the space devoted to them in the pages of the SB. I ask for your indulgence in allowing me to respond once more, since this letter again goes beyond policy.

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Synod 2018: Obedience and covenant fellowship

The editorial in this special Synod issue focuses on one particular issue faced by Synod 2018, namely, the place of obedience (good works) in the believer’s experience of covenant fellowship. The issue of the place of good works in the covenant life is important because the covenant and salvation are inseparable. A Reformed man will confess concerning salvation that 1) it is all of God; 2) salvation is found in Christ alone; 3) God sovereignly saves His elect through faith in...

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To teach them war (20) God’s armor for us: The Shield

From all eternity God determined to bestow the gift of faith as a shield upon His elect people in Jesus Christ. When we sinners are begotten again and sovereignly grafted into our living Savior, we receive all the benefits of salvation, including the ability to believe and trust in God and His word. Faith then is the powerful, conscious activity of the believer whereby he holds for truth all that God has revealed in His Word, confidently persuaded that the promises...

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The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (9): Clear Explanations

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (9): Clear Explanations

Because the proper answer to the question of the necessity of good works is so closely connected with the church’s confession of the truth of the believers’ gracious salvation, and because wrong answers to this question end up denying this truth, there is no room for ambiguous language in answering this question. Especially is this ambiguous language to be deplored in a misguided and ill-informed attempt to impress upon the people of God the necessity of doing good works. This necessity,...

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The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (8): Uniquely Reformed Heresy

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (8): Uniquely Reformed Heresy

The Reformed faith teaches that the sinner is saved and delivered from his misery merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of the sinner. The Reformed faith also insists that the same sinner who is delivered from his misery without his works—so that his salvation is not by works—must do good works. Two things must be noted here. First, the believing sinner is saved, saved unto eternal life, without ever performing a single good work. His salvation consists in his...

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The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (4): The Renewal of the Sinner

The Question of the Necessity of Good Works (4): The Renewal of the Sinner

At the same time the Reformed faith insists that the sinner is saved by God’s grace wholly without his own works—including especially the doctrine of justification by faith alone in which the believing sinner is justified before God in his conscience and experience by faith alone and not at all by works—it also insists that good works are necessary. It is slander to charge the defense of this position with a denial of the necessity of good works. Those who do...

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