The Charge of Antinomianism (9): Dismissing it

The charge of antinomianism coming from the quarters of the federal vision and its supporters must be rejected and dismissed, but also countered.

It should hearten the Reformed church and believer that they have even drawn the charge. If men like Mark Jones, Richard Gaffin, and the rest of the federal vision men charge the truth with antinomianism and try to dismiss the truth with a name, they do to us Reformed believers nothing more than what the opponents of Christ did to him when they called him a Nazarene, a glutton, a winebibber, and a blasphemer. Such a charge from such men is a glorious mark of distinction.

Reformed preachers, consistories, and congregations must not be afraid of the charge from these quarters. They must not play into the hand of these opponents of the truth by supposing that in the preaching of the truth of the unconditional covenant, justification by faith alone, and the rest of the doctrines of grace there lurks antinomianism, so that when this truth is preached the congregation and people of God will conclude that they now can live as they please. This is to be ashamed of the gospel, to distrust the work of the Spirit with that gospel, to doubt the power of God to make his people holy as the fruit and effect of his work to justify them, and to question the promise that those whom he justifies he also glorifies.

Having drawn the charge, the Reformed church, preacher, and believer must also dismiss it. The charge is nothing else but gross slander. The doctrine of the unconditional covenant and all the other doctrines of grace are no profane doctrines. They are not responsible for any worldliness, ungodliness of life, or wickedness in the church. When they are preached, preached emphatically, and often, there is not an incipient antinomianism that lurks beneath them, as though the believer when he hears these things preached says in his soul, “Thank God, now I can live however I please.” This is simply not the reaction of the believer and church of God to these doctrines. They induce thankfulness of life, holiness, and good works in believers. These doctrines do not make men careless and profane, even if careless and profane men may abuse them as excuses for their wickedness. I will grant that the believer’s careless and profane old man will take the doctrines and use them as excuses to sin. But that is not the fault of the doctrines, but of the old man. That is not the reaction of the believer, but of sin in him in the form of the old man of sin, and he must be crucified daily.

These doctrines are not the cause of ungodliness, and neither is antinomianism lurking within them. On the contrary, these doctrines are according to godliness, so that where they are taught and believed, holiness of life is the inevitable fruit. The faith that justifies without its works is the faith whereby the believer is implanted into Christ. It is impossible that this faith be unfruitful any more than Christ, the root, can be unfruitful. It is really a charge against Christ, the root of faith, that if he justifies the believer without works, he is so impotent that he is unable so to move the believer to good works and that he is only half a Christ. This the Heidelberg Catechism denies in its teaching about the necessity of good works in the life of the believer. The necessity is not that good works are the way to salvation, that the believer must labor for his salvation, or that he must be scared for his hide. The necessity is Christ and the renewing work of the Spirit. The one he justifies and saves wholly without his works, he also makes a new creature. He is not a careless and profane Christ, so that those who are implanted into him by faith are no careless and profane Christians. He uses all kinds of means for this, including the preaching of this reality and the real and right preaching of the law of God.

Rather, it is the doctrine of the conditional covenant—and general grace—that not only is wicked because it makes salvation dependent on a sinner’s works, but also leads to wickedness. The doctrine of the conditional covenant, especially in the form taught by the federal vision, is a wicked doctrine. It is the wickedness of works’ righteousness about which the apostle proclaims that its teachers are anathema and fallen from Christ.

The doctrine of a conditional covenant also leads to wickedness. It is no surprise that the Pharisees, who were scrupulous about how many steps one took on the Sabbath, whether someone ate corn out of a field, or hypocritically were incensed when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, while they would pull their ox out of ditch, were also overrun with divorce and remarriage, so that Jesus repeatedly taught about this matter and accused them of covetousness. It is not surprising that Rome, who was loud in its charge of antinomianism against the reformers, was an Augean stable of every sort of vice and wickedness.

The reality is that a sinner cannot be saved by his works—or any condition—and there is no assurance of salvation in that way. One who attempts to be righteous by works cannot escape the condemning word of God, “Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the law to do them.” God will see to it that those who despise the righteousness of Christ as the only ground of salvation and eternal life and who despise faith, faith alone in Jesus Christ, as the only way to salvation and fellowship with the Father have no peace. Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and introduction into his grace wherein we stand. Apart from this justifying faith there is no peace or salvation. The only way to escape that cursing word of God is by faith in Jesus Christ and shelter in him who was cursed for us. Either Christ was cursed for us, or a man must bear that curse himself. The end result of this condemning word of God is that man tries to escape the law by illegitimate means. All who try must deny the law. They must teach that the law is in fact doable by a man through the Spirit and for salvation. In order to teach that, one of two things must be done: either the law must be made a mere outward code that man is capable of doing while his heart remains wicked, or they must teach that the law is not to be performed perfectly but only requires that a man do what is in him, which God will graciously accept. Legalism destroys the law and the doctrines of grace. As Paul repeatedly pointed out about the doctrine of grace, “We establish the law.”

Either that or the teaching of works leads to despair of salvation. A man cannot be righteous before God by his works. In his great parable on righteousness, Jesus sent the Pharisee home unjustified, and so are all those who trust in their works, no matter how little. They are unjustified. They are unjustified because God will only justify the ungodly, that is, the man who by faith confesses that he is utterly without righteousness, indeed incapable of righteousness, and that he has no works on which he will rely. That man alone is justified. The man who trusts in his works is unjustified. That must lead to despair. As scripture teaches, despair is the great motive of wickedness: let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

In the face of the federal vision’s gross denial of justification by faith alone, its slander of the unconditional covenant, and its attempts to make works the ground of the believer’s salvation, the Reformed minister, believer, and church must all be willing to draw the charge of antinomianism and be able to point out how it is false and evil. The law and the works of the law, including the works of faith, have absolutely no place as either a part or as the whole of the believer’s righteousness before God, as the ground of his communion with God, or as the way to his salvation, life, or the covenant. Works are not the way to life, salvation, communion, or fellowship with God. The believer has communion with God by faith only because by that faith and without any works, and indeed as an ungodly man, God justifies him for Christ’s sake, forgives his sins, imputes Christ’s righteousness to him, declares him worthy of eternal life, and on that basis actually takes that man into his fellowship. God also sanctifies that man, separating him from the world and consecrating him to God in all good works as the way of life in his fellowship.

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This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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Gospel Truth of Justification (6): Polemical and Necessary


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The Charge of Antinomianism (6): Works, the Way to Salvation

Belonging to the effort to smear the truth of grace with the charge of antinomianism is the concerted effort to redefine the place of works in salvation. This begins with criticism of the centrality of justification in the salvation of sinners, as though emphasizing the doctrine will take away from the equal importance of preaching sanctification. This is a ploy. In reality sanctification cannot be preached properly apart from the right doctrine of justification. The one who will do good works must first understand that they are of no account for his righteousness and salvation before God. The Reformed creeds make this clear: “it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that, on the contrary, without it they would never do anything out of love of God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation” (Belgic Confession, article 24). The faith that works by love is first the faith that justifies without its works. Add to this the thought that any work that is performed to merit with God, earn with God, or achieve with God is mortal sin.

In his effort to teach a federal vision understanding of works, Mark Jones goes to great lengths to show how Reformed theologians taught the necessity of good works. Over against a real antinomian this is necessary. The Heidelberg Catechism uses such language in question 86: “why must we still do good works?” The issue is not the necessity of good works. The issue is how Jones describes that necessity of good works.

In his endorsement of Richard Gaffin’s book, Jones, more clearly than the book itself, summarizes the position espoused in it: “Spirit-wrought good works are not only the way of life, but also the way to life-salvation.”[1] He also uses the same language in his book Antinomianism: “Reformed theologians during the post-Reformation era were clear that good works (i.e., evangelical obedience) were not only the way of life, but also the way to life.”[2] His doctrine is that works are necessary as the way to life-salvation. He does not seem to realize that the two terms “way of life” and “way to life” are mutually exclusive. If works are the way of life, they are not the way to life, and if they are the way to life, they are not the way of life.

Part of Jones’ doctrine of works is also his ridicule of the idea that works are evidences of faith. After a long section in which he seeks to prove that works are necessary to salvation, he says, “So much, then, for good works merely evidencing faith.” He uses the term “merely” so that he does not have to condemn the position outright. But if works are necessary to salvation, this obviates the role of works as the evidence of faith and the fruits of faith and salvation. He contrasts the idea that works are evidence of faith with the idea that they are “necessary,” so as to make them virtually mutually exclusive. He also criticizes the idea that good works are fruits of thankfulness: “To insist that believers perform good works only as their thankful response to the triune God for all that he has done for them may give the impression that they are not actually necessary for salvation.”[3]

He must be aware that he is criticizing the entire approach to good works in the Heidelberg Catechism and its first answer to the question of why believers must do good works: “so we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for his blessing and that he may be praised by us” (A 86). He must be aware that James demands that the believer justify his confession to have faith by his works, which James says is to “shew thee my faith by my works,” or to evidence faith (2:18). It is exactly the point of the Catechism and scripture by teaching that works are fruits of thankfulness that they are NOT necessary for salvation in the sense that they are “the way to life-salvation.” They are part of the gift of salvation to the believer, specifically the fruit of the sanctifying work of the Spirit in him by which the Spirit renews him and makes him active.

In support of his doctrine that works are necessary as the way to salvation, Jones erroneously appeals to answer 32 of the Westminster Larger Catechism: “to work in them faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation” (the emphasis is Jones’). Ignoring that the Westminster here fully agrees with the Heidelberg Catechism that works are evidences of faith and of thankfulness, he twists the last phrase to his own purposes that works are the way to salvation.

The creed does not teach that at all, and the language does not support Jones’ conclusion. The creed says clearly that good works are evidences of faith and thankfulness. The words “to salvation” refer to God’s appointment of his elect. He appointed them to salvation, and that appointment included all their works that they perform as the way they live as saved believers. This is no different from Ephesians 2:10 that all the good works believers perform are appointed to them.

The Canons of Dordt also use this language in 1.8: “according to which he hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath ordained that we should walk therein.” The creeds teach that works are the way of salvation, to which God appointed his elect people. Those works were appointed to them by God, purchased for them by the cross of Christ, and worked in them by the Spirit of grace. The gift of salvation includes the very works in which the saved believer walks. They are fruits and effects of salvation given.

The justified believer possesses salvation, which means the covenant and fellowship with the living God. The life of the covenant and of fellowship with the living God is constituted in a life of holiness and good works. The justified believer possesses that life, covenant, and fellowship with the living God by faith only, because by faith all his sins are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him. On that ground alone and by faith alone, the justified believer is at peace with God, as Romans 5:1 says. Through Christ, on the basis of his perfect righteousness alone, the justified believer is introduced into the favor of God, life, and fellowship with the living God, consciously and in his own experience, as Romans 5:2 says.

As Jesus made clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no man comes unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6). The way to come to the Father, to be received into his fellowship and friendship, is by faith only without any works. To come to the Father and to be received by the Father in favor and grace is impossible by works, any works, because all the works the believer performs are polluted with sin. Once I am received into God’s fellowship by faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, the life that the Father requires of me, and also actually works in me, is a life of obedience. In that sense, works are the way of salvation because they are the way of life that is required of the saved believer. However, at no point and in no sense are those works ever the ground of that fellowship or the way to that fellowship, for the ground is Christ’s righteousness, and the way to that fellowship is faith alone.

Furthermore, works are the fruits and effects of God’s sanctification of the believer. He does good works because of the saving benefit of sanctification. He is not sanctified by his works, but he does works because he is sanctified. Here also works are fruits of his salvation.

Indeed, since I pollute and defile even the best of my works, they must be justified by faith only on the ground of the perfect righteousness of Christ. This is the testimony of the Reformed creeds about the good works—genuinely, Spirit-wrought good works—of the believer. Article 24 of the Belgic Confession says, “Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable.” The Heidelberg Catechism says the same thing: “our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin” (A 62).

The idea that Spirit-wrought works are defiled by the believer Mark Jones criticizes and rejects: “it is actually an affront to God to suggest that Spirit-wrought works in believers are ‘filthy rags,’ for these are works that God has prepared in advance for us to do in order to magnify his grace and glorify the name of Christ.” He continues, “It is a vain imagination to suppose that we exalt the grace of God by suggesting that the only righteousness pleasing to God is Christ’s righteousness.” Here he shows what he is after. The Spirit-wrought works constitute not the believers thankfulness to God, but his righteousness before God.

Adding folly to his wicked doctrine he goes on to assert, “To be clear, God does not need our good works, but Christ does, and so he not only requires them, but also desires them.”[4] This is complete theological nonsense that turns the Reformed doctrine of works on its head. Christ does not need our works anymore than God does. This is like saying the fountain of water needs the river that flows out of it. The fountain produces the river. It is not in need of the river. So Christ as the inexhaustible fountain of grace produces great rivers of water out of us that flow to the neighbor and redound to the praise of his wonderful grace.

Then, Jones adds to his false doctrine and folly a crass mercantilism: “To put it rather bluntly, there are some Christians who are godlier than others…For this reason, those who do more good works than others will receive greater rewards in heaven.”[5] What about the thief on the cross whose only work was to confess Christ, but who did so when the whole world, including Christ’s own apostles, was denying him? Does the thief sit lowest in the kingdom because he had but one good work? What about the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, some of whom endured the heat of the day and some of whom wrought but one hour, and who all received a penny, which action the lord of the vineyard defended on the ground that it was lawful for him to do what he willed with his own. Christ, the lord of the vineyard, also accuses Mark Jones’ crass mercantilism in salvation as coming from “an evil eye,” that objects to his “goodness” (Matt. 20:1–15). There are rewards in salvation, but those rewards are gracious and as such are not distributed like hourly wages to laborers, but sovereignly by God according to his good pleasure. Who knows whether the thief on the cross with his one work will not sit at the right hand of Jesus Christ?

It is heretical to teach that works are necessary as the way to salvation. Scripture and the creeds do not speak this language. The difference between truth and lie is a single word. The truth is that works are the way of life. Mark Jones turns this on its head and insists that good works are the way to life and implies that without them there will not be life, but damnation. That works are the way of salvation maintains the doctrines of grace. That works are the way to salvation overthrows salvation by grace, denies Christ as the only way of salvation, and makes salvation and communion with God now and in eternity dependent on the believer’s works as the way to life. The fact that Jones is a fan of the federal vision only makes clearer what he is after when he insists that works are the way to salvation: justification by faith and works.

The proper way to explain the necessity of works is done by the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 32. They are not necessary as the ground of salvation or as the way to salvation, life, or fellowship with God, which is rank Roman works’ righteousness. It teaches that the necessity is the work of Christ in us, whom he has saved without our works. The Catechism says that Christ saved us without our works. To say that works are necessary to salvation denies that. Rather, works are necessary because the one who saves us without our works, also works in us by his Spirit. This Spirit-wrought obedience is not and never becomes the ground of salvation. It is the fruit and effect of salvation. The one who is not converted simply gives evidence that he does not have the Spirit because he does not have Christ.

In his pursuit of antinomians—falsely so-called—and to impress the necessity of works for the experience of fellowship with God, Mark Jones also brings up a distinction in the love of God.

To that I will turn next time.

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[1] Jones, in Gaffin, By Faith, Not by Sight, xi.

[2] Jones, Antinomianism, 67.

[3] Ibid., 64.

[4] Ibid., 78.

[5] Ibid., 76.

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This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section on the RFPA blog.

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Previous posts in this series: 

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The Charge of Antinomianism (5): Denying Justification by Faith Alone

The present-day attack on the truth of the unconditional covenant and salvation, consisting in the slanderous smear of that doctrine as antinomian, has a definite source. That source is the current ascendency and near total victory of the federal vision heresy in virtually every Reformed and Presbyterian denomination and seminary in the United States and elsewhere in the world. This heresy teaches that the covenant of God is made and union with Christ is established with every baptized child. Salvation in that covenant and union with Christ are conditioned on the child’s faith and obedience of faith. The single greatest threat to Reformed churches is this pestilential heresy of the federal vision. This false doctrine is a threat to their very existence as churches of Christ in the world. This is because as part of its doctrine of the conditional covenant, the federal vision denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Justification by faith alone is the truth that God forgives the sins of all those who believe in Jesus Christ and imputes to them Christ’s righteousness by faith alone and declares the believing sinner worthy of eternal life. To corrupt this doctrine is to corrupt the heart of the gospel. The false teacher that corrupts this doctrine is anathema. The church that corrupts this doctrine has become false.

The federal vision denies that the justification of the sinner is by faith only without any works. It teaches that the sinner’s justification in the final judgment will be by works. The way the men of the federal vision promote this is devilishly clever. While paying lip-service to justification by faith, even justification by faith alone, they teach that the faith that justifies is a working faith that justifies with its works. Men like Norman Shepherd, Richard Lusk, Peter Leithart, Douglas Wilson, and James Jordan have introduced this false doctrine into Reformed and Presbyterian churches. This doctrine has overwhelmed these churches. It is the current, popular understanding of salvation.

It is crucial to understand and to be convinced of the fact that the federal vision’s starting point for its denial of justification by faith alone is the doctrine of the conditional covenant. The conditional covenant has had widespread—almost universal—acceptance in Reformed churches. The federal vision has aggressively developed this idea. The covenant is made with both elect and reprobate alike—with Jacob and Esau—so that God promises to be the God of Jacob as well as of Esau. In the covenant, God gives grace to everyone. The continuation of this covenant on earth and perfection of this covenant in heaven depend on the faith and faithful obedience of the covenant-member. For this reason the federal vision teaches that the covenant-member can, and often does, fall out of the covenant and perish. Furthermore, the final judgment will be based partly on the work of Christ and partly on the covenant-member’s faith and obedience by grace: what one does in the covenant by grace will be part of the basis for his salvation. For the federal vision, salvation must be based on the covenant-member’s works by grace, because the covenant is conditional.

In the face of this heresy, there has been no acknowledgment of the cause of the heresy in the doctrine of the conditional covenant, but only a deaf and stubborn defense of the conditional covenant, even while many impotently wring their hands about the federal vision’s denial of justification by faith alone.

The widespread acceptance of this false doctrine, chiefly its doctrinal foundation of the conditional covenant, is the source of the false charge of antinomianism raised against the unconditional covenant and unconditional salvation. The proponents of the federal vision are busy redefining the term antinomian. Not content to introduce false doctrine, they must also damn the truth as antinomian.

Mark Jones’ book Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? is playing its part in this deadly conflict. His attack is couched as a question, but he makes clear in his book that he does not believe it is an open question whether antinomians, defined as he has defined them, are unwelcome guests. By suspect theology and by associating it with the names of some reputed antinomians from former ages, Jones seeks to render the whole doctrine suspect and therefore its teaching and those who teach it dangerous to the church and the church’s holiness as insipient antinomianism.

Mark Jones has written a glowing foreward to the book By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, written by federal vision defender and theologian Richard Gaffin. Jones approvingly quotes from this book in his book Antinomianism. In his book Richard Gaffin vigorously defends the idea that justification is by faith and works. He does so in typical federal vision fashion, insisting that the faith that justifies, in that justification is never alone, is a faith that works. He does not merely insist that faith is never alone, so that the Abraham of Romans 4, “ungodly” in his justification, is also the Abraham of James 2, who shows his faith by his works, but rather that the Abraham of Romans 4 is the Abraham of James 2 who works for his justification. In Gaffin’s words:

In this regard, it is hardly gratuitous to suggest that the Abraham of James 2:21–24, as well as anyone, exemplifies the response of Romans 1:5 to the gospel promise of the covenant that was eventually fulfilled in Christ (vv. 2–4), the response of “the obedience of faith.” This Abraham, the Abraham of the obedience of faith, implicitly brackets and so qualifies everything Paul says about him and his faith elsewhere in Romans. In fact we may say, in Romans we in effect meet the Abraham of James both in [Romans] 1:5, before Abraham is introduced explicitly in chapter 4, and also after that in [Romans] 16:26. These two are not somehow different persons, nor does each function as a theological construct in tension with the other. They are one and the same, and we can never properly understand one without the other.[1]

Thus for Gaffin, Rome was right. James and Paul speak of justification in the same sense. The faith by which Abraham was justified in Romans 4 was the obedient faith of the Abraham of James 2, and he was justified by that obedient faith. Justification is after all by faith and the works of faith, because the faith that justifies is never alone in that justification, but works. For Gaffin, it not that faith, being justified, also works, but that in the matter of justification faith works.

Gaffin’s reference to Abraham is preposterous on the plainest reading of the Bible. The Abraham of Romans 4 and the Abraham of James 2 are indeed very different according to the doctrine under consideration in each passage. In Romans 4 the doctrine of justification is under consideration, as Gaffin readily admits, and there the apostle does not call Abraham obedient, but “ungodly.” The Abraham of Romans 4 was an “ungodly” Abraham. There is not a more thorough way to exclude the works of the believer from his justification than to call him “ungodly” in his justification. So far are his works excluded that in his justification he has only evil works, not only because he sinned but also because he corrupted all the good works that God gave him. Abraham was that because that is who God justifies, and that is what Abraham confessed about himself by faith before the judgment seat of God. God will not justify the righteous or the good. He will only justify the ungodly. He justifies and by that justification takes into his fellowship ungodly people, not obedient people. In James 2 the inevitability and necessity of works as the fruits and justification of faith are under discussion. The Abraham of James 2 is obedient, because that is what the justified believer is by faith, because the faith that justifies without its works is also a faith that works by love.

Defending his obvious corruption of the texts, Gaffin says further,

Paul does not teach a “faith alone” position, as I have sometimes heard it put. Rather, his is a “by faith alone” position. This is not just a verbal quibble; the “by” is all-important here. The faith by which sinners are justified, as it unites them to Christ and so secures for them all the benefits of salvation that there are in him, perseveres to the end and in persevering is never alone.[2]

Gaffin puts himself out here as one who is scrupulous about grammar, but he uses his grammatical point to deny the truth. His point would be well taken if he were speaking merely about all the benefits that come to a believer in Christ. By faith the believer receives both Christ’s righteousness by imputation and his holiness worked in the believer by the Spirit. After all, according to 1 Corinthians 1:30, Christ is made both righteousness and sanctification to us. But Gaffin speaks about justification, which he indicates when he refers to the Reformation’s classic phrase about justification, “by faith alone.”

When the Reformation theologians said faith alone, they spoke about justification. Their position was, and that of the entire scripture and all the Reformed creeds is, that the believer is justified by faith alone, faith all by itself, so that without any of its works faith justifies. The Reformed creeds are crystal clear. For instance, article 24 of the Belgic Confession says, “It is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works.” “Howbeit [these works] are of no account towards our justification.”

They said that on the basis of scripture. Paul’s position regarding justification—and that of the Holy Ghost and the creeds—is exactly a “faith alone” position. Faith alone justifies, that is, believers are justified by faith alone without any of faith’s works. This position Gaffin is intent on overthrowing by his grammatical quibble, so that with the word “by” he can still make faith the only instrument of justification and appear orthodox, all the while including in faith all of faith’s obedience and perseverance as part of the faith that justifies, the ground of justification, and without which faith cannot justify.

In the foreward to Gaffin’s book, Mark Jones endorsed the book as “deeply influential” for his own theology.[3] By his endorsement of By Faith, Not by Sight as “deeply influential” for his own theology, Jones shows that he dwells comfortably among the men of the federal vision camp.

Gaffin’s book Jones also connects with his own views on antinomianism. Jones views By Faith, Not by Sight as important and necessary as an “implicit critique of a sort of antinomianism current in the church today, whereby the gospel (or salvation) is understood—practically, if not theoretically—almost exclusively in terms of justification.”[4]

This minimization of justification is also present throughout Jones’ book Antinomianism, when he says repeatedly about antinomians, “The gospel was, in their view, synonymous with justification.” He criticizes as indicative of such a view the statement, “Yea let us know for certainty, that free justification is the very head, heart, and soul of all Christian religion and true worship of God.”[5] If saying this is indicative of antinomian tendencies, both Luther and Calvin had antinomian leanings, because Luther called justification the article of the standing church and Calvin called it the main hinge on which all religion turns.

Such a denigration of justification and a minimization of the reality that it is salvation and that the whole doctrine of the sinner’s gracious salvation turns on it as on a hinge are not Reformed at all. The Belgic Confession teaches in article 23: “We believe that our salvation consists in the remission of sins for Jesus Christ’s sake, and that therein our righteousness before God is implied.” The Reformed have no problem equating salvation and justification and summarizing the whole doctrine of salvation by that single truth. The problem with real antinomians is not that they view salvation in terms of justification, but that they do not have a clue what justification is because they are careless and profane men and not believers at all. It is impossible that this doctrine, preached and emphasized to the hilt in the churches, will ever make any believer careless or profane.

By his endorsement of Gaffin’s book and its heretical theology of justification, Mark Jones shows himself no friend, but an enemy, of the Reformed doctrines of grace. He pays lip-service to the doctrine that by association and words he denies. It also shows that his book on antinomianism stands in the service of that false doctrine by taking up the old tactic of the enemies of the doctrines of grace against the truth. The Reformed faith, churches, and believers do not need a proponent of works’ righteousness telling them who their enemies are or what constitutes an antinomian, any more than Paul needed the Judaizers to teach him about works.

In his war on the truth, specifically justification by faith alone, Jones also speaks about the role of works in the believer’s salvation.

To that I will turn next time.

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[1] Richard B. Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, 2nd ed. (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 118–19.

[2] Ibid., 119.

[3] Jones, in ibid., vii.

[4] Ibid., xii.

[5] Jones, Antinomianism, 40.

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This article was written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak, pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Crete, Illinois. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Langerak, please do so in the comment section.

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The Charge of Antinomianism (1): A False Charge

The Charge of Antinomianism (2): A Novel Definition

The Charge of Antinomianism (3): Against an Unconditional Covenant

The Charge of Antinomianism (4): Hyper-Calvinism?

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Next article in the series: Works, the Way to Salvation

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