Tullian on “Failure,” the Law, and the Gospel

Tullian Tchividjian posted strong words against Jen Wilkin’s TGC article, “Failure is Not a Virtue.” He says the article contains “theological muddiness,” but he intends to “dive beneath the surface and explore her post at a deeper theological AND existential level.” According to him, it reveals “deep theological confusion” and she “fails to deliver the real bad news which prevents the reader from hearing (and being relieved by) the real good news.” The article (or something like it) may be “theologically AND existentially simplistic and naïve.”

Regarding his particular response post to Jen, two distinct but related questions arise: 1) Does Jen Wilkin’s article display all the weaknesses that Tullian claims? and 2) Does Tullian understand Jen’s article?

Mike Kruger of RTS Charlotte addressed those two questions in a superb analysis of Tullian’s post. He walks us through Tullian’s post and demonstrates how Tullian focuses only on the second use of the law, ignoring its third use. And Mark Jones has openly asked Tullian to debate these points at a forum of his choosing.

In most of his writing, Tullian demonstrates clear concern for the believer through his or her struggle with sin. He knows many Christians who have experienced real pain from ongoing guilt, and from the crippling shackles of legalistic thinking. For anyone who has witnessed and ministered to believers who fight every day to shake the heavy burden of legalism off their back, we can stand shoulder to shoulder with Tullian’s concern to lead believers to Christ-centered joy.

In response to Jen’s article, Tullian says he has “never encountered a Christian who ‘celebrates failure.’” I have no reason to suspect otherwise, so point well taken, but I’m not sure Tullian understands the spirit of Jen’s phrase “celebratory failurism.” “Celebratory” may be hyperbolic. Granted. Let’s go with “sanctioning failure,” because Tullian himself says on many occasions that Christians are “free to fail.”

Fail.” Tullian has mentioned that we are “free to fail” herehere, and here again where he re-posts his identical previous post, “Does Grace Make You Lazy?” Tullian can mean two different things by this word “fail”—he either means failing at something amoral, like doing a cartwheel or mastering calculus, or he means failing to keep God’s law, which is by definition sinning. If he means the former, his point becomes moot, because Christ did not die for our amoral failures at particular skills and abilities, he died for our sins. If by “fail” he means “sin,” he has quite a bit of explaining to do. “Free to sin” sounds foreign to Scripture’s teaching on sin. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Rom. 6:1–2), to quote one verse out of several that says the exact opposite of Tullian’s phrase. Though he quotes Rom. 8:31ff to support his overall argument, that passage speaks about believers from the standpoint of their election and their justification. Paul does not discuss sanctification in that section; he focuses on Christ’s accomplished work, and on trials that are thrust upon believers. Tullian’s misunderstanding of the passage misses Paul’s pastoral punch.

So how did Tullian get there if Scripture communicates in such a clear way that we are not free to sin? Tullian perpetually posts on the topic of “law and gospel.” He quotes Beza on law and gospel in his response to Jen (and has used that same quote three times previously on his blog herehere, and in an interview with Mike Horton here). He also quotes Machen (again, a quote he has used three times previously (herehere, and here). On the Machen quote in particular, Tullian cuts and pastes selectively from Machen’s What Is Faith? The quote rings true on its own (part of the reason for its perpetual reappearance on twitter), but has a broader context necessary for understanding its full meaning:

The truth of Christianity cannot be established by the intellect unless an important part of the argument is based upon the fact of sin which is revealed by the law of God; the beauty of Jesus, which attracts the gaze of men, cannot be appreciated without a knowledge of the holiness upon which it is based; the companionship of Jesus is possible only to those who say first, in deep contrition; “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”; the example of Jesus is powerless to those who are in the bondage of evil habit, and it is not even a perfect example unless He be the divine Redeemer that He claimed to be. The true schoolmaster to bring men to Christ is found, therefore, now and always in the law of God— the law of God that gives to men the consciousness of sin.

A new and more powerful proclamation of that law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens. Mr. Legality has indeed in our day disguised himself somewhat, but he is the same deceiver as the one of whom Bunyan wrote.

“Making Christ Master” in the life, putting into practice “the principles of Christ” by one’s own efforts these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s own obedience to God’s commands. And they are undertaken because of a lax view of what those commands are. So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. (J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, p. 141–142)

So Machen’s point does not pit law and gospel against each other, but pits legalism’s law against Christian law.

Tullian’s reason for saying we are “free to fail” is that “Jesus succeeded for you.” Jesus most certainly succeeded for us, but Tullian takes that truth and draws a false implication from it, confusing what Christ redemptively accomplished in history from how it applies redemptively in the life of individual believers. The redemption Christ accomplished in history comes to us through union with him, which then gives us the redemptive benefits of justification, sanctification (both definitive and progressive), and adoption in Christ. Tullian’s concern over sin and guilt in the Christian life falls under the topic of progressive sanctification, but Tullian intentionally gives only one solution for progressive sanctification within the Christian life: “the law can instruct, but only grace can inspire,” “grace and grace alone carries the power to inspire what the law demands.” He eliminates the law as an option for motivation in the Christian life: “Telling people to change can’t change them,” “Nowhere does the Bible say that the law produces love. Nowhere.” (Actually, the Bible speaks more strongly than what Tullian rejects; Psalm 119: 97ff talks about loving the law itself, which includes love towards others and towards God.) Tullian also advocates an understanding of sanctification that is only passive: “What causes actual love for God is God’s love for us,” and “sanctification consists of an increased realization of our weakness and just how much grace we need.” Both of those statements are true, but they are not exclusively true. He eliminates as possibilities other elements of the sanctified Christian life that involve effort,

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godlinessand godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Pet. 1:5–7)

striving,

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14),

work,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12–13),

and keeping the law,

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:10).

Though I have no doubt Tullian’s heart burns to help believers in their struggle with sin and guilt, true compassion carries with it both intent and content. The former should be pure, and the latter should be true. Tullian’s content, while pure in intention, ends up being less compassionate, because he feeds his readers less than the whole truth of Scripture’s teaching on both the law and the gospel.

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Mark N.

5 years ago

Amen. Well said, brother! (Great post)

Garry L.

5 years ago

I have found the following quote by Martin Luther from volume 35 of his works both enlightening and encouraging as it relates to the question of Law and Christian obedience.

“Thus I keep the commandments which Moses has given, not because Moses gave commandment, but because they have been implanted in me by nature.”

Meg G.

5 years ago

Jared! This is probably the most helpful synopsis of this discussion that I’ve read thus far. I particularly appreciated the section on how “fail” is defined. This brings a needed clarity to what is meant by the word. I am helped. Thank you!

Deb James

5 years ago

When Tullian says that we are free to fail, he is saying that we are free to try- anything- without fear of failure. Half of the time we don’t recognize sin in ourselves but in hindsight. Tullian is encouraging us not to worry if we are to fail, if we are to sin; it is more important for us to try. That doesn’t mean we are to purposely sin. It is love that keeps us from sin.

John 14:23,24 We keep the law because of love, we don’t love because of the law.
Love is the ultimate fruit of the Christian’s life, not obedience. Obedience is a result.
2 Peter 1:5-7 puts love as the highest goal, the ultimate virtue, as does Romans 5:1-5, and obviously 1 Corinthians 13.

Romans 10:4 Christ is the end of the law; it is obsolete because of Him.
Romans 8 implies sanctification. We have no relationship with God without sanctification. Justification only releases us from God’s wrath, it doesn’t give us entry into the realm of His love, which nothing can separate us from.

In Philippians 2:12,13 God works in us both to will and to do. And tell me what would produce “fear and trembling” in a Christian? -not law but realization of grace.
Hebrews 12:15 says we need to look out for each other so that we don’t miss God’s grace- exactly what Tullian is doing.
You also mentioned Romans 13:10- Love is the fulfillment of the law, not obedience.
The law is the power of sin- 1 Corinthians 15:56. Verse 57 goes on to remind us that Christ gave us victory over that.
Psalm 119:97ff- We keep God’s law out of thankfulness. His law is good for us, but it has nothing to do with salvation.
Jesus died for us, we are justified, our sins are forgiven, and we avoid God’s wrath (expiation/justification). Jesus lived for us, we have His righteousness, and we have God’s favour (propitiation/sanctification). Jesus didn’t just give us His character though, that is something we have to earn for ourselves. It doesn’t affect our salvation, but it does affect our happiness, our success, and God’s pleasure with us.

Raphael

4 years ago

Well said, Deb.

chris hutchinson

5 years ago

I also thought this was a very measured, charitable and careful response, and well done.

I think some of the problem is that too many authors do theology by slogans. I think the most charitable reading of Tullian’s “free to fail” slogan is the idea that we are free to try to obey Christ radically, remembering that we shall not lose our justification when we fail to measure up. I think Tullian is trying to motivate paralyzed Christians to obey more, knowing they will fail in their attempts, and yet not become discouraged. Some who preach the third use of the law more vigorously sometimes actually end up discouraging obedience because they forget to remind people to first rest in Christ (cf. WCF 14.2). I *think* this is what Tullian is trying to get at, at his best.

But it is just not very carefully said, and thus he is rightly receiving flak. As in almost all theological controversies, it seems to me that less (publishing of books and articles) is more. But not blog comments.

d camp

5 years ago

The biblical view sees faith, an active will, as the means of our justification. How can an active will be the means of our justification and yet intentional obedience mere human effort in our sanctification? The Reformed faith has always seen man as an active agent in sanctification. Luther himself understood this when he described the obedience of the saint as an outworking of justification as well as Spirit empowered participation of the regenerate human will:

“The indwelling of Christ, redeems us from the bondage of Egypt (sin) makes us free, gives us power to do good.”

“Nevertheless the works themselves do not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things.”

“Although I am an unworthy and condemned man, my God has given me in Christ all the riches
of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart, and with an eager will do all these things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches?”

d camp

5 years ago

I agree Chis, if you are going to be radical and right, it is critical to maintain accurate and precise theological distinctions. Inaccurate characterizations of God’s gracious provision in the process of sanctification doesn’t make his grace in justification any more radical.

Michael

5 years ago

Chris makes a good point. I think most of the ink on this topic is a result of folks talking past each other. Tullian could clarify his position greatly by elaborating on his understanding of WLC Q.97 and maybe those of us who disagree with his formulation and slogans could meditate on WLC Q. 104 and following. I believe we would quickly welcome the idea of freedom in failure if we understand the depths of God’s law and the indwelling sin that remains, even in the most sanctified of believers.

At the end of the day, there is no sanctification without justification, and there’s no glorification without sanctification. This should allow us all to walk in a spirit of humility and thankfulness for God’s grace in His glorious Gospel.

Brad J

5 years ago

Thank you very much for this post. When I read Tullian say “you are free to fail” I was shocked. Nowhere does Scripture speak in that way. As a pastor I am very concerned about the effect of his teaching.

Drew K

5 years ago

Great analysis of the whole debate. I fear Tullian is becoming a caricature.

D. Patrick Ramsey

5 years ago

Chris, I agree with you. I think that is what he is trying to say. But what adds to the problem is that he only seems to make that point when discussing the law and he strongly criticizes a solid post about the right use of the law. All combined the impression given is not a good one.

Joel

5 years ago

Nice job pointing out his multiple uses of the same quotes. Not at all condescending and not at all detracting from what is an important counterpoint to what Tullian is saying.
I too have some issues with Tullian’s (mis)use of Scripture but am just about sick of the condescending, know-it-all rhetoric from you, Carl Trueman, Rick Phillips and the like. I mean, just address the issue and drop the condescension already. Stop it with the “I’ll come fight you in your own back yard and I’ll whup ya” garbage.
Seriously.

MarkO

5 years ago

I wonder how much of this back n forth on the importance of the Law and Gospel distinction is really at root a battle between the Old Calvinism and the New Calvinism. The sides on this issue seem rather clear to me (with exceptions of course) that those who opposed Tullian are more representative of the Old Calvinism than not. I think those who oppose Tullian’s ruminations on grace and Law and Gospel and active obedience of Christ tend to be coming from “the third use of the law” camp.

I notice also the you quote Psalm 119 above without making a distinction at to the Law being the Mosaic order vs. the Law being another way of referring to the whole of Scripture. David uses the word Torah in the Psalm effectively as a way of speak of God’s Word which in fact contains both Law and Gospel, not just nomos.

Richard UK

5 years ago

Can I comment with ++++ on Jared’s specific points?

“Fail.” Tullian has mentioned that we are “free to fail” here, here, and here again

++++ YES, as has been made clear elsewhere, Tullian’s point is that failure does not put us outside the love of God or His forgiveness or our salvation. We are FREE from condemnation

If by “fail” he means “sin,” he has quite a bit of explaining to do. “Free to sin” sounds foreign to Scripture’s teaching on sin.

++++ He does not mean this. You know it. Where does he say this?

“Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Rom. 6:1-2), to quote one verse out of several that says the exact opposite of Tullian’s phrase.

++++ He does not mean this. You know it. Where does he say this? (Which particular phrase of his do you have in mind?)

He also quotes Machen ..[where] Tullian cuts and pastes selectively from Machen’s What Is Faith? The quote rings true .. but has a broader context necessary for understanding its full meaning:

++++ You quote Machen at length; how does that diminish Tullian’s point? Please explain

As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens.

++++ This is exactly what Tullian is worried about!

So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace.

++++ Exactly, which is why Tullian rejects the moralistic notions that God accepts our obedience however imperfect

So Machen’s point does not pit law and gospel against each other, but pits legalism’s law against Christian law.

++++ This is a curved ball; I have truly no idea what you mean (or how you could justify what I think you might mean)

He eliminates the law as an option for motivation in the Christian life: “Telling people to change can’t change them,” “Nowhere does the Bible say that the law produces love. Nowhere.” (Actually, the Bible speaks more strongly than what Tullian rejects; Psalm 119: 97ff talks about loving the law itself, which includes love towards others and towards God.)

++++ This is misleading and unfair. Tullian is talking about the Law in the NT negative Pauline sense. You are now introducing a statistically minority usage from the OT where ‘Law’ means the precepts of God which include both the law and the gospel. Normally we say ‘precepts’ to distinguish them

Tullian .. also advocates an understanding of sanctification that is only passive: He eliminates as possibilities other elements of the sanctified Christian life that involve effort,

++++ NO, he does not. He advocates every possible effort in the direction of holding fast in faith to one’s justification. Are you suggesting that justification is something we can move beyond? That we can ‘bank’ our justification and now contribute synergistically to our sanctification?

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue “

+++++ This is another classic mistranslation! The word ‘supplement’ in Greek means something like ‘spring out of and into’. The essence here is that faith in its maturity leads to virtue; it is not that we have some faith and now we work to get/have some virtue alongside. The Roman Catholics would be proud of that view! All progress comes from faith; it does not come by slotting in something alongside faith. If you want to work at something, dare to believe that Christ is all in all for you; that is a lot harder than a little external ‘virtue’ make-over

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14),”

++++ Striving for holiness is not striving to be ‘good’; you will never even be as good as the Pharisees. It is striving to be set apart – striving to see yourself as God’s tool in this stinking world (we are of course normally happy to see Him use us in a big way, but are we happy for Him to leave us on the sidelines?). It is a question of submission, not matching Jesus in His goodness

“Therefore, my beloved, ..work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)”

++++ Is this being offered as a synergistic path towards salvation? It seems so – don’t be shy! Again. like everything else, it is theocentric not anthropocentric. It does not say ‘work FOR your salvation’; it says ‘live out the salvation that you have, but do so with fear, trembling, awe, reverence, amazement (Is 6) since you might think it is you but it is in fact God who actually works in you – not just to get you to do, but get you to even want to do, and even think that it is you that does His good pleasure – realise that, and weep and then rejoice!!’

Though I have no doubt Tullian’s heart burns to help believers in their struggle with sin and guilt, true compassion carries with it both intent and content. The former (intent) should be pure, and the latter (content) should be true.
Tullian’s ..pure in intention, [but] he feeds his readers less than the whole truth of Scripture’s teaching on both the law and the gospel.

++++ Charge remains unclear and certainly unproven

Paul

4 years ago

Well said. Thank you!

Just do something.....

5 years ago

EVERYONE NEEDS TO LISTEN TO TULLIAN’S ANSWERS TO KEVIN. http://www.fightingforthefaith.com/2014/05/is-tullian-tchividjian-an-antinomian.html

ANWERS ALL THE ANTINOMIAN ACCUSATIONS AND EXPLAINS HIS VIEWS ON THE 1ST USE, 2ND USE, AND EVEN 3RD USE.

http://www.fightingforthefaith.com/2014/05/is-tullian-tchividjian-an-antinomian.html

Bil

5 years ago

Mike is wrong, he does not understand the third use of the law. I mean he claims that christians are empowered to obey the law. The third use of the law has nothing to do with a christian’s ability to obey the law. Mike Kruger wrote:

“Put differently, Jen was concerned about those who view the law only negatively (as a means of exposing failure), and rarely discuss how Christians are empowered to obey it.”

This is pure pharisaic language, what Mike wrote, legalism at the highest proportion. Even Calvin in his Institutes when he speaks about the third use of the law he does not suggest at any point that a christian can obey the law. The lutheran confessions are consistent with Calvin on this. The third use of the law is to rebuke and discipline christians, but at no point is it implied that a christian has been empowered to obey the law.

Bil

5 years ago

OK, Luther never taught that a christian can do “good works” the way you define it, Luther taught instead that the works of the christian are good because the sin is pardoned, read the Heidelberg disputations. Now what you quote about Luther in your post is true, but all that Luther means is that the works of the christian are not motivated to earn favor with God but to help the neighbor. This is totally correct, a christian is not trying to please God with his good works, because he knows he can not please God. Only Christ’s works please God. This is all Luther is saying, but by no means Luther is implying that the works of the christian are good as if he was more charitable or generous than the non-christian, the only reason the works of the christian are good is because he knows his works are sinful and can not please God, and as a result the sole motivation of good works can be to help the neighbor. Nevertheless the works of an unbeliever may be more helpful to the neighbor than the works of the christian, but the unbeliever tries to gain favor with God, and deceives himself that his works are good enough to please God. The Christian on the other hand knows that his works are polluted by sin and can not please God.

Bil

5 years ago

This last post was a reply to D Camp that quoted Luther, but misinterpreted what Luther meant.

Michael

5 years ago

Bil, regenerate Christians, unlike people still in the unregenerate state, have a new *ability* to not sin. Unregenerate man has no ability to not sin. This is what Reformed Theology refers to regarding ability to live by the law. And it is never a matter of perfect behaviour in thought, word, and deed. It is progressive sanctification.

Bill

5 years ago

Michael, there is two things that we need not confuse. Christians have the first fruits, Romans 8:23. Also I have experienced it first hand after conversion, sin instantly lost its power and I mean in that as soon as I trusted Christ for salvation temptation did not have the power they used to have before. This is biblical and anybody that denies this, obviously has not experienced the renewal that comes with conversion and we can also label those people as antinomians.

With that said and having acknowledged the power of the gospel to transform our lives, I must also reaffirm what I have said before that these firstfruits in no way allow a christian to keep the law. God expects perfection and a christian’s works fall short. So the gospel does not empower me to keep the law, what it does is it provides me with the comfort that somebody else kept the law that I can not keep in my stead. This somebody is Jesus Christ, who obeyed daily and perfectly, while disobey daily even after conversion. Without having to go to lutheran writings, the Heidelberg catechism backs up my theology as well. The purpose of the law is knowledge of sin, Romans 7:7 , Romans 7:13, Romans 3:20 . Question 114 and 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism unequivocally teach the converted man’s total inability to keep the law. God does not grade on the curve, he expects perfection. No christian can keep a single commandment of God’s law, all a christian can do is Romans 7:14-24 , that is with his mind a christian serves the law of God but with his flesh he serves sin. The Heidelberg catechism teaches the same, that all a christian man can do is have a sincere resolution to keep God’s commandments, but he will fail to keep them every time. Here’s the Heidelberg catechism:

Question 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?

Answer: No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; (a) yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God. (b)

Question 115. Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?

Answer: First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know (a) our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ; (b) likewise, that we constantly endeavour and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come. (c)

Bill

5 years ago

You see Michael, further to my first reply to you. I like the program Law and Gospel by lutheran pastor Tom Baker. He clearly teaches that the difference between christians and non-christians is not that the christian doesn’t sin and non-christian sins. They both sin. The difference is that the christian repents of his sin and looks to Christ for forgiveness, he looks to Christ’s righteousness imputed to him.

Now even though I acknowledge that after conversion temptations lost the power they once had, and so forth. I can not as a christian say, well now I sin less than before conversion. Sin is sin, god expects perfection. So both prior and after conversion I break the Law daily, I sin daily. The radical difference is that after conversion, I am comforted by Christ’s perfect obedience and death on the cross for ME, Christ’s full payment for my sin comforts and extinguishes all guilt from sin. This is because the Christian is not under law any longer, so he’s been freed from the consequence of sin (eternal damnation), but a christian is nor freed from sin, he still sins daily until his death. But God does not impute this sin, the sin is imputed to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner.

Michael

5 years ago

Bill, there’s nothing in what I wrote that says we’re able to follow the law perfectly. It seems some people get a little dose of Reformed Theology then want to lecture piously against straw men. Others love the ease with which they can sew confusion while seeming to be piously defending the faith. I’m willing to assume you are writing in good faith, but you’re missing your intended target with me or anything I wrote.

Bill

5 years ago

Michael, I guess when you wrote that christians “have a new *ability* to not sin” while the unbeliever doesn’t have that ability it appears to contradict Martin Luther’s “simul justus et peccator”. I think both believer and unbeliever alike sin. The difference between believer and unbeliever is not really in behaviour, because they both sin. The real difference is that the believer repents of his sin (acknowledges his sinful nature that deserves eternal punishment and at the same time has faith that Christ has atoned for his sin) and the unbeliever does not repent of his sin. God then does not impute sin to the believer, but pardons it on account of Christ, while the sin is imputed to the unbeliever. When we somehow say that the christian has a new ability to not sin, we’ve gone beyond scripture. The christian is without sin only because he’s not under the law, so he’s a Saint, because his sin has been taken away by the blood of Christ. But this has nothing to do with the outward behavior of the christian but it relates to what Paul calls the inward man in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. And I have to tell you that any confessional lutheran pastor would have the same problem with Jen’s article as I do, it simply does not pass theological muster. From a lutheran perspective it’s pure pharisaism to even claim that the outward behaviour of a christian can obey God’s law or even come close to it.

Bill

5 years ago

Now good works always follow faith because a good tree can not produce bad fruit. Martin Luther in the freedom of the christian clearly explains that faith makes the tree good and lack of faith makes the tree bad. So it is really faith that makes a work good, God accepts this faith counts it as righteousness as Paul teaches “Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness”. And Paul also teaches that anything that is not of faith is sin. Romans 14:23 is abundantly clear that is not the behavior that makes an act sinful or not, but the presence or lack of faith. If we eat meat with faith it is not sin, but if we eat meat without faith it is sin. You see the act of eating is sinful or not depending on whether we have faith or not. And so is every other behavior. So it’s not really what we do that makes us christians or that makes a work good or bad, it is the presence or absence of faith that makes a work good or bad. So a christian has no new ability not to sin as you teach, a christian has faith that makes all his works sinless (solely because God does not impute sin on account of Christ).

Bill

5 years ago

And yes, faith to some extent results in “better outward behaviour” I totally admit this. But an unbeliever can have a much better outward behaviour than a christian. An unbelieving lawyer may have a way stronger work ethic for example than a believing lawyer, simply because he’s more motivated by money and greed and will provide way better service to a his clients than a christian lawyer that does not have such a powerful motivation. The same can be said about olympic athletes that are chasing fame or anybody else. This is why Paul says at the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians that very few of the christians were strong or prominent in the world. So outward behaviour is not what God looks at. Most of the pharisees washed their hands but the followers of Jesus did not, there is not doubt that the behaviour of the pharisees in that area was better, but God didn’t care.

Michael

5 years ago

Augustine is helpful here:

Four states of man:

Pre-fall Adam in the Garden: able to sin, able to not sin
Unregenerate man after the fall: able to sin, unable to not sin
Regenerate man: able to sin, able to not sin
Glorified man: unable to sin

Nobody is talking about the state of glorified man here. Look at the difference between regenerate man and unregenerate man. Whatever unregenerate man does it is as filthy rags (even if he does ‘good’ in some civil sense or otherwise). Regenerate man, though, has *new ability* to not sin, and it doesn’t just have to do with repenting of sins committed and resting on Jesus’ sinless perfection.

Think of it this way: Adam had ability to NOT eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, yet he did. But he had ability to not do it nevertheless.

Fallen man – unregenerate man – doesn’t even have the ability to not eat of that fruit, using that example. He is dead in sin. He is born in sin and actively sins the first chance he gets. He has no ability to be any other way.

Only by the act of God that is regeneration by the word and the Spirit does man regain the ability to not sin. Ability doesn’t imply perfect behavior, any more than it did for pre-fall Adam. Adam in the Garden had ability to not sin yet he sinned anyway. Yet there is a difference between having that ability and not having the ability at all.

Once you have the ability to not sin you exercise your mind, and emotion, and will in a different state than you did when you were unregenerate. This involves effort. God-reliant effort no doubt (J. I. Packer’s phrase), yet effort none-the-less.

Bill

5 years ago

That’s fine Michael, what you describe is certainly not the lutheran view of a born again christian. Read the Heidelberg disputation by Martin Luther http://bookofconcord.org/heidelberg.php , the theme of simul justus et peccator pervades lutheranism. We view the christian as 100% sinner when it comes to his ability to keep the law. Not 50% sinner, not 80% sinner, but 100% sinner, just like the unbeliever. As I said again, what differentiates the christian is that the christian is not under the law, so there is no punishment for his disobedience, and this sense, and this sense only the christian is sinless. He is sinless not because he obeys the law, but because he’s not under the law, there is now no condemnation.

Bill

5 years ago

And one last thing, Michael. I am flabbergasted by those that say they are christians and claim an ability to keep the law. You know a christian should delight that he is not under the law. He shouldn’t put himself under the law again as the Galatians did, by claiming that he has an ability to obey. The christian should say that he’s under no condemnation, all punishment has been removed, so it is pointless to even talk about obedience or disobedience to the law by a christian. Every time a christian claims to have some ability or power to obey God’s commands, he is right there with the Galatians that Paul had to rebuke.

Bill

5 years ago

You see, with Paul christians should say that they are the chief of sinners. Not that they were prior to conversion, but that they are today after conversion. It is the mark of regnerate man to confess that he is the chief of sinners after being regenerated. Also with Paul christians should confess that they have no righteousness of their own, none, not one iota. Instead people that call themselves christians claim that they are empowered or have been given an ability to keep the law after regeneration. This is pure pharisaism and the galatian heresy that Paul condemned.

Michael

5 years ago

Bill, you are still arguing against straw men. I don’t go on Lutheran forums and argue against the finer points of Lutheranism because I don’t know Lutheranism to that degree. You shouldn’t do that on a Reformed forum. Anyway, Reformed and Lutherans agree on most of what you write, certainly the ground of justification.

When you write this: “Instead people that call themselves christians claim that they are empowered or have been given an ability to keep the law after regeneration. This is pure pharisaism and the galatian heresy that Paul condemned.” you are not presenting or arguing against anything you read from me or anyone else of the Reformed tradition. You also carry a large dose of piousness in your delivery.

Theodore A. Jones

5 years ago

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” ROM. 2:13 Is Paul referencing It law? Nope. He is referencing the law that has been added by making a change of the priesthood.

Theodore A. Jones

5 years ago

OT law?

JP

4 years ago

Tullian has mentioned that we are “free to fail” here, here, and here again where he re-posts his identical previous post…

Suffice it to say, the plot has thickened a bit here.

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