To affirm true conversion implies that there is also false conversion. Put simply, there is such a thing as non-saving faith. Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” has entered the narrow gate (Matt. 7:21). People may know the truth and may have felt grief regarding their sin, but it is a selfish sorrow over what their sin has caused them to suffer, not how it has offended a holy God. The most stark example of a false conversion we have in Scripture is that of Judas Iscariot. In a counterfeit conversion, there is no death to self, no submission to the lordship of Christ, no taking up a cross, no obedience in following Christ, no fruit of repentance–only empty words, shallow feelings, and barren religious activities. On the contrary, with a true conversion sin is abhorred, the world renounced, pride crushed, self surrendered, faith exercised, Christ seen as precious, and the cross embraced as one’s only saving hope. more
Excerpt from Tabletalk Magazine, July 2016, The False Calvinist, by Rev. Joe Thorn.
The one who embraces the absolute sovereignty and unbreakable love of God, in light of our own moral inability to do good or please Him, will be struck with awe and overwhelmed with meekness. The Father chose us, the Son died for us, and the Spirit awoke us when we were rebelling, refusing, and resisting. Salvation is truly of the Lord, leaving us no room for boasting or pride.
Redemptive History by Richard Phillips, Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier, Tabletalk Magazine, October 1st, 2006.
The Bible’s primary message deals with two great issues: sin and redemption. It relates these to two different covenants, one of which man broke and other of which Christ fulfilled. These two covenants — the covenant of works and the covenant of grace — provide the architecture on which the Bible’s teaching is erected and serve as the key to our understanding of salvation.
As I told my Jewish neighbor, God entered into a covenant with Adam. In this way, God imposed the terms by which Adam and his posterity might continue to enjoy life in the garden, namely, “perfect and personal obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.2). A test was implemented with regard to one tree: “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God ordained that “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Through obedience, Adam would retain life in the garden, but if he broke the covenant, he would suffer death. Reformed theology refers to this as “the covenant of works,” since by Adam’s own works he would either stand or fall.
Adam’s breach of the covenant of works is the great problem for which the rest of the Bible presents God’s answer. This answer is the covenant of grace, which God promised as His remedy for the broken covenant of works. Since the serpent (representing the devil) had tempted the first humans into sin, God’s grace was first presented in terms of his defeat. God told the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Theologians call this the Protoevangelion, that is, the first preaching of the Gospel. God then displayed how the covenant of grace would succeed: a sinless sacrifice would die in the place of sinners, providing His righteousness for them and paying their penalty in His blood. Genesis 3:21 says, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
The covenant of grace provides unity to the Gospel’s unfolding in successive generations. God’s covenant with Noah preserved the covenant of grace, so that the human race would continue until the birth of its Savior. God’s covenant with Abraham promised not just many offspring, but also the single offspring in whom the covenant would be fulfilled (see Gal. 3:16). By the time of Moses, Abraham’s family had become a nation, and God’s covenant with Moses provided priests who would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins. God’s kingdom also needed a sovereign, and God’s covenant with David promised a king who would never fail or die.
But through all the long generations, the broken covenant of works remained unfulfilled — Adam and his line still needed the righteousness that comes only through perfect obedience. So, as Paul put it, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4–5). This is covenant theology at its finest. As Jesus stated, He came to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17); that is, he came to fulfill the covenant of works on our behalf. Then, by dying on the cross, Jesus laid the foundation for God’s grace for sinners in the covenant of grace. This is the meaning of Christ’s words in establishing His “new covenant,” bringing the covenant of grace to fruition for those who believe. Anticipating His atoning death, Jesus declared, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
Covenant theology is vital not merely for understanding the Old Testament and the Gospels, but also for the apostolic doctrine taught in the Epistles. How, for instance, can God be just and yet be “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26)? Covenant theology provides the answer: believers in Christ are justified both by His fulfilling the covenant of works on our behalf and by the atonement in His blood offered by the covenant of grace. Here is another important question: How can faith make us righteous before God, apart from works of our own? Covenant theology gives the Bible’s answer: Jesus performed the works we owe to God under the covenant of works, which we receive by faith alone under the covenant of grace. more
Jesus and the Church by Terry Johnson, Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier, Tabletalk Magazine, July 1st, 2014.
How many times does Jesus mention the church? I’ve asked that question in a number of forums (Reformed University Fellowship, Sunday school, Drug Court Bible Study, the pulpit, and so on), and have received answers ranging from thirty-six to six. Surprise is the typical response when I reveal that Jesus mentions the church, the ekklēsia, only twice.
Initially, this seems to confirm the bias of those who say they admire Jesus but have little regard for the church. The church, they say, is man’s invention. Jesus said little about the church. He didn’t intend to found a church. We’ve built an ecclesiastical mountain out of an exegetical molehill, they insist. We follow Jesus, they claim, but have discarded the millstone that the church has become around His message.
What should we say about this? Simply, that Jesus’ words about the church must be weighed, not merely counted. Essentially, Jesus says two things:
Take them in order. What does Jesus promise to build? His church. Anything else? No. He promises to build no other earthly institution. He attaches the personal pronoun my to no other earthly entity. He sums up His entire mission as church building. This is His chief concern. What is Jesus doing, incarnation and post-incarnation? He is building His church.
Let’s move to the second reference. What does Jesus want us to tell to the church? He speaks of the problem of a sinning “brother” who refuses to heed admonition, who refuses to repent. His obstinacy must be revealed to the church, which must act to disassociate him: “Let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17).
Several things are implied by this second reference to the ekklēsia. It must be that the church that Jesus envisions has standards of belief and conduct, membership from which one may be excluded, a process of discipline, a form of government, meetings at which a matter may be told, and officers who facilitate the whole. Jesus speaks in these two passages of the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power of binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). The church that Jesus envisions has concrete existence. It is an organization. It is an institution. Its members are committed to each other, to the triune God, and to the church itself as something greater than the sum of its parts.
The church that Jesus builds is not merely an ad hoc gathering of believers at a coffee shop to pray and share Scripture verses. Such meetings are self-selecting; the church is not. Participants choose those with whom they will meet in such meetings, typically according to common interests. However, the New Testament church looks nothing like an organization built along lines of affinity, unless we are talking about affinity for Christ. Many of the problems with which the Apostles and the epistles are dealing in the New Testament arise precisely because of the diversity of age, class, and ethnicity of the members of the church (see Acts 6:1-7; 15:1ff; Gal. 1-3; Titus 2; James 4). Informal gatherings also lack accountability. One may simply stop participating and walk out of the lives of those with whom one has been involved.
Because Jesus’ words imply membership, standards, and discipline, they suggest the mutual accountability and mutual responsibility of covenanted relationships. When leading evangelicals say, “Don’t go to church; be the church,” their language is misleading. The gathering of two or three in Jesus’ name is the same entity that excommunicates (Matt. 18:2, 17). That entity has a government. It has a form of discipline. It has membership. It has standards of belief and conduct. It has meetings in which it is constituted as the church. One can be included and excluded from it with eternal repercussions (certainly implied by the keys). Informal gatherings of Christians may be helpful. Interdenominational community Bible studies may be edifying. However, they are not the church. The intimate bonds created through group Bible studies and prayer are meant to be forged primarily in the context of the local church, where I can depend on you and you can depend on me, where I have covenanted to be there for you, and you for me.
Don’t count Jesus’ words regarding the church. Weigh them—like silver, like gold. We suffer today for lack of an ecclesiology. Without warning and without explanation, families often leave a congregation with which they have been associated for more than a decade. The members who are left behind are grief stricken. They have sacrificed for those families through crisis after crisis. Prayers were offered, visits made, meals cooked, funds given, and babysitting provided. Gone. Why? Because they, like so many others, see the church as a voluntary association like a health club rather than a commitment like marriage.
A serious hole exists in our Christian discipleship if we are not fully committed to building the church as Jesus envisioned it—where I am accountable to others and they are accountable to me; where I am responsible to others and they are responsible to me; where I count on them and they count on me.
Noted theologian, pastor, and educator Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson explores aspects of the person and work of Jesus in his latest book, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life. This collection of articles, published earlier in Tabletalk magazine and Eternity Magazine, is designed to help believers gain a better understanding of their Savior and the Christian faith, and to live out that faith in their day-to-day lives. In fifty short chapters arranged in six sections, Dr. Ferguson shows that Christ, who is fully God, took on humanity that He might be the Great High Priest of His people as well as the once-for-all sacrifice; that He now ministers to His people through His Spirit, crowning them with great and precious blessings; and that believers are called to duty, from cultivating contentment to mortifying sin. In Christ Alone is packed full of nuggets of Scriptural truth that will spark and fan the flames of the believer s love for the Savior who is so beautiful in His person and so faithful in His work on behalf of His beloved sheep.
Also available on kindle.