Monday, February 18, 2008

A Case for the Cross - Part 2

Romans 3-4

I'm going to take a slight bit of liberty here and add to my original outline. :-) In this article, I will discuss Romans chapters 3 and 4, and explain how these chapters show us that saving faith includes belief in Jesus' substitutionary death (and acknowledgement of our sin by strong implication), as well as faith in Jesus apart from any works.

First, let's again get a brief overview of Paul's argument up to now. Paul is in the process of showing that all the world is guilty before God. In chapter 1 he shows that the Gentiles/heathens are guilty of sin. In chapter 2 he shows that the Jews are also guilty of sin. In chapter 3 he is concluding and reiterating that all the world stands guilty of sin before God and deserving of justice and punishment.

These 2 chapters are pretty clear regarding the need for faith in Jesus alone and apart from works. I will just list them here and provide any comment as needed, since this is not generally a point of contention in this "crossless" debate (although it is vital, thus I have included it in my series, and certainly if anyone has any challenges on this point, bring them up in the comments thread).

3:20 - "...because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." Clearly works do not enable anyone to be justified.

3:21-22 - "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe..." The righteousness of God (i.e. justification) comes apart from the Law and is through faith in Jesus.

3:24 - "...being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus..." - Justification is a gift, thus not something that could be earned or gained through works.

3:28 - "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." - Self-evident.

4:2-5 - "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.' Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness..." - Lots of good stuff in this section. Paul uses the beloved and revered OT story of Abraham to show that he was justified NOT by works, but only by his faith in God. Paul also strongly rejects that works can possibly contribute to our salvation. He states that if you're counting on your works, then you'll get whatever they're worth (i.e. not much). But if you don't rely on your works, but instead simply believe in Jesus, your faith in Jesus results in His righteousness being transferred to your account, allowing God to remain just while justifying sinners.

There is more here, but I think that is sufficient to prove that salvation/justification is by faith alone in Jesus and completely apart from works.

Do we see any other content of saving faith here in these chapters? I believe so. Romans 3:25 says of Jesus, "God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed..." (HCSB) I have previously discussed this verse on my group blog. I have edited it and reproduced it here. This verse seems pretty clear that we are to have faith "in His blood". Here is an article by Zane Hodges in which he addresses this verse from the "crossless" perspective. In the article, Hodges notes that the word for "propitiation" here is "hilasterion", which refers to the mercy seat. However, I don't see how this makes a difference. My point is that Romans 3:25 clearly states that Jesus’ propitiation of our sin is applied through faith in the propitiation (the blood of Jesus). It seems to me that Hodges is claiming that “propitiation” is actually two steps, the first step being the actual payment of our sins (Jesus’ death), and the second step being where Jesus “introduces” us to God or mediates between us and God. He then seems to be claiming that the “propitiation” in Romans 3:25 ONLY refers to the “second step”, due to the use of the word for mercy seat (hilasterion), and that God said he would “meet” with his people at the mercy seat.

I first want to point out a quote by Hodges from that article:
“Without at all criticizing the choice of word order by NKJV and NASV, it nevertheless remains true that the Greek word order is significant. Paul is basically connecting the words 'through faith' with the word for mercy seat (hilasterion). That is to say, Jesus Christ becomes the New Covenant equivalent of the mercy seat through faith.”
This is important because Hodges here is acknowledging that Romans 3:25 clearly states that Jesus becomes our propitiation (or “mercy seat”) through faith. Which leads to the question, faith in what? The verse tells us plainly, faith in His blood. Hodges goes on to say that he thinks this refers to a specific aspect of propitiation (which I explain further below), but I will also refute that idea. The point to remember here is that even Hodges concedes that Romans 3:25 is clear in that whatever the verse means by “propitiation”, Jesus only becomes such propitiation by faith (and I would further say it is faith “in His blood”).

First, I don’t think such a bifurcation of propitiation is warranted. The separation seems artificial, and solely to bolster Hodges’ already-held view. I don’t think such a distinction would ever be set forth if the theology that requires it wasn’t already in place.

Second, I don’t see the focus of the mercy seat as the place where anyone is “introduced” to God. When Paul’s readers saw the word and thought of “mercy seat”, I don’t think they separated in their minds the payment (or passing over, as was the case in the OT) of their sins from the ability to meet with God. The mercy seat contained all of those aspects in one. The blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the mercy seat, at once covering their sins AND allowing God to meet with them. I just do not see how the use of the word for “mercy seat” somehow means ONLY God meeting with the believer and not ALSO the payment of sins.

Third, and I think this point is more pertinent, Hodges quotes Exodus 25 (although the article says “Exodus 5″), when God is giving instructions to Moses on how to build the tabernacle, what all should be in it, and how it all should be constructed. God tells Moses specifically, “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.” This seems to indicate a special, non-routine occurrence of God meeting with Moses specifically, in order to give him commandments for the nation of Israel. In contrast, when God prescribes the Law of Atonement, or sin offering, that the Israelites were to do each year (in Lev. 16), God says nothing at all about meeting the priest at the mercy seat. All that is said is the instructions on how to sprinkle the blood on the seat, the scapegoat, the cleaning up of the priest doing the killing, and what to do with the animal after the offering was made. There is NO indication that God “met with” the priest each and every year that he sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat. Comparing Scripture with Scripture, I think we see that the “meeting” God planned in Exodus 25 was a unique meeting with Moses specifically, in order to give him information that he was to pass on to Israel. Thus my second point above is further solidified, in that the readers of Romans, when they saw the word hilasterion (”mercy seat”), would have thought of the atonement in general. There is no evidence that the mercy seat was considered or even intended as some sort of annual meeting place between God and man. So it’s not just that Paul’s readers wouldn’t have separated the “meeting with God” aspect from the “atonement for sins” aspect, it’s that they never would have thought of a “meeting with God” aspect in the first place, because that’s simply not what happened at the mercy seat.

Now, it is true that a few translations render this verse, "in His blood, through faith", or "by His blood, through faith". But the vast majority of translations have it "through faith in his blood". I don't know Greek, but thankfully people who do have put together some wonderful tools so that I can still see what the original Greek was for this verse. Literally this reads, "through faith in this His blood". The strong consensus is that the verse does say "through faith in His blood".

One final thought on these chapters. As I stated earlier, in Romans 3 Paul is concluding his argument that the entire world stands guilty of sin before a just and holy God. Since Paul has just got done explaining in detail all about our sin problem and the fact that it separates us from God, it seems patently obvious that for someone to appropriate Christ's sacrifice and obtain forgiveness of sins, that that person must be aware of and acknowledge (i.e. agree with God about) their sins. If we are to have "faith in His blood", what would we be having such faith for? Why would Jesus need to die, and why do we need His blood to fix anything? It must be that we need forgiveness for our sins. Some will say that this is merely a psychological step rather than a salvific step. But I contend that it is actually a psychological requirement (and Scriptural too), rather than simply a "most likely" or "usually" or "pretty much all the time" step that most people will go through. When we consider the OT sacrifices were all done because of sin, and that Paul is writing these words about faith in the context of proving that all are guilty of sin (and remembering the high-context ANE society he is writing in), I think it becomes quite clear that a person must acknowledge their sin in order to put their faith for forgiveness of sins in the blood of Jesus. How could someone receive forgiveness of their sins if they don't even acknowledge their sins, and/or they don't believe in and accept the payment that Jesus made in order to forgive their sins? This is not merely psychological, it is salvific. You cannot receive forgiveness of your sins if you don't ask for it and accept the payment for your sins.

Romans chapters 3 and 4 teach very plainly that saving faith must be placed in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any works. But what does it mean to place your faith in Jesus? What must we believe in Him for? Chapter 3 makes it evident that we need to acknowledge our sin, and place our faith in Jesus and His substitutionary sacrifice - the blood that He shed to provide for our forgiveness.


  1. Hi Rachel,

    I think we have to separate the two issues of justification and covenental blessings if we are to make any headway in understanding Paul.

    Its not too difficult to understand the context, high or otherwise, that NT belivers found themselves immersed in, because it has never changed: OT , NT or present day. In fact the guys in the Judaism section at Theologyweb are lauging themselves silly at the confusion that prevails with our Western, Greek-Hellenistic, orientated ways of thinking.

    God forgives people when they realise their wrong ways and ask him for mercy. They realise their wrong way through revelation, and for Gentiles, its usually a long drawn out process (Romans 1:20). The Jews have a headstart in this area because of the oracles: God's revelation through His prophets. That's why Jonah was reluctant to go to Nineveh with God's message, the latter having persecuted Israel in unspeakable ways (do you see the same attitude in the elder son's words in the parable of the prodigal?). The OT is replete wih descriptions of God being merciful and forgiving, slow to anger, filled with love... (the prodigal's father?).

    Of course the Jews lost the plot when they began to depend on the identifying part of Torah to justify them:

    11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18 11-14. NASB

    This is exactly the situation in Romans, when the Jews' views that they are justified by "Works of the Law" is attacked by Paul.

    This is precisely what Romans 9–11 is about, not as an appendix to the letter but as its proper climax. And this is anticipated in several earlier parts of the letter conveniently screened out by the great tradition in its quest for a non-Jewish soteriology, not least the second half of Romans 2, the first nine verses of Romans 3, and the fact that in Romans 4 Paul is demonstrably arguing about God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant, not simply using Abraham as an example of someone justified by faith.

    Part of the tragedy of reformation exegesis, not least Lutheran exegesis, is that this entire line of thought was screened out.

    "Course I don't agree with everything Wright writes (some of it is wrong!) but he is absolutely on the button on this aspect.

    When I say "identifying" features. I mean that the various covenanants (Adamic to New) had varying identfying requirements (a bit like the coloured belts of the martial arts?) , but they all had a common moral requirement:

    Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' – Matthew 22:37-39

    The new Torah, which is required to be folllowed:


    Love God
    Love your fellow men.

    Hope this answers your doubts about Torah.

    The revelation from God that gives Eternal Life:

    This revelation is different from all the previous covenants in that God not only tells us the requirements, but also enables us to follow them

  2. What point do you feel Hodges was trying to make in his article?

  3. Hi Anton,

    Once again your post has really made me think! I'll have to ponder this and digest it some more before I respond. I'm sure I'll have questions! :-)

  4. Anonymous,

    Let me first give you a little background of how I was introduced to this article. It would also help to read my article at my group blog about it, as well as another article I did on that blog, and also this article of mine and comment thread on the same issue. I think it will help answer your question.

    I could not find any more specific statements by Hodges (online) to explain what I am sure he is teaching by his article that I mentioned. But, I do have very specific statements from Bob Wilkin as to his views on this subject, I have discussed this issue extensively with Alvin over on Rose's blog, and Antonio holds to the same position (as well as Matthew I believe). And since Bob Wilkin has GES teaching his view on this subject, and since GES was formed at least in part to disperse the teachings of Hodges (plus the fact that Wilkin and Hodges work closely together), I think we can safely assume that Wilkin's view is the same as Hodges' on this.

    Okay, to the point. :-) Awhile back I noticed on the GES website a link entitled, "How Can I Be Saved?" In this link it states, "Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29). He has removed the sin barrier which separated us from God. However, we still lack spiritual life, eternal life." I would agree that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but I do NOT agree that Jesus' death actually removed the sin barrier between us and God. (See my links above for why I don't.) I hold that Jesus' death was sufficient for all, but efficient for some, i.e. only for those who believe. However, Wilkin/GES teach that Jesus' death was actually efficient for ALL. They teach that Jesus ACTUALLY paid for the sins of ALL humanity with his death, such that sin no longer separates people from God. According to Wilkin/GES, our problem now is only that we do not have eternal life.

    I began to question this teaching to see if others in my little circle of blogs agreed with this teaching. Sure 'nuff, pretty much all the "crossless" advocates also agreed with the "efficient for all" view. I then discussed the issue at length primarily with Alvin on Rose's blog, which is what led to my blog articles and threads which I linked to above.

    When I brought up Romans 3:25 to show that Jesus is our propitiation through faith on Rose's blog, someone advocating the position that ALL sins were ACTUALLY paid for at the cross linked me to Hodges' article to explain that verse from their position.

    So, Hodges is defending his position that Jesus is the propitiation (the actual payment) for all sins of all people everywhere. No one will be judged for their sins according to Hodges. But Romans 3:25 seems to be a thorn in his side for such a view. So in this article he offers an explanation, saying that "propitiation" in Rom. 3:25really just means "mercy seat", supposedly the place where God "met with" the people. He sets this in opposition to the "propitiation" in 1 John 2:2 where Jesus is said to be the "propitiation" for the sins of the whole world.

    Hodges is trying to say that 1 John 2:2 uses "hilasmos" (a more general term for "propitiation"), therefore that verse means that Jesus satisifed God's justice for the sins of all people. Whereas Rom. 3:25 uses the more specific term "hilasterion", which refers to the mercy seat, which he says was a place of meeting between God and His people.

    Thus, Hodges concludes that Jesus is actually the propitiation for all people, believers AND unbelievers. Jesus' blood has been applied to all people according to Hodges. Yet it is only through faith that Jesus becomes the place of meeting ("mercy seat" or "hilasterion") between God and man.

    In case all that was too convoluted, :-) let me try to summarize. Hodges' point in this article is to defend his position of "universal efficiency" against the apparent contradiction of that view brought by Romans 3:25. Hodges is saying that 1 John 2:2 teaches that Jesus actually paid for all the sins of all people, while Rom. 3:25 teaches that people still need to "meet" God through faith in Jesus.

    (BTW, I disagree with his teaching on this, in case you didn't catch that. :-) )

  5. Rachel, so you believe that sin, alone, is the barrier between God and Man?

  6. Rachel:

    This is an excellent series you are developing.

    I especially appreciate the documentation and links to verify what the Crossless advocates are saying.


  7. Thanks Lou.

    Missy, I would say that I believe sin is the ultimate barrier between God and man. The consequences of sin create other boundaries, but I believe anything that separates us from God finds its root in sin. The idea that we are somehow "neutral", that we have no sin yet we're still missing eternal life, and that people will spend an eternity in hell NOT because of their sins but for a simple lack of belief, I do not see anywhere in Scripture.

  8. Thanks, Rachel. I really have to look at this. I have assumed that the GES view, when referencing the lack of eternal life simply meant disbelief - which I never stopped to consider as a sin. To be consistent the GES view could either not consider disbelief to be a sin, or my assumption that the GES reference to lack of eternal life as disbelief is incorrect.

    Now, if sin is no longer an issue, and I conclude that disbelief is a sin - then disbelief could not be an issue either. Do you have any insight - or is there a GES supporter reading - that could enlighten me as to whether lack of eternal life means disbelief in the GES view? And if not, what does it mean?


  9. Hi Missy,

    Try this: disbelief is not sin. Acting out the disbelief is sin.

    When Eve disbelived God. it was not sin. But "sin was crouching at the door"....

    When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, two things happened:

    1) They both sinned (obvious)

    2) They were separated from God (they were in now harm's way and they were without infallible guidance)

    Imagine, the situation in the Garden was non threatening. Inaction was safe.

    Post Eden, every situation was threatening, and action or inaction (making the right call) was critical.

    Deuteronomy 1: 34 “Then the LORD heard the sound of your words, and He was angry and took an oath, saying, 35 ‘Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land which I swore to give your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and to his sons I will give the land on which he has set foot, because he has followed the LORD fully.’ 37 “The LORD was angry with me also on your account, saying, ‘Not even you shall enter there. 38 ‘Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it. 39 ‘Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them and they shall possess it. 40 ‘But as for you, turn around and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.’

    Who entered the land? Those who did NOT disbelieve.

    Caleb, who followed the LORD fully

    The little ones, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil (innocents who do NOT have to make a call, like pre-fall Adam and Eve?)

    God makes known to us his Gospel. Do we believe? When we do, we are already livin' "la vida eterna"!

    Hope this helped.

  10. Rachel,
    I appreciate your work on this topic and am in agreement with you.
    I would use caution however in reading N. T. Wright's teachings. His work has a wide appeal but he is outside sound orthodoxy. He redefines justification to include "covenant faithfulness".

    [Try this: disbelief is not sin. Acting out the disbelief is sin.

    When Eve disbelived God. it was not sin. But "sin was crouching at the door"....]

    Hi Anton,
    It's true that all temptations are not necessarily sin. But the moment we start to toy with a temptation instead of crying out to the Lord for power to overcome the evil thought, we are guilty of sin. Not only is disbelief a sin, it is one of the most hideous of all sins.

    C. H. Spurgeon Quote:

    The Sin of Unbelief

    ...A fearful form of unbelief is that doubt which keeps men from coming to Christ; which leads the sinner to distrust the ability of Christ to save him, to doubt the willingness of Jesus to accept so great a transgressor. But the most hideous of all is the traitor, in its true colors, blaspheming God, and madly denying his existence. Infidelity, deism, and atheism, are the ripe fruits of this pernicious tree; they are the most terrific eruptions of the volcano of unbelief. Unbelief hath become of full stature, when quitting the mask and laying aside disguise, it profanely stalks the earth, uttering the rebellious cry, "No God," striving in vain to shake the throne of the divinity, by lifting up its arm against Jehovah, and in its arrogance would

    "Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,
    Re-judge his justice—be the god of God."

    Then truly unbelief has come to its full perfection, and then you see what it really is, for the least unbelief is of the same nature as the greatest.
    I am astonished, and I am sure you will be, when I tell you that there are some strange people in the world who do not believe that unbelief is a sin. Strange people I must call them, because they are sound in their faith in every other respect; only, to make the articles of their creed consistent, as they imagine, they deny that unbelief is sinful. I remember a young man going into a circle of friends and ministers, who were disputing whether it was a sin in men that they did not believe the gospel. Whilst they were discussing it, he said, "Gentlemen am I in the presence of Christians? Are you believers in the Bible, or are you not?" They said, "We are Christians of course." "Then," said he, "does not the Scripture say, 'of sin, because they believed not on me?' And is it not the damning sin of sinners, that they do not believe on Christ?" I could not have thought that persons should be so fool-hardy as to venture to assert that, "it is no sin for a sinner not to believe on Christ." I thought that, however far they might wish to push their sentiments, they would not tell a lie to uphold the truth, and, in my opinion this is what such men are really doing. Truth is a strong tower and never requires to be buttressed with error. God's Word will stand against all man's devices. I would never invent a sophism to prove that it is no sin on the part of the ungodly not to believe, for I am sure it is, when I am taught in the Scriptures that, "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light," and when I read, "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he believeth not on the Son of God," I affirm, and the Word declares it, unbelief is a sin. Surely with rational and unprejudiced persons, it cannot require any reasoning to prove it. Is it not a sin for a creature to doubt the word of its Maker? Is it not a crime and an insult to the Divinity, for me, an atom, a particle of dust, to dare to deny his words? Is it not the very summit of arrogance and extremity of pride for a son of Adam to say, even in his heart, "God I doubt thy grace; God I doubt thy love; God I doubt thy power?" Oh! sirs believe me, could ye roll all sins into one mass,—could you take murder, and blasphemy, and lust, adultery, and fornication, and everything that is vile and unite them all into one vast globe of black corruption, they would not equal even then the sin of unbelief. This is the monarch sin, the quintessence of guilt; the mixture of the venom of all crimes; the dregs of the wine of Gomorrah; it is the A1 sin, the master-piece of Satan, the chief work of the devil...
    Give me an unbeliever—let me know that he doubts God's word—let me know that he distrusts his promise and his threatening; and with that for a premise, I will conclude that the man shall, by-and-bye unless there is amazing restraining power exerted upon him, be guilty of the foulest and blackest crimes. Ah! this is a Beelzebub sin; like Beelzebub, it is the leader of all evil spirits. It is said of Jeroboam that he sinned and made Israel to sin; and it may be said of unbelief that it not only sins itself, but makes others sin; it is the egg of all crime, the seed of every offence; in fact everything that is evil and vile lies couched in that one word—unbelief.
    And let me say here, that unbelief in the Christian is of the self-same nature as unbelief in the sinner. It is not the same in its final issue, for it will be pardoned in the Christian; yea it is pardoned: it was laid upon the scapegoat's head of old: it was blotted out and atoned for; but it is of the same sinful nature. In fact, if there can be one sin more heinous than the unbelief of a sinner, it is the unbelief of a saint. For a saint to doubt God's word—for a saint to distrust God after innumerable instances of his love, after ten thousand proofs of his mercy, exceeds everything. In a saint, moreover, unbelief is the root of other sins. When I am perfect in faith, I shall be perfect in everything else; I should always fulfill the precept if I always believed the promise. But it is because my faith is weak, that I sin. Put me in trouble, and if I can fold my arms and say, "Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide," you will not find me using wrong means to escape from it. But let me be in temporal distress and difficulty; if I distrust God, what then? Perhaps I shall steal, or do a dishonest act to get out of the hands of my creditors; or if kept from such a transgression, I may plunge into excess to drown my anxieties. Once take away faith, the reins are broken; and who can ride an unbroken steed without rein or bridle? Like the chariot of the sun, with Phaeton for its driver, such should we be without faith. Unbelief is the mother of vice; it is the parent of sin; and, therefore, I say it is a pestilent evil—a master sin...

    Unbelief, you see, has the Cain-mark upon its forehead. God hates it; God has dealt hard blows upon it: and God will ultimately crush it. Unbelief dishonors God. Every other crime touches God's territory; but unbelief aims a blow at his divinity, impeaches his veracity, denies his goodness, blasphemes his attributes, maligns his character; therefore, God of all things, hates first and chiefly, unbelief, wherever it is.
    5. And now to close this point—for I have been already too long—let me remark that you will observe the heinous nature of unbelief in this—that it is the damning sin. There is one sin for which Christ never died; it is the sin against the Holy Ghost. There is one other sin for which Christ never made atonement. Mention every crime in the calendar of evil, and I will show you persons who have found forgiveness for it. But ask me whether the man who died in unbelief can be saved, and I reply there is no atonement for that man. There is an atonement made for the unbelief of a Christian, because it is temporary; but the final unbelief—the unbelief with which men die—never was atoned for. You may turn over this whole Book, and you will find that there is no atonement for the man who died in unbelief; there is no mercy for him. Had he been guilty of every other sin, if he had but believed, he would have been pardoned; but this is the damning exception—he had no faith. Devils seize him! O fiends of the pit, drag him downward to his doom! He is faithless and unbelieving, and such are the tenants for whom hell was built. It is their portion, their prison, they are the chief prisoners, the fetters are marked with their names, and for ever shall they know that, "he that believeth not shall be damned."

    Whole sermon here.

  11. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for the post. All I can do is offer anecdotal evidence in my own response.

    When I became a believer, I did so based on the peace I saw in the life of a friend and colleague of mine. I did not know what was involved in becoming a believer and I just obeyed his advice on what I had to do: pray the prayer, read my Bible and go to church. It sounded like a ritual to me (ie it was not logical, as in having a discernible cause and effect) but I followed it blindly, because I'd tried everything else and there was no more choices left to try.

    What went on in my mind to the advice to pray? I suppose it was like Peter's word here:

    NASB John 6: 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.

    IOW I probably did not understand, let alone believe, but I made a decision that was OF belief.

    To understnd the situation of a person who is asked to believe something that is NOT intuitional, see this:

    NASB Mark 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

    I hope my explanation was clear.

    As for Wright, he joins Dan Wallace, Ken Bailey, Sanders, and Dunn, in pointing out that Paul was not attacking a view of works salvation by the Jews, but the belief that they were saved because they WERE Jews.

    Rather like people whp believe they are saved because they were circumscribed (or baptised).

  12. Missy,

    It's my understanding that GES would say that unbelief is the one sin not forgiven at the cross. I might be wrong, but I do know others who hold the same view as GES and that is what they say about unbelief.

    They seem to take this mainly from Mark 3:28-29 which says, "Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin..."

    I think they say that unbelief = blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. My main problem with that is that clearly "forgiveness of sins" is only granted through faith in Jesus. Acts 10:43 says, "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins."

    Even Alvin, who believes that all sins were paid for at the cross, still agrees that sins are only forgiven through faith (I've asked him repeatedly to explain how and why God could pay for everyone's sins yet still not forgive them, as if He's holding some kind of grudge, but he has yet to answer).

    You asked if lack of eternal life means disbelief according to GES. I can't speak for them, but in my understanding they hold that unbelievers lack eternal life (although I'm not sure why, since their sin is all paid for... I've asked this before too but haven't gotten any response), and that the only way to get eternal life is by belief in Christ alone.

    So, rather than lack of eternal life meaning disbelief, I think they would say that disbelief means lack of eternal life. Does that make sense?

  13. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for the comments and quotes.

    I like Wright overall, I think he has many good things to say and is very helpful. But I don't agree with everything he writes, I'm definitely not too keen on the New Perspective on Paul (I think it's called). I'm still looking into it, but so far I haven't been impressed.

  14. Anton,

    Questions for you:

    1) Can you explain the verses I cited in my article? How do you reconcile passages such as Rom. 3:20 and Rom. 4:2-5 with your view that the "New Torah" must be followed for eternal life? Do you view following these commands as meritorious?

    2) What is the measurement for determining that one is following this "New Torah"? How many times, how often, how consistently must one "love God [and] fellow men" in order to be given eternal life? Or, are you merely saying that works must follow salvation? Because I would agree with that last statement.

  15. Anton,

    Questions for you:

    1) Can you explain the verses I cited in my article? How do you reconcile passages such as Rom. 3:20 and Rom. 4:2-5 with your view that the "New Torah" must be followed for eternal life? Do you view following these commands as meritorious?

    NASB Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

    Re:"Works of the Law"

    Likewise, when Jimmy Dunn added his stones to the growing pile I found myself in both agreement and disagreement with him. His proposal about the meaning of ‘works of the law’ in Paul – that they are not the moral works through which one gains merit but the works through which the Jew is defined over against the pagan – I regard as exactly right. It has proved itself again and again in the detailed exegesis; attempts to deny it have in my view failed

    "Works of the Law" are the boundary markers, the customs that separate God's people from the nations surrounding them: circumcision, dietary restrictions, marriage prohibitions, etc. The new "markers" are baptism, communion.

    You cant't avoid the many passages in the NT that teach we will be judged according to our works, but judged for rewards not for justification. The unfortunate use of the words "eternal life" is just that: unfortunate. It could be better translated as "lasting life" (or durable life) as opposed to fleeting life. A life devoted to amassing of wealth or fame is just that: fleeting. Whereas a life devoted to being obedient to God's commands leads to lasting (or real) rewards as opposed to ephemeral rewards.

    Bottom line: Eternal Life does NOT mean Salvation/Justification.

    NASB Romans 4: 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

    We are justified because we cry out to God for mercy:

    11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18 11-14. NASB

    But God NEEDS to rectify the balance sheet which is in the red because of our sins (Rom 4:25 a) which He does by delivering Jesus to the cross and death. But Jesus was in turn raised because we were justified. (Luke 18:14).

    2) What is the measurement for determining that one is following this "New Torah"? How many times, how often, how consistently must one "love God [and] fellow men" in order to be given eternal life? Or, are you merely saying that works must follow salvation? Because I would agree with that last statement.

    This is a GREAT question.

    NASB John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

    NASB John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

    Jesus is the fullest revelation of God to man since Creation. What is this revelation?

  16. Anton,

    I am confused by your statement re: disbelief not being a sin until acted upon.

    1) Disbelief is a thing that once becomes a part of you permeats all your actions - not a single event. If you are unbelieving then you are self-reliant and not God-reliant.

    2) I test things sometimes by working backwards, so try this:

    If an unrighteous feeling (such as disbelief) is not a sin, worthy of death, until acted upon, then a righteous feeling (such as belief) could not be rewarded with life until acted upon.

    So if you believe a specific action is required for unbelief to become a sin, you must likewise believe that a specific action is required for belief to redeem sin.

    Ah, but thank you - I think my backwards testing of your statement has led me to some interesting thoughts! If one puts the idea behind of 1&2 together...


  17. Rachel, thank you. I have been looking at GES supporters statements, and agree with you. I obviously have not questioned them regarding this, but see sound reasoning in statements to support this as well.

    I once thought that scripture in Mark did refer to simple unbelief, but in context, it is clearly an admonishment to those who claim the Holy Spirit is an evil spirit. Of course, with several family members who have made such a claim, this passage frightens me.

    There are other scriptures that would have me consider that all sins are paid for at the Cross, though. I'm working through it...

    This is good stuff!


  18. Hi Missy

    If you think the stuff is good, the credit lies in the excellent work done by many men of God who have put down their thoughts on paper. I've only done a rehash of the same to help myself understand. I'm glad they've been of help to you.

    The really good stuff is the Wright interview by Time magazine on the Dan Wallace blog. He nailed it down good!

    I have a hard time encapsulating my thoughts, so i have great admiration for Rachel and her structured posts. I tend to need someone bring up issues before I can get my view out: a bit like pulling teeth I guess!

    But one thing Rachel and I share I think is an ability to identify the weakness of an opposing argument and chase it down.

    The Trinity is being discussed on the forum: see how Footwasher, yours truly, is giving the Establishment a hard time!

    Rachel, believe me, I don't enjoy embarrassing people, but Organised Religion (that sounds like the Mob, doesn't it?) hides behind high falutin' vocabulary, linguisitic muscle flexing and philosophical gerrymandering.

    That's so sad! I completely sympathise with the congregation in Wright's interview: "Why don't they teach us this good stuff?"

  19. Hi Anton,

    You said,

    "Bottom line: Eternal Life does NOT mean Salvation/Justification"

    You seem to be saying (correct me if I'm wrong), that we are justified by faith alone, but that we gain eternal/lasting life by the works we do. Is that it? If so, what do you do with all the passages that clearly condition "eternal life" on belief in Jesus?

    And just to be clear, let me ask you again: do you view works of any kind as contributing to our justification?

    Also, I didn't understand your answer to this question:

    What is the measurement for determining that one is following this "New Torah"? How many times, how often, how consistently must one "love God [and] fellow men" in order to be given eternal life?

    Are you saying perhaps that there are "degrees" of eternal life, i.e. rewards? That the more good deeds you do, the more or better your eternal life will be?

    Help me out here, Anton. Help me understand your view. :-)

  20. Rachel said:

    You seem to be saying (correct me if I'm wrong), that we are justified by faith alone, but that we gain eternal/lasting life by

    Excellent phrasing of the question!


    (1) Forgivness is conditioned on belief in Jesus.

    (2) Sanctification is conditioned on belief in Jesus.

    Many of us the understand (1) but not (2).

    To walk in the light is not to live without sin: otherwise, the blood of Jesus would not be needed to cleanse us while we are walking in the light. All the verbs in this verse are present tense. The force seems to be that while we are walking in the light the blood of Jesus is cleansing us from our sins.

    What is the truth.

    There is a sin problem with humanity. And with Christianity. A self-centered power that warps the human nature God gave us. Only a new nature, the divine nature, being allowed to dominate, is the only way to be an overcomer. This goes for the sinner coming in, or the Christian who is already in. The entire plan, outside and in, is activated in human life by One means alone: faith in God BECAUSE OF WHAT CHRIST DID AT CALVARY. This One, base the only thing that goes to the sincere human spirit with utmost humility; by default, ANYTHING else would be SELF righteous.

    Rachel said:
    And just to be clear, let me ask you again: do you view works of any kind as contributing to our justification?

    No. Crying out for mercy leads to justification (See The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee).

    Rachel said:
    Also, I didn't understand your answer to this question:

    What is the measurement for determining that one is following this "New Torah"? How many times, how often, how consistently must one "love God [and] fellow men" in order to be given eternal life?

    Are you saying perhaps that there are "degrees" of eternal life, i.e. rewards? That the more good deeds you do, the more or better your eternal life will be?

    Well, depends on what you mean by good deeds.

    NASB Galatians 3: 1You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
    6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
    10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

    Help me out here, Anton. Help me understand your view. :-)

    Good deeds are confessions of inadequacy. Soren Kierkegaard said: "Prayer is not telling, it's LISTENING". Listen and you WILL sweat "drops of blood"!

  21. Studying Torah and obeying Torah lead to Eternal Life, Chayei Olah in the World to Come.

    To use an analogy , the present life is like a course in Music Appreciation. You study an artist, for example, like Bach: the man, his life, his work, his background and his music. When you are given a ticket to the concert, you understand and you appreciate the experience. Unfaithful believers are the ones who neglect study: when they land up at the concert, they listen but they don't understand and consequently they don't appreciate a thing!

    To stretch the analogy a little further, the unsaved person still gets a ticket to the concert (this is not Universalism!) but he is in the cheap seats. He can't hear a thing, he can't even see the orchestra! He wonders where he is and what he needs to do. He busies himself trying to make his cushions more comfortable. Isn't this a continuation of the hell of his Temporal Life?

    And for the person who studies, doesn't he need to use passages of music (excerpts from the Symphony) to listen to and learn? Isn't this a foretaste of heaven!

    The above example is an adaptation of an article on a Jewish site.

  22. You may also find this helpful:

    So theology is not self-sufficient. It depends on the maturity of your Christian life, as the maturity of your Christian life depends on theology. Growth in grace will make you a better theologian, and becoming a better theologian will help you grow in grace. There is a “spiral” relationship between the two. When you become a Christian, you usually get some elementary theological teaching, a great help in getting started in your walk with the Lord. But then new questions arise, and you go back to Scripture and theology, and you get more advanced answers—sometimes to the same questions you had as a spiritual babe. But your greater maturity enables you to understand and appreciate teaching of greater depth. And that teaching, in turn, helps you to grow more, and so on.

    John Frame in Reformation and Revival, 11.1.47-11.1.49.

  23. A natural outworking of this thread would be the "conversation" I'm having with Tanakh Keeper inthe Judaism section of the Theologyweb forum.

    Also do read the thread started by Tercel in Theology 101. The Theology of the Early Church Fathers, I think, is the subject. "Crossless" Gospel? He's positing a Christless faith that saves, the faith of those people who live reasonable, ethical lives!

    There's a stormhead a buildin'...

  24. This is truly the land of reason.

    God bless you sister.

    Grace upon grace,


  25. Rachel,

    Thanks for chiming in over at DC. :) Good stuff.