Finding Eternal Subordination of the Son in the Oddest Places

As I’ve written before, there are many, many books that teach eternal subordination of the Son (ESS). Books for women, books for children, even notes in a very popular study Bible teach ESS. Most of the time, I’m not surprised when ESS shows up in a book, especially if the author has connections to CBMW, Wayne Grudem, or SBTS (where Bruce Ware teaches).

But every now and then, I’m truly surprised to find ESS being taught. Recently I read Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible by Jerram Barrs. Barrs is a professor at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. In the introduction, Barrs writes about the purpose of the book:

What does God think about women, and how does he treat them? My passionate desire and prayer is that the book will be an encouragement to women and a challenge to men to treat women with the same honor that the Lord himself shows. (9)

Each chapter focuses on a different woman from the Bible and attempts to correct misunderstandings that have gotten in the way of our understanding of what the Bible teaches about women. I was intrigued by the premise and interested to see how Barrs dealt with the topic.

The first three chapters deal with Eve. One of the first things Barrs’ emphasizes is Adam and Eve’s equality in creation. I was pleased that he did. However, when he tries to explain how Adam has a position of authority or leadership over Eve, he introduces classic ESS teaching:

In addition, it is Adam who gives Eve her name, and as we mentioned earlier, this implies a particular significance or authority in the one who does the naming. … This leadership of Adam in relationship with Eve, and her corresponding commitment to him, does not mean that their equality is undermined, for Eve and Adam are like the Trinity in which there is a headship of the Father over the Son, and yet there is also a full equality of Godhead (1 Corinthians 11:, Colossians 1:19; 2:9). (22)

It’s not until the appendix at the end of the book that Barrs develops the ESS theme. The appendix is apparently a wedding sermon that Barrs preached where the couple asked him to speak about headship and submission. Barrs uses the names “Adam” and “Eve” in place of the couple’s actual names.

Interestingly, Barrs brings a twist to ESS that I’ve never seen before. In his formulation, the Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in authority, but there’s still a hierarchy of headship:

This pattern of headship comes from creation itself, or perhaps we should say from God himself. The Lord who made us, the Lord we worship, is a triune God. God is the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who have loved and delighted in each other from all eternity. Within the Trinity there is full equalitythe Son and Spirit are just as fully God as is the Father. The Son and the Spirit have just as much authority, are just as powerful, just as holy, just as wise, just as good just as loving, just as glorious as the Father. To deny this full equality of the persons of the Godhead is heresy, a serious departure from the truth. Yet, within the Trinity there is also a hierarchythe Father is over the Son and the Spirit, and the western churches have taught that the Son is over the Spirit. The Son and the Spirit delight to submit themselves always to the Father’s will; and the Spirit delights to submit to the Son and to do his will. (324, emphasis original)

Barrs points out that the hierarchy isn’t demeaning at all. God the Father gives God the Son the “most significant tasks imaginable”!

This headship of the Father is not demeaning to the Son in any way. The Father is pleased to honor the Son always by giving him the most significant tasks imaginable … The Son, for his part, is ever gladly submissive to the Father. He is always eager to do his Father’s will, committed to obeying his Father’s every word, ready to speak whatever the Father wants him to say, pleased to respect and honor his Father in everything he does, devoted to bringing glory to his Father. We look at this eternal relationship of headship and submission, and it is no vision of miseryrather it is an eternally shared glory! (324-325, emphasis added)

So, in addition to ESS (eternal subordination of the Son), EFS (eternal functional submission), and ERAS (eternal relations of authority and submission), we now have ERHS (eternal relationship of headship and submission).

Having explained the origin of headship and submission in the eternal relationships within the Trinity, Barrs applies this equal but hierarchical relationship to marriage. Instead of the Biblical example for marriage, Christ and the church, Barrs focuses on the Father/Son relationship in the “family of the Trinity.”

Adam and Eve, your relationship is to mirror the relationship between the Father and the Son, for the apostle Paul teaches us that your family, just like every other family on earth or in heaven, is named and patterned after the family of our heavenly Father, the family of the Trinity … Eve and Adam, you are to show to the world the beauty of the eternal love between the Son and the Father. (325-326)

In the study questions at the end of the appendix, Barrs asks:

Have you considered before reading this chapter the reality of equality and headship that exists within the Trinity? As you think about this, how would you express the beauty of the relationship between the Father and the Son as it is described for us in the Scriptures? (328)

To answer his questions, no such “reality of equality and headship exists within the Trinity.” And I would describe such a relationship of authority and submission as heretical. Barrs is right that to deny full equality within the Trinity is heretical. But sadly, he doesn’t recognize that he’s doing so here.

When I read the first paragraph in the Eve chapter that taught ESS, I was really surprised, and I honestly hoped that it was somehow a poorly worded section. Maybe something the publisher (Crossway) wanted to include. But give the fully developed ESS (ERHS?) in the appendix, and given that Barrs preached ESS at a wedding, it seems that Barrs is another who teaches and promotes ESS (at least at the time).

Barrs ends his introduction by calling for men to treat women better. Ironically, he says:

Many women experience discrimination and poor treatment in their churches and in their homes. In conservative circles this is sometimes defended and justified by specious appeals to Scripture. (11)

ESS and its application to marriage are part of the “discrimination and poor treatment” that many women experience in the home and in churches. As a popular author and teacher, many men and women have read and will read his book. I hope that in the intervening years, and given the Trinity debate of 2016, that Barrs has changed his mind about ESS. If so, I hope he’ll clarify his position publicly.

Struggling to be Free or Free to Struggle?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Gal 2:20, NASB

What should the Christian life look like? Should we be trying to prove our worth to God? Are we free to live how ever we want because “grace”? Should we expect to achieve sinless perfection?

When I was in college, our RUF pastor used to ask us, “Are you struggling to be free, or are you free to struggle?” His point was that until we come to faith in Christ we will struggle and fight an impossible battle to make ourselves right with God. We will struggle to be free of our sin and guilt.

The good news of the gospel is that through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we have been set free from sin’s power. Sin no longer has dominion over us. We are at peace with God. This is our reality right now, and it can’t be taken away from us. But there’s more to the story. We have been set free and given a purpose.

Because we have been united to Christ by the Spirit, we have been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) and are dead to sin (Rom 6:11). But we have also been raised with Christ, so that we may “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). What does this mean for us?

Read the rest of this article over at Place for Truth.

Talking with Our Children about Death

“Is she going to die?” That’s what my boys wanted to know when we told them how sick their Bisabuela[1] was. How do we answer that question and other questions about death that our children ask?

Talking about death is uncomfortable, isn’t it? As a culture, we don’t like to think about it. In fact, we avoid thinking about it. We exercise and eat “right” and take vitamins and supplements that promise us eternal youth, or at least a long life.

But eventually, we’re confronted with the reality of death. Maybe it’s the death of a grandparent. Maybe it’s the loss of a child. Maybe it’s a life-threatening illness. Whatever the circumstances, we come to a point where we can’t just ignore death. For ourselves and our children, we need to be ready to give biblical answers and gospel encouragement when the time comes.

So, what should we tell our children about death? In my experience, children want answers to three basic questions. Why do people have to die? Are you/am I going to die? What happens when we die? These can be hard questions to answer. The good news is that God has given us answers in the Bible.

Read the rest of this article at Place for Truth.

No, I’m Not a Feminist or an Egalitarian

“Watch out for her. She’s a feminist!” “She says she’s not, but clearly she’s a closet egalitarian.” “She’s a thin complementarian” “No, an anorexic one.”

Words are powerful, as are labels. They can be helpful. They can be used to encourage and build people up. But they can also be used to dismiss others. They can be used to belittle and discourage.

In conservative, Christianity, there are few words that shut down discussion faster than the charge of “feminist!” Heresy is another big one, although it doesn’t work quite the same way. Feminist has almost exclusively negative associations in conservative Christian circles.

Some of that is understandable. The modern feminist movement has strong connections with abortion and same-sex marriage. Not all feminists are for abortion and same-sex marriage, but the association is there. When a conservative calls someone a feminist, it can be an attempt to question the person’s faith and commitment to Scripture.

I used to think it was amusing when someone called me a feminist. It had to be a joke. Or a clear misunderstanding. Who me? A feminist? I know some of the nuttier guys out there think anyone who disagrees with them is a feminist. And then there are the CBMW authors who say all women are feminists. But clearly, those aren’t serious opinions.

Why would anyone think I’m a feminist? Let’s consider my beliefs (which I’ve stated before.) I hold to the following beliefs regarding men, women, and gender:

  • God made man: male and female in the image of God
  • In Christ, male and female are equal before God
  • Husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives, loving them as Christ loves the church
  • Wives are called to voluntary submission to their husbands, submitting to them as the church submits to Christ
  • Ordination is restricted to qualified men in the church
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life
  • Men and women need each other and depend on each other

Take particular notice of what I believe about leadership and submission in marriage and ordination in the church. Those right there set me apart. I’m not a feminist. I’m also not an egalitarian, closet or otherwise. I have respect for the egalitarians I know. I appreciate the work some egalitarians have done defending the Trinity. But we have significantly different interpretations of what the Bible teaches about marriage and ordination.

And that’s ok. It’s possible to disagree and still respect other people. If you asked a feminist or an egalitarian about my beliefs, they would say that I’m either complementarian or patriarchal. It’s laughable to say I’m patriarchal, but each end of the spectrum tends towards viewing things as extremes. Just like there are those who say everyone who disagrees with them is a feminist, there are those who say anyone who disagrees with them is patriarchal.

So then the question is, am I a complementarian? I used to think so. I used to call myself one.  After all, I believe that husbands are the spiritual leaders of their families. I believe that wives should submit to the leadership of their husbands. And I believe that ordained church leaders should be qualified men. Isn’t that a complementarian?

Apparently not. To be a true complementarian, you also need to believe:

  • women were created to be submissive, responsive, soft
  • men were created to be leaders, providers, strong
  • men are supposed to be priests for their families
  • women are supposed to be at home and not in the workforce (unless there’s a really good reason, but even then)
  • divorce is wrong even when there is biblical justification for it
  • the eternal subordination of the Son, especially as it is applied to men and women
  • all women are rebellious feminists at heart and men must put down that rebellion (an interpretation of Genesis 3:16)

How do I know this is necessary for true complementarianism? Well, when I disagreed with these beliefs, I was called a “soft,” “thin,” or “anorexic” complementarian. I was also called a closet egalitarian or a feminist because:

  • I questioned what CBMW taught about men and women and the Trinity
  • I defended orthodox Trinitarianism against the eternal subordination of the Son
  • I raised questions about the ESV translation for changing the wording of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7
  • I wrote about abuse as biblical grounds for divorce
  • I believe women can be leaders in business and politics or even cops and umpires

When I took a logic class in college, I didn’t like the way we were supposed to apply mathematical proofs to language. Math is neat and tidy. Add, subtract, multiply, divide. Numbers have intrinsic meaning. Words aren’t as definite and precise as math. But that doesn’t mean that words can mean whatever we want them to mean.

Our society is losing its collective mind when it comes to words and their meanings. We’re told we can “identify” as whatever we want, regardless of reality. Truth and facts? It’s relative. It just depends on what “your truth” is.

As Christians, we have fought against this kind of relativism for years. You’d think conservative Christians would be more careful about using words accurately. Feminist and egalitarian have actual definitions. There are Christian feminist groups and egalitarian organizations with definite beliefs. Feminist doesn’t mean “a woman I disagree with and wish she’d stop talking.” Egalitarian doesn’t simply mean “someone who thinks women can have opinions about theology.”

I’m not a feminist. I’m not an egalitarian. What I am is tired of the name-calling and the attempts to silence me and others like me. No doubt those who need to hear these words the most are the least likely to listen. But I hope that those who are tempted to believe the lies about me will do me the honor of considering what I’ve written here.

 

Want to read the Bible in a year? Here’s my Bible reading plan for 2018

For the last several years, I have been reading the Bible through each year. I’ve used several different plans, and there are elements of each that I’ve really enjoyed. A couple of years ago I decided to do something different. I like the idea of reading each book through so that you get a good feel for the flow of the book. But I really don’t like to wait until the last third of the year to read the New Testament. I love reading the Wisdom Literature, but I think I appreciate them more in smaller portions.

So, after looking through the various Bible reading plans available, I decided to create my own. There’s a decent chance that someone has made one just like this already. If so, please let me know. I’d be glad to share it.

My plan alternates between Old Testament and New Testament books but completes one book at a time. On the weekends, my plan has readings from the Psalms on Saturdays and a chapter from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs on Sundays.

I attempted to portion out the readings so that it wouldn’t be too much for any one day, but I may need to adjust the readings as I go through it again this year. Below you’ll find a link to the pdf document with the full reading plan.

A Daughter of the Reformation Bible Reading Plan 2018

I’m also going to be using the Journibles from Reformation Heritage Books to slow down and focus on a chapter or smaller portion of Scripture each day.

What is Love?

Christmas day has come and gone again. But the themes of the advent/Christmas season, hope, joy, peace, and love, are important all year. Love is an especially important theme. Our society tells us that love means accepting people just as they are. It tells us that love is that warm, tingling feeling we feel for that special someone. But what is love really? Is it a feeling? A verb?

As Christians, we know that love is a much richer concept than the world around us understands. The Bible tells us that God is love:

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8, NASB)

God is love. As such He defines it. He demonstrates His love for us through Christ:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NASB)

 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NASB)

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, NASB)

God enables us to love Him and to love others:

 We love, because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19, NASB)

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16, NASB)

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11-12, NASB)

God promises that nothing can separate us from His love:

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, NASB)

God sets the standard for how we are to love others:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NASB)

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21, NASB)

Sometimes that love means confronting sin. Sometimes it means forgiving others for how they’ve sinned against us. Sometimes it means leaving family and friends behind to follow Christ. Love can be painful.

Love is so much more than a passing feeling. It’s more than romance. It’s more than blind acceptance. Love, true love, is active and self-sacrificial. It puts the needs of others before itself. It’s a fruit of the Spirit and evidence of the saving love we’ve been given. We love God and others because He first loved us. This Christmas season, may we remember the love that God has shown us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and may we demonstrate that love for others in all that we do.

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35, NASB)

Christian, Where is Your Joy?

Four common themes discussed during the Advent/Christmas season are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. The last two weeks, I’ve posted articles on hope and peace. Today, I want to consider joy.

What is joy? As Christians, what is the source of our joy? What does joy look like in our daily lives? Should a believer’s life be marked by joy? And what if it isn’t?

Merriam-Webster defines joy this way, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” I think this is a useful definition. Joy is that wonderful feeling we get when our children smile for the first time. It’s that sense of happiness when our family is gathered together for the holidays. Joy is that emotion we feel when we get a raise or a promotion at work. It’s the feeling comes with knowing we are loved. It’s even that sense of anticipation we have when we look at the presents under the Christmas tree.

Of course, ultimately, joy is more than a transient emotion or feeling. Consider this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the life of believer. That means that it is something more than an emotion we have in the right circumstances. Our joy, as Christians, is rooted in something much deeper. It’s source is in the work of Christ for our salvation.

Consider the angel’s declaration when Jesus was born:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 ESV)

What is this “good news of great joy?” The Savior has come! Jesus has been born. Of course, that’s not the whole story. Jesus’ birth was just the beginning. He lived and died for us. And most importantly, He rose again. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has saved us from our sins! What a glorious thing! We are forgiven. We are made new. He has won the victory and secured our future. Nothing can separate us from His love.

The Savior has come, and He will come again. In the face of this truth, how can we be anything but joyful? No matter our circumstances, no matter the pain, sorrow, grief, fears, dangers, heartaches we face, we are His, and He will never leave us. And one day, He will come and take us home. That is the source of our joy. And it can’t be shaken.

As a side note, I do not mean to suggest that Christians do not struggle with sadness and depression. Christians can and do suffer from depression. But even in the depth of depression, it is possible to turn our eyes to the source of our joy and to remember that depression doesn’t separate us from Him. We can have joy in the knowledge of our salvation even when we don’t feel it.

Joy doesn’t mean that we go through life with happy-clappy attitudes and smiles plastered on our faces. There is a time for rejoicing and a time for sorrow. It’s appropriate to grieve and cry at times. But in those times, we have not lost our joy. We still have that sense of anticipation. Christ is the only joy that lasts.

So what should joy look like in our daily lives? First, our lives should be filled with worship and praise. We have been saved from our sins. They are remembered no more. We are loved, adopted, children of God. We have hope in our resurrection. Our response should be to worship the One who has called us, redeemed us, atoned for us.

Second, we should share our joy with others. Because of how much we love our families, friends, and neighbors, we must share with them the source of our joy. There is no gift more precious in the world than the salvation we have received through Jesus. There is nothing more joyful in this life than seeing others come to Christ. How can we keep silent?

Given the source of our joy, the reality of His resurrection, the security of our salvation, how can we not be joyful? But what about Christians who aren’t? I’m sure we all know Christians who don’t exactly embody joy.

From grumps and cranks to Eeyores and curmudgeons, there are some believers who seem to be happiest when they’re miserable, cantankerous, and grumbling. While I can appreciate that there are those who are naturally pessimistic and grouchy, I don’t think it’s right to revel in those character flaws. The image of the cranky old man yelling at the kids to “get off his lawn” is comedic, but who wants to live that way? It doesn’t seem to fit with the picture of the believer that we see in the fruit of the Spirit.

The world around us is full of reasons to fuss and complain. Our jobs aren’t going well. Our families are crazy. Our health is failing. The government isn’t doing a good job. The politicians we voted for didn’t get elected. The ones we elected broke their promises. The weather is bad: too hot or too cold. The drivers on the roads are idjits. There are so many reasons to be in a bad mood. But when we’re tempted to give in to our emotions, let’s remember the source of our joy.

Let us sing for joy this Christmas! Joy to the world, the Savior has come! And He will come again!

Christian, Where is your Hope?

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NASB)

Hope is the first of the four themes for advent. All too often we speak of hope in a wishful way. “I hope I make it to work on time.” “I hope you’re feeling better.” “Hopefully, my children will sleep tonight.” This kind of uncertain, wishful thinking is not what it means to have hope in Christ. In Christ, we have assurance. We have security. We have a Savior who has come, fulfilling the prophecies of old, and who will come again! Maranatha!

In this advent season, I began thinking about where I often put my hope, and where it ought to be. To remind myself, I made a list of where my hope should not be:

  • My hope is not in my finances.
  • My hope is not in my health.
  • My hope is not in my children.
  • My hope is not in my husband and his love for me.
  • My hope is not in my career or my professional success.
  • My hope is not in my ability to control my life.
  • My hope is not in my appearance.
  • My hope is not in my self-reliance or independence.
  • My hope is not in those around me.
  • My hope is not in me.

All of these things are fleeting. All will ultimately disappoint. None will satisfy. None will save. None are secure. If I have everything the world offers, I could lose it tomorrow. My only hope is in Christ. He will not fail.

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us where our comfort or hope comes from as believers:

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

Christ is our only sure hope. Our salvation is secure in Him. God has saved us, God is saving us, God will save us. Past, present, and future. All are certain in Him. We have great hope.

As the words of the hymn say, “He then is all my Hope and Stay.” Rejoice today in the hope of Christ!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne. — Edward Mote

Back to the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more – Henry V, Shakespeare

The debate over salvation by faith alone continues unabated. As I wrote in my last article on the subject, at issue is whether and how good works can be considered necessary or part of salvation. From the recent Desiring God article, it’s apparent that I did not overstate things when I said that Piper was separating justification from salvation. The article, though not written by John Piper, references Piper’s article and states:

But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification — both initiated and sustained by God’s grace. (emphasis original)

The article also warns that your salvation depends on you killing your sin. According to Piper and others at Desiring God, justification is by faith alone, but salvation (or final salvation) is through works and faith. As I wrote previously, this teaching is contrary to what the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions and catechisms teach.

That last part is what I want to focus on in this article. Last time, I used several Bible verses to explain the Scriptural foundation for salvation by faith alone. While I did quote from the Heidelberg Catechism, I wanted to give additional excerpts from the other well-known Reformed confessions and catechisms. As you will note, the teaching that salvation, from first to last, is by faith alone is clear in all of the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

From the Westminster Confession of faith, notice that it says that saving faith means resting on Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.

By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands,  trembling at the threatenings,  and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. (WCF XIV.2 on Saving Faith, emphasis added)

The section on good works has several useful passages. The first one quoted here states that good works are the fruit and evidence of faith. Some have used the last statement highlighted below to say that the confession is teaching the same as Piper, that good works are instrumental to salvation and eternal life.

These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life. (WCF XVI.2 on Good Works, emphasis added)

But it is clear from the following passages that this is not what the Confession teaches. There is no merit of eternal life nor profit for us in our good works.

We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit, and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment. (WCF XVI.5 on Good Works, emphasis added)

The Westminster Larger Catechism also teaches that salvation is by faith alone. Justifying faith rests on Christ for salvation:

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation. (WLC 72, emphasis added)

And how does that faith justify? Not by good works:

Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness. (WLC 73, emphasis added)

Sanctification, the Catechism reminds us, is God’s work:

Q. 75. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life. (WLC 75, emphasis added)

The 39 Articles also teach that good works are the fruit of salvation and are not a means of salvation:

XII. Of Good Works.
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit. (Article 12, Of Good Works, emphasis added)

The Second Helvetic Confession speaks at length about good works and their place in the life of a Christian. It categorically rejects the teaching that salvation is through good works:

WE ARE NOT SAVED BY GOOD WORKS. Nevertheless, as was said above, we do not think that we are saved by good works, and that they are so necessary for salvation that no one was ever saved without them. For we are saved by grace and the favor of Christ alone. Works necessarily proceed from faith. And salvation is improperly attributed to them, but is most properly ascribed to grace. The apostle’s sentence is well known: “If it is by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. But if it is of works, then it is no longer grace, because otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom. 11:6).  (Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XVI, emphasis added)

The 3 Forms of Unity include of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt. They don’t all go into the same depth on the same subjects as the Westminster and Second Helvetic Confessions, but the themes of the Reformation are still very clear.

The Canons of Dordt teaches that eternal life (salvation) is by faith in Christ alone:

FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 4. The wrath of God abides upon those who believe not this gospel. But such as receive it and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith are by Him delivered from the wrath of God and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them. (Canons of Dordt, 1.4, emphasis added)

The Belgic Confession also teaches that salvation is by faith in Christ alone:

Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith
For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.
Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God-– for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.” (Belgic Confession, Article 22, emphasis added)

And that good works are evidence and the fruit of our salvation, but not a means of salvation:

Article 24: The Sanctification of Sinners
So then, we do good works, but nor for merit– for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who “works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure” — thus keeping in mind what is written: “When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.’
Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works– but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts.
Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.
So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.  (Belgic Confession, Article 24, emphasis added)

The Heidelberg Catechism I referenced in my first article. It is very clear in affirming salvation by faith alone in Christ alone and rejecting that good works merit us salvation or eternal life:

Q & A 60
Q. How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments,
of never having kept any of them, and of still being inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without any merit of my own, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart.

Q & A 61
Q. Why do you say that through faith alone you are righteous?
A. Not because I please God by the worthiness of my faith. It is because only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me righteous before God, and because I can accept this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than through faith.

Q & A 62
Q. Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?
A. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.

Q & A 63
Q. How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?
A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

Q & A 64
Q. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?
A. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude. (Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 60-64, emphasis added)

The confessions and catechisms were written, in part, to teach lay people what the Bible teaches on various important topics. As such, the material is usually straightforward and beneficial for believers of all ages and all levels of education. This is in keeping with the Reformed emphasis on educating all believers so that all may be informed especially regarding salvation.

As the Westminster Confession of Faith states, while Scripture may not all ways be easy to understand, what we need to know about salvation is plain and does not require advanced degrees or special knowledge of obscure sources in their primary languages to understand correctly:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF, I.7, emphasis added)

These Reformed confessions and catechisms comprise the standards for most confessional denominations. They are not equal to Scripture, and the Westminster Confession makes clear that the Scriptures are the “supreme judge” in any controversies:

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. (WCF, I.10)

Everything, no matter who said it, must be weighed against Scripture. And for confessional Christians, a good place to start is with our confessional standards. Confessional Christians, especially ordained leaders, believe and affirm that the confessional standards of their denomination contain “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures” (PCA and OPC ordination questions). For this reason, it is important to know and to return to the confessional standards in any controversy.

Piper does not hold to any of the Reformed confessions or catechisms. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a Christian or that he doesn’t teach useful things. But it does mean that we shouldn’t be surprised when he teaches something outside the confessional standards.

No matter how much we may like Calvin, Twisse, Edwards, Horton, or Piper,  ultimately we don’t confess them. We confess the standards of our denominations. It really is that simple.

If you’d like to read more on the current Sola Fide debate, I recommend the following articles:

Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper, Part 1
Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper, Part 2: “Salvation”
Rachel Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper: Part 3, Beginning at the End: The Marrow Men
Salvation Sola Fide: Martin Luther and the Fruits of Faith
“…Let’s just pipe down and let the experts handle this.”
Piper: Salvation by faith alone and just a little bit more?
The Gospel According to Piper
Believers Are Saved And Sealed
In By Grace, Stay In By Faithfulness?
Salvation Sola Gratia, Sola Fide: On Distinguishing Is, With, And Through

Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone in Christ Alone

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, some may wonder if the Reformation still matters today. We don’t face the same problems today in the church that they did back then, right? No one is selling indulgences. No one in in the evangelical world is teaching salvation by works and certainly not in the Reformed world! Right?

Last week, Desiring God ran an article by John Piper on sola fide, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone? The article is a rerun of older material by Piper. It makes the rounds every couple of years and receives a wide range of responses. The point of the article seems to be to encourage believers to have an active faith as described in James 2. This is a worthy aim. There are many today, even in Reformed circles, who speak and act as though believers should not be expected to live godly lives and to struggle against their sins.

The problem in many responses to such antinomianism is a trend towards moralism, pietism, or legalism. Such a reaction to antinomianism is not surprising, but it is equally dangerous. And this is the ditch Piper’s article falls into.

Piper rightly says that believers are justified by faith alone, but then he makes a distinction between justification and salvation by faith alone:

If you substitute other clauses besides “We are justified . . .” such as “We are sanctified . . .” or “We will be finally saved at the last judgment . . .” then the meaning of some of these prepositional phrases must be changed in order to be faithful to Scripture. For example,

In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us.

In sanctification, faith receives an ongoing power of Christ that works inside us for practical holiness.

In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (emphasis added)

He goes on to say that works are necessary for “final salvation”:

Paul calls this effect or fruit or evidence of faith the “work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:32 Thessalonians 1:11) and the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:516:26). These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven (Hebrews 12:14). So, we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone. (emphasis added)

Piper is saying that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone but that there is also a final salvation separate from justification that includes our works. In this way, he says, we are saved through faith AND works. This is not simply sloppiness or poor wording. This is what he is teaching, and it is clear from the context of the article. And it is contrary to Scripture, to the Reformation, and to the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

In Scripture, Paul says clearly that we are SAVED, not only justified, by faith alone and not by works:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB, emphasis added)

In Galatians, Paul addresses a very similar concern. He asks:

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3, NASB)

In Romans, Paul explains that we are saved through faith in Christ:

if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10, NASB)

Paul goes on to say that grace is only grace if works are excluded:

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. (Romans 11:6, NASB)

The Scriptures do not distinguish between an initial salvation (or justification) and a final salvation. It does distinguish between justification, sanctification, and glorification. However, all are said to be the work of God.

Romans 8:29-30 says that God is the one who predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies:

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30, NASB)

In Philippians, we are told to work out our salvation, but even here it is clear that God is the one who works in us and through us:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13, NASB, emphasis added)

In 2 Thessalonians, the passage Piper quotes above, Paul does say that salvation is through sanctification and faith. But notice who does the sanctifying:

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13, NASB, emphasis added)

The Spirit sanctifies us, part of the work of sanctification is to change us so that we are willing and able to obey as God has called us to. We do good works, but the merit is all God’s and not ours:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, NASB)

It is absolutely true that without sanctification, without holiness, no one will enter glory. Hebrews tells us so:

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14, NASB)

But since sanctification is the promised work of the Spirit in the life of a believer, all who are justified will be sanctified and will ultimately be glorified. It is God’s work from beginning to end, and He will bring it to completion:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6, NASB)

But what about our actions? Won’t Christians be lazy and sinful if their works don’t have any part in saving them? Again, the Scriptures anticipate every argument. Paul writes in Romans:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2, NASB)

Because we have been justified, we are being sanctified, and we will be glorified. Our salvation is secure because God is the One doing the work. And because the Spirit is at work in us to sanctify us, we will see changes in our lives and in our actions. That is what James 2 is explaining. Justifying faith will always be accompanied by good works.

Justifying faith will always be accompanied by good works. Those works are evidence and absolutely necessary, but they do not earn us any part of our salvation. The evidence is for our sake and for the sake of others in the church. It’s a means of assurance and a means of confirming who are believers in the church.

God does not need proof to know who of us is saved. He knows! He chose us before the foundation of the world. He has called us by our names. We are His! He will not lose a single one of us.

The Reformers fought and many died to restore the truth of SALVATION by faith alone through Grace alone in Christ alone. They wrote the catechisms and confessions we have today, not to displace the role of Scripture alone, but to lay out what the Scriptures teach in such a way that all might understand. So many of the current problems and troubles in the church today would be resolved if people would study the Scriptures and catechize themselves and their children.

For example, the Heidelberg catechism questions could have been written with this very discussion in mind:

Q & A 60
Q. How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments,
of never having kept any of them, and of still being inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without any merit of my own, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart.

Q & A 61
Q. Why do you say that through faith alone you are righteous?

A. Not because I please God by the worthiness of my faith. It is because only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me righteous before God, and because I can accept this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than through faith.

Q & A 62
Q. Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?

A. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.

Q & A 63
Q. How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

Q & A 64
Q. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?

A. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.

This is the consistent message of Scripture and all the Reformed confessions and catechisms. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to God alone be the glory! By all means, we need to struggle against the sins in our lives and encourage others to do the same. We should look for evidence of the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives of our children. We should press on and serve God faithfully and honorably in all we do.

But if we sell our birthright of salvation by faith alone for the pottage of moralism, we will have lost all our Reformed ancestors fought for, and we will do great damage to our own faith, to the faith of others, and to our churches. As we vow when we profess faith and join the church in the PCA, we must receive and rest on Christ alone for salvation. Beginning to end, the work is God’s. Here we stand, we can do no other.