Preaching is not Magical

Article by Dan Phillips: Original source here.

Christian worship is a supernatural event – but it is not a magic show.

In pagan worship, forms and rituals are thought to be inherently effective. The Latin phrase is ex opere operato, “from the work worked.” It is the idea that we can do things that in turn will make God do things. This is the essence of paganism and of magic: that forms of worship or manipulation produce supernatural effects simply by our performing them correctly.

In Harry Potter, it’s saying the right gibberish-Latin words (“Wingardium leviosa!”). In other literature, it’s gestures, or words-plus-gestures. In some lands, it’s sacrifice and incantation.

My fear is that some evangelicals – despite our call to reject all paganism – unwittingly entertain a faux-baptized form of the same sorts of expectations and beliefs.

How so?

We (correctly) affirm that the Bible is not just a book, not a mere collection of human musings. It is the word of God, “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and communicates the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). It is the means of saving faith (Romans 10:17), and of growth in holiness (John 17:17). It is truly a marvel, a gift from God.

So we (again correctly) make the preaching of the Word the center of our corporate worship. This reflects the stated priorities of Christ (John 8:31-32) and His apostles (1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:2). So far, so good.

But here comes the disconnect: sometimes both preacher and hearers get the idea that, if we do that right – that is, preach the Word faithfully – then God must do great and wonderful things, along the lines of our expectations. Sinners will be saved, saints will be transformed and matured, churches will grow. Glory all around. It’s guaranteed!

Right? Wrong.

I yield to no man in my absolute conviction of the centrality of God’s written word to all thought, faith, worship and practice. It is that very conviction which compels me to point out the corollary truth:

The glory of God requires not only faithful preaching of the Word, but also faithful hearing of the Word.

Once you see it, you will find this verity literally all over Scripture. Take Deuteronomy 28:1 – “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” This verse brims with vital truth.

We see here the voice of Yahweh your God – something many Christians say they long to hear. But what they mean by it is not what God means by it. They mean some mystical, subjective inner experience, where they feel something that they identify as God’s voice. This verse means nothing of the kind. It locates God’s voice not within us, but in God’s commandments. God’s voice is God’s written Word.

But beyond that, note that God’s blessing on national Israel was conditioned on their faithfully obeying that voice, that written Word. The Hebrew words translated if you faithfully obey are more literally if hearing you will hear – which is to say, if you will intently listen, so that you may obey.

Though Scripture itself was God’s mighty voice, it would accomplish no good for the Israelites if they did not listen closely, so as to understand, remember, and do what God told them.

“Ah, yes,” I can hear some neo-mystic murmur. “That was the Old Testament. This is the age of the Spirit. Everything’s changed!”

Has it, now?

Turn to Hebrews 3:7, where we read, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says…” There it is: the Holy Spirit speaks! Now, today, in the present tense! The writer is about to quote Him for us. What will He say?

Listen: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion…” (vv. 7b-8a). Wait, those words are familiar. Where did we hear them before? Check the marginal note…oh, there it is: Psalm 95:7-8.

What? But that’s the Old Testament. This New Testament writer is saying that an Old Testament verse is, today, now the voice of the Holy Spirit, speaking to us?

Indeed he is saying that. He learned it from the Old Testament. The voice of God is the written word of God, not an inner glorpy gloop in the gizzard.

Now note what the Holy Spirit is saying: He says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts,” as Israel did in the wilderness. He is not saying, “If you feel something you think is God, chase it down.” Rather, the Spirit is saying, “When you read or hear God’s written Word, do not harden your heart.”

What does that tell us? It is possible to hear God’s word, in its full power and authority, and still receive no blessing, and engage in no worship. How? The writer of Hebrews will tell us in the next chapter:

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. (Hebrews 4:1–2)

The message was heard by the outer ear, but it was not welcomed into a heart of faith. So not only did it not benefit them, it positively condemned them (cf. John 12:48; 15:22).

So yes, what a preacher preaches makes all the difference as to whether a service is or is not truly a worship service that glorifies God.

But how the hearers hear is no less important.

Why the Reformation Still Matters

Dr. Michael Reeves is president and professor of theology at Union School of Theology. He is author of many books, including Delighting in the Trinity. In an article in Tabletalk magazine (available here) he writes:

Last year, on October 31, Pope Francis announced that after five hundred years, Protestants and Catholics now “have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.” From that, it sounds as if the Reformation was an unfortunate and unnecessary squabble over trifles, a childish outburst that we can all put behind us now that we have grown up.

But tell that to Martin Luther, who felt such liberation and joy at his rediscovery of justification by faith alone that he wrote, “I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Tell that to William Tyndale, who found it such “merry, glad and joyful tidings” that it made him “sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Tell it to Thomas Bilney, who found it gave him “a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.” Clearly, those first Reformers didn’t think they were picking a juvenile fight; as they saw it, they had discovered glad tidings of great joy.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Europe had been without a Bible the people could read for something like a thousand years. Thomas Bilney had thus never encountered the words “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Instead of the Word of God, they were left to the understanding that God is a God who enables people to earn their own salvation. As one of the teachers of the day liked to put it, “God will not deny grace to those who do their best.” Yet what were meant as cheering words left a very sour taste for everyone who took them seriously. How could you be sure you really had done your best? How could you tell if you had become the sort of just person who merited salvation?

Martin Luther certainly tried. “I was a good monk,” he wrote, “and kept my order so strictly that I could say that if ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I should have entered in.” And yet, he found:

My conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, “You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.” The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more daily I found it more uncertain, weaker and more troubled.

According to Roman Catholicism, Luther was quite right to be unsure of heaven. Confidence of a place in heaven was considered errant presumption and was one of the charges made against Joan of Arc at her trial in 1431. There, the judges proclaimed, Continue reading

Justification According to Rome

This excerpt is adapted from Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism by R.C. Sproul.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is always at risk of distortion. It became distorted in the centuries leading up to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. It became distorted at innumerable other points of church history, and it is often distorted today. This is why Martin Luther said the gospel must be defended in every generation. It is the center point of attack by the forces of evil. They know that if they can get rid of the gospel, they can get rid of Christianity.

There are two sides to the gospel, the good news of the New Testament: an objective side and a subjective side. The objective content of the gospel is the person and work of Jesus—who He is and what He accomplished in His life. The subjective side is the question of how the benefits of Christ’s work are appropriated to the believer. There the doctrine of justification comes to the fore.

Many issues were involved in the Reformation, but the core matter, the material issue of the Reformation, was the gospel, especially the doctrine of justification. There was no great disagreement between the Roman Catholic Church authorities and the Protestant Reformers about the objective side. All the parties agreed that Jesus was divine, the Son of God and of the Virgin Mary, and that He lived a life of perfect obedience, died on the cross in an atoning death, and was raised from the grave. The battle was over the second part of the gospel, the subjective side, the question of how the benefits of Christ are applied to the believer.

The Reformers believed and taught that we are justified by faith alone. Faith, they said, is the sole instrumental cause for our justification. By this they meant that we receive all the benefits of Jesus’ work through putting our trust in Him alone.

The Roman communion also taught that faith is a necessary condition for salvation. At the seminal Council of Trent (1545–1563), which formulated Rome’s response to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic authorities declared that faith affords three things: the initium, the fundamentum, and the radix. That is, faith is the beginning of justification, the foundation for justification, and the root of justification. But Rome held that a person can have true faith and still not be justified, because there was much more to the Roman system.

In reality, the Roman view of the gospel, as expressed at Trent, was that justification is accomplished through the sacraments. Initially, the recipient must accept and cooperate in baptism, by which he receives justifying grace. He retains that grace until he commits a mortal sin. Mortal sin is called “mortal” because it kills the grace of justification. The sinner then must be justified a second time. That happens through the sacrament of penance, which the Council of Trent defined as “a second plank” of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls.

The fundamental difference was this. Trent said that God does not justify anyone until real righteousness inheres within the person. In other words, God does not declare a person righteous unless he or she is righteous. So, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, justification depends on a person’s sanctification. By contrast, the Reformers said justification is based on the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus. The only ground by which a person can be saved is Jesus’ righteousness, which is reckoned to him when he believes.

There were radically different views of salvation. They could not be reconciled. One of them was the gospel. One of them was not. Thus, what was at stake in the Reformation was the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though the Council of Trent made many fine affirmations of traditional truths of the Christian faith, it declared justification by faith alone to be anathema, ignoring many plain teachings of Scripture, such as Romans 3:28: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

What Is the Unpardonable Sin?

Excerpt adapted from R.C. Sproul’s Mark, the fifth volume in the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary series.

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:28–29).

I cannot tell you how many times in my teaching career very distraught Christians have come to me to ask about the unpardonable sin and whether they might have committed it. I suspect most believers have asked themselves whether they have done something unforgivable. It is not surprising that many people struggle with this issue because the precise nature of “the unpardonable sin” is difficult to discern and many theories about it have been set forth through church history. For instance, some people have argued that the unpardonable sin is murder and others have said that it is adultery, because they see the serious consequences that those sins wreak on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage. But I can speak with full assurance that neither of those sins is unpardonable.

There are two reasons for my assurance.

First, Scripture shows us examples of people who committed these sins and were forgiven. Exhibit A is David, who was guilty of both adultery and murder, and yet, after his confession and repentance, he was restored fully to his state of grace.

Second, and more important, when Jesus taught on the unpardonable sin, He said nothing about murder or adultery.


What, then, did Jesus say? He began in a radical way by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you.” Sometimes evangelical Christians who want to express agreement with something they have heard from a preacher or a teacher will say “Amen.” The word amen is transliterated from the Hebrew amein, which means “truth” or “it is true,” so those saying “Amen” are agreeing with what they have heard. But instead of giving His teaching and waiting for His hearers to say “Amen,” Jesus Himself said “Amen” before He gave His teaching. The word translated as “assuredly” here is the Greek equivalent of the word amein. In other words, Jesus announced that He was about to say something true. This was a way of saying, “Now hear this.” He was giving great emphasis to the teaching He was about to utter.

What is Blasphemy?

Jesus then stated that “all sins” can be forgiven, including “whatever blasphemies”—except for the specific blasphemy of the Spirit. Luke’s account of this teaching is even more specific:

“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).

At this point, we need to define blasphemy, and this verse from Luke gives us a clue as to what it is. The two phrases “who speaks a word against” and “who blasphemes” are parallel. Blasphemy, then, involves speaking a word against God. It is a verbal sin, one that is committed with the mouth or the pen. It is desecration of the holy character of God. It can involve insulting Him, mocking Him, or dishonoring Him. In a sense, it is the opposite of praise. Even casually using the name of God by saying, “Oh, my God,” as so many do, constitutes blasphemy. We can be very thankful that the unpardonable sin is not just any kind of blasphemy, because if it were, none of us would have any hope of escaping damnation. All of us have, at many times and in many ways, routinely blasphemed the name of God.

Blasphemy Against the Son of Man

Jesus’ statement that “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him” seems shocking in light of the abuse and mistreatment He later went through, culminating in His execution on a Roman cross. But we must remember how, as He hung on the cross, Jesus looked at those who had delivered Him to the Romans and mocked Him as He was dying, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even though these men opposed Christ to the point of executing Him, there was still hope of forgiveness for them. Likewise, in the book of Acts, Peter told the people of Jerusalem that they had delivered Jesus to the Romans and denied Him, but he added, “I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17), and he called on them to repent. So, on at least two occasions, the New Testament makes it clear that forgiveness was possible for those who despised Christ so much that they killed Him. These accounts verify Jesus’ assertion that any sin against the Son of Man could be forgiven.

Blasphemy Against the Spirit

But what of blasphemy against the Spirit? To understand this difficult saying, we need to see that it came in the context of Jesus’ opponents charging Him with doing His work by the power of the Devil rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, they were not slandering the Spirit—not quite. Their statements were directed against Jesus. So, He said to them: “You can blaspheme Me and be forgiven, but when you question the work of the Spirit, you are coming perilously close to the unforgivable sin. You are right at the line. You are looking down into the abyss of hell. One more step and there will be no hope for you.” He was warning them to be very careful not to insult or mock the Spirit.

Christians and The Unpardonable Sin

Humanly speaking, everyone who is a Christian is capable of committing the unforgivable sin. However, I believe that the Lord of glory who has saved us and sealed us in the Holy Spirit will never let us commit that sin. I do not believe that any Christians in the history of the church have blasphemed the Spirit.

As for those who are not sure they are saved and are worried they may have committed the unpardonable sin, I would say that worrying about it is one of the clearest evidences that they have not committed this sin, for those who commit it are so hardened in their hearts they do not care that they commit it. Thanks be to God that the sin that is unpardonable is not a sin He allows His people to commit.

Federal Headship – Adam and Christ

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5:12-21

God’s dealing with humanity takes place on the basis of “Federal Headship”. There are two Federal Heads: Adam and The Lord Jesus Christ. All in Adam die; all in Christ are made alive. Understanding this concept is key to understanding the very heart of the Biblical message and explains much as to why Jesus Christ alone can save.

Covenant Theology Is Not Replacement Theology

Article: Covenant Theology Is Not Replacement Theology by R. Scott Clark (original source here)

Recently I had a question asking whether “covenant theology” is so-called “replacement theology.” Those dispensational critics of Reformed covenant theology who accuse it of teaching that the New Covenant church has “replaced” Israel do not understand historic Reformed covenant theology. They are imputing to Reformed theology a way of thinking about redemptive history that has more in common with dispensationalism than it does with Reformed theology.

First, the very category of “replacement” is foreign to Reformed theology because it assumes a dispensational, Israeleo-centric way of thinking. It assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement. Such a way of thinking is contrary to the promise in Gen. 3:15. The promise was that there would be a Savior. The national people was only a means to that end, not an end in itself. According to Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22, in Christ the dividing wall has been destroyed. It cannot be rebuilt. The two peoples (Jews and Gentiles) have been made one in Christ. Among those who are united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, there is no Jew nor Gentile (Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).

At least some forms of dispensationalism have suggested that God intended the national covenant with Israel to be permanent. According to Reformed theology, the Mosaic covenant was never intended to be permanent. According to Galatians 3 (and chapter 4), the Mosaic covenant was a codicil to the Abrahamic covenant. A codicil is added to an existing document. It doesn’t replace the existing document. Dispensationalism reverses things. It makes the Abrahamic covenant a codicil to the Mosaic. Hebrews 3 says that Moses was a worker in Jesus’ house. Dispensationalism makes Jesus a worker in Moses’ house.

Second, with respect to salvation, Reformed covenant theology does not juxtapose Israel and the church. For Reformed theology, the church has always been the Israel of God and the Israel of God has always been the church. Reformed covenant theology distinguishes the old and new covenants (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 7-10). It recognizes that the church was temporarily administered through a typological, national people, but the church has existed since Adam, Noah, and Abraham; and it existed under Moses and David; and it exists under Christ.

Third, the church has always been one, under various administrations, under types, shadows, and now under the reality in Christ, because the object of faith has always been one. Jesus the Messiah was the object of faith of the typological church (Heb. 11; Luke 24; 2 Cor. 3), and he remains the object of faith.

Fourth, despite the abrogation of the national covenant by the obedience, death, and resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:14), the NT church has not “replaced” the Jews. Paul says that God “grafted” the Gentiles into the people of God. Grafting is not replacement, it is addition.

It has been widely held by Reformed theologians that there will be a great conversion of Jews. Some call this “anti-Semitism.” This isn’t anti-Semitism, it is Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The alternative to Jesus’ exclusivist claim is universalism, which is nothing less than an assault on the person and finished work of Christ. Other Reformed writers understand the promises in Rom. 11 to refer only to the salvation of all the elect (Rom. 2:28) rather than to a future conversion of Jews. In any event, Reformed theology is not anti-semitic. We have always hoped and prayed for the salvation, in Christ, sola gratia et sola fide, of all of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile alike.

Embyos and Five Year Olds – Who Do We Rescue?

“Excellent rebuttal to the pro-abortion “unanswerable argument”. Having said that , the pro-life twitter responses are mostly pathetic and do not address the challenge. This article stays with the question and does so logically. Ben Shapiro does so too in a more popular fashion on You Tube. Read the article and learn how to answer this pseudo intellectual & his minions. Defend life.” – Joe Godal

Article by Robert P. George and Christopher O. Tollefsen (original source here)

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Christopher O. Tollefsen is College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. They are co-authors of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, from which this essay is adapted.

Both human embryos and human five-year-olds are human beings equal in fundamental worth and dignity. But there are differences between the embryos and five-year-olds that are or can be morally relevant to the decision concerning whom to rescue.

Errors and bad arguments abound on Twitter; it is simply impossible to respond to all of them.

Yet when the errors and bad arguments concern the value of unborn human lives, and when those errors and arguments have, apparently, been so rhetorically persuasive as to generate many thousands of retweets, then perhaps they should be addressed.

This seems to be the case with a recent series of tweets by Patrick L. Tomlinson, who writes, “Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I’ve been asking for ten years now of the ‘Life begins at Conception’ crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly.” He then offers a scenario, proposed earlier by Michael Sandel at a meeting of the President’s Council on Bioethics, and even earlier by George Annas. Sandel asks us to imagine that a building is on fire and Jones, who is trying to escape, can save ten frozen embryos or one five-year-old girl, but not both (Mr. Tomlinson’s example substitutes 1,000 frozen embryos, on which more later).

Now, by saving a crate of embryos, Jones would, on the “Life Begins at Conception” account, be saving many human beings (virtually every embryologist or developmental biologist would agree; this is easily verified by a look at the relevant textbooks). Yet it seems plausible that most reasonable people, among whom we will include Jones, would save the five-year-old girl. Can we agree that this choice is reasonable, given our view not just of the nature of the frozen embryos—they are human beings—but also of their value, for we hold that they are beings equal in fundamental worth and dignity to those other human beings currently reading this essay? Does our willingness to accept Jones’s choice as morally legitimate show that, in truth, we do not regard human embryos as we regard children at later stages of development, namely, as full members of the human family?

We agree that considering the case as described by Sandel, most people in Jones’s circumstances would choose to rescue the girl. However, this by no means shows that human embryos are not human beings or that they may be deliberately killed to produce stem cells, or in an abortion.

The first thing to notice is that the case as described is not, in fact, analogous to the suggestion that we should perform embryo-destructive research for the benefits it might provide us, or to the suggestion that it is permissible to abort an unborn human being. In both such cases, we are being invited to kill, or authorize the killing of, human embryos or fetuses in order to provide benefits to others. But in the fire scenario, there is no killing; the deaths of the embryos who are lost when Jones opts to save the girl are not killings—no one is acting to destroy the embryos or cause their deaths—but rather are the kind of death we accept as side effects in various cases in which, for example, acting to save one or some persons means that we are unable to save another or others. Continue reading

Calvin on Justification, Faith and Works

Article: Justification, Faith and Works: Calvin on Ezekiel 18:17
by R. B. Gaffin, Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary (original source here).

A passage from Calvin’s commentary on Ezekiel 18:14-17 has the distinction of being among the last, perhaps the last, of his comments on the relationship among justification, faith and works. Apparently written shortly before his death in 1564, it is perhaps as pointed as any of his comments on their interrelationship and so, highly instructive concerning his matured understanding. An excerpt of some length from his comments on verse 17 is provided here, because, seen in its immediate context, it needs to be read carefully and digested (bolding added). Note that when Calvin speaks here of “works” he clearly has in view, as the plural shows, the believer’s good works or obedience done over time, in other words, seen in terms of God’s work in the believer, sanctification as ongoing or progressive, what he regularly includes elsewhere with “regeneration,” a word he uses in a broader sense than later Reformed theology.

When therefore, we say that the faithful are esteemed just even in their deeds this is not stated as a cause of their salvation, and we must diligently notice that the cause of salvation is excluded from this doctrine; for, when we discuss the cause, we must look nowhere else but to the mercy of God, and there we must stop. But although works tend in no way to the cause of justification, yet, when the elect sons of God were justified freely by faith, at the same time their works are esteemed righteous by the same gratuitous liberality. Thus it still remains true, that faith without works justifies, although this needs prudence and a sound interpretation; for this proposition, that faith without works justifies is true and yet false, according to the different senses which it bears. The proposition, that faith without works justifies by itself, is false, because faith without works is void. But if the clause “without works” is joined with the word “justifies,” the proposition will be true. Therefore faith cannot justify when it is without works, because it is dead, and a mere fiction. He who is born of God is just, as John says (1 John v. 18). Thus faith can be no more separated from works than the sun from his heat: yet faith justifies without works, because works form no reason for our justification; but faith alone reconciles us to God, and causes him to love us, not in ourselves, but in his only-begotten Son.

Taken by itself, Calvin considers the statement “faith without works justifies” to be ambiguous. It “needs prudence and sound interpretation”; it is “true yet false,” depending on the way it is read. Pinpointed grammatically, Calvin is saying:

When the prepositional phrase “without works” is taken adverbially, that is, as modifying the verb “justifies,” then the statement “faith without works justifies,” is true;
When “without works” is taken adjectivally, that is, with the noun “faith,” that is, “without-works faith,” then the same statement is false.

“Without-works” faith (alone-faith) Calvin asserts, does not justify, “because faith without works is void.” Again he says, “faith cannot justify when it is without works, because it is dead and a mere fiction.” He is saying in effect, to focus the balance of his remarks: “faith, with its works, justifies without works”; or also, “with-works faith (or “not-without-works faith”) justifies without works.” Alone-faith does not justify, but justification is by faith alone; faith is the alone instrument of justification.

In this passage Calvin is on the proverbial razor’s edge, where we occasionally find ourselves in sound theologizing faithful to Scripture. Certainly, he is not saying here what he emphatically and repeatedly denies elsewhere, that I must do a certain amount of good works or obey God for a certain amount of time before I can be justified or be sure that I am justified. Rather, his comments highlight that even in its initial exercise justifying faith is inherently disposed to obedience and good works, which are bound to come to expression, however imperfectly, over time. His point is what is expressed later in the Westminster Confession, namely that faith as “the alone instrument of justification” is “not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love”; or, more importantly, Paul’s characterization of justifying faith as “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6; alluded to and cited as Scriptural support by the Confession at this point).

Here, in a particularly striking and instructive way, Calvin accents how inseparable, yet distinct, good works are from faith as the alone instrument of justification. This is fully in keeping with what he emphasizes in many other places, perhaps most notably at the beginning of his magisterial treatment of justification in the Institutes. With the application of redemption as the large, overall concern of Book Three, he had previously discussed sanctification (“regeneration”) and in considerable length (3:3-10). Why did he order his material in this way, treating sanctification before justification? “The theme of justification was therefore more lightly touched upon because it was more to the point to understand first how little devoid of good works is the faith, through which alone we obtain free righteousness by the mercy of God; and what is the nature of the good works of the saints, with which part of this question [justification] is concerned” (3:11:1).

Such works–it is surely true to Calvin to add–are necessary as “the fruits and evidences of a true and lively [that is, justifying] faith” (WCF, 16:2).

The Five Solas: Now in E-Book and AudioBook

As the Bible came to be read in the common language of the people, the great central truths the Bible proclaimed were recovered, often at great cost to those who came to embrace them.

The Reformation recovered and highlighted glorious Scriptural truths which have been expressed in five memorable phrases, now known as the Five Solas. Properly understood, these Five Solas bring us back to the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

ANNOUNCEMENT: My new book/booklet “The Five Solas – Standing Togther Alone” is now available in EBOOK and AUDIO BOOK at this link. I trust you will find it to be a blessing in these new formats.


Recently wrote the author these words: “You have succinctly and clearly distilled the essence of the ‘Solas.’ May God mightily use your book for His glory. Thank you for the encouragement in the gospel you have brought to me.” – Dr. R.C. Sproul

“Some authors make you read three chapters before getting to the first point in their outline. If you wish to understand the foundation of the solas of the Reformation but would like to do so in under an hour, John Samson provides you with the basics right here.” – Dr. James White

“Get this book! Then get several more to share with your friends and family. John Samson has the remarkable ability to communicate essential truths with an undeniable passion and faithfulness that is winsome, clear, and devastating to the opposition. The people of God in this generation are in need of these old truths: the same truths that transformed the early church and led our heroes (throughout history) into living lives that changed the world. Go sell 100 of your vapid, modern Evangellyfish books and turn that money into getting this book into the hearts and minds of Christians everywhere.” – Jeff Durbin

“Recent years have seen a number of key anniversaries connected with events and people who were vital catalysts in the Protestant Reformation. Thankfully this has resulted in a renewed focus on the ‘five solas’ – a convenient shorthand list of the Reformers’ key convictions. Throughout church history, wherever these principles have been stressed and adhered to, the church has always flourished. So it is a highly encouraging trend. I’m thankful for this excellent booklet by John Samson; a cogent, focused, and accessible study of the solas that not only reminds us what these principles mean, but also shows us why they are important – and why they must stand together.” – Phil Johnson – Executive Director, Grace To You

“This is such a crucial topic; and having read many pieces written on the five solas, this one stands out for not only being theologically sound, but also clear and concise. It is written in a way that just about anyone could pick up and understand. I am thankful that God has raised up his servant John Samson for this deeply needed work; a work we ought to get into the hands of as many people as possible.” – John Hendryx,


EBOOK & AUDIO BOOK (read by the author): AVAILABLE HERE

About the Church

Article: Dr. Sam Storms – 10 Things You should Know About the Church (original source here).

It’s both amazing and deeply distressing that I continue to hear of people who are supposedly “in love with Jesus” but not with the church. “We like you, Jesus, but we don’t care for your wife!” Really? The so-called “organized” church is for some reason offensive to them. Does the NT support such a notion? Is it possible for someone to be a Christian and remain opposed to his Bride, the church? I hope these ten truths about the church will forever put that misguided idea to rest.

(1) The church is the primary means by which or through which God makes known the glory of his saving wisdom. We read this in Ephesians 3:10 – “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).

God’s ultimate aim is that his own “manifold wisdom” might be made known “through the church”. The word translated “manifold” could be rendered “richly diversified,” “multifaceted,” “highly variegated,” or “infinite diversity.” God’s saving wisdom is gloriously intricate in its design and its effect. It is the very antithesis of boredom and routine.

The “rulers and authorities in heavenly places” are angelic beings, primarily demonic spirits (see Eph. 1:21; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10). In this way these fallen spirits are provided with a tangible reminder that their authority has been decisively broken and that they, indeed all things, have been made subject to Christ. Note: the purpose for the church extends far beyond its internal ministries. God intends for the church to serve a larger, indeed cosmic, purpose in spreading his glory.

God intends to accomplish “through the church,” not nature, nor other angels, not the animal kingdom, but through the church! It is through the very existence of this new multi-racial, trans-cultural community of believers in which Jew and Gentile are co-heirs of the promises that God makes known his wisdom. No other organization on earth, neither government nor educational institutions nor civic clubs can accomplish this purpose. What, then, becomes of the display of God’s wisdom when the church remains internally divided and externally segregated?

(2) The Greek word ekklesia, translated “church,” is occasionally used in a non-technical sense to refer to an assembly or congregation of people (see Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 41; also Hebrews 2:12 which is a citation from Psalm 22:22).

Some have tried to argue that since ekklesia is built on two words that mean “out of” and “to call” that the church should be defined as those who are “called out of” the world to be God’s people. But it is a mistake to build a definition of a word based on its component root parts. Meaning is based on usage, and the predominant usage of ekklesia is assembly, gathered ones, congregation.

A close study of the word in the NT reveals that there are two fundamental senses in which we may speak of the “church”: the universal or invisible “church” and the local or visible “church”. Most often in Paul’s writings the word ekklesia refers to actual concrete gatherings of Christians in a local setting (1 Cor. 4:17; Rom. 16:5; Philemon 2; Gal. 1:2).

We refer to this as the “visible” church because it is comprised of actual people who can be seen, known, and counted. The “local” or “visible” church may also be designated in two ways, either as a group of local churches in a particular geographical region (Gal. 1:22 [“the churches of Judea”]; possibly also Acts 8:3 and 1 Timothy 3:15) or as individual churches in a particular city (see above).

(3) But on occasion, ekklesia appears to refer to an entity that is much broader than any one local congregation (Gal. 1:13; 1 Cor. 10:32; 15:9; Phil. 3:6; Col. 1:18, 24).

Other similar uses of ekklesia, in which the word appears to have in view the universal Church, the “body” of all believers, indeed all Christians collectively in every geographical location together with those who have died and are now present with Christ in heaven, can be found in Ephesians 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32. We read this in Hebrews 12:22-23, a description of those now in heaven:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly [lit., ekklesia, church] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect . . .” (Heb. 12:22-23).

(4) There are several ways in which the word “church” is never found in the NT. (a) You never find in the NT the word “church” used to refer to a building or physical structure. Whereas a particular local “church” may meet in someone’s house (e.g., Rom. 16:5), or today in a building, the structure itself is never called a church. (b) You never find in the NT the word “church” used to refer to a denomination. (c) You never find in the NT the word “church” used to refer to an organization of believers related to a specific country or nation, such as the Church of England (Anglican) or the Church of Scotland.

(5) We must remember that the NT never entertains the idea of someone being a member of the universal or invisible Church who is not also an active member and participant in a local church. Ideally, the two should be co-extensive, but reality is such that there are many who are “members” or who are present within a local church who are not “members” of the universal body of Christ (see 1 John 2:19).

(6) Some say the “church” or the “assembly/congregation” of God’s people began with Adam, while others say it began with Abraham. But I have in mind what we know to be the “body of Christ” (see 1 Cor. 12:12-13), that spiritual organism that is comprised of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles who share equally in the promises of God and have all been baptized by Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Several texts suggest that this “church” began or was birthed at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out permanently on all believers. See Matthew 16:18 (the “church” that Jesus would build is yet future); 18:15-20; Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:4-6. The “church” thus began with the experience we know as Spirit baptism (inaugurated at Pentecost), a work of Jesus Christ that incorporates believers into his spiritual body (1 Cor. 12:12-13; 12:27).

(7) Here is a good working definition of the church. A local church is a group of baptized believers in Jesus Christ who meet regularly in corporate assembly to worship God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Certain practices are essential to this gathered body: they are under the authority and guidance of duly appointed Leaders; they are regularly taught the Word of God; they celebrate the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and they consistently practice Church Discipline.

There are certainly other features and ministries that ought to characterize every local church, such as evangelism, mutual accountability and encouragement, missional outreach, the exercise of spiritual gifts, etc. But the absence of these latter factors only means that a local church is weak or is falling short of its responsibilities.

(8) This means, for example, that Inter-Varsity chapters, CRU, Navigator groups, BSF, Young Life, and Youth for Christ clubs are not local churches. They may well be expressions of the life of the local church or efforts by Christians to achieve specific goals that the local church is unable to pursue, but they are not themselves local churches.

(9) Small group gatherings, likewise, are not in and of themselves local churches. They are the local church in smaller, more manageable embodiments, designed to facilitate community life, accountability, spiritual growth, exercise of spiritual gifts, mutual encouragement, prayer, discipleship, etc. But for a small group to be, in itself, a local church, it must have duly appointed leaders (Elders) who provide for the regular teaching of God’s Word, the celebration of the ordinances, and the exercise of church discipline where called for.

(10) There are numerous ways in which the NT describes the local church, numerous and diverse images or metaphors, the most important of which are: the church as the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12, 27; Eph. 4:12; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:24); the church as the Bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:12; Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 19:7-8; 21:9); the church is the family of God (Matt. 12:49-50; 2 Cor. 6:18; Eph. 2:19; Gal. 6:10; 1 Tim. 5:1); the church is God’s house (Heb. 3:6; 1 Tim. 3:14-15; 1 Pet. 4:17); and the church is the Temple of God (1 Cor. 3:11, 16-17; 6:19; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5-7).