Transformation: The Holy Spirit, the Light, and the Renewing of Our Minds

I posted this at my new blog, The Apostles vs. Calvinism. It is an email I sent to an inquirer. It fired me up; I pray it does the same for you. https://apostles-vs-calvinism.org/blog/perma/1627396260/article/transformation-the-holy-spirit-the-light-the-renew.html

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Christian Cowardice

Have you ever backed down to a wicked man, or simply given way to carnal people because you were sure they would not accept your spiritual advice? Some of you would never do that. Good for you. I have, and fear of bold men is one of the worst temptations I face.

1 Chronicles 27 is just one more passage that lets us know how bad it is to give in to the wicked.

We are not surprised to read that there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the Lord’s sight. 1 Chronicles 27:25 adds, “whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.”

Verse 27 tells us, though, that when a prophet spoke to him, he repented in sackcloth and fasted. God even regarded his repentance (v. 29). This probably explains why God helped Ahab defeat the Arameans twice. Apparently, Ahab feared the Lord, but he feared Jezebel more.

His soft heart and his cowardice are revealed in the story of Naboth’s vineyard as well. Naboth was able to stand up to the king, and the king simply mourned and wept over it. Ahab probably knew, too, how important it was to God that each Israelite keep the land of his ancestors. But when Jezebel, who was not a coward, had Naboth killed, Ahab jumped up to take possession of the vineyard.

Cowardice leads to wickedness. It is as much, or more, to be overthrown as any other sin in our life. As with any other sin, the answer is to get closer to God and begin ferociously obeying, strengthening yourself after every failure with repentance, tears, and a renewed commitment in the Holy Spirit. All cowards have their place in the lake of fire, the second death (Rev. 21:8), but God has given us a Spirit of power, love, and a healthy mind so we can overcome fear (2 Pet. 1:7).

For those of you that are like me, prone to cowardice, this is probably a dreadful post, but we have to face our weakness. We cannot continue in it. I can give you this encouragement from the Lord, found in Isaiah 51:12-16:

I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you, that you are afraid of man who shall die,
and of the son of man who will be made as grass?
Have you forgotten Yahweh your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens,
and laid the foundations of the earth?
Do you live in fear continually all day because of the fury of the oppressor,
when he prepares to destroy?
Where is the fury of the oppressor?
The captive exile will speedily be freed.
He will not die and go down into the pit.
His bread won’t fail.
For I am Yahweh your God, who stirs up the sea
so that its waves roar.
Yahweh of Armies is his name.
I have put my words in your mouth
and have covered you in the shadow of my hand,
that I may plant the heavens,
and lay the foundations of the earth,
and tell Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

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Divorce and Remarriage: Taking a Stance Against the Anabaptists

DISCLAIMER: A commenter accurately pointed out that this is too broad a sweep. It may be too harsh, too, but not for the people I am speaking of. My experience with the anti-remarriage crowd may only be the most outspoken of them. Though I have found them mostly to be Pharisees, I may be judging only a small portion. The following is written to the harsh ones I have experience with, and if you have experienced their condemnation too, I hope this will help deliver you.

I wrote the following on Facebook:

If, as many are saying, God will not forgive those who have divorced and remarried and allow them to repent and go forward still married, I would rather to go to hell with my godly divorced and remarried brothers and sisters than endure the hell of fellowshipping with those who are obsessed with condemning them. I say this from 28 years of experience with such people.

I did not offer an explanation on Facebook, but I will offer one here.

In Cookeville, TN, there was once an amazing little horse-and-buggy community consisting of mostly people from an Anabaptist background (Amish, Mennonite, German Baptist Brethren, Hutterite, etc.). We loved to visit there. The fellowship we experienced in the various homes was refreshing. so much so that we thought about moving there.

I asked their leader about fellowship outside the community if I lived there. Would I be able to share the Lord’s table with Christians in Cookeville who lived righteously, but also wore belts and tapered their hair. He said no, and I told him that’s too divisive for me. We still visited regularly. We were served meals in their homes, even the leader’s, and I was included a couple times in discussions about church history with all their leaders.

I loved them, but we could not participate in their divisiveness over their community’s particular standards. The most divisive issue they held, which they rarely had to deal with because everyone knew they held to it, was that every divorced and married person whose first spouse is still living is an adulterer.

That doctrine, held by Anabaptists since the time of the Reformation, has a fairly large following among Protestants today, many of whom got this doctrine from the Anabaptists. The Anabaptist are stringent about the doctrines, but are generally polite and peaceable in nature. Those outside the Anabaptist communities who have adopted this doctrine are not so. They hold this anti-remarriage position with ferocity and devote much of their “ministry” to promoting it.

To be fair, the Roman Catholics–and, I suppose, most Reformation Protestants–would have agreed with them in the 16th century.

The reason is that Europe had been under Roman Catholic control for centuries. While the clergy were corrupt in many ways from top to bottom, the Church itself would not authorize divorce or remarriage. The most famous incident, of course, was King Henry the VIII’s remarriage that led to the creation of the Church of England. 

Before the Roman Catholic Church, however, Roman emperors and the Senate were in charge of southern Europe and Barbarians controlled northern Europe. Divorce was so common in the Roman Empire at that time that a Carthaginian lawyer once said that Roman women longed for divorce like it was the natural consequence of marriage (Tertullian, Apology 6).

If Romans divorced often, then those who heard the Gospel must also often have been divorced and remarried. Despite this, after reading thousands of pages of early Christian writings from around AD 90 through AD 250, there is no record of any Roman convert being told they had to separate from a spouse because they were in a second marriage. There is a record, in Hippolyptus’ Apostolic Tradition, of converts being told to get rid of their concubines in order be baptized, but nothing about splitting up a remarriage.

I, and probably you as well, have met dozens of Christians, divorced and remarried because of diverse circumstances, who love the Lord and have influenced others to follow Jesus. There is no denying that they have the Holy Spirit. I have experienced the unity of the Spirit with them that we are commanded to make every effort to preserve (Eph. 4:3).

It may seem logical, from things written in the New Testament, to condemn their remarriage, but the letter kills and the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6). We are spiritual and life-giving people. Those who adhere to the letter can go on condemning and spiritually killing, but we who are spiritual must bring life.

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Adding Apostles-vs-Calvinism.org

Thank you to all of you for following me, some of you for many years. From now on, I will also be blogging at https://apostles-vs-calvinism.org/. The new blog will primarily be focused on issues related to my new book (not yet released), Rebuilding the Foundations.

I have written on those subjects on this blog in the past and often. I feel like God has helped me understand the militant resistance I have faced over the years as I have simply recited exactly what the Bible says about the judgment and works.

Evangelicals resist the plain teaching of the Bible on the judgment and works because they have been infected with the idea that our loving God is actually a cruel and wicked God who would torment a human eternally for even one sin. This is a treasured Calvinist [false] teaching. The information age is making that outrageous teaching look so ridiculous that its supporters are abandoning it like the capsized ship it is. Nonetheless, its effects remain in false ideas about the purpose of the atonement and the way Christians should live their lives.

My hope is to reach even more people because of the blog name. I will even be using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to make the search engines want to carry the new blog. If you subscribe to the new blog, you will not receive more emails than you already do. I am one person, and I will continue writing about as many blogs as I always have. They will just be spread over the two sites, with this site still focusing somewhat on church history and historical Christianity, but covering all my typical random subjects as well.

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Why Is Jesus Knocking at the Door?

I have been seeing this meme around Facebook:

Christians have three false ideas that cause unbelievers to slander Jesus like this:

  1. Works have nothing to do with salvation.
  2. It is not about good and evil, but accepting Jesus.
  3. It is not about dos and don’ts, but accepting Jesus.

In the Bible context, Jesus is knocking on the door of the Laodicean church, which foolishly thinks they are doing just fine without him. What he promises if they let him in is a chance to sit on his throne with him in his everlasting kingdom (Rev 3:14-22).

The meme, though, is not completely wrong. The wrath of God is going to come on the sons of disobedience not because they won’t let Jesus in, but because they are sexually immoral, impure, and greedy (Eph. 5:5-7). So the correct answer to “Save me from what?” is “Save you from what God is going to do to you because you are evil. You don’t seem to have the power to free yourself from these things you’re doing that are harmful to society in general, to the people you know, and to yourself. I am offering to provide you the power, but if you want to just press on without me, you may find God is also mad at you for ignoring the Savior he sent to rescue from your slavery to doing what is evil.”

Salvation is all about works, brothers and sisters. Jesus wants to make us new creatures, created in himself to do good works (Eph. 2:10). He died so we could be redeemed from all unrighteousness and become zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14). It is true that in God’s great mercy, no works are required to become part of this amazing cleansing and transforming machine that is the grace of God, powered by the Spirit of God living in us, but once we are inside, the whole purpose is to transform us into doers of good works that will glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

This is why the New Testament is full of dos and don’ts. “Turn from evil, and do good,” Peter writes in his first epistle (3:11). If you’re not keeping commandments, John writes, you don’t know God (1 Jn. 2:3-4). Sinner, Jesus is knocking on your door because you are a goat, turning people away that he wants you to help. He is knocking on your door to make you a sheep, empowered by his Spirit to help those in need and to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:3-4). He is knocking at your door because he doesn’t want you to find out on the last day, at the final judgment, that you are about to be destroyed because you chose evil over good.

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Gems in 1 Chronicles: Leaders in the Kingdom of God

There are some gems among all those lists in 1 Chronicles. Today I read that “A larger number of leaders were found among Eleazar’s descendants than among Ithamar’s” (1 Chr. 24:4).

“Leaders?” I thought. “What marks any of those descendants as a leader?”

The writer answers, “… sixteen heads of families from Eleazar’s descendants and eight heads of families from Ithamar’s descendants.”

So a leader is simply the head of a family. I’m sure some of those were grandfathers rather than fathers but, brothers, have you ever considered that as the head of your family, you are therefore a leader in God’s kingdom?

These men did not just lead their families. They became “officials of the sanctuary and officials of God.”Yes, these were Levites, so they had a special service, but the “leaders” of the other tribes had roles, too, as warriors, builders, and farmers, pulling together to feed, defend, and establish the entire nation.

Brothers, our American churches are infamous for division and infamous for being just like the world. More than one book has been written to statistically prove what we all know, the non-Christians around us are not impressed by American Christianity. One of the biggest problems, if I may use a sports analogy, is that spectators have nothing to do but argue about the manager’s decisions and the players’ performances. Spectators get no training, and nothing they say is put to the test. The skill of the players and the wisdom of the coaches is put to the test everyday. The results are out there for everyone to see. Because of this, they devote time even outside the game to prepare, to train, to hone their skills and study their opponents.

It’s time, brothers, for us to rise up, realize we are leaders–players and managers, not spectators–and fight for our kingdom. Learn your calling, study the opposition, for “we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11).

“For by this time you ought to be teachers …” Heb. 5:12

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The Twelve Apostles and “Apostolic Men”

I wrote this in an answer on Quora, but I think most of my friends would enjoy knowing the following:

(The question was whether Barnabas, companion of Paul, was one of the 12 apostles.)

Paul himself was not one of the 12 apostles. You can read in Acts 1 that they replaced Judas with Matthias. Paul was converted until Acts 9. The 12 and Paul were certainly the most important of the apostles, but there were more than the 12. Tertullian, a Carthaginian lawyer writing between AD 190 and 215, mentions “apostolic men” as well as apostles:

But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of APOSTOLIC MEN,—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. (Prescription Against Heretics, ch. 32)

About those “apostolic men”—which would include the 70 that Jesus sent out in Luke 10 and men like Timothy and Silas who traveled with Paul and, as you pointed out, Barnabas—Tertullian would write, “As the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles” (same reference).

I use Tertullian, but having read the church fathers up through about AD 250 and the writings that had to do with the Council of Nicea in AD 325, I can tell you that this honoring of the apostles AND their companions was normal. We have a New Testament because the churches did their best to gather up all the writings of the apostles and their companions.

In fact, an earlier writer with much more authority, having been a disciple of that Polycarp that Tertullian mentioned, who was appointed by John, said that it is the apostles who were inspired. The teaching and writing of their companions were considered inspired because, as companions, they had the approval of the apostles themselves. The earlier writer is named Irenaeus, and he wrote:

For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies, III:1:1)

By “perfect knowledge,” he is saying the apostles were inspired. In that same link he says, “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.” Basically, if the apostles said it, it was inspired.

So, the 12 apostles were important, but so were Paul, Barnabas, and the companions of all of them. Our New Testament Scriptures are Scripture because the churches of the first few centuries were convince that apostles or companions of the apostles, “apostolic men,” wrote them.

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The Sabbath: Our Story Pt. 2

I’ve written these things before, but this is very well said.

Chip Lutyk

Around the year 105AD, somewhere in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) Ignatius of Antioch (a student of the apostle John) was traveling to Rome where he would be martyred for his Christian faith. He wrote letters to the churches as he passed through. These letters depict a devout and impassioned man who was ready to die for Christ.

In Part 1 we left off by saying that Ignatius was careful to preserve the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. He also wrote something that revealed the early Christian position on the Sabbath. Did the early Christians keep the Saturday Sabbath, the fourth of the 10 Commandments written on stone tablets by the finger of God?

To the Magnesians, Ignatius wrote:

“We have seen how former adherents of the ancient customs have since attained a new hope; so that they have given up keeping the sabbath, and now…

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1 Timothy 3:15: The Church That Is the Pillar and Support of the Truth

Please hear this in the spirit it is intended. I am not condemning Orthodox or Catholic or Protestant believers. I am, however, pointing out the way these organizations get in the way of unity; all of them, including the ones, like the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, who claim that joining them is the way to unity. No, they are a source of both error and division even though, like Protestant churches, they have godly disciples mixed in among the sons of disobedience (2 Cor. 6:14-16, Eph. 2:1-3).

This was originally a reply to a comment. The commenter said an Orthodox friend challenged him by claiming that 1 Timothy 3:15 is referring to the (Eastern) Orthodox Church(es). 1 Timothy 3:15 says that the church is the pillar and support of the truth. This Orthodox believer concluded from this that his section of the Orthodox Churches cannot be questioned because God ensures that they hold to truth. This is what I wrote back to him. (See the last section of this article for my take on 1 Timothy 3:15, which lines up with the rest of Scripture and the actions of God throughout history.)

Honestly, I am sometimes astonished at the arrogance of (some) Orthodox believers. They can’t be questioned? Really? Your point is perfect. The Roman Catholic Church makes the same argument, and they have every bit as much a right to do so as the Orthodox Churches. Nor should we forget that there are Oriental Orthodox Churches, Armenian Orthodox Churches, and Coptic Orthodox Churches that are not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Russian, Greek, and a couple others).

What your Orthodox friend is not telling you, probably because he does not know, is that the most important thing about tradition to the catholic churches of the first five centuries or so was that TRADITION MUST NOT BE CHANGED (Jude 1:3; and see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I:10 from around the year 185). Only the apostles could create tradition. It is not just any tradition that is authoritative, but only “APOSTOLIC TRADITION.” Those early catholic churches, before the fracturing of “the Church,” considered innovation, the changing of tradition, to be error by definition.

The elders of the church in Rome wrote to Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in the year 250. They said that if the church in Rome was to fall from its greatness, it would be “the greatest crime” (Epistles of Cyprian XXX, par. 2). By greatness, they meant adherence to apostolic truth, care for the members of the church and especially those in prison for the faith, and the generosity that Rome’s church was famous for. They cited Ezekiel 34:1-4, which talks about shepherds that eat the sheep rather than caring for them, and said about themselves that they need to avoid this (Epistles of Cyprian II, par. 1).

History shows that Rome did fall from its greatness. Almost across the board the shepherds cared for themselves rather than the sheep. Horace Mann, the popes’ most favorable biographer, wrote in Lives of the Popes (Middle Ages, vol. IV):

We would say something of an age when the Supreme Pontiffs of Rome, dragged down with Italy, were so degraded, in part by the treatment to which they were subjected, and in part by the vices of some of those whom brute force thrust into the chair of Peter, that one might have been tempted to believe that their authority must for ever have come to an end. (Introduction)

I am not merely tempted, but compelled, to question an organization that claims to be divinely protected from error, especially in the person of their bishop, about whom their most favorable biographer can write such things. God did not preserve the papacy from being filled and run by members of Italian mafias for at least a century and possible five centuries.

And if we may and must question Rome, which committed the “greatest crime” in falling from their greatness, then we may and must question Constantinople (Istanbul), Moscow, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Armenia, Ethiopia, Egypt, India, and all other divisions of the Orthodox Churches as well. Their job was equally to tend the sheep and preserve apostolic tradition. I think any reasonable examination shows that they did not preserve apostolic tradition and, in general, are no longer making even an effort to tend the sheep.

They argue that we should not trust our own mind, but trust God’s promise to them. That is what I would say as well if I could not withstand examination.

Instead, I say what Jesus says, let’s examine the fruit! Our goal is to love one another, to be in unity, to remain unstained by the world, and to help the widows and orphans (Jn. 13:34; 17:20-23; James 1:26-27; all of which line up with the judgment of the sheep and goats). Holding to an organization only gets in the way of that in our day and age. The worse crime of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestants is the binding together of believer and unbeliever, sons of Belial and followers of Christ, mixing light and darkness and the temple of God with idols (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

We must become doers of the Word of God. These competing organizations, including the Orthodox, are dividers of the Church, not uniters. They call people into compromise with nominal Christians and honor ineffective sacraments that do not convey holiness or power. God has always honored spiritual descent, not physical descent. Paul honored demonstration and power, not mere words (1 Cor. 4:19-20). The children of Abraham are those who do good works produced from a living faith. They need to separate from the sons of Belial, break their yoke with unbelievers and earthly organizations, and join themselves to one another in the organism that is the Church, united in Spirit (Eph. 4:3).

1 Timothy 3:15 and the Pillar and Support of the Truth

Protestants don’t know what to say about 1 Timothy 3:15. Which church is the pillar and support of the truth? Protestants cannot claim that for themselves by ancestry without including their mother, the Roman Catholic Church.

Jesus never teaches organization descent. He teaches spiritual descent. The children of Abraham can be raised up from stones. It is faith that joins us to Jesus and to his Father. It is love and the Holy Spirit that join us to one another. The church of 1 Timothy 3:15 is the local church, for it is the only church anyone can interact with or learn from. 1 John 2:27, using a plural “you” in every instance, promises “you” (“y’all” or “you guys”) that we do not need anyone to teach us because the anointing is leading us into all things, and it is true and not a lie. In other words, the Bible teaches the local church that together they can be led into everything that the Holy Spirit wants to teach them, and what they are taught will be “true and not a lie.”

How can this not be the same as “the pillar and support of the truth”?

The nation of Israel was blessed only when they were living obediently to God. Their association with God as his chosen people did them no good against their enemies unless they were either obeying him already, or unless they repented and started obeying him. Jesus promised the church that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. I can testify from experience that the gates of Hades never prevail against a church gathered together in the name of Jesus and who actively seek and obey him. As someone who has written a book on the Council of Nicea, the Emperor Constantine and his sons, and the battles over Arianism that went on throughout the fourth century, I can testify that the gates of Hades thoroughly triumphed over the organization that is now split into various Catholic and Orthodox Churches. They lost their holiness, many of their leaders were political appointees or ambitious men who clawed or bought their ways into leadership, and the members of the churches were killing each other in the streets.

An obedient local church, loving one another, denying themselves, and following Jesus, whether that group refers to themselves as Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or by any other designation, overthrows darkness, raises up followers of Jesus, and causes God to be glorified by their good works.

Don’t go find the church that is mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:15. It is not “out there.” It is here, where you are. Diligently join yourself in unity with those who are near you and who have the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:3) and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with them (2 Tim. 4:3). This is what the Bible commands you to do.

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The “Broader Framework” of Salvation at the Heart of the Apostle Paul’s Teaching

Today I wrote on Facebook that I would pay my entire retirement account if by doing so I could magically impart an understanding of the preface of Matthew J. Thomas’ new edition of Paul’s “Works of the Law” in the Perspective of Second-Century Reception. (Full reference is at the bottom of this post; page numbers will be given for the quotes.)

The book is described as “theologically explosive” by famed New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright. In other words, N.T. Wright is excited about the book. It is, however, way over the head of most readers. Most notably, it is Matthew Thomas’ “example” of “the broader patristic framework of salvation” I want to share with you. Without some familiarity with the church fathers, you cannot understand this quote; therefore, I am going to explain it. This quote is backing from a notable source for the “framework of salvation” I have been teaching in so many of my blog posts.

A helpful example of this framework is found in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies 4.27. Irenaeus describes how Old Testament figures merited less punishment for their sins since they acted apart from the Spirit’s empowerment, and those in the new covenant should not despise them for their faults for neither they nor we are justified by ourselves, but rather by Christ’s Advent. On the other hand, those in the new covenant are now held accountable at a higher level, having now been the recipient of this saving power to which the patriarchs only looked forward. Recognizing that most will be demanded of those to whom Christ has given the most, Irenaeus counsels his readers to not judge these prior figures, but rather to fear lest we be cut off, which he illustrates using Paul’s image of the olive tree from Romans 11. Such a framework underlies discussions on salvation in patristic sources, in which statements of “salvation by grace” and “judgment by works” are regularly presented with great emphasis in the same sources, and even in the same passages. (Along with examples noted in this book, 1 Clement 30-35 and Polycarp 1-2, see also the striking passage in the earliest preserved Christian homily, 2 Clement 1-4.) The lack of tension between these principles becomes clear when it is recognized that these sources regard God’s grace as transformative, so that one is able to live in a way that will be judged favorably on the last day. (p. xvi)

Explanation of The “Broader Patristic Framework of Salvation”

You need to know first that “Patristic” is a reference to the church fathers. The “church fathers” are not some mysterious group, but “church fathers” are simply all those Christians who wrote letters and books during the first few centuries of the church. Those “church fathers,” across the board, claims Matthew Thomas, had one central idea about salvation. That central idea is the “broader framework” he speaks of. It was that …

… initial justification is completely by grace apart from works of any sort, and that the final judgment (or final justification) is based on the outworking of this grace in one’s subsequent life. (p. xv)

In other words, the church fathers agreed with most modern evangelicals (and the apostle Paul) that we are initially saved by grace apart from works of any sort. We are saved by “faith only” and “grace only.” On the other hand, they also say that salvation is not finalized until the judgment, where we will be judged by how we live out that grace through the rest of our lives. This last point is rejected by modern evangelicals, but it, like initial justification by grace through faith, agrees with Paul (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7-9; Eph. 5:3-8) and Peter (1 Pet. 1:17; 2 Pet. 1:10-11).

A few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find out John Piper wrote an article espousing a very similar “framework of salvation”. He was castigated for it (e.g., here and here) because, as said, evangelicals in general reject that last part of the early fathers “broader framework.”

Explanation of Matthew Thomas’ “Example” of the Patristic Framework of Salvation

The quote at the top of the page begins by referencing Irenaeus, a church father of the second century. Irenaeus, Thomas points out, said that Old Testament Jews would suffer less punishment for their sins because they were not empowered by the Holy Spirit, like Christians are. Those of us who are under the New Testament will be more accountable for the way we live because we have received a saving power that those in the Old Testament could only look forward to. (You do not have to take Thomas’ words, I linked the references he gave so you can read them too.)

This should not cause us, says Irenaeus, to judge those who were under the Old Testament. They did not have the same power we have. Instead, it should cause us to fear so that are not cut off. Irenaeus references Romans 11:19-22, where the apostle Paul warns Christians not to get haughty. Paul tells Christians in that chapter that Israelites have been partially hardened leading to their being cut off from the fig tree (representing either true Israel or Christ himself). Christians have been grafted into the fig tree in their place, but we are not to be haughty about it, but fear. If God cut off the original branches, he will cut us off as well if we do not continue in his kindness.

Matthew Thomas explains that this “framework,” as illustrated by Irenaeus, is at the heart of everything the church fathers say about salvation. In other words, every time those fathers write about salvation, they have in mind a salvation that they received in the past by faith, and which they now have to live out going forward if they want to be “saved from wrath” (Rom. 5:9-10) at the judgment.

What is important to note here is that, to the fathers, to be saved by faith apart from works is not just to be forgiven, but far more. It is to be transformed. The purpose of being saved by faith alone is transformation and empowerment. To fail to be transformed, to fail to use that power, is to be cut off at the final judgment.

Thomas goes on to explain, and yes, this is all in that one paragraph, that there are a lot of passages in the church fathers in which “salvation by grace” and “judgment by works” are emphasized together in the same passages. Thomas gives three examples, including the one that first struck me when I began reading the fathers: Polycarp 1-2.

Polycarp 1-2 means the letter Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, wrote to the Philippians between A.D. 110 and 140, chapters 1 and 2. In chapter one, he quotes Ephesians 2:8-9, writing, “by grace ye are saved, not of works” (ch. 1). Despite this solid confirmation that salvation is by grace, not works, in the next chapter he writes, “He who raised [Jesus] up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments” (ch. 2).

Thomas is saying that church fathers do this regularly, combining statements that salvation is freely given in response to faith and without works with statements saying that if we want to be saved at the judgment, we must have works. They say both, and seem to see no contradiction between the two thoughts. He then explains that the “lack of tension between these principles”—their ability to believe both initial justification by grace and judgment by works without seeing any contradiction between the two—is based upon their belief that “grace” was “transformative.” Once a person receives grace, that person is transformed so that “they are able to live in a way that will be judged favorably on the last day.”

The Judgment and Sinless Perfection

The early church fathers could only say that we are saved by grace but also judged by works because they believed that grace enabled us “to live in such a way that will be judged favorably on the last day.” This is only possible—that is, one can only hope to be “judged favorably on the last day”—if the judgment does not require sinless perfection.

We must understand that sinless perfection is a Calvinist concept that may not have been invented by John Calvin himself, but which certainly did not exist before the Reformation. God expects holiness from us—we cannot see him without it (Heb. 12:14)—but holiness is not sinless perfection. There is not and has never been a sinlessly perfect person except Jesus. That is not a problem because sinless perfection is NOT God’s standard and never has been. I have written numerous posts refuting that idea. Matthew Thomas is establishing that the church fathers agree. No one can expect to “live in a way that will be judged favorably” if only sinless perfection will be judged favorably.

It took me some time to realize that the “sinless perfection judgment” of the Calvinists is why so many evangelicals cannot hear anything about works. Now that I do see it, I have been emphasizing more and more just who will be judging us.

We will be judged by our Lord Jesus, the one who loved us and gave himself for us. He was given the right to judge us by our merciful heavenly Father who has no pleasure at all in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23). Instead, he patiently waits to send Jesus because he doesn’t want anyone to perish, but instead to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).

It is well worth reading God’s description of the judgment in Ezekiel 18:20-30. God calls that judgment just. We are going to face that judgment. That judgment is conducted by the God who does not enjoy the death of the wicked and wishes everyone would repent.

We are not going to be judged by the merciless God of the Calvinists. We are going to be judged by the God who “forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7) and “abundantly pardons” (Isa. 55:7); the one whose mercies are “new every morning” and “never come to an end” (Lam. 3:22).

That Judge promised never to stop doing a good work in us (Php. 1:6); promised to confirm us to the end, so we would be blameless on that last day (1 Cor. 1:8); and assured us that if we would simply “continue in the faith, grounded and settled,” then Jesus would present us “holy and blameless” in his sight (Col 1:22-23).

You might ask, doesn’t “blameless” mean “sinless perfection”? It would be a good question because although it does not mean perfection, it does mean “without spot or blemish.” “Sinless” would be an acceptable translation. Jesus is going to present us, then, “holy and sinless.” How is this not the “sinless perfection” judgment of the Calvinists?

Let’s discuss our part versus God’s part in our salvation.

“The One Who Practices Righteousness”

In the following, do not forget what we just learned about the judgment. The passages on the judgment describe a judgment in which a pattern of righteousness or, as in Matthew 25, a pattern of helping those in need is rewarded with eternal life. Paul explicitly says that the final judgment will be like this. In Romans 2:6-7, he tells us that those who “patiently continue to do good” will be rewarded with eternal life. In Galatans 6:8-9, he tells us that those who “sow to the Spirit” and “do not grow weary in doing good” will reap eternal life.

It is a pattern of doing good that is rewarded with and reaps eternal life. That is clearly stated in the passages we just looked at.

We must distinguish between what God requires of us in action, in doing good throughout our lives, and between the way God sees us when we obey him. Does God require us to be sinless? No, we will reap eternal life if we patiently continue to do good (Rom. 2:7). If, however, we patiently continue to do good, he will regard us as sinless.

The Scriptures make some very cool references to what God will do for us if we will do our part. One of the most significant things he will do for a person is “not impute sin” to him (Ps. 32:2; Rom. 4:8). Both David and Paul talk about how blessed a man, or woman, is who has received this gift. David says, “Blessed is he,” and Paul says, “Blessed is the one,” but who is that one?

That one, says the apostle John, is the one who “practices righteousness.” He warns us not to be deceived about this. There is just one kind of person to whom God grants the righteousness of Christ:

Little children, let no one deceive you; the one that practices righteousness is righteous just as [Jesus] is righteous. (1 Jn. 3:7)

The word “practices” is from the NASB. The King James has “does righteousness.” The Greek tense implies that the person who is “righteous as he is righteous” is a person whose life is marked my righteousness. This idea is throughout Scripture.

One of my favorite examples of this is Psalm 36:10: “O, continue thy lovingkindness to them that know thee and your righteousness to the upright in heart.” There is a righteousness which is not from us; it is from God. It is our responsibility to be “upright in heart,” and if we uphold that responsibility, then God will impart us his righteousness.

I am certain that some will point out that Paul said that this righteousness was imputed to Abraham by faith (Rom. 4). So it is, but we must remember Matthew Thomas’ point. Grace, to all those who first heard and read Paul, was transformative, and this was central to their concept of salvation.

Faith’s purpose is to give us access to grace (Rom. 5:2). This is why initial salvation is “through faith” and “by grace” (Eph. 2:8). Faith brings us “the grace of God that brings salvation” and which “teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Tit. 2:11). “Sin will not have dominion over us because we are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Shortly after saying that Abraham received this blessing by faith, Paul writes, “For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace” (Rom. 4:16).

The two concepts go hand in hand. Faith and grace cannot be separate because faith has its purpose the obtaining of grace. “By faith, we have access to this grace in which we stand,” wrote Paul in Romans 5:2.

Thus, there is no contrast between Paul’s statement that Abraham received the blessing by faith and James’ statement that Abraham received this blessing by works (Jas. 2:21-23). It is grace that transforms, empowering us to patiently continue to do good, and for those who do this, who “practice righteousness,” the righteousness of Christ is bestowed.

This is also why Peter could say that Jesus has given the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32) and why the writer of Hebrews could teach that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to those who obey him (Acts 5:9). By faith, we have access to God’s transforming grace. As long as we live by that grace, we can confidently “live in a way that will be judged favorably on the last day.”

We must remember that Christianity is a supernatural religion. If God does not do his part, it will be impossible for us to do our part. To borrow another quote from Thomas’s preface, “… while given without regard to prior worth, this grace is not without obligations on the recipient’s subsequent life, precisely because Christ’s justifying gift enables an obedience that is otherwise impossible” (p. xvi).

This reminds us of Jesus’ words to the apostles about how difficult it is for rich men to enter the kingdom of God. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The same grace that can cause rich men to share generously without loving their own riches can empower us to live a life that will please God both on this earth and on the last day.

Reference

Thomas, M.J.. 2020. Paul’s “Works of the Law” in the Perspective of Second-Century Reception. InterVarsity Press.

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