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.

Posted in Bible, Early Christianity, Evangelicals, Gospel, Holiness, Modern Doctrines, Rebuilding the Foundations | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Are We “Sinners Saved by Grace” or “Formerly Sinners, But Now Saved by Grace”?

“Sinner” or “sinners” is used 67 times in the Bible and, in almost every case, sinners are contrasted with the righteous. An excellent example is Psalm 1:5: “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (KJV). Biblically, there are sinners and there are the righteous. God distinguishes between the two.

Nowadays, when we say, “We are just sinners saved by grace,” we are describing ourselves as sinners, something the Bible never does. In fact, 1 John 3:7 tells us that we only have the righteousness of Christ if we live righteously. The difference between those born of God and those not born of God is that those who are born of God practice righteousness, and those not born of God do not practice righteousness (1 Jn. 3:10). Just like in the Old Testament, there is a difference between the righteous and sinners.

This also tells us that “the righteous” are not those who never sin. There is no one who never sins (James 3:2; 1 Jn. 1:8-10). Nonetheless, there are those who are “the righteous,” and there are others with such a pattern of sin that the Bible calls them sinners. Just as you are not a plumber just because you have fixed a link under your sink once or twice, so “sinners” are not marked by an occasional sin but by a habit of sinning. In the same way, “the righteous” are marked by a habit of righteousness.

It sounds very humble to say, “We are just sinners saved by grace,” but not only does this warp the biblical meaning of the word “sinner,” but it degrades grace as well. The grace that bring us salvation teaches us not to sin! Or, as Titus 2:11-12 puts it, it teaches us “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.” Paul says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you because you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

As a matter of fact, it would be good to look at the context of Romans 6:14:

Therefore don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Also, do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under grace.
   What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be! Don’t you know that when you present yourselves as servants and obey someone, you are the servants of whomever you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were bondservants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were delivered. Being made free from sin, you became bondservants of righteousness.
   I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh, for as you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to wickedness upon wickedness, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness for sanctification. For when you were servants of sin, you were free from righteousness. What fruit then did you have at that time in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin and having become servants of God, you have your fruit of sanctification and the result of eternal life. (Romans 6:11-22)

I left out Romans 6:23 because Reformation theology misinterprets it. I discuss it below.

Romans 6:11-22 tells us that if we have received grace, but we are still sinners, we are going to die because death is the fruit of sin. Grace, God’s favor, was given to us so that we would not sin.

Very similar words are said about walking in the Spirit versus walking in the flesh. Walk in the flesh, and you will die; walk in the Spirit, and you will reap eternal life (Rom. 8:12-13; Gal. 6:7-9). I beg of you, please pay no attention to those who tell you that this is physical death. Those who walk in the Spirit are going to die physically, just like those who walk in the flesh. Death and corruption are contrasted with eternal life in Galatians 6:7-8 and Romans 6:21-22. Paul did not change his mind about what death and what life he is talking about in Romans 8:12-13.

The simple conclusion I want you to draw is that grace frees from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Tit. 2:11), and re-creates us in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph. 2:8-10). You are only a sinner saved by grace in the sense that you used to be a sinner, but now you have been saved by grace.

Other Uses of “Sinner” in the New Testament

In Matthew 11:19, Jesus is called a friend of sinners. We must remember that he befriended sinners because he came to call them to repentance (Matt. 9:13).

In Luke 18:13, a tax collector beats his breast and asks God to be merciful to him because he is a sinner. Jesus said that this man went away justified. God has always been a merciful God, and those who come to him he has always abundantly pardoned (Isa. 55:7). Even during his time on earth, he wanted sinners to repent (Matt. 9:13). In Luke 18, the man was a publican, a tax collector. We know what Jesus wanted from publicans because in the very next chapter he encounters Zacchaeus, also a publican, and brings him to repentance.

These men from the Gospel period were experiencing God’s mercy because he has always been merciful. They were not experiencing God’s grace except when in direct contact with Jesus. Jesus would not bring the grace of God, God’s favor, to earth and for all men until the cross. As Paul put it, we “were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:9-10). Jesus provided transformation through his death and resurrection, not mercy. As said, God was always merciful. Jesus died to be Lord of both the living and the dead (Rom. 14:9); so that we would not live for ourselves, but for him (2 Cor. 5:15); to redeem us from all iniquity (Tit. 2:13); and to purchase a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14).

Romans 6:23

I did not include Romans 6:23 in the long quote above because so many evangelicals interpret it to contradict the rest of Romans 6. Throughout the chapter, Paul tells the Romans that they must take advantage of the fact that Jesus freed them from sin and yield their members (i.e., their arms, legs, tongue, etc.) to righteousness. If they obey sin, they will reap death; if they obey righteousness, they will reap life (v. 16; cf. Gal. 6:7-9).

The chapter leads up to a conclusion in verse 22 and a similar conclusion in verse 23. In verse 22, the “fruit” of being free from sin and serving God is sanctification, and the “result” of sanctification is eternal life. In a very similar way, verse 21 says that the “fruit” of sin is death. Yet in verse 23, death is “the wages” of sin, but eternal life is the “gift” of God.

Death is the fruit of sinning, and eternal life is the result of sanctification, which is the fruit of serving God. Why then is eternal life not “the wages” of holiness (=sanctification) as death is “the wages” of sin?

Interestingly enough, that question was addressed more than 1500 years ago by a bishop named John and nicknamed “golden-tongue” (Gr., Chrysostom). John Chrysostom did a series of homilies on Romans, and he had this to say about Romans 6:23:

After speaking of the wages of sin, in the case of blessings, he has not kept to the same order, for he does not say, “the wages of good deeds,” but “the gift of God,” to show that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about. (reference)

Now let’s not misinterpret John Chrysostom as well. Remember, Romans 6:1-22 is every bit as important as Romans 6:23. Romans 6:23 is important because it lets us know that even if eternal life is a reward for holiness (Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:8-9; Heb. 12:14), there is a difference between a reward and something that is earned. Chrysostom points out that it was God who freed us from the power of sin by grace (as Paul pointed out in Romans 6:14). We began in grace and we were sustained by grace (Rom. 5:1-2) so that holiness is the product of something God gave to us in the first place. So when we are rewarded for holiness with eternal life, it is not wages, but even the holiness itself was a gift of God’s grace. We were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10); there is no way we can call eternal life “wages” for our holiness.

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When Christians Conquered an Empire (in current English)

Tertullian’s Christians Conquer Empire reworded
This is a rewording of yesterday’s blog.

“To the Rulers of the Roman Empire:

“… If we are commanded to love our enemies, as I have pointed out earlier, whom do we Christians have to hate? If we are forbidden to retaliate when we are injured, lest we become as bad as those who injured us, then who can suffer injury at our hands? Think about how things are already. You often inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because you want to and partly in obedience to your laws. How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand and attacks us with stones and torches! …

“We are banded together and ever so ready to sacrifice our lives, yet what single case of revenge can you point to? You cannot, even though it would be easy, if we considered it right to repay evil for evil, to get plenty of vengeance in a single night with a torch or two.

“In fact, if we wanted to act like open enemies, instead of using sabotage for revenge, would we lack the strength to do so in either numbers or resources? We originated only recently, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places … tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods. The fittest and most eager warriors would be people like us, people who gladly give ourselves to being slain by the sword. If our religion did not consider it better to be slain than to be slay, we would overwhelm you even if you had greater forces.

“Actually, we could overcome you even without weapons and without rising up in revolt. We could win the battle with you just by leaving your empire out of ill will. If such a multitude of people broke away from you and moved to a remote corner of the world, why, the very loss of so many citizens, good or bad, would cover the empire with shame! In our very leaving, vengeance would be inflicted! … You would have to seek subjects to govern! You would have more enemies than citizens remaining!

“Right now, it is the immense number of Christians that make your enemies so few. Almost all the inhabitants of your various cities are followers of Christ. Nonetheless, you choose to call us enemies of the human race rather than what we are: enemies of human error.

“In addition, who would deliver you from those secret enemies, the ones you cannot see? They are always busy both destroying your souls and ruining your health! Who would save you from the attacks of those spirits of evil that we cast out without asking for reward or wages. This alone would be revenge enough for us, that from now one we left you as the possession of unclean spirits. But instead of considering what you owe us for this important protection, and though we cause you no trouble whatsoever, and not even considering how necessary we are to your well-being, you prefer to consider us enemies. We are enemies, but we are not enemies of people, just enemies of human error.” (Tertullian, Apology37)

“But keep pressing forward with zeal, good presidents! You will stand higher with the people if you sacrifice the Christians at their wish. Kill us; torture us; condemn us; grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. That is why God allows us to suffer like this.

“Lately, though, you condemned a Christian woman to the leno rather than the leo (the pimp rather than the lion). By this, you prove that you know that a taint on our purity is more terrible than any punishment or death.

“Your cruelty does not do you any good, though. It is a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.

“Many of your writers encourage people to be courageous and bear pain and death. Cicero does so in The Tusculans; Seneca does in his Chances; Diogenes, Pyrrhus, and Callinicus do the same. Nonetheless, their words do not make as many disciples as the Christians because we do not teach by words, but by our deeds. The very “stubbornness” that your prosecutors complain about is how we teach others.

“Think about it. Who that thinks about our stubborn stand for Christ is not moved to find out the source of it? Who, after finding out why we are so stubborn for Christ, does not embrace our doctrines? And when they have embraced them, don’t all of them want to suffer in order to fully partake of God’s grace? They want to obtain complete forgiveness from God in exchange for their own blood! Martyrdom secures the remission of all offenses. This is why we give thanks, right on the spot, when we are sentenced! The divine and human are always opposed to each other; so, when we are condemned by you, we are acquitted by the Most High.” (Tertullian, Apology, ch. 50)

Addendum: Similar Quotes

Here are quotes quite similar to Tertullian’s above, from both earlier and around the same time period:

anonymous, Letter to Diognetus, ch. 7, c. AD 80-130:

Don’t you see [Christians] exposed to wild beasts for the purpose of persuading them to deny the Lord, yet they are not overcome? Don’t you see that the more of them that are punished, the greater the number of the rest becomes? This does not seem to be the work of man. This is the power of God. These are the evidences of his appearance.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 110, c. AD 155-165

Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus all over the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, crucified, thrown to wild beasts, chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; instead, the more such things happen, the more others—in even larger numbers—become faithful and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. For if someone were to cut away the fruit-bearing parts of a vine, it would grow up again and yield other branches, flourishing and fruitful. Even so, the same thing happens with us.

Minucius Felix, The Octavius, c. AD 160-230

It’s a beautiful thing to God when a Christian does battle with pain. When he faces threats, punishments and tortures by mocking death and treading underfoot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his freedom in Christ as a standard before kings and princes; when he yields to God alone, and—triumphant and victorious—he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced the sentence upon him … God finds all these things beautiful.

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When Christians Conquered a Nation

This was written very close to the year 200, to the Roman emperors, who almost certainly never read it, but the words have been preserved. This is what conquest of an empire by real Christians looks like:

This is long, but so very much worth reading!! I have highlighted portions to make the whole easier to understand and read.

“If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies, as I have remarked above, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands? In regard to this, recall your own experiences. How often you inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because it is your own inclination, and partly in obedience to the laws! How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand, and assails us with stones and flames! …

“Yet, banded together as we are, ever so ready to sacrifice our lives, what single case of revenge for injury are you able to point to, though, if it were held right among us to repay evil by evil, a single night with a torch or two could achieve an ample vengeance? …

“If we desired, indeed, to act the part of open enemies, not merely of secret avengers, would there be any lacking in strength, whether of numbers or resources? … We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum,—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods. For what wars should we not be fit, not eager, even with unequal forces, we who so willingly yield ourselves to the sword, if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slay? Without arms even, and raising no insurrectionary banner, but simply in enmity to you, we could carry on the contest with you by an ill-willed severance alone. For if such multitudes of men were to break away from you, and betake themselves to some remote corner of the world, why, the very loss of so many citizens, whatever sort they were, would cover the empire with shame; nay, in the very forsaking, vengeance would be inflicted. … You would have to seek subjects to govern. You would have more enemies than citizens remaining.

“For now it is the immense number of Christians which makes your enemies so few,—almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ Yet you choose to call us enemies of the human race, rather than of human error.

Nay, who would deliver you from those secret foes, ever busy both destroying your souls and ruining your health? Who would save you, I mean, from the attacks of those spirits of evil, which without reward or hire we exorcise? This alone would be revenge enough for us, that you were henceforth left free to the possession of unclean spirits. But instead of taking into account what is due to us for the important protection we afford you, and though we are not merely no trouble to you, but in fact necessary to your well-being, you prefer to hold us enemies, as indeed we are, yet not of man, but rather of his error.” (Tertullian, Apology37)

“But go zealously on, good presidents, you will stand higher with the people if you sacrifice the Christians at their wish, kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. Therefore God suffers [allows] that we thus suffer; for but very lately, in condemning a Christian woman to the leno [pimp] rather than to the leo [lion] you made confession that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed. Many of your writers exhort to the courageous bearing of pain and death, as Cicero in the Tusculans, as Seneca in his Chances, as Diogenes, Pyrrhus, Callinicus; and yet their words do not find so many disciples as Christians do, teachers not by words, but by their deeds. That very obstinacy [in the face of persecution] you rail against is the preceptress [expert teacher].

“For who that contemplates [our obstinacy in the face of persecution] is not excited to inquire what is at the bottom of it? who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines? and when he has embraced them, desires not to suffer that he may become partaker of the fulness of God’s grace, that he may obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood? For that secures the remission of all offences. On this account it is that we return thanks on the very spot for your sentences. As the divine and human are ever opposed to each other, when we are condemned by you, we are acquitted by the Highest. (Tertullian, Apology, ch. 50)”

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Gnosticism and Gnostic Beliefs

If you want to understand John’s Gospel and letters in the New Testament, you need to understand gnosticism. His Gospel and letters were written against gnostics, who were also called “docetists.” “Docetist” refers to the gnostic belief that all matter, everything physical, is evil and should never have happened. Only the spiritual world is real and good.

History of Gnosticism

Second-century Christians (e.g., Justin Martyr) tell us that Simon Magus, the magician from Acts 8, started gnosticism. Peter rebuked him and told him to repent (Acts 8:20-24), but he did not. Instead, he went back to astonishing people with his magic, but now he told them either that he was the Christ or that the Christ spirit had moved from Jesus to him. The point is, he was teaching that because Jesus died, he did not fulfill his mission. Simon told people Jesus’ mission had passed to him.

Simon eventually had a disciple named Menander. We also know there was a teacher named Carpocrates by the late first century that the apostle John had to deal with. Carpocrates had received Simon’s teaching, but all the gnostic teachers added to that teaching. In the late second century, Irenaeus reports of the gnostics, “Every one of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability; for no one is deemed “perfect,” who does not develop among them some mighty fictions” (Against Heresies, I:18:1).

Gnostic Beliefs

Irenaeus, who wrote the 5 books of Against Heresies right around A.D. 185, gives a thorough description of a set of heretics known as the Valentinians. He spoke with them and read writings from them to accurately determine their beliefs. He claimed he would do this “briefly,” but try reading the first two books of Against Heresies! I read them. They are long. It is interesting for a while, but it gets real tiring.

He does, though, give a brief overview at the beginning. By Irenaeus’ time the Valentinians were teaching that there was one unknowable God who had generated 30 “aeons,” which are spirits or emanations from God of some sort. The unknowable God is named Bythus, which means “depths” or “profundity” (profoundness). He sent forth Silence with the seed of all things in her, and she produced Word and Life. Word and Life produced the rest of the 30 aeons with names like Man, Church, Unity, Oneness, Wisdom, Faith, Love (Agape), Will, and even “Only-begotten” (Gr. monogenes). Basically, they took words used often in the preaching of real Christians and made separate “aeons” of them.

Irenaeus’ description of the gnostic system is sometimes called slander by those who want to revive gnosticism, but I have verified his descriptions in gnostic works like Pistis Sophia (The Faith of Wisdom) and The Apocryphon of John (roughly, The Hidden Teaching of John). Their teaching goes like this:

The thirty aeons were in a place called the “Plethora” (fullness). They were unable to know Bythus, the one true God, because he is unknowable. This really bothered Wisdom, so she left the Plethora to go search for him. She still could not find him, so she wept great tears that created a being called the Demiurge. The Apocryphon of John describes the event this way:

Something imperfect came out of her, different in appearance from her. … She gave rise to a misshapen being unlike herself. Sophia saw what her desire produced. It changed into the form of a dragon with a lion’s head and [its] eyes flashed thunderbolts. … Sophia surrounded him with a brilliant cloud … so that no one would see it. She named him Yaldabaoth. … Yaldabaoth united with the thoughtlessness within him. He begot ruling authorities. (reference)

Irenaeus describes it this way:

But others of them fabulously describe the passion and restoration of Sophia as follows: They say that she, having engaged in an impossible and impracticable attempt, brought forth an amorphous substance, such as her female nature enabled her to produce. When she looked upon it, her first feeling was one of grief, on account of the imperfection of its generation, and then of fear lest this should end her own existence. Next she lost, as it were, all command of herself, and was in the greatest perplexity while endeavouring to discover the cause of all this, and in what way she might conceal what had happened. (Against Heresies I:2:3)

As you can see, little difference here between the two descriptions.

Yaldabaoth, also known as “The Demiurge,” created the physical world. He did not know his mother, Sophia, nor the aeons of the fullness, nor the true God. Not knowing that, he thought he himself was God and created the world. This was a mistake, thus the whole physical creation is evil. So gnosticism begins with the idea that these aeons came to earth to rescue humans, who have some spirit in them. This is what became of Simon Magus’ idea that the Christ spirit, now aeon, had come to earth to save man, but left Jesus when he died.

Oh, and of course they accuse the Christian God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the God of Israel, of being this false god, the Demiurge.

Salvation and Sanctication in the Gnostic System

Salvation, in the gnostic system, comes from knowledge. The Greek word gnosis means knowledge, and that is where we get “gnostic” from. (In the Greek word, gnosis, the “g” is pronounced; in the English word, gnostic, it is not pronounced.) To be saved, you need to know all these things so that you can enter the Pleroma, the Fullness, after you die.

As far as behavior, gnostic teaching varied. The gnostics that the apostle John dealt with were teaching that since all matter, all the creation of The Demiurge, is evil, it does not matter what you do with you body. The behavior of your body does not affect your spirit, which is the only thing that will be saved. It will be saved by knowledge, not by good behavior.

There were at least two more ways of salvation in gnostic teaching that I remember from Irenaeus’ books. Remember, a good gnostic teacher has to invent new teachings almost every day, so there were a lot of systems by the time Irenaeus was writing, more than a century after Simon Magus started the religion.

One system taught that there were people who were almost pure spirit. It did not matter what they did with their body. They were “the perfect,” and they would be saved no matter what they did. Obviously, these were the gnostics. Other people were part spirit and part animal (flesh). They had to live righteously to be saved. Those were the Christians. Then there were people who were pure animal; there was no saving them.

Another system taught that because only spirit is good, to do anything to please the flesh was bad. They lived ascetic lives with lots of fasting and no sex. At least that was the goal.

The Apostle John and the Gnostics

John wrote both his Gospel and letters with the gnostics in mind. His letter is the most obvious, as he argues that Jesus is eternal life (1 Jn. 1:1-4) and that real Christians don’t hide in darkness, but proclaim their teachings and live their lives “in the light” (1 Jn. 1:6-7), keep Jesus’ commandments (1 Jn. 2:3-4), love one another (1 Jn. 4:7-8), and confess that Jesus is Christ and came in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:2-3). These are things the gnostics did not do. In the Gospel, the first chapter refers to Jesus as the Word, as Life, as Light, as becoming flesh, and as the only-begotten of God. These are all names of the supposed aeons.

The gnostics did not admit Simon Magus as their founder. Instead, they claimed to have received secret teaching from an apostle or companion of the Lord. They claimed that Jesus taught these things only privately, and that the Christians knew only his public teaching, which was for the masses. Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, and John himself (thus The Apocryphon of John) were all sources the various gnostic sects claimed.

Thus, one of the purposes of John’s Gospel was to give his apostolic testimony against them. He lived longer than all the other apostles, with Christians in Asia Minor testifying that he lived into the times of the Emperor Trajan, who reigned from A.D. 98-117 (Eusebius, Church History III:23). Apparently gnostics were already using his name by then.

What Happened to the Gnostics

The gnostics and their bizarre religion died out long ago, though they have influenced other religions after them.

An early bishop of Antioch, Paul’s home church, wrote against the gnostics in his letters, written in either A.D. 107 or 116. It is clear in his letters that gnostics had infiltrated the churches in his time. It is possible this was only around the area of Ephesus, where John spent the end of his life (see (Eusebius, Church History III:23) again). His letters are known for promoting a strong “clergy,” the bishop, elders, and deacons, in those churches. I argue that Ignatius only emphasized the authority of the church leadership because gnostics were opening schools for Christians, teaching them gnosticism, and baptizing them into their false faith. Ignatius argues throughout his letters to the churches, and only in the ones in the area of Ephesus, that the must not do any teaching, baptizing, or taking communion without the bishop’s permission.

During the period from 70 to 150 years later, several writers wrote against the gnostics. It is clear in their writings that the gnostics were spreading outside the church. While some Christians did defect to them, returning later in repentance to report their wicked practices, the gnostics had to create their own churches rather than hiding out within the church as John and Ignatius had to deal with.

After those “apologies,” or defenses of the faith, written against the gnostics from around A.D. 170 to 250, we hear little to nothing about the gnostics in Christian writings.

More Information

I wrote articles on Gnosticism and Gnostic Beliefs at Christian-history.org.

You might also want to know that despite the claims of modern gnostics, neither the gnostic gospels nor even the biblical canon were discussed at the Council of Nicea.

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Past Tense Salvation by Faith and Future Tense Judgment by Works

In the comments of my video on 2 Peter 1:3-11, I wrote this.

I just don’t get you guys. You wrote, “To clarify, faith grants us salvation.” That is not clarification. Did you watch the video? Do you know that James said that we are justified by works and not faith only? You would “clarify” things by saying “faith grants us salvation”? That is not clarifying, that is ignoring 2 Peter 1:3-11. It is ignoring James 2:24.

You also wrote, “If you’re saying that faith does not get us to heaven, then I must disagree.” Of course. Your tradition, like Floyd Barackman’s tradition, teaches you to ignore the plain meaning of 2 Peter 1:3-11. Of course you must disagree.

You have Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8 and several other Pauline statements that salvation is through faith apart from works. I have a great explanation for those that does not twist anything. They are all PAST TENSE; every one of them. We were (past tense) saved from our slavery to sin because of faith and faith only. Our slavery to sin was the ONLY problem in the Old Testament. The judgment was not a problem. The judgment was always just and always by works. The righteous live, the wicked perish. God doesn’t want the wicked to perish, so if they stop their wickedness, he will forget it and reward them for the righteousness they did afterward. That is an Old Testament promise (Ezek. 18:20-30). That judgment is just. Jesus did not die to change the judgment, but to change us so that we would not be wicked. Now we can arrive righteous at that just judgment of God.

This is written all over the New Testament. Those who patiently do good will receive eternal life (Rom. 2:6-7). Those who sow to the Spirit so that they don’t grow weary in doing good will inherit eternal life (Gal. 6:8-9). Paul says not to be deceived about that last point (Gal. 6:7). Unclean, immoral, and greedy men, Christians or not, will have NO INHERITANCE (“not any”) in the kingdom of God and Christ (Eph. 5:5); instead, if they behave like the sons of disobedience, they will receive the judgment of the sons of disobedience (Eph. 5:6). Those who have done good will be resurrected to life, and those who have done evil will be resurrected to condemnation (Jn. 5:28-29). When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will receive the deeds done in the body, WHETHER GOOD OR BAD (2 Cor. 5:10).

All those references to being judged by works are in the future tense. Yes, we “WERE RECONCILED” to God by Jesus’ death, and now we “SHALL BE” saved from wrath by his life (Rom. 5:9-10). Combined with all those other passages I pointed out, Paul is telling us that now that we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared for us to walk in” (Eph. 2:10), we better do them. We can do them by letting his life live through us and by sowing to and walking by the Spirit (Gal. 2:20; 5:16; 5:24; 6:8-9).

This all fits the plain meaning of Paul’s words with no twisting whatsoever, and boom(!), what do you know? It exactly matches James’ words in James 2. No twisting needed. We can say with James that we are justified by works and not faith only because faith brought the grace (Eph. 2:8; Rom. 5:2) which freed us from slavery to sin (Rom. 6:14, also rest of chapter), taught us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Tit. 2:11-12), and made us a people zealous for good works (Tit. 2:13-14). We can also understand why Peter said that now that we have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:4), we must diligently add to our faith (2 Pet. 1:5-7), because by diligently adding those 7 things to our faith, we will make our calling and election sure and get an abundant entrance into Jesus’ kingdom (2 Pet. 1:8-11).

You cited a modern authority, raised and trained in Reformation tradition. I know this because you can’t get faith alone from the Bible because the only occurrence of the words “faith alone” in the Bible is in James 2:24, which says “not by faith alone.”

I am going to cite you a better authority. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was appointed to his position by the apostle John. Well, probably, but if not, then he was appointed by the bishop who was appointed by the apostle John. He wrote, in chapter 1 of the only epistle that we have from him, “into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that ‘by grace ye are saved, not of works,’ but by the will of God through Jesus Christ” (ref). In chapter 2 of the same epistle, he wrote, “He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, etc.” (ref). Saved by faith, present tense, judged by works, future tense.

He knew what I now know because of him and others from the second century, salvation by faith alone refers to being delivered from slavery to sin. We are only delivered from punishment for sin because we stop sinning (every page of the New Testament). And because we are no longer slaves to sin, we do his will and walk in his commandments (Polycarp), and we have confidence at the judgment because we live like him in this world (John, 1 Jn. 4:17).

See also Jesus Died for Aphesis.

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Answering the Verses Evangelicals Throw at Me: Hebrews 9:22

By now all my readers know that I disagree with a good portion of evangelical tradition. I am not bashful about writing against those traditions. When I do so, I expect evangelicals to look at the verses and explanations I give, then provide a reasonable reply. My expectation is usually dashed to the ground, but occasionally I get a Berean (Acts 17:10-11).

If I am looking for Bereans, those who will honestly examine the Scriptures, then I need to be one.

There are verses that evangelicals throw at me after reading what I write. I admit to using “throw” pejoratively. When I give a verse in answer to an argument, I am prepared to examine that verse with my opponent and hopefully discuss it reasonably to achieve a consensus on what it says. Most of the time evangelicals throw verses at me like a monkey or chimpanzee throws poop at spectators. Monkeys don’t want to discuss anything. They want the spectators, the ones that are bothering them, to go away. If an evangelical sticks around to discuss the verses he brought up, I am happy to say he or she “presented” verses rather than throwing them at me. Usually, the verses are just thrown. No subsequent discussion is expected or wanted.

Hebrews 9:22

One verse that has been validly presented to me is Hebrews 9:22:

According to the law, nearly everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission. (WEB)

I argue that God forgives sin without sacrifice. I teach that God forgave sins and was marvelously merciful before Jesus died, and there was no change in his mercy after Jesus died. Hebrews 9:22 begs to differ.

It may beg, but I am not going to allow it to differ.

Hebrews 9:22 is not talking about sins being “forgiven.” It is talking about sins being “released.” The word translated remission in the World English Bible is the Greek aphesis. I wrote a post on aphesis last January.

Aphesis primarily means “release” (reference). Jesus said that he came to bring aphesis to the captive and brokenhearted in Luke 4:18. It is not forgiveness that captives need, but release. Aphesis can mean forgiveness, but that is only a secondary meaning.

The writer of Hebrews is not giving an opinion in Hebrews 9:22. He is stating something he sees as a fact. His “according to the law” tells us that he has looked at the Old Testament sacrifices, and he concludes that “release” always requires blood.

We can know what release he is talking about. As I said last year, “I want to remind everyone, all the time, that the Greek word aphesis was used to translated the Hebrew word for ‘Jubilee’ (Lev. 25) and the Hebrew word for ‘scapegoat’ (Lev. 16). It is also used to translate the release of debts that happened every seven years in Israel (Deut. 15).”

“Aphesis is far more than forgiveness. It is a return to our true home in the kingdom of God (Jubilee); it is the release of all our debts (the 7-year release); and it is the sending of our sins far from us (the scapegoat).”

Jesus died for aphesis. That is true. His blood was shed for aphesis (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). When Jesus lifted the cup at the last supper, he said his blood was shed for everyone for the aphesis of sins (Matt. 26:28).

As said, aphesis is much more than forgiveness.

Forgiveness happens throughout the Old Testament without blood. In fact, after David sinned, he said, “For you don’t delight in sacrifice, or else I would give it. You have no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. O God, you will not despise a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:16-17). God has always forgiven those who repent, with or without sacrifice. As David said, his desire is a broken and contrite heart, not sacrifice.

One of the most astonishing passages in the Old Testament along these lines is Jeremiah 7:22-23.

For I didn’t speak to your fathers or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, “Listen to my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. Walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.”

The astonishing thing about this passage is that God did talk to Israel about sacrifices when they came out of Egypt (e.g., Ex. 20:24; 22:20; 23:18). The point being made, of course, is that God did not want sacrifices, he wanted obedience. This is why Samuel said, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22). Hosea adds, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6).

God forgives sin without sacrifice. Aphesis, complete release, required blood because it pre-figured the blood of Christ which would bring us aphesis, release from slavery to sin.

As far as the purpose of Jesus’ death, a slow and honest read of Romans 6 through 8 and Titus 2 will produce very accurate atonement theology.

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