What a great online fight over salvation and good works at the moment, isn’t it? And it’s really not that difficult. It all should be so clear for everyone. We all should know better. There are a plethora of conditions for final salvation. Where have you been? A pastor as eminent as John Piper has said it. When you stand at the last judgment, you should know by now, there are conditions you need to meet. There had better be fruit, there had better be good works, or else, for you cannot be saved without them, and these are causes of your salvation. 

Mark Jones has made this all the more clear for us; good works are necessary for your salvation. As Dr. Jones says, Zanchius said it, Mastricht said it, Goodwin said it, Owen said it, Twisse said it, and Ursinus said it. This is not difficult, if you are going to take issue with John Piper, you “need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publish via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously.”

And, according to Jones, if you are not “thoroughly acquainted” with the plethora of past distinctions between things like dispositiva (that’s Latin), the right versus the possession in the necessity of good works for salvation, then “you have no business writing" (or speaking I assume) on this topic. 

If that isn’t enough to shut it down, it gets even better. Now Dr. Jones has proposed a disputation with Dr. R. Scott Clark. He will fly down to Escondido on his own dime and debate these fine distinctions for the good of the church. Since things have reached a “hysterical pitch” the disputatio will be the solution. If not, then people should stop tweeting and be called out for questioning anyone who says that good works are necessary for salvation.

If I had the space and time, especially observing that this month we celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, this would be a good moment it interject the story of Martin Luther. The little known Augustinian monk who questioned Rome who said good works were necessary for salvation, and after a series of disputationes, he was put on trial, excommunicated, his works burned, and he was threatened to “go to the flames” since he had no business questioning the theological giants and the church. But I digress.

I want to fast forward to October, 2017 as we celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, to speak of a little unknown man who has made a small protest to Dr. Jones about confusing what once was clear for him. In his recent piece over at the Calvinist International, Jones made all the above statements that were quoted. In the comment section you will find a man of which few, if any, will take notice. 

His name is John Lewis. John is a very young Christian, “saved at the age of 61.” Notice that, "saved", or at least he thought for now at 70, after reading the Calvinist International, he's confused. What's important to notice is that this common man takes it out of the theoretical for us and takes us to the heart of what we do as pastors in helping real, struggling, sinful people know how they can be right with God, something pastors are supposed to care most about. 

He writes, 

Well Martin Luther was one person, and he took upon the entire Roman Catholic Church. Think about that! I am no theologian, I’m a very young Christian, 70 years old, saved at the age of 61, when I came to understand the selfless act and blood sacrifice of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and I follow no one except Him and Him alone. It is by faith in that one act, it is by my understanding of the criminals on either side of Him, the one who acknowledged Christ and rebuked the other criminal. The one who asked Jesus to remember him, he who also deserved eternal death, and yet was spared….I have absolutely no gripe with John Piper at all, except to say that methinks he took something not all that difficult (to quote you) and made it quite confusing, and I’m wondering how Martin Luther would have responded?
What a great question. How would Martin Luther have responded this? Mr. Lewis then went on to thank Dr. Jones who “gave him a lot to think about.” He is  clearly now wrestling with the issues. Lewis provides an entire citation from Calvin who once had greatly comforted him in speaking of the singular grace God gives. He was clearly thinking of how wonderful it was when he understood how he was right with God. But now, he’s confused.

Gauging from what he wrote, his struggle seems to go something like this: “Maybe, just maybe, Piper, Jones, and these highly esteemed men are on to something that I have missed. Maybe I have misunderstood how I am right with God. Maybe I have this all wrong. I lived 60 years of my life in rebellion to God. I know what I’ve done. It’s bad. I’ve only been a Christian for 11 years now and I’m 71. Surely the good hasn’t outweighed the bad. Humanly speaking, I may not have a lot of time on this earth left. What works do I need to do to have salvation, to gets it's possession? I’m really confused by this dispositiva thing, and even more so by the right and possession. All of this has thoroughly confused me. Maybe I don’t have everything I need in Jesus. And now I'm not even supposed to write about it, just accept  what these great theologians say, since I am terribly ignorant.”

I’m not sure exactly what’s in John Lewis’ mind, but I know this, by his own admission he is now confused. He is wondering "how Martin Luther would have responded." 
If I may, Dear Mr. Lewis, Luther really did stand up to those who were teaching salvation by works. Luther did have an answer to this and here is how it went: 

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this `faith,’ either... 
Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words...
The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.

Notice true faith doesn't have to debate whether good works need to be done. When we believe, we are declared legally righteous before God and saved. Period. We are never more or less justified following that wondrous declarative act of God. In saving, justifying faith, we receive all of Christ's righteousness who fully accomplishes our salvation by his merits, and then from true faith, a born again Christian cannot help but do works, so much so, that it's natural to the new life. 

The current controversy is confusing and unnecessary. The propositions are causing people to move away from good works as consequential fruit of true faith, and accept that good works are a condition/cause now for our salvation. It smacks of Rome and does great damage among the sheep. 

Just because past and current theologians use certain words to make distinctions, this does not mean they made Christ's work of salvation plain to the sheep. Just because one can cite a thousand Reformed theologians, and ten thousand Puritan ones, it doesn't mean they are were always helpful or clear. We have to decipher who are the most helpful theologians in making Christ's work of salvation clear in our time and in our day

This is especially true when the language of the theologians confuses them with regard to Christ's work. It's no longer merely an academic "debate" over language, it has now morphed into a serious theological problem among our people who are now confused in thinking salvation is by works. There is nothing pastoral about it and Mr. Lewis is proof.

So back to John Lewis who is now confused. Because of this theological browbeating, no longer can he say he was "saved at 61", can he?  He now may reach his deathbed with a question mark regarding salvation because his faith did not produce enough good works. I trust Jones does not intend for this, but this kind of confusion will be a consequence of these discussions in our day. 

Think of this horrendous situation now created: "faith alone may not be enough for me because I have not done enough to enter glory." So his testimony should now go something like this: "I once thought I was saved at 61, but now I'm confused, I'm hoping I will be "saved" when I die as I now do the good works that are required of me for salvation.  

This isn’t a television show, folks, but a simple, common man reading these things and now confused over things that Reformed pastors should be making clear. Shame on us Reformed folk who are doing this to the sheep! I say first to me, shame on me as a pastor if I have confused the sheep. And shame on all of us for bringing in this confusion and hurting the message of Christ’s finished work. This is a tragedy and we should be in tears over this, not laughing and jesting on Facebook. 

So I have a proposition to Dr. Jones. Instead of intimidating people without degrees who comment, and instead of offering to arrange a theological disputatio at a seminary, especially seeing that it has created a virtual MMA kind of online response, and instead of making this post a source of jest on Facebook, this is what I propose:

Dear Mark Jones, 

These things are confusing sheep who read you. I trust you don't really mean to do this. I propose that you fly on your own dime to see John Lewis and pastorally help him since now he is confused about these matters. We are always forced to more clarity as pastors when we are looking at real, dying people and explaining salvation to them. 

And when you do this kind of good work, in silence, without public acclaim, then we can talk about great rewards in heaven. Ah, but even then we really won't need to, for true faith never thinks twice as to whether a good deed like this visit should be done. 

For a more detailed answer from the Reformed confessions on how to speak of the place of good works, see here: http://theaquilareport.com/how-arminian-has-the-sanctification-debate-become/



I know it has become en vogue in our day for pastors to think they're doing their congregations a great service by framing their sermons to deal with the social justice issues of the day. Obviously, the problems are many and we’re never short of issues to address: environmental problems, racial tensions, poverty, a sexual revolution, and more. No one questions, of course, that God’s truth should be applied to the contemporary societal challenges people face. The law of God certainly applies to these issues. A faithful pastor will do this wisely when appropriate.

I fear, however, that a kind of bully pulpit is (re)emerging by pastors who are pushing harder than ever these societal struggles upon their congregation (and everyone else), to the distraction of the one thing that is lasting and eternal. "Gospel" in this scheme is nothing more than the deliverance of people from societal abuses. God’s word is simply a tool of the pastor to fulfill that agenda. The congregation is slowly conditioned to expect the pastoral tangent from the pulpit every Sunday usually over one issue the pastor has become obsessed with. 



The following is an Article Published in the February, 2017 issue of Christian Renewal Magazine: http://www.crmag.com/articles-2.html


I'LL FIGHT FOR YOUR YOUNG PEOPLE, WILL YOU? A Pastor's Plea to Christian Parents

This little write-up comes from the heart as a passionate plea to parents in the shared concern for our children.

It’s been hard to pastor in a conservative church today, but not for the reasons that you might think. It’s not that we are constantly being attacked from the outside for our music, confessions, and worship style. I’m sure it happens, but most people who come to us find what we are doing as unique and refreshing, especially if they are from a broadly evangelical background. It’s been one of the pleasant surprises of the ministry.

My biggest challenge over the many years of my ministry has come from those on the inside, particularly parents between the ages of 45-60. There is one issue that has produced the struggle: their young people are leaving the church.

Many parents have watched for years the same old story happen over and over. As soon as a young person returns from college, little to no interest is shown in attending church. There seems to be no interest in the church of their upbringing. I share the concern and burden these parent's face.

It is in this struggle that parents often become bitter in their home church, blaming the church for the departure, wanting to see the church change to retain their youth. This creates an oppressive environment of disgruntlement and embarrassment of the particular identity of their local church--stick in the muds, stuffy, etc. And how does our church compete when the church next door offers a much easier consumer-driven Christianity? A painful dilemma indeed.

But parents often give little thought to how they have contributed to the problem. 

With this in mind, I have some kind suggestions that may help churches fight this battle for their young people.

While I don’t represent every pastor here or speak for them, these are ways I commit to fight for the youth of our church. Hopefully other pastors can adopt the same. In all these things I say: God helping me.
  • I will love your young people enough to preach the whole counsel of God to them.  I am committed to God’s Word and I will tell them the whole truth.

  • I will call your young people to repentance and faith. This won’t be easy.  Some who have yet to profess their faith will not like to be told they are wrong. The law will hurt. Some may get angry at the stances I’m called to take. It may at times seem like we’re losing the battle. But I’m committed to this fight for your young people.

  •  I will make known the riches of Jesus Christ and his gospel to them. They will never be left without a way of escape. I want them to enjoy Christ and his forgiveness and live in his peace.

  • I will stand for truth and expose error. I will not pander to sinful desires for false worship. I am zealous to keep golden calves out of the church. I know we live in day when people hate saying anybody or anything is wrong, but I promise to tell them what is wrong and who is wrong (as the inspired NT authors did) to protect them from the path of hell.

  • I will pray for your young people. It’s a battle that must be fought with prayer. My door is always open for you to come to my study and pray with me for them

Now here are five ways parent’s can join in the spiritual fight for their young people to help stop the trend:
  • Bring them to church and show a delight for the gospel. If you truly believe that the preaching of the gospel is the power of God to save those who believe, then do all in your power to have your children in worship at a very young age. Don’t let them leave to children’s church. Train their minds to listen a sermon. It is God’s way of grace to them. They must learn and see from you where the true power of God is found, in the Word.  Hold it high, and they will too.

  • Speak well of your pastor and leaders. More damage is done when you speak evil of the church, the pastor, or the leaders before your children. If you want them to have a positive view of the church, you must show them one. Realize that before disgruntlement often comes a refusal to accept God’s Word. A disgruntled and complaining spirit is a certain recipe to drive them out. 

  • Be willing to tell your children the truth and call them to repentance through loving discipline. Far too many parents are scared of their young people and let them do whatever they want to do. You are responsible to discipline them and speak the truth to them in love. There is right and wrong, teach and expose them both. If you stand for nothing, so will they. Why then would you expect them to stay in church?

  • Be an example to them in life of what it means to be godly. J.C. Ryle commenting on Lot’s worldliness says, “Lingering parents seldom have godly children. The eye of the child drinks in far more than the ear. A child will always observe what you do much more than what you say.” Be an example to them in doctrine and in life.

  • Train them and pray for them. This means gathering at the table to catechize and pray for them before their ears. It also means means praying that God would make them born again by his Spirit. How many people are bringing your child’s name in prayer to the throne of grace. What a tragedy if God never hears from you about the salvation of your children!
So dear parents, I made a commitment to fight for your young people, will you?