Monday, May 31, 2004

Psalm 2: Heir of All Nations


1Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,
3"Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us."
4He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6"As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill."
7I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, "You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
10Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
111Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2 is a mini-lesson in postmillennialism.

In the first three verses, we read of universal rebellion against the Lord. This was fulfilled during Christ’s ministry:

26The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'--27for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:26-28)

And it is still true today, as all manner of leaders seek to portray God and Christianity as inconsequential superstitions, if not an outright evil given its intolerance for secular humanism, nihilism, hedonism, and all false gods and religions.

These verses do not forecast of a military attack of the forces of the Lord, but rather a push by the world’s leaders to turn the eyes and hearts of the people away from God.

In verses 4-6, we read of God’s utter disrespect for their laughable efforts. In verse 6 we read why their efforts are doomed to fail: because of the King of Zion (Jerusalem).

Now this is not, as dispensationalists teach, a reference to the Second coming. Psalm 2 is clearly related to the first advent, as indicated by many New Testament references including Christ's baptism (Matt 3:17) and transfiguration (Matt 17:5) and perhaps most fatal to the dispensational view, to his resurrection
32And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, "'You are my Son,
today I have begotten you.' (Acts 13:32-33)

It is clear that Psalm 2 finds the start of its fulfillment at the first coming, not the second.

In verse 8, we read something interesting: If the son asks, then the Father will make Him the ruler of all nations (not just Israel) and possessor of the entire earth (not just Israel). We know that Christ did ask, for He commissioned His disciples:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matt 28:19)

In verse 9, ultimate victory is promised. The victory, in which we play an active role, is not a military one at Armageddon, but a spiritual victory
3For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Cor 10:3-5)
In short, Psalm 2 promises a church victorious and the success of the great commission. It strongly supports the postmillennial view.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Sacrament or Ordinance?

Some definitions from dictionary.com

Sacrament: Christianity. A rite believed to be a means of or visible form of grace, especially:
  1. In the Eastern, Roman Catholic, and some other Western Christian churches, any of the traditional seven rites that were instituted by Jesus and recorded in the New Testament and that confer sanctifying grace.
  2. In most other Western Christian churches, the two rites, Baptism and the Eucharist, that were instituted by Jesus to confer sanctifying grace.

Ordinance:
  1. An authoritative command or order.
  2. A custom or practice established by long usage.
  3. A Christian rite, especially the Eucharist.

It is not a minor point that what Reformed tradition called sacraments the Baptist confession refers to as ordinances. In fact, baptism and communion are both; what is significant is where the emphasis is placed.

Reformed tradition places the emphasis on the sacramental aspect, whereby sanctifying grace is conferred. God does something. He coveys grace, He forgives sins, He renews by the Spirit, and in this sense He effects salvation. A sacrament is promise-driven, the promise being the New Covenant.

When reduced to merely an ordinance, baptism and communion are no longer about what God does, but what man does. There is nothing supernatural occurring, as if the supernatural realm were off limits to the Creator of the universe, God merely observes as we commemorate His work. An ordinance is actor-centered.

The initiation rite into observing these "symbolic" rites, imposed by Baptist tradition, imposes a demand beyond what is required by God: the demand of a confirmed faith. A person must provide a credible testimony. For God, an unconfirmed faith is sufficient, although one ordinarily proceeds to confirming ones faith, many (infants, mentally handicapped) can not.

Of course, something really hard to understand is why something that is merely symbolic must be performed in a precise manner—in some cases to the point where if the correct words are not spoken: I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit the baptism doesn’t "count"—even though it’s only symbolic. Go figure.

At any rate, the epiphany for me was to stop worrying about the mode of baptism, and start concentrating on who is active during its admission—is it God or man? If it’s God, does He do something? If He does something, is there any reason to believe that what He does He would never do for infants for the mentally disabled?
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 2:38, 22:16)

Doesn’t sound “symbolic” to me. Something happens. Sins are forgiven. The Spirit is received. Should infants be denied these privileges? Oh, before you say that the person must first repent, I’ll point out that repentance is a gift (Acts 11:18, 2 Tim 2:25) and there is no reason to tell God that He can only give that gift to persons over a certain age.
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21)

Here it is clear that in some manner we are saved through baptism. We can debate what that means, but it means something, and it doesn't mean "God was an observer" during the commemorative baptism.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Immersion?

Many people argue that baptism in the New Testament always implies immersion. In fact, that is simply untrue. It is clear that there are many uses of "baptism" that do not imply immersion. It is also true that no account of baptism demands the immersion interpretation.

One case where the word "baptized" definitely does NOT mean immersed.
and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (1 Cor. 10:2)

Were the Jews "immersed" in the cloud or the sea? Certainly not the sea. The Egyptians were immersed in the sea. What about the cloud?

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. (Ex. 13:21)

No, they were led by the cloud, not immersed in the cloud. One cannot be led by a cloud in which one is immersed.

Just one more example, from Hebrews:
9(which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10(but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (Heb 9:9-10)

Here we are in the midst of a discussion regarding the inferiority of the old covenant. In verse 10, the word washings is found. The Greek word is baptismos (baptisms). This is important: the word translated as washings in Heb 9:10 is the same word translated as baptism elsewhere. What does the author of Hebrews go on to say about these baptisms?
For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh,

For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,

And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. (Heb 9:13,19,21)

These baptisms involved sprinkling, not immersion.

None of the baptisms recorded in the bible demand an interpretation that immersion occurred. For example:
36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. (Acts: 8:36-39).

Verse 39 cannot demand immersion, unless both were immersed, for it reads they came up out of the water. The more natural interpretation is that they went into the water, the baptism was performed (mode unspecified), and together they came up out of the water, i.e., they returned to shore or to the road.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Yet more on Original Sin

TIO commented on my comment on Original Sin (post below)
I think I concur with Craig that the traditional understanding is that Adam's sin is imputed as Christ's righteousness is imputed. But --in addition--, Adam's sin corrupted his posterity horribly.

A careful exegesis of Romans 5:12-19 will bear this out, showing that -at root- we are condemned in Adam (but -additionally- we are condemned for our own sins. (John Piper in his powerful recent book, "Counted Righteous in Christ", carefully unfolds this idea and imputation in general...)

I have read Piper's book, and in particular the discussion on Rom. 5:12-19 in question. I must confess, I always find it hard to pin-down exactly what Piper is trying to say. But the issue at hand is whether we are charged with Adam’s sin, as if we committed it, or whether the "only" way in which Adam’s sin condemns us is because his sin resulted in the ruination of mankind—which in turn means we are born sinners, condemned for our own sins (Rom 5:12: "… because all sinned.") I think Piper pushes for a perfect symmetry between the imputation of Adam's sin and Christ's righteousness, in spite of the fact that the very text he uses actually points out differences (v. 15-16). Piper paraphrases the text to make it a better fit for his thesis.

Piper doesn't want us to stand condemned "only" because all have sinned individually, because it would necessarily follow that we are justified and are given life in Christ because all commit righteous acts individually. Here he is assuming his conclusion, that the imputation of Adam's sin to us is "just like" Christ’s righteousness to us, and so if we are "only" condemned because of our own sin then we are “only” righteous because of our own righteous acts. He may be right, but not because his logic is inescapable.

Just to point out a couple thoughts, not necessarily meant to be convicting:
  • There is a sense in which this is academic, for all (Reformed) agree that we are born totally corrupted and will in fact condemn ourselves from conception. In other words, being charged with Adam's sin is somewhat superfluous. The issue, as Piper would agree, is really whether it affords a deeper understanding of imputed righteousness.

  • On the other hand, we can ask the following question. What would it say about God's character if the imputation of Adam's sin is in the same manner as the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us and the imputation of our sins to Christ? The latter, our sins to Christ, is not unjust for Christ because He voluntarily took the punishment for our sins, which renders the atonement an act of pure mercy and love for us, and not injustice to Christ because He accepted the imputation. We, by contrast, have not agreed to be punished for Adam's sin. God can do whatever He wants except act in a manner contrary to His own character. If we are viewed by God as if we committed Adam's sin, even to the point where we are condemned as if we had committed it, then is not God unjust? I say yes, it would make God unjust. But if we are condemned for our own sins, made inevitable as a result of the fall (so in that sense we all are condemned through our representative Adam) then God is just in His condemnation.

As always, human analogies are dangerous. But we do not imprison a man for his father's crime. And when lousy parenting produces a criminal, we punish the criminal for his crimes, even though it may be argued that his parents doomed him through their own mistakes.

Piper uses Jonathan Edwards to support his claim, but Edwards is also difficult (although less so than Piper) to understand unambiguously. What Edwards wrote, in my opinion, is consistent with my position. Yes, Adam's sin is imputed to us as and is manifested in the depravity of our heart. And yes, God is just in corrupting mankind because of Adam's sin, for in a sense Adam fell and then the human race was polluted through him. But I do not think that Edwards ever writes that Adam's sin is a first cause, as opposed to an indirect cause, of the condemnation of a lost soul.

It would be interesting if some of the Reformed blogo-scholars such as this guy and that guy (and others) commented on this question, as well as that knowledgeable Lutheran misanthrope. The latter has not recently accused me of partaking of illegal medications, so I am worried that I am losing whatever edge I once had.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

A comment on Original Sin

In the post below, I wrote:
My understanding of original sin is not that it is Adam's sin in our debit column, but rather that it refers to the radical change in human nature resulting from the fall. That corruption left us morally incapable of seeking God.

To which my good friend Craig commented:
I thought orthodox Calvinism taught exactly this - that Adam's sin is imputed to us in the same way that Christ's righteousness is.

I do not think that is correct. It is not in the same way that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us.

The WCF reads:
They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. (WCF VI-3)

My point was: original sin does not mean we are born essentially pure, only to be viewed by God as if we committed Adam’s sin. No, our situation is infinitely worse than that. We are born with a totally corrupted nature. As the WCF reads, there is an actual effect on us due to Adam's sin. We are not just regarded "as if" we had committed it. This effect renders us sinners in our own right from conception, for which we are justly condemned.

Although the WCF uses the word, this "imputation" is not the same as the two other, imputations we discuss—Christ’s righteousness to us and our sins to Him. Those are "as if" imputations. We are treated as if Christ's righteousness were ours, and He was treated as if our sin’s were his. The imputation of Adam’s sin was not in the same manner.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Answering a question on baptism...

Posting will be light this week—I am preparing a work-related talk that I have to give in Key West on Saturday. I’ve known about it for six months, so naturally I waited until the last week before preparing.

Just to answer a question that came up in the posts below on "who is in the covenant."

Bob asked (regarding infant baptism)
David, does the baptism of an infant wash away his or her 'original sin?, and a fresh start is given, or is it more of a dedication type thing with no real spiritual ramifications?

My answer is: neither, although closer to the first option. My understanding of original sin is not that it is Adam’s sin in our debit column, but rather that it refers to the radical change in human nature resulting from the fall. That corruption left us morally incapable of seeking God. In the sense that baptism is related to regeneration, then it is at least mitigating the results of the fall (we are reborn), but not totally, since we are never completely freed from the putrefying body of death that we carry along.

Baptism, by the way, has to be related to regeneration. That doesn't mean that baptism saves, per se, but that it is an important and normative manner in which salvific grace is bestowed.

So many people agree that salvation is by grace alone, grace being a gift from God. Yet the same people refuse to permit God to give the gift whenever He pleases, i.e. (and especially) during baptism or communion, at which time He is said to be a mere observer. If baptism is purely symbolic and/or commemorative, how do you explain passages such as (to list just a few):
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)

he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Pet 3:21)

Thursday, May 06, 2004

More on: Who is in the New Covenant?

Sometimes things just fall into place, theologically. I struggled for a long time with eschatology, having a gut-level preference for post-millennialism. But there were too many inconsistencies until I viewed postmillennialism from a partial preterist perspective. Then everything (well, at least most things—which ain’t bad when it comes to end-times) finally seemed to fit.

I am getting the same feeling when it comes to covenant theology. Scriptural passages that seemed slightly wrong in light of the treasured doctrine of eternal security are suddenly making sense when understood covenantally.
  • There is a group whom God refers to as "His people."
  • Another name for this group is "the church."
  • Those who are members of the church are in the covenant.
  • They receive special blessings.
  • Not all are regenerate, and some will ultimately be lost.

Exactly like the Jews and Israel in the Old Testament.

Now the classic proof texts for eternal security still stand. Verses along the lines of:
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)

But now we can make better sense of passages such as:
17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Rom 11:17-22)

This passage always nagged at me in a background thread. If I have eternal security, how am I in danger of being cut off? Whether it is individually or collectively with my fellow gentiles?

However if this passage refers to gentiles having been grafted into the covenant, but not necessarily saved, then the passage makes complete sense.

And if there is not a group of covenant members that might include unregenerate persons (unbelievers) then what to make of:
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Cor. 7:14)

Here holy (set aside, sanctified) cannot imply saved, for the husband is an unbeliever. But both the husband and the children have a status that differs from a garden-variety unbeliever—for the children's status—described as the same as the husband's—is contrasted with other children, unclean children.

This one passage alludes to all three groups. Unbelievers (and unclean children), unbelievers who are holy (and children who may or may not be believers but are holy) and believers.

The first group is not in the covenant. The second group (spouses and children of believers) and the third group (believers) are in the covenant. Nothing else explains this passage so well.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Who is in the New Covenant?

And some of you may have gathered, I have been struggling with those precise areas in which Reformed Baptists, a group in which I proudly proclaimed membership, have deviated from the Reformed theology of the reformers: covenantal theology, sacraments vs. ordinances, and paedobaptism, a theology for want of a better term I'll label Presbyterian. (I would include paedocommunion as well, but that is more of an internal debate within the Presbyterian reformed rather than a Presbyterian-Baptist issue.)

In some sense, the big struggle is over. I have come to accept covenantal theology and infant baptism. The struggle that remains is my scientist’s penchant for ducks-in-a-row orderliness. I want to be able to express these beliefs in a logical manner on paper. Not necessarily for the benefit of anybody other than myself. I just "feel" better when I can connect all the dots.

That would seem to be a long way off. My thoughts are all over the place, and so far I have yet to find a way to express them via a continuous thread. So be it. I still want to get some thoughts down on e-paper. So beware, posts are going resemble what they are: a sort of stream of consciousness.

One thing for sure: this whole question is related to covenants.

I think we all know what biblical covenants are. They are agreements unilaterally imposed by God. Contracts between the party of the first part, God, and the party of the second part, man. Except man has no negotiation rights or privileges. These contracts are imposed by a sovereign head of state.

As for Covenant Theology, that takes more time. A common and neutral definition is "a method of systematic theology in which all revelation is understood within the framework of biblical covenants." Fair enough, and good enough for now.

Counting covenants is another area in which I don’t want to comment at the moment. Let's just talk about the old and new covenants, in fact for today just the new.

I think most Christians will more or less agree on the substance of the New Covenant. Christ has redeemed us with His blood. We are to believe and obey. The enforcement portion includes eternal life or eternal damnation.

The question, and it proves to be a watershed, is this: Who are members of this covenant?

There is a lot to look at in terms of this question.

We can begin by making the assumption that all who claim the mantle "Reformed" believe in perseverance of the saints. One cannot lose one's salvation. There is hardly a doctrine easier to demonstrate from scripture. However, it is not without its difficulties, but only if one does not consider the complete implications of covenantal membership. Let's look at a familiar passage from Hebrews.
28Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people."

Who are these people under judgment, who have spurned the Son of God? There are three possibilities.
  1. Your garden variety unbelievers.
  2. Those who have lost their salvation.
  3. An intermediate group.


The first option is ruled out because a distinction is being made: this group will be punished more severely because they have spurned additional blessings. There would be no need of any distinction if the writer was referring to generic unbelievers.

The second option is ruled out because the doctrine of eternal security is taught so plainly throughout the bible. The bulk of scripture precludes interpreting this passage as teaching that you can lose your salvation.

The third option is the only one that is possible. The special warning of apostasy and its consequences applies not to "simple" unbelievers, or those who are saved, but to another group. This other group is: those who have betrayed membership in the covenant. In the old covenant, this would be the apostate Jews—a group distinct from gentiles (who were not in the covenant) and their covenantal comrades, the Jews who acknowledged God and strived for obedience.

As it is today. "The Lord will judge His people [more severely]". Logic demands that "His people", those in the covenant, includes some who will apostatize, i.e., it includes non-believers. "His people" is the professing church. The old covenant membership was comprised of the Jews, some of whom apostatized, and the new covenant is comprised of the visible church, and again we see that membership does not preclude apostasy.

This is point upon which much hinges: you can be in the covenant, and not be saved. The covenant is made with a people that God has set aside—some of which will ultimately be lost. It will be better for them had they not been in the covenant.

The next step is to recognize the biblically madated signs and seals, not of being saved, but of being in the new covenant, and to avoid restricting those signs and seals to a smaller subset than God intended. To see those signs as covenant-centered, not man-centered. To see them as signifying (and more than that) of God's promise, not of man's accomplishment.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Effectual Grace

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities. (Is. 53:11)

The prophecy of (Is. 53:11) will not be proved false. Christ will be satisfied with His redemptive work. If Arminianism is true, Is. 53:11 is not a prophecy but merely a divine hope. If the effort of man, in the exercising of his natural free will, is required to obtain salvation, then even God can not be sure that Christ will be satisfied with His labor. God must wait upon the decisions of men. (In fact, we can be sure He would be most certainly unsatisfied, for nobody would come to faith.)

Clearly the why question is interesting. Why are some brought to faith and not others? But that is not the question for today.

The question for today is the what question. What brings some to faith and not others?

The answer, of course, is grace. But grace that is applied in a beautiful, personal, and humane manner. Humane because you are transformed so as to come willingly, in a way that does not violate your humanity.

To begin the transformation, we need to be born again (John 3:3). Elsewhere, the word regeneration is used for the same process of rebirth. (Titus 5:3). We are also said to be called from darkness into life (1 Pet. 2:9), to be spiritually resurrected (Eph. 2:5), and to be given a heart of flesh to replace or natural heart of stone (Ez. 11:19).

Lydia did not "choose" in her natural state to respond to the gospel, God had to change her radically:
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14)

She had to be regenerated by an act of divine sovereignty. She was not regenerated because she responded, she responded because she was regenerated.

What we want to examine today is: what happens after this purely monergistic act of rebirth? How does man actively participate in his own salvation? How does he, through grace, acquire the faith by which he believes and desires to please God?

After regeneration, we are instructed to work out our salvation. Not because there is a risk that we will not be saved, for that is a promise from God, but because it pleases God that our salvation, though a forgone conclusion, is effected as a process (Phi. 2:12). So while it is true that we are saved from the moment we are reborn, which is predestined before time (Rom. 8:28-29), it is also true that we must, or rather will work out our salvation.

It is not unlike the tenure system is supposed to work at universities. Once granted tenure, a professor cannot be fired, yet he is expected to continue delivering the fruits of hard work.

We are not saved by works, but we are saved through them. For scripture is very clear that faith without works is dead (Jam. 2:24-26).

If this were the end of the story, there would be a logical flaw. We are regenerated by God, and we must bear fruit, we are commanded to do the good works prepared for us (Eph 2:10)—how are we assisted in obeying this command even as we continue to battle with our own flesh (Rom 7:15)?

The answer is effectual grace.

In a sense, there is irresistible grace, by which are regenerated and in which we are passive, and there is effectual grace, through which we are sanctified and with which we cooperate. These are often blended together, as are regeneration and sanctification. They should not be. We are passive in our regeneration and we cannot resist. We are assisted in our sanctification, and while it too would seem to be inevitable (Phi 1:6), it is clear that we are called upon to participate.

The Westminster Confession provides this exegesis:
X:I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, 1 by His Word and Spirit, 2 out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; 3 enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, 4 taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; 5 renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, 6 and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: 7 yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. 8

X:II. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, 9 who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, 10 he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it. 11

So the Confession affirms both an instantaneous change (a quickening and a renewal) and a process (man is enabled to answer the call—not instantly transformed to the state of having answered it.)

Effectual grace includes, then, the means by which God, through the Holy Spirit, enables a regenerated man to work out his salvation. The next question then, is how is the grace conveyed to us? Does God keep sprinkling it on our heads like salt from a shaker? Or does the bible teach of grace multiplying as a result of obedience? In other words, is there a mysterious feedback loop at play—we obey because of grace, and are rewarded with more grace because we obey, which enables us to obey more—while at the same time there is a "wrench" in the works, the wrench being our old sinful nature and its regrettable partner our vaunted free will?

And if grace is, even in part, and especially following regeneration, a gift of God for our obedience, then two questions (unanswered for now) for my Baptist colleagues are:
  1. Are not the ordinances (sacraments) commanded by God—and if so, why would we not expect God to convey grace through them? Why do many of our brethren teach that God is nothing more than a witness to baptism and communion?

  2. What would preclude God from conveying grace to an infant through the ordinances?

Stay tuned, if you like, as I struggle to answer these questions—as I am somewhat in crisis myself.


1 ROM 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 11:7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. EPH 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.

2 2TH 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2CO 3:3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. 6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

3 ROM 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. EPH 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). 2TI 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

4 ACT 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. 1CO 2:10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. EPH 1:17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.

5 EZE 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

EZE 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh. PHI 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. DEU 30:6 And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. EZE 36:27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

7 EPH 1:19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power. JOH 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

8 SON 1:4 Draw me, we will run after thee. PSA 110:3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. JOH 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. ROM 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

9 2TI 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. TIT 3:4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. EPH 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved). 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. ROM 9:11 For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.

10 1CO 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. ROM 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. EPH 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).

11 JOH 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. EZE 36:37 Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them; I will increase them with men like a flock. JOH 5:25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.