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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009
More on Repentance...
In the meta of a previous post, Mitch writes: To me you are conflating a fruit of the gospel with the Gospel; the fruit (in this case repentance) is not the Gospel. We should not confuse the Gospel with the effects that result from the Gospel.


This is the sort of observation that I enjoy responding to, because it is not only a very legitimate concern, but it is a common one. I hope this post can clear up the conflation.

First, and perhaps most critical, we need to remember that in theology, in order to speak of individual facets of a single act of God, we artificially) dissect the single act into component parts. This we do in order to articulate as precisely as possible each facet of the single act.

What happens however is that once we separate related components, we then need to relate them back to one another, and typically part of this relation is the imposition of a chronological order. We like to say this causes that, this precedes that, etc.

To articulate the single act of salvation we typically splice it into two related facets:
[1] salvation from judgment (justification), and
[2] salvation from sin (sanctification).

This, for the sake of clarity, is a legitimate thing to do. It aids our understanding, of eternal security (for instance) to isolate what it means to be justified by grace through faith by describing justification as happening "in a single moment of time". Likewise, it helps our understanding of sanctification to see it as a process that is begun in the same moment that our justification "happened" etc.

Yet what can happen when we make these academic distinctions, is that we can forget that they are academic distinctions. When we begin to speak of justification as happening in an instance, for example we do so in order to highlight the immutability of justification - to underscore the reality that once we are justified eternally we do not flutter in and out of that justified state. The most efficient way to describe such a thing to temporal beings such as ourselves, is to speak in language that conveys these things chronologically. Justification happens in a moment, we say, and sanctification happens over time. Now, having introduced the concept of time into the equation, naturally we want to divide these two further, into antecedent and subsequent categories, and so we think of justification having happened "first, and sanctification as following that.

We make such distinctions, not because the bible does, but because it is easier to consider these acts as being separate and related, rather than being facets of the same act. But, as I have said, this separation is academic and therefore artificial.

The biblical teaching is that our justification and our sanctification are part of the same reality. They have the same genesis, the one comes with the other, and neither is antecedent, neither is primary, neither is exalted over the other.

It is correct to note that repentance (sanctification) does not and cannot precede justification, but we enter into non sequitur when we suggest that because sanctification does not precede justification, it must necessarily follow it. The truth is they come together, neither one precedes the other, nor follows the other.

But, since we think of justification as happening in a moment, and sanctification as a progression over time, we may forget that they happen simultaneously, and conclude that sanctification "follows" the moment of justification, rather than express it in a more biblically accurate language, such as, "In the moment that sanctification begins, we are justified."

I don't believe, therefore, that grace initiates justification, and that justification produces sancification - for this makes justification antecedent to sanctification, rather than placing them in similitude. Grace initiates (simultaneously) faith, justification, and sanctification. To suggest that the effects of grace are themselves initiators of subsequent effects is, according to my understanding, not accurate.

It doesn't overly affect one's theology to blur these distinctions, unless (until) one uses them to isolate one aspect of our salvation from another. The one who imagines that the gospel is about being saved from hell (try and find that in the bible!) will naturally truncate the act of salvation (and therefore the gospel) into just the justification part; thus the gospel under this scheme is about saving you from hell, and has nothing to do with saving you from sin (sanctification).

Anyone who, for whatever reason, truncates the gospel into "justification only" is likely going to draw a hard line between justification and sanctification: seeing the one as preceding and initiating the other. The only danger in this is that we can start to preach the gospel as being saved from hell (not in the bible) instead of being saved from sin (Matthew 1:21).

If we are being saved from sin, as every genuine believer is, we will see evidence of that in our lives. Typically the person who has spliced salvation into the justification/sanctification dichotomy describes this truth by saying that every genuine believer begins to repent after they are "saved", and that those who do (thereafter) repent, are not genuine believers - and for these the distinction I am making is academic. They will think me wrong (at best), and imagine I am suggesting that sanctification "comes first" in that I say that in order to believe one must be repenting. That is, they don't recognize why I am making the distinction, so they conclude, as best as they can, what I must be on about, and since it sounds different than what they believe, it follows that I must be saying something opposite to what they believe - and so they imagine I have fallen off the other side of the horse.

But I make the distinction because this level of precision is necessary in identifying where exactly those go astray who have reduced the gospel into what we call, "easy believism."

You see, some believe that in order to be saved you must be presented with, and assent to certain facts about, and promises made concerning, Jesus. They regard faith as purely intellectual, and salvation as a contract that obliges God to save every person who can muster up even a single, fleeting moment of intellectual assent to the gospel, even if this one time act of believing is instantly replaced by a lifelong refutation of the same - so long as there was an instance of intellectual assent, God is obliged to save them from hell on that last day. They regard sanctification, therefore, not only as something that may or may not happen, but critically, as something you are personally responsible to make happen. They teach that if you want lots of goodies from God after you die, you should pursue repentance, but if you could care less about eternal goodies, then you just won't have as much as others when you get in.

By reducing salvation to such a state, they necessarily reduce the gospel to that which will produce this, and regard everything else as "add ons" which they believe will clutter up and confuse the presentation of their gospel, thereby making it more difficult for would-be believers to assent to the truth.

I am quite opposed to that scheme, as are any who know and exalt the gospel.

Understood in this context I believe the distinctions I am making are necessary ones in our day and age. I am not saying, as might be read into my words, that I believe we must repent in order to believe, or that repentance must precede faith - I am trying to articulate the fact that we enter into faith and repentance simultaneously. I was able to believe because I was able to repent. I was able to repent because I was able to believe. It is the language that fails me because I seem only able to articulate the moment of salvation in terms of a symbiotic causality. The truth is that grace produces faith and repentance simultaneously - neither faith nor repentance causes the other - both are caused by grace, and come working together from the very start. Academic distinctions between the two work well when we are discussing post salvation roles; but these same distinctions necessarily cloud our understanding of the moment we are saved, if we cannot unite them in that moment properly.

For many believers, the distinction may well be pointless, since after we are saved, what does it matter? But if we are concerned with the glory of the gospel, and again, with identifying false gospels, the level of precision I labor to articulate is needed.

Labels: ,

posted by Daniel @ 2:00 PM  
3 Comments:
  • At 10:45 AM, April 14, 2009, Blogger Daniel said…

    The Greek word μετανοια (metanoia) describes a change, like unto a reversal of a previous decision. The change is from one state of mind to the reverse state of mind.

    The sinner who is in rebellion against God, must undergo a radical shift in his or her state of mind - from one who rebels against God's rule, to one who upholds it.

    This shift happens in the core of our being and not merely the transient realm of our passing thoughts. It is a core change that affects our thoughts and desires - a heart change that we describe as a change of mind about God. Not that we merely think differently, but that something has changed within us that is producing different things.

    Jesus refers to this phenomenon when He describes to the woman of Samaria a fountain of living water that springs up within us to eternal life. It is a new heart, and we experience its newness in that we have new desires - desires to serve God at the expense of self.

    When I speak of repentance, that is what I am speaking of. I am speaking of that radical change in heart as opposed to the fruit of that change: good works.

     
  • At 3:34 PM, April 14, 2009, Blogger Mitch said…

    Daniel,

    When I think of the best way to define the gospel I look no further than what God said through Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. It seems to me that you worry about “easy believism” and the perceived damage that does. I do not believe in this though, the bible tells me that the gospel is foolishness to man and that sinful man cannot and will not accept it.

    Recently I was talking to my brother in law who is a staunch atheist; he told me that he believes Jesus was a good man that taught many wonderful things that would make the world a better place if mankind followed it, but the simplicity of the gospel he just did not accept. He could not bring himself to believe that Jesus died for our sins just as it had been written, that he was buried and that he rose again the third day all in perfect unity with what was written.

    I do not think that “easy believism” is the issue; the real issues are we have left teaching man about total depravity, we now talk of free will, most give lip service to the sovereignty of God by saying that God can do anything, but that He limits Himself. The pulpit is deathly silent about election, no mention of Christ saving His people, it has been replaced with Christ made salvation possible for all nonsense. What we have is the lack of the true GOSPEL being preached and that is our problem, not this so called “easy believism” stuff.

    Grace & Peace

     
  • At 4:03 PM, April 14, 2009, Blogger Daniel said…

    Mitch, I appreciate your taking the time to elaborate. I hope I don't come across as worrying about easy believism. <grin> I am not worried about it at all.

    I am inclined however, to address it regardless of how popular or how great an impact it has, because I believe there is room in every ministry to correct errors and to articulate truth in the name of edifying, strengthening, and protecting (from error) the body of Christ (the church).

    I share your concern that the church is not what it could or ought to be. Preaching that Jesus died to introduce a possibility of salvation is so ridiculously carnal - and yet people swallow that hook, line, sinker and rod. There is plenty of room for more meat in the collective pulpit - but it isn't just the job of the shepherd to be discerning, and vocal - the whole flock ought to be in on it; and if we were (as a body) doing even a tenth of what we ought, the world would shake beneath the magnitude of it.

    Have a wonderful day.

    Dan

     
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