Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Clodhoppers and sodbusters

Creeping across the plains,

Finding their own domain,

Wanderlust finally waned,


Thrill seekers and risk takers

Pushing the envelope

Racing up the slope

Until they couldn't cope


Mate seekers and date seekers

Combing the internet

Deciding to hedge their bets

Tired of not finding yet


Politicos and Pac Men

Always testing the wind

Always prepared to bend

Whatever it takes to win


Lawyers and Litigants

Suing to get their way

Heedless of what they pay

Until the judgment day


Sports stars and movie stars

Shining in media’s light

Getting their image right

Stylin’ both day and night


Teachers and preachers

Thinking they know it all

Ignoring verity’s call

Pushed up against the wall


Pastors and ministers

Envisioning great success

Placing themselves under stress

Never confront or confess


‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.’

BW3-- 12-4-07


Julene said...

Dr. Witherington-- I looked to see if I could contact you via e-mail on the Asbury website. I found your blog site and thought I'd contact you via this venue.

I live and teach at Korea Nazarene University. I'm leading a small group of Korean ladies through Romans. (what a great context to read and study Romans!) I'm using your commentary on Romans and really appreciate how it is helping to make the text come alive.

We just looked over Romans 7. I'm so interested in your reading (and others who agree with you) of the text as Paul doing a rhetorical impersonation of Adam. I've wondered why Paul would speak so clearly of being freed from the law of sin and death, and about being slaves to God and united with Christ in his life as if it is a present reality and then talk as if we are still slaves to sin and death now. Is he taking back in Romans 7 what he says elsewhere? But if the "I" in Romans is Adam, then Paul isn't speaking out of both sides of his mouth and there seems to be so much more resolution to the incredible work of grace in humanity that Paul is putting forth from the beginning.

In Part 4 on page 201-2 talk about anthropological and eschatological tensions. "It is thus incorrect to pit eschatological tensions over against anthropological tensions or to read salvation-historical tensions of already-and-not-yet to strongly into Paul's anthropological tensions."

Have you written about this elsewhere? What happens when we do read the anthropological tensions to strongly into the eschatological ones? Or not enough? I'm curious about how these tensions rightly overlap and where we've taken their connections too far?



Ben Witherington said...

Hi Julene:

Nice to hear from you. Yes I have written on this elsewhere. See my book Paul's Narrative Thought World.


preacherman said...

Great post brother.

Brigitte said...

Hello: I'm a newbie around here and not exactly familiar with Dr. Witherington's books or theology, other than what's been mentioned recently on the blog, which I enjoy. I first came to the blog after searching the internet about the Talipot story.

However, in response to Julene's question about Romans 7, I'd like to throw in the good old reformation phrase: "Simul justus et peccator"; that is we are always at the same time and completely, SAINT AND SINNER. We are justified in Christ completely, at the same time that we remain sinners and keep on struggling.

Our lives take the rhythm of daily repentance and cleansing. This daily rhythm will not cease till we seem him in glory. For this day to come we groan, not least because of our own sin.

I know Romans 7 talks about me, too. And that does not mean that I am not free from the law of sin. I know my Redeemer lives.

With love from a Lutheran.
Yours, Brigitte.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Brigette:

Unfortunately simul justus et peccator is not good Pauline theology. It comes directly from Luther's dependency on Augustine, and what can only be called a bad reading of Romans 7. Fortunately, many many scholars (including some Lutherans) are now making clear how false this theology is.

It is simply not true that a person can both be in the bondage to sin and at the same time be set free from the rule of sin and death by the Holy Spirit. If you read carefully Romans 7.5-6 and Romans 8.1-2 the description of the Christian life there is clear. We were in such a condition prior to conversion, and we are not in that condition now.

This is not to say that Christians do not have to wrestle with inclinations to give in to temptation. Paul describes the tug of war between the inclination to sin (called flesh) and the rule of the Spirit in the Christian life in Gal. 5.

The point is that while sin remains, it no longer reigns in the Christian life. The Christian is not in bondage to sin, and willful conscious sin is not inevitable for a Christian.

Indeed, Paul says in 1 Cor. 10 that no temptation has overcome us that is not commmon to humanity such that with the temptation God can provide a means of escape. This is certainly not a simul justus et peccator theology. It is a theology that says 'greater is he who is in you, than the temptations that you face.' If Jesus is Lord of your life, then sin is not. Period.


Ben W.

Kyle said...

Amen Dr. Witherington. So many miss this wonderful liberty that is available in Christ!

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to the good doctor, I think he might be mistaken in his understanding of the reformation doctrine of simul justus et peccator. On the other hand, perhaps my understanding is mistaken!

In any case, as I learned it from the good folks at the White Horse Inn, it doesn't include (or entail) most of the things you seem to think it does.

In this way, believers in 'imul justus et peccator' can agree perfectly well with: "The point is that while sin remains, it no longer reigns in the Christian life."

They specifically taught this much during their series on Romans.

Then again, on the face of it, this seems obviously wrong: "...willful conscious sin is not inevitable for a Christian."

So much hangs on 'inevitable' and 'willful conscious'. If sin is ever rightly thought to be inevitable, it would only be in the sense that our will to sin is never completely irradiated this side of the resurrection.

And it is worth noting that it is just as much a sin to 'willfully consciously' allow sin to live in or be outsourced to our unconscious life.

Doesn't growth holiness consist (at least in part) in an ever greater knowledge of our sin and ever greater repentance? In my experience, those who pride themselves in having recently committed no 'conscious willful' sins are the worst kind of priggish hypocrites. It ought not be a point of pride to have no consciousness of one's sin.

Ben Witherington said...

Pilgrim you need to go and read Martin Luther's tract called the Bondage of the Will. You are dead wrong about this, wherever you may have learned it.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. But maybe YOU need to read the Smalcald Articles, section III, part 43. This was written by Luther, so I understand.

Here's the pertinent part: "...For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes..."

Find the whole thing here:

See also the section XIII on justification, where you'll find these:

"by faith, as St. Peter says, we acquire a new and clean heart, and God will and does account us entirely righteous and holy for the sake of Christ, our Mediator. And although sin in the flesh has not yet been altogether removed or become dead, yet He will not punish or remember it."

That's what I take to be the heart of simul justus et peccator.


"And such faith, renewal, and forgiveness of sins is followed by good works. And what there is still sinful or imperfect also in them shall not be accounted as sin or defect, even [and that, too] for Christ's sake; but the entire man, both as to his person and his works, is to be called and to be righteous and holy from pure grace and mercy, shed upon us [unfolded] and spread over us in Christ."

I'm no Luther scholar or expert. Heck, I'm not even a Luther buff! But it seems to me, from what I've quoted, that I'm not dead wrong.

Ben Witherington said...

What you are citing is later Lutheranism, not Luther himself. The Bondage of the Will, not the book of Concord is by Luther.

Anonymous said...

Two points:

(1) I looked it up and found that Luther did write the Smalcald Articles.

(2) Regardless, what matters is what the Lutheran doctrine of 'simul justus et peccator' means. In view of this, and with all due respect, it seems pretty clear to me that it doesn't mean what you think it means.

It's probably worth noting that, properly speaking, I'm neither Lutheran nor Reformed. So I guess this really isn't my fight.

I'm done. Grace and peace.

Kyle said...

To this day I don't understand why people stumble over the idea that we can be decisively set free from the slavery and power of sin here and now. This doesn't deny that a Christian may, in fact, fall into sin, but it does affirm that sin is the faith-breaking exception of the Christian life, which should be marked principally by holiness. IF we sin, not WHEN we sin, we have an advocate.

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off..." The NT takes sin utterly seriously, and implies everywhere that we can be free from its power. You simply don't find the "sin, repent, sin, repent" cycle anywhere. Rather, the promise is of victorious living, freedom, and peace.

C.P.O. said...

Even though the thread went a different direction - great poem! It's just flat out hard to be settled no matter who you are.

Brigitte said...

This is for Kyle: You may have overcome with God's help some great handicap of sin. Praise God for that! Lives are changed, indeed, praise God, again!

About myself, however, I have to say, like St. Paul, that I, according to the law, have always lived an exemplary life. I could count myself an excellent performing Pharisee, like Paul was. I have had my share of trials and come through them, with the grace of God, in a good way. By the grace of God, I have no recollection of horrible outward sins or great falls. I had godly parents, have godly children, have been married 25 years, never slept with anyone but my husband, never taken a puff of anything, am not even on prescription medication, I get on the treadmill for an hour in the evening, we are hospitable and pillars of the community and the church. Heck, my husband is even on the board of regents for a Christian College! I can attend special events for the high Christian society. So, am I living a life of victory?

It is all "filthy rags", when we look at ourselves. Jesus had us all look much deeper. Look again carefully the things he said to the Pharisees. In the heart, at least, we sin. I know what I find in mine. And I am sorry.

My posture before the Lord is always: "Be merciful to me a sinner!" I'll be glad to maintain this stance till the very end, because I know what his answer is.

The cycle of sin and repentance that you question is what the church has been about since the beginning. The cry of the church is: Cyrie eleison! Christe eleison! Cyrie eleison! Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. We cry it together and we are reconciled.

We say it at every church service and every family devotion. In every church service we begin with confession of sin and absolution. The church is the hospital for sinners. Everyone is very welcome, again and again.

Thanks to Pilgrim for picking up the "simul justus".

Love, Brigitte.

Ben Witherington said...


I hear you, but I have to say that there is much more to life, and indeed to what goes on in the Christian heart, than sin, confession, and forgiveness. Much more. While I would not for a moment want us to be naive about our propensity to sin, it is wrong to place the emphasis there always, and certainly not in every pray all the time. For example, look at what that same book of Romans says in Rom. 5.1ff--" therefore having been set right by God we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God....and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." We could talk as well about Gal. 5 and the fruit of the Spirit which are manifested in every Christian life. Furthermore, there is the issue of progressive sanctification, and indeed Paul believes that righteous behavior and inclinations are possible for the Christian, and he exhorts us to act in such a fashion by the power of God's grace and Spirit within us.

Thus while I am all for confessing our sins, and calling on God for mercy as needed, this is definitely not where the emphasis needs to be in the normal Christian life. The emphasis needs to be on the positive work of God in the interior of the Christian personality which has already transformed us into new creatures in Christ as Paul insists in 2 Corinthians. This does not just have to do with our justified or pardon condition in relationship to God. It also has to do with our condition as the Spirit renovates us. Simul justus et peccator, as Luther speaks of it in the Bondage of the Will, falls very far short of a proper understanding of the powerful sanctifying work of God in the life of the believer producing all sorts of positive fruit.

Christmas blessings,

Ben W.

Brigitte said...

Dear Dr.Witherington: thanks for your reply. However, let us not set up a false dichotomy. What you are saying is not wrong to me, nor incompatible with what I am saying--hence the emphasis on the "simul".

Also, one must not get hung up on looking for fruit in one's life or keep taking one's spiritual temperature, as that again can become a new kind of law. The Spirit is alive and active and works where and when He will and we are not always aware of it. Let us simply trust him and let him work. Nor will He want to be another reason for us to turn back into ourselves instead of out towards God and man.

I am not sure how the "Bondage of the Will" keeps entering into this. I thought we are examining what Paul could mean in Romans 7.

If you have issues with "The Bondage of the Will", we could perhaps enter into a specific discussion about it. It is an important book, however, I've never quite made it through it, finding it somewhat unreadable. Perhaps you could quote something and that could be discussed. Maybe, I'll read it all the way, then.

Love, Brigitte

Ben Witherington said...

Brigitte we are indeed under a law now, as Christians. It is called the Law of Christ by Paul in Galatians 6. It is not the Mosaic Law, but imperatives and commandments it does most certainly involve. We see some of this in the Sermon on the Mount and much of it in Paul in his ethical sections. Grace does not replace Law in the new covenant, it enables us to keep the Law of Christ, which of course has as its heart loving God and neighbor with whole heart. The phrase simul justus et peccator is the very one Luther used and made famous, this is why I keep returning to Luther. I have no desire to turn Martin Luther into Lex Luther, but my point is, he misled us about Romans 7-- which is not about the Christian life. It is about a Christian view of the pre-Christian life. The Christian is most specifically not in the position of the person towards the end of Romans 7 who says he knows better, but is unable to do better. This is not the position of a Christian who always has the Spirit and God's grace to enable obedience. We must avoid a false dichotomy between faith and works, and between grace and law as well.


Ben W.

Kyle said...

Hi Bridgette -

A few things:

1) I'm not talking about Pharisaical, outward righteousness, but the true righteousness of God, holiness of heart and life. I agree that sin is not just outward acts, but can also be inward acts if the will concurs, harbors, and entertains something sinful. What I am saying is that the born again Christian can absolutely say "No" to both inward and outward sin.

2) This does not mean temptation is a reality in the life of a Christian - and for something to be temptation, you have to feel or be inclined to it when you are tempted or else it is no temptation at all. But temptation is not sin. The key issue is whether you are able to successfully and consistently say "No" to these temptations, to which I believe Paul very clearly says "Yes, you can, and you must, for if you sin, you will reap what you sow."

3) Yes, I was once in bondage to the power and dominion of sin. I couldn't break it, I just kept falling into it, my conscience knew what was right but my will just would not follow. I was the man of Romans 7, but praise God for His grace, He enabled me to move onto Romans 8.

4) God not only decisively breaks sin's power, but He gives us the Holy Spirit, through which Paul says we are able to put to death the deads of the flesh. That means that continual victorious living can only happen through moment by moment dependence upon the Spirit.

5) Yes, it is possible for a Christian to fall into sin, either inward or outward, and if they do they have the right to plead the Advocate and repent. But this is never viewed as the normative experience, but the exception.

6) The Gospel is more than the juridical side of forgiveness, it is also moral transformation, the new birth, and freedom. How cruel would it be if God "forgave" our sin, but just left us enslaved to it? What kind of gospel is this?

7) Christians still have weaknesses, can make mistakes, and can even commit a sin of ignorance, all of which needs the atoning blood of Christ, and none of which we can be freed from until we are glorified. But these are quite different than slavery, rebellion, and actual, willful sin inward or outward. Paul makes it clear that we can be freed from such sin here and now - indeed, we must be free, for without holiness no man shall see the Lord.

8) How can we be reconciled to someone that we disobey continually, over and over again? Even in experience, if someone beat up their friend, said "I confess this sin to you, I'm sorry, have mercy on me," then proceeded to do it again the next day, would we see this repentence as real or sincere? Would we call this reconciliation, or a mockery of it?

And finally, if the church is a "hospital for sinners" in the way you conceive, it is doing a poor job. In this hospital, sick patients would be ushered to their beds where they would lay infested with their respective diseases. The doctor would come in every day to say, "Are you still sick?" "Yes," one would reply. "Okay, see you tomorrow," would be the response. What would we say about such a hospital?

No, the Great Physician really does heal, He really does cure!

I thank God that He not only forgives, but He transforms, enables, and truly sanctifies. His grace is not only juridical, but also transformative! =)

Anonymous said...

You said: "But temptation is not sin."

But surely you'll admit that temptation is one's own desire for evil. And, yes, only when we act on it do we sin. (James 1:13-15 obviously comes to mind for both of these points.) But folks who desire evil are evil folks. Folks who are tempted aren't fully 'cured' or 'transformed' yet.

And those who believe in 'simul justus et peccator' AGREE with you that "His grace is not only juridical, but also transformative!"

It seems that folks around here still think that 'simul justus et peccator' means that Christians are free to sin in order that grace may abound. Cheap insincere repentance doesn't suddenly become an option when you believe this doctrine. What if your understanding of the doctrine is simply wrong? What if this is NOT what the doctrine teaches?

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the Lutheran position is that the Christian life is matter of constantly moving out from Rom 7 and into Rom 8. The Christian life is lived in the midst of the dynamic tension of 7 moving into 8.

Given that Lutheran's have a doctrine of apostasy, it seems that 'simul justus et peccator' can't mean what you think it does. It doesn't mean we can be self-satisfied in our sins.

It strikes me that this whole debate is more theological than exegetical. Deciding what needs to 'emphasized' over what is a fools errand.

Ben Witherington said...

Actually no, temptation is not our own desire for anything. The Greek word peirasmos meaning either test or temptation, and it refers to something other than oneself. While it is true that one can be tempted by the Devil or by one's desire, the desire itself is not the temptation itself. Temptation is by definition anything or anyone that inclines a person to do something one ought not to do. Temptation is not sin. It is the prompt that may incline a person to sin. Thus, it is quite correct to say that to be tempted is not the same thing as to sin. Jesus, as Hebrews says so clearly was tempted like us in all respects, save without sin.

The problem with the Lutheran view of Romans 7 is that we are not living out of Romans 7, we are living out of Romans 8. The Christian is not in the bipolar condition of both being in bondage to sin and not being in bondage to sin, both able to do the good they should do, and not being able to do the good they should do at one and the same time.


Kyle said...

Pilgrim -

I must confess that I am not well-versed in Lutheran theology. I was simply responding to any soteriology that entails the idea that Christians are still in bondage to sin, or in other words, still living in Romans 7. This appeared to be what Bridgette was suggesting, though of course I may have misunderstood her.

As Dr. Witherington said, we are tempted, or prompted to do evil, by either the Devil or the desire. Does this imply that there is some remnant of the old nature left over? Yes, I did not deny this. What I am affirming is that this sin-principle, the flesh, is dethroned in the new birth. We now have the power and the obligation to say "No" to it through the power of the Spirit. At some point this battle with temptation (which the Christian can win consistently by the Spirit) will be over, and we will be fully redeemed. But the new birth is still a complete work, and one that frees us from sin's power, dominion, and bondage.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree that to be tempted is a different from committing a sin.

And I'll agree that when we are tempted it is right to say that we are tempted by the object of our temptation.

I'll even agree that when someone dangles this object before us, it is right to say that we are being tempted by this person.

But none of this would happen at all, unless we ourselves had that property such that we are inclined towards that evil when presented with it. Now it may be that we have grown to the point that we are able to quickly deal with the temptation. Good for us. But the fact remains that we are the kind of people who find themselves inclined towards evil when presented with it.

And people who are so inclined are evil, in at least some important sense, whether or not they allow this evil inclination to give birth to sin.

And so James writes, "...each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire."

Ben Witherington said...

well Pilgrim I have to disagree on one point again. Jesus did not have anything in him that inclined him to sin. He was not a fallen person. And yet he was tempted, indeed to judge from the Garden of Gethsemane story, severely tempted on at least a couple of occasions, to do something he ought not to do. There was nothing in Jesus that inherently led him in that direction. The book of Hebrews is pretty clear about us.

I do agree however that fallen person's have something inherent that inclines them to sin. Paul calls it the 'flesh' I prefer the translation 'the sinful inclination' (not the sinful nature as some translation have it). However what is complex about this is that the mind,heart, spirit, emotions are all part of the inner self that is being renovated and sanctified by the Holy Spirit even now in the life of a believer. The one part of the believer that is not currently being renewed is the body. The body is the weak chink in the Christian's armor, which is of course why there are so many warnings in the NT about bodily, and especially sexual sins. As Jesus says 'the flesh is weak' no matter how willing the spirit is. We must be wise about this very fact. This means, among other things we must be very wary about our physical location when it comes to temptation and sin. By this I mean that proximity is dangerous-- which is why Paul speaks of a means of escape from temptation in 1 Cor. 10. Whether its proximity to drugs, sex, cigarettes, porno, alcohol, food that leads to bad health and obesity etc. we need to steer clear of the things that we have weakness for.


Ben W.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't you say that what you've described above is what Paul is describing in Rom 7. (Indwelling sin, which we, when we stop and think about it, don't really want to do, but find ourselves doing anyway.) And isn't the message of Rom 8 that God will rescue us from this too? That he'll give us power to progressively put that stuff to death? And so the Christian life is matter of finding yourself in the problem of Rom 7 BUT constantly receiving and working out the solution of Rom 8?

Anyhow, I think that it is instructive that believers in simul justus et peccator will likely count some things as sin/evil which its opponents would not. Maybe the real differences go back to the subtleties of our understands of the sin problem. If the sin problem is essentially that we give birth to 'sin acts' that we can train ourselves, with the Spirit, to no longer (or seldom) give birth to, then maybe we have completely left Rom 7 behind. But I expect that Lutherans will think of 'sin acts' as incidental to the larger problem of the sin condition/inclination.

On the matter of Jesus' temptation, I wonder if he was tempted to disobey his Father? If so, then how or in what way? When tempted to turn a stone into bread was he ever inclined to evil? Well the desire to eat isn't evil. What makes eating, or desiring to eat, evil is circumstantial factors I suppose. It's a matter of when, exactly what, how obtained, how much, etc. The desire to not be crucified also isn't evil. Unless it is the God ordained mission which you've pledged yourself to fulfill, or unless some other special circumstances prevail. I wonder if ALL inclination to sin is like this - aimed at some good thing, but simply desired in the wrong way or in the wrong proportion? Something at least very close to this seems right to me. Isn't this what Augustine meant when he described sin as disordered affection? In this way, sexual lust isn't sinful because it is a desire for sex. It is sinful because this desire for sex isn't rightly ordered and placed within the larger context of our other loves. Our love for our spouse, our love for the object of our lust as a person not merely a sex object, etc.

Jesus surely desired, in some sense, to not be hungry and to not be crucified. But these desires were always in their right order with respect to his other desires - chiefly, I suppose, to do the will of the Father.

In this way, our problem is that our affections are out of order and proportion. So I take it back - it over simplifies things to simply say that our desire for evil, when presented with it, indicates that we are evil. Instead, our having disordered desires means we are evil, whether or not a sin act is 'born'. In any case, it seems that my contention that James would have us believe that when it comes to temptation the problem is with us and our desires, stands.

Ben Witherington said...

Pilgrim a sinful inclination is not the same thing at all as inborn sin. It is a tendency, not sin resident within. There is a significant difference. Such an inclination is a defect, it is not the same as having sin within as a 'habitus' or indwelling presence.


Brigitte said...

The discussion about what is sin, or not, or almost, or whatever, seems academic here. Sin flows from our selfish desires, it happens in thought, word or deed, or neglecting to think, say, or do.

You dear people are either 1)perfect already or you are 2) still sinners, or you are 3)simul--a sinner (who struggles with his sin) covered by Christ's rightousness.

Which is it? Tell me!

You can't be mostly perfect. There is no such thing.

You cannot possibly go before Jesus and tell him: look, I've been keeping the commandmends pretty well, eh? -- Are you serious? You can't even fool me. Sorry.

Yet, by the Gospel we know a joy and a holy desire to do the right thing and many wonderful things are accomplished.

Sorry "Kyrie" is spelled with a "K", not "C".

Love, Brigitte

Ben Witherington said...

Brigitte the whole issue of whether we can even find the idea of imputed righteousness in the NT is debated and very debatable. What is more sure is that Jesus expects us to be perfect in loving as God is perfect in loving. This is what we are called to do, by the grace and aid of God. It is never ever enough to suggest that Christ has done it all for me, and that alleviates me of the responsibility of imitating Christ. I am sure you are not saying this, but it is worth stating. It matters enormously how you view yourself when it comes to sin and the saving grace of God, and so this is not just a nice little theology discussion of no relevance to everyday life. What you do, and what you attempt to do to honor God is dramatically affected by how you view yourself. I would urge you to take some time and read through my Romans commentary on the passages we keep circling around.

Have a blessed Christmas,

Ben W.

Brigitte said...

Dear Dr. Witherington: you did not answer my question about how you view yourself!

If we cannot agree on imputed righteousness, I can see why we go in circles.

However, the freedom of the Christian person and the creation of the good tree that produces good fruit is linked completely to the joy and freedom of knowing Christ doing it all and Christ being the "end of the law" (Romans 10).

What does the Gospel mean to you?

Yours, Brigitte

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Brigitte:

I don't real see us going in circles, I just think we have some theological differences. Paul, in his discussion of Christ as the goal/end of the Law is of course referring to the Mosaic Law, not all Law.

This is perfectly clear from reading Gal. 6 and its discussion about the Law of Christ, which Paul also refers to in 1 Cor. 9. As Paul says, 'not that I am outside the Law for (now) I am in the Law of Christ'.

The Christian is absolutely not free to disobey God, and there are numerous commandments affirmed by both Jesus and Paul as to what this obedience should look like. Paul in Romans 1 speaks of the obedience which flows from faith. This obedience not only affects our sanctification level just as sin does, it is essential to growth in Christ.

'Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus...' but I'm sure you've heard the song before.

Christ's righteousness is not imputed to us, such that when God looks at us he is deceived about us, or simply ignores our sin. Christ's atoning death set us right with God, by grace through faith, but it also involved the imparting of sanctification. In other words, what Paul is talking about is actual righteousness in us, not merely Jesus being righteous for us, which is not what Romans says.

Notice for example in Romans 4-- what is said of Abraham is not that Christ's righteous counted as Abraham's righteousness, but rather Abraham's faith was credited or reckon to his account such that he had right standing with God. This is a very different matter. Both the credit and debit account referred to in Romans 4 involves something Abraham has-- his faith, and his right standing with God gained through faith.

I hope this clears things up a bit. But the important part I would want to stress is that your obedience to God effects your spiritual life and is not optional. As James rightly says-- faith without works is dead, something Paul would not disagree with.

Our obedience however is not to the Mosaic Law but to the Law of Christ, and will be evaluated accordingly. This is why Paul in 2 Corinthians says that all Christians must appear before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for the deeds we did in the body.

Am I saying that we are saved by means of our deeds or works? No. What I am saying is that we do not obtain final salvation (which is different from conversion or initial salvation) without them. They are necessary where there is time and opportunity to do them.


Ben W.

Anonymous said...

I think you'll find that Lutheran and Reformed folks will agree that God justifies no one he doesn't also sanctify. I've heard them say as much, many a time. This means that no one receives final salvation who has not done good works.

The real disagreement is over the sense in which good works are necessary. There are many differences senses in which something can be said to be necessary. The Lutherans and Reformed will say good works are NOT necessary for our justification. But they'll say good works ARE necessary for our sanctification, and our salvation viewed as a whole.

The problem in all of this is that when we hear "necessary", we almost always think of it in terms of justification.

For the Lutherans and the Reformed, our motivation for good works is NOT acceptance with God, in any sense. Our motivation for good works is gratitude in view of our justification in Christ.

I expect some people think that all hell will break out if good works are not necessary for our acceptance with God. After all, if good works aren't necessary in this sense, can't we get away with whatever we want? Notice that Paul's response is not, "NO. You'll loose your justification!!!" He doesn't issue this kind of threat. Instead of the imperative mood, he responds in the indicative mood.

Ben Witherington said...

These are wise comments Pilgrim.

The other difference is of course this. Paul believes that what you do after justification can indeed effect the eternal outcome in regard to your salvation, at least negatively. This is why he talks about those who have made shipwreck of their Christian faith, and warns against apostasy on various occasions. not least of which is in Rom. 11 when he warns the largely gentile Christian audience that God can break them off of the people of God if they are not faithful and obedient.

Few if any Christians would argue that good works are necessary for initial justification, the issue here however is final salvation. For Paul there are three tenses to salvation-- I have been saved (justification), I am being saved (sanctification) and so am working out my salvation with fear and trembling based on what God has worked in (Phil. 2-3), in order as Paul says so clear in Phil. 3 that I might attain to the resurrection, something he has not yet attained to, but strives towards.

Of course it is true that Christians do good works to please God, and in gratitude for what God has done for them. But it is a foolish Christian indeed who thinks somehow that if one chooses to omit obedience to God, one can simply rest on Christ's laurels and still obtain final salvation, final justification, the resurrection.

But let me be clear-- after justification it is not a case of either God or us doing something. Short of the final resurrection which is a unilateral action of God, it is all about our working our what God is working in. In other words, it is God's grace that enables the Christian to obey God, please God, glorify God, do good works. The Christian can never think they did these things on purely their own merit or strength. Not so.

But one is in a personal relationship with Christ, there is a fellowship and partnership in love working to get us to the finish line, and here is the crucial bit-- we must respond in faith drawing on the grace God gives us to will and to do. God's grace does not do this for us, and in spite of us. God's grace is given to us, and we are to use that empowerment wisely and purposefully.

Of course the deeds that we do, and the obedience we render may well fall short of what is expected and required, through no fault of our own. Things happen, events interceded, and the 'best laid plans of mice and men...'.

But we should not think that God expects less of us under the grace of Christ, than he expected of his OT people under the Mosaic Law. It is not true.

We are free alright-- free from the bondage to sin, and free to obey God's commandments, as he always wanted us to do.

We are not free to ignore God's Word and his imperatives, nor is it helpful to pit the Spirit, who enables obedience, over against obedience to the Law of Christ itself. The contrast between letter and Spirit in 2 Corinthians has to do with the letter of the Mosaic Law, and the Spirit given now so we may keep the new covenant.


Ben W.

Kyle said...

When Wesleyan's speak of freedom from sin, they are speaking of freedom from the bondage and dominion of willful sinning - i.e. the divided will of Romans 7, the mind seeing the good but the will just not following. This kind of bondage is broken in the new birth as believers move onto the empowered life of Romans 8.

Does this mean we have perfect outward performance? No, we can make mistakes - what matters is the intent of the heart. Does it mean we can't grow in grace and knowledge, in degrees of holiness, and other aspects of maturity? No, in fact God may slowly bring things to your attention you didn't realize were bad before, and then its time to deal with them as the Spirit brings them to your attention. Does this deny progressive sanctification in the renewal of our minds, the further cleansing of our hearts, and the growth of the newly implanted holy tempers in the heart? No.

But it does mean believers are free from the bondage to the flesh, from willful sin, from the inability to say "No" to temptation. Regenerated believers can say "no" to temptation, and must say no, because sin has not suddenly become innocuous to bring death back to our souls.

Romans 8:12
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live

Notice the warning - sin can still lead to death if you go back to it. But we never have to anymore, we are no longer controlled by the flesh, but by the Spirit. So, if you walk in the Spirit, obtain grace from God day by day, you can consistently and continually be more than a conqueror by His power. That is the Gospel to me.

Brigitte said...

1. You keep writing like you are speaking to a complete libertine!!!-- and as if Luther and any agreeing with his confession are such!

When I speak about the "freedom of the Christian" in relation to our theology, I allude to the reformation tract written by Luther to Pope Leo, trying to explain the very thing. Here the famous theme and rallying cry is:

"A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all."

Using this paradox, much is explained.
(I am sure the document can be found on the internet, written 1520).

It should lay to rest some of the issues about living a Christian life.

2. God is not "deceived" and God is not mocked. The righteousness we receive from him can also be described as an exchange: he takes my garbage and destroys it and he cleans me up and dresses me up with his righteousness. This is by faith, taking him at his word. Is this "imputed"? I don't know the exact sophistry behind the use of some words.

3. Abraham's righteousness by faith, is also Christ's righteousness. Entering into a faith relationship with God, always means I know who I am before him (needy, sinful) and I trust his goodness and mercy (foreshadowed by OT worship and sacrifice, actual by Christ). Abraham was not justified by the work of circumcision (or "obedience") but by faith and trust in God (as distinct from faith in faith itself or a creedal statement).

4. For Kyle: I find the distinction between "willful sinning" and sort of accidental "mistakes", not that useful. There is kind of a continuum here, it's not so black and white, and I can't really trust myself to know exactly where I am at. I could endlessly torture myself with this.

I know I make mistakes (is that a whitewashed way of saying sin? Could be, couldn't it?). The idea is, we flee to Christ's mercy again.

Right now, for example, I'm not sure I'm sinning: I just finished rereading the "Freedom of a Christian". I am not doing a whole bunch of stuff I thought I'd be doing, neglecting my chores. On the way to finding the book in the study, I had a handful of trailmix on the way instead of a properly thought through lunch, and I can't actually afford the calories of trailmix.
I don't feel disciplined about my day right now. I asked my daughter (studying for exams, today) if she thought spending your day reading a thick theology book when you should be doing other work is sin for me today. She thought it was.

Anyhow, the whole obedience thing does not help me here right now. I don't know for sure what Jesus would have done. He never was a wife/ mother/ office manager with day's to go before Christmas.
Also, there was no voice from heaven that said, "go straighten out those guys on the internet."

Certainly, the people around me would be happy if I got something else done. But this is not all about me and about my sin or lack thereof. I don't have to keep on looking there.

Anyhow, I have a passion for good theology because I have labored under the law, trying to be good and having a strict conscience that can let me drive myself insane endlessly.

5. Some of you are in full Christmas season, it appears. We are still in Advent, a season of, (would you believe it?), preparation and "repentance". Which means I will repent and get off the internet this instance and get to work. :)

God bless your day,
Love, Brigitte.