Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses 

“This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.” (81) This thesis helps sum up the content of the 95. Although the primary concern was the indulgences, they served to express a collection of beliefs and issues very important to Luther in the context of the beginning of his transformation. The larger context was Germans seeing their resources going to a foreign power while needs were great at home.

They were the subject of “unbridled preaching,” with the rash and grandiose claim of acquiring pardon thereby, with preachers acting like salesman. Luther condemned their actions as reflecting badly on the pope, about whom he also has some unpleasant things to say. The situation was a challenge to learned men seeking to address the concerns of the laity. These preachers were guilty of planting tares among wheat, with the doctrine of purgatory (11), which Luther argues was only created to justify the indulgences, which were preached as delivering souls from it (27-28).

They were contrary to both reason and the scriptures. By “full remission of all penalties the pope means not actually “of all” but only of those imposed by himself.” (20 cf. 25) The pope alone had power over it, even though, contrary to what was claimed by Rome, he did not possess the keys (25-26; 75-76). This is an astounding statement, sometimes missed by those who focus strictly and only upon the sale of the indulgences. At other times Luther seems more favourable still to the pope. Comments like that found at 38, 47-50, 61, 71 and elsewhere, show us Luther’s transition.

Behind all this there is Luther’s desire to answer the question as to how a soul is saved from perdition (32). True salvation was through repentance and not penance or indulgences (36-37). Giving to the poor and needy trumps the buying of pardons (43-45). He could not be clearer than he was at 52 – “the assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain.” The preachers were spending more time preaching, that is, selling the pardons, than in teaching the people the word of God (54). “The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.” (62 cf. 68)

There was equal condemnation of the preachers of the indulgences (79-80), and the pope (82), all desirous of building a magnificent cathedral, with some payment for their services, a monument to the pride of the Papal See (83). These were false prophets (92), saying “Cross, cross” when there was no cross (93). It was the preaching of the cross that was Luther’s real burning desire, and so it should have been for the pope and his preachers. The indulgences were as nets, drawing people to purgatory, while the Gospel of “the grace of God and the piety of the cross,” (64-68) was a proclamation of remission.

Augustine on Free Will and God’s Foreknowledge.


The issue is expressed by Evodius in his discussion with Augustine in On Free Choice of the Will, with the question – “Isn’t God the cause of evil?” (Cahn 374) Immediately Augustine drawsa distinction between one who commits evil, and one who suffers evil. The former is moral evil or sin, whereas the latter is what one suffers. There could be any number of reasons for the latter, but these all come back to the primary former problem of moral evil. Augustine first highlights the basic presuppositions brought to the question, and based on these he argues that free will can be compatible with God’s foreknowledge, provided one is clear about the meaning of the terms used, and that revelation takes precedence over reason alone.

Basic Presuppositions.

There are certain basic presuppositions which Augustine posits, leading into these questions, which set the table for his replies. The first one to note, which is part of what is his epistemology, is found at Isaiah 7:9, namely that, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” (375, 379) One must begin with a belief in revelation, that there are certain mysteries that only God knows, but nevertheless, he reveals to humanity what we need to know, that one might live for him (See Dt. 29:29). It is also important to note that Augustine equated belief with faith, that the latter is in no way contrary to reason or rational understanding and explanation. Therefore, he welcomed the questions, since he himself had been struggling with the problem of evil for many years.

Other biblical presuppositions are the goodness of God, and that he created all things, including humanity, as good. He rejected the Manichean belief in two equal powers – good and evil, which flatly contradicts the biblical revelation. “If you know or believe that God is good – and it is not right to believe otherwise – then he does no evil.” (374) Furthermore, “if we acknowledge that God is just – and it is impious to deny it – then he rewards the good and punishes the wicked.” (374). The second definition of evil above, as what some suffer, at least provides some explanation for some of this “suffering”, since it may be judgment on evil doers, or discipline for saints. Further, God is also sovereign. “We believe that this world is governed by divine providence.” (374) Finally, some suggest that the additional presupposition of God’s omniscience is in part an answer to the first question. Based upon these beliefs the problem arises as to how one might explain the presence of evil, moral evil or sin in particular.

The Cause Of Moral Evil Or Sin Expressed In Two Questions.

 “How is it that these two propositions are not contradictory and inconsistent: (1) God has foreknowledge of everything in the future; and (2) We sin by the will, not by necessity?” (382) Augustine believed that the cause of moral evil or sin, was with humanity in Adam as our representative, choosing to disobey the command not to eat from the one tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17; 3:17-19). This decision must have been voluntary, otherwise the punishment that followed could not be justified. However, the question is then posed as to why God would create a being capable of choosing evil, “since if we had not received it, we would not have been able to sin.” (377) To this Augustine replied that because they/we were free to also choose the good, and that God rewards the choosing of the good, then there would be no free expression of a human’s love for God or others, if in fact they/we were compelled. Since free will is needed to choose the good, this is a “sufficient reason for God to give it.” (378) Therefore, God cannot be held culpable, since they/we were free to choose the good instead of the evil. However, the problem still remains as to how one can believe in God’s omniscience, and human will free.

Free Will and Foreknowledge.

The first question above seeks to get at the ultimate source of evil, and if humans have free will, how can God have foreknowledge of everything. Augustine answers by analogy to one person knowing what another person is going to do before they do it, which also does not make them the cause of such action, in this case, should it come to pass. That there is no doubt that God knows infallibly, does not make him anymore the ultimate cause either. “Thus, we believe both that God has foreknowledge of everything in the future and that nonetheless we will whatever we will.” (383) However, since we can only choose the good after regeneration, Augustine will proceed to show how grace is thus necessary for any, that even faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). In regards to the first question then, God’s foreknowledge is no more the cause of sin, then another human knowing that someone will sin is the cause of that sin. “If you knew that someone was going to sin, he wouldn’t sin necessarily, would he? (384) “Sin is committed by the will, not coerced by God’s foreknowledge.” (384)

God’s Omnipotence. 

There is yet another proposition which comes into play, which Augustine tries to address in his other works, and that is how one reconciles free will and the problem of evil, given that God is also omnipotent. In other words, since God knows that sins will be committed, he either is helpless to do anything about it, or he is all-powerful, but unwilling. Since it is not possible for God to desire evil, and he is all-powerful, the problem would appear to go much deeper. One might take the example of predictive prophecy, the fulfilment of which was a sign of a true prophet. How is such a thing possible unless God predestines the fulfillment, especially when it is believed that God is ultimately behind the prediction? If someone replies we may be willing, but are not able, Augustine responds with what he considers the full definition of what the will is. “It could not be a will unless it were in our power.” (383) Given that God’s foreknowledge is infallible, and his power is greater than any human’s power, many do not see how these propositions can be compatible. Yet, as we have also seen, Augustine and others believe that they are compatible.


This is where Augustine’s doctrine of predestination comes into play. Some believe that the idea of free will absolves God of being the cause of evil, and that he only predestines what he foreknows. However, it is not hard to realize that this is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Paul wrote that God foreknows all things because he predestines all things. Predestination is inseparable from foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29-30). Paul argues that before Jacob and Esau were born, or had done any good or bad, he predestined whatever would come to pass. It is ludicrous to argue that his predestination was/is based on what he foreknew, since if humans were free in this sense then God would not foreknow. John makes the point that those who are born again, that is, regenerated, are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (1:13)


Some want to suggest that God’s atemporality, that is, that he is not bound by time, is somehow an answer to this problem. One may note Augustine’s treatment of God and time in his Confessions. However, this aspect of who God is misses the point set out in the scriptures, that God is sovereign, and that he condescends, as it where, to speak to us in the temporal context that he created, in order to show that he is sovereign. It means that God is able to use that which is evil, for his own good purposes. There is the famous story of Joseph who suffered under the evil behaviour of his brothers, and how his faith allowed him to take a different attitude toward them. “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day.” (Gen. 50:20) Even the crucifixion of Jesus had the same dynamics at work. Speaking to his fellow Jews, Peter delivered the following verdict. “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” (Acts 2:23) God could have stopped them, but instead he permitted them to follow their free choice. The foreknowledge was based upon his “determined purpose,” not vice versa. Without God’s grace, humans have free will, but it is only free to do evil, but even so, God is able to use such decisions and accompanying actions for his own sovereign purposes.


I, like Calvin, find substantial agreement with Augustine on the issue of God’s foreknowledge, and humanity’s free will. Frankly, it is a subject which cannot be comprehended properly without first accepting the biblical presuppositions concerning both God and humanity, and the radical nature of the fall. Before the fall, Adam had the freedom to do either good or evil, and we in him chose the evil of thinking that we could be equal with God. After the fall, humans without God’s grace of regeneration, are free only to choose evil. Nevertheless, God is able to permit evil for the sole reason of it accomplishing his sovereign purposes. Many certainly object to this understanding of things, but it does not mean that the argument is not a rational one, based on the premises chosen, the source of which is the revelation given.

Works Cited.

 Augustine, City of God (Garden City, N.Y. Image Books, 1958).

________, Confessions (Markham: Penguin Books, 1982).

Augustine, “On Free Choice of the Will” [Cahn, Steven M., ED. Classics Of Western Philosophy (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 2012)]. 374-389

________, A Treatise On The Predestination Of The Saints. The First Book, 428 or 429.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story Of Christianity Vol. I (New York: Harper One, 2010).

Pang, Ann A. “Augustine on divine foreknowledge and human free will.” Revue des Etudes Augustiniennes, 40 (1994) 417-431.

An Introduction To Canon Formation.

It is popular in conservative circles to suggest that the formation of the canon, especially the Hebrew/Aramaic, is a matter which rests solely on the witness of the Holy Spirit to the individual believer, or the corporate body. Without deny that this is what enables one to make a true judgement, it fails to note the criteria which the Spirit himself has given us within the scriptures themselves, which in fact reinforces their self-referential authority as canon. The reluctance to see any human involvement in this enterprise stems, I believe, at least in part, from the Protestant response to the Roman Catholic dogma that the church, through her leadership, has the final authority to determine the formation of the canon. Again, also not wanting to deny the error of this dogma, it does not follow that the scriptures themselves do not provide the plenary and conceptual criteria which we not only can refer to, but are in fact commanded to do so.

This paradigm is found in the tests given in determining whom were true prophets and who were not. Although not exhausting all the locations where material may be found, two key passages, logically found in the last book of Moses, who was uniquely confirmed to be a true prophet of God by God, are at Deuteronomy 13, and 18:15-22. The former is a qualifying test to be brought to certain empirical phenomenon. A so-called “dreamer of dreams,” doing ‘wonders’, even if also calling themselves a ‘prophet’, were not speaking the truth if they were advocating a commitment to other gods, other than the One Only God as revealed through Moses in the law. The law was to be referred to in the formation of further canon (vv. 1-5). So serious was this matter, that even if one’s own family were guilty, it was literally a matter of life and death (vv. 6-11), so also for any community which ignored or disregarded this canonical test (vv. 12-18).

Although Wolfe does not specifically apply 18:15-22, he does put forward the following with respect to verses 18, and 20-22. “There are three things to notice in this passage. First of all, we actually have here a critical attitude toward what claims to be revelation. Not just anyone can get away with standing up and speaking for God. Specific constraints are imposed upon the would-be prophet so we can discriminate between real and phony ones. Second, the prophet must relate his message to the Mosaic teaching (“a prophet like you”) and relate his teaching to the already established words of Jehovah (“when a prophet speaks in the Name of the LORD”). This is an application of the coherence criterion. A prophet who delivered teachings totally unrelated to the prophetic tradition was not to be taken seriously. Finally, then there is an application of experiential or empirical constraints. No prophet whose predictions fail is to be believed on other matters. [‘Epistemology. The Justification Of Belief.’ (81)]

Fulfillment in history, one might say, was one part of what went into verifying the veracity of the prophet’s truth claims. Note also that God through Moses also reiterates his previous ‘test’ of whether the prophet is true, that being if he or she “Speaks in the name of other gods” (20). These tests then, not only applied to the formation of the law, or the five books of Moses, but were meant to be the canonical standard going forward with future revelation.

[More to come.]

Jeremiah 23:9-40 False Prophets And Empty Oracles.

Jeremiah 23:9-40 False Prophets And Empty Oracles.

Jeremiah now shifts his attention away from the shepherds to those calling themselves prophets, and what he is ultimately seeking to defend is the inerrant, infallible word of the living God which came through prophets whom he called. Tests to affirm who were true prophets is the same test to determine what would ultimately form the canon of holy scripture. On a personal level, the holy words that came through Jeremiah overtook him such that his heart was broken, his bones shook, and he describes himself as like a drunken man (v. 9). The people had broken the covenantal bond with their adulteries, and idolatry. As a result even the land was cursed with drought. Their course was evil. Like many nations, even today, they believed that might made right. To this the word through Jeremiah was “their might is not right” (v. 10).

“‘For both prophet and priest are profane; Yes, in My house I have found their wickedness,’ says the LORD” (v. 11). The apostasy was led by those who had been entrusted with giving and teaching the law-word of the covenant, and instead they practiced wickedness in the LORD’s house, intended as a meeting place with the LORD. For their wickedness the LORD would punish them with darkness, and slippery ways. In other words they would not find a way out of their predicament, they would not see any move to make, and any move they did make would be slippery. They had lost their footing, so to speak (v. 12). The first obvious sign that these prophets were false was the fact that they prophesied by Baal, thus causing the people to err into idolatry (v. 13). This is the first canonical test to determine if a prophet or teacher is true – do they serve the LORD?

Through Moses the LORD had made it abundantly clear that no matter what signs or wonders which “a prophet or dreamer of dreams” performed, if they called people to worship any god other than the LORD, then they were false and were to be treated as such (Dt. 13:1-4). The explanation was simple, the LORD required loyalty to the covenantal bond in word and deed. “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Dt. 13:4). The maximum penalty which the LORD allowed for a false prophet was death, and the people were not to waver even if it were a family member seeking to lead them astray (Dt. 13:5-16). With all due process (v. 14 Cf. Dt. 19:15-21), they must act because a sin so evil would bring judgment on the entire nation (Dt. 13:17-18).

Any true prophet, like Jeremiah, should have been calling the people to repentance, but instead they taught and practiced lies, like idolatry, and adultery. They also gave strength to those who also practiced evil, so that none turned from their wickedness. They had become like Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 14). As a result these false prophets would be fed bitterness, like wormwood and gall, because they led the way into profaneness in the land (v. 15). So we have the first obvious sign of apostacy in their teaching of idolatry, and secondly the acts which accompany this. A third reason, and the one which is the primary reason for their apostacy, is the fact that they spoke “a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD” (v. 16). This is not so much a test as a reason for their words and deeds.

However, there is something which the people could see and test, and that was whether they spoke a message of peace, when every indication was that everyone was walking “according to the dictates of his own heart,” and them telling the people that no evil or judgment would come upon them (v. 17). These were ultimately tests to determine whether they had stood before the LORD in his council, perceiving, hearing and marking his word (v. 18). Anyone calling themselves a true prophet either has stood in the LORD’s council, or they would know him as a whirlwind to take them away (v. 19). Here we have a hint of another test – whether the prophets predictions were fulfilled. To this end the LORD promised that “in the latter days” people would “understand it perfectly” (v. 20). A true prophet is also one who is sent from the LORD’s council with his word (v. 21a).

False prophets run as though they in fact were sent by the LORD with an urgent message, and even though the LORD did not speak to them in his council, nor send them from there with his word, they nevertheless claim to prophesy (v. 21b). Verse 22 sums up the matter perfectly. “But if they had stood in My council, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings.” With their ignorance and lack of the canonical word, their entire theology was corrupt. They envisioned a god entirely like themselves, when the LORD is not only near, but also afar of, able to see and know the thoughts, words, and deeds of men, even what they think they get away with in secret (vv. 23-24). They claimed to speak for the LORD, saying ‘I have a dream,’ believing that no one could question their dreams (v. 25).

The LORD calls false prophets “prophets of the deceit of their own heart” (v. 26). In the bible the word for ‘heart’ primarily refers to the inner core of a person. References to any emotions, such as is understood by the word by most today, is a reference to the core of these as well. However, more often than not, it refers to the core of one’s thinking. As a man thinks in his heart so is he ( Prov. 23:7). Again, their dreams were false, because by appealing to them they sought to lead the people to forget the LORD for Baal (v. 27). A dream, even of a true prophet, is but a vehicle for the giving of the LORD’s word, if it is a true dream (v. 28). Unlike the famous words of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is not the message. Instead, it is the LORD’s word which is “‘like a fire,’ says the LORD, ‘And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces’” (v. 29).

False prophets also believe that their message will be received if it passes the test of the majority, so they conspire together to speak the same lies (vv. 27). If they do happen to speak some truth, it is because they have stolen it from a true prophet who did receive it directly from the LORD (v. 30). In preambling their words with ‘He says,’ they are but bearing false witness (v. 31). Prophesying false dreams, and speaking lies recklessly causes the LORD’s people to err, and because they were not sent or commanded by the LORD they would profit the people nothing (v. 32). Whether it is ‘I have a dream,’ or ‘He says,’ or ‘The oracle of the LORD,’ these are all the bearing of false witness, the perversion of “the words of the living God” (vv. 34-36). They pervert the canonical word already given and received as such. Instead, one must ask, ‘What has the LORD spoken’ (v. 35)?

Because false prophets claim that the LORD has spoken to them, he will forget and forsake them, and cast them from his presence, and those associated with them, because their very words pervert his word. It is ironic that because they did not stand in the LORD’s heavenly presence in his council, that they would be cast from his presence on earth (vv. 38-39). All who prophesy falsely, and those who follow their words, will bring on themselves “an everlasting reproach…and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten” (v. 40). A true prophet is remembered for words which pass the canonical tests as true, but the false are remembered for the judgment upon them for their evil words and deeds. This should be heard as a clarion call to any who would make any claim to being a prophet to whom the LORD has supposedly spoken to today, for the canon is closed.

Matthew 22:41-46 Jesus, Two Natures, One Person – Reigning.

Matthew 22:41-46 Jesus, Two Natures, One Person – Reigning.

Jesus is now the one asking the question. The Pharisees were already gathered together to test him, but this time he had a test for them. It was well known that the Christ, Messiah, or Anointed One was to be a son of David. Jesus asked his question knowing what they would say. However, what was not commonly understood was a passage such as Jesus quoted from Psalm 110:1 where we read that the Messiah would be much more than David’s descendant. Since it was and remains common knowledge that David wrote this Psalm under the inspiration of the Spirit, the question is how David could speak of the covenant LORD saying to his Lord that the latter would sit by the former’s right hand till his enemies are made his footstool.

To sit at the right hand of the LORD and to be called Lord by any man was a clear affirmation of his deity. For it to be David initially, had to raise the question of how he could also be David’s son. It was not a question which the Pharisees could answer, and from that day onward no one dare ask him anymore questions. This situation highlights the fact that even among those esteemed as learned in the scriptures could not grasp the total picture of the nature of the Messiah’s person, and thus also of his coming reign. The church would, through much deliberation, come up with confessional statements, such as Chalcedon, which would seek a biblical response to this question – namely two natures, human and divine, in the one person of the Messiah.

The Authority Of One Jot And Tittle.

The Authority Of One Jot And Tittle.

As anyone familiar with the debate surrounding the place of the old covenant civil code under the new covenant administration will acknowledge, Bahnsen’s ‘Theonomy In Christian Ethics’ has never been adequately refuted. (In fact I put this out as a challenge to any and all – don’t read it if you are hell bent on opposing his thesis, because it is so thorough your conscience will give you no rest till you change your mind). In his famous defence of Matthew 5:17-20 he proves conclusively that whatever ‘fulfill’ means, with respect to both the law and the prophets, it does not mean ‘abrogate’.

Here I would make this further point, with the help of one of my favourite authors – Dr E. J. Carnell. Jot and tittle refers to the least stroke of a letter. Authority therefore is based on the precise meaning of each and every word, with the level of distinction going to the level of a stroke of the pen. One must ask the obvious question – how can you have authority without inerrancy, when the very meaning is based upon the least stroke of a pen? In particular, Jesus said this of the old covenant scriptures.

“Jesus assigned authority to the details, as well as to the whole, of the Old Testament.” Carnell then quotes the following from Kuyper’s ‘Principles Of Sacred Theology’. “In Matt xxii.44, the strength of Jesus’ argument hangs on the single word ‘Lord’. ‘The Lord said unto my Lord’; yea, even more precisely, on the single iod. The emphasis falls on the ‘my Lord.’ In John x.35 the entire argument falls to the ground, except the one word ‘gods’ have absolute authority. In the same way it can be shown, in a number of Jesus’ arguments from the Scripture, that in the main they do not rest upon the general contents, but often upon a single word or a single letter. The theory therefore of a general tendency in the spiritual domain, which in the Old Testament should merely have an advisory authority, finds no support in Jesus.” [Carnell ‘The Case For Orthodoxy’ (36) – Kuyper (435-436)]

For those who suggest that we should rest our authority in Jesus and not in the bible, they repudiate what Jesus Himself taught. Furthermore, “since Jesus rested his Messianic office on the authority of the Old Testament, a Christian offends consistent procedure if he accepts Christ’s Messianic office, but rejects the divine authority of the Old Testament. In John, ch. 10, for example: ‘Jesus’ defense takes the form of an appeal to Scripture; and it is important to observe how he makes his appeal. In the first place, he adduces the Scriptures as law: ‘Is it not written in your law?’ he demands. The passage of Scripture which he adduces is not written in that portion of Scripture which was more specifically called ‘the law,’ that is to say. the Pentatuech; nor in any portion of Scripture of formally legal contents. It is written in the Book of Psalms; and in a particular psalm which is as far as possible from presenting the external characteristics of legal enactment (Ps. lxxxii.6). When Jesus adduces this passage, then, as written in the ‘law’ of the Jews, he does it, not because it stands in the psalm, but because it is part of Scripture at large. In other words, he here ascribes legal authority to the entirety of Scripture, in accordance with a conception common enough among the Jews (cf. Jn. xii.34)….But our Lord, determined to drive his appeal to Scripture home, sharpens the point to the utmost by adding with the highest emphasis: ‘and Scripture cannot be broken.’ This is the reason why it is worth-while to appeal to what is ‘written in the law,’ because ‘the Scripture cannot be broken.’…It is impossible for the Scripture to be annulled, its authority to be withstood, or denied. The movement of thought is to the effect that, because it is impossible for the Scripture…to be withstood, therefore this particular Scripture which is cited must be taken as of irrefragable authority. What we have here is, the strongest possible assertion of the indefectible authority of Scripture.” (Carnell (36-37) – Warfiled, ‘The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible’ (138-14).

One can thank Dr. Carnell for saving one from reading 400 pages to get to these points – although both are surely worth the read. The point is a simple one. That there is no grounds for liberalism in Jesus teaching, (which would ultimately require them to redact out these elements of his authority), there can be no doubt. However, there can also be no doubt that the pure unadulterated understanding of the word also casts the neo-orthodox like Barth, and the neo-Evangelicals like Donald Bloesch in the same light. When the latter writes about ‘The Essentials Of Evangelical Theology’, let us be very clear that he is redefining the meaning not only of the words of Scripture, but of the historical meaning of the word ‘Evangelical’. Is this not the bearing of false witness? Authority does not exist without verbal inerrancy – to every jot and tittle.

Justification, Sanctification-Definitive And Progressive, And Entrance To Heaven.

Justification, Sanctification-Definitive And Progressive, And Entrance To Heaven.

There are a number of reasons why it is right for people to be confused by the current discussions on justification, works, and sanctification, because the terms and concepts are not clearly defined. With the following criticisms it is not my intent to hold court on the orthodoxy of certain writers. However, at the very least there are truths here that are not clearly stated.

First of all, justification. Too often the definition of justification is itself wrong. Justification is not being “right with God” or “a right relationship with God.” Justification is nothing more or less than God declaring a sinner righteous based on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. Justification is very precisely this declarative act based on Christ’s imputed righteousness. If we miss this crucial definition or stray from it we are already off course.

Secondly, by contrasting justification with what is required to enter heaven, namely works as some suggest, a false contrast is set up. At the very moment that an elect sinner is declared righteous by the Father, through the imputed righteousness of Christ, this declaration is as final in heaven as it is on earth-period, full stop! By drawing the contrast as some have, they are giving the impression, at the very least, that this declarative act is not good in heaven.

Third, it is absolutely true that true faith will evidence itself in how we live, but this kind of faith is also a gift. When Paul wrote that, “by grace you have been saved through faith,” it is this entire package that is in view, the entire thing, including faith, “is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Faith and its evidences share this in common, they follow regeneration, they do not precede it.

Four, in confusing justification with sanctification many also fail to properly define sanctification. It is important to remember that there are two aspects to sanctification-it is both definitive and progressive. It is not uncommon for people to jump from justification to progressive sanctification and worse still, to do so in such a way that it gives the impression that having begun by the Spirit we are to carry on living by our own strength. In reality, progressive sanctification actually flows from definitive sanctification.

There are many passages of scripture which speak of sanctification in the past tense-that is, definitive-it is done. One good example is the epistle to the Hebrews. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). Note it well, our writer, and through him the Holy Spirit, does not say here, “we are being sanctified,” but “we have been sanctified,” and this through the once and for all finished work of Christ alone! Our writer could have said “are being sanctified” because he did so earlier (2:11).

“For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). These are his points: First of all, sanctification is as definitive as justification-we have been sanctified through the finished work of Christ alone. Second, sanctification is also progressive-we are being sanctified. Thirdly, even progressive sanctification is the work of God for, “for both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one.” We are being progressively sanctified by God because we have been definitively sanctified by the finished work of Christ alone.

Sanctification is rooted in our union with Christ. People would do well to remember the ordo salutis, or order of salvation. Definitive sanctification is simultaneous with regeneration and effectual calling. No one was clearer on this than Dr. John Murray. Read his ‘Redemption Accomplished And Applied’. If you have not read his definitive work on definitive sanctification, then you should do so-here it is-

As Murray notes, Paul addressed the Corinthians as those “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1:2), and “sanctified” as definitively as “justified” (6:11). “We are thus compelled to take account of the fact that the language of sanctification is used with reference to some decisive action that occurs at the inception of the Christian life and one that characterizes the people of God in their identity as called effectually by God’s grace. It would be, therefore, a deflection from biblical patterns of language and conception to think of sanctification exclusively in terms of a progressive work.” Murray, (‘Definitive’).

As Paul wrote to the “foolish” Galatians, “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (3:1-3) Lets be clear, the only works that are acceptable to God are “works of the law,” but they are no more conditions of our sanctification than they are of our justification. Works are but the evidences of true faith.

Works can no more be “conditions” for entrance into heaven than they can be for justification or sanctification-definitive or progressive. Works are evidence of definitive and progressive sanctification. James does not contradict Paul, Paul simply takes us back to first principles, which is exactly where one must begin. This is the point, progressive sanctification is every bit as much the work of the Holy Spirit as is regeneration and effectual calling, and sanctification is as definitively a work of Christ as is justification.

Again, from Murray: “it might be said that by his death and resurrection Christ has procured every saving gift — the death and resurrection are therefore the meritorious and procuring cause of sanctification as well as of justification and in this respect are as directly related to sanctification as to justification.” (‘Definitive’) “The truth is that our death to sin and newness of life are effected in our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, and no virtue accruing from the death and resurrection of Christ affects any phase of salvation more directly than the breach with sin and newness of life.”

To conclude, justification is a definitive act whereby an elect sinner is declared righteous based solely upon the finished work of Christ imputed. Secondly, sanctification is also a definitive act of Christ, and upon this definitive sanctification we are progressively sanctified by that same Spirit by who we have been regenerated and effectually called. Thirdly, any contrast between justification and with it sanctification, and conditions of entrance into heaven is a false one. Justification and sanctification are as definitive in heaven as they are at conversion. Finally, even progressive sanctification is God working in and through us to apply that which has been definitively secured.

Thoughts On The Person And Work Of Christ.

Messiah Has Come Clothed In Blue, Scarlet, Purple, And Gold.

The significance of so much of what we find in the scriptures often escapes us, especially in the deep recesses of the Old Testament system. We also often forget that the pattern was always in heaven-from the very beginning (Heb. 8:5). Speaking of that earthly sanctuary the writer to the Hebrews had to say, “of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” (9:5) One has the sense that he really wanted to though. However, thankfully we have the same scriptures that he did, and there is indeed much profit and blessing in this search.

One of those points of interest was the place of the colours of blue, scarlet, and purple. These were to be among the offerings of linen given by the people (Ex. 25:1, 35:5, 23, 25, 35, 36:8, 38:23). Together the three colours accompanied the Cherubim of the glory presence seen in the artistic curtains and veil of the tabernacle of meeting (Ex. 26:1, 31, 36:35; II Chron. 3:14), with the three colours found in the screen to the door of the tabernacle/temple (Ex. 26: 36, 36:37) Also in the court there was to be a screen “woven of blue, purple , and scarlet thread.” (27:16, 38:18)

They would be used to make the “garments of ministry, for ministering in the holy place.” (Ex. 39:1) We see them combined, along with gold, in the clothing of the high priest in the ephod and breastplate of judgment. (28:5-8, 15, 39:2-5, 8). Furthermore, hanging from the robe of the ephod were to be pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, interspersed with bells of gold (v.33, 39:24-26). This would come into play when Israel would enter the promised land, and lots would be cast at the door of the tabernacle in the glory presence of the LORD (Joshua 14:1, cf. Ex. 28:30; Nu. 34:16-29; Joshua 19:51). The priest had on his chest the representation of the twelve tribes of the people of God, with the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate of judgment.

They also made for the high priest “the plate of the holy crown of pure gold” (39:30), engraved with the words, “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (cf. Ex. 28:26), showing that to which the gold symbolized. If the holiness was gone the bells would not ring, and the people could assume the death of the high priest. For this cause he had to make atonement for his own sins, as much as for the people (Heb. 5:3; 7:27; 9:7; Lev. 9:7; 16:6). One day there would come a greater High Priest who would not need to offer for Himself, but would forever be “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (Heb. 7:28; 9:8-10)!

Concerning the ephod, it was of particular significance that, the breastplate of judgment was bound to it by blue cord (Ex. 28:28, 39:21), and the robe of the ephod itself was all of blue. (v. 31, 39:22) The loops of the curtains were also made of blue yarn (Ex. 36:11), as was the covering of the ark for transport (Nu. 4:6), the covering of the table under the showbread (v. 7), the covering for “the lampstand of the light.” (Nu. 4:9), the golden altar (v. 11), and the utensils of service (v.12).

Blue symbolized the word of the LORD. It was the colour that the people were to use for the tassels of their robes so that they might be reminded to remember the word of the LORD (Nu. 15:37-41). It is therefore significant that the robe undergirding all that the high priest wore was all of blue, that which attached the breastplate was blue, that which attached “the holy crown of pure gold” was blue, and that which covered the tabernacle items in transport was blue. The word was what undergirded, bound together, and overarched everything to do with the worship of God in the place of judgment, down to the loops of the curtains.

Then there is the scarlet, crimson, or red. A symbol of sin (Is. 1:18), and the need for cleansing (Lev. 14:4-7, 49-53), purification (Nu. 19:6 cf. Gen. 38:28-30), and remission (Heb. 9:18-22). It was the colour of bloodshed (Nah. 2:3; Rev. 17:3). Such was the colour of Rahab’s cord (Josh. 2:18-21), symbolizing, as it did, the passover blood. On the table of the showbread was the blue, and on top of this were the dishes and the showbread, but over all this was the red cloth (Nu. 4:8). So undergirding the ministry of the sacrament was the word-it is the foundation. But what these elements of the sacrament symbolized was the blood of cleansing and forgiveness.

For others, red became a symbol of luxury and voluptuousness (II Sam. 1:24; Pr. 31:21; S of S. 4:3; Rev. 18:12, 16). But for some they would go from luxury to ashes (Lam. 4:5). Purple, on the other hand, was the colour of royalty (Judges 8:26; Esther 1:6; 8:15; S of S 3:10; 7:5; Dan. 5:7, 16, 29). Note how important was the business of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31-verse 22, and Lydia (Acts 16:14). It was thus also a status symbol of the rich (Ezek. 27:7, 16; Lk. 16:19; Rev. 18:12, 16). But it was also the colour of the cloth that covered the ashes from the altar (Nu. 4:13 cf. Heb. 9:13-14).

There is something to the combination of the red and the purple. The woman upon the beast rules through bloodshed, clothed in purple and crimson, with her leaders (Rev. 17:4; 18:12, 16). These represent those who aspire to humanistic messianic aspirations. However, there is One alone who is clothed in scarlet and purple. How fitting that our Lord was clothed in purple and scarlet to accompany His “twisted crown of thorns”, as the soldiers gave their mock salute, “Hail, King of the Jews.” (Mk. 15:17-20 cf. Mt. 27:28; John 19:2-5). He is the one who rules through His blood which He shed.

There is only one person who could ever be clothed with the high priestly colours of blue, scarlet, and purple eternally-Jesus Christ. These colours symbolize the offices of prophet, priest, and king. It was forbidden for any one person to occupy all three, except as it would be a sign of the Messiah Himself. David was a prophet and a king, but he was no priest. Many were prophets and priests, but not also kings. This one, after the order of Melchizedek, is set apart to occupy all three offices in His own person and work.

Satan understood this stupendous truth, for he tempted our Lord, at the dawn of His earthly ministry, on all three-as Prophet (Luke 4:1-4; Mt. 4:1-4), King (vv. 5-8; Mt. 4:5-7), and Priest (vv. 9-13; Mt. 4:8-11). It was also understood by the writer to the Hebrews when he looked back upon the humiliation, exaltation, ascension, and enthronement of Messiah, as prophet (1:1-3), priest (v.3), and king (v.3), “having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (v. 4)

Satan, that fallen angel, has been crushed under the feet of the seed, the promised One (Gen. 3:15), who tore that tri-color veil in two (Mt. 27:51). “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the Forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 6:17-20)

Here we are, guilty and running from the avenger of blood, when our Kinsmen Redeemer has run ahead of us into the city of refuge, to occupy the place of our High Priest, not for a time, but for all eternity. We need no other defence-our Kinsman Redeemer has become our High Priest (Heb. 2:14-18; 5:5-10). “What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer? Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the offices of prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.” (WSC. Q & A 23) Amen!