The Logic of Peace: Rachel Held Evans vs. Paul the Apostle

Rachel Held Evans essentially argues that:

1. If God is retributive, then we should be too.
2. We ought not be retributive.
3. Therefore God is not retributive.

For Paul the apostle, the logic was the exact opposite:

1. If God will have vengeance, then we ought not avenge ourselves.
2. God will have vengeance.
3. Therefore we ought not avenge ourselves.

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” (Romans 12:17-19)

Jesus on Eunuchs and Marriage

“Most people looked down on eunuchs for their impotence or effeminity”, but Jesus uses them as a metaphor to teach “some would indeed be better off not marrying”:

> If… we read the text [Matthew 19:1-12] in sequence, the disciples are concerned about the danger of marrying without an escape clause, and Jesus responds to their question (Carson 1984b: 418–19; France 1985: 282). Ancient marriage contracts typically included arrangements in case of divorce (e.g., P. Ryl. 154.28–33), though this was normally expressed as a “just in case”; it was naturally not the outcome for which parties entering a marriage hoped (cf. P. Oxy. 1273.25, A.D. 260). If a marriage did not work, divorce was a relatively simple option (Terence Lady of Andros 567–69; Keener 1991a: 50–52). Many sages considered it a duty to divorce a “bad” wife (e.g., Sir. 25:26; b. ʿErub. 41b; Yebam. 63b; p. Ketub. 11:3, §2; Gen. Rab. 17:3; Lev. Rab. 34:14); Plutarch ridiculed a man who failed to divorce such a wife as cowardly (Plut. Virtue and Vice 2, Mor. 100E). Parents arranged marriages, and according to tradition, in Galilee at least, one could not spend time alone with one’s prospective spouse until after the wedding (Safrai 1974/76b: 756–57; Finkelstein 1962: 1:45); one could not always know in advance what one’s spouse would turn out to be like. To marry without the possibility of divorce in a painful marriage seemed worse than not marrying at all! Responding to this objection, Jesus replied that some would indeed be better off not marrying; perhaps because of the intensity of their callings, it would be difficult for true disciples to find compatible spouses who would share their commitment (cf. the story of Crates and Hipparchia in Keener 1991a: 64; cf. Mt 10:35–37).

> Jesus’ remark about celibacy is graphic and would certainly seize the attention of Jewish listeners; the first two eunuch images prepare the reader for the “eunuch for the kingdom” (Malina 1981: 5–6). Jewish teachers could distinguish those who were born without sexual organs and those on whom an operation was performed (Manson 1979: 215; cf., e.g., t. Yebam. 10:3; Sifre Deut. 247.1.1–3; p. Yebam. 8:5, §1), but Jewish people were horrified by castration (e.g., Test. Jud. 23:4; Ps-Phocyl. 187; Jos. Apion 2.270–71; p. Yebam. 8:1, §11), and those who “made themselves eunuchs” were viewed as morally depraved (Jos. Ant. 4.290). Most people looked down on eunuchs for their impotence or effeminity (cf., e.g., Juv. Sat. 1.22; Epict. Disc. 3.1.31; Ps-Lucian Affairs of Heart §21; Babrius 54.4; Lucan C.W. 10.133–34; Jos. Ant. 4.290–91) and recognized that their desires would never be fulfilled (Sir 20:4; 30:20); some recognized that eunuchs were at a disadvantage (Phaedrus 3.11.4–5) but through no fault of their own (Phaedrus 3.11.6–7; cf. Aul. Gel. 4.2.6–8). “Eunuch” (lit. “half-man”) could function as an insult (Virg. Aen. 12.99). Whereas some Gentiles equated Jewish circumcision with a form of castration (cf., e.g., Herr 1978; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 3:6), Jewish people did not allow eunuchs into the covenant, based on Deuteronomy 23:1 (though cf. Is 56:4–5).

> The figurative sense of celibacy in which Jesus means the language (cf., e.g., Ach. Tat. 5.22.5; 6.21.3) would have been less jarring, but nonetheless offensive, to most of his contemporaries (see especially Tannehill 1975: 136–37). Although some pietists in the wilderness may have preferred celibacy (Jos. Life 11; War 2.120; Ant. 18.21; Philo Hypothetica 11.14; Pliny of such shame and sacrifice testifies to the value of the kingdom of God for which anyone would pay such a price (Tannehill 1975: 138–40); by embracing both shame and self-control, Joseph to a lesser extent models the nature of this demand (1:25).

Keener, C. S. (2009). The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (471-472). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

No One Is Happier Than God

8251857830_9416d48559_o‎”John Caleb, did you know that the happiest being is God? No one is happier than God.” (Me)

“Yeah, his smile is like this: [cheesy smile]. And his smile is like a million miles long.” (JC)

“When I go to heaven, and when I get my body later (that is called the ‘resurrection’) I will be happier and happier every day. But I will never be as happy as God.” (Me)

“That’s because he is just soooooo happy.” (JC)

“Yup, he’s so happy we can hardly believe it. He is so happy it is hard to imagine how happy he is.” (Me)

“But sometimes God isn’t happy. Sometimes he is sad or mad.” (JC)

“Well, did you know that you can be happy and sad and mad at the same time?” (Me)

“I DID NOT KNOW THAT!” (JC; classic line of John Caleb’s)

“God can do that too.” (Me)

Tender Mercies, Yet Radical Miracles: Dynamic Assurance and the Biblical Alternative to Back-loading and Front-loading the Gospel

How do we integrate the radical truth of the miracle of the new birth, as well as the gentle truth that the ungodly are justified by faith alone?

The former is dramatic: believers are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, from the dominion of Satan to the salvific reign and rule of Jesus Christ in their life. They are given a new heart, are indwelled with the Holy Spirit, and have the resurrection-power of Jesus Christ himself renewing their hearts. They have a faith by which they are not only justified, but are also sanctified. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14) “No one born of God makes a [continual, persistent, unrepentant] practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:9)

The latter is gentle and especially re-assuring: bankrupt, struggling, empty-handed, broken-hearted sinners are welcomed, adopted, forgiven, united to Christ, and given eternal life as a free gift. Their mustard seed of faith is continually accepted an the instrument of their immediate acceptance by God. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Jesus, in Matthew 11:30) “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

Continue reading “Tender Mercies, Yet Radical Miracles: Dynamic Assurance and the Biblical Alternative to Back-loading and Front-loading the Gospel”

I Have a Good Father

Not everyone has a good dad, but I do. The “how much more” argument for God’s love strikes me in a deep way: If my dad loves me this much, then how much more does God love me? For those of you who had a bad dad, the argument can work the other way: Because God loves you, your dad ought to have loved you.
Jesus assumes that even the best of dads are evil, and even bad dads have a modicum of love for their children. This is how he argues:

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'” (Luke 11:11-13)

It is an awesome thing to be a child of God:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)

But this is not by natural birthright. It is by grace and adoption and rebirth:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

A Celebration of the Humanity of Christ

I wrote this seven years ago, December 26th, 2004. I am reposting it with some minor changes.

When the Word became flesh, he emptied himself by adding to himself. Jesus undressed himself by dressing himself. He “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7) Jesus humbled and emptied and undressed himself completely, not by subtracting his divine nature from himself, but by adding human nature to himself. His human nature did not take away from the fullness of his deity, nor did his deity bleed over into his humanity, making him a sort of superman. He is forevermore 100% God and 100% man. Nothing less than full, eternal deity, and nothing more than a created, dependent human being with flesh and bones. He is not merely a man (he is a God-man), but his humanity is just that: mere humanity.

Continue reading “A Celebration of the Humanity of Christ”

D.A. Carson on the meaning of “born of water and of Spirit”

From The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 191-196. Footnotes renumbered for format.

These words have generated a host of interpretations, the most important of which may be summarized as follows:

1) Noting that v. 6 describes two births, one from flesh to flesh and the other from Spirit to Spirit, some interpreters propose that ‘born of water and the Spirit’ similarly refers to two births, one natural and the other supernatural. Natural procreation is not enough; there must be a second birth, a second begetting, this one of the Spirit. To support this view, ‘water’ has been understood to refer to the amniotic fluid that breaks from the womb shortly before childbirth, or to stand meta­phorically for semen. But there are no ancient sources that picture natural birth as ‘from water’, and the few that use ‘drops’ to stand for semen are rare and late. It is true that in sources relevant to the Fourth Gospel water can be associated with fecundity and procreation in a general way (e.g. Song 4:12-13; Pr. 5:15-18),[1] but none is tied quite so clearly to semen or to amniotic fluid as to make the connection here an obvious one. The Greek construction does not favour two births here. Moreover the entire expression ‘of water and the Spirit’ cries out to be read as the equivalent of anōthen, ‘from above’, if there is genuine parallelism between v. 3 and v. 5, and this too argues that the expression should be taken as a reference to but one birth, not two.

2) Many find in ‘water’ a reference to Christian baptism (e.g. Brown, 2. 139-141). For Bultmann (pp. 138-139 n. 3) and others who have followed him, this is so embarrassing that he suggests the words ‘water and’ were not part of the original text, but added by a later ecclesiastical editor much more interested in Christian ritual than the Evangelist himself. There is no textual support for the omission. At the other end of the spectrum, Vellanickal (pp. 170ff.) suggests that when the Evangelist received this account there was no mention of water, but that he added it to provide an explicit reference to the rite of Christian initiation. Added or not, the simple word ‘water’ is understood by the majority of contemporary commentators to refer to Christian baptism, though there is little agreement amongst them on the relation between ‘water’ and ‘Spirit’. After all, reference is made in the near context to Jesus’ own baptismal ministry (3:22; 4:1), and John has connected water and Spirit in a baptismal context before (1:33, 34). Moreover John’s alleged interest in sacraments in ch. 6 encourages the suspicion he is making a sacra­mental allusion here. Many accordingly suggest the Spirit effects new birth through water (= baptism) (e.g. Ferraro, Spirito, pp. 59-67).

Those who adopt this position, of course, are forced to admit that John’s words could have had no relevance to the historical Nicodemus. This part of the account, at least, becomes a narrative fiction designed to instruct the church on the importance of baptism. What is not always recognized is that this theory makes the Evangelist an extraordinarily incompetent story-teller, since in v. 10 he pictures Jesus berating Nicodemus for not understanding these things. If water = baptism is so important for entering the kingdom, it is surprising that the rest of the discussion never mentions it again: the entire focus is on the work of the Spirit (v. 8), the work of the Son (vv. 14-15), the work of God himself (vv. 16-17), and the place of faith (vv. 15-16). The analogy between the mysterious wind and the sovereign work of the Spirit (v. 8) becomes very strange if Spirit-birth is tied so firmly to baptism. Some doubt if there is any explicit reference to the eucharist in John 6 (cf. notes on 6:25ff.), casting doubt on the supposition that the Evangelist is deeply interested in sacramental questions. If he were, it is surpassingly strange that he fails to make explicit connections, neglecting even to mention the institution of the Lord’s supper. The Spirit plays a powerful role in John 14 – 16; 20:22, but there is no hint of baptism. Moreover the allusions to Jesus’ baptismal activity (3:22; 4:1), far from fostering sacramentalism, explicitly divert attention elsewhere (cf. notes on 3:25-26; 4:2; 6:22ff.). The conjunction of water and Spirit in 1:26, 33 is no support for this position, as there the two are contrasted, whereas in 3:5 they are co-ordinated.

The entire view seems to rest on an unarticulated prejudice that every mention of water evoked instant recognition, in the minds of first- century readers, that the real reference was to baptism, but it is very doubtful that this prejudice can be sustained by the sources. Even so, this conclusion does not preclude the possibility of a secondary allusion to baptism (cf. notes, below).

3) A variation on this view is that ‘water’ refers not to Christian baptism but to John’s baptism (Godet, 2. 49-52; Westcott, 1. 108-109, and others). In that case, Jesus is either saying that the baptism of repentance, as important as it is, must not be thought sufficient: there must be Spirit-birth as well; or, if Nicodemus refused to be baptized by the Baptist, Jesus is rebuking him and saying that he must pass through repentance-baptism (‘water’) and new birth (‘Spirit’). ‘To receive the Spirit from the Messiah was no humiliation; on the contrary, it was a glorious privilege. But to go down into Jordan before a wondering crowd and own [his] need of cleansing and new birth was too much. Therefore to this Pharisee our Lord declares that an honest dying to the past is as needful as new life for the future’ (Dods, EGT, 1. 713).

The argument presupposes that John the Baptist was so influential at the time that a mere mention of water would conjure up pictures of his ministry. If so, however, the response of Nicodemus is inappropriate. If the allusion to the Baptist were clear, why should Nicodemus respond with such incredulity, ignorance and unbelief (3:4, 9-10, 12), rather than mere distaste or hardened arrogance? Even if John’s baptism is mentioned in near contexts, the burden of these contexts is to stress the relative unimportance of his rite (1: 23, 26; 3:23, 30). If John’s baptism lies behind ‘water’ in 3:5, would not this suggest that Jesus was making the Baptist’s rite a requirement for entrance into the kingdom, even though that rite was shortly to be superseded by Christian baptism? Moreover, as Dods sets out this proposed solution, it is assumed that Jesus is recognized as the Messiah who dispenses the Spirit, but it is far from clear that Nicodemus has progressed so far in his appreciation of Jesus.

4) Several interpreters have argued that Jesus is arguing against the ritual washings of the Essenes (a conservative and frequently monastic Jewish movement), or perhaps against Jewish ceremonies in general. What is necessary is Spirit-birth, not mere water-purification. But ‘water’ and ‘Spirit’ are not contrasted in v. 5: they are linked, and together become the equivalent of ‘from above’ (v. 3).

5) A number of less influential proposals have been advanced. Some have suggested that ‘water’ represents Torah (which can refer to the Pentateuch, or to the entire Jewish teaching and tradition about God, written and oral, or something between the two extremes). But though water is sometimes a symbol for Torah in rabbinic literature, ‘birth of water’ or the like does not occur. Moreover the stress in the Fourth Gospel is on the life-giving qualities of Jesus’ words (6:63); the Scriptures point to him (5:39). Odeberg (p. 50), Morris (pp. 216-218) and others have seen in ‘born of water and the Spirit’ an hendiadys for spiritual seed or semen, in contrast with semen of the flesh (v. 6). The entire expression refers to God’s engendering seed or efflux, cast over against the natural birth Nicodemus mentions in the preceding verse. But Odeberg’s supporting citations are both late and unconvincing, demanding that the reader (not to mention Nicodemus!) make numer­ous doubtful connections. Jesus’ indignation that Nicodemus had not grasped what he was saying (v. 10) suddenly sounds artificial and forced. Hodges has recently suggested that the two crucial terms, both without articles, should be rendered ‘water and wind’, together symbolizing God’s vivifying work,1 since Greek pneuma can mean ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ as well as ‘spirit’ (cf. notes on 3:8). But this fails to reckon with the fact that pneuma almost always means ‘spirit’ in the New Testament. Only very powerful contextual clues can compel another rendering: the presence or absence of the article is certainly not an adequate clue (cf. v. 8 where pneuma = ‘wind’ is articular). The word pneuma in the very next verse (v. 6) cannot easily be understood to mean anything other than ‘spirit’, and it is this consistent meaning that prepares the way for the analogical argument of v. 8, where wind symbolizes spirit.

The most plausible interpretation of ‘born of water and the Spirit’2 turns on three factors. First, the expression is parallel to ‘from above’ (anōthen, v. 3), and so only one birth is in view. Second, the preposition ‘of’ governs both ‘water° and ‘spirit’. The most natural way of taking this construction is to see the phrase as a conceptual unity: there is a water-spirit source (cf. Murray J. Harris, NIDNTT 3. 1178) that stands as the origin of this regeneration.3 Third, Jesus berates Nicodemus for not understanding these things in his role as ‘Israel’s teacher’ (v. 10), a senior ‘professor’ of the Scriptures, and this in turn suggests we must turn to what Christians call the Old Testament to begin to discern what Jesus had in mind.

Although the full construction ‘born of water and of the Spirit’ is not found in the Old Testament, the ingredients are there. At a minor level, the idea that Israel, the covenant community, was properly called ‘God’s son’ (Ex. 4:22; Dt. 32:6; Ho. 11:1) provides at least a little potential background for the notion of God ‘begetting’ people, enough, Brown thinks, that it should have enabled Nicodemus ‘to understand that Jesus was proclaiming the arrival of the eschatological times when men would be God’s children’ (1. 139). Far more important is the Old Testament background to ‘water’ and ‘spirit’. The ‘spirit’ is constantly God’s princi­ple of life, even in creation (e.g. Gn. 2:7; 6:3; Jb. 34:14); but many Old Testament writers look forward to a time when God’s ‘spirit’ will be poured out on humankind (Joel 2:28) with the result that there will be blessing and righteousness (Is. 32:15-20; 44:3; Ezk. 39:29), and inner renewal which cleanses God’s covenant people from their idolatry and disobedience (Ezk. 11:19-20; 36:26-27). When water is used figuratively in the Old Testament, it habitually refers to renewal or cleansing, especially when it is found in conjunction with ‘spirit’. This conjunction may be explicit, or may hide behind language depicting the ‘pouring out’ of the spirit (cf. Nu. 19:17-19; Ps. 51:9-10; Is. 32:15; 44:3-5; 55:1-3; Je. 2:13; 17:13; Ezk. 47:9; Joel 2:28-29; Zc. 14:8). Most important of all is Ezekiel 36:25-27, where water and spirit come together so forcefully, the first to signify cleansing from impurity, and the second to depict the transformation of heart that will enable people to follow God wholly. And it is no accident that the account of the valley of dry bones, where Ezekiel preaches and the Spirit brings life to dry bones, follows hard after Ezekiel’s water/spirit passage (cf. Ezk. 37; and notes on 3:8, below). The language is reminiscent of the ‘new heart’ expressions that revolve around the promise of the new covenant (Je. 31:29ff.). Similar themes were sometimes picked up in later Judaism (e.g. Jubilees 1:23-25).

In short, born of water and spirit (the article and the capital ‘S’ in the NIV should be dropped: the focus is on the impartation of God’s nature as ‘spirit’ [cf. 4:24], not on the Holy Spirit as such) signals a new begetting, a new birth that cleanses and renews, the eschatological cleansing and renewal promised by the Old Testament prophets. True, the prophets tended to focus on the corporate results, the restoration of the nation; but they also anticipated a transformation of individual ‘hearts’ — no longer hearts of stone but hearts that hunger to do God’s will. It appears that individual regeneration is presupposed. Apparently Nicodemus had not thought of the Old Testament passages this way. If he was like some other Pharisees, he was too confident of the quality of his own obedience to think he needed much repentance (cf. Lk. 7:30), let alone to have his whole life cleansed and his heart transformed, to be born again.

Some have argued that if the flow of the passage is anything like what has been described then it is hopelessly anachronistic, for John’s Gospel makes it abundantly clear (cf. esp. 7:37-39) that the Holy Spirit would not be given until after Jesus is glorified, and it is this Holy Spirit who must effect the new birth, even if the expression ‘born of water and spirit’ does not refer to the Holy Spirit per se. So how then can Jesus demand of Nicodemus such regeneration?

The charge is ill-conceived. Jesus is not presented as demanding that Nicodemus experience the new birth in the instant; rather, he is force­fully articulating what must be experienced if one is to enter the king­dom of God. The resulting tension is no different from the corresponding Synoptic tension as to when the kingdom dawns. In Matthew, for instance, Jesus is born the King (Mt. 1— 2), he announces the kingdom and performs the powerful works of the kingdom (4:17; 12:28), but it is not until he has arisen from the dead that all authority becomes his (28:18-20). That is why all discipleship in all four Gospels is inevitably transitional. The coming-to-faith of the first followers of Jesus was in certain respects unique: they could not instantly become ‘Chris­tians’ in the full-orbed sense, and experience the full sweep of the new birth, until after the resurrection and glorification of Jesus. If we take the Gospel records seriously, we must conclude that Jesus sometimes pro­claimed truth the full significance and application of which could be fully appreciated and experienced only after he had risen from the dead. John 3 falls under this category.

It appears, then, that the passage makes good sense within the historical framework set out for us, i .e . as a lesson for Nicodemus within the context of the ministry of Jesus. But we must also ask how John expected his readers to understand it. If his targeted readers were hellenistic Jews and Jewish proselytes who had been exposed to Christianity and whom John was trying to evangelize (cf. Introduction, § VI, and notes on 20:30-31), then his primary message for them is clear. No matter how good their Jewish credentials, they too must be born again if they are to see or enter the kingdom of God. When John wrote this, Christian baptism had been practised for several decades (which was of course not the case when Jesus spoke with Nicodemus). If (and it is a quite uncertain ‘if’) the Evangelist expected his readers to detect some secondary allusion to Christian baptism in v. 5 (cf. Richter, Studien, pp. 327-345), the thrust of the passage treats such an allusion quite distantly. What is emphasized is the need for radical transformation, the fulfilment of Old Testament promises anticipating the outpouring of the Spirit, and not a particular rite. If baptism is associated in the readers’ minds with entrance into the Christian faith, and therefore with new birth, then they are being told in the strongest terms that it is the new birth itself that is essential, not the rite.’

[1] For a defense of this first option, cf. Ben Witherington III, NTS 35, 1989, pp. 155-160; Morris, JC, pp. 150-151.

If D.A. Carson didn’t convince you with mere words, perhaps Gungor will with music:

Why make a pilgrimage to John the Baptist?

Because the Messiah is going to clean house and purify Israel. Because they wanted to enter the true Promised Land, even though they were already in the Promised Land. Because they were still in bondage, even though they had left Egypt long ago.

“Like Isaiah surprised by the presence of the Lord in His Temple, who confessed both that he was a man of unclean lips and a part of a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5), those coming to John for baptism were confessing both that theirs was a sinful, adulterous, and unbelieving generation (Mark 8:38; 9:19), and that they personally had participated in it’s sin, adultery, and unbelief. They were admitting that they were still under bondage in Egypt, though Moses had led them out of it so many centuries ago…

“By making the pilgrimage to the Jordan, those who believed John’s message showed that they wanted to be visibly separated from those under judgment when the Lord came. They wanted to be members of the future purified Israel. Undergoing John’s baptism helped them anticipate that they were not only God’s covenant people, but that they would remain in that covenant after God cast others out. In order to be assured that they would be included in the future forgiven Israel whose iniquity would be removed, they needed to repent and ask for personal forgiveness now.” (Mark Hornes, Victory According to Mark, pp. 26, 27, link)

Glorious Distinction: Justification Secures Transformation But Is Not Itself Transformative

In Romans 3-8,10, the justification spoken of is a singular legal and forensic event. Believers are counted righteous, imputed with the righteousness of Christ, reckoned with the one act of Christ’s righteousness. God looks them in the eye and says, “I love you, and I have counted your sin to Christ, and counted his perfect righteousness to you.” Even though Christ is sinless, he is counted as a sinner on my behalf. Even though I am not righteous, he counts me as righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). While Paul looks backward to this event of justification, and continuously and progressively revels in it, it is an already complete, permanent legal state of grace. It is something we stand on, and since it is the righteousness of Christ we are legally being credited with, it is not something that we get more of (because Christ’s righteousness is already complete). We have received the “completely not guilty” and “completely righteous” verdict, once and for all. I am not counted less guilty the next day or more legally righteous the next week. In this sense, I am equally justified with all believers in Christ, and equally so throughout all my post-conversion days.

In Romans 2:13 I would argue that the term “justified” is referring to vindication at final judgment. This also is a legal declaration, but in this case really is pointing to moral transformation that has happened within me. I think this is more of the sense that we see in James 2:21-26 as well. Declarative vindication of inward transformation. On a related note, I personally reject the popular Protestant wholesale hypothetical reading of Romans 2. I don’t think it is necessary for preserving the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works in subsequent chapters.

What is interesting is that neither of these usages of “justified” entail any kind of transformation in the act of justification itself. There is no doubt transformation by the Spirit, i.e. circumcision of the heart, in a justified person, but just as the “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict in a courtroom doesn’t behaviorally transform one into a guilty or righteous person, so also justification itself is not an act of transformation. Hence the strong justification/sanctification distinction historic Protestants make. Inseparable but distinct.

These could be two of the most important paragraphs on the gospel I have ever written, so please read them closely:

The distinction is good news because it means Christ justifies the ungodly by faith, i.e. counts the ungodly as godly, counts sinners as sinless, counts the unrighteous as perfectly righteous. The inseparability is good news because it secures my verdict at final judgment where my heart-orientation and secret works will be courtroom evidence of who I am.

In the end, only those justified by faith apart from works of the law truly become doers of the heart of the law. It is one of the most life-or-death ironies in the universe, which some will celebrate forever in heaven, and others will curse forever in hell: If you work for forgiveness to preserve the necessity of holiness, Christ will neither forgive you nor make you holy. Yet if you stop working for forgiveness, and instead receive it as a free gift, God both forgives you and necessarily and inevitably makes you holy.

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6-8)

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,and whose sins are covered! Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.'” (Romans 4:4-8)

Is this grace too good to be true? Can it be, Lord, can it really be?

Jesus explains the unbelief of Judas by implying that he wasn’t drawn by the Father or granted to come to the Son

Another core text of Calvinism besides Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 is John 6, starting at v. 37. Here is how I would summarize a Calvinist reading of the passage, heavily borrowing much language from the chapter itself. Before you read my interpretation though, please listen to the scripture itself.

Continue reading “Jesus explains the unbelief of Judas by implying that he wasn’t drawn by the Father or granted to come to the Son”