(This are some notes for a lecture in Chile on the matter of “hypergrace” — hence the Spanish Bible translations)
The pattern throughout Scripture is that God rescues and redeems his people, then God transforms the life of his people through the Word and Spirit of God. Thus, while good works never save; we are in fact saved to good works. This understanding is a key to pastoral work, to biblical counseling, and is a hallmark of Reformed Theology.
Unfortunately, there is a movement in place – again – to claim that salvation means it does not matter if we sin. This argument has been around in various guises throughout Church History. On common version of the argument claims that since we are saved by Grace, and we are not under the Law, that the commands of the Bible do not pertain to us.
This is completely false. It is a dangerous lie. It misrepresents God. It also misrepresents the godo work of many men who have labored in the Scripture to help us understand and to live godly lives.
Before we take a close look at some texts, I would like to provide you a series of quotations from the Scripture and from some of the giants of Reformation theology. We can make these notes available to you.
If we are going to examine this issue, let’s start with the Ten Commandments. God has rescued and redeemed His people from Egypt. He has brought them to Mount Sinai. He then begins to speak:
20:1 Y habló Dios todas estas palabras, diciendo:
20:2 Yo soy Jehová tu Dios, que te saqué de la tierra de Egipto, de casa de servidumbre.
20:3 No tendrás dioses ajenos delante de mí.
Ex. 20:1-3. Notice the order: I saved you. Therefore, and God gives his commandments. The grace of salvation came before the grace of commandment.
When we look to the Psalms, we see how often the law of God is praised:
1:1 Bienaventurado el varón que no anduvo en consejo de malos,
Ni estuvo en camino de pecadores,
Ni en silla de escarnecedores se ha sentado;
1:2 Sino que en la ley de Jehová está su delicia,
Y en su ley medita de día y de noche.
19:7 La ley de Jehová es perfecta, que convierte el alma;
El testimonio de Jehová es fiel, que hace sabio al sencillo.
19:8 Los mandamientos de Jehová son rectos, que alegran el corazón;
El precepto de Jehová es puro, que alumbra los ojos.
119:9 ¿Con qué limpiará el joven su camino?
Con guardar tu palabra.
119:33 Enséñame, oh Jehová, el camino de tus estatutos,
Y lo guardaré hasta el fin.
119:60 Me apresuré y no me retardé
En guardar tus mandamientos.
119:97 ¡Oh, cuánto amo yo tu ley!
Todo el día es ella mi meditación.
119:145 Clamé con todo mi corazón; respóndeme, Jehová,
Y guardaré tus estatutos.
We could read this entire Psalm. Nearly every verse praises the law of God.
But, someone will say, that is in the Old Testament. Okay. Take a look at Jeremiah 31. In this chapter God promises that he will make a New Covenant – the Covenant under which we now live. Look at this promise God makes for the New Covenant:
31:33 Pero este es el pacto que haré con la casa de Israel después de aquellos días, dice Jehová: Daré mi ley en su mente, y la escribiré en su corazón; y yo seré a ellos por Dios, y ellos me serán por pueblo.
And look at what Jesus says as he goes to the cross:
14:15 Si me amáis, guardad mis mandamientos.
15:14 Vosotros sois mis amigos, si hacéis lo que yo os mando.
15:17 Esto os mando: Que os améis unos a otros.
And what of the Apostles. Paul, writing to Christians says:
6:1 ¿Qué, pues, diremos? ¿Perseveraremos en el pecado para que la gracia abunde?
6:2 En ninguna manera. Porque los que hemos muerto al pecado, ¿cómo viviremos aún en él?
6:3 ¿O no sabéis que todos los que hemos sido bautizados en Cristo Jesús, hemos sido bautizados en su muerte?
6:4 Porque somos sepultados juntamente con él para muerte por el bautismo, a fin de que como Cristo resucitó de los muertos por la gloria del Padre, así también nosotros andemos en vida nueva.
8:12 Así que, hermanos, deudores somos, no a la carne, para que vivamos conforme a la carne;
8:13 porque si vivís conforme a la carne, moriréis; mas si por el Espíritu hacéis morir las obras de la carne, viviréis.
5:9 Os he escrito por carta, que no os juntéis con los fornicarios;
5:10 no absolutamente con los fornicarios de este mundo, o con los avaros, o con los ladrones, o con los idólatras; pues en tal caso os sería necesario salir del mundo.
5:11 Más bien os escribí que no os juntéis con ninguno que, llamándose hermano, fuere fornicario, o avaro, o idólatra, o maldiciente, o borracho, o ladrón; con el tal ni aun comáis.
5:12 Porque ¿qué razón tendría yo para juzgar a los que están fuera? ¿No juzgáis vosotros a los que están dentro?
5:13 Porque a los que están fuera, Dios juzgará. Quitad, pues, a ese perverso de entre vosotros.
2:8 Porque por gracia sois salvos por medio de la fe; y esto no de vosotros, pues es don de Dios;
2:9 no por obras, para que nadie se gloríe.
2:10 Porque somos hechura suya, creados en Cristo Jesús para buenas obras, las cuales Dios preparó de antemano para que anduviésemos en ellas.
Salvation by grace leads to Good Works.
5:3 Pero fornicación y toda inmundicia, o avaricia, ni aun se nombre entre vosotros, como conviene a santos;
5:4 ni palabras deshonestas, ni necedades, ni truhanerías, que no convienen, sino antes bien acciones de gracias.
5:5 Porque sabéis esto, que ningún fornicario, o inmundo, o avaro, que es idólatra, tiene herencia en el reino de Cristo y de Dios.
Or Paul, in Colossians, again writing to redeemed believers, saved by grace:
3:5 Haced morir, pues, lo terrenal en vosotros: fornicación, impureza, pasiones desordenadas, malos deseos y avaricia, que es idolatría;
3:6 cosas por las cuales la ira de Dios viene sobre los hijos de desobediencia,
3:7 en las cuales vosotros también anduvisteis en otro tiempo cuando vivíais en ellas.
4:2 Porque ya sabéis qué instrucciones os dimos por el Señor Jesús;
4:3 pues la voluntad de Dios es vuestra santificación; que os apartéis de fornicación;
2:11 Porque la gracia de Dios se ha manifestado para salvación a todos los hombres,
2:12 enseñándonos que, renunciando a la impiedad y a los deseos mundanos, vivamos en este siglo sobria, justa y piadosamente,
2:13 aguardando la esperanza bienaventurada y la manifestación gloriosa de nuestro gran Dios y Salvador Jesucristo,
2:14 quien se dio a sí mismo por nosotros para redimirnos de toda iniquidad y purificar para sí un pueblo propio, celoso de buenas obras.
12:14 Seguid la paz con todos, y la santidad, sin la cual nadie verá al Señor.
Peter writing to Christians in 1 Peter:
1:14 como hijos obedientes, no os conforméis a los deseos que antes teníais estando en vuestra ignorancia;
1:15 sino, como aquel que os llamó es santo, sed también vosotros santos en toda vuestra manera de vivir;
1:16 porque escrito está: Sed santos, porque yo soy santo.
In fact, in 2 Peter, Peter writes of those who make prey of you and seek to lead you away from obedience to the truth:
2:1 Pero hubo también falsos profetas entre el pueblo, como habrá entre vosotros falsos maestros, que introducirán encubiertamente herejías destructoras, y aun negarán al Señor que los rescató, atrayendo sobre sí mismos destrucción repentina.
2:2 Y muchos seguirán sus disoluciones, por causa de los cuales el camino de la verdad será blasfemado,
2:3 y por avaricia harán mercadería de vosotros con palabras fingidas. Sobre los tales ya de largo tiempo la condenación no se tarda, y su perdición no se duerme.
And finally the Apostle John, writing to believers, in 1 John:
1:5 Este es el mensaje que hemos oído de él, y os anunciamos: Dios es luz, y no hay ningunas tinieblas en él.
1:6 Si decimos que tenemos comunión con él, y andamos en tinieblas, mentimos, y no practicamos la verdad;
1:7 pero si andamos en luz, como él está en luz, tenemos comunión unos con otros, y la sangre de Jesucristo su Hijo nos limpia de todo pecado.
1:8 Si decimos que no tenemos pecado, nos engañamos a nosotros mismos, y la verdad no está en nosotros.
1:9 Si confesamos nuestros pecados, él es fiel y justo para perdonar nuestros pecados, y limpiarnos de toda maldad.
1:10 Si decimos que no hemos pecado, le hacemos a él mentiroso, y su palabra no está en nosotros.
— We will come back to that text in a moment.
Now to the Reformers. Martin Luther stands at the head of the Reformation of the Christian Church. In 1529 Luther published his Large Catechism for the instruction of pastors. That catechism – writing specifically for redeemed pastors to teach redeemed saints – begins with an exposition of the Ten Commandments as directions for the Christian life.
In his commentary on Galatians, commenting on chapter 5, Luther writes:
The Apostle therefore earnestly exhorts the Christians to exercise themselves in good works, after that they have heard and received the pure doctrine of faith.
Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 487.
John Calvin in his commentary on Romans 6 calls the teaching that grace is something which gives us permission to sin to be a “slander” on “the doctrine of grace”
Throughout this chapter the Apostle proves, that they who imagine that gratuitous righteousness is given us by him, apart from newness of life, shamefully rend Christ asunder: nay, he goes further, and refers to this objection, — that there seems in this case to be an opportunity for the display of grace, if men continued fixed in sin. We indeed know that nothing is more natural than that the flesh should indulge itself under any excuse, and also that Satan should invent all kinds of slander, in order to discredit the doctrine of grace; which to him is by no means difficult.
John Calvin, Romans, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Ro 6:1. And commenting on Romans 8:13, Calvin writes:
It is indeed true, that we are justified in Christ through the mercy of God alone; but it is equally true and certain, that all who are justified are called by the Lord, that they may live worthy of their vocation.
John Calvin, Romans, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Ro 8:13.
The Heidelberg Confession of Faith is one of the three great Reformed confessions. We all have seen that when we are saved by grace, we called to do good works: not to become saved, but because we are saved. Well, what are good works. Question 91 of the confession answers that question:
Q. What are good works?
A. Only those which
are done out of true faith,
conform to God’s law,
and are done for God’s glory;
and not those based
on our own opinion
or human tradition.
Chapter 16 of the Westminster Confession of Faith also says that the good works required of Christians are good works done in obedience to God’s commands.
John Owen, the greatest Puritan theology wrote a master work to direct believers to kill sin. This work is called The Mortification of Sin in Believers.
It is our duty to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Cor. 7:1; to be “growing in grace” every day, 1 Pet. 2:2, 2 Pet. 3:18; to be “renewing our inward man day by day,” 2 Cor. 4:16. Now, this cannot be done without the daily mortifying of sin. Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness, and against every degree we grow to. Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who doth not kill sin in his way takes no steps towards his journey’s end. He who finds not opposition from it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 14. Owen specifically speaks of taking sinful impulses to the law to be killed:
For instance, when the heart finds sin at any time at work, seducing, forming imaginations to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, it instantly apprehends sin, and brings it to the law of God and love of Christ, condemns it, follows it with execution to the uttermost
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 32.
Christopher Love, another Puritan wrote, The Mortified Christian, which also speaks of killing sin, as did Thomas Wolfal.
The great reformed theology Berkof in his systematic theology writes that sanctification is first made to happen by using the Word of God – including the commandments in the Scripture:
Scripture presents all the objective conditions for holy exercises and acts. It serves to excite spiritual activity by presenting motives and inducements, and gives direction to it by prohibitions, exhortations, and examples, 1 Pet. 1:22; 2:2; 2 Pet. 1:4.
L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 535.
The German Lutheran theology Dietrich Bonhoeffer railed against the lie that grace is some magic which gives us freedom to sin. He called this “cheap grace” and said it is a denial of Chrisitianity:
Cheap grace is, thus, denial of God’s living word, denial of the incarnation of the word of God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 43.
(These are from the lecture notes for a course I am teaching at The Master’s College
Digression: The Lord our Rock
In this matter of making disciples, you will be overwhelmed; you will be crushed; you will be made weak: so that Christ will alone be seen as strong. You must know this to be true. If your faith is all second-hand, you will not be able to either exhibit a life or faith, nor will you be able to even speak of faith with confidence.
When someone comes in with a trial, your “Well, trust Jesus” will sound like empty air, sounds without meaning — unless you know for a fact that Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. Hebrews 13:5.
If you do not look and live like one who knows these things to be true, your life will contradict your doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:16
1 I love you, O Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:1–2 (ESV)
These words may very well sound pretty but false for someone in a brutal marriage, someone betrayed, someone dying of a hideous disease. Read these words to someone who has just buried her child; or someone who has just confessed to adultery. There are times when it simply sounds false to say “The Lord is my rock”.
In these circumstances, we must either conclude that David was wrong — or that our understanding of God’s deliverance is wrong. How then is the Lord our Rock?
How can we say that the Lord is our Rock when we seem to be crushed in this life?
What is the Claim of Salvation?
One way to “solve” the problem is simply to make God’s claim small enough to match our experience. This is similar to the “openness of God” defense to the problem of evil. When we ask, “Why do bad things happen?” The answer is “God can’t/won’t stop it, because God doesn’t know what is going to happen (God is “open” to the future, so as to guarantee human freedom). Yet, as we will see, God and the saints claim quite the opposite.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.
2 Chronicles 33:9-13:
9 Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.
10 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.
11 Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.
12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.
13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.
2 Chronicles 33:21-23:
21 Amon was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem.
22 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, as Manasseh his father had done. Amon sacrificed to all the images that Manasseh his father had made, and served them.
23 And he did not humble himself before the LORD, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself, but this Amon incurred guilt more and more.
2 Kings 22:15-20
15 And she said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me,
16 Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read.
17 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.
18 But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard,
19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD.
20 Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.'” And they brought back word to the king.
False worships are merely supported by terror and fear; but God, that hath the best title to the heart, will gain it by love and grace.
The Work of Christ, p. 23
I know it seems self evident that interesting material would be more persuasive, but someone went out an proved that point:
P. Karen Murphy and Patricia A. Alexander, “Persuasion as a Dynamic, Multidimensional Process: an Investigation of Individual and Intraindividual Differences,” American Educational Research Journal 41, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 337-63.
Definition of Persausion:
We speak of persuasion as an interactive process through which a given message alters an individual’s perspective by changing the knowledge, beliefs, or interest that underlie that perspective (Miller, 1980). Further a persuasive text is any message “structured to counter the current beliefs of a typical reader as well as to present new ones” by capitalizing on a reader’s existing knowledge and beliefs (Chambliss & Garner, 1996, p. 294). By defining persuasion and a persuasive text in this manner, we avoid casting this critical process in “all or nothing” terms (e.g., Hovland, Janis & Kelley, 1953). That is, we allow for incremental change that does not necessarily result in a radical or complete transformation in understanding or attitude. We also understand persuasion to be a mechanism for encouraging individuals to examine a concept or subject more closely or rom a different perspective. Such a process involves examining evidence that supports or refutes claims and critically weighing arguments (Toulmin, 1958). So defined, persuasion is neither inherently good nor evil, but a catalyst for thinking analytically about messages encountered by individuals (Alexander, Fives, Buehl & Mulhern, 2002; Hynd, 2001).
Petty and Cacioppo (19860, among the most influential persuasion researchers, portray the interplay of credibility, emotions, and arguments as the keys to change.
Peripheral and Central Route Processing:
According to Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model, individuals process persuasive messages through two distinct routes: peripheral and central. Individuals who do not attend reflectively or critically to the persuasive arguments presented, but are captivated by the emotions of the situation or the character of the speaker, ravel the peripheral route. In contrast, individuals who weigh the argument thoughtfully and logically, are personally motivated, and cognitively able to attend to the message follow the central route. Although attitudinal change is expected from both paths, those who travel the central route are apt to experience deeper and more permanent effects than those who follow the more peripheral path to persuasion.
A more able reader is more likely to be persuaded:
Moreover, it has been determined that individual’s ability to process a given message increases the likelihood that the message will prove persuasive. Consequently, those with greater comprehension skills are more apt to process the content of a persuasive message at a deeper level than those who comprehension skills are marginal or weak (Dole & Sinatra, 1998). Similarly, there is evidence that individuals who are more capable of retrieving relevant beliefs, whether in concert or in opposition to the author, are more likely to process the arguments presented, consequently are more likely to be persuaded (Wood & Kallgren, 1998).
Interesting material is more likely to persuade:
When readers are unable to grasp the meaning or perceive its relevance, they are unlikely to be persuaded.
As mentioned previously, features of texts such as their interestingness, comprehensibility, and credibility have been shown to play a significant role in the persuasion process (e.g., Allen, 1991; Dole & Sinatra, 1998).
We found that compelling articles, presented to readers in an unmodified state, performed well as catalysts for persuasion. As a result of reading these persuasive magazine articles, participants’ knowledge and interests grew and their beliefs became more like the beliefs advocated by the authors in the texts.
Where the reader already has substantial knowledge, he is harder to persuade:
Second, we found that there was an inverse relationship between what individuals believe they know about a topic and the degree of agreement with the author they report after reading. In effect, it may be that too much topic-specific knowledge can be an impediment to change in beliefs.