Thursday, July 09, 2009

"I'm changing my mind"

Sounds like a bad thing when it comes to theology, I guess a majority of people may think? Dr. Radmacher tells this story again and again in class: "My former student said to me, 'Dr. R., that's not what you taught seven years ago.' Well... if I'm done learning, then just shoot me!" And he is fully joking and fully serious when he tells this; you might be able to picture his expression. :)

Sure, believers can depart from truth and embark toward error, and that's unfortunate. But if there is no mobility permitted on principle, how are those who are currently drifting in error going to learn something redeeming? I myself want others who are more knowledgeable to encourage me to reconsider whatever might be tradition, and I do that by reckoning with them that the Word as fully fit for reproof.

Is there any grace, for theological error?

Of evangelicals, those who already defend grace toward theological error are Free Grace people. Does God only declare righteous the doctrinally pristine? No! We have been debating in excess of late that one can be saved by believing the "gospel" - and let's say for the moment that the gospel was "glorious" - 1 Cor 15:1-4 (though technically it appears that Stegall's gospel may actually require the most numerous points of content though it is difficult to figure out how to enumerate; therefore my addition may be incorrect). Even the fullest Free Grace gospel does not require belief in the Trinity, or belief in the virgin birth, or belief in other things such as the infallibility of the Bible, does it? These advocates readily explain for the sake of this debate that this is not the case; otherwise, they are adding a long list of biblical ideas to the gospel message. Our justification in Jesus Christ is accomplished without these additional beliefs - in the absence of them - or in the err of them. What about our sanctification?

How long is long enough that someone can walk by faith in Christ; someone who is a new believer founded and secured in everlasting life upon the content of the gospel.... How long, and still either not know about the Trinity or not believe in the Trinity? How long is long enough till it affects someone's sanctification, jeopardizing their obedience, by faith, in Christ? At some point it does, but can you tell your neighbor exactly when and where it has become sin - impossibly they must not have been righteous, in Christ, by faith alone, while also not knowing or receiving these other doctrines?

Or would you tell them that they must believe all doctrine from scripture in order to move forward from being born again, in any intent to walk with Him after that initial moment?

What is the one doctrine requiring our theological precision, in order that one may be sanctified in faith in our LORD after being born again?

Is it not how to walk by faith in Christ?

Miss this, and I don't see how one could be perpetually transformed into the image of Christ. (Of course there is always the reality that believers practice it even while denying or being unaware of the truth, and many new believers have no clue what any doctrine is yet the Spirit leads and teaches them.) I understand faith-righteousness to be the only precise doctrine, if any, necessary for godliness - though all the Word is all Truth and in measure, our challenge for abiding in Christ. Change your mind on this one, though, and the gospel begins to be corrupted in the daily Christian devotion (Galatians 3 - "you foolish Galatians!") and then also, eventually, corrupted in the Christian declaration (Galatians 1 "no other gospel").

I asked, above, if God justifies only the doctrinally pristine; and now I'd like to inquire whether God sanctifies only the doctrinally pristine?

I've always appreciated those who have taught on the subject of "theological legalism" because this is one of Free Grace's ameliorating contributions to evangelicalism. It will minister to many brothers and sisters in my thinking, freeing them from unrealistic expectations of themselves and of others. They are freed not from abiding in the Word, nor from learning the Truth. But, they are freed from obligation to a perfect or even well-rounded understanding of it (their doctrine) as they are abiding in Him.

If I'm incorrect, I'm willing to change my mind as I learn more.


goe said...

You are too a thinker Michele...OH YEAH! You're asking great questions and you seem to be giving the right answers too. I love the quote from Dr R !! We are in serious trouble whenever we become unwilling to learn, change, and grow. Keep on sniffing and digging and you will get to bottom of this whole FG controversy over the Gospel. I think you're on right trail.

Sanctification said...
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Tim Nichols said...

I'm with you here, at least most of the way. Salvation is not by any form of works, including theological study and acumen.
We are saved by a *person*, and that person is Jesus Christ. God requires of us that we believe in that person.
I used to say that "believe in" always boils down to some sort of proposition about the person (a la Gordon Clark). I was wrong, dead wrong.
Although belief can be expressed in propositions, the propositions are not the message itself -- the message is Jesus, the Living Word of God, and He cannot be reduced to a proposition.
Salvation is living relationship with the Person Jesus Christ. The whole thing is irreducibly personal. Faith in the real Jesus, be it ever so defective in its propositional details, is saving faith. Faith in one's own grasp of the propositions, be they ever so correct, is a threadbare attempt to earn God's favor through theological acumen, an attempt God will honor as much as He honors other salvation-by-works schemes: "Depart from Me, ye that practice lawlessness; I never knew you."
We are meant to look through the propositions as through a window, and see the Person standing behind them. When we just look at the propositions -- whichever propositions -- we're getting caught up in staring at the spots on the window glass, missing the whole point of the window.

To the extent that the big food fight is about which set of spots on the glass to stare at, I see not much to pick from among any of the sides. And to the extent that their conduct shows hatred for their brothers and their neighbors -- a lot of that going around, I notice -- they are plainly not walking with Jesus, so why should anyone listen when they talk about Him?

His forever,
Tim Nichols

agent4him said...

Hi Gary! Agree with your assessment of Michele. And I hope your moving issues are soon behind you.

Amen, Bro. Tim...couldn't say it any better.

Unknown said...
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agent4him said...

Well, Michael, I also noticed your appearance on Rose's and I'm not exactly sure how to respond; it's not entirely clear how your comments here relate to the thread.

Was that just a "drive-by shooting," or do you really want to engage us?

Unknown said...
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agent4him said...

Tell you what, Michael. If you will seriously engage my response to your post on Rose's, I'll take a look at Saved by Grace Alone.

The name of your blog by itself intrigues me, as some of your recent comments on Antonio's and Rose's seem to contradict the notion of "saved by grace alone."

Sanctification said...

Good morning Gary,

I wrote a reply to you then deleted it (because I didn't like my attitude; He wants me to aim toward humility and lowliness).

There are influential FG people who have not agreed with grace for theological error previously; whether they are changing their mind on this is quite possible. My desire for the internet is to see transmissions be Spiritual. That does allow for all-truth or all-grace posts, of course. And it is hard to put into words those things which constitute Spiritual communications, but, we know when there are divisions and suspicions that Satan has crept in, right?

Gary you are an example of someone who believes in grace toward theology as I tried to write in this post. Your kindness and encouragement is incredible. And your patience. Alvin and Diane have been at it even longer, exhibiting these godly attributes. Please forgive me for ever setting aside our conversations.


Sanctification said...

Tim, wow; thanks.

You said, The whole thing is irreducibly personal. Faith in the real Jesus, be it ever so defective in its propositional details, is saving faith.

This was one of my own obstacles in coming to Christ. I had heard an earful of gospel truth but to build trust in my understanding of every word and what they meant would have taken forever. In fact it might have enhanced my atheism if I could have "mastered" Christianity and set aside the issue of responding as the secondary concern. Instead I prayed admitting that I knew nothing but wanted to be in relationship with this God.

You said, To the extent that the big food fight is about which set of spots on the glass to stare at, I see not much to pick from among any of the sides.

So, out of the ashes, of all this, when do you think "The Third Option" is going to come about? Actually, it's "The Fourth Option," right?

1 - strict Gospel of John
2- various bible syntheses (choices)
3- strict 1 Cor 15

There are probably a lot of people who are waiting for someone to admit the fourth option. In fact many FG people believed in the fourth option before they decided to pick sides (options 1-3) - isn't that true?

Tim, is there a theology for this? There has to be one doesn't there?

That was great Tim.
:D Michele

Sanctification said...

Hi Tim,

I had a thought, on this:

Faith in one's own grasp of the propositions, be they ever so correct, is a threadbare attempt to earn God's favor through theological acumen, an attempt God will honor as much as He honors other salvation-by-works schemes: "Depart from Me, ye that practice lawlessness; I never knew you."
We are meant to look through the propositions as through a window, and see the Person standing behind them. When we just look at the propositions -- whichever propositions -- we're getting caught up in staring at the spots on the window glass, missing the whole point of the window.

I agree in the whole "getting caught up with the spots." Though could you agree that for those lost or unassured believers who for whatever reason have been told or have come to think that salvation is found "in the spots on the window," aren't these gospels on the "spots" of scripture, saving? I think that for some people these gospels are the gospels that save, that saved them at minimum, even if they are not the only gospel truths that save. The Word does not return void.... It is for that reason that I believe it is personally profitable to learn these in-depth (to me) FG theologies on the gospel. I mean, I've got a lot to learn anyway. Your comment here was very reassuring.

Let me introduce you and Jim, if you have not met thus far. Jim is working with Dr. Stephen Lewis and Dr. R. on the roundtable discussions between FGA and GES, and his specific role is to be a facilitator of grace in those discussions. He and I have had a few short conversations similar to those that you and I have.


Tim also has been working with a number of FG leaders on various interesting projects which are along this same vein. He has been encouraging to me along with many other FG people.


Sanctification said...

I feel that there is something amiss in my post. As if theology and doctrine are largely unimportant to growth as a believer. I think doctrine is important for growth. On the other hand even the smallest scripture has the power to put us back in walking by faith and not in the flesh.

The question to ask I guess would be, how much correct doctrine is necessary (for salvation of course but also) for sanctification? I'm thinking, that the amount needed, is low, not high.

It seems to me that there are a majority of believers I note who are godly, serving Christ, and not students of theology. Is this possible? Is this the reality of how God works in us?

Yesterday our pastor took us through Rev 2:1-7, written to the Ephesian church: "The Danger of a Loveless Church." They were exemplary in loving what God loved, hating what God hated, and they used their doctrine to test those who claimed to be apostles. They were exemplary in service, giving, and godliness but God held one thing against them: they had left their first love.

Our pastor related their repentance to that which is also in marriage. Their emotions had gone flat. They had reckoned something else as more important than their relationship with Christ.

I don't know the answer to this question on how much correct doctrine is necessary to love Christ. But I suppose I do believe that loving Christ does not demand perfection.

agent4him said...

Michele, I agree that the Ephesian "rebuke" is apropos of the discussion. So, what is "our first love"? John mentions several times that true love of God is expressed in "keeping my commandments," and then John boils those down to love of the brethren and one's "neighbor."

I would say that perhaps the question might better be stated as "How much response to or keeping the doctrine we already 'know' is enough for 'godliness'?" If all "sanctification-relevant" doctrine boils down to loving God and loving brethren/neighbors, then I would suggest that's the only way we come to really "know" the personal God and Christ that Tim was talking about.

I'd be interested in your take on my article on response to God's speaking to us in the process of Bible interpretation as a measure of true "understanding" and thus "godliness":

Sanctification said...

Is there grace for teachers of theology who teach error?

James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

It does not say that there is no grace for teachers who have error. There is "less" grace?

There is eternal condemnation for those who add law to the gospel. And those who lie about the truths of the gospel become liars and their gospel does not save anyone from their sins (1 Cor 15:13-17). But within these two bounds... is there grace?

Just thinking...

agent4him said...

If the above link doesn't work, try this: of Truth0001.pdf

Sanctification said...

Hi Jim,

I'm reading your document but there are a lot of big words in there, so while I'm using a dictionary and picking out the stuff in there I'm going to have to wait a bit to reply. My two year old is delighted to sing over and over again "The Lord's Army" with its marching, jumping, and yelling "YES SIR!" He's too sad when we stop singing and won't let me be. We're going to try and learn it all by the time Ben gets home today. Wish us luck! :D

agent4him said...

Hey, I'm all about the Lord's army, yes sir!

I'm glad to see you've got your priorities straight, Michele! Wish I had your insight when mine were that age.

Sanctification said...

Again, thinking out loud, and learning too, today....

I'm trying to imagine what a grace-led theology looks like.

If there is such a thing as theological legalism... then there must also be such a thing as theological grace. Just like with more typical forms of legalism, I would need to stand firm (Galatians 5:1) on the promises in God's Word; Jeremiah 31:33-34:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.

... and shut out those who are seeking to condemn/forsake me into a place of fear-induced alignment with them. I follow the Word of God because I have knowledge of it and I am persuaded by it; not because I care about the thoughts of men (Rom 2:29). (This is one of the reasons why I like forums, it's easier to explore the scriptures on a topic and be properly convinced; comment threads are not as topical.)

Some believers are stalwart for the sake of the truth and some are so for other motivations (Phil. 1:15-18). Separationists take the position that they are the source and defenders of truth. But just because your membership is in this sort of denomination does not mean God has given you a special power or a relevancy to the Body to mark the truth of His Word.

God can use anyone He wishes to correct me; Abraham was rebuked concerning God, by a pagan, in Genesis. The preponderance of proper teaching however, will come from the Godly. I'm going to be giving my ear to Spiritual brothers and sisters.

2 Tim. 2:21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.

Once I have untangled myself from the theological yoke(s) others attempt to put on me, Christ leads me through His Word.... BUT, He also speaks the Word to me by any one under the influence of Christ Himself. My dear Lord dwells through faith not only in me but in my brethren also! What a motivation this is to esteem His Church in every consideration! This limits my "freedom" by putting me back into a position of dependence again, on heeding the insights of other believers. Those under Christ's control are those who are regularly cleansed, those who "flee also youthful lusts, [those who] pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the name of the Lord out of a pure heart. But [they] avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing they generate strife." 2 tim 2:22-23 It is easy to know those who are not inheriting the Kingdom; they are known by their works of unrighteousness (1 Cor 6:9). Why would I treat someone as an overseer of sound doctrine, while they also fail the lifestyle tests described by Paul in his letter to Titus? Titus 1:16 says, "They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him."

Sanctification said...

I have made it obvious who I discern as Spiritual by those I fellowship with; Diane is one of those on that list but there are many more. Her love and grace is obvious, isn't it? These believers don't have to be perfect or agree with me on everything - even on what Tim Nichols so perfectly described above as another way (my current persuasion) of how to think about what is known as "the content of saving faith." If I belong to a theological "camp," what do I gain and what do I lose? I see the loss! A gradual obtaining of orthodox theology is not a means by which I gain independence from the Body of Christ; on the contrary it is a way that I increase my dependence upon those brothers and sisters who have been abiding in Him for longer than I. It's this funny thing I've somehow seen over and over... when I think I've got my theology down pat, and I avail myself to others, I realize how little I really saw of His truth and it is opened up to me in a fresh way. I need Spiritual brothers and sisters who have the Word on their lips, so that I can become that which Christ wills!

So, in an environment of theological grace, dependency on other believers for their doctrinal insight is sanctifying in my thinking and actually a means of tremendous blessing. I try not to notice those who disagree with me and notice those who Christ is using and filling now to accomplish His purposes.

Sorry for the length... bleh. I have so many points on which I need improvement.

Sanctification said...

Is this passage a good one for theological legalism?

1 tim 1:3-7 ... that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

Possibly a good one not only for the content of saving faith but maybe also the content of sanctifying faith...? It signifies both truth and grace as necessary for fellowship.

Just more thoughts. It's a good thing I write blog posts in my head while I wash dishes - time saver with the clear obsession-levels I'm exhibiting here. ;)

Unknown said...
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goe said...

Thanks for your kind words to me Michele. I really love the spirit I'm seeing in your comments here. That's why we all love you and Diane so much!


Tim Nichols said...

Thanks for your kind words. I just read your guest post over at Rose's; seems we're working along similar lines. We should talk someday soon.

Jim and I met at GES two years ago, but haven't had much contact since. Thank you for the re-introduction.

As to the third option: A friend of mine cataloged six different positions a couple years back. The appearance of "two sides" is an illusion carefully crafted by rallying everyone who is against one side, and pretending they all agree -- a tactic at which the Duluth crowd excels, and a textbook example of what Rom.16:17-18 is talking about. (Although, to be fair, the whole FG movement itself was largely unified by the same means -- i.e., being anti-MacArthur -- so we're reaping what we've sown.) In time, the illusion of consensus will dissolve and, just as GES fragmented, the "anti-GES" side will fragment (as is already happening online, e.g. JP turning on his mentor).

To answer your question, Yes, there's a theology for this. But it's not another answer to the "content of saving faith" question. I think the way we've framed the question is the problem: in application, "content" reads "[propositional] content," which implies that nailing down the right proposition is the answer. I believe the problem is both much simpler and much deeper than that.

Imagine we're spies on a surveillance mission. We're set up across the street from the target's house with telescopes. You're at your telescope, and you can see the target through his kitchen window sitting at a table, eating breakfast and reading a newspaper. Imagine I'm two steps away from you with another telescope, looking at the same guy. Suppose we begin to argue about who has the better telescope. Suppose our argument gets a little heated, and in a few minutes, we're standing nose to nose between the telescopes hollering at each other.
"Just look at that thing," I yell at you. "Junky little Tasco 20x telescope, made for fourth graders to look at Orion's belt!"
"Oh, yeah?" you snarl back. "At least my lenses are clean! What, do you store yours in a mud puddle?"

Now, at this moment, we aren't looking through the telescopes; we're looking at the telescopes. And that is the problem. Another spy coming in and setting up a third telescope is not going to solve this problem; it's going to make a bigger fight. And when the boss calls and asks, "So what's the target up to right now?", what are we going to tell him? "I don't know, but I've got a better telescope!" This just doesn't wash.

So what will solve it? The telescopes are both pointed in the right direction; the goal is to keep our eyes on the man that we're assigned to watch. And that's the solution. If one of us is watching someone else, that's a problem. If one telescope is so damaged that we can't see through it, that's a problem. But if we can clearly see the one we're suppose to be looking at, we're in good shape.

The last thing I want to do is torture God's children with lack of assurance. I'm not saying that FG people are preaching a deficient gospel. I'm saying that some FG people have become more preoccupied with their own ability to formulate propositions than they are with the One those propositions are talking about. Faith in one's own theological acumen in identifying the correct gospel never saved anyone, and never will. Faith in Christ saves. Listen to the gospel from any of these combatants -- Lou, Rokser, Stegall, JP, Wilkin, Hodges, Niemela, anyone -- and if you believe in the Jesus they're talking about, you're saved, and praise God for it.

Tim Nichols said...


Re. the importance of doctrine in Christian life, it's important in the same way that facts about your kids are important to you as a mother. This one won't sleep without his favorite blanket, that one likes to sing, the youngest thinks it's unfair he doesn't get to do everything his older sibs can. Try mothering effectively without such facts. Try mothering effectively without learning more and more of them, every day. Impossible, right? Suppose you run into a mother who doesn't know any of these kinds of things about her kids, and excuses it by saying, "I don't focus on facts about the kids so much as on relationship with them." Baloney! But suppose you compile an exhaustive dossier of such facts and give it to me. When I've read it, do I know your kids? No. Not until I've met them and spent time with them myself. A dossier is not a relationship.

This is the thing to watch for in the FG discussion. Some people spend all their time compiling a dossier of God and critiquing other people's dossiers of God. Other people talk about "relationship with God" as an excuse for avoiding the hard work of learning anything. But then there are the ones who spend time with God -- and they exhibit no-nonsense truth and genuine love. They're the ones to listen to.

Tim Nichols said...


I loved your "Words of Truth" article. You might enjoy Knowing is Doing by Doug Jones. If you like that one, there were a number of articles pursuing the theme, all under the Incarnatus heading and all titled "Knowing is ___".

His forever,
Tim Nichols

agent4him said...

Hey, Tim!

We were each reading the other's stuff between posts! I went to your website and saw your avatar and immediately remembered our encounter at GES 2 years ago in Ft. Worth. We talked about Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle and God's grace in an environment of false teaching of the gospel, as in the late Spanish Inquisition when she lived.

I totally relate to your comments on COSF and have said as much on the blogs, albeit perhaps not as concisely or on-point as you have.

Glad you liked the article and would of course welcome feedback on the commentary on Job and Eccl. (which you bought from me at GES). Yeah, man, we should definitely talk soon. Where is Memet, CA? My sister and father live in San Diego, and my brother in San Jose.

I am currently gathering my thoughts for my next piece on James and First John, which will be entitled Unlocking Righteousness and focused on the intended relationship between faith and righteousness as manifested in love for the brethren. I intend to develop these themes on the foundation of the twin notions of righteousness and justice as developed in Torah.

Needless to say, the controversies within the FG movement are giving us plenty of examples testing how much we really "know" about this aspect of righteousness by how we are "doing" in relationship to one another. I'll be checking out the link you provided. Thanks, man!

Sanctification said...

Hi Gary! :D Your lovingkindness is the real thing. I'm bursting with appreciation and joy in reading "Confident in Christ" and I hope you'll comment on that post too. He doesn't really get into the content of believing that Jesus is the Christ, but I'm about a day away from having read it in entirety.

How goes the resettling?

Sanctification said...

Hi Jim,

I read your article. It was so intelligent it reminds me of the GES banquet during bible trivia, and I thought for awhile I'd participate. Then it hit me, "you're outclassed here, shut yo mouth girl." I'm out! :D What was it again... Bob asked a question out of the book of Job and you jumped to your feet in front of the entire dinner assembly and exclaimed, "YES!" That was fun.

One point from your article was that if you aren't reading the text and applying it personally and with faith, you aren't making the right interpretation. Right? Nice. That requires the doctrinal person to also be Spiritual.

So now I have this question still. Maybe you answered it but I'm a little slow on the uptake. If believers read the text and also fear God does that mean that they also end up with doctrine? Some people read scripture strictly for their relationship with God, and honestly, I envy these people. They can't rattle off that "Christ has saved us from the punishment, the power, and the presence of sin" but meanwhile I know that truly they've got it going on. Growing in righteousness means that if someone gave them Spiritual doctrines they immediately would discern it as such, but to gain doctrine is not necessary to prove one is growing?

I think I need to confess, that I'm escaping legalism all over again, and I've been feeling more comfortable shrugging off theology. Theologies have mostly been just another evangelical "ism" that keep me from a real relationship with Christ. But I need to come back now.

I think, for me personally it seemed wrong for me to submit to these gospels say a year ago, because of the legalism. It's inappropriate, this speculation that I might not be saved till they take me through their theology on the range of the gospel truths and checkmark it. And furthermore, the intent of some of my other posts recently is to point out that my fellowship with God is probably not caught up in these doctrines on the gospel, either. I know what truths determine my fellowship with God and it is much broader than a single passage.

I think these things need to be talked about. Do you realize that I have had these speculations made by a few people of both sides on the COSF debate? How can they both be right that I am not in fellowship with God with theologies that contradict one another on who is righteous? And meanwhile neither of these are correct, I know. God must be provoked by this, to prove His righteousness through those of us who do not fall into any camp, and I think He has.

This stuff drives me nuts but I can let it go. I can! :D

Sanctification said...

The discussion on the gospel and the content of saving faith does matter to me, though, because I love God and I want to portray Him to the lost with richness, and deep meaning, and simplicity, and power! There is a great blessing and of course loss if I cannot succeed in understanding how to provoke others to believe in Jesus in the same way I also was while observing my Savior in the Gospel narratives.

Sanctification said...

Hi Tim,

Your comments are penetrating enough that it takes me awhile to reorient.

You said, "The appearance of "two sides" is an illusion...."

This is exactly Dr. Bing's illustration in the beginning of his FGA presentation back last October when he was still president.

You said, "Now, at this moment, we aren't looking through the telescopes; we're looking at the telescopes. And that is the problem. Another spy coming in and setting up a third telescope is not going to solve this problem; it's going to make a bigger fight."

I loved this analogy.

But I need to ask a question, I've wanted to ask this for a long time. What saves the lost?

Is it the content that saves?

I don't know about that. To a point.

Is it faith that saves?

Well yeah. Faith is the conduit by which we are declared righteous and reconciled with God. But what does the scripture say?

Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace you have been saved through faith...."

It is the grace of God that saves! Through, what? Through faith. Faith, in who? Faith in Jesus. Why Jesus? Because of the facts of the gospels found in scripture.

Maybe I'm messing with perfection, but I wonder if the telescopes in your analogy could be faith instead of content? Or can they be grace? And the food fight is the details, "I saw Jesus reading a newspaper." "Well, I saw Him, he was eating breakfast." He was all of those things.

Grace is the context of any discussion on the gospel theologically or evangelistically. Grace is what gives us the wherewithall to have this conversation! Grace is what brings God to the man and the man to God. It's unmerited favor.

Do you think "unmerited favor" is working to save the lost when we evangelize with the contents of scripture?

Tim Nichols said...


Content did not have the form of God, but surrender it in order to become a man, humble itself, and die on the cross for your sins. Therefore, content never saved anyone. Likewise for faith.

Jesus Christ saves the lost. No one else, and nothing else. He does so on the sole condition that we believe in Him -- and not in someone or something else.

I realize that (at least if given a little time to reflect) nobody in this fight would seriously argue that faith in se saves, nor content. But it seems that we lose sight of this fact sometimes.

"Saving faith" is faith in the One who saves, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. "The content of saving faith" is simply a categorical error, a terrible mistake in emphasis. Faith should be directed to Jesus, not to a set of propositions as such, and the term COSF invites such a mistake. Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that there's such a thing as contentless faith. There surely will be content, when someone believes in Jesus, but the meat of the matter is not the purity of the content but that the faith be in Jesus -- and not in someone or something else.

The telescopes could be faith instead of content, and you see that problem a lot in revivalistic (especially Reformed) circles -- people examining their faith instead of looking at Christ.

Regarding "Grace is what brings God to the man and the man to God." I agree, so long as we understand that grace is not a substance, a thing you could put in your spiritual pocket. "Grace," like any abstract noun, is a compact story. Someone acts graciously toward someone else. God acts graciously toward us in coming to us, and it is through His gracious action toward us that we are able to come to Him.

agent4him said...


I read Knowing is Doing and fully concur. Thanks again for the link, man.


You said:
If believers read the text and also fear God does that mean that they also end up with doctrine? Some people read scripture strictly for their relationship with God, and honestly, I envy these people....Growing in righteousness means that if someone gave them Spiritual doctrines they immediately would discern it as such, but to gain doctrine is not necessary to prove one is growing? ...God must be provoked by this, to prove His righteousness through those of us who do not fall into any camp, and I think He has.

When you say "I think He has," do you mean "God has been provoked" or "God has vindicated his righteousness through those who do not fall into any camp"?

Regarding your proposal/questions about learning doctrine as a marker of spiritual growth, our calling as agents of God is to reflect His righteousness as His "firstfruits" (James 1:18-20, cf. 2 Cor 5:20-21). The point of James 2:14-24 is not to show that believing a particular important doctrine vindicates God's righteousness, hence James' point about the demons in 2:19 (thanks to Doug Jones for that one), but rather whether that knowledge evokes the "righteous" response; this was then exemplified in the obedient actions of Rahab and Abraham, both of which resulted in "death": it was the symbolic "death" of the prerogative of seeking life in one's own way rather than trusting God to fulfill His promises.

So, how do we know what God's righteousness "looks like" so that we can go ahead and "do" it, thus reflecting it to those around as we are progressively sanctified? I would suggest we might take a closer look at Heb 5:12-6:1a. The trick is how we "know" what it "looks like" to "discern good and evil...and...go on to perfection."

agent4him said...


Our posts "crossed in the mail"---

Regarding your comments on COSF, YES, YES, YES!!! Right on target!


"Behold Tim, my [new] beloved friend; in him I am well pleased---hear him."

(With apologies to the four evangelists; Tim is certainly not Jesus, lest anyone indict me for blasphemy.)

Sanctification said...

Hi Jim,

You said, "When you say "I think He has," do you mean "God has been provoked" or "God has vindicated his righteousness through those who do not fall into any camp"?"

I think He has done a marvelous and stunning job of vindicating the righteous irrespective to camp. And in doing so vindicated Himself. I'm not in charge of God's righteousness. Honestly it's mysterious, to me. I do know, however, how God responds to those who try and distract His godly children by means of changing the rules, from believing His promises of supplication.... Hezekiah spread Sennacherib's letters out in prayer before the LORD. When God replied to Sennacherib's words of warfare, this is part of what God said:

"Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high? Against the Holy one of Israel." Is. 37:23

The lesson I even take away from everything I've seen in free grace, is, to be careful to consider those who may in reality be righteous in the eyes of God, and be slow and cautious in proclaiming judgment, to safeguard from making incorrect discernment.

Our LORD is angry all throughout scripture whenever (usually legalists) weight down those who are, like children, walking with God. The legalist will try and argue with us that without their heavy hand, licentiousness or bad theology will result; but those who've experienced the power of God know better. (Rom 3:31, Jer 31:33-34)

I feel that there is an open door with God for whosoever seeks to become godly, and I think it has little to do with which theology on the gospel you're working through at this time.

agent4him said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
agent4him said...


Earlier, you asked:
If believers read the text and also fear God does that mean that they also end up with doctrine?....Growing in righteousness means that if someone gave them Spiritual doctrines they immediately would discern it as such, but to gain doctrine is not necessary to prove one is growing?

There is no question that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine..." (2 Tim 3:16a), but honestly, I think we need to rethink our definition of "doctrine," which really just means "teaching." I would again appeal to Heb 5:12-6:1, where it seems that growth in righteousness depends on moving beyond the "milk" of the word to "meat," but the author indicates that somehow it results in people who can "discern good and evil" rather than "hate their brother" (cf. 1 Jn 3).

What we have seen in the FG "food fights," as Tim has aptly labeled them, is a distinct reticence to "go on to meat" and it seems to be associated with some equally stunted growth in "discerning good and evil."

Sanctification said...

Hi Jim,

The more I think about the things you see and say the more reasons and angles from which I agree that there has to be (and/or, we are experiencing) a "deconstruction."

The thread at Rose's is similar to the thread here so I didn't want to occupy that, but I have been thinking about your comments on James 2 which you've left here and there. In fact every time I read the post at Rose's, it speaks to me in a deeper way. Just to let you know. The comments here and also Tim's are doing the same thing, for me.

But I repent, because my mind is not needed by God and my mind is what is engaged even if my spirit is not. Unfortunate. I need to spend more concentration on prayer, like Hezekiah, and honor God for who He is, because I know that He is working even in these reflective times.

Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry."

Hab 2:2-3

I will not always comment right away but I'm reading..

agent4him said...


In light of your questions and comments above (July 13) about "grace-led theology" and the availability of grace under circumstances of theological error, I have posted a related reply on another thread that you may find highly relevant and interesting.

(Caveat emptor, these guys use very big words!)

Sanctification said...


You make me get my bible out. :)

Sanctification said...


I loved the comment you made on that post. I have two thoughts in my reply; The Grace of God and The Will of Man.

About grace, I had this reaction:

"Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness...." rom 5:20-21

And the footnotes in my Dr. R. Nelson NKJV says, "Law magnified sin. What was inherently wrong became formally and explicitly wrong once the law was revealed. The Greek term Paul uses means 'superabounded.' Not only can sin never exceed the grace provided by God, sin loses its threat when compared to the superabounding grace of God."

See, to me when I think about some sort, any sort of violation among believers, I always want to ask, "What about context?" The context of sin, and the context of law, and the context of theology, is... grace is bigger and badder and in control.

I believe there are two ways to read scripture. It can be read:

-As if Law

(another words)

-As a measure of self-adequacy/inadequacy
-As an act of love and admiration

(another words)

-In the flesh (human effort to know God)
-In faith


Sanctification said...

Concerning the Will of Man,

As you know I'm reading through Habakkuk for funsies. I've always wanted to know, what it meant in the OT when the scriptures referred to those who are called "upright." I think I found a definition verse!

"Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith." Hab 2:4

The biggest contingency of all is faith; not knowledge as a separationist may teach and I wonder if they must struggle sometimes according to this slight overlook.

One of the words I heard used many times while in seminary was the word "yield." We have to be willing to listen to God if we want to hear Him when He speaks.

He doesn't stop speaking when we're unwilling. So unSpiritual people can come up with kinda decent theologies?? But, it is more difficult to hear what He is saying while in the flesh, reading the scriptures.

"Be sure to pay attention to what you hear. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they think they have will be taken away from them." Lk 8:18

I've been in this very situation, mentioned in the original post and also in your reply. I have a Christian girlfriend who is mentally handicapped in the area of making sound judgment, because of an auto accident many years ago. However she has decided to leave her husband and seek divorce. I went to bat for her with my pastor because of her handicap. I said to him, "She is not unable to obey God, but she is dis-abled, from obeying Him." He completely disagreed, and through our discussions I had to acknowledge something very important:

She still has free will. Essentially I did not believe her handicap so severe that she would not ask or choose Spiritual help on the most basic of levels, if she was wanting it. And so that helped me to find assurance in applying 1 Cor 5 toward her. But I keep a sharp mind to try and recognize when she's had that elemental-shift toward being willing to walk by faith, and yet just finding it dang difficult because of the burden she bears.

thanks... :)

Sanctification said...


I just love free grace theology, I mean, it's so caught up in asking and inviting others to think about what real obstacles the powerful grace of God may overcome!

Praise the LORD for His abundant kindness!

agent4him said...


I certainly share your sentiments and agree with the gist of your "lesson" in ministering to your handicapped friend. I was especially struck by the relevance of the Habakkuk and Luke citations. We so often remember only the part of Hab 2:4 that is quoted in the NT, yet the first half of the verse is a direct caution to those who would "live" by their doctrine. And Luke 8:18 is yet another caution from the Lord to be "quick to hear," as you point out so well,

"We have to be willing to listen to God if we want to hear Him when He speaks. He doesn't stop speaking when we're unwilling."

He speaks to us now through his Spirit, so we need "ears to hear," while our "theology" all too often speaks to us through our flesh. That is not to say that doctrine is a bad's not any "badder" than the Law, but true doctrine is shaped by our obedience to the voice of God---an obedience of faith and not of understanding, which follows obedience.

Hence, in reply to your comments about law, theology, and grace, and your allusion to Romans 5:20-21, it seems to me that our "marching orders" in developing free grace theology are to "be quick to hear" and shift our emphasis from "trafficking in doctrinal formulas" to "trafficking in grace." This was the emphasis of Charlie Bing's FGA talk last year and the basis for my original guest post on Rose's about manifesting the free grace we receive.

Sanctification said...


I'm as subject to Dr. Bing's FGA presentation (paraphrased) as anyone. The Lord has been showing me my own blind spot. It's been confusing to know where to go or what to do in the aftermath of the split. I've been trying to reap blessing in what I call "closure," but at the same time I see you going on in demonstrating love and encouragement to the FGA and I appreciate it. That's where I want to go too. I'm asking God to give me both wisdom and a new heart.

You said, "We so often remember only the part of Hab 2:4 that is quoted in the NT, yet the first half of the verse is a direct caution to those who would 'live' by their doctrine."

You're talking about Galatians 3?

"The Just Shall Live By Faith" is a simple, comprehensive and powerful statement.


agent4him said...

Yes, plus Rom 1:17 and Heb 10:38.

Regarding "wisdom and a new heart," I'd like to think that we are all in this together...I certainly have my own share of cases of "pending" reconciliation, and the best possible outcome would be that we stimulate one another to love and good works that move in that direction.

Sanctification said...

Hi Jim,

I like your terming it "peddling" and "trafficking" grace. I just wanted to tell you that I am excited for what you are doing so far, and will be doing in the future with the jerusalem council (and everything that goes along with that outside of those official gatherings). I emailed Charlie again and I hope he enjoys visiting here or at Rose's sometime soon and if not that's alright. He is really a cool guy, just as Fred is. Very agreeable, very compassionate and personal.

I see you as savvy in comprehending all the pieces of people and circumstances and how they fit in the grand scheme. You are excellent with connecting at soul-level with others. I'm so glad it's you serving in that manner on the council and in my vision it equates with their being served well. I'm excited for you in your work!


agent4him said...

Well, Michele, I appreciate your spirit. I have no idea where the "council" is headed but anxiously awaiting the Spirit's lead.

I don't know how "savvy" I will end up looking, but I would love to see a bit more "EI" (emotional intelligence) manifested in FG exchanges, whether on the blogs or otherwise. I am encouraged by the recent change in "tone" by some of the most visible leaders of the movement.

Rose~ said...

Good question in your post. Thought-provoking discussion all around in analyzing just one problem with the "food fight" as Tim says.

Sanctification said...

Hi Rose,

Thanks for the comment, and sorry it took me awhile to notice it. I don't know the answer to this issue, and I'm very thankful that knowledgeable teachers such as Jim and Tim are capable of discussing what the scriptures say in this string of comments and also over at Tim's blog.

I was listening to the FGA 2007 discussion panel answering the question, "Is believing in the cross and resurrection essential to be saved?" I hadn't listened to it in a long time. It struck me differently than it had long ago. I really heard Dr. Larry Moyer's bit, which essentially said that the New Testament unquestioningly teaches yes as the answer. He says that to ask whether or not we include this information while speaking to the lost, to even ask this sort of question is demonstration that Satan is at work in this humble gathering of FG teachers.

My thought in response to listening, was that he may be correct; it might be "wrong" not to share it with the lost. Therefore it'd be considered as the work of Satan, obviously, still assuming that Dr. Moyer is correct about this matter. I perceive that it is painful for some FG people to think that the pinnacle accomplishment of God on earth would be overlooked in any way at any time for any reason....

On the other hand any time there is error or even just imperfect people handing something holy there are going to be errors, there will be Satan doing as he might with what we've got. But with everyone's attention on the COSF, relational discord and false accusations came about as another manifestation of Satan.

I remember the church of Christ sect obsessing with baptismal purity. Purity that it was done according to what scripture teaches, performed by the right people and administered to worthy individuals. Scripture governed all these things, they said. When these christians believed that baptism was the gate through which people are saved, the gate was never clean enough. Does that make sense? They were baptizing over and over again with each new revelation from leadership. I suppose I'm talking to myself, out loud....

Can there be a quotient of error or Satan or imperfection in our doctrine of salvation?

If we are doing our equivalent of "re-baptizing" by throwing out the entire free grace gospel (pre-split) just because we lead the lost toward different bulls-eyes, is this like saying that "the gate of salvation is never clean enough"? Does this mean that we've stumbled at making it too much the responsibility in what we do and what we think and what we read, and not so much instead on what God does for us in spite of Satan's or imperfection's detractions?

I just think asking this question is very complex but also interesting. Thanks for letting me think more in response to your comment.


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